Home on the Range

(Deb) Welcome to a very special edition of Around Kansas. I’m sitting here at the Home on the Range Cabin with the Great Granddaughters of the man who wrote the music, set the song to music and wrote the refrain that is known around the world, Home on the Range. We’re gonna visit them, we’re gonna interview the descendants of Mr. Higley who wrote the poem, we’re gonna talk to El Dean Holthus who actually is responsible for a lot of what we see here today and the preservation of the cabin. Stay with us.Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.(Deb) Welcome to the Home on the Range Cabin. And with me is El Dean Holthus and this is a really special day. This is one you’ve been looking forward to for a long time. (El Dean) Well, we’ve been working on it for about two years, or planning for it. We had celebrated the 140th anniversary of the cabin two years ago. And then completed the fund raising and the restoration was actually completed in July of ’13 and then we spent the rest of the time planning this event. (Deb) Now El Dean this is a very special place to you and talk about what it means to you and this community. (El Dean) Well, in the community, it’s probably… well it’s the only National Historic Site on the register. But personally for me it is a tribute not only to Dr. Higley, but also to my Aunt and Uncle, Pete and Ellen Rust who saved it. They had an opportunity to sell it over the years and then Aunt Ellen established the trust which provides for perpetual care. So, it is guaranteed always to stay on the site where Dr. Higley built it. (Deb) That’s amazing, bless their hearts for doing that. Because Home on the Range, of course, the most famous state song in the nation, hands down. And such meaning for people who grew up on the plains. (El Dean) Yes it is. And many of your viewers would know Oren Freisen and they tell the stories about how well it’s known around the world. And we have antidotes from people who say that it’s taught in Hastings, Nebraska, in Japan. Denmark it’s taught in. It’s played in Russia. And then the most exciting one, is about two years ago Keith Hooper, local Rotarian does work in the Philippines. And a native tribe in the Philippines knew Home on the Range in their own language. So that is one of our trump cards, the latest one. (Deb) That is really amazing. Now, the improvement to the site, talk about what you’ve done here. (El Dean) Well of course the pivot point will always be the cabin. So, all that we do will help to magnify that. We have a nature walk with three foot bridges and a restored road bridge. We have data stations along that nature walk and each of the stories are different but each data station has a reference to Dr. Higley, to Home on the Range or to this community. (Deb) Well, this is just a beautiful site and of course right here on the creek bank and you can obviously see why he chose this can’t you? (El Dean) Well, yes you can and if you get a chance you might interview some of the people that’s over here, the mountain man with the tent because two of them stayed out there. And they shared with me this morning that they grasped the feeling that Dr. Higley would have had because you really have to be out here alone, at night, to grasp what this means. And there’s another significance about it that Dr. Higley and people who understand homesteading. Most people homesteaded a northeast, southeast quarter. Dr. Higley took two 80’s in the middle, east half of one, west half of another, so he could get the maximum footage of West Beaver Creek. And that’s what he was interested in and he recognized the beauty of that. (Deb) Well, kudos, you guys have done a wonderful job and like you said it’s preserved forever more. And you’ve just done a wonderful job and it took a lot of hard work and a lot of volunteers and Kansas is very grateful for that. (El Dean) Thank you very much. And it’s probably the only, according to our general contractor, the only one room combination log, limestone cabin still standing in the country on its original site. (Deb) That’s amazing. Thanks El Dean. (El Dean) Thank you. (Deb) We’ll be right back.

(Deb) Welcome back to the Home on the Range Cabin and with me are two of the descendants of the people that actually put this poem to music. And one of the things about the wild west that may not be as familiar to people is how popular orchestras were and bands. And a lot of these little communities had pretty extensive brass bands and that was just a big piece of the entertainment and that’s a big piece of this story. So with me are… (Sally) I’m Sally Lankas (Deb) And… (Susan) Hi, I’m Susan Smith and we’re descendants of Cal Harlan and Dan Kelley. (Deb) Now, tell me a little bit about Dan Kelley first. Let’s start with him. (Sally) Well, he married Cal Harlan’s sister and so he became part of that. And he found the poem or heard about the poem and set the tune to the words. (Deb) And then what happened? (Susan) Well, I also heard that after he met Dr. Higley he was given the poem and he had a tune in his head and he hummed it all the way home and once he got home, he wrote it down on paper. And then he took it to his brother-in-law Cal Harlan and brother Gene and they said, “I think this needs a refrain to keep the verses flowing.” So, they wrote the refrain which is the part everyone knows: Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play. Then the Harlan brothers had an orchestra and they were going to have a dance, a social in their home, or their barn like they did in those days and they played it for the first time that evening on that night. I think that was 1874. (Deb) And the reaction when they played it was… (Sally) Well, it was overwhelming. Everybody wanted to hear it again and again. And then it became popular and being shared from state to state. And that lead to a lot of controversy of who had really written it or where did it belong. So, we’re glad it wound up in Kansas. (Deb) Absolutely, where would we be without it. Now, how did… did you grow up knowing your family’s connection to the story? (Sally) Oh yes, yeah. So, our Dad made sure where ever we traveled, whatever there was music around, he would always request Home on the Range and you hear Home on the Range played all around the world. (Deb) That is so amazing. So, it’s gotta mean a lot to you to be here today. (Susan) It means so much. If our Father were alive, he would just be over the moon. From the time I was a little girl, I knew that Home on the Range was a most special song and I always knew the words. And I always got an A+ on Kansas Day when I wrote my paper about Home on the Range. (Deb) That’s awesome. Thank you all so much for joining us. Stay tuned. We’ll be right back.

