News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 7, 2012

Crowd turns out for annual Pioneer Days

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The path to yesteryear was guarded by sheep Saturday, as thousands flocked to Fowler Park.

The 40th Annual Fowler Park Pioneer Days met a cool autumn morning, and visitors to Vigo County’s southern park wore jackets and sweatshirts while on the grounds. More than 150 volunteers dressed in period costumes from the 1850s, offering demonstrations and samples of their crafts.

Keith Ruble, superintendent of the Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department, worked yellow poplar logs with a broad ax as a flock of sheep grazed nearby. Goats and donkeys were also on the grounds, and horse-drawn carriage rides were available. Meanwhile, smoke from campfires drifted through the cool air.

About 3,000 visitors would come through the park that day, Ruble said, estimating a similar crowd expected today. Festivities begin at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. Parking is $2 for each full day.

Ruble, dressed in the clothes of a 19th century workman, demonstrated the process of “hewing” or “cheeking” a log, slicing it down its length to produce a flattened side. That flattened side, he explained, allowed rain to run straight down to the ground. The process is quite labor intensive, and settlers used chalk lines to guide their axes down the log, keeping them straight.

“The old saying was ‘hew to the line,’” he said, adding Poplars are the state tree and make for good cabin logs. Termite resistant and long, the trees grow straight much like a telephone pole, he said.

Hands-on activities were hosted on the grounds and crafters encouraged visitor participation. Inside the Graber Cabin, members of the Lee family demonstrated their baking skills over a fire place.

Jane Lee and her two granddaughters, Madison, 13, and Lacie, 6, used a “reflector oven” to make cookies and bread from homemade dough. The oven, Jane explained, reflects the heat from the fire when placed inside the hearth.

Madison, a student at Honey Creek Middle School, said she’s been volunteering with her grandmother at the annual event for years.

“It’s fun,” she said, helping her cousin Lacie. Both girls wore shawls and dresses of 19th century pioneers. “I like the surroundings.”

In addition to samplings of bread and cookies, visitors can purchase food inside the Traders Market or from vendors throughout the park.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or

Check it out

• Pioneer Days continue today. Fowler Park is just east of U.S. 41 south of Terre Haute. Directional signage is visible from the highway. Parking is $2 for the day. Activities begin at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m.