History on display - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

History on display

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Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2012 12:15 am

Scott Skinner held the Revolutionary War-style muzzleloader in his hands and began to pour the black powder into the barrel. He packed it in and prepared to fire. With a booming bang, Skinner fired the gun and smoke seeped out of the barrel.

Of course, Skinner wasn't taking aim at a foe or an animal, and he was firing toilet paper and not a lead ball. The park ranger at Old Mission State Park was demonstrating the way guns were fired back in the 1800s when the Cataldo Mission was still new and the Northwest was a different, more untamed place.

Skinner's muzzleloader exhibit was one of the many historic skills on display at the Historic Skills Fair at the Cataldo Mission on Saturday. The fair is now in its 30th year at the oldest standing structure in the state. The Cataldo Mission provides the perfect backdrop for an event that takes the attendees back in time.

After Skinner finished up firing the muzzleloader, his son Hudson began striking a rock near charcoal cloth to ignite a fire. Hudson and his father have been coming out to the Historic Skills Fair and demonstrating the old techniques for a year and a half.

After several strikes, a spark appeared on the cloth; Hudson blew on the cloth and placed it inside a nest of finely shredded wood. Within seconds, the nest caught fire.

Across the grounds of the park, Ron Washman hammered away at a red-hot piece of iron on an anvil as he demonstrated how a blacksmith back in the 19th century would go about his trade. As the piece of iron he was working on, which will be a fork in the end, began to cool, Washman placed it back in the coal forge to get it nice and hot so he could mold it some more until it was just right.

Washman was a school teacher for 28 years, he now spends much of his time blacksmithing and making a variety of different products to sell at his business, the Raven Forge. A blacksmith for 30 years, Washman has been displaying his skills at the Historic Skills Fair for around 25 years. Susan Dahlberg, a Shoshone County resident, said she goes to the fair every year and never misses a chance to buy one of Washman's creations.

"[Washman] is so good at it," Dahlberg said of Washman's blacksmithing. "I like to buy something from him every time I'm here."

The exhibits at the Historic Skills Fair are all unique in their own way, and they all have a real connection to the history of the area. John Hartman, who works with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, was displaying how Native Americans would have made arrowheads and other tools from minerals found in the area like common opal.

At the same time Skinner is firing off the gun and Washman hammers away at iron, Charlotte Magone is pumping at the spinning wheel making yarn from sheep wool, and Patty Duff and Jan Hensch are tatting to make lace.

The exhibits at the Historic Skills Fair take those in attendance, around 200 people by noon, back in time to when the West was still wild. They demonstrate that it took hard work and time to get things done in the 1800s.

The Historic Skills Fair continues today at the Cataldo Mission from noon until 4 p.m. Admission is $5 per car.

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