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A Brief History of Peter La Grue and the Founding of Amtgard
[01/30/2003] [Matthew Amt]

My sister Katy and I got our start in reenacting back in the 80s with Markland, the local medieval group. Not long afterwards, we also discovered Dagorhir, a fantasy-medieval padded-weapon organization, which was a blast. One of the group leaders in that was Jim Haren, then known as Musashi, and I fell in with his band, along with a few other folks, mostly teenagers. We had a great time! Musashi always had incredible stories to tell, both war stories from past battles and real life experiences. He was a bit of an odd duck, always changing (or losing) jobs and living in various peoples’ basements and closets.

And there was quite a rapid turnover of members in his group, and he kept declaring the group dead and then reincarnating it with a new name. If I remember correctly, the succession of groups went like this: Kagehiri and Clan Kykushin (he was Kykushin Musashi, and I think Kagehiri was supposed to supplant Dagorhir in general), Warriors of the Golden Dawn, The Sons of the Black Death Jungle Combo and Storm Door Company (“A Division of Elyss Industries”) (hey, it was made up by a committee!), then one or two battles calling ourselves simply ”Us”. Then he discovered another padded weapon group called Emarthnguarth, and we got into that as the nation of Zem-tuo. When that organization came apart due to politics among those in charge, we went with the larger splinter organization, Ealdgestreon, as the nation of Vandlunge (Danish for ”Aqualung”, Jim’s favorite Jethro Tull song).

Somewhere along the line we started hearing the strangest stories about him, though he was always puzzled and aggrieved that such-and-such a person should have taken a disliking to him! Then it began to dawn on us that his version of a particular event could be wildly different from that of other people involved. Hmmm...

Well, to make a long story short, we eventually got it through our thick skulls that he was a jerk and a liar, and, in real life, a total loser! He decided to have his character Musashi commit public suicide (as some sort of apology to the world), then reappeared minutes later as Peter la Grue. Things didn’t really change much. It couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years that this all went on, but it seems like more.

On several occasions Jim went travelling or moved back to El Paso (his family’s home), and my sister and I kept our little group together and battling. He had appointed me Warlord and I was in charge while he (being King) was away. After one of his returns from Texas he told us he had started a new group and named it Amtgard in honor of us, his best friends. We gagged a bit, said “Uh, gee, that’s great, Grue”, and thought, Gads, he’s done it again, and lured yet another band of kids to their doom! Eventually we ALL got sick of him, and he threw a tantrum and left for good.

It must have been not long after, at one of my last Dagorhir battles, one of the guys in charge was showing us a letter he’d gotten from someone in Texas. The name was different, but it was Jim Haren’s handwriting!! He had, he said, just learned about Dagorhir and was surprised to find that the rules were so similar to those of his own group, Amtgard! “Of course!” crowed I, “it’s because he photocopied the Dagorhir rulebook!” We all had a great laugh.

A couple years ago I was put in touch with another Amtgard member (some question about costuming, I think), and discovered the group’s website. It was quite startling to see how large and far-flung it had become. Reading through the archives, I found references to the exact same kind of troubles with la Grue that we had had—eventually Amtgard had thrown him out, too. I like to believe that Amtgard has flourished not because of him, but in spite of him.

It’s clear now that however it got started, Amtgard’s rules are much more involved and complex than Dagorhir’s, particularly the character classes. Lots of D&D there, which is great.

So that’s the history of Amtgard as I know it, seen from afar. For a closer look, check the archives on the Amtgard site, or consult one of your elders. Like I said, I wish I had time to fight again, but I’m so heavily into several living history periods that there just isn’t time. (And at 38, I’m not sure I could keep up with the younger warriors, either.) Now I am Quintus, guru to Romans all over the world, while the medieval world knows me as Aelfric, Authenticity Nazi of Markland. In the American Revolution I have been many things but am currently happy as a grunt with a musket in the ranks. (Though they tried to promote me to corporal at my last event…) I expect Jim Haren/Peter la Grue is still sleeping on park benches, selling blood plasma to survive, and scrounging foam and duct tape for a new sword.

Who knows what he’ll do next? But really, who cares?


To see what the Great Namesakes are up to these days, here are some links:

Legio XX—The Twentieth Legion,
Matthew Amt’s Greek Hoplite Site,
Katy Amt’s Merchant Adventurers,

[ This article is posted with the permission of Matthew Amt, and has been editted slightly from its original form. ]

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