(Deb) Welcome back to the Home on the Range Cabin and with me are two of the descendants of Dr. Higley. And these guys grew up in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where Dr. Higley moved on to and is buried, is that right? So tell me what its like to be here at this cabin, and is this a place you guys came back to when you were growing up? (Greg) No, not really, in fact just a couple of years ago was the first time I had ever visited here, that I can remember anyway. But it was something that has always been a part of our family and the heritage of it, the history of it, to connect it to our name and our family is just phenomenal, that its still standing. So its just intriguing. I came back a couple of years ago and I was ready to come back this year. (Deb) Now when you were school kids, did you grow up singing this song? (Mike) Yeah, this song is known all over Oklahoma where we grew up. Of course its one of the most well known songs in the world. (Deb) So did you jump up and down in school and say we’re related to the guy who wrote it? (Mike) No, I don’t remember ever doing that. We’re kind of like Dr. Higley, we’re just kind of reserved. We took our credit whenever we could get it. (Deb) What does it mean to you to come here today with the re-dedication of the cabin and all the hard work that people have done? (Greg) Its an honor, but it s also a responsibility, for the Higley family. We take a part in this celebration, but its definitely an honor just to be a part of this and see so many people here that have dedicated their time and their resources to help make this happen. (Deb) Now did you grow up in the country? I guess what I’m asking is, in the same kind of setting? Do you connect with what he saw here when he wrote that song? (Greg) Well I do now. I grew up in Shawnee, which is not a huge town, but I was a pretty much a city boy. But after my wife and I met, her folks have a place in the country in Oklahoma. We moved there and this is great to me, I could live here. (Deb) How about you? Could you live here? (Mike) I could live here for a while. Its nice out here. You can see where he came up with the words. Its beautiful. (Deb) Now a lot of people think that Kansas is flat, and then you see this pretty rugged countryside here. (Greg) Yes it is. Some parts are flat when you get out west, but here its gorges, with rolling hills, a lot of trees, beautiful. (Deb) I saw on Facebook the other day, now the Higley Family has a Facebook page, is that where I saw that the whole family got together and sang Home on the Range? Is that the first time that has happened? (Greg) No, we do that every year at our reunion. (Deb) Really? (Greg) Yeah, we have a reunion every year and that’s how we end our reunion, by singing Home on the Range. (Deb) Well that is just pretty cool. and the Higleys are just spread out everywhere? (Greg) Everywhere. All across the country and probably all across the world. I don’t know. (Deb) Now Dr. Higley is buried in Shawnee? (Greg) He and his wife. (Deb) Now do you mark that with a special occasion? Do you do anything special to take care of his gravestone? (Greg) Well, no. Its in a cemetery that’s well taken care of. there’s actually a historical marker there, been there a long time. Its out on the street that borders the cemetery and if you drive through Shawnee down Harrison Street you can see it. (Deb) That’s wonderful! Thank you guys so much and congratulations. This is an awesome family legacy. We’ll be right back.

(Deb) Welcome to the Home on the Range Cabin and with me is my good friend Marla Matkin. And Marla has been portraying Libbie Custer among other historic characters for quite a while. And Marla, it’s good to see you and as we walked up Noel said, “She always has the prettiest dresses.” (Marla) Well, it’s always good to see you. I never know when or where I’m gonna run in to you. (Deb) So, tell me about how you became interested in portraying Libbie and what kind of challenge it was. She’s an incredible woman. (Marla) Oh undoubtedly. I’ve been portraying Libbie for about 20 years now and it is a marriage of two of my loves, history and theater. And I was looking for someone who could speak to the west the frontier, military, and often times you don’t hear the women’s perspective. (Deb) Right. (Marla) And so I thought she was the perfect one. You’ve got to have somebody that has a recognizable name to catch everyone’s attention. (Deb) Well Custer, about the most recognized name in the west. Now, what…tell us about Libbie and maybe how she met George and some of the characteristics that impress you about her. (Marla) Well, she was intelligent, witty, charming. But actually she contemplated not marrying at all. She considered going to New York and studying art. She couldn’t see herself as the traditional housewife. And then at a Thanksgiving party given by the teacher at her seminary she met George Armstrong Custer. Now, she wasn’t nearly as impressed with him upon their first meeting, official meeting, supposedly they’d had a meeting in childhood. But wasn’t as impressed with him as he was with her. In fact, it said that he walked away saying this is the woman I’m going to marry. And she was a little miffed at the gentleman she was with that night and so she just kind of spoke to him to kind of satisfy the situation and.. (Deb) Nothing new under the sun is there? (Marla) No, no, no. But I tell you Custer pursued her like he did all his adversaries, with fervor and he was not to be denied even though her father wasn’t thrilled with him. And… but none the less he persisted and won over not only her, but her father and so they were married on February 9, 1864. (Deb) And then he died in 1876 and after his death it’s Libbie that is most responsible for his, any positive legacy that he left. (Marla) Right. She wrote three books Boots and Saddles, Tenting on the Plains and Following a Guidon. Plus she had a very active speaking circuit with the Red Path Lyceum Bureau, among others. And it was her mission in life to make sure that he was remembered as the hero that she felt he needed to be thought of as. And she lived a long and hearty life. She lived 57 years after his death. And so she out lived many of his contemporaries, plus his critics. So, there was no one really left when she was gone to dispute what she said or really could speak to it in first person. And so some feel she has muddied the waters. Others… a lot of men greatly admire her for her loyalty to her husband. But she has… not only has she left us with the legacy of George Custer, but of the frontier, of the west, of the army and the life at the time before it was settled. (Deb) Well Marla does an amazing job portraying Libbie and if you get the chance you better catch her when she’s in town. We’ll be right back.

—Song— Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day. Home, home on the range. Where deer and the antelope play, where seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

1 Comment

  1. I told my kids we’d play after I found what I nedeed. Damnit.

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