Fort Pitt Museum…and the very familiar bridge

When I set off today (7/31/17) for Pittsburgh, I had plans to visit Fort Pitt and explore some of the surrounding areas.  I had forgotten (blocked?) just how much I hate cities.  Don’t get me wrong–some of the coolest things to see are inside cities, but the hassle of getting there always has me frustrated before I arrive wherever I’m going.  Fort Pitt was my normal annoyance on steroids.

To the best of my memory, I haven’t been to Pittsburgh before, and the internet analysis of traffic was truthful, but not positive.  I was relying on my GPS to locate Fort Pitt (having identified its location on a map), and it didn’t steer me wrong–sort of.  It did, in fact, identify Fort Pitt.  While I was on a bridge.  And the building was about 20 feet below me.  With no indication of a road down.  Consequently, I spent an hour and a half driving back and forth over the bridge and surrounding areas trying to figure out where to actually park to approach Fort Pitt.  I had googled Parking Garages in the vicinity, but they seemed miles from the actual building. I strongly considered calling it a day and driving back home.  I’m glad I didn’t.

Blockhouse model

To save you the hassle, I will share my wisdom, so you can do better (or at least faster) if you visit.  I chose a parking garage at the corner of Fort Duquesne and Stanwix.  It costs $20 for the day (Advertised $6.00–but after 4.  Read the fine print.)  There is another garage for $13 a day at Fort Duquesne and Sixth Street (which I was headed to when I found this one.)  It’s a better deal, but 2+ blocks farther away.   After you park, walk down Fort Duquesne until you can turn left on Commonwealth Place.  As you turn, you’ll see a park area in front of you with a circling walkway that goes under the bridge (and over a little bridge of its own).  Take the pathway, and you come out at the Fort Pitt Museum.

Barracks scene

Once I actually arrived, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the museum.  The first floor contains a model of Fort Pitt and vicinity, a gallery of paintings about the French Indian War, and many free standing scenes including traders, barracks, Native American scenes, and the model of the inside of the block house.  There is a lot of reading on panels here, but they explain a great deal about the war.


Depiction of the British articles of war

The main exhibits, however, are on the second floor.  One thing I especially appreciated was the separation of French, British, and American.  Each topic, whether it was uniforms and weapons, reasons for fighting, or responses to various circumstances, contained the views of each side.  I was struck once again with how complex war often is.  I have always presented the Civil War as a many layered event with people fighting for a variety of reasons, but it seems the French Indian War was the same.  I suppose that’s true in every conflict–people have different reasons why they do what they do.  I was also struck with how many times people made stupid and hurtful choices trying to get revenge–Like the whole congregation (96+ people) of Moravian Christian Indians who were slaughtered (after being told they’d be executed and spending the night singing hymns) simply because the soldiers wanted revenge against an entirely different group of Native Americans.  There’s also the time two soldiers decided to kill White Eyes–the spokesman of the Delaware who was known as “The Peacemaker” for his work negotiating treaties.  Of all the people you’d think to kill, the leader who was on your side shouldn’t be at the top of that list!

I also read about the commander who chose tho deliver two smallpox infested blankets and a handkerchief to the Native Americans even before his commanding officer commanded him to do just that.  It was an intentional biological attack.  The museum sites case after case where the Native Americans are stuck in the middle, trying to decide who to trust:  the British or the French, then the British or the Americans.  The choices are not great.

Exterior Blockhouse

I finished up at the Museum, getting a detailed book on the campaign during which my book is set, and headed outside.  There is a remaining block house outside of the museum, but it’s only open Wednesdays through Sunday April through October and weekends the rest of the year, so I didn’t get to go inside.  This blockhouse is one of the original 5 redoubts placed on the perimeter of Fort Pitt for added security.  It is the only remaining part of the Fort.  There is also an outline of the location where Fort Duquesne stood.

All in all, it was a very informative day, but I’m looking forward to the forts that are a little more easily accessible–and a bit more off the beaten path!



