Robert “Cowboy” Culbertson, McPherson Opera House

(Frank) Good morning from the historic Dillon House, in the shadow of the State Capitol in Topeka, Kansas. This is Around Kansas. I’m Frank Chaffin. (Deb) I’m Deb Goodrich Bisel. (Frank) And, well we’re gonna talk about some of the things we’ve been working on. Some of the things that are coming up and OK, you go first. (Deb) April has been an incredibly busy month. I had my birthday. It was great. Thanks for all the well wishes. And on my birthday I took a group from Brewster Place Retirement Home up to Fort Leavenworth for a visit to the fort. That was fantastic. One of my favorite places in the world. And then on April 16, I actually took a group from Benedictine College to Lawrence, to study the Lawrence raid and the Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence. Colonel Bill Raymond, retired from Fort Leavenworth is the instructor there at Benedictine College. So that was really wonderful. (Frank) Wow, OK. And I’ve been elected to the Board of the Historic Jayhawk Theatre in Topeka. (Deb) Woo hoo! (Frank) And it’s time has come. Of course, the renovation really started in 1996, but various reasons or another it just kind of sat there. But last fall, there was an event we showed, the Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Deb) It was awesome. (Frank) Just ahead of Halloween and the thing is, the hundreds of people that showed up, came in and said, “I’ve never been in the place. Wow this place ought to be restored.” So, there’s a new excitement about restoring this historic theatre. It was built in 1927, I’ve done some stories on it. And the thing is you’ll probably see some more stories too. But it’s going to get opened up to the public. There are gonna be all kinds of public events there, movies shown. In the very near future, the front part of the theatre is going to be restored, there’s going to be a concession stand, so that when people come in for a tour the first stop is gonna be there and say, “Hey, have some popcorn, have some treats and let’s go see the place.” (Deb) Well, they’re really lucky to have you on the board, it’s a fantastic place, a real treasure, and thank goodness that’s being restored. And you know, your theatre series all over Kansas, that’s just awesome Frank. (Frank) Right. (Deb) There’s just jewels like that all over the state. (Frank) Yes, and many of them have been restored and of course that’s one of the things I’m doing is I’m kinda going across the state and visiting, talking about some of the opera houses and movie houses… (Deb) Right. (Frank) …that have been restored. And how the communities are making use of them now. (Deb) Well, they were the cornerstone of the community to begin with and to bring them back to that status is really a great thing. (Frank) Oh yea. (Deb) And it’s all about community. You know here we are in Topeka, but Topeka is really a small town, as you and I well know Frank. It doesn’t really classify as a big city. We’ve got a lot of the amenities of a big city, but we’re really a small town. Everybody knows everybody. It’s so easy to get around. It’s just got a small town feel. (Frank) Yea, it is. So, anyway, we have lots and lots of things to talk about, about the great state of Kansas because there are so many things and people and places that make this an exciting place to live and to play and to work. (Deb) Absolutely. (Frank) After the break, we’ll talk about what we’re gonna talk about today.(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas, and of course, what makes Kansas so special? The people. And I’ve been privileged, just as Frank has, to know so many wonderful people in this state, and of course with me, some of those people might be dead. You know, they are people from the past, but they’re just wonderful people. So we’re looking forward to sharing with you all the cool people that we’ve met along the way, maybe one at a time. (Frank) Yea. (Deb) Some of the cool folks… like since I’ve moved here, I’ve gotten to know the folks in the band Kansas. You know, we featured them on an episode of Around Kansas, maybe a couple of episodes we actually did on them. And you’ve interviewed some really cool people Frank. Who’s some of the coolest to come to mind? (Frank) Well of course in the music genre there’s Randy Sparks, who of course started the New Christy Minstrels back in the 1960s. He’s a native of Leavenworth, Kansas and in his 70s he decided, well I’m gonna form the New Christy Minstrels again and go on the road. And he’s 82 years old. (Deb) Wow. (Frank) Actually now lives in California, but the group is back together and they’re touring all over the world. And doing concerts and they’re sold out. So, there are people like Randy Sparks out there and of course then we go back in history and we look at some of the… (Deb) Characters, characters. (Frank) Yea, maybe some of the more notorious people in all of that. So we’re gonna have some fun. We always have some fun doing Around Kansas. (Deb) And I want to start today with my good friend Robert “Cowboy” Culbertson. You have met Robert “Cowboy” Culbertson before when we visited his ranch near Easton a couple of years ago. American Frontier Productions is Cowboy’s home and place of business. It is a movie set, a location for artists to paint western scenes and people. He cannot remember a time when he wasn’t riding horses. Born in Leavenworth in 1957 Cowboy grew up working cattle on his grandfather’s Farm. In 1992, he and his wife Donna, bought the ranch that has become American Frontier Productions. He trained horses and riders and in 1996 he met Jim Hatzell while working on his first film, TNT’s production of “Rough Riders.” It was Hatzell who told Cowboy he had a “great look” and that he should do some modeling. So Cowboy packed up his kids, Josh and Amanda and headed for a photo shoot in South Dakota. He has been acting and modeling ever since. Cowboy has played everything from Custer to a medieval knight and has appeared in numerous documentaries and featured films. Sometimes he also provided his horses and his wrangling skills to one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. What is most remarkable about Cowboy however, isn’t what he does, it is who he is. He has this lanky, aw shucks persona with pioneer determination and his face conveys it all. Artist Les Lefever said “He has a face that changes from hour to hour and day to day. It is a different, interesting and definitely western look.” Dozens of artists have thought the same using Cowboy’s image in more than a hundred paintings that now hang in galleries and homes throughout the country. His face is honest, interesting, optimistic, Artist Joe Velazquez described his “devilish grin.” Artist Ruth Ann Sturgill said that “Cowboy and his family are amazing, good people – The kind we need more of in this world. Cowboy has become the face of Kansas, of the American West. It is a good face. So join me if you will to celebrate the many faces and the incredible talent of my friend Robert “Cowboy” Culbertson.

(Ron) Years ago we had a bad fire here at the ranch when our daughter was little. We lost an entire machine shed and it was a traumatic experience for her. I wrote this poem about that day. It’s titled, “You Have to Cowboy Up.” Daddy what do we do my little girl said, as we stared at the burning remains of our shed. The machine shed on our ranch had just gone up in flames, with the tractors and trailers and wagons it contained. I looked at my daughter as she cradled her scared pup, and said at times like these you have to cowboy up. You have to be strong, you have to be tough, you can’t let hard times get you down facing this stuff. When you get bucked off, pick ourself up off the ground and get back on that horse to try another round. And if life gives you lemons, you just can’t be afraid, turn a negative into a positive and make some lemonade. Yes, we’ve lost our old machine shed but that opens up some space, we’ll be able to rebuild something better in its place. But Daddy, my daughter said with tear filled eyes, think of all the work you did on those things inside. Yes, I said as I thought of what we faced, it is a loss and there are things that just can’t be replaced. But things are still just things they’re not the people that we love, we still have many blessings thanks to the good lord up above. So I held my daughter close as I drained my coffee cup and said be brave my little one, you have to cowboy up. Happy trails.

1 Comment

  1. Great article of a very interesting and charismatic fella!

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