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Archive for Sunday, June 27, 1999

HISTORY REPEATED AT TOWN FESTIVAL

June 27, 1999

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— A "Bleeding Kansas" battle raged in Lecompton Saturday during the annual Territorial Capital Festival.

Free staters burned Fort Titus again on Saturday.

The air had the acrid tang of gun smoke. Men surrounded the sturdy cabin, firing on it with a cannon and their rifles while yelling at the pro-slavery soldiers inside.

As the battle raged on, almost 500 people watched from a safe distance. The Battle of Titus re-enactment was one of the highlights of Lecompton's Territorial Capital Festival Saturday. Other attractions included living history demonstrations, a parade, frog and turtle races, the play "Prelude to Civil War," crafts and games.

Around 30 men, dressed in period trousers, suspenders, vests and hats, prepared for the battle in a rough camp with fire pits as a few tethered cavalry horses shuffled on the other side of the field.

The annual battle re-enactment, first produced in 1987, is done only every three years. Most of the re-enactors are Civil War history buffs.

"I've been a history buff since I was a kid," Phil Curran, one of the free staters, said. "... To me, the Civil War is the most critical period in this country's history."

He doesn't live in Lecompton anymore, but Curran still drives home from Omaha every three years for the battle. The guns the re-enactors use are authentic replicas that fire powder charges, he said. The clothes, also authentic reproductions, are sewn at home.

The cannon, on the other hand, probably isn't just like the one that was used in the Battle of Titus, Curran said, though it's from the same era.

The only modern convenience the re-enactors use is a bathroom with running water.

"You try to be as realistic as possible," Curran said. "... It makes you appreciate what they went through."

The battle, fought in 1856, was waged between free state forces from Lawrence and a pro-slavery faction led by Colonel H.T. Titus outside of Lecompton. The free state forces burned the fort and took Titus prisoner.

Paul Bahnmaier, one of the festival organizers, said that Saturday's turnout was "tremendous." Around 3,000 people were in town for the festivities.

Bahnmaier said he had seen the battle seven times and that each time the crowd of spectators had grown.

"Every time it's a little more interesting and a little different," he said.

For those who missed the re-enactment, forces will surround the fort again at 1:30 p.m. today.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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