By Fort Sill Tribune staffDecember 9, 2019
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Dec. 9, 2019) -- Fort Sill's Old Post Quadrangle was transformed into a frontier Army post during the annual holiday Candlelight Stroll Dec. 8. About 300 visitors took the free guided tour of the Guardhouse, Cavalry Barracks, Sherman House, Post Chapel, and First School of Fire.
"We're taking people on a trip back in time to 1870," said Michele Mabry, Directorate of Museums facilities operations specialist, who was adorned in a 19th century evening dress. Those were hard times as the Army was trying to settle Indian Territory.
Re-enactors told stories of criminal imprisonment; austere barracks, meager pay and meals; Indian attacks; as well as lively church dances, and advancements in field artillery tactics learned from Europeans.
Beginning at 5:30 p.m. volunteers lead groups of about 30 visitors every 15 minutes to the sites. The last group left at 7:15 p.m.
One one tour, visitor Diane Branstetter was "busted" at the Guardhouse by a deputy U.S. marshal (Dr. Scott Neel, Fort Sill Historic Landmark and Museum director/curator). He had a warrant for her arrest for manslaughter, he explained to the visitors. Back then a marshal would ride horseback as he escorted a prisoner in shackles, who would walk from Fort Sill to Fort Smith, Arkansas, for trial.
The re-enactors were volunteers, as well as staff from the Field Artillery Museum, and Air Defense Artillery Museum, Mabry said.
Inside the Buffalo Soldiers' Cavalry Barracks, visitors learned a Soldier's typical meal while in the field consisted of salt pork, hardtack, and cornmeal. In garrison they ate a lot of beans. Despite the Chisholm Trail cattle drives being close by, beef was a rarity and most often served during winter, when meat would keep outside in cold temperatures.
The Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general's home, the Sherman House, featured the post's original commander Col. Benjamin Grierson, and his wife, Alice (real life couple Frank Siltman, Fort Sill director of museums, and his wife, Lori.)
Alice Grierson said part of her duties included entertaining visitors, sometimes for months at a time.
Col. Grierson described how he thwarted an Indian attack on Gen. William Sherman. "I imagine it would not have boded well on my Army career to have the commanding general of the Army killed on my front porch."
Guests were treated cookies, hot chocolate, and coffee inside the Sherman House, by Staff Sgt. Robert Puente, the CG's enlisted aide.
Re-enactor Kenneth Reese portrayed Chaplain Allen Ellensworth, 24th Infantry, inside the original Post Chapel.
The work began in June 1875 to build the chapel with $2,500 for materials and labor, Ellensworth said. "It was constructed by one carpenter, and one stone mason."
He concluded by asking the audience to join him in singing "Silent Night."
On the final stop at the First School of Fire, field artillery officer Dan Moore (Claude Matchette) explained how he visited England, Austria, Holland, and Germany to learn about their artillery indirect fire tactics.
Mabry said she hoped the visitors learned something about the history of Fort Sill, and will visit again.