Grass & Grain

10-28-2014

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By Lucas Shivers A key part of the Kansas narrative and cultural identi- ty, the state song Home on the Range originated from a little cabin near Athol, close to the state line on the West Beaver Creek in 240 acres in Pleasant Township, Smith County. "I have known the cabin all my life and played around it as a child," said El Dean Holthus, trustee and cabin restoration project coordina- tor. "The first time I looked at it from an ownership standpoint would have been January 2009 when the three other trustees and I took over active management of the 240 acres of the site." Working for more than five years to refurbish the cabin, Holthus said the site offers a tangible connection to history and stands as a tribute to the enduring spirit of all Kansans. Hundreds visit the site each year, and many contribute to see the historical treasure stand for years to come. "The support of everyone is appreciated and continued support is encouraged to keep this historic icon on the Plains for future generations to enjoy," he said. The restoration project took many local, regional and state fundraisers and grants. "Our first grant was from the Heritage Trust Fund to fund a feasibility study and architect plans," said Holt- hus. "The cost was estimated to be $113,000 plus. We have a donor list in the cabin with more than 300 names of individual and corporate donors raising more than $128,000." The international effort to save the local site culminat- ed in a recent rededication weekend on Oct. 4 and 5, which included many instru- mental and vocal musical acts, historical re-enact- ments, authentic produc- tions, tours, Buffalo Sol- diers, and an evening pro- gram at the Smith Center high school auditorium. Sunday morning began with a worship service with bluegrass gospel music. Ro- tarians from around the world toured the foot bridges built by the organization. To no surprise, the official re- dedication program conclud- ed with the singing of Home on the Range, as well as retelling the story of its ori- gin. Roots of the Poem and Song In the early 1870s, rural surgeon Dr. Brewster M. Higley wrote a poem he enti- tled My Western Home about the tiny cabin finished on July 4, 1872. Higley tucked it away as 'nothing special' in a book. A few years later, Trube Reese of Smith Center brought a man with a gun- shot wound to Dr. Higley for treatment. While waiting, he opened a book and the poem fell out to be enjoyed afresh. On December 1873, the Smith County Pioneer ran the poem under the title of Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam. Dr. Higley presented the poem to fiddler Dan Kelly, the leader of a family band who set it to music. As Americans fell in love with the song, they added verses and the chorus, as well as the eventual title of Home on the Range that wasn't in Higley's original poem. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once declared "Home on the Range" as his favorite song. Cowboys, rid- ing the long distances to drive cattle, sang the iconic ballad of the American West for generations. Decades later, Dr. I.E. Nickell, state senator from Smith Center, introduced in the Kansas Legislature a bill to establish the song as the official state song of Kansas. It was adopted on June 30, 1947. "I am nearly 82 years of age, and this is the first time I have the opportunity to work for something with worldwide popularity," said Holthus. "It is a memorial to Dr. Higley who penned the poem and built the cabin, but I think of equal or greater importance is that it is a me- morial to Pete and Ellen Rust, my aunt and uncle, who saved the cabin on its site. My family – sons Mike, Mitch, Lyle, their spouses and children – share the same commitment." Restoring the Landmark The tiny cabin on bank of West Beaver Creek where Higley penned that poem has been preserved for visiting by the public, thanks to the Ellen Rust Living Trust. "According to our con- tractor, it is more likely than not that this cabin is the only one room, combination log and limestone cabin still on its original site," said Holthus. "Nowhere else can someone sing a song, with worldwide popularity, on the site where it was written." The cabin is kept un- locked and has a protected exhibit inside. The Rust fam- ily made the financial sacri- fice to insure the cabin would be restored and main- tained and not be moved. "The trust board, support- ed by the Kansas State His- torical Society, believes the cabin is famous for one thing and should stay on this loca- tion," he said. "We want it to be a dy- namic site with many hap- pening every year," said Holthus. "It is the only way it or any other historical site can survive." Listed on the National Historical Register since 1975, the cabin was a recent finalist for the 8 Wonders of Kansas History. Thanks to the donations of individuals, companies and other charities, ongoing work at the site is in progress and includes furnishing the cabin with quality replica or restored furniture such as a single pioneer doctor would have had in 1872. Trustees also hope to build walking trails and information sta- tions along the West Beaver Creek. "Our next step will be to hire a site planner to estab- lish a plan for other perma- nent buildings like a shelter house, visitors center and museum, 1/3 scale model Pawnee earth house to insure we do not distract from the Cabin, yet enhances and im- proves the entire site," said Holthus. "The vision is that visitors to the Home on the Range site will be able to ex- perience three eras; the life of the Native American Pawnees, the cowboy era and the era of the 1930s. Holthus also travels with a mobile replica and dis- play of the cabin across the state. "It is a 1/3 scale model of the restored cabin built in 2010 and was the first adver- tising means we used," said Holthus. "My wife Kathy and I have pulled it nearly 5,000 miles in parades and used it in static displays." Home on the Range cabin restored, rededicated As part of the Home on the Range Cabin rededication, Buffalo Soldier re-enactors crossed West Beaver Creek entering the show area from the east, singing their cadence song. They performed maneuvers while First Sergeant Barry Tompkins gave a brief history, from horseback, of the Buffalo Soldiers in general and their Nicodemus detachment in particular. Recent rains have slowed harvest progress across Kansas. As of the week ending October 19, corn harvested was at 66 percent, behind the 75% average, sorghum was at 25%, behind the 34% average and soybeans harvested were at 31%, well behind the average of 57%. Above, trucks roll into Lippert Grain in Green on Wednesday, October 22 ahead of overnight rains that furthered delayed harvest. Photo by Kim Hofmann It's harvest in fits and starts as rain falls around the state

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