If you entered The University of Texas-Pan American quad Saturday, March 3 you may have thought you entered a time machine gone berserk.
There, under a simple tent in period dress, was a Civil War soldier alongside one from World War II. Nearby was a pioneer from the 1840s whittling a walking staff talking to a Native American warrior from the United States Indian wars. The group, The Wild Horse Desert Historical Brigade, and their display was among a number of attractions during Community Day of FESTIBA (Festival of International Books and Arts) held March 1-3 at the University.
Wade Marcum, a history teacher at Memorial Middle School in Harlingen, said the Wild Horse Desert Historical Brigade - a cadre of living historians from Brownsville to Rio Grande City - first got together approximately five years ago with a common interest in black powder shootings. More recently their activities have expanded to historical displays and reenactments, school demonstrations, and volunteering at such places as the Palo Alto Battlefield, a national historic site located between Los Fresnos and Brownsville.
Their FESTIBA exhibit included a wide array of historical weapons, uniforms, tools and utensils and other items from many eras including the French and Indian War (1753-1763), American Revolution (1775-1783), fur trade era (1820s-1840s), Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Civil War (1861-1865), Indian Wars (1870s-1880s), and World War II (1941-1945). The group's members, many of them teachers, share a common interest in history and the desire to enlighten more people about it, particularly Valley history.
"A lot of people are not aware of the rich history we have down here. Hopefully they can come and see not only American history but Valley history," Marcum said.
As he explained all the elements of a reproduction Revolutionary War military coat while a spectator was holding it, Marcum said his group encourages students to ask questions and touch the items in their exhibit.
"We let students pick up the muskets, for example, to see how heavy those things are. It is so much more interesting for them to touch the stuff and feel it. It brings it to life more than just reading about it in a book," he said.
FESTIBA Community Day also offered the public an opportunity to mingle with some of the state's most prolific authors in children and young adult literature - Lila Guzmán, Rene Saldaña, and David Rice - who were brought to campus thanks to the Texas Book Festival Author! Author! Program.
During the three-day FESTIBA the three writers also visited with local schools and read from their works and participated in question and answer sessions with the students.
For Guzmán, the campus visits were the highlight of her trip along with the FESTIBA Community Day where she met with several fans and autographed two of her books - "Lorenzo and the Turncoat" and "Kichi in Jungle Jeopardy."
"The kids have been just wonderful. It is so much fun to do these author visits because the (kids) ask me questions and really keep me on my toes," Guzmán said.
During the school visits, Guzmán said the Texas Book Festival donated copies of her books to the campus libraries.
Guzmán, a Kentucky native, said she has been an author of children's literature since 1997. She and her husband Rick, collaborate on the action-adventure "Lorenzo" series, which focuses on the Spanish contribution to the American Revolution through the story of a young man named Lorenzo Bannister. The series currently features three books - "Lorenzo's Secret Mission," "Lorenzo's Revolutionary Quest," and "Lorenzo and the Turncoat." Their next book in the series "Lorenzo and the Pirate" is scheduled for release in 2008.
In addition, Guzmán has also written "Kichi in Jungle Jeopardy," a story for elementary-aged children about a talking blue Chihuahua, which was inspired by her own dog Lucy. Guzmán said she considers the story of the blue dog a "fun book."
Terrie Garcia of Harlingen brought her two young children, Sabine and Matthew to FESTIBA because she thought the event would be a fun way to encourage literacy.
"I really like to emphasize the importance of reading and writing to my children," Garcia said. "I thought bringing them to an international books and arts festival would be a great way to do that."
Matthew, a fourth grader at Bonham Elementary School in Harlingen, got a chance to talk to Guzmán and had her autograph some books.
"I thought it was pretty cool. I had never met an author before," Matthew said. "She was very nice and talked a lot about her book."
He said he learned something unique about one of Guzman's books - "Kichi in Jungle Jeopardy" - that he would have never known if he hadn't met her.
"Every character is based on a famous person," he said.
Guzman said reading can be a life changing experience for children and adults, and through her writing she hopes to motivate and teach children.
"When I write books I want them to be inspirational. I want the kids to enjoy reading them, but I want them to also walk away with some sort of message, and the second thing is that we want them to learn the history," she said.
The 2007 FESTIBA Community Day ended with an evening performance of the musical "Once Upon a Mattress," by the University Theatre and a concert featuring students in the UTPA dance program.