Ready to explore

This morning (7/8/16) we got up headed to Jamestowne.  We decided to do the history in order from Jamestowne to Williamsburg to Yorktown.  My nephew (6) wanted to dress up, and we had brought both an Indian costume and a John Smith costume, so we took them along for him to wear in the different areas.  Turns out, it was a great idea!

We bought our tickets and planned to head into the Indian village. One thing that has changed since previous trips is they no longer have the tour guides that lead you through each section, or at least not on a regular schedule.  You pretty much explore on your own and the guides are in the different areas.  I missed the added information of taking a tour.

The packed canoe

There is a special exhibition called “Bartering for a Continent,” which will be available until December 10, 2016.    It is a fun experience, which I recommend.   You begin in the exhibition area (Second floor of the visitor center). Corban was given a card with 5 challenges to complete.  He had to pack a canoe with provisions, put a puzzle together to learn Native American words, find another trading animal than a deer, figure an exchange rate for buckskin (why we call dollars “bucks”), and make a peace medal rubbing in foil.  After completing all the challenges, he was sent to the Indian village to get something to trade.

Grinding corn

In the Indian village, we received a small bag of corn, which we were told was to trade in the fort, not feed to the chickens (The temptation is great, and we met a girl who had already fed her “trade goods” to the them). In addition to the bartering challenge, the village still offers a variety of activities and interpreters to speak to kids. Corban got to grind corn, scrape skins, explore houses, see fish traps, rope, and pottery being made, and play Native American children’s games.

Learning about weaponry

One of the areas we especially enjoyed  was talking to the lady at the weapons place.  I asked her what had made her decide to work here. She said growing up, she had found artifacts in her back yard.  She’d always loved history, but as she was the first generation to go to college, she had pursued a medical career.  Eventually, she also added archaeologically, and fell in love with it.  Since that doesn’t pay the bills, she works here where she gets to be around history and still talk about it.

She shared that Native American society is matriarchal.  Wives built their house by  their mother-in-law’s.  She also explained that, while Indian tools work well, they took a long time to make.  This explains why the Powhatan trade for tools–not because they need them but for bragging rights.

From the Indian Village, we went out to the ships to climb aboard. We ate our lunch and headed to the fort.

Corban holding a “John Smith” sword

At the fort, we first stopped at the armory. Since Corban was dressed as Captain John Smith, the man there told him he needed one thing to complete his outfit–the Captain John Smith sword, which he let Corban hold.  He explained the gun racks in the armory. The leaders wanted the men to keep their weapons in a rack.  They didn’t want soldiers carrying their guns around because then they couldn’t get to them quickly in case of an attack.  Additionally, each man had his own place in the rack.  Unlike later years, guns at this time were unique, so you had to have your own so it would match your musket balls and allow you to actually fire.  He explained that in a battle, soldiers would hold several musket balls in their cheeks for quicker loading.  In battle, he explained, the corporals marked the position of the soldiers while the Sergeant gave the battle orders. The Commanding officer watched the enemy, not the soldiers.  He changed tactics based on position of enemy.  The man at the armory was only able to talk to us for a few minutes as he was the one to fire the musket, which occurs on a quarter til and a quarter after each hour.  But, he let Corban be the commanding officer since he was dressed the part.  That meant he got to call out the commands of “Prepare your piece, present your piece, and fire.”  He thoroughly enjoyed that!

Helping the joiner

A final person we got to meet was the joiner. As the name suggests, this is the man who makes joints consisting of two pieces of wood carved so one has a tab and the other has a slot.  These joints are connected by a simple peg passing through each. Because the joints are constructed with green wood, when the wood swells, the pegs are stuck so the wooden pieces will not come apart.  Since the joiner worked by the river, and his pieces are brought in, he numbers each piece for construction on shore.  The largest house in original Jamestowne had 57 joints. Interestingly enough, 75% of world today still uses this same joint.

