Cannonball

Part of the USA Today Network

Pennsylvania frontier fort highlights History Meets the Arts festival


Living history buffs construct a mock frontier settlement in Gettysburg during the 2009 History Meets the Arts spring festival.

An area of increasing interest to me is Pennsylvania’s history of border wars between the Native Americans who inhabited the state and the colonists. I am a native of “the dark and bloody ground,” southern and east-central Ohio, which saw considerable fighting between the invading settlers and the natives, as did northern Kentucky. The Ohio Country warfare has been featured in a number of movies (Including “Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier” and many others that helped shape my interest in the period as well as in several popular books and an Elizabeth Montgomery TV miniseries, “The Awakening Land”).
Now that I live in Pennsylvania, I have become increasingly aware of this state’s frontier history, which rivals the Ohio-Kentucky region, and in some ways, exceeds it in terms of the scope and variety of interactions between the colonists and natives.

Perhaps 20 reenactors were present on Saturday in the field behind the Gettysburg Fire Hall. A few were sutlers selling reenactor supplies, carved powder horns, replica rifles, craft items, and other period trinkets. Some were in uniform as a militia unit or their wives. A couple of them spent time talking with my grandson and me. Pennsylvanians constructed a series of rustic forts in a wide “belt” through the central part of the state to form a line of defenses against Indian incursions from the northern region, which was sparsely populated at the time by settlers, who were concentrated along the southern tier. Some of these forts later became trouble spots during the French & Indian War, with military actions at or near them, including Fort Necessity (portions of which have been recreated and are open to the public).

My grandson and I paused for a while to listen to this colonial band, which was playing period tunes near the front entrance to the Fire Hall. They were quite good, and attracted a decent crowd of onlookers. Music was an important part of frontier life, helping provide a pleasant distraction from the rigors of the daily lifestyle.

Just inside the Fire Hall, several retailers were selling books, period art, and other collectibles. The main room was filled with displays of art, including many impressive paintings and sculptures, and several artists were signing autographs and mingling with the public. Gettysburg retail store Lord Nelson’s Gallery annually sponsors this event at the Fire Hall, and they bring in some of the biggest names in Eastern / frontier art. My grandson marveled at the colorful and action-packed paintings, which fascinated him. His attention was also drawn to a number of nicely done sculptures of deer and moose.

Of course, the Civil War was also well represented at History Meets the Arts, and painters such as Bradley Schmehl, Dale Gallon, Mort Kuntsler, John Paul Strain, George Funt, and others were present at various venues to meet with the public and sign their works. While my grandson and I were at the Gettysburg Gift Center / Wax Museum, Schmehl and Funt were signing.