For years, the “Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty” has been equated with the grandeur of the annual Peace Treaty reenactment pageant. However, many other great activities occur during that final September weekend each year. In 2019, the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Association renamed the weekend “Peace Treaty Festival” to christen the celebration as the official annual festival held each fall in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. The full Peace Treaty pageant will continue to be held every third year on the same weekend. The Peace Treaty Festival has been celebrated for over 90 years, growing and developing over the course of time.
The Evolution of a Name
The popular Peace Treaty Pageant is an expansive reenactment of over 300 years of Kansas and American history–covering historical events as far back as the 1500s when the Spanish conquistadors came to the area, to the frontiersmen, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the settlers’ interaction with the Indians already settled on the land. The pageant has been performed on the last weekend of September in various intervals since 1927.
Several years ago, the Medicine Lodge Chamber of Commerce started a yearly event called Indian Summer Days during the same Peace Treaty weekend on years that the pageant was not held. In 2016, the Chamber handed that event over to the Peace Treaty Association, and it became “Peace Treaty Indian Summer Days.” The event included many signature events, such as the annual powwow, the Kansas Championship Rodeo, and the historic night show. Beginning in 2019, the “Peace Treaty Indian Summer Days” and the “Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty” combined into one event called the “Peace Treaty Festival,” which occurs on the last weekend of September, with a variety of events depending on the year.
The Peace Treaty Festival remains an enjoyable historic celebration that so many have come to know and love over the past century. Each year, there is a Peace Treaty Powwow, the Peace Treaty’s Kansas Championship Ranch Rodeo, the Peace Treaty’s Historical Night Show, and the Peace Treaty Parade along with various other exciting events and activities. In addition, the Peace Treaty Pageant occurs during the Peace Treaty Festival every three years.
The First Peace Treaty Celebration
The Peace Treaty Festival of today is quite similar to the very first Peace Treaty celebration of 1927. Historical pageants were popular at the turn of the 20th century as a way of coping with the rapidly changing times by remembering the past and educating people about the history of their towns.
Much like today’s celebration, the relatively small town of limited means banded together to put on a three-day extravaganza. That first colorful celebration took place in the beautiful, natural amphitheatre just a few miles from the actual location of the signing of the treaties. This location is now known as Memorial Peace Park.
The celebration consisted of a professionally written and produced pageant commemorating not only the famous peace treaties, but also dramatizing the area’s entire history. In addition to the pageant, the program featured selections by the 13th U.S. Cavalry band, speeches by Indian chiefs and prominent government officials, troop maneuvers by the 13th Cavalry, an Indian village replete with tribal dances and music, boxing matches, a football game, and tours of the Carry A. Nation Home. The first Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Celebration drew an estimated ten thousand attendees and continues to draw large crowds to this day.
Since the first Peace Treaty pageant was such a huge success, the committee voted to do it again the next year. The pageant was held roughly every five years until 1961. Then from 1961 to 2006, the pageant was held every three years. After the 2006 pageant, the next event was held in 2011 to coordinate with the celebration of Kansas’s Sesquicentennial.
An Uncertain Future
In 2011, there was discussion and a vote to end the nearly century-old tradition due to waning community support and financial assistance. It takes hundreds of volunteers, over $100,000, and the support from nearly all the town’s 2,300 residents to pull off the full-scale reenactment.
However, the town of Medicine Lodge realized what a tragic loss it would be not only to the Medicine Lodge community, but also to the history of our nation. Fortunately, new committee leaders and board members stepped in and rallied for the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant to continue.
Stronger Than Ever
Each year, the Peace Treaty Festival continues to grow and improve as it moves toward becoming a one-location festival at Memorial Peace Park. Thousands of people from around the country look forward to attending the festival each year. The festival also attracts many newcomers. The event has been described as being “like history walking out of the library and onto the landscape.” It’s a great thing to read and learn about history, but it’s extraordinary to witness it up close and personal. The Peace Treaty Festival in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, truly is an event that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.