Living history event a step back in time
July 10, 2003
All those who attend the California Trail Days living history event will step back in time while trying their hand at throwing a Tomahawk, watching a blacksmith forge iron utensils, weaving ropes and baskets and seeing vendors dressed in period costumes.
The event is free and commemorates a time when people traveled by wagon train on the Immigrant Trail-a period from about 1840 to 1870. It takes place in Donner Memorial State Park Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-5p.m., about 50 feet from where wagon trains once passed through the area.
The Nichols family, direct descendants of the family who came over Donner Summit in the early 1870s will set up an encampment and do demonstrations of cleaning, cooking and craft making. Children can participate by making rope or basket weaving. There will be wagon rides for a small price.
Other vendors sell period clothing, instruments, antique style beads and other goods. They pay a $50 fee to set up a stand, and the money goes to provide an award for those who give the best or most unique impression of the era.
“It’s an incentive that gets them to be a little more authentic,” said Bill Lindemann, the event coordinator for the Sierra district of the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Last year a Chinese herbalist, who gave a presentation on what it was like for Chinese people to live on the frontier, won the award.
Keeping history alive is a valuable effort, said Lindemann. The living history event is a good way to learn about life on the frontier trail.
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“I think that people get more out of a first person experience rather than a person telling them a story,” he said. While living history is based on oral tradition, the event makes the stories more real.
It began in 1994 and was a preparation for the following two years. They were a five-day celebration of the 150-year anniversary of the Donner Party’s voyage through the area. After that, the organizers scaled it down to the two-day event it is now. It draws about 1,500 people each year.
The living history event changes a little bit every year, always having “a little different flavor” from years before, said Lindemann.
“(The vendors) try to give it as much as an air of what it was like as possible.”
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