Man from the country

James Hill says he has tried to pass on to his family the self-sufficiency values his parents taught him.

James Hill lost the photographs that record his life and the life of his family in a house fire. The one he misses most was an old one, black and white and worn. But it told you a lot about him.

“I was in first grade,” says Hill, 63. “It would have been about 1949. Dad was standing next to me, and Mom was there, too. I was in a little Roy Rogers outfit. It was one with a two-pistol set, one on each hip. But my pistols weren’t toys. They were two single-action Colts.”

These days Hill drives a 2006 Freightliner Columbia for Southern Refrigerated Transport. He grew up a country boy learning to take care of his own problems and make his own way in life. He learned about self sufficiency and hard work, and got an education that was “more practical” than town and city kids received.

Hill shot his first deer when he was just 8 years old. But he wasn’t supposed to.

“I went out with my dad. We were up early and up in a tree stand. Dad fell asleep. Well, a deer came along, and I tried to wake him without scaring off the deer. But whatever I did, I couldn’t wake him. So I grabbed the rifle. It was a 30-30 Winchester, and it was too big for me. I had to put it under my arm to reach the trigger.”

Hill fired, and at about 20 yards, had his first deer. The shot had, of course, woken his sleeping father.

“I wasn’t supposed to touch the rifle; safety was real important to him. He yanked off his belt, and I got a whipping. I was shouting out ‘Deer! Deer!” and trying to point at it. He stopped and looked up and saw I had shot the deer. We went down and over to it, and he reached into his pocket and hauled out his pocket knife and gave it to me. He said, ‘You killed it, you dress it’ and sat down.

“I just looked at the deer and the knife, and I didn’t know anything about what to do. I looked at my dad and just said ‘How?’ He said he’d tell me what to do, and I had to do it. He pointed and guided me, but I had to do all the work.”

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The doe was eventually field dressed, and Hill went home a lot wiser than he’d started the day. But the lessons weren’t over.

“My mother cooked some of it, but I had to cook some of it, too.” So while young James cooked, his mother watched and told him what to do.

Those lessons never left Hill.

He was raised in Northeast Texas and still lives there today in Hooks, 10 miles west of Texarkana, Ark., on I- 30. Both of his parents were teachers, and his father taught agriculture.

“We’d do things kids in the town 25 miles away wouldn’t do,” says Hill. “At 13 I was driving a pickup truck out in the fields loading hay. Dad saw to it I worked for local farmers in the summer. On their properties I could drive, so I could work. In return I got permission from the farmers to hunt on their land.

“Those summers were really hard work. Mostly it was loading hay. We’d get 2 cents a bale and work out in the sun all day, and it wasn’t much money and it didn’t go very far. Mostly we’d haul them up on to the trucks with ropes, and at 90-110 pounds a bale, they got to be really heavy by the end of the day.”

The young people on the farms around Hooks also had to work in cotton fields and later work with soybeans as they became a more popular crop. But the bean fields could be worked with less part-time help.

“We had to supplement what we earned,” says Hill. “Our milk came fresh from the dairy, not the supermarket, and we hunted game to have something on the table. There was quail, grouse, duck, a goose sometimes and deer. Then they introduced turkeys.”

And with the turkeys came a family tradition. Family members would go out and bring back enough for Christmas dinner, and they still do. “We try to get the family together and have five or six wild turkeys,” Hill says.

Hill also still hunts deer, but deer season around Hooks is also the busiest season he faces as a driver, so there are fewer and fewer days out with the rifles these days.

Hill started driving in 1996. He’d taken early retirement from a job as a warehouseman at an Army depot in Hooks in 1995. After that, bored at home, he started looking for a new job. But he found nothing to suit him. “I stopped sitting around the house and went to trucking school. I’d had a chauffeur’s license, but I let it lapse, so I had to go back to school.”

He mainly rolls between Dallas and Atlanta, and sometimes does coast-to-coast runs.

Hill has five children, a boy and four girls.

“I wanted them all to hunt, so they could learn to use a firearm and to learn to kill and field dress game,” he says. “You see, when you come from the country, those skills are things families like to pass on. You never know when hard times will come, when you’re down on your luck and need to get by. So I took them all out and taught them how.”

Off-Duty Destinations: See History as an Eyewitness
You struggled memorizing names and dates in stale textbooks until the bell rang, signaling freedom for the afternoon. Now all grown up, you remember wars and presidents, but what if these great figures and events of American history could come alive? What if you could see how people lived and died in the days before cell phone and CB chatter filled our heads?

From the great wars to colonial villages, historical preservationists are recreating American history. Period re-enactors from all over the world, sporting old uniforms and antebellum gowns, set up battles, towns and shows for tourists. When you drive long haul, odds are you’ll drive somewhere within easy reach of some of the events sooner or later.

Colonial Williamsburg is the largest living history museum in the world. Built on 301 acres, the restored 18th-century British capital of commerce in the New World is a must-see for anyone who wants to watch the past come alive. From opening to closing, re-enactors tell the story of the people who lived in Williamsburg – black, white, slaves, free, indentured, rich and poor. All have a story to tell about the birth of the United States.

Hundreds of homes, buildings and shops have been restored to perfection, and period guides offer tours and stories about each structure and the people who played out their lives there. “We help the future learn from the past,” is the slogan of Colonial Williamsburg, and each detail of Williamsburg provides an authentic experience.

Williamsburg was the largest and most influential of the colonies from 1699 to 1780, and restored Colonial Williamsburg includes re-enactments of speeches made by the Founding Fathers, tours of old Revolutionary armories, and demonstrations on furniture making. In almost every building, visitors have the opportunity to see re-enactors portraying daily life, and a calendar on the Williamsburg website helps you plan your trip to include special events. Visitors can also dine in authentic restaurants and taverns, such as the King’s Arms and Christiana Campbell’s.

