If there is an activity regarding the Wild West or the Civil War, chances are Dennis Laubenstein of Bear Creek has taken part in it.
It started with Civil War re-enactments in the early 1970s.
Laubenstein said he had no intentions of becoming involved in Civil War re-enactments. That changed when a friend of his introduced him to someone who was involved with re-enactments.
Laubenstein was a Confederate soldier in his first re-enactment. Since then, Laubestein said, “I’ve been hooked, buying and spending.”
The buying and spending comes from the fact that those who participate in the re-enactments have to supply their own uniforms and equipment. Laubenstein says some items cost hundreds of dollars.
Despite the expense, Laubenstein enjoyed Civil War re-enacting and traveled the country doing it.
“Doing it as a team,” Laubenstein said about the enjoyment. “How many people have seen 64 cannons going off here, 48 going off there.”
It’s a good thing he enjoyed it so much because he said he and the other re-enactors were not paid. If they received anything it was usually a meal.
“I think it started out when I was a little kid. I liked horses,” Laubenstein said, when asked if he decided to do Civil War re-enacting because he had a special interest in the Civil War.
He says re-enacting is not as popular as it used to be.
“People are getting old,” he said with a laugh. “It was just the rage back in the time. I think kids just lost interest and are on computers.”
His Civil War re-enacting days earned him a role as an extra in the movie “Rough Riders.”
“We just had to run, that’s all we had to do,” he said. “You’d get up in the morning and you’d run. Run up the hill, run down the hill until they said, ‘cut.'”
Laubenstein’s claim to fame is being in the movie draped over a barb-wire fence.
“I came over the hill, and right where the fence was I tripped and fell over the barb-wire fence, and I’m dangling down over the trench,” Laubenstein said.
As the years went by, Laubenstein knew he had to make a change.
“I couldn’t ride the horse anymore because my legs were hurting after 14 years of riding a horse,” Laubenstein said.
He said he was involved with the Buffalo Wild West Show at the time. Another person involved in the show owned several troughs that he used to have children pan for gold. Pieces of gravel that were painted gold were used.
“He’d charge the kids a $1 to pan and they just flocked in there,” Laubenstein recalled. “After three days of being part of the show, he was frustrated, his wife was frustrated, and he asked me, “Do you want this?'”
Laubenstein agreed to take over the panning for gold operation and still travels around the Midwest teaching others about panning for gold. Once or twice a month during the summer he travels to festivals, historical society functions or schools, just to name a few.
The excitement in the faces of the kids as they find their first “nugget” is what Laubenstein enjoys the most about showing kids how to pan for gold. “It’s not a business, it’s my own entertainment,” he said. “The money comes out of my pocket to go places. The money comes out of my pocket for painting, for hauling all this stuff. A $1 bill isn’t bad for entertainment for a kid.”
With his interest in panning for gold piqued, Laubenstein joined the Gold Prospectors of America (GPAA). He is also the vice-president of the Wausau Prospectors Club, which has 82 members. The club meets the first Saturday of every month. During the summer months, it has outings for the members.
“We aren’t just looking for gold, we are looking for precious rocks,” he said. “We go in a caravan and we all camp in the same spot. We are all together. It’s kind of a group thing.”
Laubenstein said there is flower gold along the glacial push in Wisconsin.
His gold panning interest has led Laubenstein into competitions. The winner of the competition is the one who can get five gold nuggets to be visible in the pan in the shortest amount of time.
He won the Wisconsin State Gold Panning competition in 2009 and 2011.
“In 2012 I got beat out by my competition in 2010,” Laubenstein said. “It was a girl. She was 14 years old and she beat me. She was really on. We actually had to go back at it a couple of times.”