Event: Dade’s Battle

2019.01.05.028

In 1835 the Florida Seminole were struggling to defend their homeland from the encroachment of white settlers. Tension had been building for over a decade what with the tendency of the Seminole to take in escaped slaves and the U.S. government trying to move them out to Oklahoma. Everything finally exploded in 1835 when Seminole warriors attacked U.S. soldiers under the command of Brevet Major Francis Langhorne Dade who were on their way from Fort Brooke in Tampa to Fort King in Ocala. The soldiers had a cannon but the Seminoles had the element of surprise and claimed victory after a day of fierce fighting. They won the battle, but they ultimately lost the war. The Second Seminole War that started here lasted over 6 years, only ending in 1842 after the deportation of over 90% of the Seminoles – 4,000 people – from their ancestral homes in Florida to Oklahoma.

Dade Battlefield Historic State Park now protects the ground where the battle took place & hosts a reenactment every year in January. I attended this year’s reenactment & found it to be very interesting. The event began on a scary/exciting note when one of the horses threw her rider & went tearing around the park! Fortunately another rider caught her pretty quickly, nobody got hurt, they restarted the battle, & everything went without a hitch after that. There were a couple dozen reenactors on each side, plus a canon firing every couple of minutes, so it was pretty intense! Before & after the battle itself I wandered through the encampment, where a variety of booths sold everything from alligator skulls to Davy Crockett style raccoon hats. The park also has trails & a small visitor’s center with a museum.

I don’t know how it was when they started doing these or how much input the Seminole tribe has with it, so for all I know it’s a huge improvement over what went on in the past & everybody’s happy, but I did find parts of the event to be fairly biased. The Seminole narrator discussed his people’s feelings about their land & the idea of having to leave their homes at the beginning, so that was good, but then at the end he left the scene while the Army narrator talked about trying to escape the battlefield with a friend, so the sympathy ended up being pretty one-sided. One of the speakers, I don’t recall who, said that there were only 3 survivors of the battle, but there were actually only 3 survivors on the Army side of the conflict – nearly all of the Seminoles made it out alive. I get what they’re going for but I think it could still use some tweaking.

Advertisements

Destination: Little Rock

2015.04.09.P01

Leaving the Fort Smith area I headed east on I-40, with a stop at Petit Jean State Park.  Miles of creek side trails and a big lake make Petit Jean a great spot for outdoor adventures.  One of the central features is Cedar Falls, which tumbles 90 feet into a gorge.  There’s a couple of vantage points above it that are easy to get to, but to see it from below requires a hike down into the canyon.  Another interesting spot is Rock House Cave, a petroglyph site.  Beautiful Civilian Conservation Corps construction on roads, trails, and picnic areas round out this gorgeous location.

pj_map_pjarea_2008

Right smack in the middle of Arkansas is its capital city: Little Rock. Once upon a time this was the place everyone was talking about as nine black teenagers struggled through the integration of all-white Little Rock Central High School. The school itself still operates so you can’t just go wandering around in it (although there are tours occasionally, see the NPS website for info) but the grounds are open and the National Park Service operates a very nice (and free) visitor’s center kitty corner to the school. I was there in the afternoon and watched for a bit as the students were heading out for the day. Black, white, sixty years after the National Guard was used to keep out the Little Rock Nine everybody mingled together and it didn’t seem to matter a bit what color anybody’s skin was.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Little Rock, Arkansas

The River Market District is a beautiful section of the city packed with restaurants, shops, and historic buildings.  I stopped for lunch at Ottenheimer Market Hall where stalls offer just about any kind of food you can imagine.  Pizza, ice cream, Asian, Middle Eastern, soul food, nobody could possibly go hungry in this place. While I was there I saw everybody from bankers to construction workers chowing down.  I was basically eating with the Village People.  Wandering along the street I came to the Old State House, where Arkansas seceded from the Union on May 6th, 1861.  The free museum inside covers every aspect of Arkansas history you can think of.  There were big sections on governors, civil rights, the history of bicycles, movies with any sort of tie to Arkansas, there was even a whole room of dresses worn by governor’s wives.  When my feet started to hurt I hopped on a trolley; for $1 it meandered through the river district, over the Arkansas River into North Little Rock, and back again while the driver pointed out interesting things along the way.  North Little Rock holds T.R. Pugh Memorial Park which contains The Old Mill.  This was never actually a mill, it was created purely as a picturesque ruin, but it is pretty enough to have made it into the opening scenes of Gone with the Wind.

Continuing along I-40 there are three different archaeological parks to visit. These are mound sites, created hundreds of years ago by the ancestors of modern Native American tribes. Some of the mounds have fallen victim to farming over the years but several are still visible. Toltec & Parkin have trails going out to their mounds, but Hampson is just a small museum dedicated to a site that remains privately held and can’t be visited. The ranger at Toltec told me that they had excavated one mound for study and when they rebuilt it they had to bring in 18 dump trucks of dirt. Imagine doing that by hand, carrying the dirt in baskets.  Village Creek State Park also resides along this corridor and has some nice trails.

I really didn’t expect Arkansas to be so incredible, but I’m already scheming to go back.

Event: The Battle of Mackinac Island

2014.08.04.252

In one of the earliest battles of the War of 1812, British forces captured Mackinac Island from the Americans.  Fort Mackinac had a highly strategic position in the Straits of Mackinac, controlling the entire trade route from the Western USA to Detroit & New England, and since the Americans didn’t actually know they were supposed to be at war, it was pretty easy for the Brits to take them by surprise.  Landing on the uninhabited north end of Mackinac Island, (a spot referred to as British Landing to this day) they climbed up to the highest point (Fort George) under cover of darkness, pointed their single cannon down at the fort, and fired a single shot.  Badly outnumbered, the 60 Americans realized they would never be able to defend the fort and save the town; they had to surrender to the hundreds of Indians & Redcoats.  What else could they do?

American forces didn’t show back up to retake the fort until 1814, but when they did they used the exact same tactic.  Turned out the British were prepared to defend against the same move they themselves had made two years before.  Who knew.  So, the Americans came tromping up from British Landing only to find themselves face-to-face with British soldiers.  The two armies shot at each other across a field for a while in true 19th century style, with each side trying to outflank the other.  After being ambushed in the woods by Menominee warriors, the Americans were forced to retreat.  Fort Mackinac wouldn’t return to American hands until war’s end.

More details on both battles here. Fort Mackinac ($12 adults/$7 kids) remains intact and along with its recreated mainland neighbor Colonial Michilimackinac ($11/$6.50) open to visitors as a living history museum, telling the story of the Straits of Mackinac and its importance to the many groups who have called the area home.  Their staffs of interpreters along with volunteer reenactors recreated the battle on its bicentennial this past August.

Under American control Fort George was renamed Fort Holmes, after an officer killed in the battle.  The earthen rampart remains, but the single blockhouse burned to the ground.  It was rebuilt for visitors, and burned again.  And rebuilt again, and burned again.  They’re rebuilding it yet again this year, and plan to have it open to visitors for the next summer season. (don’t light any cigarettes while you’re up there, OK?)

Most of the original battlefield now lies under the Wawashkamo golf course on one side of British Landing road, with a historic marker in a small clearing on the other.  The rest is obscured by forest.

The beach at British Landing is always open, although there’s not much there besides a historic marker & a cannon pointed out into Lake Huron.  It’s a good halfway resting/bathroom point on any walking or biking trip around the island; the nearby Cannonball Drive In restaurant offers lunch, ice cream, and drinks.