'First U.S. Infantry' honored at 2013 Fort Atkinson Rendezvous


‘First U.S. Infantry’ honored at 2013 Fort Atkinson Rendezvous


The 37th Annual Frontier Rendezvous will be held on the military post grounds of Fort Atkinson on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28-29. 

The annual Fort Atkinson Rendezvous will be open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.

There is no admission charge to visitors attending the Rendezvous.  A public school bus will travel back and forth from the fort to downtown to provide free transportation for visitors since cars cannot be parked around the post grounds.

Re-enactors, dressed in 1840s time-period costume, will take part in historical, educational, and entertaining events.

Paul R. Herold, Fort Atkinson mayor and chairperson of The Friends of Fort Atkinson Rendezvous Committee, and committee members Penney Neuzil, Scott Sindelar, and Ron Franzen have announced that the theme for this year’s event is in recognition and honor of the soldiers of the “First U.S. Infantry” when they were stationed at the Fort Atkinson military post.

This year’s souvenir medallion, designed by Fort Atkinson artist LuAnne Becker, features an eagle and regimental banner of the First Regular U.S. Infantry.

Approximately 100 tents and teepees will be on the fort grounds during the Rendezvous weekend with hundreds of Rendezvous participants called buckskinners dressed in period clothes or military uniforms of the 1840s time period. 

Numerous “trade blankets” will be laid out next to the teepees, displaying pioneer items such as hand-woven baskets, pottery, glassware, scrimshaw, animal furs, and pioneer clothes and tools.

Also on display on the fort grounds will be a full-size replica of the frontier Conestoga wagon used to haul supplies to the military post.

Lots of fun events that took place at the original frontier Rendezvous will occur on the post grounds and will include shooting contests, tomahawk throwing, flint and steel fire starting, an 1840s cooking contest, a skillet throw, and 1840s kids’ games. 

Other pioneer sights and sounds that will greet visitors include the training of soldiers dressed in period military uniform, the shooting of the anvil, and cannon drills.

The Country Road Players will perform a melodrama on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and again on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. 

An old-time church service will also be held on the fort grounds on Sunday morning at 9:10 a.m.

A variety of pioneer foods will be available on the grounds during the weekend, including kettle corn, fry bread, stew, Indian tacos, homemade root beer, and other period food items.

A bit of history

On May 31, 1840, 82 officers and enlisted men of Col. F, 5th Infantry, arrived at the site to be Camp Atkinson.  About 500-600 Winnebago Indians also were moved into the surrounding vicinity.  On June 21, 1841, Co. B. of the 1st Dragoons (horse-mounted soldiers) arrived at the fort. 

Then, from September 10, 1841, to May 20, 1844, Co K. of the 1st Infantry manned the fort.  Major John Joseph Abercrombie was the commanding officer in charge of the 1st U. S. Infantry when it was stationed at Camp Atkinson.  Three additional companies of the 1st Infantry came to the fort grounds from 1843 to 1845.

From 1841 to 1845, the total number of 1st Infantry men stationed at the fort during a given month ranged from 115 in September, 1841 to a high number of 196 in August 1842.  By August 1845, the number had decreased back to 115 and in September was down to 59 troops.

While the first barracks were constructed of logs, in the spring of 1841 the first stone barracks were constructed at the fort.  By the fall of 1842, the 1st Infantry had 24 buildings constructed at the fort: 10 were located inside the stockade walls, and 14 outside the stockade.

During the weekend Rendezvous, the Ghost Garrison from Des Moines will be on the post grounds, demonstrating how the 1st Infantry soldiers of the 1840s time period lived.  Formed in 1977, the Ghost Garrison is made up of members from throughout Iowa.  Kyle McGonigle of Des Moines is the unit’s major.  Dressed in time-period uniforms, members of the Ghost Garrison will perform marching and shooting drills and provide general knowledge of early to mid-1800 U. S. military history in the territory and state of Iowa.

The goal of the 1st Infantry at Fort Atkinson was to keep the Winnebago/Ho-Chunk Indian within the “neutral ground” where the government wanted them, and to keep settlers out of the Indian territory. 

Soldiers at the military post also were instructed to protect the Ho-Chunk from the warring tribes to the north and south, while at the same time preventing them from returning to their Wisconsin homelands.  When Iowa became a state in 1846, no settlers were allowed to enter the “neutral ground” at that time.

The Fort Atkinson Rendezvous is sponsored by the Fort Atkinson community, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and volunteers on the Friends of Fort Atkinson Rendezvous Committee.  It is held with permission from the Iowa State Preserves Advisory Board.



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