Loy Chvilicek was dressed in a black hat and long black dress as she spoke in front of a good-sized crowd at Fort Assinniboine Saturday afternoon.
Chvilicek was playing the role of Eliza Dodd, the wife of the chaplain at Fort Assinnibone in the 1880s
The attire may have seemed out of place for the fort, which was isolated on the nearly desolate Montana plains, but there were women on the fort — generally officers’ wives — and they did dress up on occasion.
Mrs. Dodd, Horace Bivens, an African-American soldier from the mid-1880s, a Canadian Mountie and a foot soldier from the same era, were dressed up to provide visitors to the fort a look at life during its heyday.
People took part in the fort tours Saturday as part of Living History, a program in which the fort, the Buffalo Jump and Havre Beneath the Streets opened their doors for special tours of the historical attractions.
Chvilicek, now a Helena resident, became familiar with Eliza Dodd when she lived in Havre. Dodd wrote — in perfect penmanship — a detailed diary of events during her stay at the fort. She would have been lost to history, but more than a decade ago, a couple came upon the diaries at a sale in Ventura, Calif. They became enthralled with the story, and decided they had to come to Montana and tour the fort.
After their visit, they donated the diary, which ran from 1881 to 1883, to Gary Wilson, president of the Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association.
“There were other stories written by men, ” Chvilicek said. “But this is the best one written by a woman. ”
So on Saturday, Chvilicek told visitors the story of Eliza Dodd and her daily life — the day-in-day-out stories and accounts of holiday celebrations, such as the Fourth of July when the fort band played “Yankee Doodle” and “the Star-Spangled Banner. ” The day was capped off with fireworks.
“She was a very courageous woman, ” Chvilicek said. She moved from Ohio to accompany her husband to Montana
Visitors also heard lectures on other aspects of the fort’s history and took a ride on a tourist trailer driven by Darren Boss with an account of the history by Jim Spangalo.
The Bullhook Bottoms Black Powder Club fired a Civil War-era cannon for the visitors’ enjoyment. Often young people in the audience were given the opportunity to pull the trigger.
Wilson said Living History is designed for tourists and local residents to get to know what tremendous historical attractions the area has, Wilson said.
He said Becky Miller, the president of the Tourism Business Improvement District, arranged to take care expenses, he said.