Two women stepped and moved in a circle opposite each other, jingling as they danced outside Fort Atkinson's Council House. The jangle came from the clink of chewing tobacco lids rolled and sewn to their dresses, a longstanding tradition of a Native American women's jingle dance.
The dance originated around the Great Lakes among the Ojibwa people in the 1850s, Lakota Tribe member Steve Tamayo told dozens of people who gathered Sunday to watch three hours of various Native American dances. Chewing tobacco lids are used in the dance, Tamayo said, because the Ojibwa people needed something that would jingle and early fur traders traveling through the area provided that something with their chewing snuff.
The dance and the origin of the material used therein gave some national context to the interactions between Native Americans and early American pioneers. The interactions between different cultures were specified and centralized Saturday and Sunday at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park when the fort hosted numerous guest events in conjunction with Living History activities for its bicentennial weekend celebrations, themed "When the Troops Met the Native Americans."
Tamayo, with several of his family members, offered through dances as part of the weekend activities which fort organizers hoped provided perspective and contrast between the life and cultures of Native Americans and Fort Atkinson pioneers.
"It's a pleasure to come down and be part of Living History especially because we're not supposed to be here," said Tamayo, an artist and adjunct professor at Metropolitan Community College.
"They tried to outlaw this way of life," he said of early American policies which prohibited many aspects of Native American religions and sacred ceremonies.
Dr. Eagle T. Knife Chief discussed Pawnee contributions to the area in his presentation "Pawnee Involvement From Early Times." Knife Chief is the great-grandson of the Skiri Pawnee leader Man Chief who was a member of the tribe who signed the Treat of Friendship at Fort Atkinson in 1825.
"He had a packed house both days," Park Superintendent Jason Grof said.
Grof estimated about 1,500 people visited the fort Saturday and another 500 on Sunday.
"It was a very busy weekend," Grof said, adding that many people hear about fort activities through publicity, but some might happen to stop by on their way through.
"If they're doing the Lewis and Clarke Trail, and they're just coming through, we might see them stop," he said.
Mondamin, Iowa, residents Maggie and Jim Rains, along with their two grandsons, happened to stop during other business they had in Fort Calhoun.
"They've added a lot since the last time we came, which was, gosh, a long time ago," Maggie said. "We thought it would be nice to bring (the grandsons) and show them some local history."
Some of the first pieces of history the Rains passed as they walked onto the parade grounds was early surveying equipment which was used by Andrew Talcott — the engineer who designed Fort Atkinson — when the fort was founded in 1819.
Don Borcherding, a guest presenter from Minnesota, portrayed Talcott as he gave a presentation on how the early surveying equipment, such a 50-foot chain with 50 1-foot links and compasses, were used to plot settlements. With the help of two Living History interpreters using the 50-foot chain, those listening to Borcherding's presentation learned the distance from where they stood to a corner of the building centering the parade grounds was 174 feet.
Living History demonstrations and the stories people can learn from their ancestors are necessary, Tamayo said.
"Before we start anything, we always offer a prayer," he told the crowd before the Native American dances began. "I always offer a blessing to all of our ancestors. That's all of our ancestors. We all have stories we need to keep alive to understand who we actually are."