Development battles with history
Development battles with history
Re-enactor community is disappointed that Wilson's Creek may meet sprawl.
By Jenny Fillmer
Wilson's Creek — Dressed in gingham, homespun and floppy hats, 1861-era Missouri Home Guard re-enactors loaded blanks into a bronze Civil War-style cannon and aimed across an empty field.
Well-warned by a park ranger, children in the nearby audience — and some adults — watched with their fingers in their ears as the ragtag soldiers went through a routine ending in "Ready ... Fire!"
No amount of warning could have kept the crowd from jumping. Smaller children appeared especially startled as the boom echoed off hills.
But the shock turned to laughter as a nearby car alarm started honking, triggered by the blast. The interruption held up the Saturday afternoon artillery demonstration, and giggles continued as an embarrassed onlooker ran to quiet his car.
Greg Wait, a Springfield dentist who served on the artillery battery, said he's not bothered by the culture clash.
"We think it's funny," Wait said after the demonstration. "We're here for the public and that's just part of it. We like making car alarms go off."
Wait is not as forgiving of a proposal to permanently bring modern civilization closer to the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.
Hollister-based Missouri Partners Inc. has plans to build a 2,300-acre housing development on property currently used for cattle grazing, adjacent to the battlefield.
"That land was used by both Confederate and Federal troops during the war," said Wait. "A lot of battlefields in this country have been encroached upon — this is one of the few that hasn't. We'd like to keep it that way."
The development proposal, named Terrell Creek after a stream crossing the property, has been a hot discussion topic in the re-enactor community, both in the Ozarks and across the country.
The proposal gained national attention in February, after the Civil War Preservation Trust named Wilson's Creek as one of the country's top 10 endangered battlefields. Terrell Creek also pops up on several Civil War-based Web sites and chat rooms.
With more than 75 percent of the original battlefield comprising a national park, Wilson's Creek is one of the most intact Civil War sites in the country. Re-enactors who traveled from out-of-state for this weekend's weapons demonstrations consider the battlefield a rare gem.
"This is immaculate," said Eric Bonekowski of Dayton, Ohio, who sat under a shade tree after an infantry drill demonstration. "We've done a lot of living history (events), but this is just really untouched. Last night, all we heard were barking dogs. It'd be a real shame if somebody plopped a bunch of $200,000 houses right next to it."
Bonekowski compared Wilson's Creek with battlefields in Ohio and along the East Coast. "We really don't have anything like this in Ohio," he said. "A lot of (battlefields) in Virginia are just gone, under strip malls and housing developments. This is just a treasure."
"That's why people like us will drive all the way from Ohio to do (a) living history here," added Ted Thompson, from Cincinnati.
Civil War battlefields are not just playgrounds for re-enactors, Bonekowski said.
"It's a nonrenewable resource," he said. "Why should you care about a place where the Missouri State Guard camped? These are the men that actually took the bullets, that actually fought the battles. ... They suffered for what they believed in. It's just disrespectful to build a house there."
A pristine battlefield also helps teach visitors about the Civil War, said Tom Yearby, a retired high school history teacher from Shreveport, La.
"When you don't see modern intrusions, it makes is a more realistic experience," Yearby said, while puffing on a pipe. "Charlottesville, Atlanta, Nashville — those battlefields are long paved over. All that's there is a plaque. Here, you have hundreds of acres."
Sitting nearby, Cleon Plunk, from Broken Arrow, Okla., said educating the public is the main reason many re-enactors take part in living-history demonstrations.
"We don't re-enact for ourselves," said Plunk.
"We do it for children, for the public to come out and say, 'Wow, is that what is was really like?' That makes an impression."
Yearby lamented that parts of the battlefield in Mansfield, La., were being destroyed by strip mining.
"There are Confederate and Union soldiers there that are being scooped up in bulldozers," he said. "Yes, you have something special out here at Wilson's Creek."
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