Last Tuesday and Wednesday, in commemoration of November’s American Indian Heritage Month in Inverness, the Friends of Fort Cooper State Park welcomed 12 Living Historians, 603 fourth-grade students, their 33 teachers and 91 chaperones (plus 13 bus drivers) to its annual Living History Days.
The students moved among Living History stations every 15 minutes — a trapper, “cracker” cattleman (named because he cracks a whip to move his cattle along), a weaver, Georgia volunteer militia, Seminole residents and hands-on activities. Tom Ritchie, a well-known Floral City historian, was also present to identify to the students the transition from Indian trails to our current county highways.
This year’s attendees represented six Citrus County elementary/primary schools — Inverness, Pleasant Grove, Lecanto, Central Ridge, Floral City and Crystal River.
Bus transportation was underwritten by the Florida State Park’s Foundation Yellow Buses in the Park grant program. In addition, Fort Cooper State Park waived entrance fees for the students, teachers and chaperones both days. Thus, the students’ field trip exploring local 1830s Seminole and settler history incurred no cost to the students, nor the school district.
Students were apprised of Fort Cooper Park’s notable history. In April 1836, Major Mark Anthony Cooper, commander of the First Georgia Battalion of Volunteers, was assigned to build and establish a fortified structure to protect the sick and injured from Gen. Winfield Scott’s march to Tampa. For 16 days, Cooper and 380 volunteers and a few Army regulars held the fort during skirmishes with many local Seminole residents who were defending their lands and their way of life on the shores of Lake Holathlikaha (Fort Cooper Lake).
The original fort is gone, but archaeological excavations have shown that the fort was a large square, nearly 200 feet long on each side, covering 1.2 acres. It served many army detachments from 1836 to 1842, although it had to be rebuilt several times Fort Cooper State Park enjoys a rich history and honors the early local Seminole Indians with a Seminole Kiosk Trail that is an easy trek with four designated kiosk stops along the way.
The kiosks depict the Seminole War and early Seminole life.
Another park activity at 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17, will commemorate American Indian Heritage Month.
Park trail guides will lead visitors along the park’s Seminole Kiosk Trail. Following the hike, stories will be narrated at 4:30 p.m. around a campfire near the shore of Lake Holathlikaha. Everyone is welcome.
Admission is $3 per car.