A life lesson from The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver, Colorado

Some old west characters at the Buckhorn

Some old west characters at the Buckhorn

For many years my good friend Buffalo Bill Cody (Tom Doroff) and I traveled to Golden, Colorado to be part of the annual Buffalo Bill Birthday Bash.   This celebration included a competition for living history performers to show their stuff, be quizzed on their knowledge by subject matter experts and earn bragging rights.

After three years of driving 900 miles through blizzards either one way or both, Tom and I decided we had tested our guardian angels enough and hung up our competition hats.  All our wives and friends had as reference point to the event was our greatly amplified stories of the past.

That all changed when Tom wrote me to tell me he had decided that his travel schedule was going to have him in Colorado during the bash and did I want to join him and his better half?    It was going to be held for the first time in many years at our favorite restaurant (and historic landmark) in Denver, The Buckhorn Exchange.  The Buckhorn was a favorite destination of both the real Buffalo Bill Cody and Theodore Roosevelt.  (Many of the amazing preserved animal mounts there are from Roosevelt himself)

Soon, I had gathered my beautiful bride and our good friend Bat.  We all watched and enjoyed Tom perform to earn coveted 2nd place.

Because of my busy schedule, I seldom get the opportunity to watch others at their craft.  It’s so helpful for me to see how others bring to life the people they portray and gain insights so I can hone my own abilities.   I certainly love presenting TR to audiences across the U.S., but I also enjoy learning from others about characters from history I perhaps had never heard of whom I have come to appreciate because of these talented individuals.

It was at the first event I attended many years ago that Colorado’s Official Buffalo Bill Cody, Ralph Melfi, described us all  by a term I have really taken to heart =  Living History Performer.  I believe it really describes how those of us who re-create these important people should be. Living = Bringing to “life” a person from the past who has an important message for the future or who impacted our own way of life.  History = A past that is worth remembering because it has a meaning for us (sometimes positive and sometimes negative) presented in a way that is not a text book.  Performer = A reminder that we have a responsibility to tell the story in a way that engages, enthralls, amuses and delights the people who are watching.

I was lucky to see amazing talent who once again mentored me through their sharing of their skills.  Thank you to those who continue to inspire young and old with important messages from our ancestors of the past.

Thank you as well to the Buckhorn Exchange for preserving history at their location (and their awesome menu), and supporting those who do so outside of their wonderful restaurant.


TR’s Cowboy camp at a history event

TR Camp at Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo

TR Camp at Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo

I wrote this back in 2013 and stumbled upon it.  I decided it needed to be shared.  Enjoy!

Over the past almost two weeks I have been living a lucky cowboy’s life, sans cattle. I have slept each night in a canvas wall tent; dined by a chuck wagon; sang hymns and music of the times and have been surrounded by people who, like me, were dressed in clothes of a bye gone era.

My mornings started by stoking the stove in my tent, then dressing in layers that could be adjusted to the day. A fire would be built under my canvas tarp to cook my breakfast and I would stare out at the other camps around me, smoke billowing out of chimneys of the nearby tents and teepee’s. I would see the outline of a cowboy sitting by a fire with a large pot of coffee hanging over, licked by flames. The bacon would start to sizzle in my cast iron pan as I strolled to say hello for the day and beg a cup of their strong black eye-opener. We would talk of the night before, the day ahead and the weather expected and other gentle small talk that friendly neighbors do. Occasionally there might be a hot donut bubbling in oil on the fire, or a dutch oven full of fresh buttermilk biscuit’s eager to be shared.

During the day I shared Mr. Roosevelt.  People in modern clothes would ask me about my life as they tried to comprehend living in the past. In the evening, the crowds would leave and our makeshift village would once again slow to a normal pace. The blacksmith would deliver the goods he made for us; eggs would be traded for a loaf of bread; children would beg chores in exchange for money to buy candy from the store. We would sit together and share our food and eat until beyond full and then visit on about the day. Each step back to my camp would provide invitation into a camp to help them finish what they had cooked. I began to understand how my great-great grandfather the blacksmith of the town and a founder of the Vasa Lutheran church connected to a community.

My lungs have never ingested so much smoke. The clothes I wore smelled of it along with sweat and sweet earthen mud. Sometimes I was so cold that no amount of layers seemed to warm me when I was away from the fire. For three days everything I owned was wet from a storm that would not leave, my “fish skins” ( water proof duster ) doing all it could to keep me dry  – but the dampness working its magic to send shivers. The next moment I would be so hot as to not be able to control the perspiration. I would sponge myself with a wet cloth when I could using a handmade lavender soap given to me by a store keeper for telling him a story that made him laugh. Each day I sat at the end of the day and watched the sunset, just like I had watched the sunrise, and felt blessed to enjoy another day.

This morning I woke up in my own bed at home and soaked in a bath as a television blared in the background. The washing machine hums even now as I write this on my computer, a device of which for almost two weeks I did not touch.

My experience taught me that although the past was a tough life – in many ways, it was simpler. I chopped and hauled wood each day for my fire; gathered and hauled water by the river; and cooked slow meals made from pure ingredients. I boiled clothes when they got dirty. I worked hard each day and when the crowds had left, I stopped and read a book, the pages new and crisp and untouched for far too long. I learned from others skills I knew I should know, and facts that I never really appreciated – until I was able to not be distracted by modern life and could truly listen.

The switches that make it easy to change light from dark in my house were appreciated last night when I finally got home. But that campfire aglow and a song wafting down along the grass into my camp, for me, trumps any convenience that I have today.

The 100th Anniversary of our National Parks and Teddy

Teddy R and Adam Lindquist

Teddy R and our National Parks

There are many celebrations occurring cross the country this year for the 100th anniversary of our National Parks.   I, along with several of my TR friends, will be contributing to these events, partly because many mistakenly believe Roosevelt created the National Parks.  Here is where you might need to pull out your history books for a refresher.

The first National Park was Yellowstone, established in 1872, well before Roosevelt’s time.  During his Presidency,  Roosevelt doubled the number of National Parks  from 1901-1909.  So that begs the question, why is 2016 the 100th Anniversary?  Because it wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson that the creation of the National Park Service occurred.

So why is Teddy often credited with the parks creation?  Because it was Roosevelt’s contribution to conservation and wildlife preservation that resulted in a national awareness of the need to continue to preserve the American Landscape.  Three major contributions of Roosevelt led to this: His doubling the number of National Parks while President; The creation of Wildlife Refuges and; the Antiquities Act of 1906 which created our National Monuments.  We must also remember that it was Roosevelt who hired Gifford Pinchot as the first Chief of the United States Forest Service to help manage our forest resources.  During his Presidency, Roosevelt would help protect 230 Million acres of land.  There is a very real reason he is called the conservation President!

As part of my mission for 2016 and hopefully beyond, I encourage you to take this year to explore this amazing land.  Take your children and their children on the real kind of adventure.   One where electronic devices are used only to record the sights and sounds to remind us of our experience.  An adventure where our conversations revolve around the amazing landscape that surrounds us.  Our parks, local, state and National are our real treasures.   Preserved because you enjoy them – but enjoy them you must to keep their preservation.