Living history event canceled after 18 years

Error message

  • Warning: array_merge(): Argument #1 is not an array in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 133 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/simpleads.helper.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to get property of non-object in _simpleads_adgroup_settings() (line 343 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/simpleads.helper.inc).
  • Warning: array_merge(): Argument #1 is not an array in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 157 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/simpleads.helper.inc).

One of the favorite stations at Cannons at the Fort was always the mini militia, where students acted like soldiers and were treated as such by 19th Century interpreters. (Courier Press file photo)

By Correne Martin

Cannons at the Fort brought history alive for 18 years in Prairie du Chien, inviting the region’s fourth and fifth graders into an interactive 18th and 19th Century world where rope was made by hand, food was cooked over an open fire and voyageurs transported furs by canoe.

But all good things must come to an end. Or must they?

After its longtime run on the Fort Crawford Museum grounds, Cannons at the Fort, which would have happened Sept. 18-19, has been canceled for 2015. Prairie du Chien Historical Society President Mary Antoine cited diminishing participant numbers and a shoestring museum budget as the reasoning.

“In the face of changing educational philosophy to an importance on testing, the number of students participating in the event dwindled,” she stated. “This year, only 540 students registered and then two schools withdrew. The museum wished to continue the event because there is a great importance in educating people about history. But Cannons at the Fort requires a certain amount of funds. To hold the event with less than 500 students is not monetarily possible.”

In a letter to schools that previously attended, Antoine said at least 650 students were needed in order for Cannons to be self-supporting. But the fact is, those numbers haven’t been recorded for years.

Cannons at the Fort was a two-day living history event for students and the public through which interpreters presented historically-accurate re-enactments of the early Native American through Civil War periods. Stations brought to life key aspects  of those times such as mini militia, cannon firing, old-fashioned music, medicine, lawn games, fur trading, campfire cooking, candle and rope making, lead pouring, felting and more. On Friday of the event, students came from schools as far away as La Crosse, Spring Green, Lancaster, Decorah and Guttenberg.

“Our first year, we had almost 700 students. One year, about midway through, we had as many as 950. Then it was around 850 for a while until attendance dwindled,” Antoine said. “Schools are stating funding and testing as their reasons (for backing out). They’re teaching to the tests nowadays instead of educating. But teachers have to have the ability to be creative and adapt to how their kids comprehend, and interactive activities are how some kids learn, not through books.”

“It’s a real shame they had to cancel,” added Bill Huser, Prairie Catholic science and social studies teacher who took his eighth graders to Cannons for many years to learn about the Civil War period. “It’s always been worthwhile. With anything, if kids can see it, hear it and smell it first-hand, they learn better. But public schools are being judged on math and reading, so there’s a greater focus in those areas instead of history.”

Interpreter Dick Schultz, aka Dr. J.M. Witherwax surgeon of the 24th Iowa Infantry, has also noticed a change in history education. In an email to Antoine regarding the canceled event, he said, “We, the 24th Iowa, have also seen a decline in the number of school presentations we do each year. Where we were doing nine to 12 a year, we are now down to two. It seems like the school systems are teaching less American history; if it happened more than 20 years ago, forget it. I hope you will be able to renew Cannons at the Fort.”

Antoine explained that Cannons was sponsored in part by small businesses and organizations that helped with costs as well as in-kind donations. The students’ admissions paid for the other portion. Main expenses included paying more than a dozen interpreters $100 apiece and also providing them three meals over three days.

“It’s too bad they couldn’t have charged a little more for admission. We would’ve still attended; the kids loved it,” noted Dianne Langmeier, Fennimore fifth grade teacher who took her students for 14 years. Fennimore expected to bring 65 fourth and fifth graders to this year’s event before it was canceled. “We focus on math and reading and testing but we try to keep the fun things too. We have to learn about our history, and this was a great way to keep history alive.”

In lieu of Cannons at the Fort, the historical society will continue to host those school groups who wish to visit the Fort Crawford Museum (and Villa Louis) in history-rich Prairie du Chien.

“We’re not giving up,” Antoine said. “For the spring of 2016 (the 200th anniversary of the establishment of Fort Crawford), we plan to develop a special program for spring field trips.”

“It won’t quite be the same experience, but I’m sure it’ll be good,” Langmeier said. “They have a nice museum and a lot of history of our area to retell.”

Rate this article: 
No votes yet