FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — Hartford is a small town with a big history, celebrated every year by the children of Hartford Elementary School through living museum day.
For the fourth annual living museum day, six stations offered Hartford children tours through different aspects of state and local history, themed around famous outlaws of the past.
The first stop, the W.J. Hamilton Memorial Museum, offered the most raucous demonstrations: Mock trials of Arkansas' most famous outlaws in Judge Isaac Parker's court. Val Harp's class of Hartford second-graders performed the roles of such bandits as Belle and Henry Starr, Cherokee Bill and The Dalton Gang, as well as numerous friends and family of the accused.
"I'm not much of an outlaw, but I'm playing Belle Starr," laughed second-grader Lauren Sweeten, adding that playing her part in front of the rotating classes was fun. As Lauren twirled her Belle Starr-inspired skirt, Harp explained that through an Economics Arkansas grant, she was able to purchase the many authentic costumes.
This is the first year the school has done an outlaw theme, said Harp, but the students still learned an important lesson about economics by quickly deciding times must have been tough if so many people resorted to crime.
As classes rotated through the museum to see the mock trials, they shouted and squealed their verdicts: "Guilty!" and "Not guilty!" echoed through the museum.
Parents took pictures of their bandit children, and friends cheered to free their classmates — even the historically infamous ones.
Abby Masters played Maggie Glass, a character witness for Cherokee Bill, and left the stand to a round of applause, the Southwest Times Record reported (http://is.gd/nAaP32).
"She has a little bit of attitude," laughed Abby. "I like that."
After convictions had been leveled against all the outlaws on trial, the Shankle Sisters and Weaver Family formed the Hartford Quartet, singing classic gospel songs from Hartford's glory days as the home of gospel music from the Hartford Music Company. The quartet sang a medley of gospel classics, including "I'll Fly Away" and "Victory in Jesus," both of which have roots in Hartford.
"Hartford is where gospel music started," said Foye Jean Shankle of the Hartford Quartet. "This went all over the world, and people still sing from this town all over the world.
"We're here to commemorate and teach the young people where gospel music came from," she added. "We want to keep the heritage alive."
Two doors down, veterans explained the importance of the flag and how to care for it, while across the street, students watched Curtis Varnell perform science experiments.
On the school campus, students learned about food, travel and weapons of the Wild West.
Riders in Christ carried groups of students on wagon rides, explaining how pioneers traveled across the country. Children cheered from the backs of the covered wagons, bouncing over the gravel drive. Under a large shade tree, three horses and a donkey wore saddles, and nervous children were offered the chance to ride a horse, many for the first time.
In Hartford School's agriculture building, Melissa Johnson of the Soil Conservation Office in Fort Smith showed students the effort pioneers put into making cornbread. As machines ground kernels from the cob and then ground those kernels to cornmeal, Johnson asked the students if they could imagine putting this much effort into making cornbread.
To shaking heads, she laughed and asked how many students liked cornbread and beans. Hands shot up around the room.
"Tacos?" she asked, and more hands went up.
"Doritos?" and every hand raised excitedly. Though not stocked with Doritos, Johnson did offer each student a piece of authentic cornbread, much to their delight, bringing a tasty finish to their history lesson.
Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/
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