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Murrell Home Curator David Fowler dressed in period costume to help visiting teachers understand more about the way of life in the 1860s. (CNHI News Service Photo by Teddye Snell)

In 2012, Oklahoma may not be considered part of the Old South, but at the height of the Civil War, the state played an integral part in the War Between the States.

This year, Oklahoma is set to commemorate the 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial, of the Civil War. The Oklahoma Historical Society recently provided teachers from all over the state with hands-on learning experiences they can carry back to their classrooms this fall.

“We hosted eight teachers from all over the state here at the Murrell Home,” said Amanda Pritchett, historical interpreter at the site. “They spent the morning in classroom sessions with guest speakers before taking a tour of the home and grounds in the afternoon.”

In all, 15 teachers were selected for the Oklahoma Civil War Sesquicentennial Teachers’ Institute. They explored non-traditional classroom civil war experiences, as well as field trips, interactive activities and other aspects of history they can share with students.

The institute provided lodging, food and a travel stipend for the week. Teachers received resource kits with classroom activities and lesson guides. Murrell Home Curator David Fowler dressed in period costume for the event, to help the teachers understand more about the way of life in the 1860s.

“I relate the historical information about the site, comparing it to the experiences children have today,” said Fowler. “Many kids can’t even conceive of living [without modern amenities], and I think it’s important the teachers are able to fully explain how things worked. After taking a tour of the home and all the grounds, we brought them back in to churn butter.”

Toni Keener-Gordon teaches sixth- through eighth-grade special education at Briggs School, and said despite the heat, she thoroughly enjoyed the week.

“I learned lots of things I didn’t know that existed in my own backyard,” said Keener-Gordon. “I mean, I had some general knowledge, but really learned some in-depth material I hadn’t had before.”

As she prepares to return to the classroom, Keener-Gordon is reviewing the institute’s material.

“The materials they provided us for the classroom were really useful,” she said. “I’ve already had the information out, reviewing it and plan to use it in my lessons. There are also some re-enactment events I would love to take my students to that are really inexpensive, if not free. Plus, the historical society has [additional material] that can be checked out for use in the classroom.”

During their visit, the group had dinner at Owen School, and toured other historical Park Hill sites, including Ross Cemetery.

Cherokee Heritage Center Educator Rebecca Adair also participated in the institute, and said she thoroughly enjoyed the training.

“We went to Fort Gibson, where we toured the fort and the magazine, which is the historical museum there,” said Adair. “My main focus was on gleaning ideas, as the Cherokee Heritage Center plans to provide our own teacher enrichment program in the future.”

The Oklahoma Historical Society, with support from the Oklahoma Humanities Council, hosted the institute. It was held in the field around several important landmarks of the war, including the Murrell Home, Fort Gibson, Honey Springs, Northeastern State University and the Cherokee Nation Courthouse Square.

“One of the things we’ll focus on here at the Heritage Center is the relationship between the Cherokees and the Civil War,” Adair said. “We had a lot of interaction with Oklahoma Historical Society volunteers, as well as sessions with guest speakers from NSU’s history department, plus intensive on-site explanations. When we introduce our teacher enrichment program, it will be good to have that  working relationship with the people we met.”

Adair said despite living in the heart of Cherokee culture, she learned a lot of new information.

“We had a Civil War exhibit here at the Heritage Center, ‘Brother Against Brother,’ but just to visit the actual sites we had in the exhibit was really nice,” Adair said.

Snell writes for the Tahlequah Daily Press.

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