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Re-enactors gather for taste of colonial life 4-28-07

STATESVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Nearly 250 years ago, a little-known battle occurred in a mostly wooded place about three miles north of what is now Statesville.

The area is currently on the edge of a new, upscale housing development, but in 1760, when a group of Cherokees attacked Fort Dobbs, the area helped define the western edge of the so-called civilized portion of the New World.

On Saturday and Sunday, re-enactments of that attack were played out at the Fort Dobbs Historic Site.

The attack was part of a weekend event called War For Empire, which is also what the French and Indian War is sometimes called.

“The name of the war really depends on perspective,” said Dianne Anestis, a person of Greek ancestry from Ohio who played the role of a Native American. “The winners get to call it what they want. But back in England they call it the Seven Years War.”

By any name, it was a brutal affair that began when the French wanted to link their two stongholds in the New World; in Canada and the Louisiana Territory. To that end, they enlisted the help of various Native American nations along the eastern part of colonial America.

During the attack at Fort Dobbs, one colonial soldier was scalped and another - a boy - was killed. About a dozen Cherokees were wounded or killed.

In the 20-minute re-enactment, the colonial boy was killed by a Cherokee named Tall Bear.

But Beth Hill, the historic manager of the site, said history is not specific about who actually killed the boy.

What historians do know is that attack took place on Feb. 27, 1760, and involved about 70 Cherokee warriors. They were held back by a much smaller group of provincial soldiers led by Col. Hugh Waddell.

But the weekend event was not just one of recalling the battle at Fort Dobbs, but getting a taste of colonial life.

“These kinds of events are a great opportunity for people to really experience life in the frontier days,” Hill said. “I was really pleased with the turnout and the weather was just beautiful.”

Mark Dubin and Art Snyder made the trek to Iredell County from western Pennsylvania with a vintage mid-18th century Conestoga wagon in tow.

Dubin said he liked to remember a simpler time.

“I think life was more interesting back then. I don't think it was easier, but it was better, I think,” he said.

Snyder, who bought the Conestoga wagon at a real estate auction about 10 years ago, said he was happy to find one in such good shape.

“I'm really lucky that the owner kept it in his barn,” he said. “I have seen so many of these destroyed by the weather. As you can imagine, something left outside for 200 years would have a toll taken on it by the outdoors.”

John Young and Harry Noel are both sheriff's deputies in their hometown of Kingsport in Sullivan County, Tenn.

Both men are nearing retirement and said they took up the hobby of bladesmithing as something to do while collecting their pensions.

“You really have to find something you like to do,” Young said from behind a table on which he and Noel displayed 40 or so knives and a tomahawk. “This is my weekend at the golf course. But I take tremendous pride in having someone buy one of my knives and tell me how they are going to treasure it.”

Noel said a lot of his business is from people who enjoy drifting into another time period.

“We wear these clothes and meet these people and everyone really likes being here,” he said.

Hill said the event is a vehicle to bring an awareness of the history of the area and the era. But she said research done by a college professor revealed that people gather at events like this as a way of spending time with family members and enjoying themselves.

“History was not mentioned as a reason very often, but I'm happy for whoever comes,” she said. “And it makes the pool of people who will come to the fort a larger one. People come to have fun and learn while they are here. I'll take a deal like that.”

Hill and others are looking for ways to raise money to fund construction of a replica barrack-fort. A $2 million appropriations bill toward that effort was proposed by N.C. Rep. Karen Ray earlier this month. The Statesville City Council voted last week to support the bill.