By Kathleen Spring
Imagine it taking all day to go from Lyons to Boulder? And, carrying enough food with you to last a year? These are some of the extraordinary tales that the kids attending this year’s Redstone Museum’s Summer History Day Camp heard about life in the mid-19th century in Colorado, when pioneers came in their covered wagons.
The camp this year focused on early settlers to the Lyons area, including Colorado trading posts and the state’s cultural heritage.
The young campers, ages seven to eleven, learned about life in Lyons at the turn of the century through interactive lessons, creative scenarios, decorative crafts, and a treasure hunt through the collected old treasures at the museum. Each day, the children
colored, pasted mementos, maps, and stickers, and wrote their memories in a keepsake album that some day they can share with their own children. The camp lessons, crafts, and lunch were made possible by the Lyons Community Fund and the Lyons Historical Society, and camp director was local historian Kathleen Spring.
While many trading posts were established in Colorado in the mid-1800s, we focused on Ft. Bent, along the Santa Fe Trail. Most people think of forts as being military bases, but the forts built by the Bent brothers and Ceren St. Vrain were permanent settlements made of adobe bricks, where pioneers came to sell, buy, trade and repair items. It was the only one on the Santa Fe Trail from 1833 to 1849 (now Otero County) that pioneers on wagon trains starting in Missouri would see before crossing into Mexican settlements to the south, or Indian territories to the north.
Campers learned about trading in two different ways. First, they brought in items to trade; and, second, they dressed up as early settlers and traded products and services. Lily Rieck loved both trading sessions best out of the week’s activities. She dressed up as a Mexican native and traded some of her horses for food and seeds with a Ute Indian.
Lia’s grandmother Dawn Henley brought in covered wagon fact sheets and her homemade craft kit for the kids to make a detailed covered wagon. The kids send her many thanks. The two oldest campers made a suede fringed leather purse on a shoulder strap, and wore them to camp every day. The other kids made intricately stitched leather coin purses, with zippers. As homage to Lyons’ famous sandstone history, each child painted a sandstone rock for their home garden. Samantha Rieck’s favorite thing during the week was the crafts. She painted a giant rainbow and heart on her rock.
The camp also covered the first settlers in the Lyons area. LaVern Johnson talked about her Reese and McConnell ancestors, who farmed the “Beautiful Green Valley” (as it was knick-named), going back in the 1860s. Maxine Harkalis told about ranch life and the famous Lyons’ Ohline quarries in the early 1900s. Her grandmother Anna had to walk miles to town to sell her eggs and milk. Don Colard, 96, reminisced about his early days as a teen working on farms and winning rodeo competitions. He could break a horse that others had given up on. Some of the campers’ parents said that the kids love to spot Max, Don and LaVern in town and say “Hello.” As Jenn Handy put it, “Teagan now feels a connection to his Lyons’ elders.”
While the kids were fascinated with the Redstone Museum’s collection of arrowheads, they were even more amazed to see a timeline showing that the Indians were in Colorado for thousands of years before the other settlers came. It showed settlers being here only about one inch on the chart compared to about ten inches for the Indians. Teagan’s mom said, “He planned a full Ute Indian birthday party because they were the original Lyons locals! He had us researching on the Internet about customs, clothing and games.”
On the last day of camp parents, siblings, and grandparents came to watch a play that the kids put on demonstrating early settlers’ lives in Colorado, and they enjoyed socializing. Pearl Haddad added just the right accents to her voice and costume to turn herself into a French trapper, with a beret. She regaled the freedom of her new life out West, and traded some gem stones for a buffalo rug. Lia represented the Utes, and since they had been here the longest, her part in the play was also the longest, as she interacted with Hispanics, trappers and hunters. Her mom, Kim, says that Lia describes the camp as “the best ever” and hopes that she can continue, even as a volunteer when she gets older.
Immediately upon returning home, Taino Hassin’s mother Lisa wrote down some reflections of the experience. “I asked Taino on a scale of 1 to 10 how he would rate the camp. He said 100. I feel this experience gave us a connection to the museum and to Lyons that we have been missing for seven years of living here. It should be required learning for all residents. It gives us a great appreciation for the contributions of those who came before us. My son clearly has gained a sense of pride and awareness that did not exist one week ago,” said Lisa. She continues to say that she and her son will be much more involved in sharing the history of Lyons and Colorado with others. The museum is open seven days a week 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except opening at 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. It closes for the season Sunday, September 29.
Forts Of Colorado
The fort that the campers studied was Ft. Bent. It was rebuilt and is open to the public. It is located eight miles east of La Junta. This National Historic site has living history tours, demonstrations, and special events. The Trinidad History Museum displays 100 years of history along the Santa Fe Trail and authentic adobe houses and Hispanic heirlooms. The El Pueblo Trading Post is a life-size adobe evoking southeastern Colorado and is the cornerstone of Pueblo’s revitalized downtown historic district. Ft. Vasquez Museum, near Platteville, was the first permanent structure along the South Platte River in 1835, catering to Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians who traded buffalo robes for blankets, beads, kettles, guns, and more. Ft. Lupton is recreating the original trading post as part of their 100-acre History Park. Ask staff at Ft. Morgan about their fort’s connection with Civil War soldiers. Ft. Garland has a military history. It was once commanded by famous frontiersman Kit Carson, and has preserved the barracks for touring.