CHECOTAH — Smoke from a blacksmith’s fire and rifle shots filled the air Friday at Honey Springs Battlefield.
St. Joseph Catholic School fifth-grade teacher Kathy Gilmartin savored every bit.
“This is the thing you don’t want to pass up,” said Gilmartin, who took fifth- through eighth-graders to see Civil War era demonstrations Friday. “I like hands-on teaching, I like the smells and the sounds, just the excitement.”
Thousands of visitors could experience the smells, sounds and excitement today and Sunday during re-enactments of the Battle of Honey Springs. Visitors can tour the camps, and watch battle re-enactments and living history demonstrations.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the battle, considered the most important engagement of the Civil War in Indian Territory. The battle was fought July 17, 1863.
“This was one of the most significant and largest battles west of the Mississippi River,” said John Davis, historic properties manager. He said one important aspect of the battle was that “Native Americans, African-Americans and whites fought together.”
Davis said that even though there were twice as many Confederates as Union soldiers — 6,000 to 3,000 — the South lost the battle.
“The Confederates had a lower grade of powder. It did not fire consistently,” he said.
Davis said the battle’s 150th anniversary is drawing a lot of interest.
“The number of vendors quadrupled over what we expected,” he said. “Registrations for re-enactments is double.”
Honey Springs Battlefield Site Director Christopher Price said people from all over have come to the battlefield this year.
“Even Canada and foreign countries,” Price said. “A lot of people followed their family roots and found they had relatives in the battle.”
Nathan Montgomery, a student from Eufaula, said his great-great-great-grandfather fought in the war.
“My granny still has his gun and sword,” Nathan said.
Students from across eastern Oklahoma toured the battlefield and visited demonstration areas. Schools included Eufaula, Checotah, Fort GIbson, Bokoshe and Heavener.
At one demonstration site, Gerald Franklin of Black Bull Forge in Duncan showed how blacksmiths made nails. He held a long rod to the fire until it was burning orange. Then he took the rod to an anvil and hammered it.
“The nails were made in the early days by kids,” Franklin said. He said the youngsters liked making nails more than going out and picking cotton, like their older brothers and sisters did.
Gilmartin said she wanted her students to “get a sense of what life was like back then, as well as get an insight on what it takes to have a war.”
Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
WHAT: 150th Anniversary Honey Springs Battle Re-enactments.
WHERE: Honey Springs Battlefield, 1863 Honey Springs Battlefield Road, 23 miles south of Muskogee off U.S. 69.
WHEN: Site open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Battle re-enactments begin at 1:30 p.m. each day.