The Norman Transcript

September 29, 2012

Keystone encampment to be re-enacted

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

SAND SPRINGS, Okla. — It was 180 years ago when Washington Irving embarked on a quest to discover the American West in Indian Territory.

The author of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” left Fort Gibson on horseback, accompanied by U.S. Army Rangers, an Indian agent, some Creek Indians and a “count” from Switzerland.

With the Arkansas River as their guide, the party arrived northwest of today’s Sand Springs on Oct. 15, 1832, and made camp.

Irving wrote of his experience in “A Tour on the Prairies.” Although the party’s dream of hunting buffalo with the Osage Indians didn’t pan out, its members did experience the ruggedness of the cross timbers forest.

As part of the yearlong celebration of Sand Springs’ centennial, the encampment will be re-created Oct. 6 with history experts portraying Irving and his group.

The event, dubbed “A Day With Washington Irving,” will be held in that same forest, which is now recognized and appreciated ecologically as the Keystone Ancient Forest.

“We always wanted to do a Washington Irving encampment, and this forest shows pretty much how it looked when Irving was here. It’s just a few hundred yards from his actual camp,” said scriptwriter Whit Edwards, a former special programs director at the Oklahoma Historical Society who is now with the Texas Historical Commission in Marshall, Texas.

Although many of the post oaks in the forest are 300 to 500 years old, they are not large. There are low-hanging limbs and abundant brush.

It was so thick that the party went through it single-file, with the lead person hacking his way through, Edwards said.

“Everything just slows down out here,” Sand Springs Parks Department Director Grant Gerondale said. “The forest is still very much the way it was 100 years ago.”

Edwards said Irving’s trip was arduous.

“They ran short of food because hunting was very difficult in the thick forest,” he said. “They were able to get venison to sustain themselves, but they didn’t take enough supplies.”

The event will have two sessions. The day session is a free event in which visitors can walk through the trail and have the chance to visit with history experts.

“I think the public will have a very interesting time coming out and talking to the re-enactors ,” Edwards said. “They will be well-versed in this time period.”

The candlelight tour is a paid event, with several miniplays staged along the trail, he said.

“With the candlelight tour, visitors have the opportunity to step back in time,” Edwards said. “With it being in the evening, all the elements of modern life are blocked out.

“I hope it is a magic thing for people.”

The forest preserve project exists thanks to a variety of partners, including the late Irv Frank of Tulsa and Sam Childers of Sand Springs; former landowners; and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the city of Sand Springs, the Oklahoma Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The re-enactment is the first “big event” for the Keystone Ancient Forest, which has been open to the public for hiking on the second Saturday of each month since 2007.

Gerondale said the Parks Department hopes to expand activities at the preserve in the future.

About $80,000 has been invested in the preserve recently, which is evident with the flurry of work being done at the trail head in preparation for the re-enactment.

“Everything that’s been done out here has been done with private money or anonymous donations,” Gerondale said.

Workers are busy pouring a connecting handicapped-accessible sidewalk, developing a trail head centerpiece with benches and a retaining wall, reshaping the primitive trail surface, and expanding the parking lot.

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