Updated: Nov 24, 2020
We recently reached out to Adam Lynn, director of the Honey Springs Battlefield and Visitor Center, about the Honey Springs site and the Friends of Honey Springs Battlefield.
What preservation goal(s) is/are the Friends of Honey Springs Battlefield trying to accomplish?
The Friends of Honey Springs Battlefield work in conjunction with the Oklahoma Historical Society to assist in preserving all aspects related to the Battle of Honey Springs. For example, through volunteers, funding, and special grants, archeological survey’s and digs have unearthed priceless artifacts from the original battlefield, which are either on display inside the new Visitor Center or safely stored in collections for future display. We also preserve the site’s history through educational programs offered all year round, either on-site and/or inside the Honey Springs Battlefield Visitor Center. The Honey Springs Battlefield site consists of approximately 1,100 acres of land owned by the Oklahoma Historical Society. The site also has six walking trails with over fifty interpretive signs detailing the history of what happened on the actual battlefield. The Friends of Honey Springs also work with the Oklahoma Historical Society to host the state’s largest Civil War Re-enactment bi-annually. The re-enactment is held during the odd years on the first weekend of every November. Several hundred re-enactors re-create the battle for thousands of spectators from across the state and nation. Through a loan awarded to the Friends of Honey Springs Battlefield by the USDA, a first class 7,000 ft. new Visitor Center was recently constructed. The new Visitor Center has two large exhibit galleries. These galleries showcase the rich history of the Battle of Honey Springs through original/period artifacts, written/verbal narrative, and interpretive kiosks. There is also an “event room” where regular educational programs are provided to the public. This room can also be rented out for special events to the public. Although not yet completed, the Visitor Center will also house a 4-D theatre where “The Battle of Honey Springs” will show regularly.
Where is your audience, meaning those you “advertise” to, as well as supporters, located?
Honey Springs Battlefield and Visitor Center is located in Rentiesville/Checotah, Oklahoma. We reach local, regional, state, and national audiences. The Checotah Chamber of Commerce and local newspapers share information about our new exhibits and programs annually. Regionally, we reach out to the Tulsa area media through television, the Tulsa World newspaper, Muskogee newspaper/media, Fort Smith, Arkansas media, and southeastern Oklahoma media outlets. We also advertise to all media throughout the state, including Oklahoma City, Lawton, Enid, and Woodward. Nationally, we have a wide following through our Facebook page (Honey Springs Battlefield), shared social media, articles, and news stories.
What does success look like for the organization?
The goal of Honey Springs Battlefield and Visitor Center is to collect, preserve, and share the history of the Battle of Honey Springs and the Civil War in Indian Territory. The original battlefield was opened to the public in the late 1990’s. The initial dream to organize and open the battlefield and visitor center began in 1963. Generations of supporters, such as scholars, archaeologists, donors, state and national representatives, the American Battlefield Trust, the National Park Service, and the Oklahoma Historical Society have contributed in progressing the original dream from 1963. Success is ongoing, as we now have that battlefield (owned by the Oklahoma Historical Society) opened to the public detailing the history of the largest Civil War conflict to take place in what is now Oklahoma, out of 107 documented conflicts. The new visitor center was constructed in 2017. The exhibits are 70% complete. Once all permanent exhibits are completed, the Honey Springs Battlefield and Visitor Center will have realized the intended dream of a first-class battlefield and visitor center. Once realized, success will continue through ongoing advertising campaigns, and highway signage on the major highways drawing tens of thousands of visitors per year to Honey Springs. Ongoing preservation efforts, fundraisers, events, exhibits, and educational programing will also lead to success. Finally, Honey Springs Battlefield and Visitor Center will be the only place in the state of Oklahoma which details, not only the history of the battle, but the often overlooked, but very important overall history of the Civil War in Indian Territory.
What is the impact of having both American Indian and African American troops being engaged at Honey Springs Battlefield? How does that translate into the education of those two portions of society in understanding their own participation in the Civil War?
