Marla Matkin, Prairie Museum of Art and History

(Frank) Today Around Kansas starts with Living Historian Marla Matkin, who brings together a love of history and theatre to tell stories of the west. Next learn about the Prairie Museum of Art and History in Colby with a collection that includes the Cooper Barn, one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture. Then enjoy a poem from Ron Wilson and we’ll end with the Devil’s Claw, an edible wild plant, if you’re adventurous!

Closed Captioning Brought to you by Ag Promo Source. Together we grow. Learn more at

(Frank Chaffin) Good morning, I’m Frank. (Deb Goodrich) I’m Deb. (Frank) And this is Around Kansas, and it’s early in the morning. Last time, we kidded around about having an Emmy show for early, early morning shows, well– (Deb) I wasn’t kidding. (Frank) Yes, we’re going to do that. (Deb) Yes, I wasn’t kidding. (Frank) No, we’re going to do that so get ready to vote. (Deb) It was no laughing matter. (Frank) Yes, so we have some good stories today about Kansas. (Deb) And speaking of Emmy’s and awards and then filmmaking and all that stuff, I was on the set a few weeks ago of the Home on the Range documentary that we’ve talked about on the show, our friend Ken Spurgeon and Lone Chimney Films has been working on. I can’t tell you all how awesome this film is going to be. And Michael Martin Murphy, the singer plays a judge in this film. Buck Taylor has a role, and Rance Howard, who is the father of Ron Howard, has a role in this film, and it’s going to be phenomenal. We were on set at Cow Town. They were filming some of the scenes from the Turn of the Last Century there in Wichita. It was just amazing. It’s going to be an amazing film. (Frank) Is there a planned release date? (Deb) They’re looking at November. (Frank) Really? (Deb) Yes. It’s going to be a quick turnaround, but they’ve worked really hard, and so they’re hoping for November. We will keep you posted and let you know when the screenings will happen. But folks, you’re going to be very excited to see this one. I am so pleased to have anything to do with it. I got a really minor, play a very minor role but I’m proud to have that. (Frank) Now, what role do you play? [Laughs] (Deb) I’m actually, I am not acting. (Frank) You’re not in the — well, never mind. (Deb) I’m interviewing people, yes. I can’t act. This is me. This is what you get folks. Better or worse, this is it but I’m doing interviews. I interviewed Michael Martin Murphy and my friend Ken Spurgeon. Sometimes it’s hard to interview your friends. You think you know everything so you don’t ask them, you know this Frank. You don’t ask them the same questions that you would a stranger or somebody you don’t know as well. That is often more difficult but I think it went really well. I think this is going to be some of the extra stuff maybe on the DVD, the interviews about people’s thoughts on the song Home On The Range, and it’s why they are involved and have passion for the project so that’s cool. (Frank) I think we did a story on the song Home On The Range and why he wrote it and it was trying to get his fiancée to actually come back to Kansas and marry him but I remember rightly. (Deb) In the early Kansas, people would ride home and say things. They might exaggerate how pretty it was, but when you go out to that cabin and you look around that landscape Michael Martin Murphy was talking about, you can picture exactly what he was saying. And it is beautiful, and it was beautiful. Some folks might think he was taking literary license but maybe not. Go out and see. It might be that pretty. We’ve got a great show folks, stay with us.

(Frank) Here we are again. (Deb) I’m fortunate to know a lot of very, very talented people as are you, Frank. And I have a lot of reenactor friends, living historians. And what they mean by living historian as opposed to the dead ones? Living historian portrays a person so they’re portraying somebody. They’re not just lecturing about somebody. They’re actually portraying that person. If you’re looking for somebody to come to your class or your group, and you’re looking for living historian, it means that they’re actually portraying, taking on the role. Acting, all about acting today. They’re actually acting and doing the history at the same time so that’s what my friend Marla Matkin does. She does Libbie Custer. She’s an incredibly talented person, incredibly talented. That’s hard to do, to research somebody. When I was doing a lot of programs with the Ritchie House, they wanted me to be Mary Jane Ritchie, and I’m like, “Lord, have mercy.” For one thing, I’m nothing like Mary Jane. My accent would not have been like hers for sure. She was a quiet, pious woman. So I felt, I know it is laughable. (Frank) Casting a person is really hard. (Deb) Yes, really awful, and they were desperate. You know desperate, Frank? They were desperate. (Frank) But it’s acting. (Deb) They were desperate. Well, I gave it my best shot. I don’t think I was asked to come back and be Mary Jane. But my friend Diane Bernheimer does a great job as Mary Jane Ritchie. There are other people who have done far better than I, but I just don’t feel like I know anybody that well. You have to do a lot of work and know somebody that well and portray them, and answer questions like you think they would. (Frank) Yes, because their friends might come along and say, “She didn’t do that. Oh, that’s right, they’re reenacting it out”. (Deb) They will. The friends will come along and say that. Yes, believe me. Historians, yes, they’ll all come by and say, “Yes, that’s not right. Yes, she would never say that”. You can count on that and I just can’t take the criticism. [Laughter] (Deb) Leave it to Marla. (Frank) Oh my. We need to do a story. (Deb) All right, let’s take a look at my friend Marla Matkin. Is there any drama that compares to stories of real people in the American West? Living historian Marla Matkin brings her love of history and drama together and has made a life of sharing those dramatic stories. Becoming a living historian and independent scholar was a perfect marriage of history and theatre. These two disciplines prove a powerful combination in telling the story of the West and the people who colored its landscape. She has organized two theatre groups reminiscent of 19th Century theatrical troupes, The Post Players and Buffalo Bill’s Combination. She also writes and directs the group’s offerings. A lifelong Kansan, Marla grew up near Dodge City. Her great-grandparents had homesteaded in Ford County in 1877. Marla received a degree in education from Fort Hays State University, which proves a valuable asset in her effort to educate, entertain and inspire her audiences. She has recently written her first children’s book Custer’s Mouse, with more hopefully to follow. She volunteers her time and expertise at Fort Hays State Historic Site and is leading the committee to mark its 150th anniversary in 2017. She also volunteers at Fort Larned National Historic Site. For over twenty years, she has appeared before thousands of spectators. Her most notable engagements include the Smithsonian; Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming; National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City; and various National Parks. Marla has been on the roster of Humanities Nebraska for fourteen years, allowing her to share her passion for Western History with young and old alike throughout the state. As new possibilities present themselves, she hopes to grow her audiences, expand her horizons and educate and excite future historians and enthusiasts in an effort to keep history alive and relevant.