Considering a trade

Finally, it was time to make our trade.  We took the corn we had been given at the Indian village and went to meet with the clerk.  He was explaining how things were traded.  We presented our goods, and he proceeded to make a series of offers.  Finally, we settled on a trade of our bag of corn for a glass bead bracelet.  It was a fun experience for kids to see the way bartering works and have a souvenir as well.

All in all, we had an excellent time, despite the changes, and are looking forward to much more fun to come!

Morning mists and layers of beauty!

Morning mists and layers of beauty!

We set out this morning (3/24/15) to visit Cherokee, North Carolina.  Since our previous visit was over Christmastime, we weren’t able to go then, so this was our first time.  As a history teacher, I was hoping to get some first hand information on major events like the Trail of Tears and the Battle of Horseshoe Bend–and I was not disappointed.

We stopped along the way to capture the gorgeous views of the (relatively) early morning mists on the mountains. It was beautiful to see layer after layer of ridges–the sight is breathtaking–in some cases quite literally, as we were a mile in the air. Our first stop was the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, which is a definite “must see.” It boasts and outdoor collection of Mountain cabins and outbuildings that we were interested to see, but we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time in Cherokee, so we vowed to visit on our return trip.

Street view with one of the cultural dancers Photo credit:  Mary Rosalind Brailey

Street view with one of the cultural dancers Photo credit: Mary Rosalind Brailey

A few miles down the road, we entered Cherokee territory. When one hears the word “reservation,” a number of images come to mind. I’m not sure quite what I was expecting, but it was different than what I saw. We drove down a street lined with shops and even a Dairy Queen–I guess I expected it to be more primitive than it was. Not that I think Native Americans should be stuck in the 1800’s, but from reading Chief Seattle’s “If we sell you our land, love it” speech to my class every year, I guess I was hoping in would be more “untouched” by the commercialism that pervades American culture. Having encountered such vast natural beauty on the way into the reservation, I expected it to be more beautiful here. It was not.

The Museum, however, offered a wealth of information on the Cherokee Experience from the beginning of their civilization to the present. There is a wealth of artifacts to see–tools, arrowheads, tomahawks. They also have a variety of interactive displays where visitors can experience tribal stories from the Creation story movie to first hand accounts of different experiences.

The first thing that really captured my attention was the story of Sequoyah. This amazing Native American has about two lines of text in our History book–merely known as a leader who created the Cherokee alphabet. From now on, I will cover him differently.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Sequoyah had so many obstacles to overcome, it is incredible. In today’s world, he would have been labeled an “at risk” kid. Abandoned by his white father and born with an infirm leg, Sequoyah entered life at a disadvantage. Yet, he helped his mother around the farm, and became an artist and a silversmith. He had been exposed to writing but was illiterate himself–the only inventor of a written language (at least in 5,00 years of written history) to not first write another language. And yet, he felt, as I do, that his people had a story to share. So, he set about creating an alphabet for them to record their heritage. He had another obstacle in the creation of the alphabet–this time from closer to home. His wife felt his work was becoming an obsession since he was neglecting their farm. She also felt his work was affecting his mind, so she burned it–I can’t believe what that must have been like. Still Sequoyah pressed on, and two years later he completed his syllabary. Finally, eleven years later, he would receive a silver medal from the Cherokee National Council. He is a true example of overcoming obstacles to achieve a goal.

I also learned more about another interesting Native American: Tecumseh. Being from Indiana, we spend special interest on the conflict between Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison. I knew that Tecumseh had been off raising support from other tribal members when Harrison picked a fight at the Battle of Tippecanoe. At the Museum, we were able to read a portion of his words. Here’s a quote from his speech: “The white race is a wicked race.

