Appeal-Democrat Archive Writing

Summer Kids: Frontier fun

June 21, 2007

With the spark of a flint, the click of an arrowhead and the whispers of a flute, about 40 children were whisked back more than 150 years to the time of the mountain men.

The Muzzleloaders set up camp Wednesday on the back lawn of the Sutter County Community Memorial Museum in Yuba City with a variety of handmade replicas of 19th century items. The presentation was part of the museum’s free annual summer program to expose children to history.

“They can learn about historical figures and live part of our history,” said museum curator Julie Stark.

The Muzzleloaders, a “black powder organization” based in Browns Valley, studies the history of mountain men from 1800 to 1840. Members compete with groups from across California and also teach children about the era.

Roger “Roger Behave” Kanihan showed off his collection of handmade wooden flutes. In between performances, he chipped away at an arrowhead with a bone tool as wide eyes followed his every move.

“I’ve been trying to make bows and arrows for a while, but all I’ve gotten are cuts and splinters,” said Serena Droughton, 9, from Marysville.

Across the camp, David “Whiteman” Baker showed off a collection of guns, knives and even a cannon. While the guns added firepower, he explained, they took time to load and were notoriously inaccurate, making knives and hatchets more important.

“If you didn’t carry at least five knives, you weren’t a mountain man,” Baker said.

Furs from deer and beavers were laid out for the children to feel. Some of the children ducked under a wolfskin cape with its head resting upon their own heads.

To get some of these furs, the mountain men would occasionally run into a deadly grizzly bear, which would force them to fight back desperately with a knife.

“Just stick it in, twist it in and hope it did its job,” Baker said as he twisted his knife in the air while his attentive audience pulled back and winced at the thought.

Around a large metal bowl, some of the kids learned how a fire was made before matches and lighters.

Nick Veal, 8, took a clump of jute and placed some charcloth in the middle. He tentatively swiped his flint against a piece of steel few times, then steadied his hands and clicked the steel until a spark jumped into the charcloth.

“Whoa,” Nick said, and the kids around him quickly joined the chorus.

Just like Baker showed him earlier, Nick blew into the smoldering pile and a flame burst out. A mixture of joy and shock caused the flaming jute to fly from his hands and back into the bowl. As quickly as the fire started, it was smothered by the lid of the charcloth can.

Seems this “mountain man” business will take a little practice.

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