HSU’s Western Heritage Day Educates Elementary Children about the Texas Frontier


“My grandson has looked forward to this for at least a month,” said Dovie Knowles of Stamford, Texas. Knowles accompanied first graders from Stamford’s Oliver Elementary School to Hardin-Simmons University, April 17, 2014, for the 33rd annual Western Heritage Day.

“Western Heritage Day provides a physical link to a distant time,” said Dr. George Newman, professor of biology emeritus and one of the founders of the event. Newman said activities during the day are designed to immerse children in western culture as it might have been in West Texas during the last half of the 19th century.

As Western Heritage Day brought the sights, sounds, and flavor of the Old West alive, more than 3,500 area school children enjoyed the campus, transformed by plank-board wagons, curling smoke from a camp fire, and buckskin-clad frontiersmen. HSU faculty, staff, and students sported western duds to help recreate scenes from a time when buffalo and longhorn cattle ruled the prairies of Texas.

Knowles said her grandson, Keith, was excited about attending – especially since he remembers riding one of HSU’s Six White Horses during the Stamford Cowboy Reunion.

Wearing a bonnet and a pioneer dress, 7-year-old Lydia climbed aboard a preacher’s wagon providing a realistic backdrop for the brush arbor. Students from the HSU Logsdon School of Theology and Seminary demonstrated an old-time church service as children circled on bench pews.

“One of Lydia’s favorite things to do is washing clothes at the scrub boards,” said Susan Draper, who homeschools her daughter. Susan said Lydia wanted to dress as Laura Ingalls from the Little House on the Prairie series they are currently reading. Draper made the pioneer dress from a pattern she found in the costume section of a fabric store and paired it with a bonnet picked up by Lydia’s grandmother in Iowa.

“It’s like going back in a time machine,” said Draper. “I think this event gives Lydia appreciation for what it was like when the frontiers were opening to settlers.”

One of the most popular activities was tasting the Cowboy beans and biscuits. At the nearby chuck wagon HSU dean of libraries, Alice Specht, acquainted children with the lack of modern conveniences associated with cooking over an open fire.

Close-by, herdsmen showed Texas longhorns from the state herd at Fort Griffin and children danced to the music favored by early settlers.

At noon, visitors enjoyed the antics and lively music of the HSU “World Famous” Cowboy Band.

Pre-kindergarten teacher Karen Mills, a 2007 HSU alumna, brought 25 students from Winters Elementary School. Mills said the students prepared for the visit by reading the New True Book of Cowboys, Three Little Javelinas, and Pecos Bill.

“We also watched videos about cowboys and talked about how things used to be done in the late 1800s,” said Mills.

Holding up a horseshoe, former HSU Six White Horses rider Katie Curtis explained to a group of visiting students about the art of shoeing horses. Katie’s dad, John Curtis, a longtime farrier, has been demonstrating his craft at Western Heritage Day for the last eight years.

Nearby, Kayla, a fifth-grader from Rule, Texas, was one of a number of students adding a modern element to the day as she videoed Curtis on her tablet. Kayla said she wants to show her parents some of the things she learned during the event.

“Before our classes came to Western Heritage Day, we prepared students with lessons on the first inhabitants of this area,” said Vicki Rowen, kindergarten teacher at Merkel elementary and a 1978 graduate of HSU.

“We learned how the Comanche and other tribes had to get around by foot prior to the arrival of Europeans bringing horses. We studied the impact of the Spanish, then the French explorers, and talked extensively about how Stephen F. Austin led 300 families to settle in Texas on a land grant,” said Rowen.

Bright green t-shirts, a gift from the Merkel Parent Teacher Organization, made it easy for teachers to keep an eye on students; red bandanas were supplied by Rowen and other Merkel teachers.

“It’s really great to see the children interacting with all of the events – learning what it takes to be a pioneer,” said Kristen Johnson, an HSU Six White Horses rider, nursing major, and the reigning Taylor County rodeo queen.

“Some of the children tell me this is the first time they have ever touched a horse or seen longhorn cattle,” said Johnson. “I’m glad HSU can aid teachers as students learn about the history of our region of Texas.”




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