Volunteers Mary George Kipp, Marcia Sleds, and John Kipp lead a session about trading/bartering.

Hands On History

~story and photos by Paige Langenderfer

Seven-year-old Thomas Kender figures it would take about a million mink furs to make a coat. And if given the choice of which animal he would like to hunt, trap, and eat, Thomas said a deer easily tops the list over a skunk, mink, raccoon, squirrel, or beaver.

Thomas was one of about 20 children to participate in the June session of the Brown County Historical Society’s program called “Hands on History.”

The monthly program is held from 1 to 4 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month, from April through October. Sessions are held in Nashville’s Pioneer Village (the loom room, the cabin, the schoolhouse, the blacksmith shop, etc.) and in the Brown County History Center. The program is open to all children ages 8 to 12. There is a $5 fee per class and participants are encouraged to register online prior to each class by visiting <browncountyhistorycenter.org> or call (812) 988-2899.

Each session features expert presenters who focus on skills that were needed a century ago like hunting and trapping, soap making, gardening, bee keeping, sewing and weaving, tree and vegetation identification, and more.

Kathy Sparks teaching kids

Kathy Sparks teaches how to identify animals by their footprints.

Along with learning how to set a trap in June, participants learned how to identify animals based on their footprints and how to barter and trade for necessities.

Kathy Sparks, a retired educator, and several other history-loving volunteers developed the program in 2016. The Brown County Historical Society provided start-up funds and the program received a grant from the Brown County Community Foundation. The funds were used to buy supplies including Dutch ovens, slates for the schoolhouse, weaving and spinning equipment, cooking utensils, tools, garden supplies, etc.

“We realized that there was a gap in programming for children with a focus on history. The goal is to instill a love of history—local history when we can—in today’s youth,” Sparks said. “By experiencing events as Pioneer children may have, rather than only reading about them in books, the participants come to realize the trials and tribulations and life experiences that they have in common with the youth in days gone by.”

The volunteers, for the most part, are retired educators, school librarians or nurses, or others who have a love of history and want to share that love with young people.

Marcia Sledd, a retired children’s librarian from Nashville, has been volunteering since the program began.
“I just love reading and telling stories to the children,” she said. “History is so important.”

Dressed in pioneer period clothing, Mary George Kipp helped teach the children about trading and bartering at June’s session. While playing a role playing game, Kipp gently reminded one participant that a hunter/trapper would not barter the tool of his trade (a gun) for a wagon wheel, but would more likely trade a few furs. During the bartering session the participants also had a chance to look at money from the 19th century and learn how bills were literally cut into pieces to represent smaller currencies.

Patrick Haulter, Ernie Dickmeyer, and Lana Dickmeyer explain hunting and trapping

Patrick Haulter, Ernie Dickmeyer, and Lana Dickmeyer explain hunting and trapping. Kids are touching a mink pelt.

“I just like the old ways,” said Kipp, a member of the Pioneer Women’s Club. “We need to pass on our history so that we can learn from our mistakes and appreciate our past.”

Sparks said the program is often filled to capacity. In 2017, 157 children participated, with participants coming from Nashville, Spencer, Franklin, Monticello, Bloomington, and even as far away as Michigan.

“We are in our third year of the program and it has really taken off,” Sparks said. “Happily, we have children that have participated from the onset of the program and have even had several “graduates” who have come back to assist once they have aged out (at age 13).” For more information, visit <browncountyhistorycenter.org/childrens-activities.html>.