Bringing Colorado history to life

The fourth-grade class at The Vail Academy created a wax museum featuring historical figures of Colorado on Tuesday in Edwards.
Chelsea Roberson | Special to the Daily |

EDWARDS — Every Colorado fourth-grader studies the state’s history and its characters, which works out well because Colorado has lots of characters.

These days, history instruction’s scope goes well beyond memorizing dates, facts and events.

Sure, dates and events are important because you can’t stand in front of a living room filled with adoring parents and relatives and insist in a clear and steady voice that Baby Doe Tabor was a deer raised in captivity.

She wasn’t.

The Centennial State (that’s us, and most fourth-graders can tell you why) has the mother lode of colorful characters.

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And the best way to learn about those characters is to become one of them, said Deb Croff.

Most days, Croff teaches fourth grade at Vail Christian Academy. On Tuesday, she added museum curator to her job description.

Vail Christian Academy transformed its auditorium into a wax museum, with fourth-graders pretending to be Colorado characters cast in wax — and remember that pretending to be someone else is how Sir Laurence Olivier and most members of Congress make their living.

Push a button and The Vail Academy fourth-graders’ characters come to life and tell you about themselves. When they’re done, they resume their original pose.

John Wesley Powell, for example, lost his right arm in the Civil War’s Battle of Shiloh, when he was shot in the wrist. He survived the entire Civil War and went on to several expeditions exploring the American West. Colby Brassington struck a pose with a woven latigo rope through his left arm, climbing Green River Cliff during Powell’s first expedition.

“The process is as important as the project,” Croff said.

The students learn how to research and how to write what they’ve learned in a full-on research paper. They learn to boil that information down to a few bullet points for their presentation, write it all in first person and deliver their lines like they were that historical character.

The first time or two they worked from note cards, but it didn’t take many repetitions for them to discard the prompters and deliver their speeches from memory.

“Public speaking is an important part of the process,” Croff said.

Aria Webster was Theodore Roosevelt, complete with a noble steed and Rough Rider gear. Push his button and he’ll tell you about the Spanish-American War and visiting Glenwood Springs.

Landen Schmidt captured the duality of man in his Bat Masterson, who, like most of us, was both a good guy and bad guy, often at the same time. Masterson was a saloon keeper and sports writer at the same time. Later he was a deputy sheriff/marshal/outlaw/sidekick to Wyatt Earp, also all at the same time.

The Wyatt Earp connection extended to John Henry “Doc” Holliday, a gambler/gunfighter who was a colleague of Earp’s and killed two people at the OK Corral. He died in Glenwood Springs.

Grace Fischer was Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor, Diego Heredia portrayed Horace Austin Warner Tabor, and Kellen Fowler was gold miner and prospector Thomas F. Walsh.

Allyn Connary was Chipeta — peacemaker and wife of Chief Ouray. Nearby was Steele McClinton portraying Clare Brown, a former slave who became the first woman pioneer recognized by the government.

On the other side of that coin was Matthew Bradford portraying John Chivington, an Army colonel.

And of course, no tour through Colorado’s colorful characters would be complete without the Unsinkable Margaret “Molly” Brown, a miner and later a philanthropist portrayed by Isabella Archibeque. From Archibeque we learned that Brown was in Europe when word reached her that her grandson had fallen ill. She jumped on the first transport back to the U.S., which turned out to be the Titanic. She survived, which is how she came to be “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” Archibeque informs us.

They were fourth-graders, and unlike real wax figures, when they got tired or their beards got too itchy, they placed a sign on their chair saying they were “closed for maintenance.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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