The Battle of Honey Springs is thought to be one of the most culturally diverse conflicts to take place in the entire Civil War! American Indians representing the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Osage, and Delaware Nations, among many others fought for the Union and the Confederacy at the Battle of Honey Springs. There were also Tribal Nations that were split in their allegiances to either side. Consequently, there were those of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Cherokee Nation that fought on the same battlefield with and against their own Tribal Nations. The impact of the Civil War in Indian Territory was devastating to all Tribal Nations within Indian Territory. Regardless of which side they fought for, their homes, economies, and cultures were devastated. In many ways, the Civil War in Indian Territory was just as devastating to the American Indian populations as they were during the removal years of the early 19th Century.
The First Kansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment (Colored), as it was known during the time of the Civil War, was a shining beacon of light during a time of great social and cultural upheaval in the United States. It was the first African American Regiment raised in the North and the first to see combat during the Civil War (Island Mound, Missouri- 1862). These brave men faced the fear of knowing that if they were captured by the enemy they would “face almost certain death or return to slavery in the Southern states.” The same was true when they fought at the Battle of Honey Springs. The First Kansas Regiment was placed in the middle of the Union lines during the battle, where they assisted in the breaking of the middle of the Confederate lines ultimately leading to their defeat. Many former enslaved men fought for the First Kansas. The Union First Indian Home Guard Regiment also consisted of former enslaved men from Indian Territory. The First Kansas’ brave actions at the Battle of Honey Springs assisted in paving the way for approximately 180,000 future African Americans to fight for the Union and their freedoms.
What sort of events do the Friends sponsor?
The Friends of Honey Springs sponsor the largest Civil War Re-enactment in Oklahoma. This bi-annual re-enactment brings in hundreds of re-enactors and thousands of visitors from across the state and nation. The Friends of Honey Springs also sponsor the Visitor Center Gift Shop, and bi-annual fundraisers to assist the site and center.
How does historic preservation translate to prosperity in the surrounding area?
Preserving the history of Honey Springs allows us to share through the battlefield, artifacts, and interpretive exhibits at the Visitor Center to visitors from local areas, the state, and nation. Offering programs and continual advertising of the battlefield leads to travelers not only touring the site and center, but added revenue to the local and state economy.
I have always been a believer in sharing best practices among organizations - what are some ideas that your group have used in the past to increase support for the organization?
The Friends of Honey Springs Battlefield’s greatest asset is that they work hand-in-hand with the Oklahoma Historical Society to progress the site and visitor center through donors, volunteer work, re-enactment organization, sponsorship, and large-scale fundraisers.
Any other thoughts about the Friends of Honey Springs Battlefield that you would like to share?
As previously stated, the Honey Springs Battlefield and Visitor Center is closer than it has ever been to realizing its original dream from 1963. Tentatively, in a few months, the Visitor Center will add the final pieces to the permanent exhibits, when installation of a first-class 4-D theatre detailing the Battle of Honey Springs is completed. The Friends of Honey Springs Battlefield also recently sponsored the addition of over fifty brand new interpretive trail signs that are located on the battlefield. Regardless, Honey Springs Battlefield and Visitor Center is a gem that is more than worth a visit anytime of the year!
Also, very important is the fact that the battlefield is located in close proximity to Rentiesville, Oklahoma. Rentiesville is only one of thirteen remaining All-African American towns in Oklahoma. The Visitor Center is located across the street from the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame, which hosts an annual Blues Festival. This festival also brings in thousands of visitors each Labor Day weekend! Rentiesville is also home to the late Dr. John Hope Franklin (renowned historian), and D.C. Minner (renowned Blues musician). The Honey Springs Battlefield and Visitor Center is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 9am-5pm.
We wish to thank Adam for this informative Q&A piece. Please consider joining the Friends group as well as following them on Facebook!