By Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D.
January 20. 2022
Most days I take a drive through Fort Clinch State Park, and often, even after all these years, I encounter new things. A couple of weeks ago my friend Jean Taylor and I were in the park, enjoying the peaceful views, when I found Frank Ofeldt and Beverly Forster with their two horses in the fort parking lot. They were both all decked out in period clothing, both as soldiers, even though officially only men were allowed to serve. But that doesn’t stop Beverly. The role she was playing this day was as a male soldier, depicting one of the 1500 or so women that hid their identity to serve along with the men. And her disguise hit the mark. After I came back to the car after talking to her and Frank, Jean asked me what “that man” and I were talking about. Good job Beverly!
Beverly grew up in Fort Clinch’s living history program, accompanying her father to events beginning as a nine year old in 1997. She has volunteered in many roles over the years, from child, laundress, sanitary commissioner, sewing society member, Christian commissioner, you name it and she has portrayed it. Beverly became an official staff member in 2020, as a Ranger/Historian, where she can ply her skills, and exercise her horses at the same time. Her three horses take turns participating in Fort re-enacting events, when they are not competing with her in various English and Western riding events throughout the area.
Frank, now Park Specialist/Historian at Fort Clinch has been in the Florida State Park system for 29 years and started work at Fort Clinch in 1993 after a stint as a reenacting volunteer, like Beverly. During his years at Fort Clinch Frank has spearheaded the development of a number of continuing living history demonstrations and amassed his own private collection of soldier memorabilia that he uses in the annual History of the American Soldier and other park events. Never one to rest on his laurels, Frank has authored two books on Fort Clinch and has a third book currently in production.
When Beverly joined the staff of Fort Clinch she and Frank collaborated in developing the horse program even further. Frank now owns two horses himself, which he rides in various living history programs at the Fort. Beverly has learned the skills of a farrier, to shoe her own horses, and other horses around the area. Now at Fort Clinch she and Frank have worked together to restore the historic farrier facility there, and sometimes Beverly can be seen at work portraying a Civil War era farrier.
This fits well into the living history program. Horses and mules have always been an essential part of life at the fort.
According to Frank, “Animals played such a big part in the fort operation from hauling supplies by wagons and pulling artillery pieces into place. Generally, the moving of heavy items was done by mule teams. The horses were used for running messages from the fort to the Army headquarters in Fernandina and around the island to a number of military camps and artillery positions used to guard the island during the Civil War. Mounted horses patrols, based in New Town were regularly sent out four times a week and when the Union forces would leave the island for the mainland, horses carried the soldiers on those expeditions with mules pulling the supplies.” Although the original horse stables have been lost over time, the history of the horses used there remains vivid thanks to the work of Frank and Beverly and the many other reenactors that inhabit the fort.
If you want to see the horses check out the park during the first weekend of the month and other times by chance or call the ranger station at 904-277-7274 for upcoming activities. Frank and Beverly invite you to come on by and say hello to Beverly’s horses Milo, Cinch and Judge or Frank’s horses Tux & Duncan, whichever ones are there that day. And be ready to learn more about Fort Clinch than you ever could have imagined!
Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]