By TIM HEARDEN
YREKA, Calif. -- Students in Renee McKay's fourth-grade class got jobs on a "cattle drive" as part of an annual agriculture awareness day.
The trail boss was young Tristan Nick, who calmly donned his bandana and took his place in front. A small strip of paper told him he'd be earning about $90 in a month.
He knew his task was to "find the best route, water and grass, and deal with problems," he said afterward.
"I liked it, learning where all the cattle riders had to be," said his classmate, Riley Hager. "I already knew a little bit about it."
The children from Jackson Street Elementary School here had about 10 minutes to complete their "drive," for which they climbed aboard hay bales with saddles and imagined there were hundreds of head of cattle among them. Then the next group came along and tried their hand.
The exercise was at one of numerous stations at the 20th annual agriculture awareness day sponsored by the Siskiyou County CattleWomen and other local farm and ranch groups. Some 350 youngsters, mostly fourth-graders, attend the event at the fairgrounds here each year to learn about what goes on at a farm or ranch.
At other booths, foresters from Sierra Pacific Industries quizzed students about trees; children learned about water with a hands-on, simulated stream; 4-Hers told children the work that goes into raising farm animals; and kids took part in science experiments.
4-H youth coordinator Jacki Zediker and other leaders revived the idea of a mock cattle drive after doing it several years ago. History is a big part of the curriculum for California fourth-graders, and Zediker and a few high school 4-H students told the youngsters all about the boom in beef consumption that occurred after the Civil War.
The cattle drive that's been such a fixture of Hollywood Westerns really came into use after the transcontinental railroad was built, making it possible for cattlemen in Texas and throughout the Midwest to bring their herds to the terminus in Kansas City, Zediker told the students.
While most cattle today are moved by truck, ranchers still move them on horseback on their own properties or to backcountry areas where they have grazing permits, she said in an interview.
"We actually have quite a few people who take their cattle into the mountains," she said. "In Siskiyou County, the cattle drive is very much a part of our history."
For the demonstration, student were given strips of paper telling them their "job" and where to mount their "horse," which was positioned according to where that cowboy actually rode to move the cattle. The strip included how much the cowboy would earn and what his duties were.
The "cook" sat on a hay bale representing a chuck wagon in the front, where Zediker told the students it would be free of dust kicked up by the animals. And the kids were each given a bandana, for which 4-H students Lindsay Jackson and Rebecca Reynolds showed them the many uses out on the trail.
"That was a lot of fun," said McKay, the teacher. "It was neat that the kids could act it out."