WORTH THE TRIP
History comes alive at Boonesborough
Chief Blackfish, resplendent with a red blanket over his shoulder and cradling a flint-lock gun, approaches the fort at Boonesborough and shouts out to the man he named Sheltowee—Daniel Boone. Hidden in the nearby woods is a large contingent of fellow Shawnee warriors.
Boone, clad in a frock coat and wearing a black, wide-brimmed hat, greets the imposing Shawnee chief.
Boone knew this day would come. The previous winter, in January 1778, Boone was among a group of Boonesborough settlers captured by the Shawnee and taken to a village in Ohio Country. Among Boone’s captors is Chief Blackfish, who comes to admire the intrepid explorer and adopts him as a son.
Late in his captivity, Boone overhears a discussion among the Shawnee about their plans to attack Fort Boonesborough. He escapes and makes his way back to the fort. The settlers work feverishly to fortify the settlement for the inevitable attack.
Negotiations ensue between Boone and Chief Blackfish on the rights of the small group of about 80 settlers to occupy the land we now know as Kentucky. After several minutes, it appears that a tentative agreement is reached. The Shawnee warriors accompanying Blackfish extend their arms as if to shake hands with the men accompanying Boone, and then grab the settlers.
Boone and his men escape back to the fort. Settlers observing the parley from the rooftops of the fort’s buildings open fire with flintlock guns. Shawnee warriors emerge from the tree line with ear-splitting whoops and charge toward the fort. The battle has been joined.
The defense of the fort involves all the settlers. Women reload the guns and hand them back to the men or occasionally wield a gun themselves.
As the battle wears on, fascinated onlookers standing near the battlefield take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the pitched battle. Acrid smoke drifts into the sky as haystacks burn and flintlocks are discharged.
Gradually, the battle winds down. The Shawnee see that the band of settlers can’t be easily dislodged. The attackers fade into the woods and withdraw. The battle is over.
The annual re-enactment of the Siege of Boonesborough illustrates a pivotal point in the founding of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, says Phil Gray, manager of Fort Boonesborough State Park near Richmond.
The successful defense of the fort, which began on September 7, 1778, lasting 10 days, strengthened the Western frontier.
Miraculously, only two defenders were killed during the attacks, compared to an estimated 40 or more dead from among the 400 or so Shawnee warriors, British soldiers, and French Canadian mercenaries.
The re-enactment, being staged for the 10th time, is the park’s largest special event at the fort each year. It takes place annually on the fourth weekend of September.
“We have people who come from all over the eastern half of the country” to portray the settlers, Indians, and British militia, Gray says. Participation ranges from about 110 to as many as 180 re-enactors.
The siege re-enactment is staged at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with a generic battle at dusk on Saturday. Other activities are on tap over the weekend. Visitors are invited to visit the encampments of the militia and settlers, and observe an Indian village and interact with the fort interpreters as they demonstrate the laborious work of pioneer life.
Fort Manager Bill Farmer says, “One of the things we strive to do here every day is to present real history and to tell things as they were.”
Siege of Boonesborough
September 25-26, Fort Boonesborough State Park near Richmond. Battle re-enactments at 2 p.m. both days, free with paid admission to fort, $8 for adults, $5 for children, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Admission for re-enactment at dusk on Saturday is $3 adults, $1 children.
More Kentucky pioneer events
Fort Harrod Settlement and Raid
Old Fort Harrod State Park, Harrodsburg, June 19-20. Highlights include a re-enactment of an Indian raid on the early settlement, scheduled for 2 p.m. both days, and demonstrations of pioneer skills. Admission is free with regular park admission, $5 adults, $4 for persons over 55, $3 children 6-12.
Battle of Blue Licks Commemoration
Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park, Mt. Olivet, August 21-22; re-enactment 3 p.m. both days. Believed to be the last Revolutionary War battle fought in Kentucky, this brief, bloody clash took place on August 19, 1782, when 70 Kentuckians died, including Boone’s son Israel. Additional activities include children’s programs, period music, crafts, and vendors. Admission $5 daily ages 13 and above, free for 12 and under.
Pioneer Life Week
Carter Caves State Resort Park, Olive Hill, July 19-25; a week dedicated to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the settlement of the Ohio River Valley. The pioneer camp is open from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Monday–Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Sunday. Spinning, weaving, black-powder rifle demonstrations, and tomahawk throwing are among skills to be displayed. Free admission.
Long Run Massacre and Floyd’s Defeat Re-enactment
Red Orchard Park, Shelby County, September 11-12. Reserve space for school classes on September 10 by calling (502) 738-9435. Re-enactment of an Indian raid on militia as they were evacuating an embattled settlement established by Squire Boone, brother of Daniel Boone, and a subsequent ambush; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with other activities 10 a.m.-5 p.m. both days. Admission $6 adults; $3 students and seniors.