By Dan Harkins
ORANGE CITY - Reese Moore is spending a lot of time these days away from his artifact-laden family home on Tangelo Avenue.
For decades, the 63-year-old would bring his whole family along for elaborate, loincloths-and-all Timucuan Indian reenactments that marveled thousands of school children and history buffs for miles around. But there isn't enough time - or willing volunteers - for that kind of primitive recreation anymore, now that the 63-year-old's nest has emptied of his seven children and has started to fill again with seven grandchildren.
Mr. Moore fills the days now with historic reenactment of a different sort. Over the past few decades, the career stone mason has become one of a handful of historic set designers called upon by museums around the country to either improve existing displays or build new ones from scratch. Most often the work involves Indian recreations, but not always.
The Old Florida Museum in St. Augustine is loaded with his handiwork. So are Old St. Augustine Village, the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Sciences, Old St. Augustine Village and King Carlos' Court at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville to name some more.
"I work harder now than I ever did, but I can pick and choose my projects now," said Mr. Moore during a recent walk through his treasure-laden backyard. "It's not like I need the money any more. It's more about the adventure."
His home reflects that spirit.
The fašade is almost completely wrapped in ancient-looking stones. Some are authentic from archeological digs. Others he's made to look as if they are.
A workshop behind his house is lined with just the best of thousands of Volusia County artifacts he's accumulated while treasure hunting or trading. Authentic Timucuan arrowheads and shell-beaded jewelry fight for space with elaborate pipes, spears whittled from antlers and turtle-shell bowls. The corners of the room are festooned with animal pelts and antlers.
On either side of the workshop are two cluttered sheds: one with old costumes in plastic bins for various types of reenactments; the other contains about two tons of real animal bones.
"All of this has been taking shape for so many years," he said, waving his hand to encompass a backyard coated in historic bricks and native plants. "I'll never be done. I'll do this forever."
It seems like that's how long these types of things have captured his imagination. He admits to being obsessed.
"He really is," jokes his wife of 22 years, Jeanne, later in the living room. "More so than normal."
He's been into Old Florida for awhile.
Growing up in an Ormond Beach Cracker-style house, he said the woods were still the jungle-y tangle where some of the "Tarzan" movies were filmed.
For a few years, his parents lived near Lake George in Flagler County, where Mr. Moore built his early collection of artifacts by walking the tributary banks and exploring an Indian mound in his backyard that was later used as road fill.
In high school, when he wasn't tagging along on summer archeological digs with teachers to places like Costa Rica and Equador, he was selling baby alligators to tourists passing through to Miami and back.
After school, his father got him a job at the Aquatorium in St. Petersburg.
"They said, 'Your Dad said you like animals,'" he recalled. "So you're working with the whales, the porpoises and the sea lions."
He was there for a decade, until 1978, when he moved on to work with dolphins in Fort Myers Beach and killer whales and seals at The Japanese Village and Deer Park in California.
After ending up at the Seven Seas Marine Life Park in Arlington, Texas, he lost part of his bottom teeth and jaw when a dolphin overshot the fish in Mr. Moore's mouth. It was all rebuilt.
All along he kept treasure hunting. In the late 1980s, he transitioned to a career in masonry, with Moore Creative Stone, with a side job of reenacting the Timucuan life he'd grown to deeply respect.
"The Indians weren't under any stress until the Spanish arrived here," he said while looking over his collection. "Everybody in the villages had a job. Some people made pottery, stone tools, caught fish. ... And from what we understand by the real written record that the priests first wrote, they were living more by Moses' law than the people who came over to change them to Catholicism."
Jeanne worked with her husband in the masonry business until the kids started coming.
After they started getting older, the Moore's would bring them along, in loincloths and jewelry. They'd play with native toys while Mrs. Moore would fry up elderberry blossoms or cattails like early Timucuan chefs.
Even the blind could touch the weapons, skins and loin cloths of the people who lived here first. Some are recreations by Mr. Moore and some are the real deal.
"I just love the history," he said, poring over his collection. "I love touching something g that was made and used thousands of years ago."
Sara Nettle (Moore), 26, started doing reenactments with her parents when she was in second grade at Orange City Elementary School. She has children of her own now, and has nothing but fond memories of her father's primitive teachings.
"It's really cool because I don't know anybody else who does something like this," she said of her father. "And it got me out there. I just ran into somebody at Walmart the other day, and she said, 'I've known you guys since your Dad and Mom did those Indian shows in Orange City."
They don't do those reenactments so much anymore, though.
"I'm not sleeping on the ground again," his wife jokes. "I've got seven grandkids."
Mr. Moore is getting more pressing work anyway. He just returned last month from helping to design and compile the artifacts for the new Boston Tea Party Museum in Massachusetts.
These types of projects have been coming in for many years now, he said. A decade ago, he designed the wooden peace pipe used in the ceremony to dedicate a new Indian wing at the Smithsonian Institute. He considered it an honor that might have conflicted with his Christian faith.
Some of the area pastors he's helped to build new churches thought building the pipe was wrong, but after he consulted with his aunt, who's also a minister, he learned something new about his connection to the past.
"She told me, 'You owe it to the Timucuan,'" he remembers her telling him, "and you owe it to your great-grandmother. I was like, 'Huh?' and she told me, 'Why do you think your great-grandmother grew up on the reservation?' I said, 'I thought she was a teacher.' And she said, 'No, your grandmother is Choctaw.' So all along I have this connection I could never explain until then."
A few days later, he was off to a desolate patch of Tennessee for a month, where the owners of a luxury log cabin waited for an outdoor barbecue to be nestled into their section of a mountainside, and Mr. Moore was just the man to build it.