History buffs strive to connect Ramona students with nation’s past
By Maureen Robertson
Jim Cooper sees a gap building between the nation’s youth and its history, and he and a group of encampment re-enactors are doing something about it.
Ramona Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Robert Graeff accepted Cooper’s invitation to have Ramona fifth- and sixth-graders see what life was like in the 1800s, and they are coordinating field trips to the Old West encampment at the Ramona Outdoor Community Center on May 1 and 2.
“I think it’s extremely valuable and worthwhile to allow children to connect to our heritage,” Cooper, a Ramona resident, told school trustees at their January meeting. “It is rich, it is pure, it is honest.”
The re-enactors will set up camp in Ramona the last day in April, and students from the district’s six elementary schools will stagger their visits over the next two days. The public will have the opportunity to visit the encampments at the Bluegrass & Old West Fest May 3 and 4.
Cooper, who is an 1870s cowboy during the re-enactments, considers the 1800s an exciting time in U.S. history — “mountain men, western expansion, Civil War or War of Insurrection — whichever way you want to go — cattle drives, western frontiers, shoot-’em-up towns, saloon girls, Pony Express, telegraph lines, railroad connections and, ultimately, by the 1890s the West was pretty well settled.”
Poway has an Encampment Rendezvous each October, and Cooper has participated with his two-horse traveling cowboy rig the past several years.
Ramona’s Old West Fest had eight encampments last year. This year 10 have committed and three to five others are juggling their schedules in hopes of participating, said Cooper.
“These are camps made up of pretty much original stuff, very few reproductions, certainly no plastic or Velcro … It’s all as it if it is from that period.”
Most of the youngsters at Poway’s 2013 rendezvous had cellphones, he said. The youngsters showed their parents and many returned with their families the two days the event was open to the public.
The plan is to mirror in the spring what Poway does in the fall so schoolchildren learn their history, he said, noting that Poway had to turn away students last year.
He had hoped to invite Julian and Warner Springs students this year, but there wasn’t enough time. Maybe next year, he said.
“This is our first year,” he said. “We’re learning as we go.”
The students will participate at no charge. The district will bus them to the encampment.
“I think it’s a great chance for the school kids to actually see people in period attire, period layout,” said Cooper. “Everything that these people bring in is authentic.”
The re-enactors “are dedicated to supporting the students and sharing their knowledge of western heritage,” Cooper said, adding that some even plan their vacations from work to participate.
“It’s a part of their life to live the way people did in the 1800s,” he said.
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