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“Free Land?” Chautauqua is here June 25-29

June 24, 2014

I am such a geek.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the book “Roughing It” by Mark Twain at a garage sale for a buck. It’s in part an account of Twain’s stagecoach journey to the Wild West and his experience in mining boomtowns in the 1870s. Not done reading it yet, but it has a couple of witty gems, like this description of an overly chatty stagecoach passenger:

The fountains of her great deep were broken up, and she rained the nine parts of speech forty days and forty nights, metaphorically speaking, and buried us under a desolating deluge of trivial gossip that left not a crag or pinnacle of rejoinder projecting above the tossing waste of dislocated grammar and decomposed pronunciation!

It also contains a description of Mark Twain sighting a Pony Express rider near Scotts Bluff:

We had had a consuming desire, from the beginning, to see a pony-rider, but somehow or other all that passed us and all that met us managed to streak by in the night, and so we heard only a whiz and a hail, and the swift phantom of the desert was gone before we could get our heads out of the windows. But now we were expecting one along every moment, and would see him in broad daylight. Presently the driver exclaims:

“HERE HE COMES!”

Every neck is stretched further, and every eye strained wider. Away across the endless dead level of the prairie a black speck appears against the sky, and it is plain that it moves. Well, I should think so!

In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider, rising and falling, rising and falling—sweeping toward us nearer and nearer—growing more and more distinct, more and more sharply defined—nearer and still nearer, and the flutter of the hoofs comes faintly to the ear—another instant a whoop and a hurrah from our upper deck, a wave of the rider’s hand, but no reply, and man and horse burst past our excited faces, and go winging away like a belated fragment of a storm!

So sudden is it all, and so like a flash of unreal fancy, that but for the flake of white foam left quivering and perishing on a mail-sack after the vision had flashed by and disappeared, we might have doubted whether we had seen any actual horse and man at all, maybe.

We rattled through Scott’s Bluffs Pass, by and by. . . .

And now, here Mark Twain is again at the pass at Scotts Bluff, having just autographed his book for me:

mark twainGiven that time travel is not currently known to be possible, you’re probably guessing that this is not actually a photo of Mark Twain.

You are correct.

This is actor-scholar Warren Brown, who is at Legacy of the Plains Museum this week as part of the Humanities Nebraska “Free Land?” Chautauqua.

Don’t know what a “Chautauqua” is? Here is a definition from the Humanities Nebraska website:

With origins in the late 19th century, Chautauqua combines oratory and lectures with literary readings and musical entertainment. In the past, these touring groups would entertain and inform people living on the plains about political and cultural happenings. The name itself comes from a resort community in New York State where in 1875, a summer program of lectures, sermons, and music attracted such enthusiastic audiences that within a few years similar programs sprang into existence for the public in other parts of the country. Today, Chautauqua upholds the tradition of offering entertainment, education, and community-based heritage. Attendees gather under the “big tent” and enjoy scholars-in-residence presenting first-person portrayals of some of our most important historical figures along with a variety of activities for all ages.

At this Chautauqua, which runs June 25-29 here in Gering/Scottsbluff, Mr. Twain will introduce several other contemporaries whose lives intersected Nebraska history in some way.

nebraska chautauqua

From left, other than Twain, in words mostly borrowed from the “Chautauqua Reader“:

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver lived in an era of great change, from slavery through the first half of the 20th
century. In a research and teaching career that spanned nearly 50 years, Carver created countless products that improved the quality of life for many in America and abroad. His work with sweet potatoes (sweet potato
bread, in particular) in a wheat shortage during World War I and his efforts to promote peanut milk in the Belgian Congo are just two examples of the breadth of his work. He instituted the first extension program in the South and developed industrial uses for farm wastes and byproducts.

(Portrayed by Paxton Williams, who, like G.W. Carver and Bugman and I, lived in Ames, Iowa)

Laura Ingalls Wilder

When Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing the series of books chronicling her life, she had no way of
knowing the tremendous popularity these books would enjoy. Fondly referred to as the “Little House” books, the stories of Laura’s experience homesteading in the American West have endured through the decades and continue to hold a place dear in the hearts of American readers. The books have been immortalized in film, television and musical theatre. But, a further study of the life of Wilder indicates that her significance surpasses these much beloved novels

(Portrayed by Karen Vuranch)

Standing Bear

“That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be of the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.” Ponca Chief Standing Bear won an 1879 ruling in an Omaha U.S. District court that Native Americans are “persons within the meaning of the law” and have the right of habeas corpus.

