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New Mexico State public history class brings 1889 Las Cruces to life

New Mexico State University students have encouraged more than 200 elementary school children to experience history through a time travel to 1889 Las Cruces, said Jon Hunner, director of the public history program.



Retta Bedenbaugh, left, an undergraduate history major at New Mexico State University, shows College Heights Preschool students, from left, Logan Tunnell, 3, Tanner Hayes, 3, and Galina Kelly, 4, how to churn butter during a "time travel" event hosted..

ity students in Hunner's "Guiding Heritage Tours" class researched people and events of 1889 Las Cruces and brought them to life with the intent of educating children. Hunner said that by the end of the spring semester the class will have conducted eight time travels. The children participate in activities such as churning butter, washing clothes and making adobe bricks.


New Mexico State graduate student Scott Green portrays Pat Garrett, who in 1889 was between law enforcement jobs and was serving as superintendent of the Pecos Valley Irrigation and Investment Co. Green said Garrett was visiting Las Cruces in an attempt to sell land in the area. Green is able to answer questions about Garrett's life up to 1889 and often fields questions about the death of Billy the Kid.

Retta Bedenbaugh, an undergraduate student majoring in history, portrays Dena Lloyd, who is a composite of many homesteader wives. As she assists with the butter churning, she shares with the children aspects of the life of an 1889 Las Crucen. She said this was excellent training for her because she wants to work for the National Park Service after graduation.

Summer Haro, a graduate student in history, said she has had fun with the class. She portrays Anna Fruedenthal Soloman, whose family settled in the area and owned a large mercantile store. Haro and the other students did most of their character research at the Rio Grande Historical Collection archives. She said it was fascinating to read the journals and papers of the Fruedenthal family.

New Mexico State undergraduate student Amy Beer portrays Susan McSween, another visitor to Las Cruces whose name is familiar to children from the Lincoln County War. Beer's daughter, Sasha, has also donned 1889 apparel and participated in the time travel event.

Peter Friesen, a graduate student in public history, said he selected his character -- John Newbrough, a religious prophet who started a utopian society for orphans called the Shalam Colony nine miles north of Las Cruces -- because the "guy's bizarre." Friesen said he likes to study "non-mainstream history."

Hunner joins his students in the living history event by portraying Col. Albert Fountain, a key political figure in Las Cruces. Fountain, a lawyer, was well known for defending Billy the Kid and going after cattle rustlers, Hunner said. Fountain also helped pass the legislation that created New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now New Mexico State University.

Hunner became interested in creating a time travel experience for students during his 2000-2001 sabbatical leave in Vaxjo, Sweden, where he worked with Vaxjo University to establish a public history program.

He participated in a detailed time travel experience program and said it was an excellent way to gain an understanding of historical places and people. Hunner has received grants from the Southwest and Border Cultures Institute and the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance to expand the program in the fall.

He said he would like for the program to be a half-day long and to include a manual for teachers to work with students in the classroom before their time travel experience. Hunner said it is his goal for the program to be statewide before New Mexico's Centennial in 2012. The next planned time travel will be to the Spanish Colonial Period.

For more information about the program, call Hunner at (505) 646-2490.

Photo is available at http://ucommphoto.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/farm_heritage.jpg.
CUTLINE: Retta Bedenbaugh, left, an undergraduate history major at New Mexico State University, shows College Heights Preschool students, from left, Logan Tunnell, 3, Tanner Hayes, 3, and Galina Kelly, 4, how to churn butter during a "time travel" event hosted by the university's Public History Program at the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. (New Mexico State University photo by Darren Phillips)

Julie M. Hughes
May 2, 2002