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Bullets, bayonets and beyond: Fort Whipple takes a trip back in time for Armed Forces Day

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br>
Gary Harper, a historian and gun collector, talks with Richard and Bi Sallomi about his original 1874 Gatling gun – which he used when he appeared in the 2003 Tom Cruise movie “The Last Samurai” – during the Fort Whipple Museum’s “Ordnance: Bullets, Bayonets and Firearms” event Saturday afternoon.

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br> Gary Harper, a historian and gun collector, talks with Richard and Bi Sallomi about his original 1874 Gatling gun – which he used when he appeared in the 2003 Tom Cruise movie “The Last Samurai” – during the Fort Whipple Museum’s “Ordnance: Bullets, Bayonets and Firearms” event Saturday afternoon.

PRESCOTT - Arizona's colorful military past shot into the modern age Saturday, as many Americans celebrated Armed Forces Day, thanks to Fort Whipple's latest living history program "Ordnance: Bullets, Bayonets, and Firearms."

John Langellier, executive director for Sharlot Hall Museum, greeted guests as they arrived at the Fort Whipple branch museum, located near the Northern Arizona VA Medical Center.

For nearly a decade, Sharlot Hall Museum has operated the branch museum in conjunction with the Veteran's Administration.

"They allow us to have a site here and have a museum that tells the story of Fort Whipple and the transition of a military operation in the 1860s to a hospice in the early 20th century," Langellier said.

May 18 marked the kickoff to the annual living history series, held at the fort every third Saturday. While each month carries its own theme, organizers chose the theme "ordnance" to begin the annual series - a theme that includes stories and artifacts on guns, ammunition and the people of Fort Whipple.

"In the 1860s, someone was assigned to take care of all it. It's the Army. There's always paperwork, no matter what time period. By the 1870s, they were called ordnance sergeants, and they were in charge of taking care of all the government's property," Langellier said.

Saturday's display included a living timeline, from the Civil War to the fort's closure just prior to Arizona's statehood in 1912. Experts from various time periods came from Camp Verde, Phoenix and locally to offer their collections and insight on the military theme.

"We have a cadre of specialists from various areas, be they cowboys or miners. This happens to be our cadre of volunteers from all over the state on military aspects," Langellier said.

Items on display included various rifles, period clothing such as an ordnance dress helmet, a Gatling gun from the collection of Gary Harper and a special sculpture to commemorate the fort's 150th anniversary.

Organizers unveiled the three-and-- half -foot tall sculpture of a First California infantryman, created by Mesa artist David Paul Venell, during the Saturday event.

"We hope to have the bronze here next May 18, in 2014, for the 150th anniversary of the founding of Fort Whipple," Langellier said.

Venell started sculpting in 2005 as a way to combine his love for art with his love for history.

"I combined those together and started sculpting with military themes," Venell said.

The majority of his work is cast in Prescott Valley.

Venell recently met with Langellier, who sought local sculptors from the tri-city area for Fort Whipple's 150th anniversary.

"John put me in contact with one of his friends who is a re-enactment actor who has the right kit for that time period when Fort Whipple started," Venell said. "We did a couple of photo shoots, did some research and I started building the sculpture and finished it a couple years ago."

The fort, established in 1864, is named for Lt. Amiel W. Whipple, who led a military expedition in the area in 1853.