In my job as Marketing Coordinator for Westmoreland Heritage I am not allowed to have favorite partner sites. Like a mother, I’m supposed to love all of my children equally. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Bushy Run Battlefield, and especially the annual battle reenactment at Bushy Run, didn’t hold a special place in my heart.
Why is that? It’s because that’s where I had my first date with my fiancé, Scott, ten years ago. Yep—we’re such history nerds that our first date was a Pontiac’s War battle reenactment. Figurative sparks flew between us as literal sparks flew from the black powder weapons of the combatants.
Over the next decade Bushy Run gave me a list of other “firsts:" my first internship, my first professional job straight out of college, my first leadership role, my first time firing a black powder weapon, and my engagement (let’s hope that last one it’s not just a first, but a final). As a result I’ve been a dedicated volunteer during the periods when I wasn’t being paid to work at the place.
Every year the battlefield is crawling with visitors for the first full weekend of August to commemorate this two-day battle between British troops and Native American forces in 1763. The 253rd Anniversary Reenactment of the Battle of Bushy Run on August 6 and 7, 2016, was no exception. The weather was hot and humid on Saturday, but not too bad, and on Sunday it was absolutely picturesque.
For full disclosure, I haven’t attended the battle as a visitor in one decade—I’ve volunteered for eight of the past ten years of battle reenactments. I’m usually one of the nuts in a bright yellow STAFF shirt with a walkie talkie running around the battlefield grounds like a chicken with her head cut off. That being said, if you’ve never been to the battle reenactment at Bushy Run, you should give it a shot. Why?
- There is a Native village and a British encampment, where you can see cooking, weaving, or other everyday life demonstrations by the reenactors.
- Reenactors are super fun to talk to.
- There is a sutler area where 18th century themed goods are for sale, as well as a blacksmithing demonstration.
- The concession stand has Walking Tacos! And other foods, but the only thing I truly care about are the Cool Doritos Walking Tacos. Delicious!
- A new children’s area was started last year that includes face-painting, arts & crafts, and 18th century games.
- With two battle reenactments each day there’s always a fire fight to look forward to!
- Action movies have nothing on guys shooting guns at each other in real life. Sometimes there are even a few “deaths.”
- You can ponder mysteries such as how the British could have possibly fought in the August heat and humidity in heavy woolen coats.
- You can also ponder if the breechcloths those Native American reenactors are wearing would result in an indecent-exposure-situation if a heavy gust of wind happened to pass by. (Come on, we’re all thinking it).
- Colonel Henry Bouquet as portrayed by Bruce Egli. He has his own stop right before the morning battle, where he begins reprimanding the crowd for settling west of the Allegheny Mountains and causing the issues that led up to Pontiac’s War, as well as explaining the Indian raids and devastation on settlements that has left the crowd as “refugees.” It’s a terrific example of “showing” rather than telling, the backstory that led to Pontiac’s War and, subsequently, the Battle of Bushy Run.
- The Visitor’s Center and Museum is included in the price of the battle reenactment admission.
So what’s the big deal about the Battle of Bushy Run? Why should you care?
On August 5, 1763 the British were ambushed by Native American warriors one mile from Bushy Run Station on their way to relieve besieged at Fort Pitt during a Native American uprising. For two days the combatants fought, until Col. Henry Bouquet, the British commander, came up with a brilliant way to use the terrain of the battlefield to his advantage to defeat the Native Americans.
What did Col. Bouquet do? Go to the battlefield and find out. All I will say is that what Col. Bouquet did was so successful and such a good use of the local terrain that the Battle of Bushy Run is still studied by the U.S. Army. It resulted in a definitive defeat of the Native Americans, which was something pretty much any other British commander in else in any battle against Native American forces could not say for certain. The Native tactics were not the same as European tactics—Europeans usually considered a battle a victory when they “took the field” and forced their enemy to retreat. Native Americans, on the other hand, weren’t interested in “taking the field.” Their victories were won by using a “running fight” type of tactic, where they popped up, shot at the enemy, and popped back down again, then moving to another position to pop back up and shoot. Their goal was to kill the enemy with little loss of life to their warriors.
Also, the Battle of Bushy Run relieved the siege at Fort Pitt and resulted in settlement of Western Pennsylvania by European settlers—which was probably going to happen anyway at some point, but happened sooner due to the British victory at Bushy Run.
Additionally, Bushy Run Battlefield is the only recognized Native American battlefield in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Pretty darn cool if you ask me.
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