By day, Rick Stuck teaches early American history to high school students. On weekends, he lives it.
Stuck, 64, a history teacher at Bessemer City High School in North Carolina, is a member of the volunteer Backcountry Militia at Kings Mountain National Military Park in Blacksburg.
He specializes in 18th century medicine, and has amassed a collection of surgical and dental tools used at the time, as well as most of the medicines carried by Lewis and Clark on their historic expedition across the west. His wife, Ann, demonstrates how to spin flax and wool and card the wool.
“People today take the many things we have today for granted, and don’t realize the price that was paid for our freedom,” said Stuck. “Our ancestors lived much more simply than we do today, and they were quite happy.”
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The Backcountry Militia includes about 10 to 15 volunteers of all ages who portray colonial life in the Carolinas Backcountry during the time of the American Revolution.
Leah Tabor, a park ranger who works with the volunteer group, said the militia is recruiting new members who want to show park visitors what colonial life was really like.
“We’d like some fresh people in, ready to learn new things and share what they know,” Tabor said. “These are people who are passionate about history, and they like to share their knowledge.”
She said the group plans special introductory events at the park from 10 a.m. to noon March 14 and 28, when prospective volunteers can visit and learn about the group.
The militia does monthly encampments on Saturdays and Sundays from April to November. It does not do battle re-enactments. The members do spinning, cooking, weaving and weapons demonstrations.
Stuck serves as an 18th century physician, explaining diseases and treatments of the time, and occasionally the group has a midwife, too.
Tabor said the park provides free clothing, training and equipment to the volunteers. The group is open to men, women and youths.
The only requirement, she said, is that volunteers participate in at least four encampments each year. Those in the militia, who learn how to load and fire the flintlock muskets used by militiamen, must be 16 and older. Women who want to be in the militia dress as men, she said, because women did not serve in that role.
“Every male in the Carolinas between the ages of 16 and 60 was required to be in the militia during the Revolutionary War period, so that’s what we’re trying to show,” Tabor said.
Stuck said his experience in the group has given him a greater understanding of why early American lived as they did.
“Understanding what people did is not as important as understanding why,” he said. “By trying to repeat the history the way it was lived, you begin to understand, this is why they did this.”
Tabor’s parents, Becky and Don Boshell, who live in Shelby, N.C., are also members of the Backcountry Militia.
Becky Boshell, 57, is the camp cook. Boshell, who works as a pharmacist, cooks over an open fire with iron skillets and kettles.
“Most of the meat is pork, because that’s what they ate,” she said. “Cows were for milking, and hens were for laying eggs.”
Don Boshell, a former pharmacist and now a pastor in the United Methodist Church, is a member of the militia. He demonstrates the use of the weapons and talks about the clothing and what life was like on the frontier.
“Blacksburg and Kings Mountain in 1780 was the frontier,” he said. “They were on the edge of the white civilization. You were pretty much on your own.”
Boshell portrays a small farmer of French ancestry. “I’m the only one who can read and write, which was a big deal back then,” he said.
He said people on the frontier mainly lived in log cabins, and they hunted and farmed. They harvested and preserved their own food, which needed to be plentiful enough to last all winter.
“When they got ready to move, they’d burn down the cabin and pick up the nails because the metal was expensive,” he said.
Boshell said he believes its important to tell people about this part of history. “I just like being able to share the stories,” he said. “We are forgetting so much about our history. This is maybe some small way to remember.”
Boshell also said people need to remember the importance of the Patriot victory at the 1780 Battle of Kings Mountain, which became a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
“If we had lost Kings Mountain,” Boshell said, “the country might have looked a lot different than it does today.”