You’re apt to see a Viking anywhere these days, even landlocked Wyoming.
Perhaps even especially Wyoming, where Viking re-enactors and other disciples of Viking lore and legend say the ancient warrior’s code of honor resonates with Wyoming’s own Cowboy Way.
“The Viking code of ethics is about, you know, taking care of people and community. And not just protecting your community, but making sure you bring everybody in and along,” TA Ranch family member Katie Giles told Cowboy state Daily. “And being honest, you know, having loyalty and inclusivity.”
Katie recently helped her mother, Kirsten Giles, plan a Viking-themed Fire and Ice Festival at the TA Ranch near Buffalo, which saw unexpectedly high attendance.
“I had had a lot of medical problems, and it was a bad year for me,” Kirsten told Cowboy State Daily. “And because we are Norwegian, I said the best thing we could do is put (2023) in a boat, light it on fire, and send it to Valhalla.”
That set fire to the family’s imagination as they decided they should just do it. The Fire and Ice Festival was born.
Going into it for the first year, they weren’t sure what kind of activities they could put on, nor how many people might attend. Turns out, all they had to do was mention anything Viking. The response was overwhelming.
“People just came crawling out of the woodwork,” Kirsten Giles told Cowboy State Daily. “You cannot believe the resources that called us and said, ‘I do this, and I’m in Wyoming.’ Nordic heritage is very strong in Wyoming.”
A Fan In Every Corner Of The State
Not only is Nordic heritage strong in the Cowboy State, fans are popping up all over the place, doing all sorts of unexpected creative and interesting things.
There’s a Viking band in Gillette called the Pillage People, while a group in Jackson put on a Viking-themed play earlier this year.
Gillette is also home to Big Lost Meadery, which makes a popular Viking drink — mead.
Blame the popularity of these Middle Age marauders on the History Channel series “Vikings,” said Cheyenne couple Chris and Jennifer Lawson.
It spawned a sequel, “Vikings: Valhalla,” as well as all sorts of other popular Viking-related shows. There’s “The Last Kingdom” series on Netflix, for example, where Uhtred, son of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, tries in vain over five seasons to regain the lands he lost after Vikings stole him as a boy and raised him as one of their own.
“Hollywood does really drive a lot of the interest in these things,” Jennifer said.
For the Cheyenne couple, it was an interest in history that drew them to various re-enactment groups. Vikings just turned out to be their favorite, and then through genealogy, Jennifer discovered Norse heritage in her husband’s background.
“Sometime in the late 1700s, Chris had a family that migrated into Denmark,” Jennifer said.
Raid Or Trade
That kind of sealed the deal on their interest in all things Vikings. The couple are now working on setting up a Viking re-enactment group in Wyoming, dedicated to the accurate portrayal of everyday Vikings — down to the smallest of details.
“We do simple crafts, you know,” Jennifer said. “There’s metalworking, there’s leatherworking, woodworking — anything that the Vikings would have been able to do back in their time, we try to recreate it.”
Chris is researching farming implements that would have been in use for the time, as well as how archery was used in combat.
One reason he’s researching farming implements is because most Vikings were actually farmers.
“That was (Scandinavian’s) main way of life,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “The word ‘Viking’ isn’t actually a people. It’s a job, an action. A Viking was someone who basically went out exploring or raiding and trading.”
Whether it was raid or trade was a decision made on the fly a few minutes before reaching port, Chris said.
“If they came up to a town or city that was well-fortified they would trade,” Chris said. “But if it was a little hamlet out of nowhere with no defense, they were going to raid.”
Part of the fun of a re-enactment group for Chris and Jennifer has been the chance to do deep dives into Viking history, figuring out the puzzle of how they made everyday items.
The couple has made all of their own clothing and equipment based on the available archaeological records, keeping everything as true to the Viking Age as they can.
That includes using natural dies that Vikings would have had available.
“I think the easiest one is woad,” Jennifer told Cowboy State Daily. “You see that in a lot of the Scottish movies with blue war paint on their faces.”
Woad is the name of a plant whose active ingredient is similar to indigo.
“You basically dry out the plants, then crush it up to a powder,” Jennifer said. “Then you put it in some water, but you have to get it to a very basic level for the pH.”
The way the Vikings did that back then was to use well-ripened urine.
“It’s chemistry,” Chris said.
These days, however, the Lawsons don’t use urine to dye their clothing. There are other substances that can achieve the same effect.
“Actually, some of us would have liked to try that,” Chris said. “But everybody else was kind of squeamish about it.”
In The Pink With Beetles
There’s also a beetle that makes a pinkish dye, which the couple has grown, and they can use things like onions to create the color yellow.
“Every time you see someone portraying a Viking in movies or anything, they’re always wearing very drab clothing and a lot of fur,” Chris said. “That wasn’t the case. We actually get some very vibrant colors with our natural dyes.”
Tunics can be bright fire-engine reds, and yellows, too, can be quite vibrant and bright.
“The brighter the color, the higher up in status you were,” Chris said. “Because you could afford the fancier dies.”
But re-enactors aren’t the only ones finding Viking popularity a great platform for something fun.
The Pillage People in Gillette are a merry band of educators who play what Kirsten Giles described as Nordic punk.
Making Viking Music For The Modern Age
Steve Oakley, the leader of the band, told Cowboy State Daily that the Pillage People began when Big Lost Meadery asked the high school band leader if he could put together something Viking-ish for a dinner it wanted to hold.
Oakley found several teachers who played one or another instrument that would work for a Viking-style band. At first, the gig was just once a year. But people enjoyed their take on Viking music so much, they started getting more invitations to play. Now they play about once a month at Big Lost, as well as other places.
“We’re basically a cover band,” Oakley said. “We play stuff no one else plays.”
That means a lot of things like Irish folk songs and other European ballads. But now that their following is growing, they’re actually thinking about writing some original stuff.
That will probably be a sort of modern-day take on Viking tunes, Oakley said.
“That’s the one thing we do that no other band covers,” he said. “So, I’m sure we’ll go that route.”
The band doesn’t try to stick with old-time instruments, however. Instead, they have adapted today’s instruments to yesterday’s Viking sensibilities.
“We try to put a modern spin on it,” Oakley said. “We very rarely play the same thing the same way twice. All the musicians in the group are really talented, so depending on how we are feeling that night, we change things up all the time.”
The group doesn’t practice a lot, either. They just get together and wing it.
“Our performance is our practice,” Oakley said.
He also was surprised and impressed by the number of Vikings who attended the recent Fire and Ice festival in Buffalo.
There’s just something irresistible about the culture. So irresistible in fact, that Oakley found himself jumping in on the battle horn blowing competition, which he ended up winning.
“I wasn’t planning to participate, but I watched a lot of people try to do it,” he said. “So I had to jump in, just to prove it could be done.”
Renee Jean can be reached at: Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com