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Pioneer butter

Volunteer Dinna Frost demonstrates how to make pioneer butter at the California Trail Interpretive Center.

ELKO – Learn about the Donner Party, traditional Paiute dances, and how to make pioneer butter at the California Trail Interpretive Center.

The Trail Center is presenting a variety of family friendly programs throughout August. The following programs are free and open to everyone:

Aug. 4, 10 a.m.: Law and Order: California Trail Unit

When emigrants left for California, they left more than just their homes on the east side of the Missouri River. They also left behind laws and the formal justice system.

With methods that varied from Trailside courts to banishment, emigrants found their own ways to deal with disputes. Join Interpreter Jordan Thomas, and learn how emigrants dealt with lawbreakers and other troublesome people along the Trail.

Aug. 5, 2 p.m.: Junior Ranger Program: Shoshone Sage Houses of the Great Basin

Sage houses provided shelter for Native Americans living in the Great Basin. Join Interpreter Tim Burns and discover how these structures were built. Work as a team to build a miniature reproduction of a sage house.

Aug. 11, 1 p.m.: Tule Duck Decoys by Mike Williams

Tule duck decoys were used in Nevada for centuries. Mike Williams, a member of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe, will demonstrate how to make a female tule duck decoy.

Williams is a member of the Nevada Arts Council and is a recipient of the Nevada Governor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Folk Arts. Williams created a Paiute tule boat and duck decoys that are exhibits at the Trail Center. Williams is also featured in a Trail Center video depicting a day in the life of Great Basin Indians.

Aug. 11, 7 p.m.: Evening Program: In the Footsteps of the Donner Party

Frank X. Mullen will take his audience on the trail of doomed wagon train pioneers in a presentation that features artifacts and reproductions of items used by 1840s travelers.

Mullen will explore the tragedy and the triumph of a group of families who thought they were in for a 2,000-mile walk across the continent, but entered the pages of history as victims of an unproven shortcut, unseasonably cold weather, and cannibalism. The families were snowbound in the Sierra about 30 miles west of Reno during the terrible winter of 1846-47, and only about half of the group survived.

Mullen is a Reno-based newspaperman known for his hard-hitting investigative pieces. Mullen teaches journalism classes at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR); lectures about the history of the Silver State; and regularly performs in the Nevada Humanities Chautauqua and other Chautauqua venues nationwide. Mullen is author of “The Donner Party Chronicles: A Day-By-Day Account of a Doomed Wagon Train.”

This event is produced through a partnership between the Trail Center and Nevada Humanities, and supported by Nevada Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Aug. 12, 2 p.m.: Junior Ranger Program: Sling it!

What did Great Basin children do for fun 2,000 years ago? Play with slings! Slings have been used as toys and weapons around the world for thousands of years. 2,000-year-old slings made for children were unearthed in Lovelock Cave. Join Park Ranger Greg Feathers and learn how to use this ancient throwing device.

Aug. 18, 10 a.m.: The Atlatl: Grandfather of the Bow and Arrow

The atlatl is a simple weapon that gives humans the ability to launch spears twice as far as they could by hand. Many believe the mass extinctions of large mammals 13,000 years ago was caused in part by human’s ability to take down these animals with the atlatl.

Until the bow and arrow was invented, the atlatl was the preferred weapon of choice for most hunters around the world. Join Park Ranger Greg and learn how to use this simple but effective prehistoric weapon.

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Aug. 19, 2 p.m.: Junior Ranger Program: Pioneer Chores and Games

Think your chores at home are hard? Join Jordan Thomas in the pioneer camp and learn how to haul water, wash clothes, gather fuel for your campfire, and other pioneer chores. After chores, learn how to play pioneer games, no batteries or electricity required.

Aug. 23, 7 p.m.: Evening Program: Songbird: Telling the Paiute Story

Christina Thomas, a woman of Paiute, Shoshone, and Hopi descent, will share her rich knowledge and insight into her people’s heritage.

Thomas will explore the performing arts of traditional singing, drumming and dancing. She will provide lessons in the Paiute language and tell traditional stories, and will share knowledge of traditional foods and plants. Thomas will also discuss the history of the Great Basin native peoples, and provide her unique perspective on contemporary Native American issues.

This event is produced through a partnership between the Trail Center and Nevada Humanities, and supported by Nevada Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Aug. 25, 10 a.m.: Rigging a Prairie Schooner: The Anatomy of a Wagon

The iconic covered wagon was an indispensable means of transport along the California Trail. Join Tim Burns and learn the parts and features of the common covered wagon, and appreciate why this humble wagon has become an enduring symbol of American history and the pioneer spirit.

Aug. 26, 2 p.m.: Junior Ranger Program: How to Make Pioneer Butter

Making pioneer butter required much preparation and hard work. Join Volunteer Dinna Frost and learn how to make butter like the pioneers.

For more information about the California Trail Interpretive Center, call 738-1849. Visit the Trail Center online at or

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