AMITY — There are two types of people in this world — those who read about history, and those who re-enact it.
Once a month, a hardy group of trappers and mountain men, the Forrest Hills Black Powder Brigade, meet up in the hills of the northeastern most corner of Polk County, just east of Amity, in the interior of 242 acres owned by Steve Aldrich. The isolated property is all the better to keep the echo of rifle blasts from annoying nearby neighbors.
Only an honorary member of the Forrest Hills Black Powder Brigade (Aldrich is a formal member of the Fort Paradise Free Trappers), he has hosted the club for the past 10 of its 30-years of existence.
“Like-minded people do this,” Aldrich explained at the Dec. 18 meetup. “No matter where you go in the United States and Canada, these groups exist everywhere. You can go anywhere on a trip and find a rendezvous. In nicer weather, there’s probably one a week somewhere.”
While Aldrich jokes that the free trappers are more onery, both groups share a common love of the American frontier before it was settled.
“We’re reenacting our history. Our historic past, we try to keep it alive,” Aldrich said.
Ken Kinkaid, who has been president of the Forrest Hills Back Powder Brigade for the past 10-15 years, said the club has about 25 members with an average of 15 attending the monthly shoots. Kinkaid said the club celebrates the pre 1840s era, the fur trapping era. Some of the rifles are known by their maker — Hawkins, Charleville — others by where they were used, including Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania rifles. Occasionally, they’ll get members with a Brown Bess Musket, the nickname for the army rifle dating back use in the Revolutionary War, used and all the way into the mid-19th century. “A lot of these guns were used in the Civil War,” Kinkaid explained. “What the civilians had. When they joined the army, they took whatever they had usually.”
Targets are set up 50 yards down range with members taking five shots each. Then there’s separate competitions for pistols and another for tomahawk and knife throwing. After lunch, they hit the trail shoot, with targets along the path, the usual pictures of squirls replaced by candy canes and snowman for the Christmas meetup.
Points are tallied for each event, ribbons given out for the top three scorers and special awards at the end of the year. Then once a year, the Forrest Hills Black Powder Brigade hosts a “rendezvous” on Memorial Day weekend, with camping and expanded events, including the cast iron frying pan toss for the ladies. Kinkaid said members are likely to also travel around to other rendezvous, with the big annual Pacific Primitive Rendezvous, which invites participants from the whole northwest corner, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Northern California, Canada and Alaska.
Making his way down from Tigard for December’s shoot was Gordon Ferlitsch. He shoots a Kentucky rifle he constructed himself a couple years after friends introduced him to the black powder sport. His Kentucky was a labor of love he invested more than 250 hours to complete. Ferlitsch explained his preference for the guns of days gone by.
“If you ever shoot a black power rifle, … it’s a little more organic than shooting a modern rifle, especially with a flint lock. Because they’re temperamental and you suddenly have this explosion in front of your face. Goes boom! And there’s smoke all over the place. And you’re using fixed iron sites. Shooting offhand. A lot of variables that depends a lot on your pure ability as a shooter. You kinda feel one with the gun, which is not something I ever experienced with modern firearms. I kinda like that,” Ferlitsch said.
Many of the club members were introduced to black powder rifles by friends. For others, it’s been passed down through generations. Three generations of Barnholdts were attending their first meeting. Justin Barnholdt, of Salem, brought his dad John and son Dustin. Justin has his own 54- and 50-caliber rifles.
“I’m new to whole thing,” the 37-year-old Barnholdt said. “It’s my first time firing a black powder rifle. It’s nice. I like firing pretty much any firearm. But I’ve always been interested and finally got to fire one. It’s something to get in to, a good hobby.”
The Barnholdts were not yet members and thus attired in modern jeans and cotton downed jackets. However, many of the regular and longtime members get immersed in the experience, donning period accurate clothing.
Carol and Jerry Jackson both sported leather frocks and leggings. Carol, a member of the Forrest Hills Black Powder Brigade for 33 years, said the family has been active for four generations. Being the Christmas shoot, she wasn’t totally “primitive,” sporting an elf’s hat and holiday sweatshirt. In warmer times, she can be seen in a Plains Indian cloth dress, which contributed to her club nickname, Mud Puppy.
“I got it one very, very wet on a rainy rendezvous on the Oregon coast,” Jackson recalled. “By the time I was done, I had mud ‘splotters’ up and down my dress and had lost one moccasin in the mud.”
The Jacksons came armed with a 40-caliber percussion Hawkins and 62 caliber trade gun. Jackson explained the trade guns have a smooth bore which were less accurate than regular rifles, which have spiral grooves, or “rifling,” that impart a spin on the projectile causing it to be more stable and accurate in flight.
“They were called trade guns because at the time trappers were dealing with Indians, they wanted a gun that the white man had, so we gave them these,” Jackson explained. “They’re not nearly as accurate as a rifle.”
Whether to learn a little history or test your mettle, Jackson said the Forrest Hills Black Powder Brigade is for everyone.
“Our club is family oriented, competitive or not, depending on what you want to do,” she said. “Once a month we come out, blow off some powder, what not, and have some fun.”
To learn more about the Forrest Hills Black Powder Brigade, go to their Facebook page, website www.fhbpb.org or contact Kinkaid at his business Muzzle Loading & More LLC at (503) 390-5128.