Campers go back in time at Jefferson College

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 10, 2009

NATCHEZ — Emily Hootsell sat straight- lipped concentrating on her next move. The normally smiling, laughing 10-year-old shed her giggly exterior because she knew that a quarter inch to the left or a quarter inch to the right would mean defeat.

But Hootsell wasn’t playing the latest video game or computer game. She was engaged in a friendly game of pick-up sticks with her friends Katie Wheat and Akyia Washington.

The girls left the comfort of air conditioning and conveniences of television and computers to enjoy a week of stepping back in time during Historic Jefferson College’s annual Pioneer Camp.

Email newsletter signup

Jefferson College has hosted the camp each year since the 1980s to give children a taste of life in the early 1800s.

And Hootsell and Wheat seemed to fit pretty well into that lifestyle. The second-year campers both said they couldn’t imagine going through the summer without the chance to attend Pioneer Camp.

“The teachers are good, and we get to do a lot of cool stuff,” Wheat said. “The animal molds are my favorite. Sometimes they come out easy, but sometimes you really have to get in there and dig.”

Hootsell agreed making molds of animal footprints was fun, but couldn’t decide on a favorite activity. After making bread earlier in the day, Hootsell said that was her favorite activity because “you get to see how hard it was for them, and we got to get our hands in and touch the dough.”

But after a thrilling game of graces and a tense came of pick-up sticks, she had a change of heart.

“I changed my mind. My favorite thing is the games,” she said. “And the horse was really fun too.”

So far the campers have made bread the old-fashioned way, met Rio the mustang and played classic children’s games like ball and cup, croquet, pick-up sticks, graces — a game where two people face each other and using two wooden sticks toss a small hoop back and forth.

In the next few days the campers will learn to cook over a campfire, do animal track molds, hear some fiddling and have a watermelon-seed-spitting contest.

But as enticing as those activities sound, there is one other event on the schedule that has camper Gaitlyn Williams, 11, smiling.

“The tomahawk throwing, that is my favorite,” he said. “You get to use an axe and throw it at wood. I don’t normally get to do that.”

And that is the exact purpose of the camp according to camp director and Jefferson College Historian Kay McNeil.

“We are changing the mindset of these kids,” she said.

“Letting them know that other people before them enjoyed life without all the conveniences we have now.”