Skip to main content

Sandy Journal

Silver Mesa Students Learn Mountain Man Ways

Jul 01, 2016 09:55AM ● By Julie Slama

Silver Mesa fourth-graders tried plucking fish with their bare hands on May 24 during the school’s second annual Mountain Man Rendezvous. — Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Plunging their hands in cold water, fish slip through their fingers, much to the screams, laughter and delight of Silver Mesa fourth-graders.

Fourth-grader Sara Bryner, who had looked forward to grabbing a fish, instead shrieked as one swam through her hands.

“I thought it would be easier,” she said. “I thought I could reach in and grab it so we could grill it up and eat it tonight. Our teacher told us it may take us a few tries. She also told us not to put it in our backpack when we go home in case we forget about it.”

Catching fish barehanded, like the mountain men did since they didn’t use traditional fishing rods, was what many students looked forward to at the school’s second annual Mountain Man Rendezvous on May 24, where fourth-graders gained hands-on experience in areas they studied throughout the year.

Fourth-graders Eli Alderson and Payton Haroldsen were the first to catch fish barehanded.

“I grabbed like 10 of them, but they got away before I got this one by the tail,” Payton said.

Eli said he cornered his fish.

“I didn’t give him any room to swim away,” he said. “I think it would be easier in a stream.”

Fourth-grader Preston Cole waited his turn.

“I want to catch fish — at least one,” he said while sketching petroglyphs into clay, learning a skill of Native Americans. “These pictures are stories that Native Americans told. Mine says, ‘the man likes to dance.’”

Sabrina Miner said she liked carving her petroglyph with the message, “happy girl.” Her next station was leather stamping.

“It’s not easy, but I liked a challenge,” she said as she stamped a moose into leather. “I liked learning about Utah history, about mountain men, the Pony Express, Native Americans. I’m looking forward to panning gold since I haven’t done that before.”

Students rotated through several stations to learn about pioneer games, petroglyphs, leather stamping, panning for gold, straight shooting, weaving, beading necklaces, making butter and more.

Fourth-grade teacher Jordan Wouden started the program last year after seeing a similar program at a Bountiful school.

“The teacher up there gave me contact information for different people she used and ideas of different activities,” she said. “I took it and created my own version. Fourth grade in Utah is all about Utah history. The rendezvous is a way to continue teaching social studies, but also lets the kids experience what life may have looked like for people of older Utah history.”

An activity she tweaked was introducing geocaching as a way to teach students that fur traders would hide their pelts in caches and then do trades and sell them. So instead of hiding fur pelts, the students located caches hidden around the school grounds, she said.

Students also learned many legends of the times. Many Native Americans, especially the Goshutes of Utah, loved to tell legends and pass on their history through stories, Wouden said.

Two mountain men, located outside a teepee, shared with students about the tools and crafts they used to survive.

Jim Spens, who has been active in a couple rendezvous, told students about the importance of compasses, rifles and using leather from elk for clothing since it lasts a long time.

“Beaver hats were popular in Europe at the time, so traps were set to catch them in the water,” he said. “We kept a purse to keep important things in, such as lead balls for our rifle, a bit of jerky to chew on, a knife and anything we needed to survive.”

Mountain man Boyd Lythgoe said those items were needed for the times.

“We had to be careful because we were in hostile Indian territory and knew it could be very dangerous,” he said.

Students looked at the items, felt the different kinds of fur and asked questions.

“I hope we gave them an idea of what mountain men did and what their contributions were to exploring the west,” Lythgoe said.

Parent Katherine Smalley, who was helping with petroglyphs alongside parent volunteer Alyssa Cole, said students were getting a chance to understand life back in that era.

“It’s important that they’re exposed to different culture and this is an awesome experience where they get to learn about mountain men,” she said. “Back then, there was no paper, so they had to use homemade tools and materials to write messages and stories for others.”

Fourth-grade teacher Sarah Brown loved that students got firsthand knowledge.

“They’re getting absolutely involved, interacting and learning about Utah history, which hits our core curriculum,” Brown said. “This gives them more in-depth experience and kids will remember learning songs, catching fish, meeting mountain men and latch on to those memories.”

Fourth-grader Brooklyn Trost liked that it wasn’t a typical school day.

“I like today because it’s not like we’re spending all day doing math and reading,” she said. “It’s not like that school work, but we’re still learning and I’ll remember it because it’s fun.”   λ