The Colonial Williamsburg experience is not cheap, but seasonal ticket plans and monthly specials are available. Behind-the-scenes tours are available for a few extra bucks.

Fort Ticonderoga, once the site of two major battles, is now a hub for history lovers. Situated on 1,000 acres in Ticonderoga, NY., on Lake Champlain, visitors to the fort can see all the way across the lake to Vermont, where the fort owns another 1,000 acres of land.

Built by the French army in 1755, Fort Ticonderoga was first the site for a battle during the French and Indian War. During the last weekend in June, about 1,000 re-enactors from all over the world come together to portray Native Americans, American and Canadian provincial troops, and British and French soldiers. Close to the Canadian border, Fort Ticonderoga draws many natives of Quebec, the French-speaking province of Canada. Many re-enactors from Quebec add authenticity when dressed in traditional French uniform, speaking French-Canadian around the campfire.

Grand Encampment takes place throughout the day, and visitors receive a detailed schedule to see how soldiers and their families lived during the period. Free tours are available in the camps, and visitors are encouraged to speak to the re-enactors, who stay in character to entertain and teach a little history.

The battle re-enactment occurs each day at exactly 2 p.m., and visitors can stand gape-mouthed on the hill near the battle scene while soldiers fire muskets and cannons, and younger soldiers lead the army into battle, bravely playing fifes and drums. Officers shout orders and strategies, demonstrating battle style during the 18th century.

Along Sutler’s Row, visitors can shop for period furniture, clothing and other wares. Merchants also demonstrate period trades and occupations, and a church service for the soldiers is held on Sunday morning. Re-enactors also provide games and activities for children.

At the end of September, about 700 re-enactors portray a large battle fought at Fort Ticonderoga during the Revolutionary War. Soldiers include British Loyalists, American Continentals, German auxiliaries and American Indians, and the battle begins at 2 p.m.. The Revolutionary War encampment also includes Sutler’s Row and all other re-enactments and activities. The admissions desk provides all visitors with a detailed schedule.

In addition to the re-enactment weekends, Fort Ticonderoga provides tours of the forts. Admission is $12 for adults, $10.80 for seniors and $6 for children ages seven to 12 years old. Visitors can camp, hike and boat on the beautiful land, and the Fort also boasts an acre of immaculately groomed gardens open June 1 through Oct. 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Boston Tea Party is one of America’s most famous acts of civil disobedience. On Dec. 16, 1773, more than 5,000 American patriots, calling themselves “Sons of Liberty,” dressed like Mohawk Indians and dumped 45 tons of British Tea into Boston Harbor in protest of the monopoly that the British East India Company held on tea trade. King George III and Parliament enacted the Coercive Acts, closing Boston Harbor and attempting to drastically reduce self-government in Massachusetts. This act of rebellion, in turn, revived the issue of taxation without representation, an issue that would eventually lead to the Revolutionary War.

The Boston Tea Party Re-enactment, held in the city’s Old South Meeting House, lets visitors take part in history, as the Old South’s Tea Party Players recreate the famous speech of Samuel Adams that prompted the tea ambush. The audience cheers as the players rush to the harbor and dump the chests of tea into the sea.

Admission is $5 and free to people wearing traditional colonial attire. Only the first 600 people will be admitted inside, so come early for a good seat. Advance tickets are also available.

The Wild West Roundup in Dundas, Minn., gives tourists a peek into the days of gunfights, can-can girls and saloon brawls. June 10 and 11, about 150 performers descend on the small town to recreate life in the frontier. Tombstone, the town undertaker, provides tours of his old-fashioned funeral parlor, and re-enactors perform the gunfight at the OK Corral when the Youngers and the Earps shot it out.

The players also perform stagecoach robberies, can-can shows, and arts and crafts.

Characters like Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and Crazy Cora entertain the crowd, and ponies provide afternoon rides for children. The Roundup is a two-day nonstop performance with a re-enactment every half hour.

At the Arena Arts show, professionals demonstrate rope twirling and gun spinning. The world champion whip cracker, now in the Guinness Book of World Records, also performs for the crowd.

Food vendors provide good eats like hamburgers and bratwursts on the 15-acre camp along the Cannon River, owned by the Rice County Steam Engine Club.

Old Alabama Town in Montgomery, Ala., is the place to see refurbished and recreated homes down to the detail. Preserved along Columbus Street, the historical village includes 19th and 20th century structures, from posh town homes to rugged log cabins.

The Ordeman Townhouse, built in the 1850s, has been restored to near-original conditions, including kitchens and slave quarters. All the furniture is period relevant, and each room is arranged in the style of the home. The Lucas Tavern was built in the early 19th century as a stage stop for travelers and immigrants. In 1825, French General LaFayette spent the night in the Tavern on his way to Montgomery.

Other structures include a dogtrot house, a medicine shop museum and a blacksmith shop. Re-enactors portray Southern life during school field trips, so call before you visit if you want to take a tour complete with actors in period dress. Self-guided tours allow you to take as much time as you need to explore the town, but guided tours are also available. Admission is $8 for adults and $7.20 for seniors.

Whether you want to take a tour of an antebellum home or experience a Revolutionary War battle firsthand, there are plenty of opportunities to see living history. As always, search Google or another Internet search engine for a festival or re-enactment that piques your interest.
–Rachel Telehany

Follow the Links
Fort Ticonderoga

Boston Tea Party Re-enactment

The Wild West Roundup

Old Alabama Town

Colonial Williamsburg