Swan River School is the home of the Warriors, but it was not always so. The school was founded in 1893, and while who knows when the school had its first official mascot, one might find it amusing to learn that before we were the Warriors, we were known as the River Rats. Swan River students today are also commonly referred to as “Swannies” by many of the local folk.
Putting aside nicknames and past mascots—which might be interesting stories for another time—what inspiration can we find in our identity as the Warriors?
What is a warrior?
There are many different representations. Warriors are present in many cultures, through many ages of time, spanning the globe. Such variation would naturally reveal many differences among warriors, but what do they all have in common? Of the many definitions that exist, none seems comprehensive enough to provide an adequate answer.
I have given much thought to this question, and while pondering the answer in my office one day, I soon found myself looking at the painting that hangs on the wall above my desk. I remembered my thinking when I acquired the print, and that I saw in it a connection to this school. I believed it had significance as it related to warriors.
The March to Valley Forge, as it is titled, was painted by William Trego in 1883. Since then, it has found increasing appreciation among its audience and become an iconic painting of the American Revolution.
It specifically intends to depict a defining event in the birth this great nation. It took place on December 19, 1777, which was early in the war, when American independence from Great Britain had been declared but far from won. The war would continue for several more years before independence was realized. At this point in time, Washington’s army had not won a significant battle, and he was criticized to the point that many called for him to be replaced. It is sobering to realize that at this moment, George Washington may have never been so unpopular. Yes, the same man who would be our first and great president and whose image is even now seen everywhere in our country—on coins, dollar bills, paintings, and even carved into a mountain side—was precariously close to being demoted and consigned to the status of a failed and forgotten general. And yet in that same moment, Trego depicts him majestically mounted on his horse with dignified posture, leading a ragtag assemblage of armed men who were cold, hungry, sick, without shoes, and without assurance that all this adversity was worth the toil.
These were not warriors, at least not yet. However, in just a few more months, after the winter, they would emerge from Valley Forge as not only survivors, but as a group that had been remarkably, if not miraculously changed for the better. Valley Forge would be a defining experience in their lives and it would forge them into warriors and a true army that would yet go on to victory in a long war against the mightiest nation on earth, thereby securing independence and freedom for theirs and succeeding generations.
So, what happened at Valley Forge?
On that bleak December 19th, 240 years ago, the Continental Army headed toward what would be its greatest trial to endure; its hardest conflict. It would be a battle that would cost more American lives—almost double—than any other battle during the American Revolutionary War. Curiously, this conflict was not against the British Army, nor the Hessian Mercenaries, nor any other armed foe. Rather, Valley Forge was a winter encampment, but nevertheless a “battle” against the bitter cold elements and the harsh realities and consequences of such a momentous crisis. It was also a battle for each individual to find his own resolve to better understand and more fully support the cause for which this war was being fought, and for which lives were being sacrificed.
It is estimated that 12,000 soldiers marched into Valley Forge, on the brink of death and on the verge of mutiny or mass desertion. Indeed, as a result of that harsh winter encampment, 2,500 American soldiers would die from disease, starvation, malnutrition, and exposure. Hundreds more—possibly as many 2,000—would desert. Of the remainder, they would be tested and tried, but they would also persevere and become warriors.
At one time, during that defining experience, seeking to further inspire his army, General Washington read to his soldiers these stirring words written by Thomas Paine.
These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman…We have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
Yes, the conflict was hard, and yes, they did stand and triumph.
As a result of pondering the historical scene depicted in Trego’s painting, my thoughts crystallized into this conclusion as an answer to the question: What is a warrior?
A warrior is
Even in the face of great opposition,
To take courageous action
Or make great sacrifices
In order to protect
Deeply held values
This seems to me a more adequate answer, not just as a description of those who emerged from Valley Forge, but also of all other warriors, no matter the culture, time, or place. It even encompasses those who are not necessarily enlisted, but who are nonetheless steadfast warriors in their own sphere of influence. For each such warrior, we can gaze back at that bleak December day in 1777 and find inspiration and identity. We can wonder with humility and astonishment, what is it that these people valued enough to endure and overcome so much?
What can we learn from them?
What are our deeply held values at Swan River School? This is a most important question to be pondered and answer to be articulated. #srsgreat