Visitors stroll Fort Sill by candlelight
December 19, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (Dec. 19, 2013) -- In its day, the orginal Post Chapel was not only used as a place of worship, but also as dancehall on Saturday nights and during the week it served as a schoolhouse. On special occasions like the fourth of July, it was specially decorated. The chapel was even used for masquerades.
These were some of the facts Fort Sill Museum senior collections manager Mark Megehee told as he portrayed Rev. Frank Wright during the Fort Sill National Historic Museum's 15th Annual Candlelight Stroll Dec. 14-15 at the Old Post Quadrangle.
The free tours took about 360 visitors back to frontier life and Fort Sill of the 1870s, said Dr. Scott Neel, the museum's director and curator.
"We wanted to show the public what life was like here, and not just the Soldiers' lives," Neel said. "It was about the life of Alice Grierson and her family, the ladies who lived here and about the preachers who tried to convert the Indian community."
The other stops on the stroll were the Guardhouse, Cavalry Barracks and Sherman House, which is the commanding general's residence.
The tour had become so popular that it expanded to two days this year, Neel said. About 20 volunteers from the post's three museum staffs and volunteer groups led the tours, which consisted of six strolls per night each with about 30 people. Historical re-enactors spoke at each stop.
Inside Sherman House, visitors heard from Gen. Benjamin Grierson (Bill Kindt ) and his wife, Alice (Lori Siltman). Grierson was the first commander of Fort Sill in 1869.
Alice Grierson said frontier life was rough and lonely.
"I did become good friends with Lawrie Tatum and his wife," Alice Grierson said. Tatum was a Quaker who was an Indian agent for tribes at Fort Sill.
The general said he had great admiration for the Buffalo Soldiers under his command. He said he had forged bonds with colored Soldiers during the War of the Rebellion (Civil War) at Port Hudson, La.
"They were easily trained and very brave under fire, and my thoughts at that time were that we would always have colored Soldiers in the U.S. Army," Gen. Grierson said.
The Sherman House's current residents, Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, and his wife, Connie, also greeted visitors and showed them their dishroom and dining room.
On the porch of the Cavalry Barracks, living history interpreter Wallace Moore told the story of how a young Buffalo Soldier, 18, had guard duty at the stables on Christmas Eve.
The private heard a voice from the darkness asking him why he was so depressed, why his morale was so low.
"You should be proud your guarding the stables because it was stables like this where the Lord Our Savior was born," the voice said. "Christmas for you will always be just another day if you keep the joy of Christmas bundled up inside. Share it."
About that time the sergeant of the guard asked the private who he was talking to. "I don't know," said the private, "but he told me to give you a message: Merry Christmas and have a happy new year."
In the Guardhouse, visitors learned about frontier law enforcement and the great distances lawmen travel over their jurisdiction. Alvie Cater, portrayed U.S. Deputy Marshal James Merchon of Fort Smith, Ark., and Claude Matchette, portrayed Fort Sill Lt. Allyn Capron, who would later become famous as part of "Roosevelt Rough Riders."
Seventh-grader Hailey Werger, 13, of Geronimo, attended the stroll as part of the Cache Creek Cowboy Church group.
She said her favorite part was hearing from Wright and Methodist preacher Rev. Butterfield (Ralph Spencer, Fort Sill Museum aide) at the chapel.
"It was really hard to teach the Indians about Christianity because of the language," she said.
It was the first stroll for Gayle Anderson of Lawton.
"It was a wonderful experience," Anderson said. "All the presenters in character made it feel alive, like we were living and experiencing it."