They arrived in thousands from all corners of the country, asserting their right to protest in the name of war and peace near President Bush's ranch.
It was almost 100 in the shade, but the temperature in this dusty prairie town felt far higher, with protesters of wildly differing views and temperaments packing into narrow roads and small open spaces. Some came to party, some came to weep, a small number came spoiling for a fight -- police said there were two reports of assaults.
This weekend is the culmination of the standoff between Bush and war protester Cindy Sheehan, who arrived 21 days ago. She came asking Bush to meet with her, even though he had done so before, to discuss the war. Her protest snowballed, with the arrival of Sheehan sympathizers and then pro-war demonstrators. Both sides planned major rallies over the weekend because it is the last one before Bush ends his vacation and Sheehan leaves.
Chief Donnie Tidmore, head of the seven-member Crawford police force estimated that 8,500 protesters had descended on his town.
In three weeks, Sheehan, who lost her 24-year-old son, Army Spec. Casey Sheehan, in Iraq last year, has become the face of an invigorated antiwar movement. She has drawn praise from scores of supporters as well as condemnation from conservatives who believe she is motivated by a political agenda that dishonors fallen soldiers.
"This is America standing up and saying this is enough. Mr. Bush, you always said that if you are not for us, you are against us. Well, Mr. Bush, we are against you," she said to a standing ovation at a rally of her supporters.
"Why are we allowing him to continue to kill our kids, because he's killed so many already?" she asked. She then invited the crowd to turn toward Bush's ranch and chant "Not one more" -- not one more death -- 10 times so that the president might hear.
Her protest, timed to coincide with Bush's vacation and the usual news vacuum in August, mirrors the country's increasing fractiousness over the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. Sheehan has said that if she fails to get a second audience with Bush before her self-imposed deadline of Wednesday, she will lead a bus tour to Washington, where she says she will set up a permanent vigil.
In his weekly radio address, Bush asked for patience for the troops to complete their work.
"Our efforts in Iraq and the broader Middle East will require more time, more sacrifice and continued resolve," he said. "Yet people across the Middle East are choosing a future of freedom and prosperity and hope. And as they take these brave steps, Americans will continue to stand with them because we know that free and democratic nations are peaceful nations."
At the pro-war rally in the center of Crawford, victims of terrorist attacks spoke about the importance of continuing the military campaigns abroad.
Deena Burnett, whose husband, Thomas, was killed trying to retake Flight 93 from terrorist hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, flew in from Little Rock to speak.
"Tom believed in doing what's right and not necessarily taking the easy way out in that you have to fight for freedom and democracy. He would have supported this war," she said. Sheehan "has rights to voice this opinion," Burnett said. "I'm also reminded that it's the soldiers who fought and died to give her that right, and I hope she remembers that."
The two camps were about 13 miles apart, with the anti-war rally taking place at "Camp Casey 2," along one edge of Bush's ranch. Among the speakers were singer Joan Baez and former Marine Sean O'Neill, who declared, "Cindy is a mother, every soldier's mother."
Saturday's pro-Bush rally congregated alongside the community center, with a tent and a blue castle for children. Attendees had mixed feelings about Sheehan.
"We don't want to attack Cindy; I want to put my arms around her and give her flowers," said M.J. Kesterson, whose son Erik was killed in Iraq in November 2003. She came from Independence, Ore., for the rally. "We are here to say that we support our president." However at one point, the crowd shouted that Sheehan should leave Crawford.
Despite the separation of most protesters, there was a tense standoff at an encampment halfway between the two, at "Camp Casey 1," where Sheehan pitched her first tent. About 40 activists from both sides were protesting, separated by police tape and a small triangle of grass where nine officers from the sheriff's department were standing.
The opposing sides booed at each other across the 10-foot no man's land. The pro-war activists held signs such as "You've made your protest, now it's time to MOVE ON" and "Cindy supports Osama," while antiwar activists displayed "Make sandwiches not war" and "America stands with Cindy."
At one point, one of the antiwar activists with a guitar started improvising on Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door," singing, "What are they using the depleted uranium for?/Feels as if I'm living in a nuclear war."
This was greeted with jeers by the other side but ended with a rare moment of unity, with both sides chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A."
"They are both being loud, but both sides know the rules, and neither of them had any objections to our demands," Sheriff Sid Franklin said. He was unsure how many protesters to expect because of the possibility of sightseers. "A lot of people might just say, 'Hey, Gertrude, let's go and look at what the idiots are up to,' " he said.
One of the most volatile issues in the past few day has been the antiwar activists' erection of small white crosses honoring the dead in Iraq.
Valerie Duty, one of the pro-Iraq war protesters camping opposite the original Camp Casey, said she had several e-mails from the families of fallen soldiers asking them to retrieve the wooden crosses.
"If Cindy Sheehan has Devon's name on a cross, we want it removed immediately," Jim and Janet Seymour, whose son, Lance Cpl. Devon Seymour, died in Iraq, wrote in an e-mail to Duty on Friday. "Please treat it with respect."
"The other side said that if someone pulled a cross today, it might have caused a riot," Duty said. "But I sneaked in without them noticing me to look for it first thing this morning."
Cindy Sheehan greets supporters as they arrive for a peace rally at "Camp Casey" near President Bush's ranch.