History comes alive at Summer Rendezvous at Forest City Stockade
FOREST CITY — Out on the prairie just six miles northeast of Litchfield, a historical stronghold stands as a tribute to the pioneers who erected the stockade walls during the Sioux Indian Uprising of 1862.
The Sioux had been friends with settlers for years, but unfair and dishonest treatment by government officials in the distribution of annuities and the breaking of treaty agreements brought the Sioux to their tipping point. On Aug. 17, 1862, six members of the Sioux killed five white settlers after a purported friendly shooting match. This was the beginning of the Sioux Uprising.
After numerous altercations, settlers near Forest City took their families into the town for safety. They decided to build a stockade as a place of refuge for their families until the fighting was over.
Today, the stockade still stands as a physical manifestation of the area's history, providing much more than a tale of political injustice and survival. Behind the log walls time stops, bringing visitors back to 1862. And today, the stockade will open its gates to anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 visitors for the 35th annual Summer Rendezvous.
With around 175 volunteers, Bob Hermann has been gearing up to host the masses during their big summer event. A cattle farmer from Litchfield, Hermann has been a volunteer at the stockade for four decades, dedicating his time to preserving the site, finding additional historical items to display, and welcoming visitors onto the stockade grounds.
"I've been doing this for 40 years, so this is my home away from home, and I'm vested in this. So is my wife. But whenever we go somewhere to another show, we're always checking to see if something they have is something we'd want to have here," Hermann said. "I said when I turned 70 I was going to call it good on this but I've still been here for another six years, so I'll probably keep going until I'm 80."
Armed with almost a half-a-century of experience and extensive knowledge of the stockade's history, Hermann has assisted in planning activities and demonstrations true to the late 1800s, including blacksmithing, horseshoeing, rope making, wheat weaving, horse-drawn wagon rides, historic building tour, leather works and more.
"Our time period here at the Forest City Stockade is 1862, and everything we do is geared around that. If you're looking for modern things, you will not see that here. On the porch we'll make homemade ice cream, and we'll make 125 gallons hand-cranked during that two-day event, and people can come by there and buy a dish. And outside there will be 40 to 45 camps of buckskinners, and they'll be living a lifestyle of the fur trader ... they're a very friendly group and (it's) very educational," he said.
Rick Searl, a family medicine doctor in Litchfield, is also a proprietor of "The News" at the Forest City Stockade. He'll be spending his free time in Historic Forest City just beyond the stockade walls operating the 19th century printing press and showing visitors what the printing business was like in 1862.
"They made basically the same press from 1862 to 1962, and they never broke ... The paper was printed on Wednesdays, came out on Thursdays, and then Friday and Saturday you had off. Sunday you started doing stuff. And Mondays and Tuesdays were job work. That was when you'd do you business cards and stuff like that," Searl explained. "It's a lot of work, but still pretty fun. Which is why I do it."
For Hermann, the event is paramount because it keeps the area's history alive by allowing people to go back in time and become a part of that history — if only for a day.
"Unless history lives in the present, it will not live in the future. That's our main focus," said Hermann. "Keeping this going is very, very important because if we weren't doing it now, it would be very hard to start it up ever again."
The 35th annual Summer Rendezvous will be held on today and Sunday, Aug. 18 and 19, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, and children 12 and under are still free. Everyone is welcome to attend.
For more information, visit www.forestcitystockade.org.