Editorial: Landmark accomplishment

Congratulations to the dedicated volunteer force that successfully sought National Historical Landmark status for the Black Jack Battlefield near Baldwin City.

The national designation of this site raises the historical profile of the entire region and will benefit efforts to promote historical tourism in Douglas County and throughout the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.

For many years, all most people knew about the Battle of Black Jack was what they could read on a marker in a roadside park on U.S. Highway 56 east of Baldwin City. It claimed to be the first real battle of the U.S. Civil War, but how could that be? It wasn’t mentioned in any history books. No one taught about it in school.

In more recent times, as interest in Civil War history has moved west, people are beginning to realize the important role played by the border wars and particularly the battle that pitted abolitionist John Brown against pro-slavery forces led by Henry Clay Pate at the Black Jack site.

It’s a story that’s well known by a handful of Black Jack devotees who have worked hard for many years to preserve and improve this site. The landmark designation is a great recognition that the story of Black Jack and its role in U.S. history are — as Kerry Altenbernd, vice president of the Black Jack Battlefield Trust said — “the real deal.”

The promotion of the interesting historical stories centered in Douglas County and the region often is touted as a way to attract more visitors who are interested in Civil War history. History can be a source of economic development for our area, but it’s equally important for local residents who can gain a better understanding of the events that shaped this region and the people who live here. It’s our story to share with others but it also has something to teach us about the place we call home.

For those unfamiliar with the Black Jack site and story, this weekend offers a perfect opportunity to learn more. As part of Baldwin City’s annual Maple Leaf Festival, free tours of the site will be offered at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday and at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday. It would be a great way to spend what’s forecast to be a lovely fall day.

Again, congratulations to the guardians of Black Jack. We hope this landmark designation will bring new energy and support to your efforts to preserve this important property and story.