Bringing back the good old days
If someone were to step out of a time machine from 1880 and find themselves inside Donahue’s General Store at the Fort Museum and Frontier Village there’s a pretty good chance that what Ryleigh McFarland, 9, of Lehigh, and her friend, Harlow Fox, 7, of Woolstock, were doing would be comfortably familiar.
The two Frontier Days attendees were playing a game of checkers near the stove. The board is set on old wooden table and the players have old wooden chairs at their disposal.
“I’m already winning,” Fox said.
It was her first experience with the game and the student was ahead of the teacher.
“She’s just learning so I’m teaching her,” McFarland said. “She’s already beating me.”
The two friends didn’t spend their whole day at Frontier Days playing checkers. They had some other favorite attractions to visit too.
“My favorite part is the Indian bread and root beer,” McFarland said.
“I like the maze,” Fox said. “It’s really tricky, but I made it.”
During the frontier era, there were no grocery stores with aisles full of frozen foods, canned goods and meat in plastic wrap. If pioneers wanted to eat, they had to garden, hunt, raise livestock and, very often, make do with what they had. Preserving those foods past a few days was always a struggle.
Sandra Bonner, of Vincent, was on hand with several jars of produce that had been preserved with a method common to the time: pickling.
“The only way to preserve food was to pickle it, dry it or salt it,” she said.
While cucumbers are commonly turned into pickles now, on the frontier almost any vegetable was a candidate for a long soaking in brine and some time on the shelves in the root cellar.
Caryn Dawson, of Manson, was offering samples of pickled red peppers.
Not everyone seemed keen on the idea.
“I’ve gotten some pretty sour faces,” she said. “It’s really exciting to see peoples facial expressions when they try a slice.”
Dawson has been active at the Fort Museum working in the Pioneer Garden, a joint ISU Extension Service and 4-H project. She’s a member of the CC Sidekicks 4-H Club.
The project caught her interest several years ago.
“I wanted to try something new and I like old fashioned stuff,” she said.
One thing best avoided on the frontier was getting sick.
John Bonner, of Vincent, can offer ample evidence of that while portraying a doctor of the time. Toxic substances such as mercury and arsenic were often used to treat common ailments, making the cure worse than the disease.
He’s also added a collection of tin cans with labels appropriate to the era. While canned goods were becoming common during the era, can openers were not.
The first practical can opener wasn’t invented till the 1920s, which led to cans being opened with everything from hatchets to rifle bayonets.
The cans were also sealed with solder containing lead, which was not the healthiest choice.
In the Buckskinner Camp, Boudica Fitzsimmons, 8, of Garwin, had a basket full of homemade soap bars that she was setting out to try to sell.
“Nobody’s bought any yet,” she said.
She likes being in the camp with her family.
“I like acting like people from long ago,” she said.
Her mom, Sarah Fitzsimmons, was supervising the soap sales and had a modern reward for any sales.
“She’ll get some soda,” she said.
Another popular attraction in the Buckskinner Camp is getting to toss a metal tomahawk under the watchful eye of Brad “Bighorn” Hart, of Humboldt.
Jessica Trunkhill, 13, of Humboldt, was giving it her first toss.
“It’s hard,” she said. “I got one out of 3.”
She’s pretty sure that a few more attempts might lead to improvements.
She enjoyed several other events.
“I like the exhibits,” she said.
She was also going to stop for the root beer and a bottle for it.
“I’m getting a new one,” she said.
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