Butler students experience Mountain Men life, learn Utah history
Ready set, fire: Butler Elementary students line up their target at the school’s fourth-grade Mountain Man Rendezvous. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
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Opportunities to pan for gold or hunt alligators at an elementary school aren’t that common, but Butler Elementary fourth-graders had the chance as part of their Mountain Man Rendezvous.
After learning about Jim Bridger and other well-known Mountain Men, the students tried several activities that were coordinated by the fourth-grade teachers.
“I think the students are learning to appreciate how easy they have it and how hard it was back then,” fourth-grade teacher Parys Lightel said. “The Mountain Men made lots of sacrifices, and having the students know what came before us broadens their perspective.”
The day began with a way-of-life obstacle course. Students dressed in oversized jeans and shirts for fishing, then put the fish (cut out of paper) they caught into a pan to cook it over a fire, followed a bear across the creek (or in this case, on a balance beam), panned for gold (pieces of paper), hunted for an alligator with a dart gun and returned to the team of students, who were awaiting their turn on the relay.
“We took some liberties since we don’t have a stream or a fire or real animals, but they understood the message and had some fun with it. It was hilarious watching them try to do it all with baggy clothes that were about five times their size,” she said.
Lightel also said they prepared students to learn their mentality.
“We talked about the old way of life and how difficult it may be to rise early to go fishing to eat and how they had to trade their goods to get supplies,” she said.
To illustrate that, students brought in some old toys, with their parents’ permission, to trade with classmates so they got a chance to understand how to barter for what they wanted, Lightel said.
Students also gathered around for some rendezvous games such as tag, ring toss, shooting arrows through a hula hoop, leg wrestling and others.
Cassius Ortega said he liked grabbing hold of a pole with a friend for the stick pull.
“It was fun playing stick pull and see who could pull it the most,” Cassius said. “I liked playing friendship tag and doing target practice too.”
Classmate Marley Rodney said she liked learning about Native Americans games.
“They made them up since there were no electronics and used things they had available, like sticks,” she said. “I know they bartered for things they needed, but we’re doing it with toys. I’m wanting to trade some of the things I brought, like my pink headphones for Minion playing cards.”
Cassius said he enjoyed learning about the Mountain Men.
“It was interesting to hear their stories. One Mountain Man was severely injured by bears, but he crawled 200 miles back to civilization,” he said.
Marley was looking forward to their fourth-grade program, which included songs and dances. It also included narration from Mormon pioneers, Spanish explorers, fur traders and trappers — commonly known as the Mountain Men — workers who built the transcontinental railroad and five regional Native American Indian tribes: Shoshone, Goshute, Paiute, Ute and Navajo.
“I learned Spanish dance steps and have been practicing for the program. I learned about the Spanish expedition and how pioneers lived a long time ago,” Marley said.
Lightel said the fourth-grade program is tied to the Utah history social studies core.
“It features these important groups of people in Utah and we teach the students the Virginia Reel and the Patty Cake Polka,” she said. “They not only read about Utah history but take part in it so they’ll remember the counties in Utah, a Native American drum chant we do with rhythm sticks, the transcontinental railroad and important parts of our history.”