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To See Past Re-Enactors of the Month

Re-Enactor of the Month

Story and Photos by Jim Cummings

Recognizing those re-enactors who give that extra all to make history come alive for those around them.

We are preserving living history
 today so that the past will not be forgotten.

Jim Cummings

Debby Jenkins


Debby Jenkins Bales with her trademark floppy hat.

Debby Jenkins lives in Clermont County, Ohio - about 35 miles east of Cincinnati. Debby started her re-enacting career on the rendezvous circuit in 1991. But for the last 3-4 years she has pursued the more serious side of re-enacting.

At home in Clermont county Debby belongs to The Grassy Run Historical Arts Committee. The group puts on the Grassy Run Rendezvous every April in Williamsburg, Ohio. And most often Debby can be found with kids and candles. In addition to other duties Debby handles the children’s candle dipping along with the aid of many volunteers. School day at the Grassy Run event can run between a few hundred to an all time high of almost 1,000 school children.

“Grassy Run” Debby says, “Is a teaching organization. It started with a recreation/celebration of a battle from 1792 between Simon Kenton and Tecumseh over stolen horses. But mostly we gear our efforts of living history towards children. Grassy Run - the event has been in existence since 1991. The organization was started by some historians who were also journalists with a focus on the 1992 bicentennial of the battle. Over the years we added to that. An interest in the clothing of the time period led to period dressing, then camping and cooking followed. We wanted to add things to the event for people to see and learn so gunsmithing, dipping candles and others skills were added. Sharing this with as many people as we can - really became the focus of the group. There are close to 40 really active members or families involved. But we actually have a larger membership of 150 people that support us from farther away - and may come to the annual event at the end of April. The really core group is also involved in restoring and saving historic properties.

When asked about how many events Debby herself participates in - she laughed. “I am trying to limit it to about 20 events a year. Now that gas has gone sky high - that may change. I actually have 23-27 on my calendar for this year - but some of those overlap - which is a problem anymore. There are only so many weekends and sometimes choosing which event to participate in can be difficult.

When asked about her look, Debby responded with “well I started reading about women in the border settlements, largely around Boonesborough of which there is a lot of documentation. So I started to dress more poor. There are plenty of re-enactors doing the better dressed ladies. I wanted a settler that had been on the frontier longer - who may not have had nice things anymore. , I usually wear a raw silk skirt that has been shortened and really is wearing out. I’ve added a man’s linen shirt, which would have been correct (as the clothes wore out - people adapted however they could - since early on there was no ready source for material.) - and a man’s big floppy hat to keep the sun and rain off. I tried to go for a different aspect - than the ladies that might have been newer in the community and wearing bed jackets.

I’ve actually taken some of my persona from some family records. Although my own ancestors did not make it as far as Kentucky, most settled around Pennsylvania, I’ve adopted the background from that. I usually portray a bound servant who obtained passage by becoming bound out for a set amount of yeras. Then when I arrived in America the ship’s Captain increased the number of years I was to serve - claiming my passage cost more than he was promised.

So once free from my bond - I’ve vowed never to work for another again. I will sew or do laundry or whatever it takes to live on my own without being enslaved. This includes vowing never to be taken prisoner by the Native American Indians either. Even to the death - I will never give up my freedom.

The best part of this, says Debby is when you are talking to someone and they suddenly “get it.” That is, you have made someone see just a glimpse of what life was like for the early settlers. One of those moments cam at the first event at Boone Station. Jenkins had come for the day as a visitor. When Bill Farmer saw her he said - if you’ve brought clothes - change and come on out here. That first event set the tone for events at Boone Station. There was absolutely no controversy at all. Just the best group of re-enactors. Not all events are like that. And the area is so steeped in history that the locals who come to events there are also special.

