Darien man re-enacts history alongside favorite horse

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Anna Marie Lux
September 27, 2014

DARIEN—Bill Maddox rides closer to history than most folks.

Give him a few minutes, and he can transform into a mounted militiaman in the Revolutionary War, a Confederate guerrilla in the Civil War or a member of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in France during World War I.

Last year, he joined thousands in Pennsylvania, where they fought the Battle of Gettysburg on the 150th anniversary.

Maddox is an industrial maintenance technician by day and a historical re-enactor by weekend.

A room in his rural Darien home is stacked with plastic totes, each containing replicas of authentic costumes, complete with headgear and weapons.

He and his favorite horse re-enact Cavalry events from more than a dozen time periods.

Maddox even re-creates different characters in the same era. For example, he portrays both Union and Confederate cavalry from the Civil War in both the eastern and western theaters.

The 45-year-old is one of a growing number who enjoys traveling around the state and the country to take part in living history events. They often include the re-enactment of historic battles.

His favorite period is World War I.

“It changed so much history in the whole world,” Maddox said. “It's kind of a forgotten war because when guys came back they did not want to talk about how horrible it was. Britain lost an entire generation.”

Among his more colorful costumes is one from the Napoleonic Wars, which includes an authentic reproduction of a French jacket made in Australia. The showy helmet was hand forged in Russia.

“I bought it secondhand,” Maddox explains. “It would have cost $1,500 new. This is where my drinking money and income-tax refunds go.”

In the past, Maddox has taken part in the annual Civil War weekend at the Old Wade House, near Greenbush. About a dozen re-enactors from Rock and Walworth counties will take part in an encampment and battle today at the site. They will portray members of the 2nd Wisconsin, the 8th Regiment of Illinois Cavalry and others. Between skirmishes and a full-scale battle, visitors can see the people, horses and equipment of the Civil War up close.

Bridgitt Zielke of the historic site said re-enactments are popular throughout the United States, and they include more than the Civil War time period.

They also focus on the War of 1812, pre-1840 conflicts and most recently World War II, she said.

In Janesville, the Rock County Historical Society has hosted living history events.

They are popular because they take people back to a time that is foreign to them, said Mike Reuter, executive director of the historical society.

“Everything from clothing, customs, even the way of speaking, is drastically different from the present day,” he said.

Maddox got his start as a re-enactor in 2001, when he began taking riding lessons.

“I ran into a group of re-enactors, who loaned me a horse and a uniform,” he recalls.

He was hooked.

Until recent years, Maddox attended about 16 re-enactments yearly. He is now down to five major weekends and half a dozen one-day events. In addition to having a full-time job, he studies to get an online degree in psychology. Eventually, he wants to help vets who have post traumatic stress disorder.

Maddox served in the U.S. Navy from 1987 to 1997. After a major explosion aboard his first ship, many of his crew mates refused to return to sea and suffered from PTSD.

“When I'm out there re-enacting, veterans often open up to me,” Maddox said. “I want to make sure history lives on.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email [email protected].

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