Home > sites > Historic Homes > Pawnee Bill Ranch >  Transcript

Pawnee Bill Ranch

Modern Ranch

2014-04-28

Download audio

Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast, brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.

Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast, I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator.

Anna:  And I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch historical interpreter.

Erin: Anna, so far we have dedicated our podcast to discussions revolving around specific events and people associated with Pawnee Bill history. We've had the opportunity to really dig deeply into some of the more interesting, fun, and also some of the more difficult topics during the course of our podcast. So today we decided to switching things up a little bit.

Anna: We thought our listeners might like to know a little bit about the ranch today. For example, how did the state come to own the ranch? Some people might also wonder what we as a staff do all the time. There's a lot more that goes on besides just giving tours through the mansion and interacting with the public. People might also wonder what there is to do at the museum as well as some of the secrets that the public doesn't get to see on a regular basis. So, today we are going to give you an inside look at how our facility operates.

Erin: Let's start with a little bit of history first. After May Lillie passed away, Pawnee Bill started to think about what would happen to his Ranch after he died. He had always felt a really deep connection with the Boy Scouts of America and decided shortly before his death that he wanted the Ranch to pass into their hands to become a Scout Ranch. This was during a time that the Boy Scouts had just been given Philmont, Frank Phillips's ranch in northern New Mexico, so the BSA decided that taking on another ranch might put a strain on their resources, so the Boy Scouts gave the ranch to Pawnee Bill's family.

Anna: Pawnee Bill's sister, Effie, who we talked about in The Tragic Judys podcast, lived in the mansion alongside her son Albert and his wife Hazel. When Effie died in 1958, Albert decided to sell the property. Today, we know the cost of upkeep on this property is extremely high and you can only imagine how much of a strain it would have put on a single family to try and keep this thing up and running. In 1961, the State of Oklahoma expressed interest in purchasing the site to open as a museum. The deal was finalized in 1962 and the state paid…get ready for this…$65,000 for the property.

Erin: What a deal!

Anna: What a deal. Albert and second wife Ruth lived in a white house on an acre of property that they requested the state deed to them.

Erin: Right and in this wonderful full circle event, Stella Lyon, who was the owner of the white house from the 1970s until her death, willed the Pawnee Bill Ranch that white house and acre. So the white house, which is located just next to the ranch, which we affectionately call Stella's is part of the Ranch once again.  It is used for anybody who comes to the ranch to do work and needs a place to stay overnight. We have also used it for intern housing and my family has actually lived in it twice for several months during repairs to the carriage house. We are really fortunate to have the house at our disposal.

Anna: Now, the mansion itself pretty much became a museum immediately after the state purchased it. It was available for tours and the first manager, a man named Bill Guthrie, who was actually related to Pawnee Bill by marriage, and his family lived upstairs. The carriage house was converted in the late 60s into a manager's residence and that wasn't the only change made to the site. The state created an exhibit pasture and brought bison back in from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. There was a time of about 20 years where there were no bison on the property, but today we are still a working bison ranch because of that. The state built and improved roads, created picnic areas and built restrooms and a covered pavilion to encourage tourists.

Erin: That's right. In addition to that, a modern museum was constructed in 1969 to house a large piece of the collection. Strangely enough, it is the one building on the site that most people don't remember from their previous visits!

Anna: And that's kind of strange because it's the biggest building up here.

Erin: I think that just goes to show too that people remember what's authentic.

Anna: Exactly.

Erin: A maintenance barn was also constructed at the same time. That's not in a public access area so you don't see that when you come to the ranch. In the barn, a concrete floor was poured to replace the original dirt floor. We're talking about the historic 1926 barn that you can go in, so we're really glad that it has that nice concrete floor. And here's a secret…the old granary in the barn was converted into office space and it also houses a portion of our archive. In fact, it's where my office is located today.

Anna: The State of Oklahoma realized what a treasure the ranch was and how central the story of Pawnee Bill and the story the Wild West Show was to the story of Oklahoma and they invested a great deal of resources to make the necessary improvements to get the site ready for the public to enjoy. It took a lot of planning and a lot of thought went into ensuring that the Pawnee Bill Ranch would be a place that could be a part of some of people's happiest heritage tourism experiences.

Erin: The Ranch today is close to 500 acres, and that is about ¼ of the size of Pawnee Bill's original ranch. The ranch today is a mixture of hills and rolling grassland lined with timbered acres. I think it's one of the most beautiful places in Oklahoma, but I do realize I'm a little biased. Here's another little secret…some of the plants and vegetation, the trees, on the site were actually planted by Pawnee Bill and May! Next time you come to the ranch, try to look at the roses that are around the fish pond. Those Japanese Tea Roses were planted by May Lillie and they still bloom today and I think they have the most wonderful smell.

Anna: Literally living history.

