A Retelling of the Long Run Massacre
By Helen E. McKinney
If you stand still and listen hard enough, you can almost envision through your senses the life Rev. John Whitaker and his family lived at Whitaker Station in 1782.
The wind wafting softly through the trees, the tall meadow grasses swaying gently in the hot September breeze, Clear Creek quietly meandering along on its age-old pathway. All of these tangible objects signify that Whitakers' memory still lingers in the air surrounding Shelbyville's Red Orchard Park.
Even though the Rev. John Whitaker and his family have long since passed away, their importance to the founding of Shelbyville are not forgotten. This is where he put down roots in 1782, where he made a home for himself and family on the Kentucky frontier.
The Whitaker's were real people, with a real story to tell. They are the exciting history behind Red Orchard Park, once known as Whitaker's Station.
Their story will be re-lived through the Long Run Massacre from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on September 13 &14. The event is hosted by the Painted Stone Settlers, Inc., a local group of living history re-enactors that are dedicated to researching, preserving and bringing to life the 18th Century as it was lived on the Kentucky frontier.
This year marks the 10th Anniversary for this living history weekend, which pays tribute to the many families like the Whitakers who lived at another nearby station, Painted Stone Station.
As the founder of Painted Stone Station, Squire Boone had the enormous responsibility of overseeing the safety of the many families at his fort, which included the Whitakers before they established their own station. When Boone decided that Indian harassment was becoming all too real in 1781, he had the fort inhabitants head for Linn's Station in what is now Jefferson County, KY.
The tragic event that ensued when Kentucky was not even a state yet, is not often recorded in history books. Vince Akers, a noted authority on the event, many years ago recorded the circumstances surrounding the evacuation and ambush experienced by the settlers.
His references have kept the story alive and provided the Painted Stone Settlers with a reason for hosting the Long Run Massacre every year. Painted Stone Settlers, Inc. President Kathy Cummings said, "It should give Shelby County a sense of community pride. The Long Run Massacre is their story."
A new site this year provides new opportunity for the re-enactment of actual events that occurred in Kentucky during the Revolutionary War time period (1775-1783). "Every year we have had a variety of entertainers, exhibits and historical programs to make each year a unique experience in living history," said member and former Painted Stone Settlers' president, Dr. Harold Raleigh. "Every year is definitely different."
The basic history behind the main drama presented each day at 2 p.m. may not change, but there is always a new insightful way to present and interpret it. It is a story that often makes visitors ponder their ancestors, ask themselves why they never learned such things in school books, and why they may never have liked history very much until now.
Cummings believes it is an original event backed by a distinctive organization. "What makes us unique is that a group of dedicated individuals come together and transform a plain field into a historic encampment that the public can visit for a few days out of the year. The rest of the time it returns to being - just an empty field."
The event is not just a retelling of the same worn-out tale every year. The spark that keeps it new and fresh is "the dedication of a core group of people in the club who love to pass on our rich local history, especially to the youth of Shelby County," said Raleigh. This is also accomplished through a Friday School Day Program which attracts local and surrounding county schools.
There are many things to see and do throughout the weekend, with the main battle re-enactment at 2 p.m. each day. Visitors will be able to tour settler and Native American camps. An 18th century cannon demonstration will officially kick off events at 11 am on Saturday.
Other scheduled events for the weekend include a Dusk Battle Saturday evening, military demonstrations, prisoner exchange, running of the gauntlet, Kentucky authors, food vendor and demonstrations of primitive skills such as spinning, broom making, basket weaving, fire starting, loom weaving, dulcimer music and cooking. A variety of sutlers (merchants) will be selling their wares which include period clothing for all ages, cloth and sewing accessories, pottery, children's toys, wooden writing boxes, floorcloths, and period implements.
This event is not a glamorized version of the 18th Century, such as you might see in the movies. "You can see, feel and smell it. Smell the black powder, hear an 18th Century cannon charge and feel the fear that our ancestors must have felt when confronted with 50 Miami Indians!" said Cummings.
The group strives to be as authentic as possible. As a founding member, this is one of the biggest changes Raleigh has seen over the years within the group. The look the re-enactors portray "has been refined through the research of historical literature and the clothing and equipment is much closer to, what we think, the settlers wore and used."
In doing so, the group and the many re-enactors who travel out-of state and county to participate with the core group, are presenting an accurate picture of 18th century life.
With this purpose of education in mind, the public will not be confused by what they see. What they view has been well documented to be historically correct to the 18th century lifestyle.
"This is such a great story," said Cummings. "Not every area has something like this. In Shelby County it is documented. These were real people."
In essence, the Whitaker family was no different from any other early settler family, braving many hardships just to survive from day to day. Two hundred and twenty six years later, their story does not waver from any other immigrant's tale; in 1782 they etched out a new life for themselves in a new land were everyday existence was full of life and death, adventure and opportunity.
For more information and directions to Red Orchard Park go to www.paintedstonesettlers.org, www.shelbycountyparks.com or call (502) 228-3746.
The Long Run Massacre
September 13 & 14, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with main re-enactment at 2 p.m. both days
Adults, $6; children 12 & under, $3; children 3 & under, free; Two Day Pass, $10.