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A hard-knock life, in field trip form

Deer Creek students experience first-hand the difficult lives of Oregon pioneers.

BARBARA SHERMAN - In the Butteville Schoolhouse, Deer Creek students sit at attention and follow the directions of Miss Ellen, which included standing up when called on and calling her 'Ma'am.'After studying Oregon history this year, 105 Deer Creek Elementary School fourth-graders on April 8 stepped through a time portal into the mid-1800s to experience life as pioneer children.

The students took a field trip to the Newell Pioneer Village at the Champoeg State Heritage Area, where they visited four restored buildings and participated in such activities as scrubbing clothes on a washboard and hanging them to dry, going to “jail,” and learning lessons with a strict, no-nonsense schoolmarm.

The site is named for Robert Newell, one of the earliest pioneer settlers in the Willamette Valley. He lived at Champoeg for 19 years starting in 1843. Within the “village” are three authentic mid-1800s buildings: the house Newell lived in, now called the Robert Newell House Museum, plus the jail and schoolhouse of Butteville, built in 1848 and 1859 respectively, which were moved to the site. Members of the Daughters of the American Revolution serve as guides at the complex.

After pulling into the “village,” the two busloads of students, along with their teachers and parent chaperones, were greeted by women dressed in pioneer clothes and divided into small groups to rotate through the buildings and activities.

Student groups learned how the early settlers cooked, did laundry and spun wool.

One guide gave a brief history lesson, telling the kids that the first group to settle the area was the Kalapuya Indians, before fur trappers with the Hudson’s Bay Company came to the area to trap beavers so the pelts could be made into top hats.

“Top hats were in style for 500 years,” she said.

Students also learned what school was like 150 years ago.

Once everyone was seated in rows on wooden benches in the classroom, schoolmarm "Miss Ellen," who carried a long cottonwood switch, told them, “Students were in school from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon Monday through Saturday. School ran from November to March so children could harvest crops in the fall and plant them in the spring. They studied reading, writing and arithmetic. The teacher was often not much older than her oldest students. If they misbehaved, the punishment was to sit in a corner, stay after school or sweep the floor.”

Miss Ellen explained to the students that when she called on them, they had to stand up and address her as “ma’am.” Through the course of their lesson, the students got the hang of it.

Other activities students enjoyed on the field trip included making toys and candles, going on a scavenger hunt through the Robert Newell House, and writing with a goose quill. Each student was given a brown paper bag to carry around all the pioneer goodies they accumulated on their tour around the village.

The Robert Newell House is filled with artifacts and signs explaining their history and what they were used for. For example, an 1873 New American sewing machine had the following notice: “Some feared the sewing machine would cause the breakdown of the family because women sewing by hand could hear their children recite their lessons — a machine sewer could not.”

Some of the kids were spooked by a couple sights in the house: The homemade dolls without faces freaked them out, and they thought the upstairs was haunted because mannequins adorned with gowns worn by the wives of Oregon’s governors seemed to move and sway on their own — actually just movement caused by the kids walking on the old floorboards, they were told.

The Newell Pioneer Village, located at 8089 Champoeg Rd. N.E., St. Paul, is open March 1 through Oct. 31 on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and major holidays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with tours available any day, any time by appointment.

Living history interpretation and reenactment events for adults and children are scheduled along with dinners, teas, dances, festivals, picnics, caroling and more, and the venue is a popular location for weddings.

Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for children and $5 for AAA and DAR members and seniors.

BARBARA SHERMAN - Inside Robert Newell's house, Miss Judy helps students dip candles, one of the many jobs that pioneer children had to do because households used about 1,000 candles a year.