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Frontier fun Saturday

Parade kicks off second day of festival

June 3, 2012
By HANS MADSEN ( , Messenger News

The second day of Frontier Days activities kicked off Saturday morning with a 194-unit parade along Central Avenue in downtown Fort Dodge.

Erin Thompson, of Fort Dodge, found that taking in the parade from a lawn chair in front of the Webster County Courthouse required a bit of, well, new attire.

She purchased a sombrero.

Article Photos

Jim “Buzz” McColley, of Fort Dodge, walks along the Frontier Days Parade route Saturday morning searching for all manner of bugs wherever they might be found.

"I just wanted to be festive and I didn't want a sunburn," she said.

Getting sick - or worse yet - injured during the frontier era was not something that would be on the top of any modern person's list of things to do on a long weekend.

After visitors to the Frontier Days celebration at the Fort Museum get a look at some of John Bonner's medical instruments from the 1845 to 1865 era, it's likely to get even lower or go off the list entirely.

How primitive was it?

Bonner showed off a retractor used to keep a wound open while a surgeon worked on it.

"This was made by a blacksmith," he said while showing the crude but functional tool.

He also told visitors about some cures for ailments that might end up being worse than the disease - not only painful procedures but also toxic ones

Mercury, for example, is no longer considered medicine.

"It would start killing brain cells right away," he said.

Some of the treatments used then are actually still effective today.

He showed a bottle of turpentine oil that smells much like freshly cut pine trees.

"That would get the tape worm to let go," he said. "Then a dose of cod liver oil would give him a free ride."

How does the public react to medicine from before and during the Civil War?

"Most just say 'Boy, I'm glad I live in this era,'" he said.

Sharon Steeburg, of Fort Dodge, counts herself among those after looking over a brass dental tool used for extractions.

"I think I'll go to my real dentist," she said, declining any offers to actually use the device.

It's not just medicine that was simpler in frontier times, building anything usually took hand tools and the skill to use them properly.

Dan Kramer, of Fort Dodge, was doing just that in the Ole Sjetland Cabinet Shop - one of the storefronts at the Fort Museum.

Surrounded by wood shavings, he was carefully cutting mortise and tenon joints in what would eventually become a table that would fold up and serve as a chair.

"Early furniture was very functional with multiple purposes," he said.

Kramer has just begun to learn his craft, he's taken several lessons at RVP 1875 in Jefferson from Robbie Pederson.

"This is my third piece," he said.

He doesn't mind not using power tools.

"It's safer," he said of his hand-powered equipment.

Another opportunity to learn about life in frontier days is the Ghost Garrison camped next to the stockade. The group recreates life for a soldier in the U.S. Army during the mid-1800s who were actually stationed in Iowa which was then a territory.

Kyle McGonigle, of Des Moines, is captain of the unit.

Troops may want to watch it and not get too personal.

"They can call me by either of my names," he said sternly. "Captain or sir."

McGonigle is happy to share his knowledge of the era with visitors.

"We love it when people ask us questions," he said.

What can they learn?

How many stars were on the U.S. Flag in 1843, the origin of the term Red Tape (Yes, it's that old, government communication at the time was wrapped with red ribbons) and the difference between a feather and a quill.

"A quill is a feather that's been cut," he said.

Of course, visitors might also get a bit thirsty while they tour the grounds and enjoy the entertainment, re-enactments, vendors, and other activities.

The Root Beer Lady - Patty Mertz, of Kansas City, can take care of that, not only is the beverage brewed as in days of old, it's also served in a tent painted with period style advertising art she created herself.

"I'm a jack of all trades," she said.

Sippers of her root beer can purchase it in an old-style bottle or if they already own one, have that filled.

She sees some from years ago.

"We're still happy to see them," she said.

Events continue at the Fort today, gates open at 10 a.m. and continue until closing ceremonies at 4 p.m.



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