Hull Ranch holds Fundraiser to Raise Awareness of Under-diagnosed Condition called Porphyria

By: Roseanne McKee

(L-R) American Porphyria Foundation Founder/Executive Director, Desiree Lyon, and Mary Hull at the fundraiser event hosted by Hull Ranch on April 11 near Pawhuska.

(L-R) American Porphyria Foundation Founder/Executive Director, Desiree Lyon, and Mary Hull at the fundraiser event hosted by Hull Ranch on April 11 near Pawhuska.

On April 11, Hull Ranch hosted a fundraiser lunch with a silent auction as part of the kick-off of a horseback ride cross-country at night dubbed “the Shadow Ride” to bring awareness to a the disease porphyria. The event’s proceeds went to the American Porphyria Foundation, whose founder, Desiree Lyon, attended the event. The Dustin Pittsley Band provided the entertainment and there were trail rides and bouncy-houses for the kids.

The Hull Ranch fundraiser was hosted by Mary and Tom Hull, whose daughter, Dr. Lisa Kehrberg, a primary care physician in the Chicago area, was diagnosed with an acute type of porphyria in Sept. 2013.

The fundraiser’s purpose is two-fold: to raise funds for porphyria research and to bring attention to the disorders to increase proper and prompt diagnosis, which can be identified through a simple blood and urine tests.

Approximately 2,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with a porphyria annually, Dr. Kehrberg said. There are eight distinct types of porphyria each with its own set of signs and symptoms. Some types of porphyria create skin sensitivity to light, called cutaneous.

Michelle MacMeeken suffers from this type, called EPP (erythropoietic proptoporphyria). For this reason, her husband, Scott MacMeeken decided to ride horseback across the U.S. at night, called “The Shadow Ride” to bring attention to the underdiagnosed conditions.

Porphyrias are considered an uncommon genetic disorders according to Dr. Sylvia Bottomley, M.D. an expert on prophyria who attended the fundraiser and specializes in Internal Medicine and Hematology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, where she is an Emeritus Professor.

The symptoms of the type of porphyria from which Dr. Kehrberg suffers are: severe abdominal pain, weakness and numbness, back pain, leg pain, fast heart rate, high blood pressure, respiratory and muscle weakness. Now age 40, Dr. Kehrberg had her first attack in her teens, and has suffered from the disorder for 22 years. Her diagnosis only came recently, however.

Delayed diagnosis is typical, Dr. Bottomley said. “This is why awareness is important because I think porphyria is one of these things that patients take to their doctor and they are not aware,” Dr. Kehrberg said.

Dieting and stress are triggers. Dr. Kehrberg said an attack began after her brother died unexpectedly. She had also been dieting during this time.

“By the time I got the diagnosis, I was going to die or get diagnosed,” she said. “A year and a half ago, I got really sick and ended up hospitalized [in the Chicago area] with all of those symptoms. This was like severe, severe abdominal pain and high blood pressure.

“The first hospital did not recognize it despite multiple tests … and then they discharged me; but I went home and after a few hours I went right to another hospital after that.” She was properly diagnosed at the second hospital, but the effects of the disorder have been life-changing.

“I can’t work now because I’m too sick,” Dr. Kehrberg said. “I’ve had a continuous attack since this happened. Every day I’m in an attack. I feel bad right now. It’s terrible. I have medication I take, but I’m not comfortable at all. It’s worse than labor actually.”

The usual triggers for attacks are: not eating, many medications, hormones and alcohol, Dr. Kehrberg said.

Porphyrias are enzyme deficiencies in the metabolic pathway that makes heme, which Dr. Bottomley describes as “defects passed down from one or both parents – thus genetic abnormalities.”

Kehrberg, said she had inherited porphyria from her biological father’s side of the family. (She is Mary Hull’s daughter from a previous marriage, adopted by Tom Hull.) There were a number of people from that branch of the family tree who died from porphyria before the current treatment was developed, she explained.

