She runs! She bites! She kicks!

Kat Vuletich
and her mews Mack

This phrase was almost put on a tee shirt for me.  I earned it during a funny, somewhat harrowing adventure I had ages ago.

It all started with my agreement to accompany my girlfriend Mary on one of her antique dealer events for a Civil War reenactment in Danville, Indiana. We were in period dress on Suttlers Row, an outdoor market featuring goods the soldiers needed, like uniforms and clothing, armaments, ammunition, medical supplies, cavalry equipment and so on. You get the idea. We were part of the show.

Authentic period pieces attracted Civil War enthusiasts to Mary’s booth. She didn’t deal in reproductions. Her specialty was Civil War cavalry -- McClellan and Grimsley saddles, sabers, horse tack (mostly bits and bridle medallions). She had some other unique period items like antique hat pins and brooches with human hair encased in them known as mourning jewelry. That day I was cuddling a black fur hand muff, pretending it was a cat as I sat on a stool in the corner of her booth.

It was hot and humid. I was in an ankle-length velvet skirt hiding my bare feet and a long-sleeved cotton blouse. There had been a steady flow of reenactors, both Union and Confederate, seething around her booth, drooling over various items, pawing them reverently. A Confederate officer and three of his troops looked over the cases holding weaponry. Mary was hawking her wares and trying to entice them to empty their wallets.

“How much for her?” asked the officer, pointing toward me. Me!

“She’s not for sale. She’s indentured to me for seven more years.” I laughed. Good ol’ Mary.

“What would it take to buy her contract?”

“What have you got?”

“I’ve got a good Jenny saddle and bridle. I’ll even throw in the saddle stand.” 

“I’ll have to look at it.”

I was laughing at their bartering. This was all theater, right? Just part of the fun of a reenactment. I continued petting the fur hand warmer in my lap.

“Deal.” The officer and his entourage headed off.

Mary dusted her hands and we both laughed. We knew he wouldn’t be back. But the tourists wandering through had been entertained.

Minutes later, that officer rounded Mary’s booth carrying a gleaming English-style saddle and stand. He set it down inside the booth. Mary’s eyes went wide. She examined it quickly and realized it was circa Civil War. “Sold!” she declared.

“Come on.”

The officer, with an engineer patch sewn to his Kepi hat and three embroidered gold captain bars adorning his collar, motioned for me to join him.

I looked to Mary, somewhat concerned this was going too far. Mary waved me out of her booth. “This is a real Jenny saddle. You’re sold.”

I looked back toward the officer. He was standing in front of me, and the next thing I knew, I was hauled bodily over his shoulder and he was walking away with me. I was squeaking and kicking. He just clamped down on my legs. I worked to keep my balance.

It was the first and only time I’ve been thrown over a man’s shoulder (I was considerably thinner then). I don’t recommend it. It’s very uncomfortable. I convinced him to set me down. And I promptly ran, attempting to put a large pile of firewood between us. His henchmen immediately surrounded me. I stopped. Remember, I was barefooted and the terrain was rather rough.

I decided civility was the way to go and asked his name. I don’t remember it. I asked if he wanted to know my name. “Wenches don’t need names.” Well, that was concerning. He put the keeper strap of his sword around my wrist, holding onto the pommel of the weapon. With a tug of my tether, he started walking again. His chuckling troops fell in around me, swords drawn, as we moved toward the far corner of the encampment.

We reached his tents, and he showed off his quarters, which were actually very nice with a raised wooden floor, desk and chair, nicely adorned as a Civil War officer’s would have been. I gave the appropriate level of admiration to the camp, tent and contents. He outlined my duties: sweeping, fetching water, emptying chamber pots. I laughed.

And I walked away, back toward Suttlers Row. I heard the flunkies muttering disgruntledly, and then the sighed words: “Let’s take her back” from their captain.

The four Johnny Rebs surrounded me to escort me, swords at the ready, pointing skyward. I was marched back to Mary. As we rounded Mary’s booth, the captain shouted: “She runs! She bites! She kicks! No sale!”

Mary threw her arms protectively around the saddle. “Noooo! Kat, what did you do!”

“No sale,” the captain reiterated, and peeled Mary’s arms off his saddle and hoisted saddle, bridle and stand into his grasp. He and his cronies strode back the way they’d come. I reclaimed the stool in Mary’s booth.

“Damn,” Mary heaved with a sigh. “That was a really nice saddle. With a stand! Probably the best trade I’ll make all weekend.” She shot me a stern look. I picked up the faux cat and appeared chastened.

My sale and return was the talk of the event. The Suttlers Row vendors asked after me for years afterwards, as did the captain, I was told. Mary got a lot of mileage out of that episode. I was notorious. Mary talked about making me a tee shirt from time to time.

Mary passed away a couple years ago. Our adventure when she sold me for a Jennifer saddle remains a cherished memory.