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A Living History

Fort Henry Days returns to Oglebay Labor Day weekend

August 25, 2013
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer (kloccisano@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

The upcoming 15th installation of Fort Henry Days will be held throughout the Labor Day weekend at Site One in Oglebay Park with its encampments open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.

It will be an event dramatically different from any of the previously offered annual living history battle reenactments shared here, with expansions and additions to the popular offerings enjoyed free of charge by the public via the grand encampment and the always expanding community celebration component of the event.

In particular, there will be no formal assault on a structure representing Fort Henry by Native Indian warriors, the French, Canadians, or English Loyalists.

Article Photos

Photos courtesty/?DON?FEENERTY
The Faces of Fort Henry?Days, from left, Alan Fitzpatrick, Giovanna Loccisano, Angela Feenerty (kneeling, Don Feenerty), Gary Timmons, Malissa Fox, Paul Carson, Dr. Jessica Fisher, Jennifer Compston Strough, Ed Phillips, Sue Weigand, Bekha Karelis, Elizabeth Stern, Earl Forman, Jacob Stern, Patrick Couglan, Tom Conley, Jessica, Joe and little Brandon Keller, Joe Roxby, Stephani Mentzer and Diane Couglan. The annual grand encampment and re-enactment will take place Labor Day weekend, Saturday, Aug. 31 and Sunday, Sept. 1, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at Oglebay Park Site One.

But visitors to the annual reenactment can count on witnessing intense portrayals of a pivotal point in our collective history when, after years of unrelenting attacks, kidnappings, murders and having their homes and farms laid waste by Indian assaults, the English settlers attempting to live on the American frontier - the Ohio Country - decided it was time to take the battle to the Indians.

"It was a watershed moment, particularly in the history of this region," offered well-known re-enactor, historian, author and co-founder of Fort Henry Days, Bridgeport businessman Al Fitzpatrick.

The re-enactment will provide the first revisiting of a time when it was frontier settlers who were leaving the safety of home to seek and destroy those they saw as a mortal enemy in light of more than six years of native Indian warriors waging attacks on their homes and communities.

Visitors to Fort Henry Days and the participating re-enactors should expect the battle re-enactment to be every bit as intense as any of the previously offered historically-based scenarios shared over the 15-years' efforts.

However, there will be dramatic battlefield reenactments of assaults by English settlers - frontiersmen - on Native villages.

This will be a look back into regional and national history in which, after years of what history has called "unrelenting" attacks, the whites living on the frontier decided it was time to turn the tables and not look back.

It was not going to be a time when compassion was a sentiment those carrying out the attacks could afford to carry with them into the fray, say historians.

"No quarter would be offered, and no prisoners were to be taken."

No mercy was to be shown; and history tells us it was not.

These standards were the structure on which the settlers built their assault plans, according to several of the local historians involved in organizing the annual Fort Henry Days reenactments.

Constant warfare spanning more than half a decade had not only been costly in lives and loss to the Settlers, it had meant little could be done to help maintain the traditional integrity of a Native village and way of life.

Warriors were now routinely farther and farther from their villages, for increasingly long periods of time. This left many villages with little if any ready protection from attack, according to both Fitzpatrick and fellow Fort Henry Days native re-enactor Bo Jacobs of Yorkville.

"The Settlers decided to take the fight to the Indians," offered Jacobs, who is himself a descendant of Natives who were part of tribes which called the frontier their home.

The way of life in those villages was changing. The absence of warriors often meant there was little if any meat to eat; crops were not able to be tended in the fields by the women with consistency; and the many resources this civilization had seen as readily available were rapidly disappearing.

Natives saw their worst fears being realized as they became the focus of the settler's pent up rage at having had their families, crops, communities, homes and families decimated by the constant attacks from the Indians and other forces.

There are few constants in this world regardless the time period of history in focus, however, the ever present fear of attack from a potentially mortal enemy and the possibility a person's life work could be erased in a single violent moment were constant companions of whites and Natives alike living in the region we know today as the Ohio Valley.

Devastating changes often swept through America's frontier with little or no warning of its impending arrival, leaving little surviving or salvageable in its tracks, especially in the time of historic figures such as George Rogers Clark, the Girty Brothers, Chief Local, Chief Cornstalk, Lewis Wetzel, and the Zanes, or events such as the French and Indian War and many others - some named, others not easily found in most history books.

The region we know today as the Ohio Valley was better known as the Ohio Country. It was the edge of the frontier in what was then America - a time that was not all that many generations back into local family histories with ties traceable to citizens of various Indian nations as well as groups largely described as Europeans.

"In 1780, the Indians of the Ohio Country had good reason to fear an attack on their villages," offered Fitzpatrick, a co- founder of the local reenactment and living history project.

Below are excerpts of a brief explanation offered by Fitzpatrick of some of the realities of the era which helped fuel conditions that brought about the disappearance of the native communities, residents and cultural traditions founded generations before.

"In August of 1779, the American Generals Sullivan and Brodhead put into motion a campaign conceived by George Washington to destroy the Iroquois Six Nations.

"Two armies marched into Iroquois lands south of Lake Ontario and laid waste to all villages and cornfields they found. The Americans encountered little resistance as the Iroquois warriors fell back to British Fort Niagara with their families. When the destruction was complete, the armies returned east, satisfied that their mission to prevent the Iroquois from raiding the frontier from their home bases was successful. Though disheartened, the Iroquois continued their raids from Fort Niagara, saying that though their nests had been destroyed, the birds were still on the wing.

"In the Ohio Country, the British mounted a campaign of their own against the settlements in Kentucky with the support of the Ohio tribes in June of 1780. Ruddel's and Martin's forts capitulated, and everyone was taken back to Detroit as captives; their property and crops destroyed. Clark arrived too late with a relief force, but he vowed to raise a force to attack the nearest Shawnee towns and punish the Indians severely.

"On Aug. 1, 1780, Clark, at the head of an army of 970 mounted militiamen, crossed the Ohio River to attack the Indians.

"When they reached the Shawnee town of Chillicothe, they found it abandoned, and paused long enough to burn it to the ground. Hurrying along the trail to the Shawnee village called Pekewee, or Piqua, the army found a small number of warriors waiting in ambush. All the women and children had time to flee. A battle for the Indian town ensued.

"Clark maneuvered his superior numbers to his advantage, forcing the Indians to slowly fall back or be annihilated. Once the village was taken, it was looted, and then put to the torch, along with the surrounding cornfields. Having killed only six Shawnee, and with considerable wounded of his own to tend for, Clark reluctantly decided to fall back as quickly as possible before Indian reinforcements arrived and engaged them. The Kentuckian invasion of Indian country was over.

"Homes and crops upon which the Indians relied for survival during the winter were completely destroyed. The Shawnee were demoralized and worried for the welfare of their women and children until the British were able to re-supply them."

By the late summer of 1781, most of the Indians of the Ohio Country moved their villages to the Upper Sandusky River area.

For more information, visit www.forthenrydays.com or on Facebook at Fort Henry Living History.

 
 

 

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