A few thoughts as I travel the state for book signings…
Welcome back. There ought to be a song about my travels last week. Down the road at Pittsburg, Kansas where the hometown mascot is the Pittsburg Gorilla. Then on to Tulsa where I lectured to the largest OLLI class ever. Asleep in Oklahoma City that night after listening to the magic chants of tribal Elders at an event in the Western Heritage Center, then up at dawn to Pawnee home to one of the greatest Wild West performers in American history. Dinner in Stillwater later at the city library with the cowboy faithful and then a late night rendezvous with the Eagles, one of the oldest service clubs in the nation. Throw in a little harmony, some guitar, get a good singer, give it to my friend Jim Halsey and you might just have a hit.
For me getting a chance to visit all these great places is always a hit so it’s a challenge to decide where to start this week. With both cowboys and New York City in my future plans I think I’ll begin with the story of one of the greatest western performers I know of who frequently appeared in New York City.
Gordon William Lillie was just a boy of 10 when he read Buffalo Bill Cody’s account of how he killed Sioux Indian Chief Tall Bull in a one on one battle to the death. That was 1869 and just a couple of years later Gordon got a chance to see his hero in person in Bloomington, Illinois where Bill was performing at an opera house in a show called “The Scouts of the Plains.” That was all it took and before long Gordon was westward bound where he eventually started his own Wild West show. He became known not as Gordon Lillie but as Pawnee Bill. The Pawnee Bill Wild West show traveled throughout the United States and Europe. In 1908 he and Buffalo Bill combined their shows and a year later the “Bills” as they were advertised, performed in Madison Square Garden. Gordon and his wife made their home in Pawnee, Oklahoma and today the property is maintained just as it was on February 3, 1942 when Pawnee Bill died on his beloved ranch at the age of 82. The house is a museum now and all the furnishings and fixtures as well as the outbuildings are still the same. There is also a herd of fancy longhorn cattle, and of course buffalo, roaming the grounds. If you’re interested in the old west, in my opinion it’s a must see in your lifetime.
After Pawnee was the town of Kiicawiuusi as it is called in the Pawnee language, or Stillwater to most of us. I spent the night here and found several tidbits of information which you may not know so here we go. The town was part of the first land run in 1889 and after settlement it became the center of Oklahoma Indian territory. The largest employer is Oklahoma State University and in 2010 Money Magazine listed Stillwater as one of the top 100 places to live in the country. Stillwater is also right in the middle of tornado alley, it is home to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and it is considered to be a destination for tourists visiting Oklahoma. The Ponca, Kiowa, Osage and Pawnee all called the area still water because of the peaceful creek that flowed through but it’s not like that anymore! Another great place that I highly recommend.
I must also mention the Indian ceremony I attended last Tuesday night at the Western Heritage Center where I was privileged to be invited to attend an annual ceremony honoring an elder from each Indian tribe in Oklahoma. This year, my dear friend Coke Meyer who’s Cherokee was among the distinguished group of Native Elders recognized for their service to their tribes. The event was put together by AARP Oklahoma and there was dancing, good food and wonderful storytelling by an array of noted speakers. Quite an evening for a kid from Dewey, Oklahoma.
With the OSU lecture series going strong through the end of the month, then throw in numerous book signing engagements around the state I may just have another song for the flip side.
Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road…..