By Rob W. Anderson
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle fought Dec. 7, 1862, at Prairie Grove, brothers Jim and Jesse Butler collaborated on a 10-month project to produce a replica of Fort Gibson as it appeared just days before the historical battle.
The scene depicted in the reproduction of the 19th century military stronghold shows members of Company D of the 9th regiment of the Kansas Volunteer Cavalry leaving for the battlefield, marking what would be the last time two armies of almost equal strength would face off for control of northwest Arkansas.
“In the scene of the fort, it’s Dec. 2, 1862, and the battle of Prairie Grove took place Dec. 7,” said Jesse Butler, who funded the project. “These soldiers had just been told of the battle and to get to the battlefield. Soldiers probably rode about 20 miles a day, and it was a two and a half, probably three days’ ride over there.”
The replica will be on display this Saturday, Oct. 6, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the community room at the Tahlequah Public Library.
A family connection inspired the Butler brothers to join forces and create the historical scene.
Two members of Company D of the 9th Kansas voluntary regiment are relatives of the Butlers. These Kansas soldiers were Madison Adams Tye and George Washington Tye, who are cousins to the Butlers through their mother, Margaret June (Tye) Butler. Their mother’s grandfather, Henry H. Tye, was brother to Andrew Smith Tye, who migrated around 1838 from Williamsburg, Ky., to Kansas, where he would join Company E of the 9th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. His sons, Madison and George, would later join the Civl War effort as part of the Kansas cavalry as members of Company D.
Jesse describes specific scenes set up in the replica.
“The boy who’s sick on the stretcher is George Washington Tye. He had camp fever and they’re getting ready to put him in the hospital,” said Jesse. “Madison Adams Tye is over here [opposite the stretcher on the other side of the yard in front of the bunk house]. He’s the older brother. This guy here [in the northwest corner opposite of the gate standing in front of the captain’s quarters is] John Williams. He’s a West Point guy, and he’s come to tell Captain [Charles F.] Coleman to get the troops ready. Thirty minutes or so pass, and they begin moving the troops out to the Prairie Grove battlefield. Before they leave, Madison Tye goes over and sees [his younger brother George] and he never sees him again because he died from the camp fever.”
Jim, who is 15 years younger than Jesse, created the U.S. Army post replica, using quarter-inch wood dowels and Popsicle sticks to construct the fort wall and its buildings.
“There was a month and a half, probably two months where I was just looking at pictures of Fort Gibson and the different buildings,” said Jim. “I wanted to get the bigger [structures] out of the way and see how that turned out. From that point, I just had to work on little sections at a time and let it dry. All the buildings came first, then Jesse came up with idea for the soldiers.”
The pair worked hard to produce the model to scale, said Jesse, who noted the total cost of the project was between $800 and $1,000.
“[Jim] took one of his grandson’s little soldiers and he made the doors to fit the soldier. Then it rose from that point,” said Jesse. “[Doors open.] There are three of them, I think. He’s even got the gun portholes where they fired from that’s in the original fort. He bent this guy’s legs [with a heat gun] so he could sit on [this wagon]. He took a gun out of this one’s hand and put in a work hammer. You can see, it’s like the John Wayne movies. He’s got the longjohns on with suspenders. He’s even got the bed rolls, the canteens, the saddle bags. He’s even got the yellow bandanas around their necks. You can see how much detail there is.”
Jim said he tried to pay attention to the small details.
“That was always important to me – to put the detail in there to get people to look at it,” he said. “Jesse, he’s always had the history [knowledge] with the Civil War, and I’ve always been interested in it. When he asked me to do this, I enjoyed every minute of it. I had no idea how long it was going to take. I just kept peddling away.”
Rob W. Anderson writes for the Tahlequah Daily Press.