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Reenactors Portray 18th Century Living

Mel Stafford teaches others about Pennsylvania long hunters


by Rebecca Hazen - July 22, 2016

In between the campsites at Hills Creek State Park, campers had a chance to step back in time to the 1700s last weekend, to see Mel Staffard and Michele Comes (also known as Longknife and Singing Swan) personifying a couple who lived in the 18th century.

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Stafford portrays an eastern mountain men, also known as a long hunter.

According to Stafford, the eastern mountain man was in this area of Pennsylvania, not to be confused with the western mountain man, in the 1700s.

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The eastern mountain man wore knee breeches and long hunting shirts, but the western mountain man tend to wore buckskin. When long hunters first came into this area, they couldn’t hunt in the forest because the tree canopies were too large. Nothing could grow under the trees so there were no animals. Because of this the hunting grounds were around lakes and meadows and any open area. The long hunters would go into those areas, and there would be brier and brush.

“So the long hunters started to wear leather leggings that would tie around the thighs. The mountain man would often trade things such as knifes and tomahawks to the indians, to get the items such as the leggings and moccasins. They did rely on the indians on a lot,” Stafford said.

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At the time that the long hunters were in this area, they were hunting and trading furs for a living. All the hunters would go out in different directions, and bring the furs back to a base camp. While they were out hunting, they would have someone back at the camp de-hairing the hides, drying them and packing them.

Eventually, the long hunters kept getting pushed back west as the villages and the population kept growing.

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During the living history set up, campers were able to try their hand at blacksmithing to make post hooks – people would use them in barns to hang harnesses – and help cook a delicious chocolate cake in a dutch oven.

On Sunday morning, Comes and children were also making old fashioned cinnamon and sugar doughnuts.

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“You use a wooden spoon and dip it in the hot oil. When bubbles start to appear on the spoon, that’s when you know the temperature is about 350 degrees,” Stafford explained.

In-between the eating of the cake and doughnuts, Stafford and Comes had plenty of items on display to show what life was like back then.

Stafford had a small blacksmith set up, and had plenty of tools around the campsite that he had made himself, including all of the kitchen utensils.

He also had three tents from the 1700s – 1800’s era set up, including the main wall tent, a diamond tent, and a hunters tent.

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“You are able to build a fire right underneath the diamond tent so you can cook and get the heat right there. The hunters tent is an easy set up. All you have to do is stick four pins in the ground, stick a pole under it, and you’re done,” Stafford said. A peek underneath the hunters tent showed a corn boiler and a bed roll.

Stafford also had a display of animal pelts and different kinds of leather moccasins and shoes.

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“What they were hunting at the time was deer, elk and bison. We used to have bison in the area. It was called a woodland bison. But because of us it became extinct real quickly,” Stafford said.

According to Stafford, most long hunters had a form of a Pennsylvania long rifle, which was rifled. They were much more accurate because of this.

“A lot of the long hunters fought in the revolutionary war because they had very accurate guns. Everyone else mostly had smooth bore guns, so the bullet wouldn’t spin, and it wouldn’t be accurate. So we were basically hired to be snipers,” Stafford explained.

Stafford has been portraying a long hunter for the last 18 years.

“I had a buddy that was into it. I went to his house, and he showed me all of his stuff in his garage. He said that he was going to the local Whispering Pines Rendezvous and this was probably about 18 years ago. I said, ‘well this is neat. What do I have to know or have to get into it?’”

He first had to get a persona. Stafford found out that Daniel Boone was a long hunter, and he always liked him.

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“I started studying up on Daniel Boone and long hunters. I bought a tent, had a bed roll, made a chair, and had a corn boiler. I did my first rendezvous, and I said this is fun. As years went on, I had help collecting the stuff, and I went from everything in a trunk to a big trailer. Once people had seen me, they started asking me to come to different events in the area,” Stafford said

Michelle Comes, Stafford’s significant other, is new to the living history portrayal.

“What got me into it? He did. There is no question about it,” Comes said of Stafford.

“I am slowly learning everything. He is teaching me everything and it is a lot of fun,” Comes said. “I love being outside and I like the mountain man history. I love the rendezvous. Last year was my first rendezvous. At night time, everyone was around our tent with guitars and fiddles. It was fantastic. It was all about the camaraderie.”

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People interested in the history of long hunters can see Stafford and Combs at local events such as the Fabulous 1890s weekend in Mansfield in September, the Pennsylvania Heritage Festival in Troy in September and Tioga County Early Days at the fairgrounds in October.

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