By Mitch Meador, Fort Sill TribuneSeptember 30, 2019
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 30, 2019) -- "Thank you for letting me cut off your arm."
Only at Frontier Army Days will you hear these words spoken, and there it's all in good gangrenous fun.
Jason Harris from the Chisholm Trail Museum in Kingfisher was back this year as a delightfully horrifying frontier Army surgeon. With the help of young volunteers from the audience he performed gruesome but imaginary amputations and brain surgeries using the newest and best medical procedures of the 1870s.
"This is our 10th Annual Frontier Army Days," Fort Sill Director of Museums Frank Siltman said. "This year also it's the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Fort Sill. And so we tied this together. We (have) a thousand students from 13 schools and three home-school groups coming, and we're going to be able to show them the history of the frontier.
"And not just the Army. They'll see the frontier Army, but they're also going to see laundresses, doctors (and) go to frontier school. And so they get to see those multiple aspects of society and culture in the frontier.
"The important part is, the history of Fort Sill just isn't the history of the Army. It is the history of the region. It's the history of the tribes. It's the history of the settlement of this area. And so the interactions of all those groups together are important.
"What we do with this is we give kids the opportunity to see, feel and touch history. You can read it in a book, you can listen to somebody talk about it, you can see it on a film or something. But when kids are going to be able to touch, I am always amused by how much they enjoy the laundry by hand. They actually get their hands wet and do laundry the old-fashioned way. And when they see the cannonfire (and) they get around the horses, they're going to remember that the rest of their lives," Siltman said.
Siltman's wife, Lori, Lawton Public Schools 2017-18 Teacher of the Year, adjusted her schedule so she would be able to give the school groups a brief taste of what it was like in a one-room prairie school. To show just how much things have changed, one of the questions she fielded was, "What's chalk?"
One of her duties as country schoolmarm was inspecting each pupil for cleanliness. If anyone was too dirty, she sent the offender home for a good scrubbing.
Outdoors, Kim Warnock, a military spouse and volunteer for the Fort Sill Museum, enlisted the aid of her two home-schooled children to model the attire and explain the playthings of yesteryear to kids of today. Katie Warnock, 9, talked about rag dolls, while her brother Nathan, 11, demonstrated some homemade toys.
An indispensable part of Frontier Army Days is the Fort Sill Gun Detachment. Every 15 minutes the gun crew fires a percussion round from a Model 1841 six-pounder, a muzzle-loading cannon that weighed a ton. It took six horses to move it around the battlefield.
Each blast is the signal for school groups to advance to the next of eight stations, which included the Post Guardhouse in addition to the seven on the Old Post Quadrangle.
Museum employee Jeff Nester explained the ammunition that artillerymen used in the 1800s, showed how to insert a fuse into a hollow shell and held up a chart that told crew members how long the fuse needed to be.
Did you know that the word "shrapnel" comes from Lt. Henry Shrapnel of the British Army? Nester supplied this factoid as he spoke of shells and canisters filled with musket balls to scatter shot like a giant shotgun. He also detailed the jobs each gun crewmember performs by number.
Manning the cavalry station was veteran museum volunteer Wallace Moore. He said he's been doing this for 26 years.
"When I came out here those great big trees were just saplings," he joked. "The cavalry barracks where I'm sitting is the same old building I've worked in ever since I've been out here as an interpreter. It was built back in the 1870s by Buffalo Soldiers. This was their home … It's still holding up as a testament to good limestone and good cement."
Museum volunteer Marcia Peppel said she was taking the children through the cavalry barracks to show them "a little bit of how these young soldiers lived after the Civil War. This was their home, because most of them had not ever really had a home, coming out of slavery."
Assisting her inside was museum employee Robert Anderson. Outside, Marcia's son, Rod Peppel, was assisting Moore along with Remedy, Moore's 18-year-old American quarter horse mare.
Also assisting the Fort Sill Museum Directorate in putting on the "School Day" portion of the event were Comanche County 4-H, the Lawton High School Leadership Club, staff and volunteers with the Fort Sill museums, and volunteers with the 24th Missouri Infantry Regiment, the Oklahoma History Center and the Chisholm Trail Museum in Kingfisher. Augelica Fleming, the school liaison, got the schools lined up.