CAMP VERDE - Offering a military timeline of local history, the Fort Verde State Historic Park will hold its annual History of the Soldier this weekend.
Partnering with Hold the Fort, a non-profit organization dedicated to the continued operation of Fort Verde, History of the Soldier will host historical re-enactments including military drills, a fashion show, vintage baseball and a period church service. Flag-raising and flag-lowering ceremonies, military encampments, weapons demonstrations and Dutch oven demonstrations are also scheduled for the weekend.
"It is one of my favorite events of the year," says Sheila Stubler, park manager for Fort Verde. "We get to include all military war periods.
"We are paying respect to the military who have served and those who do serve, to pay respect to them for what they have done. It is really important to recognize all veterans.
"We need to have more of these events," Stubler says, "so that we do not lose out on paying tribute and respect for people who have fought for the freedoms that we have."
Since 2005, Bill Stafford, a member of Hold the Fort's governing council, has been 'company cook' at History of the Soldier. Stafford and his co-cook Bob Tenner will cook typical outdoor dishes in Dutch ovens.
"It is a lot of fun to be able to feed the volunteers and the re-enactors," Stafford says. "But my favorite thing is announcing the meals. You'll probably need to hold your ears!"
Stafford's two favorite dishes to cook at History of the Soldier are biscuits his mother used to make and the chili his father used to make. Stafford calls the biscuits "Mary's biscuits," named after his mother. Stafford serves the biscuits with sausage gravy. "Wild Bill's Chili" is a chili that Stafford's father first made in 1938 while working on the Santa Fe Railroad. "Dad was the brakeman," Stafford said. "The youngest member of the train crew would cook. It is a tasty chili, not too hot. If you haven't had this chili, you haven't had chili."
Stafford takes pride in his Dutch oven cooking. "I want the people to see a primitive skill," Stafford said "It is an easy way to cook a whole lot of food and to do it pretty fast."
As far back as the Revolutionary War, African Americans have served in the military. James Foster of Ash Fork will lead Troop F, 9th U.S. Cavalry, Buffalo Soldiers of Arizona in a re-enactment. "We would like for people to know of the contributions of African Americans in the settling of the Southwest," Foster said. "It is an abundance of history that we can tell." Greg (Poet) Carter, one of the members of Troop F, will do a presentation for three African Americans who died at the Alamo.
For the first time, the Southwest Civil War Association will participate in History of the Soldier. Mike Vander Maten, treasurer with the SCWA, says Carole Dvorak with Hold the Fort contacted his group about getting involved.
"We are very supportive of Arizona State Parks and Arizona history," Vander Maten says. "We are primarily dedicated to the history of the Civil War as it relates to involvement in the Southwest."
The SCWA will sponsor artillery demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday morning, using replica guns and cannons, including an 1841 12-pound Mountain Howitzer and an 1862 Variant Gatling gun.
"We enjoy educating the general public about Civil War artillery," Vander Maten said. "We're primarily dedicated to education and helping the general public understand what the Civil War soldiers went through."
For the fourth year, Lance Busch, commissioner of the Arizona Territorial Vintage Baseball League, will field a vintage baseball team Saturday at History of the Soldier. Busch says the team he will field is made up of family members ... his family.
"He's my saving grace," Stubler says. "His whole family is involved."
Fort Verde is looking for players to fill a Camp Verde Excelsiors squad to oppose Busch's team. Fort Verde will supply the uniforms and the equipment.
"Baseball came to the Southwest predominantly through the military," says Busch, a self-proclaimed history buff.
"People should be interested in bringing the kids out to learn, to get a feel for what has brought them their freedoms," Busch said.
As commissioner of a vintage baseball league, Busch is a fan of baseball history, especially pre-20th century baseball.
Busch says there are many rule differences between the modern game and game his league plays. "There was no leading off. No stealing bases. No called balls and strikes. And the pitcher was to deliver a hittable pitch."
"Baseball has evolved into a competitive sport," Busch said. "But baseball was first a gentleman's sport. Players would congratulate their opponents for making great plays."