2021: History Boy Summer (Part 1) Fort Osage State Historic Site

I don’t normally put a lot of emphasis on New Year’s Resolutions, as most are unattainable and end up going by the wayside like 30 days after you start doing them. Honestly, going into 2021 my goal is hopefully “go outside a bit” which stands in stark contrast to last year when I, like many, lived as a cavemen holed up in my Covid-19 safety shelter watching the exploits of a mulleted redneck that dabbles in tigers and attempted murder. My two goals (I like that better) that have stuck for this year have been: “I have a bunch of unread books, I need to read more this year” and “I haven’t been to any local historical sites in a LONG time, maybe I should go to them.” Both are easy to do and both are relatively inexpensive. The latter gets me outside a bit – usually I go to conventions and live music shows throughout the year, without those I need something to clear the cobwebs. So, History Boy Summer begins!

FORT OSAGE: Sibley, MO

I laid out a plan that started in Fort Osage, a small rebuilt fortress built near the Missouri River in what is now Sibley, MO. When I was a child, one of my fondest memories was going there with my Mother and Grandparents. I clearly recall an episode wherein my grandfather was about to head downstairs into the basement of some building (in hindsight this must have been the storehouse under the trading post) he came back upstairs with a worried look on his face, and basically said “hey, we’re not going in there”, as I guess there was a black Cornsnake dangling from the ceiling. It’s one of those memories that really sticks with me for whatever reason. My grandfather died when I was very young, so I don’t recall a lot of his true personality, but one thing I can recall was his Indiana Jones level hatred of snakes. I also recall briefly thinking the living history staff were ghosts, because why else would old-timey soldiers be walking around. My Mother had to ease my worries by saying “those guys are just in costumes!” Four year old me was very relieved.

So, here I am 34 years out wondering why I haven’t returned. I lived in Warrensburg, MO for a long time, and did not have a car until my mid to late twenties. Due to this, arranging a trip to go to a living history museum hours away was going to be hard. I do have some friends into history as well, but not as much as myself. in 2014 I moved to Independence, MO – literally a few miles from Fort Osage and I still never went because time just never seemed to line up and I had it in my head that I absolutely had to go with somebody to things like this. I’ve changed a lot in the last 5 years, for good and bad reasons, but one of my new mantras is: if I want to do something I will do it, no matter if I’m alone or not. Life is too short for me to worry about unwanted shared experiences. If it’s cool, maybe I can take them there later. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, it’s time to live life. So, the plan was laid – I was off to Fort Osage.

Background:

Fort Osage was an early 19th-century trading post run by the United States Government. At that time, it sat on the literal edge of the united states overlooking native lands and untamed wilderness gained through the Louisiana Purchase. The Treaty of Fort Clark, signed with members of the Osage Nation in 1808, called for the United States to establish Fort Osage as a trading post and to protect the Osage from tribal enemies as well as provide money to said Natives. Of course, our very own Congress bumbled a lot of this treaty up as they historically always do, and the general mistreatment of the Indians was in full effect.
While the fort never succumbed to any fighting during the War of 1812, it was relatively close to some battles with British-led Natives on similar US forts, an example being Fort Madison in present day Iowa. had the tide of that battle gone differently, who knows. According to Wikipedia, Archaeologists rediscovered the foundations of Fort Osage in the 1940s. The station was reconstructed to portray Fort Osage as it was in 1812 by using the preserved surveys created by William Clark and others. This made restoration to exact specifications possible.

Reading:

During this project, I have decided to give myself homework of sorts. I plan to read something, a book preferably, on the subject at hand for each excursion. The reason for this being, I want to know what’s going on, just in case they are either closed, the guided tours don’t happen, or its slanted in one direction or another for political reasons. I was really worried about the latter in regards to my next topic (Battle of Lexington), but I will get to that next time.

To prepare for Fort Osage, I actually tracked down an old book from around the time I was born, seemingly one of the only ones on the actual Fort Itself called Fort Osage–opening of the American West by Rhoda Wooldridge. I know there are diaries published from George C. Sibley out there, but I’m sure these will be even harder to get, or be chained to a library. Its lack of Footnotes aside, the information seems to be a narrative of the aforementioned diaries of the various people involved, so it’s got to be pretty accurate, and its a quick read. If you’d like to read my full review of this book, please click HERE.

It’s a shame this book isn’t available in digital format nor left in print at all since 1983, as it seems to be pretty good. The local publisher seems to only print books related to Alcoholics Anonymous and other rehabilitation plans, and whilst being a noble cause, its sad to see local history go by the wayside.

The Trip:

For this trip, the Covid-19 global pandemic was still in full effect and vaccinations were just starting to get rolling on a large scale. As a result, a lot of the living history stuff that is normally going on here was absent, and a mask mandate was in place. That said, everything was very enjoyable nonetheless. Upon arrival at the grounds, one first goes into a large, modern, visitor’s center. As of this writing, it costs eight dollars to enter the fort itself, and four for children. Be sure to check their website for current prices and other promotions. There is the obligatory informational video available to park patrons that tells the history of the time period and the park itself.

After hitting the giftshop, yeah I did it first for some reason, I walked through their large museum collection within the visitors center. These exhibits consisted of artifacts of the time such as items sold at the trading post, military uniforms, native artifacts, a full sized canoe, and even cannons. This museum is decently sized and takes around ten to thirty minutes to get through depending on the speed that one can read, and I’d assume walk. I had a little one with me, and he especially enjoyed seeing the cannons, a theme that would carry-on into the heart of the Fort itself. My personal favorite was probably the uniforms as I will admit I am not the most well-versed on War of 1812 history, as I’m sure are most other Americans likewise. It’s a shame that I hope to rectify soon.

Now that the introduction is out of the way, it was time to move through a doorway and head up to the grounds of the actual fort itself. While the main part of the fort is missing a bit of the original structure, including the entire outer wall, the part that we do have in very impressive. The major locations include guard towers (think castle turrets), Commander’s quarters, barracks, the trading post, an area where people got whipped as punishment, and a huge flag pole. While the majority of the buildings are repetitive (a barrack is a barrack etc.), exploring some of the larger buildings such as the trading post was awesome. stocked with facsimile items for sale, and manned by a living history interpreter, this was probably my favorite part of the trip. Hearing some anecdotes about the fort and some information of the river was cool, and he took time to point out some interesting things I should do (like a path to the river through the woods) that I probably would not have done otherwise.

I was worried that bringing a five year old was a bad call at first, but he really enjoyed exploring the fort. running up stairs to see if there were cannons and looking out the windows to see the river was exiting for him. I’d like to go back the next time a big event is going on, as I think seeing more volunteers and getting the idea of how old this place was would benefit him. He’s still a bit young to understand exactly what was happening, but he had fun.

Conclusion:

All-in-all this was a great quick weekend trip if you live in or around the Kansas City area. It’s inexpensive, fun, and educational. Sitting a few months out from my trip, I kind of wish I would have waited a bit longer now that mask mandates are going away, but I had set aside this time in April, and the last thing I needed was yet another excuse as to why I needed to not go. If I go back for any sort of event, I will be sure to do some kind of an update.

Stay tuned next time, for part 2 of History Boy Summer, where I go to the site of one of the more interesting Civil War battles, local or not. For another museum exhibit I really enjoyed, check out my review of Stonehenge: Spirit and Science of Place from a few years ago. Also, keep up with this series by looking at the tag for History Boy Summer. And yes, the title is making fun of that cringe Chet Hanks song that I will undoubtedly forget about the existence of a few years down the road and wonder why I went with this as the header.

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