Living Columns & Blogs

Eatonville museum takes children to hard days of pioneers, Indians

My kids are growing up in a high-tech, on-demand, fast-paced world.

They can watch cartoons and other children’s programs at any time on a variety of channels. They can play video games on cell phones. They can cook frozen meals in a microwave that contain kid-friendly and somewhat healthful choices.

But sometimes, it’s good to slow down and show them that life hasn’t always been so prepackaged, hurried or convenient.

I recently chaperoned my 8-year-old daughter’s school field trip to Pioneer Farm Museum and Ohop Indian Village near Eatonville.

It was my first visit to the nonprofit educational facility that uses hands-on activities to teach about the lifestyles of the early European-American settlers and Coast Salish tribes.

The farm tour offers more than 100 different activities, including typical pioneer chores such as milking a cow, grinding corn meal, and cutting firewood. Across the road, at the Ohop Indian Village, visitors can learn how the Coast Salish people lived during the each of the seasons and participate in activities such as creating an arrowhead, helping dig out a cedar canoe, and weaving yarn through a hand loom.

The tour guides at Pioneer Farm and Ohop Indian Village dress in era clothing, and talk frankly about how rough life was in the 1880s.

It wasn’t nearly as glamorous as it’s portrayed on the television series “Little House on the Prairie.” Pioneer children worked much of the day, alongside their parents, and their contribution was critical to a family’s survival.

During our tour, a guide explained that children only attended school three or four months out of the year, and back then school was considered a great privilege.

The kids in our group were fascinated to learn that pioneer students could get lashings for not following the strict schoolhouse rules.

The Pioneer Farm tour includes a peek into a real 1880s homestead cabin that was relocated to the farm from another Pierce County location. The one-room cabin is fully furnished. A family of six once slept in its small loft.

Visitors also can try out pioneer chores in a larger cabin that’s lit by kerosene lamps and a fireplace. My daughter and her friends loved kneading bread dough and scrubbing clothes with a bucket, washboard and hand wringer.

Some of the girls got ringlets in their hair using an antique curling iron that was heated in a kerosene lamp. Some of the boys (and a few of the girls) tried “shaving” with lather and a dull straight razor.

After the house chores, we toured the farm’s barn and workshops.

There’s a forge where visitors can pick up a red-hot horseshoe and dip it into a bucket of water. Kids also can try their hand at hammering nails, sawing sticks and using other tools in the woodshed.

The second-graders on our field trip seemed to enjoy interacting with the farm animals the most. They caught chickens, milked a cow, and jumped from the upper level of the barn into a giant stack of straw. Even the kids who live on farms enjoyed the experience because it gave them a chance to talk about their animals and chores, too.

After a tour of a replica one-room schoolhouse, we took a short trail to the Ohop Indian Village. Most of the kids were a little more mellow by then because it was getting late in the day, but they enjoyed playing a Salish hoop game that involves tossing a wooden hoop with a stick and creating their own arrowheads by rubbing a piece of slate on large rocks. They also enjoyed dressing up in cedar regalia, working on a petroglyph, and creating their own bracelets with beads.

After nearly four hours, it was time to load the buses and head back to school. Many of the kids said they wished they could stay longer.

It turns out their generation can appreciate the value of slowing down after all.