“If you are not diagnosed, you can die from porphyria,” Dr. Kehrberg explained. Porphyria can also cause mental confusion and even coma, Dr. Bottomley added.

“Porphyrias began being diagnosed around 1900,” Dr. Bottomley said. “Now we have this hem-therapy, for about 40 years. We give it to patients with acute porphyrias to counteract the effects of the metabolic blocks caused by enzyme deficiencies.”

It is not a cure, however. “It’s only supportive treatment. About a dozen patients with very severe porphyria have been cured by liver transplantation,” she said. “Genetic defects might be cured by putting new genes in and no gene therapy has yet been accomplished in humans,” Dr. Bottomley explained.

“About 90 percent of the people who have an acute intermittent porphyria defect, a PBG deaminase deficiency, never have a complaint in their life. It’s only about ten percent who express it and have symptoms.”

For the ten percent who do experience symptoms, almost always the triggers mentioned bring on acute attacks of the condition. Dr. Bottomley said.

“In the case of alcohol abuse, you can’t manage a patient who drinks. That is because alcohol is metabolized in the liver and the acute porphyria enzyme defects are expressed in the liver. It is here where PBG and ANA accumulated that are toxic to the nervous system.Our nervous system controls motor, autonomic, sensory and brain functions.” Any or all of these functions can be affected.

Glucose (carbohyrdrates) consumption can reduce symptoms of porphyria, Dr. Kehrberg said.

Dr. Bottomley concurred: “we understand the glucose effect because the first enzyme in making the making of heme, called ALAS, is controlled by glucose at the gene level… if you starve, you may get a porphyria attack because that enzyme got induced.”

Dr. Bottomley described how she came to specialize in porphyria: “It began with a patient who had anemia during my residency,” Dr. Bottomley said. “Her hemoglobin was very down; I gave her Vitamin B6 and her numbers soared to normal. That got me started to figure out why that would be. It has to do with heme-biosynthesis, because vitamin B6 is essential for the ALAS enzyme. I found that in some anemias this enzyme is affected in red blood cells.That’s how I got into heme-synethesis research and gravitated into hematology.”

Being in hematology caused her to pay attention to related conditions. She began her career in 1961, she said. “In those days, my lab was the first in the state of Oklahoma to also measure the iron and Vitamin B12 levels in the blood of patients.

Dr. Bottomley said: “To learn about heme-synthesis for my research of refractory anemias, in 1962 I went to the University of Minnesota to study under Dr. C. J. Watson, who was the ‘father of porphyrias’ in the United States.”

Dr. Watson has since passed on, but Dr. Bottomley said, she learned many valuable skills in his porphyria lab, which she then used to diagnose patients with porphyria in Oklahoma over the years.

To conclude, Dr. Bottomley explained that while the causes of all porphyria are now clear at the DNA level by a host of mutations affecting the enzymes of heme-biosynthesis, much research is needed in the field.

“We still don’t understand completely how the toxic buildup of ALA and PGB in acute porphyrias cause the symptoms.Importantly also, the treatment of most porphyrias remains supportive and sometimes not helpful unless the drastic measure of a liver transplant is undertaken.”

To donate to the American Porphyria Foundation, write to: American Porphyria Foundation, 4900 Woodway, Suite 780, Houston, TX 77056.

To learn more about the condition, visit their website:

Secrets of the Pioneer Woman Building

By: Roseanne McKee

As renovations of the Pioneer Woman Deli and shop building progressed, the building began to share its surprising secrets with those working on the project.

General contractor, Terry Loftis of J. L. and Associates, LLC, revealed some of these secrets.

Pioneer Woman Building interior renovation

Contractor Terry Loftis shown on left describes the renovations.

A. J. Hamilton and her crew started the project in summer 2012, and have done 90 percent of the demolition, Loftis said.

Loftis said that the south side of the building, where the Osage Mercantile was originally located, is built on a crawl space.

