Students Experience 1857 at Fort Tejon

Recently, fourth grade students in Mr. Spaulding, Ms. Thompson and Ms. Nuzum’s classes at Rio Vista Elementary School in Fillmore went on an unforgettable, over-night field trip to Fort Tejon State Historic Park to participate in the living history program.

Imagine leaving your electronic devices behind and stepping into the sounds, sights and colors of the 1850’s. That is just what the students did. They became recruits in the army to be trained as dragoons. They were issued uniform jackets and performed tasks that were typical of frontier life. At night, they slept in the barracks on straw bedrolls. Illumination was only by candle light.

The students were divided into five squads and rotated through five stations. The tasks were: blacksmith shop, carpentry, adobe brick making, candle making/laundry and, of course, kitchen. The students made candles and washed laundry on a washboard. Comments like, “My grandma has one of these!” were heard. Making adobe bricks was a messy job! The students each made a tool box in the carpentry shop. They learned just how hot it can be to work in the blacksmith shop. In the kitchen, the students chopped and churned their own dinner which was cooked over coals in a Dutch oven. The vegetable stew, corn bread, freshly churned butter and apple cobbler were delicious! The recruits helped raise the gigantic flag, with only 31 stars as was authentic for 1857. One of the highlights was the firing of the canon.

Naturally, this trip would not have been possible without the support of the parents and Rio Vista School staff. There were parents working at each station. The parents also slept on the hard floor, supervised the chopping, dipping, pounding and digging. Lots of firewood was hauled and burned. Mr. Joe Porter, Doug and Theresa Smith and Quality Paving provided the cut lumber for the tool boxes. Financial donations were made by the Fillmore Rotary Club, the Rio Vista Parent Club and many other generous people. The Fort Tejon Historical Association helped pay for the buses to transport the students. The students had fundraisers to help defray costs.

Ms. Bev Garnica, principal at Rio Vista School, said, “My daughter and husband still talk about their trip to Fort Tejon.” It was a great learning event. Fort Tejon has reenactments the first Saturday of every month. There are pictures and information on line.