The western frontier.
It existed on the edge of an endless horizon, rugged, young and growing like a weed.
An outpost on the edge of the western frontier that’s the rich history of Fort Dodge.
Fifty years ago, some folks had a pretty good idea to recreate the image of that frontier town in a village and fort museum.
Forty years ago, another group of people had another great idea, to create an annual festival to celebrate that heritage and revive the youth and vibrancy of a community built on the edge of what was then America’s great western frontier.
In 2014, the people of Fort Dodge will celebrate important milestones for both of those wonderful ideas in the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Fort Museum and 40th anniversary of Frontier Days.
Fort Dodge, it’s time to party!
“I just love the tradition of Frontier Days,” says Chairman Kerk Friday. “When I was a kid growing up, I always looked forward to coming to it.”
To celebrate its 40th year, Friday says Frontier Days will feature many of the traditional favorites — from the parade to bands and plenty of family-friendly fun throughout, as well as a few new attractions along the way.
Slated for Friday through Sunday, June 6, 7, and 8, Frontier Days 2014 has taken on the theme of “Thank You for Your Service.”
“It’s a salute to the military people who have served in the recent conflicts, and even going back to Vietnam, Korea, World War II, and all the veterans,” Friday says. “But it’s also a dual salute to all those who serve locally, and all the past volunteers and committee members who have made Frontier Days possible for the last 39 years.”
That will be especially evident during the big parade down Central Avenue on Saturday morning, June 7. This year, instead of choosing a new grand marshal, the Frontier Days Committee has decided to honor and bring back as many former grand marshals as possible from the festival’s 39-year history.
“We don’t have a head count yet on who will be taking part, but we’d like as many as possible to come back,” Friday adds.
Those who have served as a Frontier Days grand marshal, or those who know of one, can call Friday to be included.
Many of the familiar bands will also be back this year, and they’ll have an even better venue on which to perform.
“There’s going to be some great bands, and we’re building a bigger, better stage,” Friday explains.
Saucy Jack will take to the new stage on Saturday night. For those who prefer country, Bobby Awe and the Awe Stars will be performing at the Opera House on Saturday night.
Also back this year will be Richie Lee with a Buddy Holly tribute during the day on Saturday.
For some homegrown entertainment, check out the karaoke in the Opera House on Friday night.
For the entire family, there’s entertainment throughout the weekend at the Fort Museum.
To Friday, the variety of fun and activities for kids is the heart of Frontier Days and the reason so many volunteers work so hard to make it happen each year.
“The Buckskinners are back, and they’re just getting bigger and bigger every year,” Friday notes. “We’ll have inflatables for the kids and all kinds of food and entertainment.”
The museum complex, with its collections of military, agricultural and cultural history (including the Cardiff Giant), is a gem that is sometimes under-appreciated.
“It’s an Iowa secret,” says Tammy Calvert of Payton, who urges anyone who has not yet seen all it has to offer to partake in the activities.
Calvert and husband, Leroy, started taking part in Frontier Days several years ago through the old Cowboy Camp that used to set up at the Fort Museum. Not to be confused with the Buckskinners Rendezvous, which remains a popular attraction at the fort during Frontier Days, Calvert describes the old Cowboy Camp as recreating a different era that is actually more recent history than that represented by the Rendevousers
But while the Cowboy Camp is no longer, the Calverts still look forward to recreating history for visitors at the Fort Museum. Each year during Frontier Days, Calvert can be found in period clothes, sitting in a rocking chair on a porch or in the General Store hand-piecing a quilt.
“I just like everything about it,” she says. “I like the clothes. I like the people. I like the surroundings and all the antiques. I just like dressing up,” she says.
As she works away on her quilt, Calvert also has been known to tell visitors about the history of the fort and surrounding village.
“Some people don’t realize that the General Store came from Clare, and some of the shelving and display cases are original to the store, some are not,” she explains. “I’ve had people come in there and say, ‘I remember going into the store with my mother when I was little and those are the same cases.” ”
There is so much history at the fort, the log cabin and other buildings that Calvert likes to make history come alive as she weaves her stories for visitors. She also may throw in some general interest history on the Civil War and Underground Railroad.
Husband Leroy also plans to be back at the fort this year, manning the blacksmith shop.
“People need to come out and visit the fort,” she says. “It’s such a wonderful asset.”
Alan Schaefer, director at the Fort Museum, couldn’t agree more and encourages visitors to come out anytime during the 50th anniversary year at the fort.
While there is much to see at the fort, including the town village, gift shop and the many artifacts, the fort itself remains a primary draw, according to Schaefer.
“The most interesting thing for most people is the fort itself,” he says. “It’s a pretty close replica of Fort Williams that was built on the Iowa/Minnesota border.”
The fort even includes the original quartermaster office of Lewis Armistead, who served as second in command when the original fort was built in 1850. First named Fort Clarke and later renamed Fort Dodge, it was the last U.S. military fort in Iowa during those pioneer days.
Visitors will also find an abundance of antiques and military artifacts and uniforms from World War I and World War II, as well as other conflicts. Native American and agricultural history is also on display, and working exhibits can be found throughout the village.
As Frontier Days enters its fifth decade, another generation makes this festival its own. Now with a young family of their own, Mike and Angie Hoover fondly remember going to Frontier Days every year when they were kids growing up in Fort Dodge.
“For me, I always looked forward to the parade the most,” recalls Angie. “I was always in the parade with Girl Scouts, and I remember that I got to carry the banner because I was top cookie seller.”
Daughter Cortney, 7, and son Collin, 4, have their own interests and seem to enjoy all the candy at the parade the most, according to their mom.
“Collin also likes seeing the four-wheelers and all the tractors” rumbling down Central Avenue, she adds.
Along with the parade, the family makes a visit to the Fort Museum some time during Frontier Days and likes to wade back into history through the exhibits and village buildings. And the concessions are pretty good, too.
“The food is unforgettable,” Mike says.
The rest of the family agrees, and Angie adds that they even love the homemade root beer. But most of all, Frontier Days is simply a chance for the community to come together and celebrate its heritage.
“We just enjoy the family time,” Angie says.
That’s music to Friday’s ears. Ensuring that this family friendly tradition continues for another generation is the goal of all the volunteers.
His one request is that even more people become willing to share their support.
“The funds coming in always seem to get smaller and smaller,” he says. “We really appreciate any support we can get from the people, whether it’s $500 or $5.”
And just as important as monetary support is the support of hard-working volunteers. To learn more about volunteering, call Friday at (515) 571-7293 or visit the Frontier Days website at www.frontierdaysfortdodge.com.
“We’re excited about the future of Frontier Days,” Friday says. “We’ve got 40 years in the books, and a new frontier is coming. We always want to uphold the traditions of the past, but we’re also looking to bring Frontier Days into the new frontier, so we’re always wanting to add new things.”
Most of all, organizers are hoping to make some great memories for the 40th anniversary of Frontier Days and 50th anniversary of the Fort Museum.
“I’d just love to see everybody out there having a good time,” he says.