By Kathleen Spring
This year’s campers at the Lyons Redstone Museum Summer History camp covered three areas of Colorado history. The first was to study the history of the wild animals of Colorado. The second was to learn about how people transmitted news across America in the pioneer
days. And the third was to figure out how early Indians communicated, without a written language. Each lesson was followed by a quick quiz, art work, or game in their souvenir scrap book, reiterating the lesson with a coordinated craft.
This year’s crafts included decorating a wood framed photograph of their favorite wildlife, such as a buffalo or bear cub. Another was painting a piece of Lyons’ genuine famous red sandstone, donated by Western Stone. Next was sewing a two-colored all-leather pouch. It took a lot of discipline to sew it tight and evenly, but it should last a lifetime. Jeffry’s mom Monica Sowders said it was one of his favorite things that he did at camp. “He liked making the Indian pouch, even though it was complicated using the leather thread.”
Ezra’s mom, Tara Brockman, said “We went camping in New Mexico and he brought his leather pouch to collect some treasures. When we saw the 1,000 year old junipers, he told us how long the Indians lived here as compared to the white settlers. (His dad) Jason’s parents lived in a cabin they built. Now Ezra has a better understanding of pioneer life. As for the town of Lyons, we appreciate the low price, and it taking place in the museum.”
The day spent on learning about wild animals included learning the Colorado state bird, Lark Bunting, the state fish, Greenback Cutthroat Trout, and the state animal, Rocky Mt. Bighorn Sheep. The kids were glad to hear that the trout was slowly coming back to Colorado streams, after the degrading mining operations of the nineteenth century were addressed. Today the state manages the river environment and stocks the streams. They were even more amazed to learn the facts about the mountain sheep. It is only found in the Rockies, usually above timberline, and can weigh 300 pounds.
One might ask, why are we talking about endangered animals in a history museum camp? Well, look at the Redstone Museum; almost everything in it is endangered or obsolete. None of the campers knew what a sewing machine was. That led to the plan to add a sewing segment to the camp next year.
The kids learned about the endangered animals in Colorado, the extinct ones, those no longer living wild here, and the ones coming back. We spent time on the misunderstood prairie dog, and how the killing off of one species can result in the death of others who survive by eating them, and the conservation of the ecosystem. The prairie dog has gone from more than one hundred million to approximately ten million in Colorado. Then, take the endangered black-footed ferret, whose diet is made up of 90 percent prairie dog. They are the only ferret species that is native to North America.
The kids also learned how to react to being challenged by a bear or mountain lion. The main key was to not turn your back and run, as the animal’s natural instincts will send it running after you. We had the fun of taking the lessons outside, and each kid got to act like the bear or lion, or the human victim.
“When Josie came home the first day and told us about what she did and learned, her two siblings (10 and 6 years old) begged to go to the camp! I asked Kathleen if it was too late, but of course, it was. She had bought all the specific supplies already. Next year I will sign all three of them up early!” said Glynnis Robbins Farmwald.
The next subject was delivering mail across the USA. People today can get upset if they do not get their mail or package within a few days. Our camp lessons took us back to another time when mail delivery was measured in months.
Based on the time it took to get the news, it could make or break a farmer's livelihood, it could effect an inheritance, it could stop a war. In early pioneer days, it could take a few months to get your letter delivered across America. How would that effect the loan from Uncle Joe you needed to buy the land that was up for sale? How would that effect the “I’m sorry letter” you sent to rich Aunt Mary, who died suddenly in New England? How would it effect the lives of soldiers fighting in battles when the details come out more quickly?
People know about the early newspapers published at the time of the American Revolutionary War, and the patriotism that it could instill.
But many do not know about the major changes in news delivery made during the next big American wars, which coincided with new inventions that brought news more quickly, and more visually to citizens.
How did the dual ability to make cheaper illustrations and the hiring of daredevil reporters change delivery of Civil War news to the citizens?