Erin: Living history.
Anna: We are a little partial to this place, but I don't think we are alone in our Pawnee Bill Ranch love! One of our favorite things about working here is hearing the experiences of people that they've had here. We love to hear people say, "Oh, I love that place." Or "My parents brought me here when I was little and I just had to bring my own kids." We hear stories from older individuals about the time that Pawnee Bill and May actually lived here at the Ranch and it made such an impression on them that it's something they remember even to this day and want to share with us. It's really special to be a part of this place that people want to visit and share with other people. We love seeing photos taken at the Ranch, both past and present. We love hearing stories. We just love this place.

Erin: It is special and part of why we wanted to do this podcast was to discuss what it is that people can do when they come here to visit. I think that most people know that they can take a tour through the mansion. We always say that the mansion is the jewel of the ranch. It's one of the highlights and the reason for that is that it is filled with Pawnee Bill and May's personal belongings. Virtually everything in it was theirs. It gives our visitors this really authentic experience. The mansion is our most compelling artifact. People feel a connection to history and to the people who came before us when they see a historic living space. House museums like the mansion are evocative in a way that's different from almost anything else. Our mansion makes people feel things and when people feel things, they care!

Anna: We give tours through the mansion, but what people don't see is the cleaning and care that goes on behind the scenes. We respect the house and we take the best possible care of it we can. We do a deep cleaning about once a week and we clean the visitor access rugs more frequently because they have more traffic. Another secret, and one that we are asked about often on tour, is how do we clean the house? Very rarely do we use modern cleaning solutions. They're usually too damaging for historic woodwork and historic artifacts. Most of the deep cleaning is done using brooms, cotton cloths, micro fiber cloths and vacuum cleaners. That's it. Erin – you take care of the artifacts in the home and make sure they are all nice and clean. It's a constant job, but it's so incredibly important to keep on top of things. And it's a very necessary job that we enjoy very much.

Erin: Cleaning also just gives us a chance to re-familiarize ourselves with the things in the house and make sure there isn't any new damage or pests or anything like that, so we try to be really vigilant in our care of the mansion and all the artifacts on site. We are constantly monitoring movement inside the house as well. It's really important to know exactly what's going on with the structure of a historic home, so every few months we go through the mansion with a fine toothed comb, checking out the different cracks that have appeared on the walls to gauge just how much the house is moving over time. This study will become incredibly important in the preservation of the mansion for the future.

Anna: People can tour the museum and see our exhibits related to Pawnee Bill, May, the Wild West Show, the Pawnee Indians, and so much more. Our museum is a large building, but it doesn't actually hold all of our artifacts. We make an effort to trade out items every so often and change exhibits to provide a fresh and new experience. That's why some exhibits are taken down from time to time. It's not because they aren't popular, it's simply time for something new. We also have a newly renovated children's play area and a newly renovated museum store, both of which we are extremely proud of and would encourage anyone that hasn't seen them, to come on up and check them out!   

Erin: The big barn which was built in 1926 is always an attraction. It's an impressive rock structure. It's a beautiful building. And it used to have "Pawnee Bill's Buffalo Ranch" painted on the roof and you could see it from the highway. Sadly, that is no longer there, I would love it if it were still there. I think it looks awesome in the photographs. But the barn is wonderful just the same! Our collection of wagons is located in the barn as well as some pieces of farming equipment. The barn also houses our billboard which was recently featured on Antiques Roadshow, which was thrilling.

Anna:  Now, when people think of a billboard today they usually think about what's on the side of the road with advertisements on it. But we are not talking about a regular size billboard. Our billboard is 10'x70'. It's actually called a barnside because these types of posters would be as big as the side of a barn. It was found in Lamont, OK in the 1980s and it advertised a one day show in Blackwell, OK. The appraiser for Antiques Roadshow said that this billboard is legitimately priceless and he had never seen anything like it in his entire life. So, we are really honored that it has come home here to the Ranch and it is definitely one of the most impressive artifacts.

Erin: Our log cabin is also an outbuilding that people remember and enjoy seeing. I mean, what kid hasn't come to our ranch and played pioneer in that log cabin? Our log cabin was built just shortly after the mansion was constructed in 1910. People used to think that the log cabin was here before the mansion and that Pawnee Bill and May lived in it before their dream home was completed, but we know that's not true. Pawnee Bill did actually live in a cabin on the ranch, but it is no longer here. Pawnee Bill built the existing cabin so that his visitors to the ranch could see and experience what frontier life was like. It was built intentionally for education, not to be lived in; however, some of his big city guests enjoyed staying overnight in the cabin to get the feel of "roughing it." Log cabins really weren't built to survive over 100 years, so our little cabin needed a little bit of TLC. The logs were rotting away in portions, it was sinking into the ground and a lot of the chinking was missing. Our cabin was restored by a specialty company out of Colorado. It took them about two months and that happened about two years ago. They preserved as much as they could and our cabin is looking good again! Hopefully it will last another hundred years.

