INDEPENDENCE – A couple miles north of Otterville is a little piece of the Old West.
Born Sept. 21, 1934, in Conroe, Texas, Maurice ‘Tex’ Pentecost came north to Iowa in 1961 while working on a natural gas pipeline. Here, he met a farm girl, Anna Mae Gates, and they settled down, eventually raising four kids – Linda, LouAnn, John, and Michael – on her family’s farm.
The oldest was in her mid-teens when they moved out to the country, and she missed city life; however, soon she and her siblings all began to enjoy running around the local fields, packing a thermos of SpaghettiOs so they could play all day in the creek, ‘swimming’ in calf-deep water, or just looking for turtles.
Tex spent his days working at John Deere in Waterloo. But, being who he was, he got an idea. He set out to build a small Texas town, Fort Pentecost. That idea turned into a life-time project. It would be a place for his kids and their friends and neighbors to play and picnic.
He started in 1984 by drawing out a plan for the fort towers on a yellow legal pad.
“He never thought it would get built,” said his daughter LouAnn Bresson.
But before long, the first thing he got was some used lumber and old telephone poles. Some of the wood was scraps from old barns. Next thing you know, the towers were up. Before long, there was a hotel and the Sweet Water Saloon; a jail with an authentic flat bar cell from Jesup inside and a hangman’s noose outside; finally, a school, log cabin, a bunkhouse, and a church. Outside the church was a statue of St. Theresa from St. John Church.
Over the years, Fort Pentecost was the site for overnight camping in the bunkhouse, Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troop meetings, horse clubs, auto clubs, tractor clubs, trail wagon clubs, weddings, graduations, and Fourth of July parties. Tex would even bring a little piece of the rural west to town every Fourth of July by driving a ‘team of horses’ hitched to a miniature chuck wagon in the parade.
Then in May 1998, a storm came up.
“They said it was ‘straight-line winds’,” said LouAnn. “A tornado, more likely.”
The wind knocked down trees, shoved the church off its foundation, and damaged the school, a bandstand, the hotel, and the saloon. Many of the buildings could not be repaired and were torn down.
Over the years the Boy Scouts have re-planted trees, and kids from Jesup High School have repaired and painted what they could. For the last five years ,LouAnn and her husband Chris have worked on the fort, but simple maintenance and mowing alone takes a lot of time.
Then in early August, LouAnn shared a personal moment on the Fort Pentecost Facebook page.
“It is heartbreaking. Last night, while sitting out on the porch, Dad said, ‘LouAnn, I sure hope before I die, I can see some of the fort back to the way it was. I sure hope to see the church, jail, and a building for the stagecoach built before I die.’ I didn’t know what to say. Part of me wanted to say, ‘Dad we have plenty of time for that.’ But in all honesty, we both would know that would be a lie.
“The fact of the matter is, Dad is not doing great. It seems to be two steps forward, three steps back all the time. If it was will alone that would rebuild the fort, it would be done. I do not have the skill or the time to rebuild all of those buildings with what is left of this summer. I don’t know if we will have another summer to do it before he is gone or not.”
She went on to ask the friends of Fort Pentecost for help.
“I am begging, if there is anyone who has the skill and time and is willing to build any of the buildings please, please contact me. If you know of a group who would be willing to take one on, please pass this message along. I need help. I want him to see the fort is still important and he is still loved. He seems to get a jolt of life every time we are able to work on the fort. Imagine how great he would feel to see new buildings going up.”
At first response was slow, but over the last few days she has heard more offers of help and material donations. She is now looking into setting up a bank account for monetary donations.
She has also designated the weekend of September 28 and 29 as a time for volunteers to gather at one time to work together on bringing some of the buildings back to life, especially the church, jail, and a building for the stagecoach.
If anyone is interested and available to work or would like to make a donation (money or materials), please contact LouAnn through the Fort Pentecost Facebook page.