The Pioneer Woman and Me

I’m heading over to Pawhuska in the morning to see all the activity!

Welcome back. With the grand opening of Ree Drummond’s, or as millions know her, The Pioneer Woman’s new Mercantile on Main Street in Pawhuska, OK, my friends there tell me that thousands are expected to flood the town starting on October 31st. As there are few motels in Pawhuska itself, the overflow to the surrounding communities should be a boon to all the local economies. I think area museums and restaurants will be benefiting and as you know downtown Bartlesville is looking pretty good and should be an attraction as well.

According to The Pioneer Woman website, this project has been several years in the making beginning when Ree and her husband rancher Ladd Drummond purchased an old building in Pawhuska in 2013 and began renovations. The first phase was completed in 2014 and included a large event space and offices for the couple’s numerous enterprises. The second phase was the development of the Pioneer Woman Mercantile which will encompass a retail store showcasing Ree’s extensive line of home goods, a bakery, deli and coffee bar. There will also be an online store.

In addition to the Mercantile building the Drummonds also purchased the former Alco facility in Pawhuska which has been refurbished to serve as a warehouse for the store and online operations. Needless to say, all of these activities have also created a hiring boom in the area.

A true treasure for a small town Ree Drummond is best known as a blogger, author and cooking show host but she is also a wife, mother and know soon to be the director of a major retail enterprise. If you are among the millions who follow her website as well as her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts you probably know all this but back in the mid-1970s when I first met her it was a different Ree Drummond who lived in the Kenilworth addition of Bartlesville. This section of town was just being developed in an area of large estate like properties such as H.C. Price’s home and Shin En Kan which was just across the street but going south there were few homes. Once it was established Kenilworth became an upscale development, attracting Phillips’ executives and well known families like the Tylers (heirs to the Dewey Concrete Plant) and the Mullendores.
I was a young man fresh from dropping out of college and I was working for Dunlap Builders on the construction of Dr. Burris’ new home which was right next door to Dr. Bill Smith’s house who happens to be Ree’s dad. As I remember Ree was a very happy little girl but it was her brother Mike and I who bonded. Little did I, Mike or her folks know what a big impact this small girl would make in the world. If by some chance you don’t know who the Pioneer Woman is yet, you might take a little drive to Pawhuska in the next few weeks and check out her new store. You won’t need an address, just look for the crowds.

My sources also tell me that Ree has just purchased some property at the intersection of Highway 75 and Price Road for an outlet store and I’m betting that it will be open by Christmas so we may have a little Pioneer Woman madness coming here in Bartlesville too.

Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road…..



Way Out In Western Oklahoma

I was recently traveling in the western part of the state…

Welcome back. This past weekend Joe Washington and I had quite a party on campus corner in Norman with some of the many fans who consider Joe to be the greatest running back in Oklahoma history. We were both autographing books but Joe signed anything people brought to him. Footballs, hats, shirts, towels and baby clothes, Joe gladly signed them all, posing for dozens of photos in between. Several other well-known players dropped in and before I knew it we had a whole team of past players along with several other current OU athletes, both men and women. Bob Stoops’ restaurant, Louie’s Grill, which is next door to Balfour’s, provided free hors oeuvres. If all this sounds like fun, Joe and I are going to do it again on Friday October 29th which is the day before the Kansas game and once again you’re all invited. There will be free food, past ball players, music and fun for all I guarantee. Hope to see you there.

The party ended about 5 for me as I had to drive to Woodward which I figured was about half way to Guymon, Oklahoma where I was scheduled to for a radio interview at 8 AM Saturday morning. Woodward is the largest town in a nine county area and it is located in an isolated part of Oklahoma. European settlers came to the area in the mid-1800s and at one time Woodward had the most important cattle shipping depot in Oklahoma Territory.

Of course a number of Indian tribes were the first to enjoy the boiling hot springs in the region including the Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Cheyenne and Arapaho but that was before the U.S. Army built Fort Supply. As it happened, a young Lt. Colonel named George Armstrong Custer was stationed at Fort Supply during the early days of his career. There were many outlaws in the area including Bill Boolin and Bill Dalton who robbed the Woodward train station. Through the years other famous people came to Woodward as well. Charles Lindbergh made an emergency landing here in 1934, staying for two days while another plane was sent for. During a major drought in 1957 President Dwight D. Eisenhower flew in to inspect the disaster. At night the sky outside of town is lit up with lights from hundreds of wind turbines and oil and gas rigs. Woodward also boasts the largest deposits of Iodine in the world. The town has a population of 12,000 and in my opinion it is a neat place to visit.

