Kindred Spirits

I’m certain that many of you agree that some of the best things about ALHFAM are those unique learning opportunities –: the chance to get your hands-on history, to learn about past trades, techniques and technologies–, more than you could ever experience from the printed page. In my role as a senior administrator, the “hands-on” part isn’t a regular aspect of my job, but as the person who oversees agricultural and living history programming at our site, I am always eager to learn more about the responsibilities of our front-line staff.

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One such opportunity happened during an ALHFAM Board meeting that was held a few years ago at Tillers International . After a day of strategic planning, we had a chance to tour the campus, learn more about their courses and programs and get up close with resident oxen, Hershel and Walker. I was in awe of these gentle giants and the patience they seemed to show a rookie drover who hesitated a bit with her “gee” and “haw” commands. That 10-minute experience had me giddy with excitement, and to this day still ranks in the top 10 of my ALHFAM experiences. Upon my return to work, I promptly went to our Agriculture supervisor with the eagerness of a little girl asking for a pony, to see what it would take to get some get some oxen for our site.

As in many other regions in North America, oxen featured prominently in the settlement of Western Canada. Oxen were shipped to Canada from England by the Hudson’s Bay Company–; they pulled the carts of the Metis trappers and traders, the North West Mounted Police set upon their epic March West with 142 head of ox, and they were an essential provision for the intending settler, inexpensive to keep and well suited for breaking the harsh prairie soil. Our local archives abounds with fascinating photographs of oxen at work, pulling carts, and freighting supplies –: massive bull trains of 12-16 oxen were used to transport goods from the Missouri River system at Fort Benton, Montana to Southern Alberta. You see single ox and even teams paired with horses, breaking sod, hauling hay, pulling sleds or skids in winter, powering machinery from water drilling rigs to threshing machines. There are many scenes of oxen pulling wagons loaded with settlers’ effects, and even pulling carriages. And ox races were even featured as part of small-town sports day festivities.

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Team of Oxen, friends of the homesteader.

Given their historical prevalence, oxen are surprisingly absent from living history presentations in Western Canada. Heritage Park had a team of highland steers in the late seventies, Pierre and Elliott, but they were never replaced. Despite my eagerness to reintroduce a team to our programming, there were many practicalities to consider–: oxen take a degree of specialized knowledge for their conditioning and care, there are considerations for housing, and ultimately should serve a practical purpose, all beyond what our turn-of-the-century mixed farm would represent. But part of my dream came true this summer through a collaboration with a nearby craft distillery who agreed to a one-month loan of their “spokes-oxen” – Lion and Bright.


Lion and Bright at Heritage Park, Calgary

Eau Claire Distillery is located in Turner Valley – a short drive southwest of Calgary, and it promotes a most-unique “farm to glass” mandate. Partnering with the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site (one of the hosts from the ALHFAM 2014 Annual Meeting) the distillery seasonally cultivates 25 acres of barley and rye using draft horses and historical farming methods. Last summer, Eau Claire acquired a team of oxen from Truro, Nova Scotia as a promotional tool for their Prickly Pear EquineOx (a sweet, barley based liquor) and have showcased the duo throughout the area.

For the month of August, Park guests will have a chance to see Lion and Bright around the Park. There will be yoking demonstrations and a chance to learn more about the role that oxen played in Western Canadian history. This is also a great learning opportunity for our Agriculture staff to expand their animal husbandry skills. The arrangement also provides some exposure for Eau Claire Distillery and will hopefully lead to other opportunities for collaboration.  Looking beyond our historical / museum networks, where else can we find these kindred spirits to help advance our goal of preserving and presenting our agricultural past?

Susan Reckseidler is the Manager, Interpretation at Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary, Canada and current Vice-President of ALHFAM.

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A First Timer’s Experience


Nelson Mandela once said, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” I have found this sentiment to be quite true as I ease myself back into my daily activities at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. I came back to work after a weeklong ALHFAM adventure in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and as I walked around the grounds of the museum, nothing seemed to have changed. It was the same, everything exactly as I had left it. But things felt different. I was different. In just a week I had gone to my first ALHFAM conference, and after all was said and done, I came back completely altered.

