Few things give Mike Sheriff as much joy as pulling on one of his authentic hand-sewn period military uniforms. The beauty of the carefully stitched details. The feel of the heavy woven fabric draped over his shoulders. The shine of leather straps, and the distinguished look of his hat. “Any day you wear wool is a good day,” he likes to say.
Sheriff, a lifetime member of the Oklahoma Historical Society, is a living historian, by way of a 40-plus-year career in and around the energy industry. His focus is on the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and U.S. marshals in Indian Territory. One day he may be a Union soldier, and the next day he may be on the Confederate side. Either way, he loves the hands-on experience of educating children and adults about American history.
“Whatever I have on, that’s the period I’m in,” says Sheriff. “Living history gets you into the mindset of those who lived through it. It takes a lot of research and practice, but it really helps you understand history.”
Sheriff’s favorite role to play is a deputy U.S. marshal from the late 1800s. He feels their place in American history has been somewhat obscured. He also appreciates what the U.S. Marshals Service has meant to his home state. Sheriff is an Oklahoman through and through. Born and raised in Oklahoma City, he got his undergrad degree at OSU and his MBA in electrical engineering from Oklahoma City College, and then spent his entire professional career with Oklahoma Gas & Electric.
“U.S. marshals have a tremendous history, especially here in Oklahoma,” says Sheriff. “In fact, since the inception the U.S. Marshals Service in 1789, roughly half of the marshals, deputies, and posse members who have lost their lives in the line of duty were in Oklahoma.”
Sheriff credits his father for his love of history. “We went on a lot of vacations when I was a kid,” he recalls. “National parks were free, and my dad took us to one just about every summer. That was the spark for me. The Civil War became my primary subject of interest. Today, I have a library with more than 3,000 volumes in it. I’m also a member of the Oklahoma Civil War Round Table.”
Sheriff’s interest in the Civil War also eventually led him to reenactments. He enjoyed the hardcore nature of the culture, but it wore on him as well. “I spent too many nights sleeping in 90-degree heat and too many days trying to drink from frozen canteens,” Sheriff explains. “When I retired from OG&E, I got into living history.”
According to Sheriff, living history presentations offer a unique learning experience. He always plays a generic character, which allows him to craft a full narrative for his audience. Children, in particular, respond positively. “It’s fun to see how involved they get,” says Sheriff. “Even adults seem to learn more. It’s like history they’ve never heard before.”
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