“Most people don’t believe that but if you go right underneath that plywood right there and I stand on the dirt, the finished floor below the building, it hits me about waist high,” Loftis said.

“Both buildings the last 40 ft. have full basements. What most people really don’t know is that … those were speakeasys in the back of here,” Loftis said.

Prohibition, resulting from the passage of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibited the manufacture, sale, transport, import, or export of alcoholic beverages. Illegal nightclubs called “speakeasys” flourished during Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 – 1933, when it was repealed by the 21st Amendment.

After the speakeasys closed, some interesting items were left behind.

“If you go down into the basement, and up over the retaining wall, you cannot crawl six-inches without hitting 15 empty liquor bottles that start at the retaining wall and come all the way to the front. Those will all be removed, because this side will actually have the heating and air conditioning ducts under the floor in that crawl space coming up through the floor. So we’re going to take all those out,” he said. Many of these bottles will be washed and put on display in the new Osage Mercantile, he said.

Another wonderful find, on the south side of the building, was a large granite column, uncovered when they were working to restore the original entrance to the Osage Mercantile.

“We found an old black and white picture that showed this diagonal entry. Sometime after that, they squared it off and covered up this granite column. We started tearing that out, were fortunate enough to find the granite column in pretty much the original shape it was, except for the top and bottom.

Original granite column found beneath facade at Pioneer Woman Building.

Original granite column found beneath facade at Pioneer Woman Building.

Regarding the column, Loftis said, “we found a gossip column in, get this, two daily newspapers that existed here in 1912 talking about the setting of the column. It came from a quarry in Maine by a train from Maine to Tulsa, by buckboard wagon from Tulsa to Pawhuska. It weighs almost 6,000 lbs., 18 ft. tall, almost 30” around, it took 14 men to set it, and cost the owners and astronomical $495!”

In addition, several pieces of antique furniture found in the building are being refinished with plans to put them back into use.
“That table you see was actually found in here under a pile of rubble. Along with the two benches, it was sanded, that was just stained yesterday,” Loftis said. The table and benches will be used in the conference area of the second floor offices, he said.

This restored piece will serve as the conference room table in the Pioneer Woman Building.

This restored piece will serve as the conference room table in the Pioneer Woman Building.

“Over here you’ll see the old original display cases from the Osage Mercantile. These are going to be broken down, refinished and they will be put back downstairs for merchandise display,” Loftis said.

Items found in the Pioneer Woman Building will be re-purposed.

Furnishings found in the Pioneer Woman Building will be refinished and put back into use.

He motioned to the southeast portion of the building, and said that during the work, “we found an entrance that none of us knew existed, this entry back there was probably covered up for almost 70 years. We found it and said, ‘make it match,’ so now you’ll have this entryway all the way around.

As our time drew to a close, Loftis revealed one last secret. The building has many nooks to explore, but the Drummond boys’ favorite is a little room near the commercial kitchen, adjacent to the freight elevator, underneath the stairwell.

Area below these stairs in the Pioneer Woman Building is a favorite hiding spot of the Drummond boys.

Area below these stairs in the Pioneer Woman Building is a favorite spot of the Drummond boys.

Osage Ballet to hold July performances in Skiatook and Miami


(L-R) Sean Steigerwald, Arthur Rocha, Sasha Kotelenets and Chad Jones. Photo by: Bill Riley

By: Roseanne McKee

“Wahzhazhe” an Osage Ballet will again grace the Oklahoma stage. The Osage Ballet will hold six July performances of “Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet,” at two Oklahoma venues — Miami and Skiatook.

Three performances will be held at the Skiatook High School: July 18, 19, at 7:30 p.m. and July, 20, at 2:30 p.m. at 1000 W. 4th St., Skiatook, Okla.

In addition, there will be three performances at the historic Coleman Theater in Miami, July 25, 26, at 7:30 p.m. and July 27, at 2:30 p.m. at 103 N. Main St., Miami, Okla.

