Children clothed in colonial wear kick off their shoes and dash into the large, low-laying puddle that came to be not-so-affectionately dubbed the “Ouiatenon Bog,” proving that childhood wonder and entertainment spans generations. Soldiers in colorful uniforms representing the variety of colonial powers that settled in this area march through the mud to the tune of drums and fifes. A young indigenous hoop dancer forsakes her shoes to dance in wet socks while she creates characters from her colorful hoops. The rain and non-compliant weather that seemed to plague this early October weekend failed to dampen the spirit of the historical reenactment festivities as the Tippecanoe Historical Association hosted the 46th annual Feast of the Hunters’ Moon at Fort Ouiatenon four miles outside of West Lafayette.
Created in the 1950’s as a way for the members of the association to honor the Native American history of the area and to partake in traditional food, the festival was officially opened to the public in 1969 as a two day event full of period craft demonstrations, dancing, performances, food, and trading with the Ouiatenon as its location. Originally used as a fort and trading post for the French and Ouia native tribes in the 18th century, the French traders remained even after the British and American armies sequentially seized control of the area militarily. Ouiatenon was lost after the Americans burned it and the Ouia settlement down in 1791. It remained a lost memoir of the past until the 1960’s when it was rediscovered and afterward gained awareness when it became the home for the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon.
Despite the rain, the attendees, vendors, and participants came out in high numbers. The abundance of vendors created a valley of white tents and offered a variety of foods, goods, and services. Homemade soaps, wooden toy weapons, vintage dolls, period clothing, furs, copper and iron ware, and even replica muskets and swords were but a few of the often hand-crafted and period appropriate products available. Guests were also able to try a variety of traditional foods, including Native American frybread, rabbit stew, turkey legs, croquignoles, apple cider, bison burgers, sauerkraut stew, and traditionally brewed ales available in a “Colonial Tavern” produced by the Lafayette Brewing Company. All of these services were provided for by people dressed in colonial and native attire, adding a further flair of authenticity.
The demonstrations provided an opportunity for guests to get further engulfed in the time period. Blacksmiths, soap makers, spinners, and rope makers gave tutorials for their respective crafts. Throughout the entirety of the weekend, fields, arenas, and wooden stages became hosts of performances and reenactments. Native American dancers, drum circles, and lacrosse teams offered a genuine glimpse into the indigenous cultures that have and continue to call the area home. Those up to the challenge could try their hand at throwing tomahawks and participating in cricket and an old-fashioned magician even put on a show for the crowd. The Wabash River, known during the festival by its French name “Ouabache,” also acted as a current to the past as it hosted a canoe race during which the crowd erupted into laughter as one canoe accidentally tipped over, leaving its voyagers drenched in the chilly waters. The beat of drums and blasts from rifles, as well as the occasional tune of a bagpipe, echoed across the valley courtesy of the drum and fife corps, hinting to military conflicts long since passed.
Hosted in a setting rich in the indigenous and colonial history of both Tippecanoe County and Indiana alike, the rain and mud perhaps only added to the educational authenticity of the realities of 18th century life at Ouiatenon as the costumed actors, activities, and vendors at the 2013 Feast of the Hunters’ Moon brought the setting to life.