Tag Archives: rural Oklahoma

Adolescent Relationship Skills on a Historical Handcart Trek

by Kelly Roberts

Educational legacies and the encompassing culture

School legend buzz passed down from varsity level big brothers or sisters to elementary siblings is a powerful thing.  By the time the eldest child in a family gets through their K-12 education, the rest know what to expect. And regardless if the information is exact or not, it still helps.  It helps the younger children set their expectations. They learn a person can actually survive high school regardless of their fear of the unknown. They learn about the teachers, the environment, the traditions, the rivalries and the territory.

And in complementary fashion, the school learns about the students.  The staff learns the younger siblings are “connected” to former students of earlier years.  The faculty get to know the parents, the family style, the support structures and unique characteristics.  They gain an understanding of a given family legacy.

If a multiple sibling lineage isn’t in place, however, traditional school buzz is still passed along.  Sometimes parents of single children share stories.  Neighborhood children have “teaching” times where they fill in the new kid on the block regarding the school scoop.  And sometimes, the teachers even fill this role themselves.  They might share with a new group of students “what was done before,” or examples of “prior rituals or ideas from former years.”  In other words – an educational culture is developed and propitiated by those who manage it, who progress through it, and who contribute to its support.

Group trekking across the open praire, pulling their handcarts as they go

 

But educational cultures don’t just happen in schools.  They develop within families themselves, extra-curricular venues, and within spiritual formal or activity-based settings.  We’ll call this type of education a “naturally occurring” learning system: a system that has been in place for a period of time, that’s accepted by a group or society and is expected based upon precedent.

Naturally occurring lessons are a comfortable and “natural” way to learn about life…and in this post, lifetime relationships.

Such is the case with the Hand Cart Trail excursions planned, managed, populated and supported by families and teens within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Or, as the members of the culture refer to themselves: The “LDS.”  The history, traditions, rituals and legacies woven into the fabric of these Hand Cart Trails encompasses many educational threads.

These teens were given a baby to protect as they navigated the trails

 

Another essay could be written about character qualities such as determination, planning or leadership.  However, this one is about relationship education for the participating LDS teens.

These Hand Cart Trails provide a three day “workshop” for much of what is needed to prepare for intimate partnerships in the future of those who make the trek.  One location for these journeys taking place is right here in northeastern Oklahoma…on an 80,000 acre Pawhuska ranch owned by the Sooner Cattle Company.

History of the Hand Cart Trails

People of the Mormon faith used handcarts to move their belongings and supplies across the U.S. in the mid 1800s as they made their journey toward Salt Lake City.  There were many hardships, joys and challenges experienced along these treks. As part of a historically based “coming of age” transition into adolescence, LDS groups across the U.S. now re-enact the Handcart Treks.  Included in these 3 or 4 day journeys are games, lessons and activities.  However, the learning many times takes on a life of it’s own.  Relationship education lessons are taught to hundreds of LDS adolescents although the concepts are never named as such.

Lessons Learned on the Trail

The open prarie terrain can get rough, and pulling the hand carts is no easy task

 

The learning context for these teens is hard core.  One thing you’ll notice by the photos is that the participants don period dress for the journey.  Although treks can take place at various times of the year, the featured excursion happened in early summer and temperatures hit the 90s…or higher.  And, just as their ancestors did years ago, those involved pull the handcarts by hand across the bumpy bunches of Love and Native prairie grasses for three full days.

The terrain is rough, the wind is hot, the clothes are heavy…and a few of the lessons taken in are detailed in the following text, along with the explanation of how they are delivered:

The role of mentors – New experiences such as this particular trek can throw adolescents for a loop.  Although they are equipped with the energy and the attitudes to accomplish the task before them, they have not yet covered the territory.  The mothers, fathers, or community leaders accompanying them on the journey have.  The proper supplies to pack, contingency planning, expectations for particular parts of the journey, and how to set the pace are all lessons the mentors have previously learned.  And, as they hand over that knowledge to those who have never made the trip, they also build relationships with the teens.

As the teens learn to trust the mentors, they learn they are readily accessible resources for life wisdom beyond the open prairie.  Therefore, when rough patches come along in the future, the teens will have already had a history of working with mentors – seeking out advice while navigating the bumps along the proverbial future-marriage trail.

Negotiations of Responsibilities

In order for any large operation to be successful, there is a dividing up and a negotiation of various roles and responsibilities.  If someone in charge of water neglects their duties, the group suffers.  If someone in charge of repairs isn’t providing regular maintenance checks on the carts and equipment, the group could later be halted until repairs are made.  If the cooks aren’t prepared, then the group isn’t energized for the next leg of the trek.

Roles and responsibilities are one of the twelve core areas marriage preparatory education should cover (Olsen & Olsen-Sigg, 2000).  Practicing under the big sky…and being successful…lays the groundwork for future hope of success.

