Back to the pioneer roots

COVINGTON — The 29th annual Fort Rowdy Gathering returned to the Covington community Saturday with warm reception and weather.

“It’s been a trying last couple of years, and I’m just glad everyone was able to make it out,” Fort Rowdy Chairman Don Clark said during the gathering’s opening ceremonies.

The gathering, which was first held on Oct. 2 and 3 in 1993, has taken place in Covington Community Park each year and offers a firsthand look at pioneer life pre-dating the civil war, and commemorating the founding of Fort Rowdy as a supply fort for General “Mad” Anthony Wayne and his forces in the 1790s.

While the date of the gathering has changed over the last few years — moved from the first weekend in October to Labor Day weekend — many traditions at the gathering remain the same. Covington students still participate in the art competition, the Covington Christian Church still serves their signature chicken and noodles, gathering attendees still trek across the suspended bridge, and the encampment is full of historical reenactments and campers dressed in full period dress, giving demonstrations about life on the frontier.

Cheryl Clark, of Marion, has been attending the gathering with her husband, David Webb, since 2018. The couple started at the back of the camp, and this year, they were able to set up their tent on the stretch of land where gathering-goers first step off the bridge and back into the 1790s. While Webb cooks and gives demonstrations about the homemaking side of life over 200 years ago, Clark sits at her Ashford Kiwi, spinning wool into thread and explaining how garments were made and structured while using as many period-accurate materials and methods as she can.

“There’s a lot of different things that get involved with that, but it’s a lot of fun, understanding how it all gets put together and why they did the different things that they’ve done,” Clark said.

Clark originally heard about the gathering through her husband, who has been participating in historical festivals and reenactments since he was 10 years old. Webb had taken an eight-year break from reenactments years ago, and he had been talking to Clark about getting involved with them again. In 2018, the couple attended the Annie Oakley festival in Greenville, which prompted Clark to ask her husband why they weren’t participating in festivals and gatherings.

“He said, ‘You’ve got two weeks’,” Clark said. “Our first event was two weeks later, so I had to make clothes to wear, and two weeks later we were sitting here at Rowdy.”

Among the long weekend celebration and the reenactments and demonstrations, Clark and Webb continue to come back to Fort Rowdy year after year because of the tight-knit, family-like environment the gathering provides, especially for the campers.

“I love the people. It’s a family here, and we all get to know each other. We help each other out — of the ladies around here, I’m known as ‘She Who Stitches.’ They’ll have a malfunction where a pocket’s fallen off, or they have something that’s come loose, and they’ll bring it to me. I’ll sit down and fix it up,” Clark said.

After the gathering was canceled last year, Clark said that coming back feels much like a celebration.

“We haven’t seen so many of these people in 18, 20 months. Some we haven’t seen in two years, so to see them and know that they’re okay, that they’re doing well — I’m just thankful that the city of Covington keeps this going. It’s a way for us to educate the public in our history, reconnect with our reenacting families, and it’s always a good time. It’s always relaxing,” Clark said.