For those of you who do not know, Pioneer Camp is a week long day camp in which twenty four youth come to the Heritage Center and learn what it was like to be a pioneer. We hold two weeks of camp every June, so in the end, we have forty eight kids and a ton of youth and adult helpers at the museum during that time span.
The first day of camp started off with the Heritage Center’s director, Jeff Sheets, instructing all of the kids that they were at a “working camp,” meaning that everyone would be getting their hands dirty and pitching in to get jobs done. Jeff then led the kids around the museum grounds so everyone could see artifacts and get to know the layout of the buildings. The campers then split up into three groups, each group going to a different station first. At one station, the campers headed over to a Native American tipi, and got to make beaded pins and learn about Native American beadwork. Every Plains Indian tribe had/has their own style of designs and history. At another station, the kids got to play some pioneer games. The first game was “hoop and stick.” Hoops and sticks were common primitive toys because all you need is a long stick with a “T” shaped end, and a small metal hoop. The kids quickly picked up the skill of pushing their hoops without falling, and were racing one another in no time. After that, the campers also had a potato sack race, a three-legged race, and played cat’s cradle. At the third station, the campers helped prepare the day’s lunch, making ham and beans, corn bread, and apple crisp.
The second day of camp allowed for the kids to visit the prairie and learn about Kansas wildlife. Throughout the day, the campers picked and pressed prairie flowers and grasses, made illustrations of plains life, and played some nature themed games. After this, we all ate lunch together. After having an egg tapping contest to see who had the hardest egg, we sat down to a lunch of hard boiled eggs, sandwiches, and watermelon.
On Wednesday, the kids found out they would have to do chores first thing every morning for the next three days of camp. During chore time, the kids worked in the cabin, milked a goat, and did a little gardening. For the day’s regular activities, the kids made Native American dream catchers in the tipi using yarn, beads, and feathers. The campers also learned how to make rope and ground corn to make feed for the goat and chickens on the property. Of course, the campers also helped prepare lunch for the day, making beef stew and spice cake.
For Thursday, Week One’s campers were shown the process of shearing a sheep, learned how to spin and weave, and made candles by dipping wicks into paraffin wax. During Week Two, it was raining throughout most of the morning, so activities were altered a little bit. The campers were still able to work on spinning and weaving, but instead of dipping candles, we toured inside the museum. Included in that tour was a brief lesson on the Plains Indians’ relationship with the buffalo (or American Bison). The kids got to touch real buffalo bones and learn about the different uses of those objects. After the activities, we sat down to a lunch of chicken noodle soup, bread, and oatmeal cookies.
Friday was the last day of camp, but was certainly a fun one. The campers attended a brief class in an actual one room school house located in Old Abilene Town. During their lesson, the kids learned some songs, solved some problems and riddles, and worked on their penmanship with old fashioned ink pens. The campers also learned about personal hygiene in pioneer times. The girls curled their hair using ribbons, and the boys were treated to a “shave.” Afterwards, everyone dressed up in pioneer garb and had their picture taken. For lunch, our main dish was biscuits and gravy and sausage, so the kids learned how to make sausage with an old fashioned sausage stuffer. After lunch was over and dishes were cleaned, many campers’ parents and grandparents came and everyone took a ride on the 1901 C.W. Parker Carousel. All in all, it was a great time for everyone involved.
What I love about Pioneer Camp is that kids get to learn about history in an entirely hands-on way. The kids work while they are at camp, and the funny thing is, they enjoy it. So often these days, many of us do not think about where our food comes from. To us, it simply comes from the supermarket. We do not always think about the hard work that goes into raising that crop or animal to bring it to the store and our homes. Additionally, so often, we take modern conveniences for granted. While at camp, all of the meals are prepared on a wood burning stove. There is no air conditioning or running water in the cabin. Since many of us have had these conveniences our entire lives, it is easy to forget about the difficulties of the past. In this way, the purpose of Pioneer Camp is not to only learn about history, but also the present.