(Deb) Not really. [Laughs] (Frank) Straighten up, we’re back. Hello again. We were talking about acting and getting involved. We were away doing that story and I don’t know. There’s a commercial for some sort of hard cider or something with Captain Picard, and he says, “I’m not acting” and then, “Will somebody give me a line”. The thing is, I’ve never quite understood that commercial but that’s just me. (Deb) I think acting up would be what my mom would have told me. Yes, there’s acting, and then there’s acting up, and I think acting up is what Frank and I do here. (Frank) Yes, okay. We’re going to go way out to western Kansas next and we’re going to go Colby. Have you ever been to Colby? It’s really out there, it’s upon the High Plains but it’s not too far off the interstate. Anyway, there’s a museum there that you really have to go see. (Deb) You do and Colby is right there on I-70 and it’s one of the last stops before you get to Colorado, and of course, everybody stops there at the Oasis and goes to the Starbucks. And if you do that, you can go over to the Prairie Museum. I can’t say enough about this museum, you will be blown away. And I know I say that a lot but your jaw will drop when you go in and see the Kuska collection in this museum, and that’s just one piece of what’s there. (Frank) Well, and if you’re saying, “To see one museum, you’ve seen them all”. (Deb) No. (Frank) No, because this place, there’s a lot of acreage there, and there’s a sod house. I mean it’s really a cool place to stop and really have a serious look around. And the collections in there, you’re not going to believe. (Deb) And they have a little exhibit to Sam Ramey who is a native of Colby, and it was one of the nominees for the Kansas Music Hall of Fame this year. So another little plug there. Again, just when you think you have western Kansas pegged or maybe more rural Kansas, you’ve got this world-class opera singer from Little Bitty Colby out there on the High Plains. (Frank) Well now, because up in South Dakota, everybody says, “Well, you got to go to Wall Drug and Wall Drug is right out in the middle of nowhere”. (Deb) Okay, that really is nowhere, yes. (Frank) Now, the thing is no, this museum is not out in the middle of nowhere. It’s right there and it deserves a stop. (Deb) It does. You will thank us. You will write us letters and thank us when you go in this museum and see how great it was. I promise. (Frank) So I’m going to tell you the story. Experience early prairie life in a sod house, a one-room school, a country church and a 1930s farmstead as you discover 24-acres of outdoor exhibits of the Prairie Museum of Art and History. Among those is the Cooper Barn, the largest in Kansas and one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture. All of which would be enough reason to stop and explore, but the main building holds some surprising treasures! With more than 21,000 square feet, it was designed by architect George Kuska to house his parents’ extensive collection. George’s Dad came to Colby in 1913 as an agronomist for the Colby Branch Experiment Station, what is now Kansas State. In 1917, he married Nellie McVey, a Colby schoolteacher originally from Hill City. She spent her entire life collecting and was even given the opportunity to talk about her acquisitions and hobby on her own radio program. Her lifelong passion for collecting began at the age of seven when she received an antique bisque doll dated from 1887. It was a reward for learning her multiplication tables. The couple continued to add to her collections and in 1957; Joe and Nellie moved to California and opened the Kuska Museum. They operated the museum until Nellie’s death in 1973. The entire collection was later donated to the people of Thomas County, Kansas, by the Kuska Foundation. It took more than three of the largest moving vans to transport seventeen tons of artifacts from California to Colby. The Smithsonian and other experts appraised the collection at a value of more than one million dollars in 1975. The museum is located on Interstate-70 in between exits 53 and 54, and hosts annual programs and activities designed for both children and adults in addition to its regular exhibits.

