Living history

LAKE BENTON – There were a lot of ways for visitors to experience a little bit of history this weekend in Lake Benton.

People gathered for Benton-Fremont Days showed off a variety of skills – from black powder shooting to pottery and canoe-building – with historic or traditional connections.

“It brings in people from all around,” said Carl Burk, a Lake Benton resident and one of the organizers of Benton-Fremont days. Benton-Fremont Days and the Te Tonka Ha Rendezvous combine historical demonstrations with a “knap-in” for making stone tools. This year, new events like the Pickers Paradise flea market offered another draw for visitors, Burk said. “It’s an excellent addition.”

Visitors were walking through the campgrounds at Hole in the Mountain Park in Lake Benton early Saturday afternoon, looking through finds at the flea market, and talking to campers in historical costume. Several people were gathered, hands over their ears, to watch the marksmanship on display at a shooting competition.

A short distance away, woodworker Dick Berreth was talking about the materials he used to caulk a birchbark canoe. The mix included ingredients like pine sap and charcoal, Berreth told an audience including Warren Black and his children Elsa, David and Astya.

Although the bark canoe is lightweight, Berreth said, “It’s very durable.” The canoe took about 200 hours of work to build, he said.

Berreth said it was fun to take part in Benton-Fremont Days, and share what he learned in making the canoe.

“It’s exciting, because most people have heard of birchbark canoes, but have never seen one,” he said.

“It’s fun to see people interested in doing things from history,” Warren Black said of visiting Benton-Fremont Days.

“It’s a nifty place,” David Black said.

A steady rain thinned the crowds out around mid-afternoon on Saturday, but participants camped at Hole in the Mountain Park were still having a good time. A group of kids ran to shelter in the park’s log cabin. Meanwhile, the clinking of stone flakes could be heard from several tents and awnings where flintknappers were at work. Flintknapping is the art of shaping pieces of stone into tools like arrowheads and knife blades.

“I think it starts with, we’re all just interested in the (American) Indians, and the stone tools they made,” said Gary Eldred. The knappers worked with pieces of thick cloth or leather draped over their knees as they broke or chipped pieces away from flint and similar kinds of rock. Eldred said making stone tools was an art form, where the finished product is beautiful as well as functional.

But, Eldred and fellow knapper Bernie Venavidez said, knap-in part of Benton-Fremont days was also an opportunity to trade or buy different varieties of stone, showcase their work, and socialize.

“You get to see people you usually only see two or three times a year,” Eldred said.

“It’s just a good bunch of people,” Venavidez said.