The director, Randy Tinker Smith, made the decision to hold these summer performances following the warm reception by audiences in 2013 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Bartlesville Community Center and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Smith said that the ballet “Wahzhazhe” tells the story of the Osage people from their first encounters with European visitors to the present day. Called the “Masters of the Battlefield” and sometimes referred to as the happiest people in the world, the Osage people monopolized trade because of their organization and order. Highlights of “Wahzhazhe” include: the Osage’s journey to Oklahoma territory, their wealth through the discovery of oil in the minerals estate, and the manner in which they now walk in two worlds.

The Osage Ballet operates under the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, 101 E. Archer St., Tulsa, OK 74013, as a non-profit organization.

“We appreciate donations from the Osage Nation Foundation, Iron Hawk Energy Group and other area oil businesses,” Smith said. “These donations help us continue to bring the story of the Osage people to the Oklahoma stage.”

Tickets are available at to door for $10 for children and seniors and $12 for adults.

For more information, or to make a donation, contact the Osage Ballet at 918-704-4668 or via e-mail at

Donations to the Osage Ballet may be mailed to: the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa at 101 E. Archer St., Tulsa, OK 74103.

Visit the Osage Ballet Facebook and the website at: for photos and updates.

Osage Ballet holds Art Auction and Fashion Show

(L-R) Madeline Pennington, Emily Pennington and Jenna Smith model designs by Wendy Ponca and Terry Wann inspired by Native American clothing.Image

By: Roseanne McKee

The Osage Ballet held an art auction and fashion show on April 25 at the Harwelden Mansion in Tulsa.

Native-American fashions by designers Wendy Ponca and Terry Wann were inspired by the Osage creation story, which tells of sky people, called Tzi-Zho, coming to earth from the sky and marrying the earth people called Hun-kah.

“Two of the models represented the sky people and one the earth people,” Ponca explained. “The earth model is clothed in buckskin, otter skin, copper and shells just as those found at the Cahokia Mounds.”

The sky models were dressed in Mylar® with crystal necklaces and Eagle headdresses, Wann said. According to Wann, she chose to use Mylar® because a similar substance was found at the UFO crash site in Roswell, NM.

“It’s my interpretation as an artist,” Wann said.

Models Madeline and Emily Pennington hail from the GrayHorse Village near Fairfax and Jenna Smith is from the Pawhuska Village.

Following remarks by Osage Ballet Director Randy Tinker Smith, Native-American art was auctioned to benefit the Osage Ballet. “It’s very expensive for us to continue this,” Smith said, explaining her desire to continue to offer opportunities for audiences to see Wah-Zha-Zhe an Osage Ballet telling the history of the Osage people.

The proceeds of the evening will go toward summer performances of Wah-Zha-Zhe in Skiatook and at the Coleman Theater in Miami, Okla.

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Grilling Secrets of a Barbecue Judge

Professional barbecue judge, Merl Whitebook, visited the Pawhuska Kiwanis Club recently and shared “barbecue secrets” and “biggest mistakes” he has learned from being a certified barbecue competition judge.

Those in barbecue competition know that the secret to better barbecue is adding margarine or butter, Whitebook confided. In addition, Whitebook said that his own secret ingredient was white pepper because it doesn’t compete with the barbecue flavor. “You taste it on the back of your tongue,” he explained. When grilling, “avoid salt — it dries out the meat” — and consider spraying the meat with apple juice, Whitebook said. Honey and herb and spice rubs also add flavor.

This attorney and professional Barbecue Judge for the Kansas City Barbecue Society said that the biggest mistake people make in charcoal grilling is using a whole bag of charcoal. Instead, “use about a third of it,” Whitebook said. Also, don’t place coals all the way across the grill, he advised. “When you have coals all the way across, you’re fighting the top all the time,” he said. “Otherwise, you can move your meat off the heat.” His favorite charcoal is Ozark Oak.

