History, artistry, and — maybe most excitingly — period firearms and other Colonial American weaponry and goods will be on display and sold at the Enumclaw Expo Center this weekend.
The two-day event is organized by The Cascade Mountain Men, a traditional black powder muzzle-loading club based in Issaquah.
According to Steve Baima, now a member-at-large but was the secretary of the club for a decade, their group is the second oldest in Washington, and their annual expo is the largest of its kind west of the Mississippi.
“This is the mother of all trade shows for muzzle-loading firearms and people who are into rendezvous-style reenacting or colonial America reenacting,” he said.
For those not familiar with black powder muzzle-loading weaponry, these firearms required a measured amount of black powder to be poured down the barrel before inserting a projectile, be it a ball (bullet) or shot; rifles and shotguns in particular needed wadding between the black powder and projectile and a ramrod to stuff the contents tightly into the barrel. Pistols, on the other hand, did not need wadding, and just required a loading lever to pack the powder and projectile together before firing.
These firearms were used between the 1400s and 1850s, when firearms began using black powder in self-contained cartridges.
Nowadays, people continue to use muzzle-loading firearms for competitions and even hunting (the state Department of Fish and Wildlife allows these guns to be used during deer and elk hunting season).
But for Baima, these firearms are more than just guns; they’re art.
Back in colonial days, he said, American farmers needed extra sources of income during the winter season, and turned to making muzzle-loading firearms to sell. To make their guns more attractive to buyers, these farmers would oftentimes embellish their pieces with wood carvings or metal engravings, stylized by their country of origin.
Many muzzle-loading enthusiasts like Baima continue that tradition of hand-making their firearms with a forge and anvil and adding their own ornamentations; he’s been building his own guns for 15 years, though he relies on skills that he’s accumulated over seven decades.
And it’s not just the forging and decorations that Baima considers art, but the actual utilization of the firearm as well.
“I have been a hunter and a shooter all my life. There was a point in time when I fired on military rifle and pistol teams. And the process of firing a modern firearm, in my estimation, gets boring, because you’re doing the same thing over and over,” he said. “When I was introduced to muzzle-loading, there are so many more variables in the equation, it became fun again.”
For example, muzzle-loaders need to consider the weather, wind speed, humidity, the size of the projectile — variables modern firearm users may take more for granted.
“All of those issues go into the matrix that determines the accuracy. You might have a very accurate firearm today — tomorrow, when you go back to the range, you’ll ask yourself, ‘Did I ever fire this rifle in the past?’ Because the environmental conditions can alter that,” he said, adding that because using a muzzle-loader can be so challenging, shooting well comes with a sense of pride.
“The reward comes in the finished product. And having something that you can take to the field and hunt with, or take to the range and enter in competition with, and still be very, very accurate in its function,” Baima said. “That’s a reward.”
But these skills, he continued, are being lost to time — hence, the annual Cascade Mountain Men Muzzle-Loading Arms Show.
Many people who attend the expo are part of a core crowd of folks that are already embedded in the culture, from gun builders like Baima to those who partake in summer “rendezvous”, where participants go as far as constructing a Colonial America-style encampment — complete with period camping materials — to trade various goods and compete in shooting, knife or tomahawk throwing, and cooking competitions.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something for the general public to enjoy. The event requires vendors to dress in Colonial American clothing (just ignore the modern glasses and shoes, Baima said), and beyond the muzzle-loaders and gun-building kits, there will also be various leather and fur goods, period clothing and camping gear, Native American crafts, and other items for sale at the expo.
Baima added there will be various live demonstrations, like how to engrave your firearm, craft your own bone choker, and even how to start a fire, either with flint and steel or with sticks and twine.
“Believe me, a flint and steel is much easier to use,” he laughed.
The expo opens Saturday, March 12, at 9 a.m., and closes at 5. Doors also open at 9 a.m. on March 13, but wraps ip at 3 p.m.
Admission is $10 per day, although children ages 12 and under can attend for free; anyone under 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult.
More information about the expo can be found at www.cascademountainmen.com.
If you can’t attend the expo, there are other ways you can introduce yourself to muzzle-loading firearms and related historical culture.
For those who want to learn how to shoot a muzzle-loader, Cascade Mountain Men meet at the Issaquah Sportsman Cub every third Sunday at noon.
“If anybody wants to come out and watch us, or if they would like to experience shooting a flintlock or a caplock firearm with black powder, they can do that,” Baima said. “We will invite them to the firing line.”
Baima also suggests checking out the Washington State Historical Firearms Guild, another group that aims to keep 18th century arts and lifestyle alive in the modern era.
The group helps anyone learn how to build their own muzzle-loader, whether from a kit or from scratch (Baima recommends beginners use kits at first, as many are intimidated by the skills you have to learn to build one on your own), and other items.
“If you want to build a powder horn, we’ll teach you how to do that. If you want to build a leather bag to carry all your sundry items in, we can teach you how to do that… If you wanted to build a knife, we can teach you how to do that, too,” Baima said.
The guild doesn’t have a website, but you can contact them through their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Washington-Historical-Gunmakers-Guild-185598634862455/?ref=page_internal.