Monday, October 5, 2009

Moving Into the Fall

We were in the middle of summer the last time I wrote; now we've seen almost a third of the autumn. I hate to spend the first part of each blog in apologizing for not writing!

I made quite a few appearances around the area to close out the summer, including some senior homes, community events, and farmers markets. I also got in visits to two historic Nebraska sites - the John G. Neihardt State Historic Site in Bancroft and Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park near Burwell.

The Neihardt visit actually got booked almost a year ago when I met Nancy Gillis (the site administrator) at the Nebraska Book Festival in Lincoln; Sue and I went up to see a speaker at the site a week or so later, fell in love with the place and booked an appearance. My talk was Sept. 13 and we had a great turnout - about 35, including one man who heard about it on NPR and decided to make the ride over the Missouri from Iowa on his motorcycle! I enjoyed it very much, moreso since it was my first talk "in the round" with their circular meeting space.

Sue and I drove out to Fort Hartsuff on Sept. 26, a day before my scheduled talk in order to see a very unique and seldom-seen site from the Plains Indian Wars. When they asked me at the fort to come out for a talk, I asked if they could also get me to the "Battle of the Blowout" site in the nearby Sand Hills. In this 1876 skirmish - just two months before Little Bighorn - a group of six Sioux warriors had been pursued into a blowout atop the tallest of the surrounding hills. Troops from Fort Hartsuff surrounded them after their sargeant was shot and killed when looking over the rim to see if they were IN the blowout. The Indians later escaped, but not before three troopers rescued the sargeant's body and each earned a medal of honor for it.

A nearby rancher who does a lot of work at the fort took us out to the site; it wasn't on his land but a neighbor's so there were no problems. We made a jarring ride in the bed of four-wheel-drive pickup to the site and it was beautiful. Spent about an hour looking around before returning to town and watching the Nebraska game at the residence of the fort's assistant supervisor and his wife, Jim and Sally
Domeier. I also got some photos of the fort at dusk - absolutely the best time to view it.

We drove around the area for a bit on Sunday before my talk at the fort (and found my name up in lights at Burwell!) Since we had some time, I put together a quick slide show about the Blowout for after my talk for those interested.

The talk was in the barracks at the fort - really a neat site and perfect location for such a presentation. We ended up with around 50 in attendance for the "Forts of Nebraska" presentation, and before breaking for 20 minutes, I invited everyone to stick around for a presentation on the battle.
While I was signing books between shows, a man came up to me and said he HAD been to the site, because the site was on HIS land! I found out our guide HADN'T cleared it with him and we'd actually been trespassing.

He was a good sport about it, though - he came up during the talk and spoke a bit about the site and I gave him a copy of the book as a compensation.
This past Saturday was my last big event of recent weeks, my second "Forts of Omaha" bus tour through Metropolitan Community College. I had 13 attendees on this fall tour; this time we didn't have a visit to Fort Crook (Offutt AFB) due to maneuvers at the base, but still plenty to see.
The first stop was the Omaha Quartermaster Depot, which is closing next month after 139 years of active duty. We had a great tour from the former facility manager of the post, John Bryan, who was informative, witty and kept the pace moving. I reminded the group that they were probably the last members of the general public to tour this great site.
Next was a tour and lunch at the General Crook House at Fort Omaha. We got there a little early, but that gave us enough time to tour the Victorian Garden while the house was opened. The house tour was great, as was lunch; quite a few tour members were interested in taking on one of the house's tea parties.
The afternoon was spent at Fort Atkinson for the final weekend of the season for the living history demonstrations. This was the highlight of the day as people visited with the post's colonel and troops, baker, carpenter, weavers, blacksmith and tinsmith. After the lowering of the colors and final canon salute, we made a stop at the Super Bee Orchard at Council Bluffs to purchase some of the harvest of the season. Great day!
My next big event is a trip to Texas this month for the Order of the Indian Wars annual assembly. I'll get to visit the Alamo for the first time, meet one of the GREAT historians of the Old West, Robert Utley, and visit the Custer headquarters in Austin, the ONLY Custer site on the plains I've yet to see.

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