As Hoosiers we know the month of May hosts one of the biggest spectacles in racing, the Indy 500.
But, did you know that a few weeks later Indiana hosts one of the biggest spectacles in black powder shooting?
That’s when the sleepy town of Friendship in southern Indiana’s Ripley County swells with visitors from around the world who want to shop, shoot, and socialize with other folks that love pre-1840 firearms, living history, and punching paper targets.
I am referring to the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association’s Spring Shoot that runs June 9-17. I encourage you to make the trip and enjoy all there is to see and do.
All kinds of treasure for sale on a "Trade Blanket"
The NMLRA grounds are divided by State Road 62. The side to the north is known as the “modern” side. It has the majority of the shooting ranges, as well as the vender buildings known as the “Sheep Sheds.”
The southern half is affectionately known as the “primitive” side. It is there that diehard enthusiasts pitch period-correct tents and cook over open fires. Along with the primitive camping, there are historically correct buildings.
The NMLRA Spring Shoot is considered a rendezvous more than a historical enactment, meaning the spring shoot doesn’t commemorate a battle or event. Historically, a rendezvous was a gathering of free-spirited trappers and traders to exchange furs for goods. Often contests of knife throwing, tomahawk throwing, horseback riding, and shooting complimented the trading. The whole event highlighted their individualism. Sans the feats of skill on horseback, the NMLRA rendezvous is little different.
Lounging around, 1700's style
While enjoyable, a historical enactment is of another nature. Generally, the participants of the event strive to portray specific military units that were in specific battles. These units strive for authenticity from the boots they wear to the insignia on their hats, from the piping on their uniforms to the color of their stockings. Each unit has strict guidelines what can be worn and not worn. Obviously a Continental Army private would not be camping in an officer’s tent, nor would a unit outfitted in Virginia be wearing the same gear as a unit from New England. The re-enactor strives to perfect their military drill and maneuvers, and that’s just what will be happening. A unit of Civil War enactors will be giving demonstrations and performing live cannon fire. (Events vary from year to year. Check www.nmlra.org for current details.)
Friendship is 1 ½ hours from Indianapolis. I know it’s a long trip and some may not be interested in black powder firearms but there are many other activities taking place alongside the Spring Shoot:
Kids of all ages love to wear historical clothing
Shopping – Not only are there countless venders selling everything from period-correct clothing to custom-made flintlocks, the NMLRA grounds are sandwiched between two massive flea markets that sell everything else known to man. Add to that, every resident within a thirty-mile radius plans for the massive influx of people and have countless yard and garage sales. Lastly, many campers on the “primitive” side have trade blankets in front of their tent. Anything on the blanket is for sale or trade. Exciting deals can be discovered on a trade blanket.
Shooting – The event hosts hundreds of shooting contests for those that love to shoot muzzle loading rifles, fowlers, shotguns, pistols, and bows. The “modern” side hosts most of the events from silhouette shooting at metal targets to massive and ornate “chunk” guns. It’s okay if you have something in between because there is something for everyone. For those that want more realism, check out the woods walk on the “primitive” side. As the name implies, the shoot involves trekking through the woods shooting at hidden targets.
Cookware for the modern pioneer housewife
Pageantry – Many participants go to great lengths to portray the pre-1840 culture and lifestyle. Most of them have thousands of dollars invested in their firearms, lodging, clothing, and gear. Everything from western free-trappers to Revolutionary War military personnel is portrayed. Some are authentic down to the way their clothes are stitched and the change in their pockets.
How-to – During the shoot, the NMLRA holds how-to classes on ancient crafts, known as “living arts”. Some classes are free, others require a fee.
Friendship – This isn’t just a place, it’s a way of life. Many of the NMLRA rendezvous participants develop life-long friendships that last long past the trip home. Some return year after year for the fun and camaraderie that spans generations.
Scenery – Friendship is located in one of the more rugged and remote areas of Indiana. Driving down many of the roads reminds travelers of the farms found in Virginia. In October, the hardwood forest turn brilliant colors, rivaling New England in the fall. Vintage barns and stone fences are common place and make for great photography.
“Friendship”, as it’s known to black powder enthusiasts, is something kids to adult will remember long after the visit.