(Portrayed by Taylor Keen)

Grenville Dodge

In 1866 Grenville Dodge became chief engineer for the Union Pacific and went immediately to work, examining terrain and planning the Union Pacific route to the west, where, according to the Pacific Railway Act, it would meet the Central Pacific line then building eastward over the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. As his survey parties pushed westward, Dodge planted division points and divided the land into lots. When the graders—and later the work crews—followed, many of these locations quickly became towns. Some faded quickly, but others, such as the beginning of the Union Pacific route in Omaha and other Nebraska cities of Fremont, Columbus, Grand Island, Lexington, and North Platte, along with Cheyenne, Wyoming, became permanent.

(Portrayed by Patrick E. McGinnis)

Willa Cather

Willa Cather’s life, along with the lives of millions of Americans, was transformed by three pieces of legislation passed in 1862, more than a decade before she was born. Thanks to the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 and 20 years of railroad building, it was possible for the family to go 11 miles by wagon, board a train in Winchester, Va., and ride 1,250 miles to the depot in Red Cloud, Neb. Six of her 12 novels and several short stories were set in Nebraska, although she sometimes tried to disguise Red Cloud.

(Portrayed by Betty Jean Steinshouer)

Intrigued?

Check out the full schedule, come down to the museum, and check it out.

PS – If you want to read “Roughing It,” the full text is available online through the Gutenberg Project. NB – there is some blunt racism and stereotyping in the book.

Copyright 2014 by Katie Bradshaw and other copyright holders

Defining the region

December 22, 2013

When I moved to Nebraska from Illinois, the place felt different to me. Different from Illinois. Different from further-west Iowa where I’d lived for seven years. As I’ve learned, western Nebraska itself is different from the rest of the state.

I’m a bit of a geography nerd, so I had delved into the phone book to take a peek into how the region’s identity shows up in business names.

I’ve been geeking out lately about the flurry of maps popping up online that show different ways of dividing up the country by population, politics, culture, sheer imagination, etc. (One such map, which was recycled from a 2009 Kansas State project, defines the connectedness of various regions of the country to the seven deadly sins, based on demographic data.)

I always look to see how western Nebraska fares.

In this map from Tufts Magazine, we’re in the “Far West Nation.”

US nations

If the country were divided up into states of equal population, Neil Freeman would put us into the state of Ogallala.

new states

If geographer C. Etzel Pearcy had his way, we’d be in the state of San Luis.

38states

I also found interesting this 1940 map of Rural Cultural Regions I found on the Oklahoma State University site. We’re in the “Southern Homestead” region.

Rural Cultural Regions

Some folks at MIT looked at how connectedness of cell phone calls can define regions of the country. Note to our state leaders: western Nebraska is more closely tied to Denver than to Lincoln.

regions_by_call

I think a lot of the disgruntlement western Nebraskans have with our government in Lincoln, “back east,” is linked to the cultural differences between the regions.

A December 2013 article and photo essay from the New York Times, “Life Along the 100th Meridian,” which has been shared by just about every one of my local Facebook friends, captures well a portion of what makes this region different from the rest of Nebraska.

If you’ve run into other identity / imaginary maps like the ones I’ve posted, please share in the comments.

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

Your ’2 cents’ can make a difference at Scotts Bluff National Monument

August 4, 2013

Remember way back in November 2012, when comments were being gathered on trails out at Scotts Bluff National Monument? No? Here’s a blog post on that to remind you.

If you are a regular visitor to SBNM, if you have ever been there, if you plan to go there, or if you just like the idea of the place existing – here is your opportunity to help make the place even more awesome, simply by voicing your opinion.

The gist is, there is currently a planning document open for comment (only until August 21!) about possible future trails on SBNM property. “Alternative C” – my favorite – would add 7 miles of trails to the existing 4.2 miles of trails, and 3.6 miles of “e-trails.”

Here is a screen shot of "Master Plan Alternative C" - the dotted pink lines are proposed trails (the ones with the little circle icons are "virtual trails" with GPS points you'd be able to follow with a smartphone.)

Here is a screen shot of “Master Plan Alternative C” – the dotted pink lines are proposed trails (the ones with the little circle icons are “virtual trails” with GPS points you’d be able to follow with a smartphone.)

