Oh, pioneers! OES finds ways to make history fun [with gallery]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 27, 2018

What began as a small party in Heather Gafford’s fourth grade classroom at Opp Elementary School has turned into a full-fledged, annual community effort to teach fourth graders about the history of the pioneers.

“It is one of our standards to teach pioneer history in Alabama history,” Gafford said. “We have a couple of pioneer stories in our textbook like ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and the stories of Lewis0 and Clark, so it kind of developed into where we did a pioneer party in my room. I had another teacher who was interested in what I was doing so we decided to open it up to the entire fourth grade.”

Gafford said that Pioneer Day is now in its fourth year and each year it has gotten bigger. Now, she brings in people from around the community to help with the event. Kim, Jacob and Henry Hornsby have been helping for the past couple of years with the Pioneer Day.

They have been reenacting the lives of pioneers for the past 20 years and are a part of the Whitewater Longhunters, which is the oldest black powder club in Alabama.

“We really enjoy history,” Jacob Hornsby said. “It is really like a mini vacation and a way to disconnect from the fast paced world.”

The Hornsbys participate in three different rendezvous where they compete in events like shooting old rifles.

“I taught the Hornsbys’ son a couple of years ago and that was the first time that they came,” Gafford said. “I’ve asked them to come back each year and educate the kids on the topic.”

Along with the Hornsbys, Pioneer Day also included corn shucking and corn meal making, a picture with Trippy McGuire dressed as a Native American, a ride in a mule carriage and playing old pioneer games like marbles and hop scotch.

“This is the first year that we have had the mule carriage,” Gafford said. “We send home letters with the kids and see which parents want to volunteer.”

McGuire was in character as the Creek chief “Red Eagle,” or William Weatherford. McGuire is a known expert on Weatherford.

“I usually show up and talk about the Creek Indian War to the fourth grade classes,” McGuire said. “I have been doing that since the early 1990s, so when Mrs. Gafford started doing this pioneer day she asked if I minded dressing up as an Indian and telling stories. Now I just dress up as William Weatherford and tell stories about his life.”

Gafford said that her favorite part of the day is seeing all of the kids dressed up.

“We don’t make it mandatory,” Gafford said. “But we do encourage all of the kids to dress up. There are so many interesting outfits that they come up with.”