By ADELE UPHAUS–CONNER THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Charles Bullock does not recall learning anything about the history of his people – the Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia – growing up in Stafford County, despite the tribe having existed in the area for thousands of years.
“You never hear of more than contact [the first interactions between Europeans and indigenous peoples in the Americas]said Bullock, who is now Chief of the Patawomeck Tribe. “We never learned the cogs and bolts of our true history.
“The Patawomeck really helped the settlers survive,” Bullock continued. “Without our people, we probably wouldn’t have had a country. Things like that, these important nuggets in our history, we have to tell them. »
The history of Patawomeck – and that of the Rappahannock Tribe, who have inhabited the area along the river for thousands of years – will be told in greater detail by a Native American Heritage Trail that arrives in King George County.
The development of the trail and its signage was a joint project between the tribes, the King George Department of Economic Development and Tourism, and students of historic preservation from the University of Mary Washington.
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Nicholas Minor, director of economic development and tourism, said he came up with the idea for the trail while working on a strategic plan for tourism in King George County.
“I just kind of connected the dots,” Minor said. “It uses the same model as the Civil War Trails program, but applying a different legacy.”
Historically, the Rappahannock and Patawomeck tribes lived along the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers all along the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, including what is now King George County.
Today the Patawomecks have a tribal center in Stafford and the Rappahannocks have one in King and Queen County.
Minor grew up in Spotsylvania County and said he had never heard of the local Native American tribes.
“Being from here, you see all these names — the Ni River, the Mattaponi — and you know they’re associated with some kind of Native American stories, but nobody told them,” Minor said.
Minor knew he didn’t have the staff or expertise to research a Native American heritage trail – nor did he want to go ahead “without the blessing of the tribes” that the trail would tell. the stories.
So he contacted UMW Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation Lauren McMillan, who had worked with local tribes in the past and was preparing to teach a course called “Preservation in the Community.”
Juniors and seniors enrolled in the course during the last fall semester conducted research in historical records, read archaeological reports, consulted oral histories, and spoke with tribal members to determine what stories the tribes wanted to tell about their life in the region.
“Tribal leaders were involved from day one,” McMillan said. “A big thing was that they didn’t want to get stuck in the past. They are contemporary and vibrant communities that still exist today. Yes, they wanted to talk about 1,000 years ago and yes, they wanted to talk about 400 years ago, but they also wanted to talk about how the community still exists today.
Students in the class worked in pairs to research and write text for a road sign.
UMW senior Libby Wruck and her partner studied Native American trading systems in King George. She said the focus was on bringing tribal history into modernity.
“We tried to emphasize in our signage that these people are still here and their story still impacts the area,” Wruck said.
His classmate, Luka Molloy, worked on a sign to be placed in Caledon Forest about how tribes used forest resources in daily life.
“Working with the tribes and making sure they love [our work] and to see that they liked it was truly phenomenal,” Molloy said.
Molloy and Wruck are now interning at Minor to complete the trail project, having the panels made and placing them in the landscape.
There will be seven signs on the trail, which will circumnavigate the county following the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. Minor said he hopes the signs will be installed this summer, pending cooperation from private landowners and local and state governments.
McMillan said the King George Trail will be “if not the first, then one of the first Native American heritage trails in Virginia.”
“And one of the few where there is clear communication with the tribes,” she said.
Minnie Lightner, the Patawomeck Tribe’s administrative assistant, said the lead comes at a good time, as the tribe prepares to open a museum and a replica of the Patawomeck village on its property in Stafford this summer.
“This program with the signs fits really well with what we’re trying to do,” Lightner said. “It’s just one more thing that goes further in our history.”
Bullock said he looks forward to sharing the tribe’s stories with more visitors.
“Anytime we can get the Virginia Indian story out, I’m all for it,” he said. “I’m very excited. The students put a lot of time and effort into this project and they did a great job.
Anne Richardson, Chief of the Rappahannock Tribe, said the tribe was proud to collaborate on the project.
“I believe the Native American history of King George County is important for public education and for showcasing the history of the Collaborating Tribes,” she said. “We look forward to working with King George County and its partners to support the county’s tourism plans. This demonstrates fairness in how municipalities can improve their tourism by displaying a fuller story of each other’s shared history.Adele Uphaus-Conner: 540/735-1973