Early firepower

GARRISON History came to life with a demonstration of the 1800s Gatling gun’s devastating firepower during Frontier Military Days at Fort Stevenson State Park, south of Garrison.

Adults as well as children were quite fascinated with the 1800s gun and its firepower that was used in Civil War and Indian War battles.

Chuck Keller, of Bismarck, a member of the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment and 17th Infantry Regiment, and Terry Frohlich and Cory Frohlich, both of Mandan, who are members of the 17th Infantry Regiment, have demonstrated the gun for about 17 years, Keller said.

“As re-enactors, we portray in ‘first person’ the year 1875,” Keller said, who gives a presentation on the Gatling gun prior to the presentation. Sunday afternoon Keller shortened his presentation of talking about the gun because of the excessive wind.

The Gatling gun that the three demonstrate is a full-scale short-barrel model 1874, Keller said. He said it has 10 barrels and fires up to 600 rounds per minute.

“The gun is fired by turning a crank,” he said. For safety, he said only blank cartridges are used in demonstrations.

The Fort Stevenson Foundation’s sponsorship of the Gatling gun demonstration and other re-enactment activities Saturday and Sunday gave visitors the opportunity for a close-up look at what life was like in early days.

During the Gatling gun demonstration, visitors heard the abrupt, rapid, loud report of gunfire, saw smoke and flames burst out of the barrels, saw spent cartridges ejecting out of the gun and piling up on the ground, and smelled burnt gunpower.

Afterward, visitors could touch the gun’s hot barrels and took turns cranking the gun without ammunition, Keller said.

Keller and the Frohlichs have demonstrated the Gatling gun at several forts besides Fort Stevenson, including Fort Seward, Fort Lincoln, Fort Buford and Fort Abercrombie, Fort Sisseton, S.D., Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana and special community events in North Dakota and South Dakota.

Dick Messerly, of the Fort Stevenson Foundation, said the Gatling gun presenters were at Frontier Military Days a number of years ago. He said organizers of the annual event try to vary the presenters so they get a variety of special presentations of the military period that Fort Stevenson would have been in operation. The fort was in operation from 1867 to 1883.