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History Helpers to participate in Home School Day at museum

By Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer

This article was published March 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.


Deb Lewis, left, and Sharlene Richardson are part of the group History Helpers, which will present a program for home-schooled kids on March 31 at the Old Independence Regional Museum in Batesville. The program topic is the Hunter-Dunbar Expedition of 1804.

BATESVILLE — History will come to life March 31 during Home School Day at the Old Independence Regional Museum.

Dressed in period costumes, Deb Lewis of Conway and Sharlene Richardson of Little Rock, members of a living history group called History Helpers, will present a program on the Hunter-Dunbar Expedition of 1804. This expedition was one of four commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the newly acquired territory called the Louisiana Purchase.

Led by Dr. George Hunter and William Dunbar, members of this

expedition explored what is now northern Louisiana and Arkansas along the “Washita” (Ouachita) River to the “hot springs.”

Jefferson also sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the Mississippi River and the northern regions of the territory. Zebulon Pike was sent to explore the Rocky Mountains and the southwest, and Thomas Freeman and Peter Custis explored the Red River.

Amanda Nikkel, humanities educator and volunteer coordinator at the museum, said there is a limit of 60 participants for the Home School Day event.

“In the past, home school days have met capacity before the day of the program,” Nikkel said. “Anyone interested in participating will want to reserve a space soon.”

To reserve a space, call (870) 793-2121.

“We are so pleased to be able to bring History Helpers to Batesville, and give our local home-schoolers the opportunity to learn about the Louisiana Purchase exploration from another expedition and in a real, concrete way,” Nikkel said.

Lewis said this would be the first time for History Helpers to visit the Batesville museum. “We are happy to be going there,” she said.

Lewis said she and Richardson will assemble a flatboat and show the students how members of the Hunter-Dunbar expedition traveled up the Ouachita River, which is a tributary of the Red River, to what is now known as Hot Springs National Park.

“We start with the sail up and show the students how to move ‘up’ river,” Lewis said. “The Ouachita River is like a snake. Sometimes, they had to take the sail down and use oars to move the boat. When the water got too shallow, they had to use poles to push the boat through the water or ropes to pull the boat through those shallow spots.”

She said the students would be able to participate in the demonstration by learning how to use the oars and poles.

Richardson said the program would also include a discussion of the scientific data gathered by Hunter and Dunbar. “Jefferson asked them to look for minerals, animals, plants and people,” she said, noting they show a black bear skin as they discuss the animals that were seen on the expedition, as well as salt, which was one of the minerals they found.

Lewis said the expedition included Hunter and Dunbar, with three of Dunbar’s slaves, as well as 12 soldiers and their sergeant. The expedition began on Oct. 16, 1804, from Natchez, Miss., and entered what is present-day Arkansas on Nov. 22, 1804, near what is known today as Camden. They returned to Natchez on Jan. 31, 1805.

Lewis, Richardson and another friend, Debra Browning of Benton, started History Helpers in 2006. All three previously worked at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock. They travel to schools and other organizations to present their programs, which are tailored to their audiences’ needs. Their programs span from 1783 up to the 1940s. They do charge a fee for the programs.

“History Helpers was formed out of our passion to learn history and our desire to teach it in such a way as to inspire that passion in others,” Lewis said. “We encourage students of all ages to imagine how they, themselves, would have lived ‘back then.’

“More than just names, dates and places, we offer students things for them to see, to touch, to smell, to listen to and, on occasion, to taste. They hear how people treated each other and what they expected from one another. They see up close how objects were made or used and, often, they get to try them out for themselves. We offer bits of the day-to-day lives of ordinary people and strive to make history into something meaningful to modern minds. We hope to teach others that, by learning about the skills and creativity of those who came before us, we can better understand our own potential.”

For more information on History Helpers, contact Lewis at or Richardson at

Nikkel said this humanities program at the Old Independence Regional Museum is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities, by local support from Independence County and the city of Batesville, as well as by Challenge Grant Endowment funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Old Independence serves a 12-county area — Baxter, Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Marion, Poinsett, Sharp, Stone, White and Woodruff. Parts of these present-day counties comprised the original Independence County in the 1820s Arkansas territory.

Normal museum hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1:30-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and $1 for children.

The museum is at 380 S. Ninth St., between Boswell and Vine streets in Batesville.


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