MIAMI COUNTY — Traveling back in time, Deken and Karigen Schmackers are not only learning history — they are living it.
The brother and sister from Conover take on the personas of either a historical figure or create their own and then build and reenact their stories as part of their 4-H project and presentations. The state of Ohio’s 4-H organization doesn’t have Living History as its own category like some states, but the Schmackers hope to add it to the long list of available projects in the future. The Western Heritage presentations is a level of the Living History projects that children can participate through 4-H in the Self-Determined area for judging.
Deken, 14, created his own Living History Western Heritage persona named “James Pitts.” Deken created Pitts who is the oldest of eight children, a sharp shooter who is trying to settle out west to homestead and farm for a living, shortly after the Civil War has ended.
Deken uses his 4-H club’s shooting aspect as part of Pitts’ persona as a sharp shooter to protect his livestock. Deken’s character also joins the Union during the Civil War as a scout. Deken expands Pitts’ plight when he returns home from the war to find his family’s home “torched and plundered.”
“He decided he might as well head out West. He starts out in West Virginia and the plan is to end up somewhere around Yellowstone,” he shared.
Deken recently won the clock trophy for his “Hunting and Wildlife” project at the Ohio State Fair. He was also was presented with an Outstanding award for his Western Heritage presentation at the state fair. As part of Deken’s projects, he purchased a buffalo pelt and learned how to tan, stretch and treat the hide in his own backyard. The process took approximately three months to complete.
“In this project you learn a lot about old clothing, just what they ate and what they did back then. I enjoyed the learning part,” Deken said.
Karigen’s persona was a real-life woman named Jenny Stevens, better known as “Little Britches.” As part of her presentation, Karigen, 12, shared how “Little Britches” was quite the rebel who wore men’s clothing and spent her life stealing horses and dodging the law in the late 1800s.
“I like confusing the judges,” she shared. “She’s known for joining an outlaw gang, selling alcohol to the Indians and wearing men’s clothing — she’s great.”
The children are judged on their knowledge of the era and how they portray their characters. Last year, Karigen presented her project comparing archery skills of DC and Marvel comic characters as she dressed as one of the superheroes.
The duo are guided by their adviser Tim Knepshield of West Milton who helps shape their characters and how they lived in their era and the western heritage way of life. Knepshield currently is the only Living History adviser in Miami County and is certified to advise 4-H members in the area.
The brother and sister are members of the Miami County 4-H Trapshooters club and participate in the shooting sports with their 4-H club, including the cowboy range at the Piqua Fish and Game.
Deken also participated in the “Not Just Knots” project and the Hunting and Wildlife (Junior) projects this year.
Karigen also presented a Focus on Photography project.
The pair’s presentations and projects will be on display at the Miami County Fair in the Duke Lundgard building in their 4-H booth.
Their parents are Brandi and Mike Schmackers of Conover.