Pioneer Letter Writing at Summer Camps

One of the things I love best about the history of the old West and pioneer travels are the journals and letters. In today’s modern era kids get less exposure to actual written letters and are more often in front of emails, facetime or skype.

I love words- putting the pen (or quill!) to paper and composing thoughts. There is a gentle slowness to folding the paper, tucking it into the envelope, addressing it, and walking it to the post box. There is a mindfulness in the reflection that you need to do this task. I appreciate this so much, especially amidst the busyness of our lives today.

I believe there is great value in children writing their own letters, especially within the magic of time travel at our summer camps! Parents write a secret letter to their children, and slip them to me on the first or second day. They compose the letter as if they were back East and their child was traveling out West on the Oregon Trail. The letters are sometimes funny, creative, or touching. We love helping the kids read them out loud and compose a reply with quill pen and ink. Then we seal them with sealing wax and tie them up with string. We deliver them to our parents on Friday, the last day of camp, at the party. It is so much fun!

Some of my favorite letters have been really creative ones, like this one written on birch tree bark, wrapped in a brown paper tube:

pioneer letter writing kids children old west 1860's quill pen

The letters we receive have to be addressed very carefully, since there were no real postal addresses or mailboxes back in the mid 1800’s in Oregon. We have to say things like:

John Smith
Willamette Valley
North of Singing Creek
Hunton’s Farm
Oregon Territory

The kids love to write letters back with quill pen and ink. We even discovered that a sharpened stick (bamboo skewer) works really well as a pen, dipped in ink. We have to let the finished letters dry for awhile before we fold them up and seal them. They say things like “I had a hog killin’ time! ” (one of our pioneer sayings.) They talk about the activities they are doing, what the weather is like, if they met any Indians along the way, and whether they like Oregon. It’s great fun to come up with interesting things to write about. The parents absolutely treasure these.

Some great letters:

pioneer letter from parent to child singing creek center