TR’s Cowboy camp at a history event

TR Camp at Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo

TR Camp at Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo

I wrote this back in 2013 and stumbled upon it.  I decided it needed to be shared.  Enjoy!

Over the past almost two weeks I have been living a lucky cowboy’s life, sans cattle. I have slept each night in a canvas wall tent; dined by a chuck wagon; sang hymns and music of the times and have been surrounded by people who, like me, were dressed in clothes of a bye gone era.

My mornings started by stoking the stove in my tent, then dressing in layers that could be adjusted to the day. A fire would be built under my canvas tarp to cook my breakfast and I would stare out at the other camps around me, smoke billowing out of chimneys of the nearby tents and teepee’s. I would see the outline of a cowboy sitting by a fire with a large pot of coffee hanging over, licked by flames. The bacon would start to sizzle in my cast iron pan as I strolled to say hello for the day and beg a cup of their strong black eye-opener. We would talk of the night before, the day ahead and the weather expected and other gentle small talk that friendly neighbors do. Occasionally there might be a hot donut bubbling in oil on the fire, or a dutch oven full of fresh buttermilk biscuit’s eager to be shared.

During the day I shared Mr. Roosevelt.  People in modern clothes would ask me about my life as they tried to comprehend living in the past. In the evening, the crowds would leave and our makeshift village would once again slow to a normal pace. The blacksmith would deliver the goods he made for us; eggs would be traded for a loaf of bread; children would beg chores in exchange for money to buy candy from the store. We would sit together and share our food and eat until beyond full and then visit on about the day. Each step back to my camp would provide invitation into a camp to help them finish what they had cooked. I began to understand how my great-great grandfather the blacksmith of the town and a founder of the Vasa Lutheran church connected to a community.

My lungs have never ingested so much smoke. The clothes I wore smelled of it along with sweat and sweet earthen mud. Sometimes I was so cold that no amount of layers seemed to warm me when I was away from the fire. For three days everything I owned was wet from a storm that would not leave, my “fish skins” ( water proof duster ) doing all it could to keep me dry  – but the dampness working its magic to send shivers. The next moment I would be so hot as to not be able to control the perspiration. I would sponge myself with a wet cloth when I could using a handmade lavender soap given to me by a store keeper for telling him a story that made him laugh. Each day I sat at the end of the day and watched the sunset, just like I had watched the sunrise, and felt blessed to enjoy another day.

This morning I woke up in my own bed at home and soaked in a bath as a television blared in the background. The washing machine hums even now as I write this on my computer, a device of which for almost two weeks I did not touch.

My experience taught me that although the past was a tough life – in many ways, it was simpler. I chopped and hauled wood each day for my fire; gathered and hauled water by the river; and cooked slow meals made from pure ingredients. I boiled clothes when they got dirty. I worked hard each day and when the crowds had left, I stopped and read a book, the pages new and crisp and untouched for far too long. I learned from others skills I knew I should know, and facts that I never really appreciated – until I was able to not be distracted by modern life and could truly listen.

The switches that make it easy to change light from dark in my house were appreciated last night when I finally got home. But that campfire aglow and a song wafting down along the grass into my camp, for me, trumps any convenience that I have today.

They want to know and we need to teach them

10458541_834120079996859_4542934992558702683_n

 

This past week I had the opportunity to present to hundreds of school children on Roosevelt in Iowa and Nebraska.  While the programs I presented were very different in format and setting, the result was the same – the kids I met were eager to learn.

My Iowa tour was sponsored by many local businesses for the children and adults in Albert City Iowa – a great town with an incredible Library, staff and volunteers who focus on creating cultural events for their community.

The Nebraska event I presented was a outdoor expo, where kids get to try all sorts of activities to get them out into the great outdoors. Events included shooting guns, learning about animals, fishing, camping skills, kayaking  and more.  It was an amazing event and an important one to help increase utilization of parks and the great outdoors.  I was brought into that event thanks to The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and a grant from Nebraska Humanities.

I presented there with my TR Camp. a reproduction of a Teddy Roosevelt hunting camp.

In camp, kids get to immerse themselves in an 1880’s hunting camp experience to learn about conservation and hunting and it’s importance –  from Roosevelt himself!  They get a idea of what it was like to hunt with a President; what he brings and needs for a hunt and; to see and discuss animal skins he collected and what they are used for.  I have done this camp for many years at history events with a very positive response, so I expanded the camp for 2015 and have been booked for a few outdoor expos.  Like other events of this type, there are “School days” and “Public days”.

On the first day after the kids had gone home, I was organizing my camp when a vehicle pulled up and a gentleman walked to my camp and introduced himself as a local elementary school Principal.   He told me he stopped by the camp to visit because when his kids arrived back from the expo, he asked them to tell him their favorite activity at the expo. He expected shooting a shotgun or archery or another activity, but the majority of the kids told him they enjoyed their time with President Roosevelt.  He just wanted me to know.

I smiled a toothy Roosevelt grin as I shook his hand.

I am not telling you this to impress you, I am telling you to impress upon you what I have learned as I have hone my skills in presenting as Roosevelt: Children crave to know things but they need a reason to want to know.  They like hero’s and people they can relate.

Children relate to Roosevelt because he overcame obstacles that they themselves face everyday.  They want reassurance that even though a single day may be hard, that is just a small bump in the road.  They want to know its alright to ask questions; to go on an adventure; to fail.  They want to be part of something big – a shared place where they can have opportunity.  They want what Roosevelt promised – by contributing their skills, they can be something incredibly special in all the world: they can be an American.