Living History, music, food, buffalo and snakes provided hundreds of people and many families a taste of Nebraska, the county and their history during the fifth annual Washington County Heritage Days festival held Saturday and Sunday in Fort Calhoun and at Fort Atkinson.

Fort Calhoun resident Marilyn Cerio said she comes to the event, which celebrates the county's military and farming history, every year with her two grandchildren from Omaha.

"Just to celebrate the fort," she said. "We talk about the history and talk to all the people here."

A pancake breakfast at St. John's the Baptist Church in Fort Calhoun started the weekend festival, which saw about 1,500 attendees by 2 p.m. Saturday, Fort Atkinson Park Supt. Jason Grof said. The breakfast was followed by a performance from the "Heartland of America Air Force Band" and a buffalo processing demonstration at the fort.

"That's what the inside of a buffalo looks like," said a young Boy Scout to his father as they watched several Living History interpreters and other volunteers prepare parts of a buffalo for use in cooking and other demonstrations.


Living History interpretor Ella Vance drops handmade noodles into a pot to cook chicken noodle soup while volunteer Lawrence Ford looks on during a Dutch Oven presentation at the Washington County Heritage Days Festival on Saturday.

The buffalo hide was later used by Lakota Tribe member and Metropolitan Community College adjunct professor Steve Tamayo and volunteers for a hide tanning demonstration Saturday afternoon.

Other events at the fort included a historical musical presentation by Paul Siebert in the council house.


Paul Siebert, who performs and discusses early American music at museums across the country, plays a Persian santur during Washington County Heritage Days on Saturday.

Siebert, who performs at museums across the country, played old-fashioned banjos, a Persian santur — a piano predecessor — and other unique instruments such as the jaw harp from the 1800s. He also explained the history of American pioneering and frontier music.

"Cowboys sang whatever, wherever they came from," he said, such as Irish and Celtic folk tunes.

Soon after Living History interpreters fired the noon cannon, University of Nebraska-Lincoln herpetology professor Dennis Ferraro gave kids and adults facts about snakes while holding several different types in front of them.


Two girls watch as UNL herpetology professor Dennis Ferraro attempts to get a ringneck snake, one of many species of snakes in Nebraska unharmful to humans, to bite him on the arm during Washington County Heritage Days on Saturday. Ferraro, who presented in Fort Atkinson's visitor's center, said 24 out of 29 snake species in Nebraska are either not venomous, don't carry diseases or germs which can hurt humans or can't bite deep enough in skin to hurt humans.

Ferraro said there are 29 different species of snakes in Nebraska and only five of those species can hurt humans through either being venomous or being able to pass germs or disease to humans.

"My kids are in their 30s, but when they were young, we had rules in my house. You could bring home snakes, but they couldn't bring home any dogs, cats — things that carry fleas, rabies and other diseases," he said, eliciting laughter from people watching his demonstrations.

Other events such as hay-baling demonstrations, music performances and old-fashioned children's games took place throughout the weekend.


Bailey Batenhorst catches a toss from her mother, Herman Resident Stephanie Batenhorst, while they play old-fashioned children's games at Fort Atkinson during the Heritage Days Festival on Saturday.

Herman resident Stephanie Batenhorst and her daughter, Bailey, used small, hand-held baskets to throw a ball back and forth in a game that was played most by boys in the 1800s. Batenhorst said they'd come out to the fort with many members of their family.

"We got a lot of family," she said. "Fun games, even though we were doing the boy one."

Cerio said she was looking forward to fun with her grandchildren, too. She said she has many pictures of previous years they've visited the fort and was hoping to take a few more.

"We like it out here," she said.

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