Old West Kids

A couple of excursions lately and the book I'm reading have had me daydreaming about what it would have been like to be a parent to my daughters 150 years ago or so.

Living in Gold Rush country, just minutes away from where gold was discovered in 1848, we encounter "old west" flavored nostalgia at every corner. On our main street we have a (somewhat controversial) dummy of a hanged man dangling from a noose out of a second story window. Tales circulate recounting the hauntings of miners' ghosts. They say there are closed up tunnels under and behind most of the downtown businesses that led secretive merchants to brothels behind the alley. In a massive digging effort a few years ago in the backyard of the Bookery, collectors excavated medicine bottles, vases, and pieces of pottery that they traced back to the earliest days of the California Gold Rush when this block housed the Union Hotel that burned down in 1856. Local graveyards are full of the bones of Chinese immigrants, prospectors from all over the world, children who left their harsh world too early, stoic mothers and fathers who grieved and worked and cooked and slept and woke to work again.

The lore of the Old West is fallible, grotesque, full of broken promises and abuses of power and greed. Perhaps that mystery, remorse, sorrow is what keeps us wondering, keeps us digging.

The past is alive for kids up at Millview Apple ranch.

I love to imagine life back then. What if you had to build a little shanty in a brand new, dusty, wild land to set up temporary housekeeping with no running water or electricity? How would you keep your children clean? Would you hunt or fish? Would you learn to skin an animal? What supplies would you have brought from your home back East, and what would you seek to fulfill your immediate needs? A pot, a pan, utensils, blankets, furs, a strong knife. How would you weather the storms? Would you have enough wood for the winter, would you have oil for your lamps?  What would you do if influenza came to town, if your husband took sick?

Would you build the kids a wooden seesaw? Would you let them run and play in the woods all day? 

Would you be scared of bears? Would you make friends easily? Would you bake a pie?

I love this place for building from scratch such a fun kids' area that inspires imaginative play. For using tires and wood and building rustic structures for the kids to run and hide and play. The little wooden play bakery even has metal spatulas and tin pie pans and a counter and miniature rolling pin for playing pretend. The schoolhouse has little desks and the church has little pews. And of course I love this place for the miles of views of grapevines and orchards.  And for their homemade goodies from doughnuts and pastries to pickles and sauces. It's my new favorite Apple Hill ranch and it's basically across the street from my sister's house. 

A couple days later we put on our bonnets and headed to Gold Rush Live down in Coloma. The participants and docents set up a tent camp for four days and live as if it were the 1850s. Calico dresses and lace up boots, patchwork quilts on their beds under canvas tent walls. Washtubs and cookfires and goats.

Polly wore a bonnet from the turn of the century handmade by my great-great grandmother. She wouldn't keep it on but man did it frame her round face sweetly! 

Entering the tent town, so much to see!

We arrived in time to catch the tail end of a remarkable talk by Dr. Shirley Moore about her late husband's wagon project. Joe Louis Moore was a history buff particularly interested in African Americans in the Westward movement, such as wagon maker Hiram Young, a freed slave. The Moores and colleagues built this covered wagon replica with authentic 1800s undercarriage which is now permanently housed here at Marshall Gold Discovery Park. The girls enjoyed looking at the details, and imagining what it'd be like to sit next to their Pa up on that bench seat and be heading out into open prairieland.

Tootie learned to do laundry the old fashioned way. She was keenly interested and even hung up her clean linen with a long-legged clothespin by herself.

Eyeing the goat.

Lucy tried out some old fashioned kids' games and it turns out she's not the world's greatest bowler. Takes after her mama.

The girls shared a sarsaparilla and we watched this folk band perform songs of the 1850s. 
Hey Nelly, Ho Nelly!

Phew, the wild west tires you out!

Before we left we had to catch a wagon ride on a real covered wagon drawn by two huge black horses. A bumpy, hot, fun ride that had the girls utterly entranced!

Now we just need a homestead by the river and a team of our own!


mary said…
I love your nostalgic tendencies because i have them too! :) i wonder the same questions as you stated in the beginning, and while i know there was much to be desired in some aspects, i yearn for some of the simplicity and limited choices. I love polly's dusty feet and lucy's rosy cheeks, and those bonnets send the whole thing over the moon. you look right in your element in that dress, and it's sweet to see your whole beautiful fam looking so well. happy autumn time heather! xo
Rachel Weaver said…
You adventure so well.
A I read your series of questions I couldn't help but think you might have a children's book in you that needs to be set free.
Tina Dawn said…
What a wonderful teaching experience for your little girls. Great photos. Love T
Unknown said…
Love the portrait of Darin and Polly. Made me LOL.
Alicia P. said…
Sorry, that was me. I keep having to re-sign into my Google account and messing it up. Doi!
Lindy from Washington said…
So awesome Heather!! The very last comment, "homestead by the river"... I know you get so many comments, but I had mentioned before that I live on some acreage in Washington State, work in Olympia, live in the small country town of Yelm... well, I just purchased my very own home after renting for 7 yrs., and it's RIGHT on the Deschutes river!! I'm moving in in November, and there's a forest on the opposite side of the river, and the Bald Hills mountains on the other side! I am so so excited, as I am doing this all by myself at the age of 37. I cannot wait to decorate my deck that faces the river with flowers and rustic homemade d├ęcor! Dreams do come true, just put it out there, and it can happen. Swoon~ your babes outfits, are so precious, and I agree, the pic of Darren is the best!!
Teeny said…
I used to wish I had been born two hundred years earlier - my teenage self thought it would have been a more romantic time - by about a thousand fold. Now, I realise that it would have been HARD and everyone died young because life was so treacherous! Coloma was so much fun when we were there and NOW I'm wishing I was there for Gold Rush Live! Your girls must make you proud, they're adorable, and I am sure you are going to be very happy to have documented the special moments you capture and consider here on this blog. xo
anne said…
aww! what fun! When I first read Little House On The Prairie to my older kids I became obsessed with this time. Everything about it fascinates me...maybe that's why I was so interested in tintypes? Anyway, I'll come make my homestead next yours!
Kimberly said…
You are truly the cutest family. I love that Addie lives so close to you now. Lucky to have your sister around.

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