(Ron Wilson) Perhaps we’ve seen horses with problems through the years but I’ve come to find from my experience that often times the problem isn’t the horse, it’s the rider. This poem is entitled the Problem Horse or the Horse’s Problem. Here’s part one: “What’s wrong with this horse?” the young rider asked, as he struggled with the job for which he was tasked. She balks at the trailer, won’t stand at the gates, and she doesn’t move right when I want to change gait. She’s skittish as heck and she spooks at my rope. I’m beginning to think this darn mare is a dope. I’m trying to get the work done that I need but I can’t make her start upon the right lead. Disgust and frustration fueled the cowboy’s discourse as they ask the question, “What’s wrong with this horse?” Here’s part two: “What’s wrong with this rider?” the mare must have thought as he went through the struggles the morning had brought. Does he want me to gallop or just go and lope? Does he know that he cracked me upside with his rope? Do we stop at the gate or go on down the fence? What the heck does he want? His cues make no sense. Is he squeezing his knees because he wants to go fast or is this any different than it was in the past? The mixed signals she got cause frustration inside her, and the mare had to wonder, “What’s wrong with this rider?” Happy Trails.

(Frank) Hi, we’re back again. So, oh my. We really do have a lot of fun on this show, and we are so happy that you join us. Now again we’re going to put another plug in for where we are, and that is the Dillon House which is in Topeka right across from the State Capitol. I’m pointing that way because today the room that we’re in, the capitol’s over there. (Deb) Sometimes the capitol moves, sometimes it’s over there, over there, over there. (Frank) And sometimes it’s over there, it does move around. (Deb) Yes, it moves around sometimes. (Frank) Anyway, you have a neat story coming up. Give us a little bit of a prelude to it. I don’t know what this is but I wonder, “Does it taste like crab or lobster?” (Deb) Not exactly, no, Devil’s Claw. I’m just messing around the barnyard and there’s this, we’ve got sunflowers all over the place and all kinds of other weeds and it’s a lot to keep up. But I’m always coming across something that I’m not familiar with, and the Devil’s Claw was blowing. Dr. Jake is explaining about the Devil’s Claw and I’m like, “Wow and it’s got pods on it” and I’m like, you know me, “is it edible?” and one of my friends said, “I don’t know why anybody would want to”. So I start looking around. I started doing research, and the seeds are edible and there’s a great book, can I grab this book real quick? All right. Frank, I found this great book. This is so good. Edible Wild Plants Of The Prairie – who knew – Kelly Kindscher or Kindscher. I’m sorry Kelly if I’m not getting your name correct. This is an amazing book and right here is a photograph of Devil’s Claw and they’ve got all these great little drawings of all these plants. But he talks about what the Indians would have used the plant for, and if they would have eaten it. And he makes all these historic references like the Stephen Long Expedition, did they talk about this specific plant, so it’s a fantastic book. Well, long story short, I had to try Devil’s Claw and it’s got the texture of okra, so I fried some up and I’m like, “Here Dr. Jake, try it” and he’s like, “I don’t like okra. Why would I try- [Laughter] (Deb) – why would I try this?” Some people just have no sense of adventure but how can — do you like okra? (Frank) No. (Deb) What’s wrong with you people? (Frank) Well, it depends on how it is fixed. I mean just okra and eat it, no. (Deb) Well, if it’s fried, if it’s fried like a — roll it in enough cornmeal and sprinkle enough stuff and fry it in some good grease. Yes, it’s all-good. Rolling cornmeal and fry it in grease, it’s good. (Frank) There you go. (Deb) All right. (Frank) Little bacon. [Laughs] (Deb) Bacon grease, that’s the best. Let’s take a look. It is called unicorn plant, proboscis flower, cat’s claw and ram’s horn. Most Kansans refer to it as Devil’s Claw because when the pod dries and splits apart, it forms two sharply hooked claws or horns. The dried pods had littered the barnyard; they were obviously meant to be used in floral arrangements. But those green pods, those bright green pods that look like okra gone awry, could they be useful? Useful, yes, and tasty! I posted the photo of the plant on Facebook and got all sorts of advice on preparing the pods, mostly pickling. But some sources said it could be fried. So I cut some up, rolled it in cornmeal and fried it like okra. It was pretty good, a slight bitter aftertaste, but pretty good. Then I found Kelly Kindscher’s book, Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie, and it suggested boiling in salt water to tenderize. Another friend, Cindy Tune, said soaking in milk would take the bitter away. I will try both. Fortunately, we are blessed with Devil’s Claw enough to experiment. The plant has a strong odor and is usually found in sandy soil, fields or pastures. We have lots of space that fits that description! Devil’s Claw, another reminder to take time to learn about the world around you, even if that world is just the barnyard.

(Frank) Well, I think they want us to get out of here, so I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m sure they do, Deb. (Frank) And we’ll see you somewhere- (Both) – Around Kansas.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by Ag Promo Source. Together we grow. Learn more at

No Comments Yet.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.