I think the proposed trails are awesome. If you think the proposed trails are awesome, and your neighbor thinks the proposed trails are awesome, and enough other people think the proposed trails are awesome, THEY MIGHT BECOME REALITY!

This is the U.S. Government we are talking about – none of this will happen quickly, if at all, but having a strong public response in support of the proposed trails greatly increases the odds of those trails getting built.

Before I blather on with my own opinion about these trails, here is some important info for you.

You can download the entire PDF planning document here: “SCBL Trail Plan and EA“. (If that link does not work the link to the planning page is here: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=164&projectID=44254&documentID=54690.) This document is very thorough. It is 64 pages long. I think you will be most interested in chapter 2, pages 11-19, which talks about the proposed trails.

Once you’ve read enough to develop an opinion, here is the most important part: SUBMIT YOUR COMMENTS IN WRITING BY AUGUST 21, 2013! Don’t just comment on this blog post or on a Facebook page – actually register your comments with the government by clicking on the “Comment on Document >>” button!

Click the button!

Support the trails with your comments!

All the cool kids are doing it!

OK, now for some comments that I will send to the government, gussied up with some pictures for the viewing pleasure of my blog readers:

I am strongly in support of Alternative C. I believe the trail options outlined in the report will serve our community in multiple ways.

1. SAFETY. A pedestrian/bike pathway along Old Oregon Trail is sorely needed. This is a 45-mile-per-hour two-lane road that handles a significant amount of truck traffic, yet is one of the most popular routes in the area for running and biking because it is so scenic, historically iconic, and challenging. The hill at Mitchell Pass means there is not the clearest line of sight, so an oncoming driver might not see a biker or runner until it is too late. Please, please develop a pathway here pronto, before there is an accident.

The participants in the Don Childs run during Oregon Trail Days are a small portion of the folks who run Old Oregon Trail through the park on a regular basis.

The participants in the Don Childs run during Oregon Trail Days are a small portion of the folks who run (or bike) Old Oregon Trail through the park on a regular basis. This road is part of the Monument Marathon route, too.

2. PRESERVATION. I am very glad the trails proposed for the South Bluff and along the Oregon Trail through the park are E-trails. I have always considered the South Bluff to be one of the best-kept hiking secrets of the area. An e-trail would improve access but would not scar the landscape with a constructed trail. An e-trail would also be less obvious to the hordes of visitors, so I can selfishly hope those trails stay somewhat peaceful and solitary. And avoiding any sort of construction activity atop the Oregon Trail swales while helping visitors get out to explore them is the best of all possible scenarios.

A view from atop the South Bluff

A view from atop the rarely-hiked South Bluff

3. HEALTH. Scottsbluff keeps winding up on “fattest community” top-ten lists. By increasing the trails at SBNM from about 4 miles to 14, we would be providing community members one more option to get out, explore, and get fit. I am especially interested in the connectivity between these proposed trails and existing community trails. I extra-specially would like to see that “community link trail boardwalk” get constructed to connect SBNM to the dead-end Monument Valley Pathway on the north side of the North Platte River.

It's sad that such a lovely pathway has a dead end.

It’s sad that such a lovely pathway has a dead end.

4. TOURISM. SBNM and its pathways are already a tourist draw. If we could increase those pathways and link them in to other scenic pathways in the community – specifically the Monument Valley Pathway on the north side of the North Platte River – I think we could get more multi-day visitors to the area and increase tourism revenue.

The views from the Monument Valley Pathway are quite lovely in all seasons.

The views from the Monument Valley Pathway are quite lovely in all seasons.

Those are my 2 cents – what’s your opinion of the proposed trails?

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

Snake encounters, May-June

June 16, 2013

When you’re outdoors, wildlife encounters are expected.

In this area, those wildlife encounters may include snakes.

Bugman and I have had two encounters this year. Both go to show that snakes aren’t the vicious attackers some people think they are.

While biking down Scotts Bluff National Monument a few weeks ago, we zoomed past this little guy:

This baby prairie rattlesnake was only about a foot long.

This baby prairie rattlesnake was only about a foot long.

He just sat there. Even when Bugman rolled a bike tire up next to him for scale photo, he just flicked his tongue. Hardly a threat. Unless you happen to step on him. Or do something dumb like try to pick him up or prod him into irritation for a more exciting photo.

