Museum packing up history

Traveling trunks part of outreach program to bring history to groups, schools

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey The settler crate include many items from the early settlers including, bottom row from the left: a doughnut cutter, cup and ball toy, iron, rug beater, butter paddle, potato masher, egg separator and skimmer. On the chair from left to right: a pair of clip-on ice skates, a tintype photograph, chalk board and a piece of lye soap. A baptismal dress is draped on top.

NEW ULM — An old program is becoming new this year at the Brown County Historical Society (BCHS) Museum.

The museum’s outreach program is getting revamped as a two-part system involving traveling trunks and a more robust station in the building due to flagging popularity.

“We are trying to figure out then why, why did that happen?” Executive Director Kathleen Backer said. “Was it because we have not been interfacing with the groups and organizations and education facilities? Is there a better way to serve them and is that by taking the program on the road ourselves?”

The two pieces of the program will involve an “education pod” and a set of education trunks. The pod will be an interactive exhibit located in the museum and will replicate the material in the trunks.

So far, the museum has four trunks focusing on fur traders, settlers, how Native Americans used pieces of buffalo and one on Native Americans in general.

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey Executive Director Kathleen Backer wears a traditional hat and holds two knives and a hatchet that traders would have given to the Native Americans in exchange for pelts.

A fifth one will be focused on World War I, using material from the current exhibit on the second floor.

“That is the other one,” Backer said. “We have got the exhibit here, we have got all the research done and we want to be able to have a takeaway for that program.”

Long-term, Backer hopes to make more trunks from future exhibits.

“In my opinion, whenever we do an exhibit, the research is already done and that is where your investment is — you have already identified the different artifacts, photos and images,” Backer said. “So then taking it and packaging it as a trunk is pretty, well I should not say easy, but pretty matter of fact.”

The education pod will have areas replicating the trunks with additional materials. One example would be a demonstration of the six layers of undergarments wore during the time of the settlers that guests could try on.

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey The buffalo box is designed to show how Native Americans used various parts of the buffalo the hunted. On top of the box is a tooth necklace (left), bone awl (middle), and a scraper to pull meat from bone (right). On the bottom right the yellow orbs are bladders used for carrying water, a bone horn (top left on floor), a bladder pouch (middle left), a brown rattle with a hide handle (bottom middle) and various bits of bone, hoof and fur used for toys or decorations.

Ultimately Backer hopes to expand the pod to explain the development and establishment of Brown County, she said. In the meantime, she expects the exhibit to be open in the next month or two.

While schools and other organizations would come to see the exhibit, the trunks will go out to provide educational opportunities in the community.

“We can do it a couple of ways,” Backer said. “We can have them check out one of these and use the materials that we provide them, as far as written materials, have them go through the program, or we could take it out to the respective locations and we could either be in plainclothes or we can dress to represent one of the types of persons we are telling the story about.”

The trunk program is not new, but requires some tweaking. There is a big disparity in how robust some trunks are over others.

Such as the fur trader trunk. It includes along with examples of trade goods also a game that uses pictures of pelts and trade goods for an interactive bartering experience and examples of contemporary music.

On the other hand, the buffalo trunk only contains some examples and a paper list of what is included.

“We are refining what we had, adding to it so that all of the boxes have similar levels of learning experiences,” Backer said.

The trunks are expected to launch in March, however, Backer is currently looking for some pilot programs.

She wants to work with educators to incorporate state education standards into the program, to make it more valuable to them.

BCHS also needs more volunteers who are willing to present the boxes to organizations who rent them out but do not have their own emcees.

“We are doing some piloting with it, so that certainly if people are interested prior to March we may work with them to do a pilot just to see how they react,” Backer said.

To contact Backer about volunteering or piloting the programs email her at or call (507) 233-2618.