Whitebook explained how to tell when the meat is done. Briskets are done at “195 to 210 degrees,” he said. However, the way the meat feels is also important. When he checks the interior, he wants it “to feel like butter.” Once the meat is finished, there is another important step: “I smoke it for about an hour,” he said.

One thing that is not commonly known outside the barbecue competition world is that in these contests “chicken is parboiled in margarine or butter and finished off over direct heat. The butter penetrates it and adds a lot of flavor,” he said. However, at home Whitebook does not parboil in butter because, although it adds flavor, it also adds significant fat and calories.

Although there are things to learn from the world of barbecue competition, these techniques may not always be appropriate for home grilling. Barbecue competitions are judged on the grilling of: chicken, ribs, pork and brisket for: taste, tenderness and appearance “in that order,” Whitebook said. Some competitions also include side dishes.

There are many barbecue competitions in our area, including one in May in Claremore, he said. The winnings can be impressive. “The team of the year won $50,000 this year. Sam’s Club is putting $100,000 in prize money this year,” Whitebook said. Currently, he serves as the Secretary for the Kansas City Barbecue Society and on the New Ideas and Nominating Committee.

Sample plates of the barbecue competitors can be purchased at these events, so be sure to try one at the next competition in your area!

The Cowboy Life of James Willcox

By Roseanne Sutton
[Shown in Photo: James with his children. L-R: Back Row: Kim Darrow and James Hagin Willcox; Front Row Jamessa Terrell and James Willcox]

