The Pony Express rides again
Elk Mountain resident Kay Grant teaches history of Pony Express, Plains Indians to CCSD2 students
September 25, 2019
It is September and Carbon County elementary students are not only in school learning lessons, but also at an outdoor classroom in Elk Mountain taught by Kay Grant.
Grant has been educating students on life of the early pioneers and the Plains Indians culture for 14 years. She does this in a variety of ways, from using actual stone instruments used in day-to-day life to games and toys the children played with. She has a buffalo hide that has been on display for its 11th year, where she has students scrape off a little hair with stone tools. About half the hair is left which is amazing given how many years she has displayed it and allowed the scraping.
She has a large tipi on the beautifully landscaped yard of her home along with other buildings that represent different businesses. Last year she had a trading post for her exercises, this year it was a post office.
The tipi is up every year and students can enter and see how the Plains Indians lived inside. There are different size parfleches (rawhide envelopes) that hold possessions and food. Grant has toys such as dolls and stone animals on view which she allows the children to hold and touch.
"I believe in children using as many of their senses as they can when we put together the lessons," Grant said. "This year we aren't doing taste."
In years past, Grant has had food from pioneers and the Plains Indians.
Grant has a system in place where she has six lesson plans that are formulated for the different ages. By the sixth year of coming, the student has gone through a Plains Indian culture curriculum. Last year was the sixth year, so this year she started over with her themes.
This year her theme was the Plains Indians and the Pony Express.
"This year we are looking at the Indians and people who came through here such as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Buffalo Calf Road Woman," Grant said. "Buffalo Calf Road Woman fought in the Rosebud battle and Little Bighorn. She was Northern Cheyenne and women would watch the battles from the side to cheer them on. When she saw her brother fall in battle, she went to the battlefield and retrieved him and then went back into the battle where some say her actions turned the battle in favor to the Cheyenne."
At the battle of Little Bighorn, Buffalo Calf Road Woman is credited by her tribe with the blow that knocked Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer off his horse before he died.
"She is one of the few women warriors we have a record of," Grant said. "There were not many, but there were some."
Grant said she is also teaching about the military being on the plains.
"Of course the Indians were exposed to the soldiers, but at first the soldiers didn't come to hurt the Indians because they were fathers, sons and brothers just like the Indians, but when confrontation came, the soldiers had to follow orders."
She said as pioneers came through, many did not adhere to the 10 mile boundary for hunting along the Overland Trail. This caused problems. Then the railroad came in and, with it, the slaughter of buffalo and other game. The Plains Indians found themselves fighting for food sources.
The Pony Express was in existence for 18 months. During that time, Grant said only one rider was killed by Indians. Ironically, the horse got away and went to the mail station with its bag.
"The Indians weren't interested in the mail, but they were interested in these fast running horses," Grant explained. "The horses and buffalo robes were their form of money, so to speak, and as the pony express riders came through here, the Indians would challenge themselves to get the horses. That is what our story is about today."
Grant is talking about a scenario where the students call out to the pony express rider to come, only to find out the rider has lost her horse to an Indian attack. The horseless rider explains to the students what happened and then she grabs the mail sack and rides off on another horse.
Earlier, students had written postcards to be delivered in their perspective towns. After the rider departed, the students would get their mail later in the day.
Ethan Hobbs, one of Grant's student teachers dressed as a soldier, tells of Sergeant Adolph Metzger, the company bugler who was at the battle of Fetterman where 100 soldiers lost their lives. Metzger did not fight, but used his bugle as a defensive weapon. He did not survive, but the Indians recognized he was never an attacker, so at the end of the battle, they placed a buffalo robe on his body to honor him.
The bugle that Metzger used to defend himself can be seen at the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum in Buffalo.
Grant has games along with lectures to teach about life in the past. The lesson on how to scrape hair off the buffalo hide is taken a step further by having students take the hairs and twining it to make a rope.
"Besides the class on how to spin the twine into rope, we have a class on tipi etiquette and we have clay animal footprints made by my teachers that we put all around so the kids can learn tracking," Grant said. "Then we are doing a class on Native American musical instruments with the drums, flutes, rattlers and shakers. We talk about how shells came out on the plains, because the Indians had a massive trade system throughout the United States."
Grant got interested in Native American culture when she adopted her daughter in Alaska. Her daughter had been born with fetal alcohol effects and, by fifth grade, she found school very difficult. Grant decided to home school.
"My son, who is two years younger, saw what we were doing and felt we were having too much fun, so he wanted to join in," Grant said. "When I went to teach American history, I wanted it to be enjoyable for both, so I decided to teach the history from a Native American point of view and that is where I got started."
When Grant moved to Elk Mountain, their house was on the trails of the pioneers coming through. She said the crossing many used is where her house stands. The building she lives in is one of the oldest in Elk Mountain.
She became interested in the local tribes and started talking to Native Americans and learning more and more.
"I was fortunate to run into people that knew people who knew I was interested and I got introduced to a lot of Indians and found the older ones wanted their culture shared," Grant said.
Grant kept learning from all sources and, being a teacher, wanted to impart the knowledge to the younger generation.
This is why she wants the children to be able to use as many senses as they can when being exposed to the different artifacts she puts on display.
Grant hopes that with every game, toy and chore she is developing life skills in each student.
The students that attend her rendezvous come away knowing more about Native American culture than when they first came. It is why not only schools from Carbon County visit her. Grant said she has schools from all over the state visit in addition to groups that are interested in the Plains Indian culture.
She was happy the weather was good for all the students this year.
"It was nice and warm this year and the kids could do more," Grant said. "We didn't have to rake snow like we have had to do sometimes in the past."
Grant said she loves how the children seem to enjoy their time at what she has set up for them.
"I always hope that the kids learn and have fun because these are skills we are losing in today's society," Grant said. "Just the simple skills of how to live versus them playing video games, which isn't necessarily bad, but they don't do the chores they used to have to do which taught them skills to become adults in the world."
The many students from all the schools turning in their postcards and getting the mail back at their town give them a real understanding of how this part of history operated. The young students learned skills they probably hadn't been exposed to before coming to Grant's rendezvous.
Grant gives thanks to the 10 student teachers that help throughout the lesson plans.
"I am really grateful to all the kids that come and help," Grant said. "Ellissa Heck, Haven Hendricks, Iyliemae Hobbs, Elliann Hobbs, Hannah Hobbs, Ethan Hobbs, Jared Hobbs, Sadie Hobbs and Elsie Hobbs deserve so much credit, because they are teaching most of the classes."
She said they have done an excellent job of conveying the material.
The smiles and happy faces during the whole day indicate Grant and her student teachers have done their job well on educating students on pioneer and Plains Indians history for another year.