My worst experience - a couple of times when I have been criticized by people I respect - for the way I portray the early frontier. Some people want to glorify their ancestors. I try to portray the truth as I see it. When I come out here I will add dirt to my face. I am usually barefoot. I have purposely torn my clothes to look more authentic. These people did not have all the amenities that we have today and I think re-enacting them should reflect that. And I have been criticized for it, told I am unladylike - and that really hurts.

I am enjoying this immensely. I enjoy the people. This is like a family reunion - a great bunch of cousins on the re-enacting circuit. We all take care of each other. I feel so loved and taken care of here. I hated history in school. It wasn’t real to me. As an adult when I gained access to journals and dairies - our ancestors absolutely came alive for me. At night around the fire, people will share their knowledge and resources. I will hear of a source that I am unfamiliar with and then I will have to go and look up that information. I enjoy the learning. And I enjoy sharing it with other people.

In my opinion we in America are spoiled . We need to appreciate where we’ve come from. We need to understand that we have water heaters and furnaces and all kinds of modern conveniences because of those that came before us. This is a joy to do. And besides Debby joked, “the food is good.”

One of the reasons Debby Jenkins became “Re-Enactor of the Month” is because of all the work she does with school children. When I go to a school, Debbie says “I take as much as I can possibly carry.” “I try to convey to them not only history, and stories about our ancestors. But I try to convey to them that learning can be fun. And if history is your thing - grab on with both hands and learn it all. If you love animals make biology your thing, and learn it. Whatever you want to do in life begins with learning. And I try to encourage them how hard life could have been for them. I have them feel a wool blanket or a buffalo skin. Lift a heavy pail of water, try to start a fire and understand that their lives could have been totally different if not for the time and place that they were born.


In lovely (ladylike) apparel Randy and Debbie pose for pictures. She made sure though, that the wedding was early enough before the siege re-enactment that she had time to change and don her more normal apparel for the battle.

When asked about becoming a re-enactor Debby recommends going to a variety of events. Experience as many events that you can. There are very structured juried events. And there are rendezvous events. Find out where you fit in and where you are the most comfortable ( especially if you have kids) before you spend any money. And most of all talk to re-enactors. Most of these people love to share what they have learned and what they are doing.

Since Debby has put together a fine look - we had her tell us some tips for newcomers starting out. “Shop the trade blankets at various events. Footwear is the most difficult and also the most costly for new re-enactors. Moccasins are usually the first step. They are both practical and the least expensive way to go. Especially if you make them yourself or with the help of someone who’s done a pair before. Cotton is acceptable, and available. To start out and come for a day to an event  - for a women you could come in for about $80.00  A man  could   do


With gun in hand, (Debby is former military) and dirt on her face she is shown here at the 2005 Siege of Boonesborough. Accounts of the siege say that women dressed like men to fool the Indians into thinking there was a larger fighting force inside the walled fort.


Debby admits that the re-enactors are like “one big family”. When she and fellow re-enactor Randy Bales were married in 2007 - the ceremony took place among their friends at Fort Boonesborough during the annual “Siege of Boonesborough.”


At the less juried Grassy Run Re-Enactment Debbie participates with the Pow Wow Dancers in a native dance.


Click here to see the 2005 Video interview with Debby Jenkins from The American Heritage Project.

about the same - with footwear also being the greatest variable. Of course this is just for a beginner. Weapons, tents and gear for cooking and camping can then begin to make the hobby rather pricey. But keep your eyes open and look for bargains,” Debby recommends.

“I actually send new re-enactors to this website.” Jenkins continues. “It is a good way to choose (from the photos) which events you would like to attend. There is always a calendar and a listing of coming events. You can see the other things that we do to. Things like winter trade fairs where you can see how serious you can get about shopping and learning in the wintertime. And from the Graphic Enterprises site you can link to other sites and events like Boonesborough.

However you get started, however long you pursue re-enacting Debby Jenkins admits it has really been a wonderful experience for her. “I truly feel loved and at home here among these people. It’s the best.!”

If you have someone you would like to see as “Re-Enactor of The Month” drop me a line at

To see past Re-Enactors of The Month - click here.

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