More than 200 years after George Rogers Clark took Fort Sackville in southwest Indiana during a legendary winter campaign, Ball State students are producing a documentary that will shed new light on the Revolutionary War hero.

In an effort to update educational materials originally made in 1975 as the nation prepared for the bicentennial of the American Revolution, about 27 students in an immersive learning class funded by a Provost Immersive Learning Grant have visited sites in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio to shoot footage for the documentary.

The documentary will tell the complete life of George Rogers Clark—ranging the frontier to after the war. Re-enactors tell their stories from the viewpoints of various participants in the Revolutionary War, including slaves, British soldiers, French and Spanish residents, Native Americans, and women.

Some of the most challenging parts of the project occurred during the late winter months when students shot the re-enactment of Clark’s taking the British-controlled fort. The battle scenes as well as interviews with re-enactors were done as the winds roared along the Wabash River—sending temperatures well below freezing for several days.

"Producing this documentary has been a challenge,” says Jeff Hendrix, MA ’12, who is coproducing the project. “We worked through all types of weather trying to re-create Clark’s march to Vincennes as accurately as possible. We had to find all of our own period re-enactors and period props and travel to period-correct locations. The re-enactors were great to work with because they are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about this era. They also had great senses of humor and were willing to do just about anything we asked. Working with them made our challenges worth it."

“Conqueror of the Old Northwest”

When Clark and his small army took Fort Sackville, it greatly weakened British influence in the Northwest Territory. Because Britain ceded the entire Northwest Territory to the United States in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, Clark is often hailed as the “Conqueror of the Old Northwest.”

Ball State history professors Daniel Ingram and Ron Morris are mentoring the student team. Morris believes the project will increase the overall understanding of life along the frontier during the critical moments of the 1770s.

“We really wanted a more inclusive story, since previous work had told the story from the white perspective,” says Morris. “When Clark and his men took Fort Sackville during a harsh winter in 1779, whites were in the minority in that community. About half of the people living there at the time were enslaved, and there were a lot of French settlers as well. We were missing some perspectives.”

The project is being done in cooperation with the university’s Building Better Communities Fellows program and Emerging Technologies, Media Development and Training. During the filming, students worked with the staff of the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, George Rogers Clark National Memorial, Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of State Parks and Reservoirs, and Locust Grove, a historic facility in Louisville, Kentucky. Clark spent the last nine years of his life at this farm.

Updates Old Materials

When completed in late 2012, the documentary and accompanying learning materials developed by the student team will be distributed to fourth- and fifth-grade classes across Indiana and to several nearby states.

The documentary is being narrated by a character known as Uncle David, who, in the retelling of the story, was the young drummer boy for Clark. In Clark's journals, a young drummer boy was mentioned often, and in paintings of the famous crossing of the Wabash, a young drummer boy is depicted as floating on his drum. The team has re-created this famous scene, even building a drum to float on the river.

“We chose the character because today’s elementary students will be better able to relate to seeing a small boy alongside Clark,” Hendrix says. “It is only at the end do you see an old man and realize he is retelling his adventures. It should give students a more realistic understanding of what life was like during the Revolutionary War.”

Elementary school teachers need curriculum materials that tell the story of the American Revolution west of the Appalachian Mountains so that students can past fifth grade social studies ISTEP tests.

“The old materials were used for several decades in Indiana schools, but do not take into account the Indiana Department of Education’s academic standards for social studies or the work of the National Council for Social Studies on civic efficacy,” Morris says. “The filmstrips are badly faded into deep, red tones that make them difficult to watch even if a filmstrip projector could be found.”

Related Links

Immersive Learning 

Building Better Communities Fellows 

Communication Studies