From scalpels to sack races


WALLA WALLA — Gunnysacks, scalpels, guns and swords all came together this weekend at Fort Walla Walla Museum as coordinators worked to capture the hearts and minds of old and young.

“We are adding things for families with young kids to get the kids connected with their heritage. That is the most important thing we can do,” Museum Executive Director James Payne said.

This weekend was Fort Walla Walla Days at the museum, where a number of special exhibits, musicians and character actors are brought in to accompany the museums current collection.

Square dancing, book signing, banjo playing and even medical scalpel and saw techniques were all part of the Saturday and Sunday lineup.

Civil War medical instruments collector Frank Starr regaled a small audience of adults and older teens on the horrific procedures used for amputations, which some of his ancestors may have undergone, during the Civil War.

“My Union ancestors survived the war, but I lost quite a few Confederate ancestors,” Starr said.

While many families can boast having ancestors who served in the Civil War, there are not too many who can also say their family made the weapons used in that war and others prior.

Starr swords and guns have been around since the late 1700s, but soon after the Civil War the family business went out of business.

“There was so much surplus on the market,” Starr said, explaining the Starr family couldn’t compete with Winchester and Remington.

While the guns and scalpels were a big hit with the older crowd, the gunnysacks were popular with the children.

At this year’s Fort Walla Walla Days, museum coordinators added a number of pioneer games, including marbles, barrel hoop rolling and gunnysack races.

The goal wasn’t just to entertain children, but to show off some of the new interactive children’s displays and encourage them to encourage their parents to bring them back regularly,

Over the past few years, the museum has added a number of interactive hands-on exhibits, along with an outdoor climbing fort in the center of the courtyard.

“I am very big into hands on stuff. So this is a good fit,” Payne said, and he showed off a teepee that was recently added to an indoor exhibit room to allow children to crawl around inside, while their parents study the exhibits in the room.

In the next room over, the military uniform exhibit room, Payne described how they plan to use ammo boxes to build an electronic matching game that will teach children how different colors were used to identifying different branches of military and various occupations.

“We want to build a museum within a museum,” Payne said, adding that the museum is also reaching out to the community.

For the first time this week, the museum will take part in Kids College by conducting courses in archeology, which has sold out, Payne said.

The outdoor climbing fort is also being used by the Mom’s Network for weekly gatherings with moms and kids.

“The biggest thing is more concentration on kids,” Payne said was the result of a recent survey of patrons. “When you do that, it doesn’t even matter if the child was not born here or if they moved here. This is their community.”

For those who missed the children’s pioneer games at Fort Walla Walla Days this weekend, Payne said museum volunteers will take the games to Fourth of July in the Park this year. And he also said they will try to get Frank Starr back soon for a repeat of his gruesome and intriguing historical displays.


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