Who’s that crazy man in the street?
Published: Friday, March 5, 2010 8:39 AM CST
Like lots of kids back in the 70s, my brother and I as well as a few friends tended to try and reenact TV shows and movies we had seen.
There were westerns and war movies and of course films about the frontiersmen and their struggle with the Native Americans. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were honing our outdoor skills while we were playing cowboys and Indians in Charlie Creek Valley out the back door.
Jaws was also a perpetual favorite for us but that was reserved for the pool or the lake. Usually a big kid played the shark and he’d have to pull us off an inner tube or inflatable mattress that acted as the fishing vessel Orca from the movie. This was also a great excuse for the typically older kid to thrash and dunk a smaller kid because that was part of the game. The shark was a very coveted part to play.
One of our favorite subject matters was to pretend we were the three main characters of James Fenimore Cooper’s series of novels, The Leatherstocking Tails; Chingachgook, his son, Uncas, and of course the main character, Natty Bumppo. Depending on which novel you refer to, Natty went by a host of different names including The Deerslayer, Hawkeye, and the French moniker “La Longue Carabine,” which means The Long Rifle, alluding to his incredibly accurate Kentucky rifle and his ability to kill with it.
The most familiar of these novels was and still is “The Last of The Mohicans” which took place during the French and Indian War of 1757. While there is a newer, well-known film starring Daniel Day Lewis as Natty Bumppo that was released in 1992, the one we watched to inspire our play time was a PBS Masterpiece Theatre production from 1971. We had a VHS tape that was viewed so many times that it eventually wore out. I’m sure my mother was overcome with joy when that tape was finally rendered useless.
We had spent several years playing “Deerslayer” and “Last of Mohicans” in the sprawling backyard of our neighborhood. Each character refined to the point of realism that to this day I can cry out like the proud Chief Chingachgook did in the movie.
While in college in Michigan, my friends referred to this as the “Hoosier Yell” and inevitably it became a regular request in social settings and often led to some interesting situations at the bar as I’m sure you can imagine. If only they knew that I was summoning a childhood memory every time I did it. The bouncers never believed me anyway.
Incidentally, my younger brother Ryan always played Uncas, who’s character dies at the end of the book, the movie and of course every single time we played Last of The Mohicans. Would you expect anything else? He died a most violent death every time we played — it was perfect. Sometimes we’d make him lay there “dead” for 10 or 15 minutes to get the point across. My neighbor buddy Brian always played Hawkeye, which was the studliest part of all.
A couple years later, Brian and I had barely grown up enough to quit playing but my brother was still at it. While on a family vacation in the Canadian Rockies, Ryan had picked up all kinds of animal skins from a touristy fur shop. There was Ermine Weasel, bear, beaver and marmot skins as well as a coon skin cap and some leather bags just like a real mountain man would adorn himself with.
My brother, who happens to be an actor/writer now, could dress up like a mountain man so well that he’d sneak around scaring the crap out of other kids in the neighborhood. The ultimate touch was an accurately reproduced fake rifle.
My father owned a liquor store at the time and they always had a police scanner on at the store. One day there was a police call that a “crazy wild man wielding a rifle” was terrorizing a nearby neighborhood. The police were dispatched to the scene with sirens blaring. You see where I’m going with this.
It turned out, of course, that my brother had taken his act with the coon skin cap and tassel leather coat to a new level. He may have only been a kid but the police were convinced a crazed man in furs was going to start shooting any second. It was just like a Hollywood movie from another era, “Put the gun down and your hands behind your head.”
The officers figured it out pretty quick and even knew where to take him. The family laughs about it but just imagine if that happened now. Just imagine if a kid dressed up like a mountain man, carrying a very realistic facsimile of a real gun ran around scaring kids. Just imagine the consequences for the kid and the parents.
Times sure have changed. Now we have video games that portray much more violent themes that kids play behind closed doors.
I think it was a whole lot better when you wore it on your sleeve and did it out back in front of everybody.
Long live The Last of The Mohican Players.
Jay Anglin writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Argus. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.