It was my first time attending an ALHFAM conference, and my experience as a first-time ALHFAMer surpassed all I could have imagined. One of the spectacular things about being in Tahlequah was being in the center of the Cherokee Nation. If you are not familiar with the story of Sam Houston, at the age of 13 he ran away from home and was adopted into the Cherokee tribe by Chief Oo-Loo-Te-Ka. The Cherokees, no doubt, made a huge impact on Sam’s life, and there was nothing quite like being in the middle of the Cherokee Nation, hearing the stories and experiencing the Cherokee culture, to get a glimpse of what life might have been like for Sam during his time among the Cherokee.

Questions began to form in my mind, “How can I take what I am learning and shape it to fit our mission, preserving the memory of Sam Houston?” Whether it was a conversation sitting with someone in the hallway, across the table at dinner, or from the workshops, sessions and field trips, there was never a moment where I was not taking in something. Like a sponge, I wanted to absorb everything I possibly could. In the sessions, I took pages and pages of notes, and from the second I finished my first session my head was spinning with all of the ideas that I could bring back to my museum; all of the programs we could implement; all of the ways we could improve what we already have to offer.

One of my favorite things I did during the conference was the Old Settlers Tour, where we visited Sequoyah’s cabin, the Dwight Mission, and Ft. Smith just across the Arkansas border. Our guide, Janelle, was wonderful, and I hung on her every word. In fact, all of the guides at each of the locations were phenomenal. They were so full of passion, and I could tell through their stories that they really enjoyed what they did. The whole time I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, I want our visitors to have this same experience when they visit the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. I want to be this kind of interpreter.

My first attendance at ALHFAM changed the course of my career forever. The things I learned and the places I experienced will stick with me for years as I continue in this line of work. But ALHFAM cannot be summed up in briefs about sessions, field trips, or inspiring locations. The friendships and partnerships I formed during my time in Tahlequah made a lasting impact on me as an interpreter. Having an opportunity to sit with colleagues-turned-friends and swap stories about sites and programs or discuss histories and experiences made me realize, “These are my people.” I will be forever grateful to ALHFAM and my new ALHFAMily for opening my eyes to this incredible, but not so new, world!

By Taylon Black, Historical Interpreter, Sam Houston Memorial Museum

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What’s in a Name? Hunter’s Home

Some of you might be confused about the host site for the 2018 ALHFAM conference in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Once the state of Oklahoma acquired the property in 1945, it became known as the George M. Murrell Home in the tradition of naming historical homes after the white men who once lived there. The property was transferred from the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation to the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) in 1991. Recently, thanks to the leadership of ALHFAM member and OHS regional director David Fowler, the home has been transitioning from a static historical home into an 1850s Cherokee plantation. Membership in ALHFAM and attendance at the conferences definitely influenced this transition. As part of the change, the OHS has restored the original family name to the property, Hunter’s Home. Though the name has changed the address is still Murrell Home Road, and the group serving as our financial partner for the conference is still the Friends of the Murrell Home.  These legal things take time to change!  Learn more about it in the OHS Extra posted here:

name change hunters home



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Great Entertainment is Awaiting You at ALHFAM 2018

We have a great line-up of entertainment for the 2018 ALHFAM conference, featuring local talent. Music during the opening reception will be provided by Preston Ware. In addition to his talents as a graphic artist with the Oklahoma Historical Society (he designed this year’s program.), Preston frequently fills in at events as an interpreter. He will be playing music from the American Civil War and earlier. Preston plays a variety of instruments, some of which are handmade from vintage cigar boxes.


Just before the opening session with Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker and OHS Executive Director Dr. Bob Blackburn, the Cherokee National Youth Choir will perform traditional songs in the Cherokee language. The choir was founded in 2000 as a way to keep Cherokee youth interested in and involved with Cherokee language and culture. Listen to the opening stanza of the USA National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, in Cherokee at

While enjoying dinner in downtown Tahlequah you will be treated to the talents of Cherokee folk musician Kalyn Fay Barnoski. KalynFayKalyn is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter, pursuing art in many forms. According to this Cherokee musician, she is part White but can’t prove it. Listen to a sampling of her music and learn about her struggle to fit into two very different worlds at