Anna: Right next to the cabin is the blacksmith shop and we use it for demonstrations. It's surprising to most people when they find out that we still use it today! You might not know this, but when school groups come here for field trips they often request a blacksmith. We have a wonderful Oklahoma organization, the Saltfork Craftsmen, who send us a blacksmith when we need one. School groups can request several different options for educational programming, so these types of reserved groups get to experience the ranch in kind of a special way. They can do a buffalo program, a program on life a log cabin and play pioneer games, they see the cowboy whip act, all of that's in addition to the normal mansion tour!

Erin: Another fun structure is the observation tower, which sits in the middle of Blue Hawk Peak. You can't miss it if you come to the Ranch. One of the most common questions that is asked by tourists is what was built while Pawnee Bill lived on the site. The simple answer is that everything except the museum and the bathrooms was built by Pawnee Bill and May. The tower is one of the structures that was built a little bit later than the others but still in the range of 1911-1912. It's certainly a favorite of many of the children that come here to visit. But you have to be careful. You can climb the spiral staircase but the stairs are pretty steep and narrow.  But once you make it to the top, you get to see the ranch from this really high vantage point. Everything is so pretty from up there – and you can see the animals from the top. If you can imagine when Pawnee Bill lived on the ranch, the trees on the property were not here so that gave them a fantastic view of the surrounding hills and prairies.

Anna: Of course, we can't forget the animals here on the property! They are one of the favorite things here on the Ranch. We have people drive through our pasture almost every day like a ritual of sorts. We have a herd of about 40 bison, 40 longhorn, and 4 Clydesdales. Back in Pawnee Bill's day, those numbers would have been much larger because he and May ran one of the largest bison ranches in the world. As we mentioned earlier, we are still a working ranch. Sometimes when people come to the Ranch our animals might not in the pasture or it might look like they're missing. We haven't gotten rid of them. The animals have access to 500 acres of land and can go where the public cannot. If you are planning to come and see the animals, it's best to arrive in the morning when they've gotten fed or early evening when it's starting to cool off. Days when it's really hot, stormy, or when the animals are calving are usually days when the animals will be gone. And we really don't have control over the animals so we can't call them in when they're missing. So if you come up when they're gone, you'll just have to come back another time.

Erin: We might want to share this kind of neat story that we had. Just a couple weeks ago, we had the opportunity to fulfill one of the wishes for a terminally ill five year old boy. He wanted more than anything to see a buffalo and he had been in a children's hospital in Ohio for a very long time. So they came here and it just so happened that our animals were being naughty and left the pasture. We were able to take him out, he and his family, and find the bison where they were hiding. It just made us really appreciate what we get to do here and not take for granted the animals and all the wonderful things that we're surrounded with. It really brought it home that it's a special place and it means things to people.

Anna: It meant a lot to them so we were very grateful to be able to do that. We also have another secret that has to do with the animals. Do you know that some of our animals have actually names? Not all of them do but a very few select do.

Erin: The big ones.

Anna: The big ones do. So next time you come to the Ranch, you can say hi to our bison bulls, Nick and Little Bill. 

Erin: Right and they were actually named in a contest. So those were the winners. The Clydesdales, we have four of them, they are Spirit, JR, Laddie, and Dan. They sometimes come when you call them by name. They're gentle giants. They are used in parades and in the Wild West Show to pull wagons and the stagecoach. Most people familiar with the ranch know that we do a reenactment of Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show every June. We try to stay as faithful to Pawnee Bill's original show as we possibly can. This year we are doing the show one weekend, Father's Day weekend on June 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now. But we do a lot more than just a Wild West Show.

Anna: That's right. We have events year round. In October we have a quilt show that we have done every year for many, many years. We do different events like style shows.

Erin: Ghost stories.

Anna: Ghost stories. We decorate the mansion every Christmas.

Erin: We're getting ready to have an Easter egg hunt.

Anna: We are getting ready to have an Easter egg hunt; one of the longest running Easter egg hunts in Oklahoma. We have a lot more than just what the Wild West Show is in the summer time. We also have a lot of people choose to have important events here at the Ranch, like weddings, birthdays, reunions, and conferences. We looked at our calendar earlier and in May we have a wedding almost every weekend so it's a really special time here at the Pawnee Bill Ranch. These are booked year round and they provide a lot of support to the upkeep of the Ranch. We love getting to host these events for people and we love that people choose to have their biggest events here at the Ranch.

Erin: That's right. Every time someone gets married or something, one of the thoughts that runs through my head is "Oh, that's great. They're always going to remember the Ranch as a part of one of the happiest days of their lives."

Anna: And we have former brides and grooms come up and celebrate anniversaries and come through every couple of months, so it's really fun to see them again.

Erin: We hope that the podcast answers any questions about the modern day ranch and what we do now. Please feel free to contact us at pawneebillranch@okhistory.org or you can write us on Facebook at Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum. We'd love to hear from you and answer any questions or listen to feedback. Our podcast can also be found on iTunes now, so that's very exciting. You can look that up if you subscribe to iTunes.

Anna: Until next time, I'm Anna Davis.

Erin: and I'm Erin Brown. Thank you for listening.
Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.