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Learning about life in 1800s
Existence in Willows in the early days was rough, tough and oftentimes unhealthy.
It was a lesson learned by Murdock Elementary School fourth-grade students on Wednesday, when they stood at the gravesites in a small pioneer cemetery in Clarks Valley.
Most of the headstones, dating back to the mid-1800s, marked the graves of children all under age 10 when they died.
Lewis, Henry and Annice Small died within a few weeks of each other in July 1876, presumably from diphtheria, the leading cause of death in children until the early part of the 20th century.
"It's pretty sad that people died so young," said Brandon Coats, 9.
The ranch has been in former Glenn County Supervisor Dick Mudd's family since the 1880s, when his great-great grandfather purchased the land from the Small family.
The family, whose remains are buried in the well-preserved pioneer cemetery at the ranch, owned most of the land west of present day Willows.
"One of the graves is a baby, just 1-month-old," said Xitlalitl Rodriguez, a student in Susan Cameron's class. "It's very sad that these people died, especially a baby."
Wednesday's adventure to the ranch is a complement to Murdock's California history curriculum.
Mudd has invited the school the last eight years to help the past come alive for students.
"The kids always seem to enjoy it," Mudd said. "It's gets them out of Dodge, so to speak, and gives them an opportunity to learn a little about history."
At the ranch, students explored Mudd's 150-year-old barn, with its wooden pegs still holding the large planks of wood that form its interior.
"You don't see barns like this anymore," said Mudd, pointing to planks of wood — cut with an ax and a cross-cut saw — and aged so hard you couldn't drive a nail through them.
At the ranch, students also learned about the life of the pioneers including the tools they used, food they hunted and their lack of medical care and luxury.
"The good old days weren't so good as they are now," said Bob Griffith, who along with wife, Georgia, taught the students about health, hygiene and nutrition of the early pioneers.
Students also tried goat tying (on stuffed animals), listened to western poetry by local poet Ginger Holzapfel, and identified the skulls, bones and skins of common wild animals, like bear, mountain lions and raccoons.
"This is a great experience," said Skylee Townley, 9. "We get to see how people lived back in the old days."
Activities and presentations were designed to give students a boost in history, health, language, geometry, nature, reading comprehension and critical thinking skills, said retired teacher Jill Egly, who has organized the event since its beginning.
Egly said students have always enjoyed the day, and that the volunteer presenters make the subject matter come alive with humor and enthusiasm.
"I don't think the students realize what wonderful, talented people we have in our own community," Egly said.
The event is made possible trough donations from Lundberg Family Farms, Larry and Ellen Pastorino, Glenn-Colusa CattleWomen, E.E. Wilson and Dr. Art Neves.
"This is a yearly tradition" said longtime teacher Jan Beaufait. "We love it. If we were not to have this event, it would be missed greatly."