In the mid-1800s, a few mountain men roamed the American West trapping beaver and living largely solitary lives, except once a year when they gathered to turn in their beaver skins, get paid and engage in a wild and dangerous celebration they dubbed "Rendezvous."
At Rendezvous the trappers got roaring drunk on raw alcohol, which cooked their throats as thoroughly as the chunks of venison they ate. An observer at one gathering reported seeing a poker game played on the body of a dead man.A rendezvous of a very different sort was held on Antelope Island Thursday after 1,400 fourth-grade Davis students in 22 buses rumbled over the Great Salt Lake causeway. They came to learn about the Utah Centennial, cavort on the salt-soaked sand, and engage in workshops ranging from buttermaking to square dancing. Utah fourth-graders study Utah history as part of state-required curriculum.
The gathering was the brainchild of Oak Hills Elementary Principal Dolores Hansen.
"I came here with a friend last spring and just loved the place," she said. "I thought we ought to get more of the kids out here so they can see it."
From that humble beginning the project kept growing, ultimately including other school principals, district officials and the Utah Statehood Centennial Commission.
"I think it's a terrific idea," said commission director Kim Burningham. "You get (1,400) fourth-graders thinking about Utah history, they tell their parents, and" he made a rolling motion with his hands.
The students spent the day on the island's beach and ranch house watching brine shrimp through a magnifying glass, learning to start a fire with flint and steel, listening to storytellers and carving leather, among other things.
The students initially gathered at the marina for welcoming remarks from Hansen, Burningham and Superintendent Richard Kendell.
"I got to wear my cowboy boots to work today," Kendell said. "I would sure rather be out here than back in my office."
Even though it comprised only a third of Davis' fourth-graders, the size of the crowd was impressive. Kendell was a little nervous that some students would wander off unsupervised.
"We're depending on you to help keep track of these kids," he said half-jokingly to a reporter. "Look, there go some already," he added as a few children scampered across a barren field of dried mud.
Davis is the third-largest school district in the state, behind Granite and Jordan.