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Archive for Wednesday, August 18, 1999

S DIRTY SECRET

August 18, 1999

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Children returned to Lawrence's roots by digging in the dirt and mud Tuesday morning.

Beware, border ruffians and Missourians who would steal into Lawrence on horseback to loot and pillage: Aaron Tilden, 8, and other Jayhawkers are prepared.

Wearing his Junior Jayhawks T-shirt, shorts and a pair of heavy boots, Aaron joined 14 other children Tuesday morning in the dirt and the mud by the Kansas River to build a mud fort to guard against invading marauders.

The dirty activity, part of the fourth annual "Civil War on the Western Frontier" program, taught the children about steps early Lawrence residents took to defend themselves.

"I think it was a lot funner a long time ago, and a lot more dangerous," Aaron said.

Why was it fun?

"You got messy," said the Quail Run School student, covered in smudges of dried mud.

Rowan Cook, 6, wore his "Colorado Red Dirt" T-shirt, complete with the motto, "Get Dirty!"

He did.

"You get dirty when you build a mud fort," Rowan said.

Using wagons, the children ferried buckets of mud to the two forts, where "mud daubers" slapped it on the sloping circular walls fortified with boards and sticks. Others dug in the center of the 10-foot fort.

The forts, still standing for public view, are between the Kansas River and the railroad tracks in Constant Park. They are modest by 1850s standards. In 1855, a similar fort, 100 feet in diameter, stood at Sixth and Massachusetts. The walls were up to 10 feet thick at the bottom, and 6 feet thick at the top, said Karl Gridley, Lawrence stonemason and historian who helped sling the mud Tuesday.

"I think they gave them a modest sense of security," Gridley said. "It was all they had to work with in those days. There was a lot of mud."

The mud ramparts were never tested, although in 1856 border ruffians burned the Free State Hotel (later known as the Eldridge House and then the Eldridge Hotel) and plunged newspaper presses into the Kansas River.

Meris Barnes, 9, said she enjoyed digging in the dirt and hauling buckets of mud.

"I think it's more fun to actually do what people have done," Meris said about the learning activity.

Katie Armitage, a local historian who helped lead the building of the mud forts, said children can learn more about history by using all of their senses instead of by limiting learning to books.

"I think it's really important, because if we're going to have anybody interested in history in the future, you have to start with the children," Armitage said.

The annual Civil War history program continues today with "Hearts and Hands: Life on the Home Front During the Civil War," a free program at 7:30 p.m. at the Eldridge Hotel. "John Brown of Kansas: Saint or Sinner?" will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the hotel, Seventh and Massachusetts.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is ckoger@ljworld.com.

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