OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A group of college students will try to bring to life the history of one of the most notable Civil War battles in Oklahoma on Saturday when ground is broken at the battle site for a new visitors center the state believes could bring in $9 million a year in tourist revenue.
The Battle of Honey Springs was the largest battle in what was then known as Indian Territory. On July 17, 1863, Native Americans fought as members of both the Union and Confederate armies at the site outside Checotah.
Now, students from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma will be serving as tour guides at the historic landmark during a memorial service marking the battle's 151st anniversary on Saturday.
The Battle at Honey Springs was the largest engagement of Union and Confederate troops in Indian Territory with about 9,000 troops. Native Americans fought on both sides while African-American troops fought for the Union Army, which won the battle. At least 150 men died in the battle.
The student tour guides are taking a new class called Historical Interpretation that teaches them how to share information about the historical importance of a particular place to a large audience. The idea is to show students that there are other career paths for history majors, said James Finck, assistant professor of American History, who teaches the class.
"We're always looking to find new ways to get students who are interested in history to get jobs in different areas," he said, adding that traditionally, history majors get a high school teaching job or get their doctorate and teach at the college level. "A lot of them aren't interested in teaching. They love history. They want to do something with history, be a part of history."
The students conducted National Park Service training online and wrote papers examining different themes of the park, such as Confederates in Indian Territory. Each student will then focus on that theme when they talk to the public, Finck said.
In 2013, the 1,100 acre site was designated a National Historic Landmark. The site includes six walking trails and 55 interpretative signs.
Christopher Price, the Honey Springs Battlefield site director, said Saturday's service will also mark the groundbreaking on a new 5,000-square-foot visitor's center. A public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state of Oklahoma and private entities will help construct the $1 million center.
State officials earlier said they expect 150,000 visitors and $9 million in tourist revenue for the state each year.
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