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Fort Totten sets annual event for kids

About this time in September for 26 years, Fort Totten has come alive with hundreds of school kids learning about life at the military post during the late 19th century. The State Historical Society of North Dakota opens the grounds to youngsters in September to help young people get acquainted with the Native American culture, military life, and learn some of the old ways people lived more than a century ago. At 9 a.m. Monday, it starts for 2018.

Children from schools in the Devils Lake and Grand Forks areas as well as some schools farther south have taken school buses there for a day of interactive learning. Students from Jamestown have participated as volunteers as well as visitors.

Peighton Walker, 12, daughter of Kevin and Amy Walker of Jamestown, spent the day last year at Fort Totten helping her granddad do a frontier soldier demonstrations, which, along with additional hours of volunteer work, earned her the SHSND's 2018 Youth Volunteer Award.

Not every 11 year old who attends Living History Days will wind up earning a state award the next year, but it does set a precedent for getting kids interested in history at an early age. It's why the SHSND sponsors School Days and Living History days at its parks and monuments. Education, where students get hands-on experience, is important for learning, especially in the virtual world of 2018.

There are demonstrations of weaving, outdoor cooking, military marching, Native American dancing, frontier soldier life, blacksmithing, and any number of fun and educational activities for kids. Chuck Keller, a CPA doing volunteer work for the SHSND, gives the kids a hands-on military experience marching on the field using wooden rifles. He's not promoting guns, but like the Pow Pow, he's allowing them to experience history where it happened.

Jamestown's Steve Reidburn, site aupervisor for the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse, gives a demonstration of a soldier's life in the camp. Youngsters get to sample some of the hard tack and other crude survival foods military men carried with them when on a battlefield.

The clothing of the era is also a huge hit with the youngsters. Not being accustomed to wearing wool garments in the heat of summer, they usually express disdain for the coarse weaves, long skirts, high-waisted trousers, leather boots and long sleeves.

The site is one of the oldest in the state. It was constructed as a military reservation and used as such from 1867 to 1890. From 1890 it became a boarding school for Indian children and a healthcare facility. Over the years it saw many different activities inside the compound. Between 1890 and 1935, it was an Indian boarding school. After that, it was a tuberculosis "preventarium" until 1939. Fort Totten became a SHSND site in 1960 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Teachers can contact Lisa Alberts, Assistant Site Supervisor at lalberts@nd.gov to get more information about this year's or 2019's Living History Day. Usually there are between 400-800 youngsters who attend, bring their lunch, join in seminars and demonstration, do various military, Native American and civilian activities during their day. Living North Dakota's history is what it's about.

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