Graphic Enterprises - Home of the Pioneer Times USA - A Web Site for Living History

Pioneer Times USA


Remembering a Figure - Larger than Life

White Turtle

February 17, 1954    January 7, 2011


White Turtle

By Jim Cummings

What can you say about a legend that has not been already said? White Turtle was an icon who’s presence was imitated by some but never duplicated. To meet Don Bradley, on the street was one thing but to meet the re-enactor White Turtle was annother thing completely. In persona it was a radical change. He became a n Eastern Woodland Indian. It was a complete transformation to a Shawnee Indian. And he gave it his all. He set the standard for period correct dress for native re-enactors.

If White Turtle saw a person who was not period correct, he would go to them and make suggestions on how they could make changes, to feel and look more of the part of a settler or native and be able to give a more accurate portrayal of living history.

If he saw you again later at another re-enactment and you had not made any changes he would again patiently explain in a Turtle type of way - just why you should make these changes. Most got the message and made the changes. They became better re-enactors because of it.

I have known White Turtle since 1999. I can remember the first time I made his acquaintance, how straight forward he was and how much he knew about history. We made Turtle the very first Pioneer Times Re-Enactor of the month when we started this website in 2003 (Click here for that story.)

When we began our 2005 CD Magazine edition of Pioneer Times, Turtle appeared on the very first cover. In May of that year I wrote a story about getting into living history and how it all began with Turtle. (Click here for that story.)

White Turtle was a founding member of the Painted Stone Settlers of Shelbyville, KY. In 1999 the group began it’s first re-enactment of the evacuation and attack of Squire Boone’s Painted Stone Station known as the Long Run Massacre. I can still see him in his campsite smoking his clay pipe. He would talk to all that came by and I can still see him talking to youngsters. There was always enough time to talk to them no matter how long they wanted to stay, no matter how detailed their questions were.

But on the battle field it was a different story. It was no holds barred. It had to be believable and as realistic as possible. And it was. Turtle and long time friend Dean Phillips, continually amazed the crowd with their well choreographed hand-to-hand combat. Friends for years, they knew each others moves and repeatedly brought amazing cheers from the crowd.

White Turtle was dedicated to living history. When you first looked at his lightweight body and his haunting face many felt like they were talking to an Indian from the past. He was simply an excellent re-enactor who loved what he did.

I could tell story after story about Turtle. As I look at the photos we’ve taken over the years it’s hard to believe there will be no more chances. That brings a tear to my eye.

It is with a heavy heart that I say for all those re-enactors that were comrades-in-arms with Turtle - we will miss him. Turtle gave back many times over to living history, it was what he believed in, it was how he lived his life - portraying a forgotten way of life of men that lost their hunting ground - and it was very, very real to him.

Our condolences to his wife Gloria and all of his family, you have lost a special person - and so did we all.

My Memories of White Turtle

By Jim Cummings

White Turtle - As I look back over the last 10 -12 years that I have known Turtle, I admit I did not know him as well as I should have. In remembering the first time I saw him I was a little bit intimidated.

Here was this half naked man, with red and black paint on. Shelbyville was putting on a re-enactment of what I now know was The Long Run Massacre by The Painted Stone Settlers.

This band of brothers and sisters from a 4 state area were getting ready to re-enact the attack of Squire Boone’s Station. Indians attacked the fleeing settlers on their journey to the more populated Linn Station. Well the rest, as they say, is history.

When the raid began there was smoke and fire coming out of the woods and then the Indians appeared to attack the settlers in the clearing. There were shouts and and cries and cheering from the watching crowd. It was then that I saw this half naked red man running around the field waving a war club and carrying a long rifle.

And as I watched this man - he covered the whole field from one end to the other scalping men and women alike. It was unbelievable - this guy was good - really, really good.

And then out of nowhere came a tall blond settler to confront the Indian. And following him was a little white and tan dog (part beagle I think,) barking his head off as the settler confronted the Indian.

DSC00858 turtal sketch 1

All three met on the field of battle and the scuffle began. The two men met, grabbed hold of each other, throwing each other to the ground. The little dog named Anna (as I learned later) was still barking her head off and running in circles around the two. Before long she began to sound like a wolf.

Soon the crowd was into it too watching intently as the three on the field continued wrestling, yelling and of course barking. The crowd was on it’s feet and finally after about 3 or 4 minutes (it seemed like an hour) the Indian got the upper hand. After a few whacks with his war club (simulated whacks of course) the white settler (Dean Phillips) lay still , but the little dog was still barking at the Indian (White Turtle).

Then out of the blue, White Turtle stood up, with his arms in the air waving his war club, and looked down at the barking and growling dog. Their was a gasp from the spectators (me included) as to what would come next for the dog. Would Turtle “kill” the dog? The crowd began yelling “ no, no.. run little dog, run”. I looked at the crowd and the children were sitting in stunned silence.

White Turtle went over to the yelping dog and started to bend over. The dog was not intimidated. She stood her ground protecting her fallen master. Turtle bent over, and picked up the dog. She would not give up easily. The crowd fell silent. But the red man raised the dog in the air over his head and began to walk off the field. He looked back at the gaping crowd and a hint of a smile passed across his face. This was the end of the Long Run Massacre Re-Enactment.

As the applause died down, White Turtle came walking out onto the field. And as if on cue the dog, Anna followed and ran to her master who was now getting up. The three of them turned to the crowd (almost as if to take a bow) and walked off the field together. The crowd went wild. That is the kind of showmanship that makes for a great re-enactment.

This is one of my fondest memories of Turtle. I can still see he and Dean and Anna standing there.

Turtle was a complex man. There was Turtle the everyday man, and White Turtle the Indian.

Turtle, the man was one of the funniest men I know. He made made laugh and even cry sometimes. He loved history and re-enacting and he was one of the best. He was often imitated but never duplicated. He strove for perfection in his Indian persona, and many have tried to emulate him. Our website reaches all over the world and we sometimes receive photos and link request from various re-enacting groups. It is surprising how many groups in countries like England, Germany, Ireland and Spain re-enact American History. In looking over their photos we often find that they have imitated not only our American history but our American re-enactors. And the two most copied “looks” are White Turtle and “Black Fish (Michael Fields.)

For all Turtle’s complexities he was gentle and kind, and would help or advise any one that wanted to learn about the Eastern Woodland Indian., history and re-enacting. When Turtle was on he was really, really on and days when he was not - it took those who loved him a bit of patience and understanding. His wife Gloria was one of those (should become a Saint) She loved Turtle, understood him and helped him with all the endeavors he undertook in life.

We will all miss him and the guidance he gave to his fellow re-enactors. White Turtle is now with Indians he loved to portray. His spirit and the s Native Americans he portrayed are together at last. There will be no more re-enactments for Turtle only the real thing. He will keep the camp fire burning so we have a light to follow when it is our turn to follow. May God bless you , my friend and find peace.


web page hit counter

The Photo Gallery of Events

18th Century Living History Events

Fort Boonesborough Events

19th Century Living History Events

Civil War Living History Events

Timeline Events

Indoor Trade Events

Museums, Workshops, Schools and Other Events