Historic Homes of the Wild West

Posted on: July 2nd, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

Catherine Montogomery, architect with the Oklahoma Historical Society, has put together a glimpse into life on the prairie. The first stop of the day is in Hominy, Oklahoma home of the Drummond home.

Built in 1905 it is one of the few Victorian homes built on the prairie. Built by Frederick Drummond in 1905 this is one of the few remaining, intact Victorian homes on the prairie. Drummond was Scottish and trained with the Osage in Pawhuska where he met his wife, Addie Gantner. Shortly after marrying Addie they moved to hominy where Drummond had a 1/4 share in the Hominy Trading Co. He was a man of many trades - he started the Drummond Cattle Co. and served as mayor of Hominy as well. Remarkably the home was left intact and after the last relative passed away in the 70s the property was transferred to the OK Historical Society. They have taken great pains to maintain this property. Beverly, Director of the Drummond home, will take you on a journey through the life and times of the Drummond family.

After winding our way through rural Oklahoma we found ourselves in Pawhuska, gateway to the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. Originally the Barnard-Chapman Ranch, the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve is owned and operated by the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma. (As a side note Ben Johnson's dad was the ranch manager. Johnson was known to return to the ranch annually. At times he brought John Wayne with him. It is reported that Wayne tried to buy the ranch, but could never entice Barnard and Chapman to sell) There are a number of original buildings that still remain and are primarily used for continued ranch operations. There is a bunkhouse that has been updated and is used for trustee and development functions, but really it isn't about the remaining buildings. The best part is the drive through the prairie. This is a feast for the senses. The color, life, and sounds of the wildlife are astounding. Harvey Payne, Executive Director of the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, shared a wealth of information about how the preserve was created and how it is managed and maintained. According to Harvey the prairie was originally a forest of spruce and jack pine. However, over the course of many generations of burning - probably three times a year - the prairie was created. Harvey calls it a "human induced landscape". The three burns took place during the spring and late summer - most likely lightening strikes and occassionally some Native American burning. In the fall and mid-October Native Americans set the fires for a controlled burn.  Given these changes to the landscape this is extremely fertile land. A head of cattle can gain up to 4 pounds a day grazing on the prairie. This takesme to what I think is the most remarkable sight. We had an opportunity to see the buffalo - not up close and personal, but close enough for this city girl (I still have a healthy respect for my larger than life fellow creatures) Anyway, I could have easily been enticed to "stay and set a while", watch the buffalo, the birds and the horizon forever. However time stands still for no one and after a while we were off to our next stop,  Pawnee Bill's Ranch.

Pawnee Bill, was so named by the Pawnee Indians with which he lived and worked. In his early years he worked as a teacher with the Pawnee. In 1883 Pawnee Bill created his wild west show. Not only was he was the creator, he was also the business mind behind "Pawnee Bill's Historic Wild West ~ America's National Entertainment!" It was a very diverse family affair - his wife Mae was a main character in the show for practically the entire run of the show. He also included Sioux, Pawnee, Russians, Cossacks, an Aborigini, and African-Americans to name a few. In its heyday the show required 52 rail cars, would spend one day in a town, do the show and then pack up and head on to the next destination.

The ranch was originally 2,000 acres - the OKHS has been able to retain 500 acres. There are a number of buildings, including a museum which explains the Wild West Shows history, but really the piece de resistance is Pawnee Bill's home. Built in 1910, and designed by James Hamilton out of Philadelphia, the home took a year to build. The home has 14 rooms and has an interesting mix of local and exotic materials.

The day is a great prairie adventure, a unique blend of building preservation and cultural landscapes. This is a must see session!

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National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.