It was like a scene out of 1867 on Wednesday for Pioneer Day at the Ellis County Historical Society.
During the afternoon, children from area public schools and homeschool groups moved through different stations that taught them about aspects of pioneer life.
There were cowboy songs, cross-cut wood sawing, washboard washing, rug making, tours of the Volga-German Haus and a presentation about fighting fires in Ellis County in the early days.
Mary Kay Schippers, volunteer and former instructor at Fort Hays State University, demonstrated how to wash clothes on a washboard.
She first showed the children the block of soap. Made from lye, lard and water, the soap was used for bathing as well as washing clothes.
“It looks like cheese,” said Eli Kerr, Wilson Elementary first-grader.
She then demonstrated how the clothes were washed on the washboard, guided through the wringer, rinsed in the basin and hung to dry on the clothesline.
“You could not do laundry on rainy days,” Schippers said. “Although some people had clotheslines in their homes.”
Schippers told the students back then, most children only had two outfits.
“They would put on their clean outfit for Sunday church and through the rest of the week they would wear that same outfit,” Schippers said. “By the end of the week, it would be filthy. They would put it in the wash bucket and put on their other clean outfit, go to church and start all over again.”
Aliyah Conner was present with members of her homeschool group. She didn’t think she would like having only two outfits.
“My friend and I both really like fashion,” Conner said. “The clothes they wore back then were kind of dull, too. I really like bright colors, so I don’t know if that would be very fun.”
For Schippers, who grew up on a farm in Ellis County, the past is always something that fascinated her.
“I’ve always been interested in everything old,” Schippers said with a laugh. “One of my friends said I was born 100 years too late.”
Schippers even has written two books on her experiences growing up in Ellis County. The books are available through the historical society.
“Think Little House on the Prairie set in 1965,” Schippers said. “They are all autobiographical. The first one was in 1965, and I was 8, going on 9 years old. The other one is 1970 when I was 13. Two different perspectives about growing up on the farm.”
Ed Breit, volunteer, showed the groups cross-cut wood sawing. Although there wasn’t much building of log homes in the Ellis County area, the pioneers still had to cut wood for other purposes.
He taught the children about the kinds of wood that are better for building versus wood that is better suited for firewood.
“When you cut into the wood, you see these different rings,” Breit said. “Each ring shows a year of growth, so you can tell how old a tree is.”
Lee Dobratz, director of the Ellis County Historical Society, said she believes it’s beneficial for children to see how people used to live.
“It’s outside their normal realm,” Dobratz said.
“I think anytime you can have demonstrations, children’s minds can better comprehend how things were done. I think it’s also neat that they can see how hard work was before we had electricity and some of our machines.”
Dobratz said the evening festivities — which began with a free picnic-style meal — featured the Hays Fireman’s Relief Association discussing how the first fire station in Hays began, as well as the early days of firefighting in Ellis County.