Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sutter's Fort Environmental Living Program Day 1

The parents and kids of Jack's fourth grade class have spent the last two and a half months preparing for their participation in the Sutter's Fort Environmental Living Program. This is a special program that allows California school children to “live” history. The students, along with their teacher and trained parent helpers, spend 24 hours portraying characters of 1840s California and partaking in the various trade activities and entertainment of the era. Only about 40 schools a year get a chance to participate in the program.

I got to Sutter's Fort about 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning and spent about an hour and a half unloading the cars and helping everyone get set-up for the day. Sharon dropped Jack at school and got to the fort a little after eight. The kids carpooled from school to the train station in old Sacramento. From there, they took horse drawn wagons to Sutter's Fort. By the time the kids arrived, it was almost 9:45 a.m.

As part of the program, each of the kids was assigned a real person from the 1840's. They researched their character and showed up at the fort dressed as their character. The parents were also assigned characters and came dressed in costumes typical of those that would have been seen around the fort in the 1839 to 1849 historical period. Jack's character was James Reed [a survivor of the Donner Party], Sharon's was Margaret Reed and mine was Martin Murphy, Sr. After a welcome ceremony, lots of pictures and a short speech by "John Sutter" [Johnny], we started into the structured part of the day about 10:30 a.m.

There were nine stations that the kids rotated through. These stations were designed to simulate jobs that would have been done around the Fort. These included: candle making; trapping; basketry; period kitchen; carpentry; trade store and rope making; bakery, spinning and weaving; blacksmith and immigrant wagon. The kids actually worked making candles, rope, baskets and a small wooden bench that they will take home. At bakery, the kids helped make the bread that we had with dinner.

Working with one other parent, I spent the day working on the immigrant wagon. We talked about the trip to California, the animals used to pull the wagon, the parts of the wagon and had the kids work loading or unloading it.

Sharon had one of the hardest jobs. She worked in the outside bakey. She worked with the kids churning butter and building the fire in the oven.

Before lunch, the kids got mail call. They received letters written to their characters. After lunch, the kids portraying the key people in the Bear Flag Revolt performed a skit that included the firing of the fort's cannon.

After we finished the afternoon sessions, the kids did some square dancing. They have been practicing square dancing in PE at school.

Several of the parents had spent all afternoon cooking chicken and tri-tip over an open fire for dinner. Grandparents, siblings and others showed up for dinner which included tri-tip, chicken, salad, pasta and bread. We had the bread and butter for dinner that the kids made during the day.

After dinner, there was some professional entertainment. Two people led the group in some line and reel dancing for about an hour.

The group then moved upstairs in the main building. Sharon headed for home at this point. The kids were entertained with music for another hour. This segment included getting the kids up on stage to play instruments during some of the numbers. This ended about 9:30 p.m. and we started to get the kids organized for bed.

Orginally, I did not have an evening assignment. I brought my backpacking tent with the intention of setting up in the yard by myself. It turned out that I had been assigned responsibility for a group of five kids including Jack overnight. I had to get them to the bathroom, have them brush their teeth, get them bedded down for the night and watch over them for the night. After some initial running amok over which groups were going to sleep where, I got them organized in one half of a downstairs building. We turned the lights off about 10:40 p.m.

I spent some time sitting around the cooking fires with some of the other dads and finally laid down at about 11:15 p.m.

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