Biography project gives MCHS students a personal view of history
November 5, 2011
At a Glance …
• Moffat County High School U.S. history students wrote biographies on Moffat County residents this spring.
• The project was designed to commemorate Moffat County’s centennial.
• Students and an MCHS teacher donated selected biographies Wednesday to the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
• Copies will also go to Wyman Museum, the Moffat County Library and the MCHS library.
Call it an American success story.
Call it a window into the era that now survives only in faded photographs, books and letters.
Or, as Rose Howe prefers to see it, call it the adventure of one man's dogged pursuit of a dream.
Whatever name you give it, the life of late area resident Richard Barker inspired Howe, a Moffat County High School junior who wrote a 13-page biography of his life this spring.
During the two months Howe spent researching and compiling the biography on Barker, she was struck by the late Northwest Colorado resident's love for the West and his determination to make it his home.
"He just loved the plains and mountains and he vowed to come back here and live," Howe said.
He fulfilled his aspiration, she added, when he came to the Moffat County area to raise his family and work on various ranches.
"That commitment to his dream just stuck with me," she said Wednesday, standing not far from a collection of photographs and artifacts from Barker's life housed in the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
"Commitment like that is hard to find," she said.
Her report was one of more than 30 that will be donated to the museum, with additional copies earmarked for Wyman Museum, the Moffat County Library and the MCHS library. She and three of her classmates— juniors Abby Landa, Faith Santistevan and Skyler Gerini— presented their biographies to Museum of Northwest Colorado staff on Wednesday.
The biographies are among the best work produced during a spring 2011 project that involved all the high school's U.S. history students and designed to commemorate Moffat County's centennial.
They will serve as a resource for other local historians and residents who want to research their genealogy or simply learn more about Moffat County's past, said Liane Davis-Kling, an MCHS social studies teacher who worked on the project with other U.S. history teachers at the high school.
"The idea was to celebrate where we've been," Davis-Kling said. "This is how we're going to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Moffat County."
History made personal
The project was tailored to commemorate the county's history by learning more about the people who had lived in the area, Davis-Kling said.
Students could write about grandparents or other family members, as long as those relatives had lived at Moffat County at some point in their lives.
Butch Cassidy, though, was off limits.
"You know that old quote by Andy Worhol—'Everybody deserves their 15 minutes of fame?'" Davis-Kling said.
That was the idea behind the project, she added, to chronicle the lives of some of the county's lesser-known contributors.
Students also were required to put their subjects into historical context by noting the national or global events that touched their lives.
Barker and his wife, Virginia, for instance, were personally affected by Prohibition. The minister who married them was convicted of bootlegging shortly after their wedding, according to Howe's report.
The biography project was intended to bolster students' writing skills, help them learn about history through their own research and reinforce the idea that history can happen anywhere.
"It (gives) them the idea that U.S. history doesn't just happen in the history books in big, huge cities," Davis-Kling said.
'Scope of a human life'
Howe's account of Barker's adventures traces his transition from the young model with a pageboy haircut and short pants to the rugged ranch hand who sought his fortune in Northwest Colorado and Wyoming.
When Barker was a child, the Brown Shoe Co. hired him based on his resemblance to "Buster Brown," a popular comic strip character and the company's mascot, according to Howe's report.
As he traveled the country, playing the character and advertising for the company, he got his first taste of the West.
Although he took up residence in multiple places within and beyond the region — including Dixon, Wyo., and Craig — "his one true home was always here in Moffat County," Howe wrote.
By the time she finished the project, she had much more than a grade.
"I think it gave me a greater depth of people's lives and how they turn out," Howe said. "It gave me the scope of a human life, really, from birth to death and everything in between."
The comprehensive view of other lives is especially pertinent to her now, when her own future is largely unknown.
"Being a teenager, I'm kind of in a rough spot where I don't really know where my life is going to go," she said. "It's kind of a mystery.
"And, it's just interesting to see how someone had a goal and they accomplished it, and it just kind of makes it real to me."
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