Before the auction on Sunday night, sit and back enjoy food and drink as you listen to Cherokee National Treasure Robert Lewis, a native storyteller, author, and artist of Cherokee, Navajo, and Apache descent. Robert shares his culture through family stories and traditional stories. Robert works for the Cherokee Nation as a school and community specialist and conducts outreach classes and services in art, culture, and storytelling. He is also Adjunct Professor of Art at Northeastern State University, where he teaches classes in art and native crafts. Robert explains that “traditional stories are a voice for cultural identity of a particular tribe’s lineage and heritage, a vital link to preserving the rich oral traditions, and I find myself fortunate to be one of those storytellers retelling this knowledge and humor that has been passed down through time.” Learn more about Robert Lewis at

Sunday morning at the Cherokee Heritage Center ALHFAMers will have the opportunity to participate in a 1860s-style sermon and enjoy the Grity family singing hymns in Cherokee. Learn more about the Grity family and listen to hymns in Cherokee at

During the Presidential Banquet music will be performed by Tommy Wildcat. Tommy, a full-blood citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is a Cherokee cultural promoter, flutist, historical storyteller, lecturer, and traditionalist. In 2013 the Cherokee Nation honored Tommy by naming him a National Treasure for his flute music and river cane flute making. A self-taught composer of flute songs, Tommy learned his tribe’s traditional vocal songs from his father Tom W. Wildcat. Learn more about Tommy Wildcat and his music at

Before dinner at the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum, watch Pawnee dancing demonstrations. Then, while you enjoy your dinner, you will be treated to cowboy singer and poet Jim Garling. Boots tap, hands clap, and grins grow like new spring grass during a Jim Garling performance. An Oklahoma native, Garling’s influences include Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Sons of the Pioneers, and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, combining their sounds for just the right mix of old-style, acoustic western cowboy music and western swing. For a sampling of Jim’s music visit

And last but certainly not least are performers from the 30th Commemorative Pawnee Bill Wild West Show.WildWestShow2





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Pawnee Bill Ranch

color Gordon Lillie pawnee bill

The last stop on the final day of the 2018 ALHFAM conference will be the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum located on Blue Hawk Peak in Pawnee, Oklahoma. Gordon W. Lillie, known around the world as “Pawnee Bill,” exemplified The Wild West. Pawnee Bill produced one of the world’s three largest Wild West Shows.

Born in 1860 in Bloomington, Illinois, Lillie developed a fascination for the American West as he read dime novels. After their flour mill burned, his family moved to Kansas, where the Pawnee Indians were wintering during their removal from Nebraska to Indian Territory. Lillie befriended a Pawnee named Blue Hawk and traveled with him to the Pawnee reservation. He made his home with the Pawnee, learning to speak their language and becoming a teacher. In 1883 Lillie and a troupe of Pawnees were recruited by Buffalo Bill to perform across the nation in the newly-formed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

mod May Lillie on horse sml

In 1888 Lillie, now known as Pawnee Bill, started his own touring Wild West Show, and his wife May Lillie became a star in the show with her marksmanship and expert riding. In 1908, Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill merged their two shows forming Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Great Far East—informally known as The Two Bill’s Show. The Two Bills spent five years entertaining audiences with a mix of realism and fantasy that was the Wild West Show. In 1913 Buffalo Bill took out a short-term loan from a Denver executive, who foreclosed on the show. The show was no more, but Pawnee Bill had earned a reputation as an international showman.

Lillie came back to live on Blue Hawk Peak with May in the Tudor-style Arts and Crafts home they built in 1910. Here, Pawnee Bill and May turned their attention to real estate, oil, banking, and film production in addition to ranching. Pawnee Bill was deeply involved in efforts to preserve the bison, which teetered on the verge of extinction. The Lillies had one of the largest privately-owned bison herds in the world.41220021

You will have the opportunity to tour their mansion, complete with the original furnishings and finishes, take a tour of the buffalo pasture, and wander through the museum. The annual game of town ball will be on the grounds, as will the plowing contest.


After a dinner of Cowboy Nachos consisting of delicious smoked BBQ brisket with fresh pico de gallo, beans, and Monterey Jack cheese over tortilla chips, you are in for a very special treat. Each year during the first weekend in June, which just happens to be the weekend following ALHFAM, the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Pawnee Bill Ranch Association produce a Wild West Show. Some members of this year’s show will be on hand in the arena to demonstrate a few of their acts for ALHFAM!

