Bushy Run to draw 10,000 spectators for 250th anniversary reenactment
Bushy Run is easy to miss if you're not looking for it, and most people aren't.
Nestled in a rural corner of Penn Township, the park marks the spot of a pivotal battle of a forgotten war, and a fight whose small size and relative obscurity belies its importance to the country that grew up around it, historians say.
“A lot of people just don't know about our history,” said Bonnie Ramus, president of the Bushy Run Battlefield Heritage Society, a nonprofit that runs the visitors center, museum and special events at the park. “This actually is the beginning of our country and a lot of people don't realize that.”
The two-day battle between British Col. Henry Bouquet's troops and Indian fighters from seven nations began 250 years ago on Monday, but its commemoration begins on Friday at 7:15 p.m. Organizers expect as many as 10,000 spectators to join about 400 re-enactors, giving the battlefield a temporary population larger than Latrobe. Anniversary re-enactments usually draw fewer than 3,500 to the park, Ramus said.
If the crowd estimates are accurate, the park will host 40 percent more people this weekend than who visit in an average year.
“The sad part is, people are not aware of” the 218-acre battlefield park, said Beverly Hahn, treasurer of the Penn Township Business Association. “I think people just do not pay attention to the benefits in our own area.
“They'll travel to Florida. They'll take a cruise. But they won't take the time to learn about our history, and that's a shame. Without our history, we wouldn't be here.”
The three-day commemoration will cost about $30,000 — a significant sum considering the heritage society's normal annual budget is $25,000, said society treasurer Kelly Ruoff, co-chairwoman of the anniversary committee with Jack Giblin, the state site administrator from 1988 to 2001.
The battle, part of Pontiac's War, occupies a sliver of colonial American history between the French and Indian War and the War for Independence.
A rare coalition of Indians, united by anger about European encroachment on land the British promised to leave, laid siege to Fort Pitt, then a large outpost on the wild, western edge of British North America.
Settlers fled their homes in what would become Pittsburgh and hunkered down inside the fort. They sent word for help and warned they were running low on food.
Col. Henry Bouquet, the fort's commanding officer who was in Philadelphia at the time, marched to them with about 400 soldiers and several hundred bags of flour.
A force of as many as 200 Indians, including elements of seven nations fighting as one, ambushed Bouquet in the tight valley around Bushy Run on Aug. 5, said Stephanie Sanner, Bushy Run's museum facilitator.
“If Bouquet doesn't make it to Fort Pitt, Fort Pitt will fall,” and with it, control of much of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, Sanner said. “If you control the forks of the river, you control all the trade coming into the East.”
Two days of fierce fighting at Bushy Run, including using the sacks of flour as bulwarks of a makeshift fort, ended with the Indians retreating, Bouquet's rescue of Fort Pitt and continued British dominance that soon would brew a revolution.
“This battle set the stage for the birth of our country. If the British had lost this ... it may have set the Revolution's timetable back who knows how many years,” said Vince DiPaolo, 65, of Connellsville, one of the park's volunteer tour guides and a retired educator.
The historical society's small staff has planned the anniversary events for two years, Ramus said.
Volunteers and staff redecorated the gift shop and museum this winter and cleaned and repainted the building. Pecora Flooring of North Huntingdon donated a new floor for the building.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission maintains the grounds, Ruoff said, clipping low-hanging branches next to the trunks of towering trees and cutting back undergrowth around walking paths. The work allows much of the grounds to remain thickly wooded without blocking visibility — a manicured wilderness similar to what's portrayed in paintings of the battle that hang in the visitors center.
Giblin, the former site administrator, will open the commemoration with an address, followed by a first look at a monument by Bedford County sculptor Wayne Hyde to the British, Scottish and Native American warriors killed during the battle.
The Seton Hill University Pipe Band will perform a bagpipe concert.
After sunset, more than 450 luminaria will mark the edges of the battlefield, Sanna said.
A delegation from the Seneca Nation plans to perform a traditional Burying of the Hatchet ceremony on Saturday at 11 a.m., and Hyde's monument will be dedicated.
Battle re-enactments, native dance demonstrations, a medicinal plant educational program and other events are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, when the park's parking lot will be closed.
Visitors will leave cars at three satellite locations and ride free shuttles to the park, Ruoff said.
The closest of these will be the lots of Living Word Congregational Church, about two miles away, where parishioners plan to offer visitors free water, bathrooms and a nondenominational Christian service on Sunday morning titled, “The Value of History.”
Staff writer Chris Foreman contributed. Mike Wereschagin is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.