Fun and Friendship

One of the major components of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) is a lesson entitled “Fun and Friendship” (Stanley, Markman & Jenkins, 2004).  So how did this particular group experience a little fun on the grueling, sweltering trail?  Well, it so happens that they came upon a river just about the time they felt they couldn’t go any further.

A young pioneer rests in the shade after cooling off in the river

 

If you know anything about teens on a hot day with a water source around, you know what happened next.  Was this supported by the mentors?  Absolutely.  They joined in as well.

Will they teens remember this?  Absolutely.  Will they remember that they adults joined in the fun?  I’m not sure, but their instincts may remember.  At some point when things get tough in their future marriages and they see a “river” ahead, instinctively taking the option to jump in could be enough to kick-start their relationship with relief and renewal.  Resting together doesn’t hurt either.

Empathetic Response Toward Each Other

One of the most intense and “grown up” lessons learned on the trail took place as a surprise to the members who were on their first trek.  As happens in traditional “ropes courses” during a team building exercise, there are certain elements that have a high level of difficulty.  The trail was no different.

About half-way through day two, the group encountered an exceptionally steep drop of approximately 75-100 feet down the face of a ridge in order to continue on their journey.  And…they there was an equal rise to go back up on the other side…to get through the entire area and back onto the trail.

It took all the energy, ingenuity and resourcefulness the group could muster to move the entire cart train down the face and back up again.  They struggled, problem solved and stopped to rest when they could balance the carts in a safe place…all the while facing the reality that if someone slipped or stumbled, it could impact many others in front or behind them.

Cavalry commissioning males into the Morman Battalion. Yes, the guy looks like Wilford Brimley.

 

As the last of the group pulled up and over the second ridge, they were met by soldiers dressed in Cavalry uniforms.  It was quiet on the prairie as the sweating and exhausted pioneers waited to see what was going to happen.  The answer was unexpected, as was the next set of instructions.

The leader of the Cavalry told the group that all the men must go with them immediately – that they had been called into service and they needed to report right away.  With hardly time to say goodbye, they were urged to leave “at once.”

Receiving instructions at the point the Cavalry met the group.

 

Even worse, the women were instructed that they couldn’t keep the cart train in the high place they were currently positioned.  They would have to turn around and cover the exact terrain they had just navigated without the men.

A description provided by one of the fathers on the trail filled in details of what emotions the young men began experiencing at that point.  His daughter filled in the gaps with the perspective of the women left behind…

From the men’s perspective: They knew how difficult the journey had just been for the entire group.  Their thoughts immediately turned toward their female counterparts.  They worried about them taking the entire train back up and down the ridge.  They worried about how they would manage the tasks they had been assigned.  They worried about their safety.  It was difficult for them to think about their own responsibilities – to protect their territory and hold their commissioned position, when they knew that their counterparts had just taken on twice the load as they had before the change in plans.

Their empathetic response toward those they had befriended on the trail was nurtured.  And, they were able to talk about their struggles with the older mentors who were at their side.

From the female’s perspective: Although the Cavalry commission was “pretend,” the females experienced at least a portion of what it might be like to say goodbye to a partner who might not return – who was leaving on a call of duty and may face danger or challenges unknown. It wasn’t real, but they could imagine what it must feel like for their male counterparts to face life-threatening work.  Again – the empathetic responses toward those they had befriended on the trail was nurtured.  And, they were able to talk about their struggles with the older female mentors who were at their side.

The women also experienced overwhelming feelings of not being able to accomplish their challenge at hand.  When they watched half their group leave, and arguably the physically stronger half, the situation seemed daunting – maybe impossible.

Women pulling carts back up the ridge to safety.

 

At this point, the oldest female on the trail rallied the troupes.  She gave them what was basically a vigorous pep talk.  She said, “Well ladies – come on!  We know what we have to do, so let’s get to it.  We can do this…I know we can.  YOU can do this!”  To look upon a mentor three or even four times their age and see the confidence conveyed was evidently a powerful thing for the young women.

They figured out what they needed to do, they reassigned responsibilities, they grabbed the handcarts…and with every ounce of strength left in their bodies they returned the entire train to a safer place for camp.

Summary

Naturally occurring family life education happens every day.  The Hand Cart Treks provide three challenging days full of memorable experiences that include all the lessons detailed here, and many more.

This article isn’t a scientific analysis of the efficacy of naturally occurring relationship education.  It is, however, an illustration of one of the many ways this phenomenon happens.  And, as many varieties there are of groups and cultures that exist, there are ways in which this education can be delivered.  So my question for you is this: Where in your own community can you help instill or enhance life changing relationship education for the adolescents in your life?

If you come to an answer, then I encourage you to rally the troupes, make the plans, negotiate the roles and set out on the trail to make it happen.  You never know when you’ll meet a river, or be called into duty during your adventure.

Happy trails!