One Sunday afternoon recently, James Willcox, wearing a Marfa straw cowboy hat, met me at his daughter Kim Darrow’s house to talk about his career as a cowboy, which has spanned over 40 years.
James Willcox was 24 when he began working for Frederick Ford on the Drummond Ranch near Hominy. He lived in the house called “Red Top” on the hill. He was married to Linda Sue and had two daughters, Jamessa and Kim at the time. [In photo: L-R James, Jamessa and Linda Sue back in the day.]
James relayed Frederick Ford’s approach to ranching. “Frederick does not raise cattle. He grows grass and he tries to find a way to harvest that grass and be paid for it and cattle is the way.”
James still remembers his start date — March 15, 1969. The foreman, Cecil “Shorty” Hendrix put him right to work.
“In the first few days I started, there was 15 inches of snow and I started out riding horses and feeding these cattle. I had a cow horn to call the cattle,” he explained.
Asked what he thought of starting the job that much snow on the ground, he replied, “I was used to it. I thought it was a pretty good day.”
Shorty gave him three horses to use – Jabo, Solo and Hershey. In addition, he brought his own two horses, Spot and Buster, which he rotated using during the seven-day work week.
During the winter months James explained, “We fed seven days a week, so I rotated them.”
They worked seven days a week feeding the cattle from cake houses in 13 to 14 pastures per day. “The pastures were a lot bigger than they are today,” James said.
“We’d have the 100 lb. bags in the cake houses …. The bunks are four [half] barrels welded together and we laid one bag in each bunk.” Essentially, they were 55 gallon drums cut in half.
Each cake house was about a 12 x 12 barn or round tank, he said. “There are still some around. Most of them are burned up or rotted down.”
His second daughter, Kim Darrow, chimed in, “After you all quit using them, I remember playing in them.”
James smiled and then continued, “Back then, we were feeding 1,000 head of cattle a day.”
When asked what breed of cattle he dealt with, he said, “Herefords — then they started buying black bulls, Brangus, Charlais, Angus, Beefmasters. I liked the Beefmasters because they weighed more.”
Once the herd was established, “Frederick didn’t buy any. He raised his own and kept the best heifers and kept them for replacements – about 100 per year,” James said.
When they reached age 10, Frederick sold them, James said.
“He’d keep replacements back and started his herd over – that was Frederick,” James explained.
Haying was also part of the routine. In the winter months they would feed cake one day and hay the next. Hay barns were about 100 ft. by 50 ft. wide. The bales of hay were loaded from the barns onto a truck. “There were three of us. Shorty drove the truck and me and another feller cut off the strings or the wire.”
James’ son, James Hagin Willcox, joined us for this part of the interview and explained that the hay bale would be held at the side of the truck by one man and the strings cut by the other so that the hay fell on the ground when the strings were cut.
James worked at another ranch before taking the job for Frederick Ford. “When I was 15 years old, the opportunity came up at the Thompsons. I lied about my age. He wanted someone 16 years old to drive the truck; I was 15 and a half and they hired me,” James confessed. One of his cowboys “had gotten a DUI and they needed someone to drive. Once they saw I could drive, they kept me on.”
James worked for Bill Thompson who raised horses and had a ranch near Hominy. He would break the American quarter horses, some of which were shipped to Hollywood to be used in movies by Ben Johnson and John Wayne, he said.
James said he did not know John Wayne well, but did know Ben Johnson. Regarding Ben Johnson he said, “He was all Osage County – even when he was in Hollywood.” James said knew him well enough to drink from the same cup.
James explained the horse-breaking process. “They’d bring 30 at a time to break,” he said. They would “tie four or five of the horses behind a wagon drawn by trained horses. The back of the wagon had a feeder on it. The horses followed the feeder and were led by the trained team hitched to the front of the wagon.
However, when other opportunities presented themselves he decided to make a change.
James might have taken another offer to work for E. C. Mullendore he said, but his wife’s family, the Hillsberrys were from Sand Springs and the Drummond Ranch was closer to them.
Of his wife, Linda Sue Willcox, James said, “She was a city girl. Cause she married me, I made a country girl out of her … She could sure cook … She took care of the house … would go out gather eggs.”
The first year they were at the Drummond Ranch, they had some milk cows to earn extra money. “I’d milk and she’d strain the milk and sell the cream and the milk in town (Hominy).” She also churned butter, daughter Jamessa said.
In those days, a number of people in the Drummond family had ranches – Frederick Ford, Jack, Gent, Fred Alexander.
“You could walk from the Arkansas River all the way to Kansas and be on Drummond Ranches,” James said with a note of pride.
He suggested reading the books published about the Drummond family tree to fully understand who was who.
