Western Howard County will regress 300 years ago to a time when villages of Eastern Woodland natives dotted the landscape, sounds of booming cannons signaled conflict, wild animals roamed the gorges for the annual Koh-Koh-Mah & Foster Living History Encampment.
The 19th annual event once again strives to recreate history with juried reenactors from across the country, realistic French and Indian War battle demonstrations, various 18th century camps from the French and British military, and the largest Native Indian village to date.
Dave Broman, director of the Howard County Historical Society, said Howard County is lucky to have a reenactment festival of this caliber.
“From one point of view, it’s great entertainment. It’s a lot of fun, but on the other side, it’s educational,” Broman said. “It’s a way for people to understand maybe a little better what life was like for the people who moved into this area in the early years. It was tough. It was not an easy life. They were incredible people. They were daring and bold and took risks that most people wouldn’t even think about taking today.”
In addition to going into the natives’ territory, those who looked for land to settle also had to battle swamps full of malaria and the bears, wolves, and pumas that once roamed western Howard County.
“In some cases, they were people not unlike the immigrants we have today who are looking for a better life. A lot of indentured servants just took off and went into the woods because their life before that was virtual slavery, but they could make a home of their own and raise their families,” Broman said.
The encampment aims to bring those emotions to life, and Bob Auth, founder and organizer of the event, said the heavily-wooded, rural setting provides the perfect opportunity for that. At night, fires from the campfires glow orange, and sounds of drumming can be heard on one side, while native chants can be heard off in the distance in another.
New this year, a parlay will take place between the natives and the French and British military, and a team of oxen will join the event at the hands of Drover Mark Hufford.
Each year, the event also brings in Howard County’s own reenactors to bring to life the history of the event’s namesakes, Chief Koh-Koh-Mah and David Foster, Kokomo’s founder. The characters have been played by Joe Cross and Al Connor, respectively, over the years, but this year a piece of that will be missing.
Connor died in June at age 70.
Cross, who’s worked alongside Connor for the past nearly 20 years, said Connor leaves a hole.
“He did a great job. He could talk for a long time. He just knew everything,” Cross said. “Bob and I agreed that we are not in a hurry to replace him out of respect for his memory. He was a great guy.”
Foster’s family gave Cross a lot of the notes and reference material Connor used to nail his character, and this year, Cross will be filling in to share the history of Foster while continuing to retell the history of Koh-Koh-Mah.
In his reenactments, Cross strives to tell the most accurate history possible.
“I’m a firm believer in retelling accurate history, and I know that truth is stranger than fiction. Some of the things that really, really happened, if you wrote it as fiction, no one would believe it because it’s so incredible,” he said. “It’s crazy how things actually happen, and so I love real history.”
In addition to ensuring all facts are accurate, Cross also strives to better understand the emotions and mindset of the characters he portrays. For Chief Koh-Koh-Mah, by the time he met Foster, Cross said he would have lived a long, tough life.
“Koh-Koh-Mah would not have been a real happy man. He was probably old at the time he knew Foster, and he’s got a lifetime of memories of cornfields being burned and people getting murdered and, ‘Get out of the way,’ ‘Move,’ and fighting men coming,” Cross said. “He would have been a very wise, bitter man. He would have had to figure out a way to keep living. It would have been a lot of forgiveness.”
Koh-Koh-Mah & Foster Living History Encampment takes place Sept. 21 and 22 at 100 S. 9912 W., Russiaville (10 miles west of Kokomo). Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, and free to children 5 and under. Hours are 9 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 9 to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
For a complete list of activities and schedule of events, visit kohkohmah.com.