During the 1840s and 1850s there was an outburst of visual culture. Improved methods of printing, mainly lithography and photography, were being used to document battles and stir up politics and patriotism like never seen before. People experienced it faster, and it was more exciting. Nothing compared to it until the Vietnam War when, again, battles and dead bodies could be seen, but now on a daily basis on television. This stirred up emotions and resulted in marches against the war in great numbers.
Getting back to delivery of mail, the campers learned how news went from being hand-delivered by family and couriers in either their slow covered wagons or stage coaches, to a much faster Pony Express. Then, only 19 months later, the telegraph line eliminated the need for the rigorous Pony Express. And, trains sped up the delivery time.
In 1800, the 2,000 mile cross-country journey would take three to six months in covered wagon; the 1850s trains took four weeks or more;in 1860, the Pony Express could do its 1,800 mile route in ten days. Today we can drive a car back east in 42 hours, or fly in a plane in five hours. Or, we can stay home and read the news on our i-phones!
“My girl, Josie, (did) the history camp at the Lyons Redstone ...And LOVING it! Pioneers, Native Americans, wildlife studies, crafts. She’s in her element. (Josie’s) smile says it all,” said Glynnis Farmwald.
The final lesson involved studying three ways that Indians used to communicate, despite not having a written language. How did different Indian nations, having different languages, communicate with each other, and how did different tribes share news about hunting, enemies, water sources, or how did families carry down their family tree knowledge.
Oral storytelling was the way that Indian families shared the stories of their ancestors, as well as teaching the kids lessons through tales of crafty coyotes and other animals. The lessons learned at camp were made real by the kids performing in simple, costumed skits, which were done in front of the parents and siblings on the final day of camp. Luci Santesteban acted out the part of an Indian who drew a rock art petroglyph with horses, rams and foot prints to show her future son where to go for the best hunting grounds. Teresa Santesteban and Josie Farmwald were traders from two different Indian tribes, negotiating the price of jewelry, using some words, hand gestures and wampum to barter. Ezra played a hungry coyote trying to trick Jeffry, a greedy crow in a tree, to give up some food. The tale teaches a lesson about being crafty to survive.
The history camp would not be complete without the kids getting a guided tour of the museum. Each kid picked out their favorite artifact and, at the final day party, they explained why they chose it. It included old cash registers and adding machines used at the original Lyons bank, to a fire emergency exit slide, to a World War I gas mask and shaving kit, and more.
“The camp gave Ezra a deeper sense of his town’s history, and to learn that the town was named after an actual man, named Edward Lyon,” said Tara. “He was excited to take my hand and point out things around the museum.”
When parents want to sign up their kids for camp, I always spend time explaining to them that the kids will be learning history lessons, in a fun way. With the low price, the camp might be interpreted as being all easy crafts and kid games. It is the intention of the museum to encourage as many people to learn about our town’s history and about history preservation as it can. Our co-sponsor Lyons Automotive is also supportive of kids learning about their town’s history, and their donation helps to keep the fee low. We send them many thanks. It has been proven that these kids tell their siblings, parents, grandparents, friends and/or schoolmates many of the things they learned in history camp.
“Jeffry (10 years old) did NOT want to go Sunday night, but, come Monday night he was ready to come back, with a jealous little brother,” said mom, Monica.
Ezra Hicks took his dad, Jason, on a detailed tour of the museum after camp hours. Jason found out about the history of his more than 100 year old family house while researching the museum’s records and talking with director LaVern Johnson and curator Terri Weir.
“My soon-to-be third grader absolutely loved the history camp. She came home every day bubbling over with information that she learned, and excited about the activities she participated in,” said Glynnis Farmwald. “I asked her what her favorite part was and she couldn’t decide because it was ALL so much fun. She was sad when it was over and can’t wait until next year, when her siblings will join her. I’m so happy my kids get to learn about our local and state history in such a fun and interactive way.”