COOKSBURG — Re-enactors representing French, British and Native American forces squared off along the Black Bear Trail for a tactical engagement June 8-9 as part of the Cook Forest State Park French and Indian War Encampment.
Cook Forest State Park Environmental Specialist Dale Luthringer said the event is staged annually and approximately 100-200 re-enactors representing French and British regiments, such as the Maj. Gen. Douglas Alexander Grahahm’s highlander divisions, colonial regiments such as the Ohio Rangers and Native American warriors take part.
Luthringer said the event features two battles each day but the encampment has much to offer in addition to the battles.
“This event is more than just battles. There are many different educational programs that happen on both days. It is a great opportunity to see history outside the history books,” Luthringer said.
Luthringer said no specific battles were recorded in the Cook Forest Area, but the French were present and the park has many Native American trails that would have been used by the tribes who fought in the war.
Re-enactors before the tactical engagement on Sunday spoke of what their characters would be doing before a battle and what stake they had in the war. Randy Rudecki, representing Graham’s 42nd Royal Highlanders, said the British soldiers would be taking stock of their inventory.
“We would be loading our cartridge boxes up, make sure our weapons were all in working order and making sure we have water in our canteens. We would be making sure we were ready to go when we were supposed to be ready to go,” Rudecki said.
Rudecki said the particular engagement for which he was preparing was representative of a skirmish that would have occurred if the opposing factions had met in the forest. Rudecki said the stakes for the British centered on trying to retain their ownership of the land, which brought them into confrontation with the French and the Native Americans.
John Bortniak and Bill Hug, representing the Le Compangie Franche de la Marine de Dumas, said while the French would be making similar preparations to those of the British, it would be hard to predict when this kind of battle would take place.
“Very often they are moving, they are on the march. They would be marching to meet the enemy somewhere on the trail,” Bortniak said.
Bortniak said both sides were fighting over the same territory and wanted control of the trade routes. He said the French had established a lucrative fur trade and were fighting to curtail British efforts to cut in on their trade.
“The British and the French both said each of their colonies reached all the way to the Pacific and each accused the other of intruding on their territory,” Bortniak said,
Jimmy Depace, who represented a woodland Native American, said many tribes were represented in the war, allied both with the British and the French. He said before a battle, they would be making preparations both physical and spiritual.
“Right before a battle they would be gathering their weapons, painting their faces and getting right with the Creator. They would do any spiritual rituals they would want to do, making sure everything was loaded and ready to go. They would also be saying goodbye to loved ones,” Depace said.
He said the tribes were fighting for nothing short of their very lives in the war.
“The natives had their survival at stake. They were fighting for whichever side would help them and respect their lands and way of life after the war was over,” Depace said.