Summer is the perfect time to indulge in little adventures and among my favorite are times shared with granddaughters Sophia and Karina. Even though I now work with young adults, I will always think like an early elementary teacher, and summer creates the perfect space to augment or strengthen the girls’ contextual learning in advance of their late August leap into the first and third grades.
Great excuse to visit the Autry National Center of the American West, also called “The Autry Museum,” but I wondered if it would offer anything of interest to them.
When I was their age my school years and formal education were filled with the language of Manifest Destiny and Conquest, rather skewed history fueled more by images from popular culture and television westerns than actual timelines and events.
Our trusted friend Wikipedia reminds, “A western television show is a television series which takes place in the Old West and involves cowboys, cattle ranchers, miners, farmers, Native Americans, Spaniards, swords, guns and horses. It was the most popular genre of TV show in the 1950s and 1960s, when several hundred were aired.” I watched more than a few. I doubt Sophia and Karina have seen even one.
The Autry opened in 1988, the vision and direction coming from Gene Autry, ‘America’s Favorite Singing Cowboy,’ and Monte Hale, American B-Western film star and country musician. With the focus on western heritage, the museum’s holdings fulfill Autry’s mission of showing how the West “influenced America and the world.”
We enjoyed a lively conversation as the girls wondered what it would be like to leave the comfort and familiarity of home to travel by covered wagon across the country to an unknown territory. We looked at saddle bags from the Pony Express era and asked the question, “Do you think when the first Pony Express riders left Missouri for California they could imagine that 155 years later people would be sending messages and letters without paper?”
The girls indulged my questions and attempts to stimulate thinking, but in the end, they are two little city girls. A life-sized replica of a horse still puts a smile on their face. I’m so glad they aren’t too sophisticated for that!
I treaded lightly, but couldn’t completely side-step the questions about “robbers” and the general lawlessness of the new frontier!
They can read, so it didn’t take them long to figure out that the “wild, wild west” had its violence and I learned they didn’t know the word “outlaw,” but did relate to the word “criminal. ”
We shared a lively discussion about Billy the Kid and Black Bart, but without sharing the more sensational details there wasn’t much interest, I don’t think, and I was also relieved they were more fascinated with standing behind bars than looking right behind them. They didn’t seem to notice the enlarged archival photo of the entire Dalton Gang dead and laid out in a row following a failed bank robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas, 1892.
The Autry has a very extensive firearms collection highlighting the history of pistols, shotguns and rifles, and although undoubtedly there is a lot we could learn about weaponry, my learning curve is too steep to even think about trying…
…and the girls have no firsthand exposure to firearms of any kind. I looked for anything we might talk about.
One of my laugh-outloud moments came while showing them the intricate tooling on leather holsters. They could see where the pistol would fit in the holster, but what were those loops along the belt?
There weren’t any bullets in the display cases but I coaxed them towards thinking “ammunition.” After some thinking, Karina suggested the holster loops were for “lasers,” and Sophia guessed “bombs.” There are so many things to learn in life.
Since visiting the Autry, Sophia has developed quite an appetite for reading from a great series of books that teach children about what it would have been like to live in different historical periods. “If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon” is just one title in a great series of books, providing excellent learning context.
And speaking of context, I was interested in this particular display.
We quickly passed by costumes worn by John Wayne, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and then I stopped, interested in items of modern western wear once worn by Michael Jackson.
As I paused, behind me came the question, “Who’s Michael Jackson?”