Oregon Trail Days ‘Pioneer Village’ is Hands-On History for the Whole Family


What is a cedar shake?

Bob Hill, organizer of the Tenino Pioneer Village and member of the South Thurston County Historical Society, knew many young folks in Tenino didn’t know the answer to that question.

Shakes are shingles used on barn roofs and they were created with a “froe,” also called a shake axe, which is a blade designed to split cedar blocks into thin wood pieces. In the 1800s, each individual shake was painstakingly split off until there was enough for an entire roof.

Hill was looking to get more young people involved in history and decided hands-on learning was the way to do it. Twelve years ago during the Tenino Oregon Trail Days, he took a cedar block and a froe, and sat out in the park showing kids how to use it.

“If you get an 8-year-old who struggles to pull it back and finally, boom, he pops (the shake) off, not all of them, but with some of them you say, ‘now, your great-great-grandfather might have done a thousand of those to put on a barn,’” Hill said. “With some of them, it clicks as to how hard they had to work back in 1850.”

Though the event has snowballed into a festival in its own right, the idea at its heart is the same over a decade later. Free hands-on activities are modeled after the methods of the pioneers in order to get children involved with and excited about history.

It takes Hill the better part of a year to organize the event. To keep the Pioneer Village free, activity coordinators must volunteer their entire weekend, all the materials and all their energy toward creating a positive learning environment.

“I need a minimum of 40 people to run this thing. If you were running it, you’d be stretching the limits of every friend you could possibly think of and that’s the truth,” Hill said. “I am careful because if you come, you need to care for people. You need to be willing to work with them.”

This year, the Pioneer Village will take place on Friday, July 23 to Sunday, July 25. Activities go from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

The village has booths with every pioneer craft imaginable, including blacksmithing, stone carving, wood working, rope making, dutch oven cooking and more. The village, which is held outside the Tenino Train Depot, will involve the museum building and the Ticknor one-room schoolhouse on Saturday and Sunday. Wooden money printing in the museum will be held Saturday to Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. There will also be a Historic Tour of Tenino on a hay wagon on Saturday at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., led by city historian Richard Edwards.

Whatever participants create, they can take home with them. And best of all, they’ll take home a new understanding of pioneer history.

“It’s our pleasure to try to get kids to connect with old history,” Hill said.