James also had a small herd of his own cattle, and still does. He prefers long-horns. “I just love them,” he said. “The cowboys come hunting for calves for roping every year. They buy the calves.
“They outlive other cattle. I have one 23 years old that still had a calf.” James sells them after they stop bearing.
I asked James to explain how the seasons altered his work on the ranch.
“After the snow melted and spring came, we worked cattle … vaccinating the cattle for anaplast, branding the calves, castrating the males and dehorning them,” James said.
Another task was putting an earmark on the cattle. Each local rancher in the area used a different earmark. “Fred Ford did an underbit in the left ear. There were probably about five or six of the earmarks,” he explained. They were used so that you could distinguish the cattle. The cattle look at you and raise their ears and you can readily see the earmark, he said. That way if a neighboring rancher’s cattle got on your land, you’d know who to return it to. The earmarks were easier to see than the brands because the cattle typically look at you and raise their ears.
In order to complete these tasks, the cowboys had pens to gather the cattle and a series of chutes that they went through. “I helped build about all the pens out there on the ranch,” he said.
“I did most of the tripping the chutes and the branding,” James said. R. C. Atkins did most of the castrating. In addition, they used a calving table to inoculate and work the calves.
“There was me and Shorty and Frederick, Joe Rusk sometimes, who was building fences – he was there longer than any of us,” he added.
“We’d get up at 4 a.m. We’d have to leave the house at 6 o’clock and be in the pasture at daylight.
“Going to the backside gathering cattle and seeing the sun come up … not everyone gets to see that,” he said. [Shown in photo below L-R: R. C. Atkins and James Willcox rounding up cattle].
“Starting in April we worked the cattle. We’d try to have the cows done and ready by early June for Cattlemen’s Association tour because a lot of cattle were sold during that tour.
“That’s why all the little livestock auctions stopped around here. They just take their semis out there and load ‘em up,” he explained. “The tour is for out-of-staters to see what kind of cattle you’ve got …. The Cattlemen’s tour has been going on a long time.”
Fighting grass fires is another regular part of ranch life. “Hominy ranchers started a rural fire department in 1994. I thought I should go to the meeting and they made me the Hominy Ranchers Rural Fire Department chief!” James said with a chuckle. “They were going to have a different person every year, but I’ve been it since 1994,” he said smiling broadly.
The ranches in the area are all tallgrass prairie “that’s the reason we had so many fires,” he said. Early spring used to be a big fire time because people would do controlled burns that got out of control, he explained.
His wife, Linda Sue, would make sandwiches for them and drive through the fire to bring it to them, Jamessa said.
When Shorty Hendrix retired as foreman of the Frederick Ford Drummond Ranch in January 1987, James took over the position – Jan. 11, 1987, a position he held until Jan. 2011, when he retired.
James explained that after the Cattlemen’s tour, when some of the herd had been sold, their summer schedule began. “In the summer we could ride fences, fix it if it was bad. We had to watch for sick cattle. We’d spray cattle for flies. We took our firefighting rig and put a chemical in it and sprayed the cattle.
“We shoed horses — broke horses … My favorite part of the job in the summer was we had cookouts … At the cookouts we cooked a whole beef and we’d have a band come and play.
“I had some friends who played bluegrass. There’s nothing like having bluegrass at a big cookout,” James said with a smile.
“I had a big ole’ black pot to fix beans in – pinto beans, and potato salad, white bread,” he said.
They also went to Hominy for parts for the pens and other ranch supplies. “We went to the Pioneer Store. The Drummonds owned that. Now we go to C & G which is out north,” James explained.
“About once a week we’d go to Pawhuska to ship the yearlings to different feed lots before they were sold. Sixty days at the feed lot and they were sold outright by different people from the feedlot itself …. In July they sold the yearlings to the feedlot.”
If they were not sold at the feedlot, the beef was sold “on the rail” after butchering. The rail is the system in the ceiling in the beef processing plant which holds the beef, he explained.
“We saddled the horse, loaded them on a trailer and took them to the West ranch called the Strohm Ranch, but it was owned by Frederick Ford Drummond,” he said. “We’d go to the back side of the Strohm Ranch to load them on semi-trucks and take them to feed lots in Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska – most of them in Kansas,” he said. “They paid someone to transport them to the feed lot.”
While in Pawhuska, they would grab lunch “at the Pig Stand and places like that.”
His wife Linda Sue would make lunch for the cowboys too. “Every meal you had a pot of brown beans.” (pinto beans) In addition, there was “meatloaf, charcoaled hamburgers, salad, roast, Frito pie, casserole, chicken fried steak, cake, pie, rolls … mashed potatoes and gravy,” James said. “All the meals were made out of Drummond beef.”
“We’d get in trouble if we had chicken,” Jamessa said.
