By Joel Hall
On a crisp Tuesday morning, wearing a 19th century-style work dress, Nicole Hansard went into a holding pin to retrieve Stonewall, the strongest of the nearly ten goats she currently tends to on her farm in Ellenwood.
Reluctant, yet obedient, Stonewall chewed some grass as Hansard strapped on a towing harness and took him for a spin around the farm grounds. She encouraged the goat with a dish detergent bottle filled with cold water, occasionally squirting him when he got distracted.
When Hansard sells her wares during re-enactment events around the state, she says that most people don't remember her for her crafts, but as "the lady with all the goats."
Hansard is an avid seamstress, who has been selling 19th century-style dresses, quilts, needlepoint accessories, and wood burnings since the age of 16. She started her home-based business, Goat Wagon Sutlers, a few years ago. While goats are not the focus of the business, Hansard said they are definitely the draw.
"I was pretty much raised in a barn," said Hansard. At 22 years of age, she said she has been raising goats since the age of four. "Usually, when people look at my business card, they just start laughing. They don't easily forget the name."
According to Hansard, the word "sutler" was a term used to describe merchants in the antebellum period who would set up shop close to military encampments and sell items to soldiers seeking some of the comforts of home.
"The army provided minimum food and clothing, but the soldiers may have wanted some extra comforts that the army didn't provide," such as tobacco, extra food rations, razors, shoes and hats, she said.
Hansard became a sutler through her interest in sewing. In her quest for new patterns, and to improve her sewing techniques, she made many trips to Hancock Fabrics in Morrow. One of the seamstresses suggested she go to a re-enactment event in order to meet other women who had designed their own clothes.
Heeding the woman's advice, Hansard went to a re-enactment of the Atlanta Campaign six years ago in Conyers, and has been hooked since.
Hansard said she originally made dresses just for herself, but started selling them to offset the cost of her new hobby. "To make your own clothes and to pay the registration fees can get expensive," said Hansard. "I had to find a way to make back the money I was spending."
Making a new dress for almost every upcoming re-enactment event and selling the dresses a few weeks later, Hansard was eventually able to see some real profits.
It takes about a week from start to finish to make most of the dresses, but Hansard said a few of her dresses take months to complete. She typically sells them for $80 to $300.
Eventually, she began to delve into the history of the Civil War and begin making and selling items typical of that era, such as quilts, knitted rugs, pillows, and wood-burned portraits, in which superimposed drawings are literally burned into wood blocks.
"Daddy always says I was born 100 years too late," joked Hansard. "I like anything old fashioned."
Hansard said goats can be profitable, if sold as meat, but said she wouldn't do that to her "babies." "As a meat goat, [Stonewall would] probably sell for $150, but I wouldn't take that much for him," said Hansard.
Hansard, who will make an appearance this weekend at the Atlanta Campaign re-enactment at Nash Farm Battlefield in McDonough, said the kids who come to the events always buy her products because of the goats."They don't really care if I come there, but they want the goats there," said Hansard. "Everybody wants to see them."
On the web: www.freewebs.com/goatwagonsutlers.com