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The City Journals

South Jordan Elementary fourth-graders experience life in the days of the mountain men

Sep 09, 2019 11:17AM ● By Julie Slama

South Jordan fourth-graders Ben Rencher, Jaron Painter and Owen Smith try to keep their buttons spinning on string as they learn about mountain man activities at their school’s annual rendezvous. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

South Jordan fourth-grader Eva Hardman thought it was “really cool to touch animal skins that are fluffy and nice.” Her classmate, Addison Echols, liked to arm and leg wrestle. Jake Rees liked to hammer designs into a leather necklace to wear.

“It’s been fun, with nonstop activities, and each station is better than the last,” said fourth grader Austen Abarr. “We’ve learned more about the wild west and mountain men. They were very innovative, resourceful and hard-working to survive in those times.”

South Jordan Elementary school’s annual mountain man rendezvous at the end of the school year is a favorite tradition for fourth graders and one that students ask their teachers about early each school year, said fourth grade teacher Kaye Flanery, who in her 29th year of teaching said “we’ve had the rendezvous as long as I can remember.”

“We teach Utah history from Native Americans and Father Escalante and Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and the beautiful territory where mountain men and trappers came to get rich from beaver pellets used for the top hats in the day to visiting the capitol and learning about Utah in our modern day,” she said. “We learned about the pioneers who came and stayed in this place we call home. We put it all together in a Utah program the students present, but then we have this day of games and activities where students actually begin to understand better what life was like during the time of mountain men.”

The day-long rendezvous included a button-and-string game, relays, arm and leg wrestling, a cow pie toss (or in this case, brown frisbee toss), a stick pull contest, making leather necklaces, a mountain man vocabulary bingo game, listening to tall tales and other activities.

Fourth grade teacher Sandy Clifford said it helped students understand the curriculum.

“We want them to have a better understanding what it was like with fun, hands-on approach,” she said. “It’s a culmination of everything we talked about this year, and it’s something that sticks with them. I had my son, who now is in his 20s, remember this when he came to this elementary.”

Her colleague, Carol Gwynn, reminded students that almost 200 years ago, in 1825, mountain men would hold rendezvous to trade their furs for supplies and money they needed for the year; Native Americans would trade beads and stories were exchanged.

“We still have rendezvous in Utah today, where people will come to share their experiences and learn about life,” she said. “Their impact still remains. Look around — Ogden is named for Peter Ogden, Provo for Etienne Provost, and even Cache Valley is named for where they stored furs and food.”

Fourth grade teacher Karrie Wardell said the students also study several tribes in the region — Goshute, Ute, Piute, Shoshone and Navajo, and learn some of their dances and music on the drums and flutes. 

“We gather together to tell and listen to those stories, sing, dance, do crafts and find creative ways to entertain,” she said. “Students are telling their own stories in nature scenes on leather, whether it’s about animals or the night sky with stars and the moon. They’re creative and at the same time, being competitive when it comes to stick pull and wrestling contests — all to entertain. We intermingle learning about Utah all year, especially with learning about the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point this year, but the rendezvous is always one that students look forward to and a favorite.”