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Now Available: Printed Edition of the 2016 ALHFAM Conference Proceedings

For over 35 years, the Association for Living History, Farm and
Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) has published the presentations and workshops presented at each Annual Conference in monograph form.

Until 2017, these Proceedings were published in hard copy and distributed by ALHFAM. Beginning with the 2016 Proceedings, the board made the decision to make the entire volume available to all ALHFAM members as a PDF via the ALHFAM website. If you are not a current ALHFAM member, please join us! Membership starts at $25/year for students and seniors; details are here:

The ALHFAM board understands that there are members who would prefer to have a hard copy of the Proceedings for themselves and that there would be non-members who could not access the PDF via the website and so would want to purchase one. They are available via Amazon for $20 plus shipping (member and non-member price). Volumes from 2012-2015 will be available for purchase soon.

Links to the Amazon page, the PDF, and the table of contents for the 2016 volume are on the ALHFAM website:

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Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch

On the final day of the 2018 ALHFAM conference one of our final stops will be the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch near Oologah, Oklahoma. As the name suggests, the ranch is the birthplace of famed cowboy humorist Will Rogers. However, well before Will Rogers was entertaining the country on stage, in newspapers, over the radio, or in movies, his father, Clem Rogers, had made a name for himself as a successful rancher, businessman, and politician, and this white Greek-Revival style ranch house was the center of the Rogers’ family life.


Clement Vann Rogers was born in 1839 in Indian Territory. Even in his youth, Clem was known as stern, independent and hardworking. His father, Robert Rogers, died in 1840, leaving Clem and his mother, Sally Vann, to care for their small family farm. Clem attended a local Baptist mission school and later attended the Cherokee Male Seminary in Tahlequah for a few semesters. However, Clem was more interested in starting his own ranch than he was in going to school. In 1855, when he was sixteen, he was hired to help drive a herd of 500 longhorn steers from Indian Territory to Kansas City, and Clem Rogers quit school for good.

Clem set up a ranch and trading post along Rabb’s Creek. However, it wasn’t long before the Civil War broke out, and the homestead was abandoned when Clem enlisted as an officer with the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles volunteer regiment and his wife, Mary America Schrimsher Rogers, left to stay with her family. By the end of the Civil War, the ranch was gone. Clem set to work rebuilding his herd, and by 1870 the family was back on a ranch in a new location. Clem and his former slaves, Rabb and Huse, began building the ranch house that came to be known as the “White House on the Verdigris” in 1873. By the time Will Rogers was born in 1879, the Rogers’ Ranch was more than 60,000 acres with nearly 10,000 head of longhorn cattle.

In 1889 the Missouri Pacific Railway bisected the Rogers Ranch, creating east and west sections. The railroad also brought settlers. Though the land within the Cherokee Nation was collectively owned by the Cherokees and leased by individual tribal members, white settlers started showing up. This was the end of the Rogers Ranch as it once was. By the late 1890s, through the Curtis and Dawes Acts, the federal government would take the land collectively owned by the tribes, and individually allot land to tribal citizens. The Rogers Ranch was reduced to about 140 acres with Clem and Will Rogers’ allotments. Clem was able to buy land around him reaching nearly 2,000 acres, but the ranch would never be what it once was.

Clem Rogers eventually moved into Claremore, served as a vice president in the new First National Bank, opened a livery stable, and was a part owner of the Sequoyah Hotel. In 1898 he put his young son Will in charge of the Rogers’ Ranch. Will renamed the ranch the “Dog Iron,” after his cattle brand, but by 1902 Will had moved on. The ranch was operated by tenant farmers, and the house fell into disrepair. By the late 1920s, Will Rogers had become an international superstar. He bought his sister’s share of the ranch and put his nephew, Herb McSpadden, in charge. The McSpadden family revived the ranch and lived in the ranch house until 1960, when the house was divided into two pieces and moved to the top of the hill where it now sits to save it from the flood waters when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed up the Verdigris River to create Oologah Lake. Since that time, the Rogers’ ranch house has been open to the public as a historic site so visitors from all over the world can visit the birthplace of Will Rogers.

Contributed by Jacob Krumwiede, Assistant Director, Will Rogers Memorial Museums



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