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Living History

For a spring day, the weather was just warm enough. A few flies were buzzing around and Gustine Police Chief Ruben Chavez was wondering how long it would be that he had to play dead.

The battle being fought out at Mahon Ranch in Elk Grove on this May day had gone just as planned, which meant not well for Chavez and his fellow soldiers manning the cannon. They had been overrun and mortally wounded and fallen on the battlefield. At least until about 3 p.m. when they all could pick themselves up, dust off the dirt and head back to their camp.

Chavez is a Civil War re-enactor and a member of the James River Squadron, which was part of the Virginia Navy in the Confederate Army. Taking part in re-enacted battles has been an activity Chavez has been doing for more than 30 years.


“When my daughters were little, we got them involved in this,” Chavez said. “My wife was homeschooling the children and she wanted to include this as part of their history lesson. So, we joined and they really loved it. I kind of got hooked into it as well, which I obviously didn’t mind because I’m still doing it after all these years.

The re-enactments are organized by the National Civil War Association and those interested in participating can join as either part of the Union Army, the Confederate Army or as civilian townsfolk.

“A lot of people will walk around and talk to the different units and find out what they experience during the battles,” Chavez explained. “So, when I talked to the James River Squadron, it was a bunch of good guys and they told me they were artillery men and all you do is fire the cannons. They didn’t have to buy the long rifles, and they just wear a really nice cotton white shirt and a hat and no warm wool jackets. And I thought that sounded pretty good to me.

“Plus, I thought it would be kind of cool to be on the cannon crew.”

While Chavez definitely enjoys his time on the cannon crew, he just as much enjoys the times around the campfires swapping stories and experiences.

The experiences have also taught Chavez, a self-described history buff, so much more about the Civil War and that period in American history. 

“You learn what you learn from the history books,” Chavez said. “But out there, you learn so much more about the battles and the people that fought in them and how people lived.”