Some anniversary's might be more apt to sneak up on people than others. But not Fort Atkinson's 200th.
It's been more than two and a half years of planning by a special committee and Fort Atkinson staff, with some advice from the Lincoln Game and Parks Commission, for the fort's bicentennial celebrations which will take place Saturday and Sunday. The fort was founded in late 1819.
"It has taken a lot of planning and coordination," said Susan Juza, a Fort Atkinson researcher and member of the bicentennial committee. "We selected the theme for this year 'When the Troops Met the Native Americans' because that is what was happening on this bluff 200 years ago."
Juza said the committee wanted to contrast the cultures of American soldiers at Fort Atkinson and the Native Americans who lived in the area. That contrast will be available to park goers this weekend as multiple guests will offer varied perspectives on the life of soldiers and Native Americans in addition to the regular Living History activities.
Eagle T. Knife Chief, the great-grandson of the Skiri Pawnee leader Man Chief, will travel from Texas to present "Pawnee Involvement from Early Times" in the visitor center and discuss Pawnee culture with attendees. His grandfather, Man Chief, was a member of the Pawnee tribe who signed the Treaty of Friendship at the fort in 1825 and also received a hero medallion from President James Monroe during the winter of 1821-22.
Minnesotan Don Borcherding, a retired engineer, will discuss and interpret Andrew Talcott, the engineer who designed Fort Atkinson, and give a demonstration on early surveying.
"We met (Eagle T. Knife Chief and Borcherding) through research they had done here over the last 10, 15 years," Juza said. "They were very excited to participate."
Sicangu Lakota Tribe member Steve Tamayo — an artist and teacher in the Omaha area — will lead a Native American "War Dance" at the council house. It will be Tamayo's second of three trips to Fort Atkinson this year. He will return to the fort in October to demonstrate Native American butchering and use of bison.
The Lewis and Clark Fife and Drum Corps will also perform.
"This is to offer the contrast between Native music and the military music," Juza said. "We wanted people to experience the difference in the cultures and hopefully understand that the two groups, although very different, contributed greatly to the experience here, a point not often made with a regular Living History weekend."
Juza said Tamayo's talks and demonstrations fit well with the fort's bicentennial theme. She added that the traveling Smithsonian exhibit "Patriot Nations: Native Americans in our Armed Forces" also fit well with the theme, which bicentennial event planners started negotiating for Fort Atkinson to receive more than a year ago.
The exhibit — supported by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and produced by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian — arrived to the fort in late June and will be on display into August.
"It fits perfectly with our theme because it explains how the Native Americans have contributed so much to our conflicts and how they transferred that part of their culture tribe to tribe into fighting for the nation they now belonged to," Juza said. "We wanted everything to have educational merit. That was the goal for all of us involved."
Juza said she hopes those who visit the park this weekend will see some of the positives of cultural interactions between American soldiers and Native Americans.
"So often movies, books, etcetera, portray only the fighting and negative, and, while that did occur, the scenario was different here," she said. "We want to educate the public on this positive aspect and see the contrast."
Fort Atkinson Bicentennial schedule
Saturday and Sunday
- 10 a.m. Roll call, inspection, raise colors and morning gun. Lewis and Clark Fife and Drum Corps of St. Charles, Mo. (parade ground)
- 10:30 a.m. Dr. Eagle T. Knife Chief presentation (visitor center) and church call (quarter master room, Sunday only)
- 11:30 a.m. Don Borcherding's Andrew Talcott presentation (visitor center, Saturday) and "Trip Across Country" presentation (visitor center, Sunday)
- Noon Assembly, noon gun, dinner call (parade ground). "Faded Trails" on-going video told by Le La Wakan Mato (visitor center)
- 12:30 p.m. Ice cream social with Lewis and Clark Fife and Drum Corps (locust grove)
- 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Steve Tamayo: Native American Dancing (council house)
- 1:30 p.m. Dr. Eagle T. Knife Chief visits school room (northeast barracks)
- 2 p.m. Don Borcherding as Andrew Talcott gives early surveying demo (parade ground)
- 3 p.m. Log hewing (northeast corner of fort)
- 3:45 p.m. Liquor ration (parade ground)
- 4:30 p.m. The retreat: roll call, inspection, evening gun with Lewis and Clark Fife and Drum Corps (parade ground)
- 4:45 p.m. Flag is lowered, call in sentries
- Annual raffle through weekend