Texas Trails & Tales
Annual summer program gets visitors hands-on with Texas pioneer life
SAN ANTONIO – On just a few acres of the UTSA HemisFair Park Campus, the Institute of Texan Cultures manages to piece together unique structures and landscapes that represent the far-flung corners of the state and echo the lives of the Texans who made these places their homes.
Texas Trails & Tales, the museum’s summer program on the Back 40, runs from June 18 to July 27. Featuring the museum’s junior docents and the Back 40’s re-creation period structures, the Back 40 outdoor education area brings the Texas frontier to life in real, tangible ways.
The log house is indicative of an early homestead in the Big Thicket or piney woods, where timber was readily available. Inside the kitchen portion, junior docents detail food customs such as canning preserves or churning butter. In the living quarters, they discuss weaving, quilts and more. Out in the “dog run” that gives the house its name, activity leaders teach visitors how to make rag dolls.
It’s a similar story at the adobe house. The dry climate of the Davis Mountains in far West Texas made adobe brick an ideal building material and it was commonly used by Spanish settlers. Also a two-room structure, the adobe house lends itself to detailing the practices in the kitchen, with accoutrements unique to Spanish custom; as well as traditions of the living quarters. Outside, visitors have an opportunity to make paper bag piñatas to take home.
To keep watch on the Texas Frontier, the United States Army built a series of forts, housing infantry and cavalry units commonly known as the Buffalo Soldiers. At the Back 40’s frontier fort, guests can learn about life in the regiment and pick up skills such as map reading and flag etiquette.
A barn was vital to a pioneer family. It housed their tools and faming implements, or livestock and work animals. The barn at the Back 40 is of typical German construction, indicative of the Texas Hillcountry. The barn was the center of the work life and at the Back 40 barn, guests can get up close with the tools used by early pioneers.
A structure that belonged to the community was its one-room school house. With many families contributing to its construction, the building often served multiple purposes, from a center of worship to a meeting hall. Inside, the junior docents give a sample of the school day, with slate board writing and reading aloud from a primer. Students have an opportunity to participate in schoolyard games as well, with stilt-walking and hoop rolling being just a few of the choices.
Reminding guests and visitors of the Texas cattle boom and the days of cowboys and trail drives, the museum brings out the old chuckwagon exclusive to Texas Trails & Tales. Here, the junior docent playing the role of trail boss offers guests an opportunity to learn about the resources and labor that go into making a long drive from the plains of Texas to markets in the north.
Texas Trails & Tales is included with regular admission, $8 for adults (ages 12-64); $7 for seniors (ages 65+); $6 for children (ages 3-11); free with membership, UTSA or Alamo Colleges identification. Trails Texas & Tales programming is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday and will be suspended on Wednesday, July 4. Regular museum hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
The Institute of Texan Cultures is located on the UTSA HemisFair Park Campus, 801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd., a short distance from the Alamo and the River Walk. For more information, call 210-458-2300 or visit TexanCultures.com.