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch: “Not So” Hidden Treasures

I’ve had a pair of  “his and hers” bright canary yellow satin Western shirts in a picture frame on my wall since my mom gave them to me as a housewarming gift in 2006.  Odd gift, right?  They belonged to my great grandparents.

Main Street in Minco, Oklahoma (circa 1950)
Ben and Nancy Barr ride their paint horses down Main Street in Minco, Oklahoma during the 1950's.

With the help of a few black and white pictures and a phone call, pieces of the story have slowly come together over the years.  My great grandparents participated in a rodeo club around Minco, Oklahoma in the 1950’s.  They rode in parades and rodeos in small towns around the state.  At some point, they were too old to ride, so the horses were probably sold.  It has been said that my great grandmother kept her custom-made saddle carefully hidden under her bed, a reminder of a special time in her life. The saddle was one of her last memories of the horse it belonged to before she finally sold it too.

The pictures are black and white, but I can see the beautiful patterns on the paint horses my great grandparents rode.  I envision the horses to be black and white, and I can only imagine how spectacular they both looked in those canary yellow shirts trotting down Main Street.  The smell is there too. That’s right.  Tobacco from a pipe smoked my great grandfather, Ben Barr.

I have been told that I am a lot like her.  We both love all animals, and I am just discovering my love for gardening.  However, there is one way we are different. The treasures she left for me are not hidden under the bed.  They are displayed prominently in random places around my house where I can use them or enjoy them daily.   The reminders are not painful.  They are happy.  A history.

My history.

The shirts came out of the frame last night, and we rode into the Boots And Spurs Ball like we were on those paints.   I am not sure I will ever have the opportunity to ride in a parade or carry a flag in the opening ceremony of a rodeo, but I can wear a canary yellow shirt.  My husband can wear one too.

And we did.

Yellow Western Shirts
Julie and Greg Allgyer sport her great grandparents' Western shirts at the Boots and Spurs Ball, a benefit for Special Trails.

Beyond Red

by The Howard

*Disclaimer: All facts reported in this article may only be facts to me and could have nothing at all to do with actual history.

You could say that I grew up in the red hills of northwest Oklahoma between Buffalo and May.  I never actually lived there, but have spent a lot of time in the area and have occasional, random opportunities to go back.  Not as often as in the past, but on occasion I get, or take, the opportunity to go.

Take last Memorial Day for instance.  My brother and I took off the Thursday prior and ran the gauntlet of Waynoka, Buffalo and Laverne leaving silk petals behind as we went.  We had a great time – took along my tattered Atlas & Gazetteer in an effort to get from place to place and back home again without straying onto a highway.

We weren’t completely successful missing the highways but we sure killed a lot of time!

My latest northwestern jaunt was for business to an area south of Gate, Oklahoma.  I’m assuming Gate is so-named because it is just inside the Oklahoma Panhandle, serving as the gate to “No Man’s Land.”

You have to love a place called “No Man’s Land.”  Texas didn’t want this 38-mile wide, narrow strip of land.  Kansas was restricted by geography and treaty from claiming it.  So, it was pinned onto the collective of unassigned lands fated to become Oklahoma.

What I found south of Gate was surprising and a little irritating. At least for a while.

You see, for at least 120 feet below the ground surface there is nothing red.  No “redbed” as the old-timers like to call the red shales and sandstones.  No red silts or sands such as what comprises the red hills outside Buffalo.  No red clays like those that cover much of the state.  Just light brown sand, gravel and a little bit of gray clay.

This geological footprint makes for an interesting drive; it’s like the undiscovered Little Sahara.  There are what appear to be hills but on closer inspection are discovered to be sand dunes rolling right into the Beaver River.  And the visage of these sage covered sand dunes…I couldn’t help but be reminded of Teletubby Land.  My son loves it when I sing the Teletubby song.  He’s now twelve years old, and was never as big a fan of the Tubbies as I.

I didn’t actually see a child’s face in the blazing hot sun (as in Teletubby Land), but after prolonged exposure I’m sure I heard giggling!

Laurie's Cafe in Gate, Oklahoma

By the way, if you ever go through Gate, stop for a cheeseburger at the local café.  They’re pretty good; I’ve had several over the course of two weeks.  And the special on Thursdays is fried chicken.  It must be good because it’s the only building within, say, thirty miles that has more than four people in it.  Every table is filled on Thursdays!

Driving home from these sage-covered dunes, I began to ponder red dirt and the Red Dirt Chronicles.  Oklahoma isn’t all red dirt but red dirt is a common bond.  It is a bond that’s unites us in this geopolitical jigsaw puzzle called Oklahoma.

I think about all the eco-diversity in Oklahoma…I believe we have six distinct eco-regions, depending upon which source you read.  Beyond red, we are a diverse mixture of urban and rural cultures and backgrounds.  But we are united by the wind and the red dirt carried upon it.

It’s good to explore Oklahoma!