While hanging out on the deck of the Wildcat Hills Nature Center yesterday, we heard a birdwatcher squawk when he nearly stepped on a bullsnake.

The bullsnake did not turn and bite. The bullsnake undulated the heck out of Dodge and disappeared under a bush.

He came out a little later for a photo op. How kind of him.

This bullsnake was between 2-3 feet long.

This bullsnake was between 2-3 feet long.

Really, snakes aren’t that scary.

It’s the squirrels I’d keep an eye on.

Shifty little tree rats …

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

Evening thunderstorm

June 11, 2013

As Bugman and I were leaving a meeting around nine this evening, we both caught a glimpse of lightning through the trees to the east.

As we drove home from the northwest side of Scottsbluff, this is what we saw:

tstorm 1(Please forgive the grainy photos. iPhone camera does not do well in low light.)

There was a near-constant flicker of lightning in that cloud.

I had envisioned going home and heading straight to bed, but instead, Bugman and I headed for the soccer field north of town to watch the show.

tstorm2 tstorm3 tstorm4 tstorm5The soccer field is a great place to watch distant thunderstorms.

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

A new distraction: Wyobraska Tandem

April 7, 2013

Hey, gentle readers. You may have noticed that I am not posting as often as I once did. I’m a bit busy.

Busy coordinating the merger of two nonprofit history museums (North Platte Valley Museum and Farm And Ranch Museum into Legacy of the Plains Museums) and working on organizational development, planning for exhibit development, staying on top of the construction project, and assisting with a major fundraising effort, in addition to keeping regular museum activities going.

Oh, yeah. And I’m busy because I’m training for a half marathon, a week-long 400-some-mile bike ride, and a full marathon. And that bike ride? It’s going to be on a tandem. Bugman and I just got a sweet new ride, and we’re learning how to manage it on the road.

So, I’ve started a new blog – Wyobraska Tandem (I wanted to call it Big Red Bike, with a nod to the Husker Nation, but there is a bike-sharing service at Cornell with the same name) – to post updates on my running and biking world and to try to rally some financial support for my physical efforts that will funnel into the museum development project.

wyobraska tandem

I won’t be abandoning this blog, but the number of posts will likely decline even further for awhile.

Just wanted to let y’all know …

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

Liquid comfort at a cafe

March 2, 2013

This post is about a café. A French-style café, to be specific. And while actual French cafés do tend to serve alcohol in the evenings, the title of this post does not refer to that type of liquid comfort.

I refer instead to the comforting warmth of French onion soup. MADE-FROM-SCRATCH French onion soup, that is.

Ever since my days of studying la langue française avec Mme Spangler at Schaumburg High School, and the concomitant visits to a French restaurant for pain au chocolat et, bien sûr, soupe à l’oignon (but not escargot – I abhor the texture of escargot!), I have become a French onion soup snob. I can’t stand it when a restaurant serves up a French onion soup that’s more notable for its sodium content than its hearty onion-browned-in-butter flavor.

Family-owned-and-operated Café de Paris in Scottsbluff (15 West 16th Street, around the corner northwest of Bluffs Bakery, 308-633-2529) serves up the real deal. Next to the café’s order window, you can read a bit about the gentleman, a WWII vet, who makes said soup.

The cafe has food in addition to coffee. I shall have to stop by sometime and do a post just on this place.

On a bone-chilling day this winter, Bugman and I decided we needed to get out of the house, so we walked over to Café de Paris.

He ordered a cappuccino and a reuben.

reuben

I ordered a spiced chai and a bowl of French onion soup.

french onion soup

The combination of the walk in the cold and the warming meal hitting my belly made me feel relaxed and blissful, like after a good soak in an old-fashioned clawfoot tub.

I do miss the crunchy edges of browned cheese provided by the typical presentation of ramekin-broiled French onion soup, but the addition of a side crêpe helps make up for that.

And, if crêpes are your thing, and good coffee (the café serves Mark Ferrari Coffee roasted nearby in Oshkosh), they’ve got you covered, too. (Note to vegetarians: in addition to the fruit crêpes, vegetable quiche has been a feature on the menu.)

crepe

When I last checked, Café de Paris’ hours were 7:30-5 Tuesdays-Fridays and 8-5 Saturdays. The café has both table and couch seating, a conference room, a small boutique, and (key in my mind) wifi access (just ask for the password when you order).

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

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