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Authentic camping and muzzle loaders maintain theme of Pioneer Festival

Dan Froemke poses for a portrait outside his camping set up at the Perham Pioneer Festival. Froemke said he's drawn to this lifestyle for its simplicity. (Carter Jones/ FOCUS)

A large crowd came out Saturday, from sunrise to sunset, to the 49th annual Pioneer Festival, on the sprawling Pioneer Grounds in Arvig Park. Festival-goers were treated to a wide variety of demonstrations and activities all day.

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The distinctive sound of black powder rifles was heard all afternoon as enthusiasts tested their skills on the range.

Cleo Williams said his dad got him into black powder muzzle loaders over 40 years ago, and it's been a family pastime ever since.

Dressed in a retro cap and billowing red shirt, Williams dutifully filled the gun with pellets from a powder horn, before jamming a cloth patch and 50 caliber ball down the barrel.

Williams is sure to concentrate on loading everything in the correct order, otherwise the rifle can “dry ball” which leaves a shot stuck in the barrel.

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Before taking aim, Williams inserted a firing cap and pulled back the rifle’s hammer. After pulling the hair trigger, a cloud of smoke erupted out of the barrel, and Williams was set to load another round.

Some prefer authentic camping

Many black powder enthusiasts also set up camp with authentic pioneer-era canvas tents, complete with wood furniture and cast iron pans.

Dan Froemke tended to a dugout fire pit alongside his dog from the shade of his open-faced tent on the east side of camp.

Standing alongside coyote pelts and a hatchet buried in a block of wood, Froemke said he enjoys this type of camping for its quiet and simplicity.

On the other side of camp, Sharon Shockley and her family’s campsite was luxurious compared to Froemke’s modest setup. A full-size canvas tent big enough to stand in had room for the whole family, while a shaded porch area out front has room for tables, chairs and baby swing.

Shockley said the family attends about five pioneer gatherings every year, and enjoys meeting all kinds of people at each one.

“We like to compete against each other and ourselves,” Shockley said wearing a round hat and prairie dress.

Shockley said it takes about 2 hours for the whole campsite to be complete.

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Historic house on display

Pioneer era buildings were also open to visitors to check out.

The Otto Westby house was built in 1890 and is filled with artifacts that demonstrate how laborious frontier living was.

Sara Canada, a volunteer at the East Otter Tail County History Museum, said the Westby house makes people more aware of today’s modern conveniences.

“Young people need to know life wasn’t that easy. There were no games or movies on their phones back then,” Canada said. “By the end of the day, they were tired and went to bed.”

Slow rides around the festival

On the modern end, antique tractors and farm equipment were out in force Saturday. Patrons had the opportunity to putz around on a little antique Fairbanks Morse oil tractor, while a number of pullers also put their antique tractors on the line for a friendly tractor pull.

Shirley Davidson, program coordinator at the Pioneer Grounds, said the event went great this year, with an estimated total of 1,300 visitors.

Though this year's event was cut to just one day, Davidson said next year’s 50th annual Pioneer Festival will be two days, to celebrate the golden anniversary.

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