Two and a half hours west along the George Nigh Northwest Passage lies Guymon which was my destination for the rest of the weekend. One of the first things that caught my attention about the town was the rodeo grounds and the fact that they hold the fifth largest outdoor rodeo in the country which draws elite competitors on the PRCA rodeo circuit. I learned Guymon has a diverse economy with farming, livestock production, manufacturing and of course, oil and gas. Although many consider the town to be out of the way, I found the folks in Guymon are very hospitable and enjoy their place on earth. It is another interesting place to visit and there are lots of highway motels that are quite reasonable. I think you might like it as well as I did.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road…


Little House On the Prairie……

More travels in southeast Kansas. I’ve spent this past weekend in Guymon so I should have a story for you about that soon….

Welcome back. Over the past few weeks I have found many historic treasures along the roads of far southeast Kansas. In Sedan this past week I found another one. Want to see some housing from the early 1930s and 40s that looks just like when they were built? Sedan, Kansas would be a good place to start. Driving around town I found that the residents here are really proud of their past and do an extremely good job of keeping up the old houses. Throw in a couple of good eating places that I also checked out and it looks to me like this old Kansas town is definitely worth a visit just about any day of the week.

A few miles east of course is where Charles Ingalls and his family settled in 1869 which at the time was Osage Indian territory. The Ingalls family stayed for just four years and by the 1920s the land belonged to the Houston family who used it as farmland. Then in 1935 Charles Ingalls daughter Laura published her book Little House on the Prairie and I’m sure you know where I am going by now. Located 12 miles south of Independence, just off highway 75, the house is now a popular tourist destination visited by thousands each year. Over time the book spawned a beloved TV show that is still in syndication and a museum near the homestead.

Brigadier General William Kurtis and his wife Wilma Horton Kurtis began giving free tours of the property to encourage people to read Ingalls’s book and eventually they purchased the land. In 1976 a replica of the original one room cabin was constructed on the site. It’s a place I discovered along with the Little House museum in Independence where the heirs of the Kurtis family told me that people come from around the world to see where the scenes in the book took place.

On another note, if that Kurtis name sounds familiar it might be because it’s the same Bill Kurtis of radio and TV fame whose family now manages the homestead. I’ve visited with Bill in the past and he is mentioned in my book, Footprints in the Dew. Bill has been active in the Sedan community for as long as I can remember and as you can imagine he is also a very personable guy. On this trip I also met his sister Jean Kurtis Schodorf who is equally involved in the community and is running for State Representative in that district.

After a little research I learned that the Little House on the Prairie and the museum are registered not-for-profit organizations dedicated to preserving the history of the Ingalls family homestead. This is another spot that is well worth a drive and friends its free but you’d better hurry, the homestead closes October 31st for the season. Call (620) 289-4238 for all the scoop.

This coming week starts for me in Norman, Oklahoma where the Oklahoma Sooners will be playing Kansas State. Balfour’s, the home of OU memorabilia, will be hosting me and silver shoes Joe Washington for another book signing this Friday from 2-4 PM. This will be my second gig at Balfour’s with Joe and you never know who might show up. Balfour’s is located on campus corner where the pre-game party takes place Friday and you are all officially invited.

If you are into photography you are in luck because the Oklahoma State Institute of Technology is holding their annual photography exhibit in the Lyon Gallery at the Bartlesville Community Center. I’ve been to this show several times and I’m always impressed by the range of subject matter and the high quality of the images. The show will be up throughout the month of October and folks, it’s free to attend.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road…..


On The Trail of the Notorious Bender Family

Welcome back. As I found out this past Saturday, the drive into Longton, Kansas is beautiful from any direction you take. I attended Longton’s fall festival and am happy to report that this little town of 348 friendly folks was well worth the trip. The town was named after Longton, England and you can tell from the historic downtown that this was once a thriving community.  There’s a beautiful old bank building right on Main that is now a cool little bar called BK and other similar structures next to it that give you an idea of what life was like here in the 1920s and 30s.

The next town over is Elk City which is another small town of around 325 that was founded in 1868. One of the main attractions in town is an 857 acre park on the east sore of the city reservoir which offers boat ramps, a swimming beach, camping and hiking trails. Like Longton, this is a quiet, scenic spot and everyone I spoke to in both communities said they loved living in towns where everyone knows and looks out for one another.

