Museum offers pioneering fun

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY – Heritage Pioneer Days at the Union County Heritage Museum, which continues today and Saturday, shows how people provided for their own food, clothing, medicine, tools, toys and more, from early pioneer days through the Great Depression.
Elementary-schoolers got a chance to churn their own butter.
“That’s good!” squealed several West Union second-graders as they tasted the fruits of their labor on a cracker.
Benny Lee Smith described to them the pleasures of buttermilk.
“You talking about good!” he said. “Get you some cornbread, and you can’t beat it.”
Tim Burress demonstrated an early cotton gin and the work-saving technology of an early corn sheller, noting the empty cobs might become anything from a doll to a smoking pipe.
Burress asked a class of fourth-graders what they knew about cotton, and one girl volunteered, “It’s made out of this shirt.”
Kids learned how pioneers used knives and hatchets to harvest game, how settlers made rope and how to use a two-man crosscut saw. Noah Downs, an Ingomar second-grader, decided cutting his own firewood “would have been really, super tough.”
Children toured a caboose, a country store and a country doctor’s office, and they drank sassafras tea and ate boiled peanuts.
Lila Stewart reminded students their great-great-grandparents wouldn’t have had a cafeteria or electric lights or even a bathroom at school. What they did have, she said, was community – and a good education.
“They had the spelling bees, and the whole community came, because that was the entertainment; they didn’t have TV.
“My father and his siblings walked two miles to school,” Stewart said. “There were nine of them, and out of that group, starting in such a school as this, two became educators and two became doctors.”
Pat Arinder of Amory played traditional songs on his banjo, which came with slaves from Africa.
“It was called a ‘ban jar’ and had a gourd for a head, with a skin stretched across it and tacked down,” he said. When a Mr. Sweeney added a fifth string in 1838, he said, “That’s when it became an American instrument.”
Dr. Bruce Bullwinkel told how earlier generations provided their own food.
“People used to have to grow it, graze it or hunt it,” he said. He told about gardening, canning and killing hogs. He showed a device for squeezing the lard out of pigskins and a stick with a nut screwed onto one end.
“Men would go through a field in a line and jump rabbits and kill them with a stick like this,” he said.
Museum director Jill Smith said Pioneer Days activities are intended as both fun and education.
“People were very, very resourceful and had to make do with little, but it was very satisfying,” she said. “There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with making your own butter, making your own furniture and your own music.”
Between school groups, Benny Lee Smith took a break from churning to consider changes in everyday life just in his lifetime.
“Kids don’t know how lucky they are,” he said. “They can go to Walmart and get anything they want. We had to work for what we had.”
Musing a little farther, he decided that maybe his generation was the lucky one.
“The key to having a really good life is working for what you have,” he said, “and then you can really enjoy it.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com