September 22nd found Tom and me driving to a new adventure in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Our friends, Jane and Leroy, invited us to attend the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty re-enactment Pageant in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, Jane's birthplace and hometown.
To be assured a place to stay, we reserved our accommodations almost a year ago. The closest available turned out to be approximately 10 miles outside of Medicine Lodge in the tiny town of Sharon, Kansas. Because we arrived in Sharon late in the evening, it wasn't until morning that we were able to explore its small town character. Founded in 1879 it's current population is 185! Sharon has become somewhat famous as the home where Platinum-selling recording artist and GRAMMY award winner Martina McBride was born and grew up. Its historic ambience is quaint and reminiscent of times gone by.
We had the good fortune to meet Eileen Schmidt, the proprietor of the Homestead Inn where we were staying - a three-bedroom house we had to ourselves. Eileen, a dynamo of energy, embodies the small town pioneering spirit. She is buying the homes on that particular street and turning them into guest accommodations. In addition to her responsibilities as a proprietor, she owns the town spa and is a message therapist. She also shared with us that her husband recently traded his welding shop for the town's cafe, which she will run, of course!
Each morning we made the short drive from Sharon to Medicine Lodge for the day's activities. One of Jane's sisters still lives in Medicine Lodge and her home was just a couple of blocks away from many of the festivities. This served as our headquarters for the weekend where we met, visited and enjoyed meals together before and between activities.
Medicine Lodge is located in south-central Kansas in the Red Hills region of the Great Plains. During the three-day Pageant, Medicine Lodge transforms into a frontier town. Parades and a Historical Night show, which includes a re-enactment of an 1880 bank robbery, complement the Indian Peace Treaty re-enactment.
This Pageant involves between 800 and 1000 townspeople turned "actors," as well as Native American tribal members who arrive for an encampment at Medicine Lodge during the event. It takes almost all the town's remaining 1,300 residents volunteering to run the myriad of other activities!
The pageant has become a multi-generational event for some families who are in their sixth and seventh generation of participating. And a community event it is! From the early morning until late at night, there is something happening: Indian dances, parades, craft shows, art sales, a historical re-enactor encampment, helicopter tours,street dances, night shows, food sales, and Medicine Lodge High School class reunions!
The weekend also included a championship ranch rodeo including Bronc Riding, Calf Branding, Cattle Doctoring, Team Penning, Wild Cow Milking and Double Mugging. There was also a Midwest Ranch Horse Association Ranch Horse Show and a Cowboy Trappings & Trade Show with Saddle makers, bit and spur makers and western décor.
Every morning began with breakfast available at the church, followed by the parade down Main Street. People line up chairs or trucks several hours, if not the night before, to get the "best" spot. It is a fun and enthusiastic hometown parade. I especially enjoyed watching the historical "characters" periodically step "out of character" on the parade route to greet a neighbor, old school chum or family member cheering them on the sidelines. The excitement and pride of small town America was alive and well!
Friday afternoon we visited the Carrie Nation Home. It was while living in this Medicine Lodge Home in the early 1900s that Temperance activist Carrie Nation was inspired to start her saloon smashing campaign and gained international prominence for carrying a hatchet in her fight against alcohol.
Next door is the Stockade Museum, a replica of an 1873 stockade built to protect early Medicine Lodge settlers from raids in the area during that time. The replica includes an 1877 Smith log house and a peace pipe from the 1867 peace treaty. There was even a traveling Medicine Man pitching snake oil. Tom and I especially enjoyed visiting with "members of the 7th Cavalry" who generously and enthusiastically explained about their life during those times. The museum itself has an eclectic and fascinating mix of donated historical artifacts.
We subsequently drove west of town to the Gypsum Hills to take in some unique Kansas landscape of red mesas and buttes topped with white gypsum.
The Peace Treaty re-enactments are held both Saturday and Sunday. Following the Saturday parade at which Martina McBride sang the National Anthem, we had a quick lunch and then drove the mile and a half to the pageant grounds. There we took our seats along with approximately 6,000 others in a natural ampitheatre near the location where the actual peace treaty took place. Against the panoramic backdrop of the Red Hills in the native grasses and wildflowers of this quarter section of Kansas prairie, we watched the re-enactment unfold.
The Medicine Lodge Treaty was actually a set of treaties signed between the United States of America and the five Great Plains Indians tribes: the Kiowa, Comanche, Plains Apache, Southern Cheyenne, and Southern Arapaho and took place in October 1867.
The first re-enactment was held in 1927 and on the last weekend in September every three years since 1961 to commemorate this significant period of Western history. The site, once considered sacred to the Kiowa, was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1969 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This year marked the 23rd time the pageant has been presented and we watched with fascination as 300 years of history unfolded before our eyes, compressed into a three hour spectacle of education and entertainment. The panoramic re-enactment of events began with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and took us through the age of exploration with Lewis and Clark and Zebulon Pike to the re-enactment of the Peace Council of 1867 between the U.S. Government and members of the Native peoples of the Central Plains. It was riveting to watch 18 authentic antique covered wagons as they approached and circled to form a campsite, the Indian attack on the pioneers, and the arrival of the 7th Cavalry soldiers.
Most amazing was watching 900 longhorn cattle being driven across the prairie! The cattle come from a ranch in Bucklin, Kansas, population 794. The amount of preparation to drive the cattle to Medicine Lodge to take part in the pageant is impressive! I suspect the preparation is not too different from back in the day but of course, then there was no Sam's Club from which to purchase supplies!
The following is an accounting from the Moore Longhorn Ranch of some of the tasks involved in preparing for the six-day trip it takes to drive 90 head of longhorn cattle 90 miles:
Seventeen horses are shoed and calves are weaned off of the cows so that by the time they hit the trail, the cows are content without their calves. The wooden wheels are taken off of the chuck wagon and put in the creek to soak for a few days and then soaked in oil to insure they are ready for the 180 mile round trip. Inventory is taken and the chuck wagon is stocked with supplies including 70 dozen cookies, six loaves of banana bread, and eight loaves of pumpkin bread. Bedrolls are cleaned, and canteens and a cowboy teepee repaired. Firewood is cut and split for campfires and the route and watering holes along the way are double-checked.
All of this - and more - for the three minutes the longhorns are part of a re-enactment that is as big as life in a setting that looks just as it must have in 1867!
History came alive for us in many ways that weekend. We looked forward to the pageant, but hadn't anticipated how much we would enjoy being treated to Jane's personal history. We saw her family home, high school, and the church where she and her husband were married. We met her former neighbors and childhood friends and heard their delightful stories. How many of us have the opportunity to take a peek back into the childhood of a very dear friend with whom we did not grow up and share their past with them in the very environment where it all happened?
Tom and I took a step back in time, aligning with the rhythms of a slower pace, where neighbor greeted neighbor in the middle of Main Street, and home-cooked meals were served around a dining room table with friends and three generations of family. Our Kansas adventure provided an unforeseen opportunity to respond to the nudging of autumn, encouraging us to slow down and discern what is really essential in our lives.
Do you have a story to share about a personal encounter with history?
Have you re-connected with your own past, or visited a place whose history touched and inspired you? I'd love to hear from you!
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