This weekend marked the 21st annual Siege of Fort Watauga. Each year, the complexion of the event has been different but this one, by far, has been the best for so many reasons. The weather was clement; Friday was sunny and clear, Saturday was hot but dry and the rains held off Sunday until long after the event was done, but that’s not why it was so good. I’ll let the Johnson City Press and the master’s thesis written by Brian Patrick Compton , whose links are below, tell the story of the three pronged Cherokee siege which trapped one hundred-fifty people inside the fort for twenty days or so and how they managed to overcome three hundred very angry warriors with only five pounds of black powder and buckets of boiling water. What was interesting was what I saw in recreating the spirit of the place and its inhabitants and the number of youngsters who are keeping the story alive.
Many of the sutlers came from their stay at Martin’s Station the previous week and they were in place by Friday when the rest of the re-enactors came and set up throughout the day. One could hear excited voices and the clang of hammer on metal as tents were set up. All the cabins were manned and everyone was ready to roll. The most interesting was the Tory public house set up in the man cave. So what if they were loyalists? Will Caldwell, Kurt Stevens, Ethan Walling and others did a wonderful job capturing the feeling of a public house. I have to say though, that after hours was kind of staid by my standards . I was next door and was was expecting to hear God knows what from these twenty-somethings. I was kind of hoping to live my youth vicariously by listening. I was in my twenties once and I can remember kicking up my heels a bit. Instead, there was quiet conversation, plenty of laughter and the clinking of glasses. Whoopee!
There was a larger than normal number of participants, ranging from Brits to Tories, Natives and civilian impressions. What was so interesting was number of different 18th century living skills being demonstrated all over the park. There was salt making, chair caning, sewing, flax processing, hearth
and open fire cooking, leather working, children games, adult games, weaving, spinning, weaponry, native living and of course, relaxatin’. Between the two days, more than a thousand visitors came to view the battle recreations and visit with the reenactors, a very satisfying turnout.
When Saturday broke and the call to arms was made, there was musket toting militia almost equal in number to the original seventy five that were there in 1776. The line, crooked as it was, stretched from Blockhouse to near the back gate. (we need to have a tee shirt made,boys, with “Washington County Regiment of North Carolina Militia” in colonial lettering printed in a crooked line on the front and “We don’t do straight lines” printed on the back. Just sayin’)
On Saturday, the group recreated the ladies out in the field, the native attack and capturing of Lydia Bean. Strategic placement of men and ladies with John Moss’s SC rangers, Militia members and those from the Anderson Blockhouse filled the wall and the field; shot was abundant and the smoke hung heavy over the field. The Brits, Loyalists and natives were a formidable group and it still gives me chills as I think of the natives streaking over the field with the sound of their war whoops still ringing in my ears. There was one young fellow especially who startled the living bejaysis out of me.
The native who I think is Kurk blended in to the tree canopy and the fort walls and it gave me a start to see him try to force his way into the Talbot House on Sunday . Fortunately for the Talbots, though, the natives at the door were soundly repelled! It was touches like this that made this event especially interesting.
There were other things that made a difference as well. On Saturday and Sunday, after the battle, the Fife and Drum Corp gave what I thought was almost a concert and on Saturday, there were three brothers from Jonesville , VA, who played violins and sang. It was pure heaven to listen to the Corp and these fine young gentlemen. Besides the usual doings, at 2 PM on Sunday, the ladies provided a fine tea for all and sundry. Dainties of all kinds appeared and like the loaves and fishes, it fed the multitude,
The most interesting thing about this particular event was the number of children who were there. One could see them playing in and around the fort on both days. There was the sound of light young voices, lithe bodies zooming around like fireflies and every where they landed, there was laughter and smiles. It gladdened our hearts to see these young people, from toddlers to twenty-somethings, So many of the members have worried that when we go, the story might die. But after seeing the amount of young people taking part, I think the future of telling the story of the intrepid people who settled this place will be forever insured.
Interesting and scholarly master’s thesis :Revised History of Fort Watauga.
Johnson City Press:
Watch the full Sunday battle!
Photos from JD Douglas and Ken and Retha Reece. Thanks for taking such beautiful pictures. It was tough to choose from so many wonderful shots! A special mention goes to thanking Earl Slagle. He has been working diligently on making the cabins look totally beautiful and authentic by framing the sides of all the buildings, fixing and insulating the eaves. It’s astounding what this man has done and many visitors commented on how beautiful the fort is.