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Jasper County Tribune

Travel back to the 1800s through annual Rendezvous at Ashton Wildwood Park

MINGO – The life of a mountain man in the 1800s was rugged.

From wrestling grizzly bears to braving freezing winters, the people who explored the great plains developed impeccable survival skills and truly became one with the land.

Now more than two centuries later, one group of re-enactors aim to give residents a taste of what life was like on the frontier Mother’s Day weekend for the annual Rendezvous with the Central Free Skinners at Ashton Wildwood Park.

“It is a way to be outdoors and really be outdoors. You are out in nature. You sleep in a (white canvas) tent,” Forest Collins, 1800s blacksmith re-enactor and vice-president of the Central Iowa Free Skinners said. “Why do we do this? I don’t know. Why did I marry the woman I married?”

For the fourth year, dozens of Central Iowa Free Skinners members will set up camp at the park, seven miles west of Baxter, May 10-14 to showcase several 18th and 19th century skills, games and products to interested patrons.

Collins said from their dress to the tools they use, the re-enactors aim to take patrons back in time and try to recreate a rendezvous event as if it were 1830. While the re-enactors will probably not be seen trapping beavers or wrestling bears, Collins said the group will be truly roughing it out at the park.

“People can see things that really happened, and how you really lived life back then. It is impossible to recreate things completely, but we do the best we can in recreating it as close as we can as it was back in the day,” Collins said. “If I went out and shot a turkey in the park like they would have in 1830, the park ranger is probably going to be a little upset with me.”

With set up beginning May 10, re-enactors are encouraged to pack up their mule and head to the park and set up camp that day. With plenty of firewood and water available at the campsite, traders and general campers who wish to participate are responsible forá“period correct” equipment and clothing, and a $25 camping fee.

“Even though we (1800s re-enactors) are not blood family, we are family in the sense we do everything together and have all of those activities,” Collins said. “We do it just to do it together, to have fun with all of us together.”

The re-enactors will begin allowing time travelers onto their campgrounds May 12, the gathering’s designated school day. While this day is reserved for students in central Iowa only, Collins said about 300 kids from surrounding districts, such as Baxter CSD and Newton CSD, will come out to learn about the people living in that time period.

The festivities will open to the general public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 13 and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 14, with no cost for admission.

With several traders on scene throughout the weekend and a fundraiser auction set for 2:30 p.m. May 13, visitors can also expect to leave with a piece of the 1800s, whether a handmade beadwork design or a nice slab of old-fashion jerky.

Patrons can also expect to see demonstrations from basket weaving to scrimshawing to black-powder shooting. Collins said visitors are bound to see something they have never seen before.

“One of the young men and women in our club are going to be getting married Saturday evening ... it will be a legal wedding, but it will be done in the presentation of the buckskinner time period,” Collins said. “If somebody came through and wanted stand in the back and watch, I am sure it would be quite acceptable to do that.”

There will also be a variety of unique contests, including primitive bow shoots, tomahawk and knife throws, a cannon ball toss and cooking contests.

With kid games planned and a working black-powder cannon that fires candy into the air, Collins said parents are encouraged to bring the youngsters along, no matter their age.

“We learn how to re-enact this stuff because it is fun,” Collins said. “We want to show the world what we can do.”

For more information about the event or the re-enactor group itself, call 515-402-5316, email or find Central Iowa Free Skinners on Facebook.

Contact Anthony Victor Reyes at

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