Ramona fifth- and sixth-graders are stepping back in time to see what life was like in the 1800s as they visit the Old West encampments set up as part of the Bluegrass and Old West Festival today and tomorrow.
Approximately 826 students are taking turns loading buses to visit re-enactor encampments in the Ramona Outdoor Community Center. Barnett, Hanson and Mt. Woodson elementary students arrived in staggered shifts starting about 8:30 a.m. and ending about 2:20 p.m. today. Students from Ramona Community School and Ramona and James Dukes elementary schools will visit on Friday.
They’re seeing everyone from mountain men, Civil War troops and a tent saloon to pioneer families, a traveling cowboy, gunfighters, and even General Ulysses S. Grant and President Abraham Lincoln.
Ramona resident Jim Cooper coordinated the opportunity with Ramona Unified School District and, as an
1870s cowboy, is among the re-enactors.
“I think it’s extremely valuable and worthwhile to allow children to connect to our heritage,” he told school trustees when he invited the district to send students to the encampment before the festival opens to the public.
The 5th Annual Ramona Bluegrass and Old West Fest takes place May 3 and 4.
Cooper encourages parents to let the students bring cellphones to the encampment so they can take photos and share the experience with their families “and hopefully bring their parents back” on Saturday or Sunday.
Re-enactors will greet the students when they arrive, give them a brief introduction, break them into groups of 15 to 20 students and have the groups visit each of the 15 encampments, said Cooper.
Saying he has received positive feedback from the school district, Cooper added that “Dr. Graeff (superintendent) has been exceptionally supportive.” Graeff, wearing cowboy attire, arrived with the first group of students today.
Ramona resident Ken Serfass is among the re-enactors. Leader of the Antebellum Marine Band, Serfass has appeared at Ulysses Grant at Civil War events in California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and Virginia. He provides lectures and other educational opportunities in this guise for the past five years and also has been on the History Channel and other television programs as Grant.
“I’ve been a student of U.S. Grant since age 8, and it’s an honor to present what I have learned of him over all this time,” said Serfass. “I am never surprised at how much misinformation is out there, and it is my goal to have people keep an open mind to the realities of his life and that period. I look forward to meeting all the visitors.”
He will have hand-drawn maps of the Overland Campaign, which was Grant’s first action as Union commander in the Civil War, and made wooden markers to show the movements and conflicts between the armies of both sides.
“I won’t presume to speak on the impressions of the other campers outside my time period, but I will say each is dedicated to their impression and will provide an entertaining and educational experience for all.”
The re-enactors are dedicated to supporting the students and sharing their knowledge of western heritage, said Cooper.
“I think it’s a great chance for the school kids to actually see people in period attire, period layout,” he said. “Everything that these people bring in is authentic.”