USAO News Bureau

Students bring history alive at Honey Springs

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

History students at the University of Science and Arts Oklahoma are taking their studies out of the classroom to help bring a Civil War battlefield in Oklahoma alive for visitors.

Four students were on hand at the Honey Springs Battlefield, located east of U.S. Highway 69 between Oktaha and Rentiesville, on July 19 to serve as tour guides for visitors to the site of the largest engagement of Union and Confederate troops in what was then Indian Territory.

The four students are: Alexia Jensen, a freshman history major from Tulsa; Joanna Revelle, a senior history major from Chickasha; Kylie Scheller, a freshmen history major from Davis; and Brian Whinery, a senior history major from Grove.

The class, titled Historical Interpretation, is taught by Dr. James Finck, assistant professor of American History.

Finck said that the purpose of the class is to train students to communicate the historical importance of particular places to a general audience.

“As historians, we have an obligation to take the information available to us and make it come alive for non-historians,” Finck said. “This is not an area on which many history programs focus, which is a shame because it gives us an opportunity to tie places and people to broader ideas that remain relevant to modern audiences.”

The battle, known as the Engagement at Honey Springs, took place on July 17, 1863.

The event was an observance of the anniversary of the battle.

Site director, Christopher Price, a 2007 graduate of the university, said that he has been impressed with the students’ degree of preparation for the tours.

“It’s a lot harder to do than people might think,” Price said. “Any time I’ve ever worked with people who are doing it for the first time, they have a kind of stage fright but these students were well prepared and did an outstanding job.”

Whinery said that his preparation for the event gave him a new appreciation for the importance of the battle.

“Not many Oklahomans are aware of the significance of this engagement,” Whinery said. “It was one of the few engagements of the Civil War fought by armies that were predominantly American Indian, African-American and, as some scholarship suggests, Hispanic.

“Ultimately, the battle determined who would control Indian Territory moving forward.”

Regiments from the Cherokee and Creek nations fought on both sides of the conflict, as well as Choctaw on the side of the Confederacy. The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, which was the first black regiment in the Union Army, figured prominently in the battle as well.

Ultimately, the Union forces, led by Major General James Blunt, overcame their Confederate opposition in a battle, which involved approximately nine thousand soldiers in total.

Whinery remarked that, though the Confederate troops were defeated, they displayed great bravery in holding off Union forces as long as possible.

“Blunt recognized the sacrifice they had made and ordered his troops to bury the fallen from both sides as a testament to their courage,” Whinery said.

More information about the Honey Springs Battlefield and future tours can be found online at www.okhistory.org/sites/honeysprings.