Museum Display

Museum Display

The hunting grounds are fast disappearing, and they are driving the red men farther and farther to the West. Let the white race perish whence they came. Upon the trail of blood, they must be driven. Will not the warriors of the Southern tribes unite with the warriors of the Lakes?” While this speech perfectly falls in line with the image we’re traditionally taught in history, an understanding of the Cherokee rule of Blood Revenge casts a new light on history. In Cherokee law, if a member of tribe A kills a member of tribe B, a member of tribe A must be killed in return. The goal was not simply revenge, but balance. The Cherokee followed this same practice with the “white tribes”: the settlers, the British, and the French. Imagine their surprise when these groups returned the blood revenge with military force. This is not to say Native Americans were innocent bystanders, but perhaps they are not quite the savages we have made them out to be.

Museum Display

Museum Display

Finally, we were able to learn of some unexpected people with Native American connections. Even General Andrew Jackson fought in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend alongside the Creeks, the Cherokee, and other Native Americans whom he would eventually expel with the Indian Removal Act. One of them even saved his life during the battle! Another famous American present at that battle was Sam Houston. Sam has quite an extensive experience with the Cherokee. As a 16 year old, Sam ran away from home and lived among the Cherokee. He was adopted by Chief Oo-Loo-Te-Ka and given the Indian name “The Raven.” He lives with the Cherokee for three years at this stint. He’ll then start a school, join the army, and get wounded twice at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. He then turns to politics, representing the Cherokee in Washington, where he will be criticized by Secretary of State John C. Calhoun for wearing Indian dress! After serving as the Governor of Tennessee, he will return to the Cherokee Nation for the Green Corn Dance where he will meet the woman who will become his second wife. He ends up staying with the Cherokee for a while, needing to be nursed back to health with Indian medicine by his Cherokee father after a severe bout with Malaria.

In addition to the notable names, we also learned about the “no names” like William Holland Thomas who essentially made his own Indian Reservation by buying up land on which he allowed the Cherokee to live. He first got to know the Cherokee by working in a trading post as a young man. He will eventually be adopted by Chief Yonaguska, who will name him his successor, making Thomas the only white Chief of the Cherokee. In addition to buying the land that is much of the Cherokee land in North Carolina today, he would negotiate for the Cherokee in court, and represent their interest in the Senate where he was elected in 1848 and would serve until the beginning of the Civil War. He also protected his tribe in the Civil War by forming the Thomas Legion–initially a protective force, but his men would eventually be sent into dangerous battlefields. Yet, his troops hold the distinction of the last shots fired in the Civil War east of the Mississippi.

The Qualla Arts and Crafts Store

The Qualla Arts and Crafts Store

Almost a month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Thomas and his men surrounded Waynesville. After a night of war whoops, the garrison surrendered. Just four days later, on the one month anniversary of the Lee’s surrender, Thomas would learn of Appomattox and agree to lay down his arms. Always looking out for his tribe, we will convince the government that the Cherokee had never enlisted in the Confederate army and should therefore be allowed to keep their weapons. He is successful. In decline of health and deeply in debt, Thomas will continue to care for his people. Though he himself was committed to a mental institution, the Cherokee are able to use the treaty he negotiated in 1848 to maintain control of their lands which had been seized due to his debts. Definitely a neat story!


Mountainside Trees

After leaving the museum, we walked across the street to the Qualla Arts and Crafts store, which the museum had recommended we see. Offering a variety of items for purchase from woven baskets, to pottery, weapons, and wood carvings. The Craft store serves as a kind of museum on its own! We visited a few more shops and headed out to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was discouraging to see how much of the area consisted of trailers and abandoned or falling down buildings. Again, I desired more of what I had seen of reservations in the West.

The Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center

The Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center

The Blue Ridge Parkway was an amazing drive. From the views of layers and layers of mountains, to the roadside waterfalls, to the bare trees, every bend held a piece of beauty!

We concluded our drive back at the visitor center to visit the farms they shared. Much like we had seen driving through Cades Cove, these cabins are incredible pieces of history. Apparently, there is more to see later in the season, as most of the buildings were closed, but the layout of buildings as well as the different trade areas makes me think later in the season, this will be a place buzzing with activity.

Finally, we made our way home, stopping often to enjoy the changes in the mountains from the morning when we set out. From battlelines to ridgelines, it has truly been an amazing day!