Students saddle up for frontier adventure

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Brittney Garner, a fourth grader at West Elementary School, hops to it during the potato sack race. Following an afternoon of frontier-style living, students cut loose while playing an assortment of traditional games. Photo by Brian S. Orban

The jagged teeth on the band saw continued to bite into the thick timber.

As bits of sawdust flew into the air, Kole Flipovich and Levi Westmoreland knew they only had a few more slices to go before they were finished.

With fresh enthusiasm, the North Elementary School students watched as the wood gave way, and the piece of cut lumber tumbled to the ground.

"Yee ha!"

The words filled the early morning air as the boys belted out the cheer along with other students that watched them work. With their job done, they allowed two more students to take a crack at using the saw as the boys took a break from the back-breaking chore.

Last week, fourth grade students from local area schools got a first-hand look at life on the frontier during this year's Wagons Ho experience. The pioneer camp brings the flavor of early American life to students in practically their own back yard.

Set up at Carl Miller Park each year, the event includes everything from a covered wagon to a campfire to help students learn how life really was for those living on the American frontier. During the day, students and their adult chaperones stopped by different stations set up around the city park, each one capturing a different aspect of pioneer living.

The Wagons Ho experience started out 19 years ago as a civic event, said Marla Clevenger, who runs the camp with her husband, Cal.

"We thought kids would really enjoy learning about Idaho history through a hands-on experience," she said as she prepared meat for a beef stew to serve during the lunch break as Spencer Jameson and Ethan Smith from North Elementary School made biscuits.

This unique experience remains the draw to Wagons Ho, she added. Children get to touch and use these authentic frontier tools versus learning about them in a history book or looking at them through a glass window at a museum.

It makes the experience not only memorable but allows these students to better appreciate how tough life could get for those living in the days before technology, she said.

Safety remained the most important lesson Cal taught each day. Before allowing these young "wranglers" to use anything at the camp, he took all of them to each station to show the students how everything worked, emphasizing the need for people to play it safe to avoid injuries. With children expected to use matches, hammers and sharpened tools, the camp stressed this safety message throughout the day with parent chaperones keeping a close eye on their respective group of youngsters.

Despite the lure of some attractions, the roping exhibit remained the most popular. During their allotted time at this station, students tried their best to swing a lasso around their heads and throw it accurately enough to snag the revolving steel frame that represented a runaway calf. Despite the frequent lack of success, the students kept trying until they got at least one loop around the elusive target.

The saw exhibit remained another popular one for students. In each case, these youngsters tried their best to cut off a section of the roughly nine-inch-thick log. The lesson focused heavily on teamwork since the band saw needed two students working in unison to successfully and quickly cut through this stubborn piece of lumber. Those with the tenacity and strength to slice through the timber earned the privilege of holding onto it as a keepsake for their class.

Not-so-pleasant experiences included other household chores. Dressed up in more traditional frontier garb, Alexis Ueberall from North Elementary School discovered, for example, that washing clothes with only a washboard and cold, soapy water was a lot tougher than it looked.

Learning to build a fire, an important frontier lesson, proved to be a frustrating one for many of these young wranglers. Using nothing but a length of rope, a curved piece of wood and some other basic ingredients, most students came close to creating the friction needed to cause the wood to ignite, but those flames proved elusive as a persistent breeze blew across the camp.

Following the morning's hands-on lessons, the day's festivities focused on fun and friendly competition. During each afternoon, the youngsters had a chance to participate in a series of games, including an egg race -- using raw eggs. Following several potato sack races, the day's fun wrapped up with a series of tug-of-war matches with teams digging in their spurs, so to speak, to earn bragging rights for the rest of the day.

During the day, the children were asked to put the experiences to paper and pencil. Students like Brianna Floyd from East Elementary School took time to either write a thank you note, jot down their thoughts or just draw something that interested them during their day as pioneers.

Cal and Marla assured the children that they read each letter they receive. More photo's available in the Mountain Home News Photo Gallery