Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tall Grass Prairie Interlude

With all due respect to my big city-dwelling friends, this was something you just don't see in New York or Chicago or Philadelphia; maybe in Ft. Worth or Oklahoma City, certainly not in Washington D.C. It was purely Heartland, small town Americana. It was the 8th Annual Western Heritage Weekend in Dewey, Oklahoma - Lots of flags, plenty of patriotism, thousands...well, at least hundreds, of western boots and hats, cowboy cut jeans, shirts. 

And a parade. A parade preceded by the Star Spangled Banner sung over the PA system by a local sweetheart, and then a prayer unabashedly offered for our nation, our well-being, our fortitude and our gratitude. Every cowboy there removed his hat and placed it over his heart without hesitation.

A herd of longhorns were driven down the parade street, then a troupe of spangled, flag-toting cowgirls on horseback. Some antique tractors chugged by, followed by a man riding a huge longhorn steer. Pioneer-costumed locals stood and waved atop flatbed trailers. Pawnee Bill's stagecoach came along, and a light-flashing, siren-whooping fire truck and a parade-ending street-sweeper brought up the rear.

A gang of desperados robbed the bank, immediately following the parade, and had a shoot-out right there on Main Street. Then a drawing was held on chances purchased to win a working replica of an 1860 Henry .45 caliber lever-action rifle, a real beauty of a firearm. This is absolutely a place where traditional Americans proudly cling to their guns and Bibles.

But that wasn't the end of it. Sunday took me to Prairie Song, an authentic Old West town built and re-created by long-time ranchers Kenneth Tate and his wife Marilyn Moore-Tate. The Tate's stated mission of Prairie Song, which sits atop that part of the Tall Grass Prairie in northeastern Oklahoma, is "to preserve and honor the heritage of Pioneers who crossed the plains to settle in Indian Territory and to acknowledge the Cowboy and Indian cultures of Oklahoma."

I had a small part in all the weekend's activities. Fawn Lassiter, the manager of the Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, had invited me to do a book signing for my historical western novel Red Lands Outlaw, the Ballad of Henry Starr during the Saturday celebrations, and Marilyn Moore-Tate asked me to come out to Prairie Song to do the same on Sunday. You see, Henry is buried in the Dewey Cemetery, and Marilyn was instrumental in getting a new and bigger headstone put on the outlaw's grave. Although an outlaw, Henry is well thought of in that area of Oklahoma. Probably for his historical value, more than his career.

The highlight of that Sunday afternoon at Prairie Song was a Wild West show. They had bronc riding, fancy gun handling, trick riding and roping, wild cow milking, and on and on. Those cowgirls with flags rode the arena full-tilt in a well choreographed display of horsewomanship, and they wound it all up at the end with a stagecoach robbery by the same group of no account hombres who were shot dead trying to rob the bank the day before.

But my favorite part of the show - this sounds like a lead-in to a Tim Conway* bit - was the goat-herding monkeys on dogs. Actually, the dogs - border collies - did the herding; the monkeys were just along for the ride.

All the events and happenings were fun, but the best parts of what I came away with were the people I met. Like the co-book signer at the table next to me, Shirley Lucas Jaurequi, who wrote a book about her career as a trick rider and Hollywood stunt woman, having been a stunt double for such as Lauren Bacall and Betty Hutton and worked in movies with John Wayne. Then there was the 84 year old Aussie cowboy, who'd worked a big "station" in Australia before coming to America to be a professional bull-rider. He'd quit doing that some years back, he said, after getting busted up so much he could no longer sit astride one. Now he makes bullwhips, and teaches youngsters how to crack them. Rooster Cogburn was there, or at least an impersonator so uncanny you'd swear you were talking to The Duke.

It may not have been a weekend in Vegas, or a walk through Disney World, but it was dang sure more than good enough for me.

Please check out my other novels:
Legends of Tsalagee

*For those of you not familiar with Tim Conway, I've embedded the following. I suggest you go to the bathroom before you watch this, as you'll run a good risk of wetting your pants laughing.



Pat Browning said...

Great post, Phil, and it sounds like a wonderful trip.

I did a little research and was amazed to learn that the Tall Grass prarie on the OK-KS border is the only patch left.

Thanks for the Carol Burnett/Tim Conway clip. Some gifted comedians in those days!

Anonymous said...

Loved the post,Phil.And Tim Conway skit was a hoot.Great stuff!