Fort offers saber classes in nod to 1850s Army dragoons

Proficiency will earn re-enactment opportunities for some participants

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



Did You Know?

By the late 1850s, the U.S. Army had two regiments of dragoons, one regiment of mounted riflemen and two regiments of light cavalry. To simplify matters, all of the mounted regiments were redesignated or renamed cavalry in 1861, according to the National Park Service.

Living history will have an edge to it — a dull edge, anyway — during a new training program at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

In partnership with a Portland dueling school, it is offering a public saber training class that reflects a U.S. Army force that was stationed at Fort Vancouver in the 1850s.

The soldiers were known as dragoons, said Elaine Dorset, a National Park Service archaeologist. As infantrymen who traveled on horseback, “Dragoons were troops who fought both mounted and unmounted.”

In 1854, troopers with the Army’s 1st Dragoon Regiment arrived in the Pacific Northwest. At that time, dragoons were the only enlisted men in the Army who were issued sabers as part of their personal weaponry, Dorset said.

(The Army organized two cavalry regiments in 1855 to be more of a reconnaissance or screening force, according to the National Park Service.)

The training course will focus on the saber techniques adopted by the U.S. Army in the mid-19th century. There will also be information on the history of Fort Vancouver, the dragoons and their weaponry, and saber-driven military tactics.

For those who have achieved proficiency, there will be re-enactment opportunities during events at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

The program will be done in partnership with Academia Duellatoria of Portland. Training will be at beginning and intermediate levels.

The fee is $100 for the program, which consists of seven Sunday classes. Sessions will be from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Oct. 1 through Nov. 12. Classes will be at Pearson Air Museum, 1115 E. Fifth St., or outdoors during good weather.

Participants 12 and older may participate. Training sabers will be provided, with dull edges and rubber covers on the tips. Safety glasses will be provided.

Several Fort Vancouver staff members and Park Service volunteers went through a training program this summer, Dorset said.

Unlike cinematic dueling, true sword training is similar to many other martial arts — requiring physical discipline, mental control and the development of muscle memory, Dorset said. Beginning training will start with basic footwork, then move into solo and partner drills on offensive cuts and thrusts, and defensive guards and parries.

Intermediate training is for those who have taken a beginning course.

Unlike the original mounted soldiers, Dorset said, riding skills will not be required for the dragoon program at Fort Vancouver: “No horses.”

To enroll or for information, contact Dorset at 360-816-6254 or by email at