Down the road a piece farther is Elk Falls which bills itself as the world’s Largest Living Ghost Town. With fewer than 200 year around residents, Elk Falls comes to life in the summer when several tourist oriented businesses open up and people come to see the scenic waterfalls on the Elk River. Elk Falls was also the last home of the famous black educator Prudence Crandall who opened the first academy for young black women in New England.

With that said, if you are looking for a day trip in this general area, you might want to check this out. Sedan, which is in the general vicinity of these communities, will be holding the 7th annual Heritage Festival this Saturday.  The festival takes place in the City Park Fair Building and I understand from the organizers that they expect over two dozen vendors as well as artists and musicians and friends it’s all free, just like the festival in Longton. If I have half as much fun there as I did in Longton it will be time well spent. Hope to see you there!

Traveling the country roads of Kansas I am reminded of the many difficulties early pioneers faced settling this part of the country. Harsh weather, rough terrain and outlaws were just a few of their challenges. Of course there were no convenience stores and when they needed supplies or shelter, danger lurked.  In 1873 several travelers disappeared from this exact part of Kansas where I have been exploring. They vanished without a clue and the people who were responsible were never caught. This is regarded as one of the first known instances of a serial killing and it is widely believed that members of the Bender family were to blame. The Bender daughter was said to have the looks of an angel and it is thought that she lured travelers in only to be finished off with a sledge hammer blow to the head from Pa.  The brother who was muscular and said to be a bit simple and the mother who by all accounts was kind “acting” also participated in robbing and murdering these unlucky people. If you want to learn more, a new film about the Bender family has just premiered in Wichita and will be shown at the Cherryvale History Museum on Sunday, October 16th. For more information call (316) 258-4247.

In the next couple of weeks I will also be bringing you news of another film being shot in the area that you might find interesting.

Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road…..




Volunteer Spirit Overcomes The Weather in Oklahoma

One of my favorite topics, the dedication of the many volunteers who make our community great.

Welcome back. Oklahoma Sooners vs. the Ohio State Buckeyes, rain delayed by two hours. Oklahoma State vs. Baylor delayed by lightening while the game was in progress. The OK Mozart concert at Clyde Lake moved indoors, the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion moved into the museum, Prairie Song’s big Wild West Show cancelled and all because of rain. No one I know complains about rain here in Oklahoma but there is one group that never calls time out or fails to how up in rain or any other bad weather and that’s the American volunteer spirit.

Ten years from now or maybe even five, few people may remember the effort of people like Larry Thrash, Nolan Jones, Janet Vermillion and dozens of others who worked tirelessly for moths to put together a top notch western show only to have mother nature step in forcing a cancelation. At Woolaroc, after many hours of planning for a big party in the one of a kind setting of Clyde Lake, the committee was forced to make the decision to move into the museum. Showers on the night of the OK Mozart concert caused their concert to relocate to the Community Center but in every case dedicated volunteers jumped in to insure that ticket holders were notified and whenever possible I’m happy to say the events went off without a hitch. In the dictionary a volunteer is defined as a person who provides services for no financial gain that benefit another person, group or organization and we have certainly seen this in action lately. With all that said, next time you’re at a not for profit event make sure and thank the staff, most of whom are volunteers.

On another note, as I drove out to Woolaroc on Saturday night, I noticed a very unusual structure being built next to highway 123 just a few miles outside of town. When I asked around during the party I learned that this building is part of the set for a new movie that’s getting ready to shoot out there. It’s all kind of hush hush right now but it’s a great time of year for a ride through Woolaroc anyway so you can check it out for yourself. While I was exploring inside the museum on Saturday night I was reminded that you see something new there every time you visit and what a true treasure the place is. Don’t forget that membership is a bargain and gets you in free for a full year not only at Woolaroc but at many other museums around the country.

I also attended Tom Mix Days in Dewey during the day on Saturday and with no rain in sight at the time, the crowd was in for a treat. Dewey of course is home to the Tom Mix Museum, the Dewey Hotel and a variety of other historical building many of which have recently been restored. If you’re looking for good shopping or good food, a drive down the main drag on Don Tyler will show you that Dewey has a lot to brag about.

I’ll end this week where I started, with a recognition of a few of the community leaders who gave so much of their time to bring us wonderful events, some of which are still going strong today: Virgil Gaede, the Fly-in, Bill Creel and Tom Sears, the Centennial Celebration and Ernie McAnaw, Sunfest, Dee and Annette Ketchum, Indian Summer Festival and the list goes on…Today there are many young people who are carrying on this type of commitment making not only our town but all of America such a great place to live.

Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road……