3.12.19FortAtkinsonBicentennialhistoryEvents.jpg

The last 200-year celebrations that took place at Fort Atkinson were in 2004. Under the shade of canvas keelboat sail, Bat Shunatona, a direct descendant of Big Horse, Jim Swanson who portrays an interpreter, and Peyton "Bud" Clark, who portrays his ancestor William Clark, share a ceremonial pipe of friendship in a reenactment of the "first council" between Native American tribes and the Corps of Discovery at Fort Atkinson in 2004.

Fort Atkinson is celebrating its bicentennial this year. The National Historic Landmark will mark its 200th anniversary in August.

A handful of events and items — including those from a Smithsonian exhibit — will commemorate the occasion, which recognizes the 1819 establishment of the fort, 15 years after Lewis and Clark held council with the Otoe-Missouria Indians.

The troops of Fort Atkinson also met with Native Americans, meetings which provide the spirit for the fort's bicentennial celebrations.

"The theme for the summer is 'When the Troops Meet the Native Americans,'" said Susan Juza, a Fort Atkinson researcher and member of the bicentennial committee. "That's what happened the beginning of August of 1819. So, in August, we have a very heavy Native American presence."

Juza said plans to commemorate the bicentennial of the first major American fort west of the Missouri River go beyond the public events Fort Atkinson usually has each year.

The Smithsonian's exhibit "Patriot Nations: Native Americans in our Armed Forces," which emphasizes Native American contributions to the United States military conflicts from the French and Indian War to current times, will be on display at the fort during July and August.

Fort Atkinson will also host Living History demonstrations, as it does the first weekend of the month from May through October each year, but two of those weekends will include extra events.

On Aug. 4 and 5, Steve Tamayo — an artist, teacher and member of the Sicangu Lakota Tribe — will lead a "War Dance and Gourd Dance of the Umonhon Nation."

"It's a war dance for veterans, it's not people going off to war," Juza said. "It's a dance that brings in all the Native American veterans."

Eagle T. Knife Chief — a descendent of a member of the Pawnee tribe who signed the Treaty of Friendship at Fort Atkinson in 1825 — will also be at the fort that weekend. He'll give a short presentation in the visitors center about when the Pawnee met the soldiers before mingling with visitors and Living History demonstrators.

One other event on Aug. 4 and 5 will be a presentation by Don Borcherding, a retired engineer from Rochester, Minn. Borcherding will discuss and interpret Andrew Talcott, the engineer who designed Fort Atkinson.

A final weekend commemorating the fort's 200th year and meetings between U.S. troops and Native Americans will be Oct. 5 and 6, which will coincide with Heritage Days.

"They're going to butcher an animal, and the Native Americans will be utilizing all of the stuff that normally the military would throw away," Juza said.

Though many of the events and items commemorating Fort Atkinson's bicentennial are fleeting, one souvenir is currently available to purchase.

During a Washington County Genealogical Society meeting at the Blair Library on Wednesday, Blair Historic Preservation Alliance (BHPA) President Dawn Nielsen discussed the fort's history and people of its past as represented in the 2019 Fort Atkinson bicentennial historic calendar.

The calendar is being sold at the Washington County Museum, the Blair Chamber of Commerce Office and the Blair Garden Center. A joint creation between BHPA and the Washington County Historical Society, it includes pictures and information about Fort Atkinson's military beginnings in 1819, its abandonment in 1827 and the following 150-plus years that people — many associated with Washington County — worked to restore and open the site for the public.

Nielsen quoted a passage from Kenneth C. Flint's book "Images of America: Fort Atkinson," which she said captured the spirit of the fort's two centuries.

"Fort Atkinson today is a rare and remarkable site, that should probably not exist," she said, reading the quote from the calendar. "It was an amazing combination of luck, faith, money and effort that brought about the literal resurrection of the long banished citadel from an empty field. Without the efforts of those 100 years ago, the location of the fort would have been forgotten. Without the investigations of archaeologist that identified the foundations, they would have been destroyed. Without the fundraising and contributions of thousands of Nebraskans, the site would not have been purchased and preserved. Without the effort of the Nebraska game and parks commission and more generous contributions, the fort would not have been rebuilt. And without the loyalty and labor of so many volunteers, the Living History program would not exist."

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