“When we ate out, if we bought chicken, Fred wouldn’t pay for it,” James said with a chuckle.
In a previous phone interview Frederick Ford Drummond said, I’ve never had a cowboy die of a heart attack and they’ve eaten beef every day!”
He took his daughters with him for some of these trips. He’d “throw the kids on a flatbed truck,” he said. Having no sons at the time, he treated his daughters like sons and taught them to be cowboys, especially the oldest daughter, Jamessa.
But God had a surprise around the corner for James. His wife had gotten her tubes tied, and a few months later started having strange symptoms.
“Linda went to Springer Clinic on the advice of Frederick Ford Drummond,” James said. At the clinic they told her she was pregnant! Three months later she had a son. They named him James Hagin Willcox.
“James works for Indian Electric in Cleveland,” he said with a gleam in his eye.
“I went to a palm reader over here in Cleveland. We’d been hauling hay … She said ‘I see two girls and a boy.’ I said ‘No, I don’t.’ She also said ‘You’re going to lose your father in the next year and I did. After James came, I looked back and said, she knew what she was doing,” James said.
“Once the yearlings were shipped, then we’d do fencing and everything else ‘til we started feeding again the first of November.”
Around that time fires became an issue again, he added. “We had a fire bug out there who would start fires.” The people were eventually found and stopped, he said.
“In July and August we’d ship bigger cattle. We had two sets of calves on the ranch. In October we’d wean the spring calves and ship them to Pawhuska and they’d keep them on the Strohm Ranch until the next spring … when they’d ship them off,” James explained.
Although they had had trucks and Jeeps since he began working there, James always used horses for the work. When four-wheelers became popular, he still preferred riding the horses. “I used the four-wheelers for chasing the wild boars,” James said.
By telephone Frederick Ford Drummond spoke of James: “James has been known to be a wild man. He’s chased deer and wild boar and rode in the Cavalcade every year.”
“Not every year,” James told me later. However, he did confess to chasing wild hogs.
“See, I have a pack of dogs and they chase the hogs. I still hunt the hogs. As soon as I get my knee good, I’m going to go back hunting them. I hate those hogs; they do so much damage and they’re dangerous to kids.”
And that’s not all: “I’ve caught a couple of live deer and I’m a wild hose-backer,” James said.
Drummond also said of James, “Everybody in southern Osage County knows him.”
James confirmed this. “That’s about right,” he said laughing.
Drummond said, “I really love all my cowboys. They’re special. It’s a hard life – seven days a week; and the weather can be extremely harsh …”
In addition to all of his work on the ranch, James also “took care of a lot of boys who would come out and work and Frederick Ford would pay them,” he said. They learned discipline and skills that kept them out of trouble. “That’s what I’m more proud of than anything,” James added.
James also collects spurs and has won many belt buckles in rodeos, but those stories would have wait for another day. Some of the extended family was arriving and it was about supper time. His daughters were already beginning to cook and his son James was preparing the grill.
James lost his wife Linda Sue from COPD on Dec. 6, 2006. He used to smoke three-packs a day himself, but quit in 1978, when he began to see it affecting his lungs.
Since his retirement, he tends his small herd of long-horn cattle. James confided that he is thinking of selling some of his long-horns this year. “They’re getting’ older,” he said.
These days James has more time to spend with his family. He got knee replacement this spring and is going through the recovery process.
I took photos of him and his children and then asked him one final question. “What was the best part of the cowboy life you’ve lived?”
“The freedom,” he answered with a broad grin.
We shook hands and I thanked him for taking the time to tell me all about his cowboy life.

Ruby Duke speaks in Pawhuska to GFWC – Heeko Club of ranch life in western Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression

Ruby Duke, seated, surrounded by her family. (L-R) Kelly Duke’s son/Ruby’s grandson Kasey Duke, Ruby’s son-in-law Jim Kerwin and daughter Gayle Kerwin, Ruby’s son Kelly Duke and daughter-in-law Kathy Duke.

By Roseanne Sutton

Ruby Duke, born Aug. 12, 1916 in Shattuck, Oklahoma , was the guest speaker at the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Heeko Chapter meeting on April 11. Ruby Duke has been a very active volunteer in Pawhuska since she and her late husband purchased a ranch and moved to the area in 1952.
However, her speech to the Heeko ladies focused on her experiences as a newlywed rancher’s wife during the Great Depression and the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.
Seated at the front of the room with over 40 guests and members of Duke’s family, she recounted stories of her life.
“I’ve lived a varied life — mountains and valleys. I’ve been told that if you don’t have the valleys, you don’t appreciate the mountains.”
Ruby said that the lessons she had learned during this period had stayed with her.
Her father had an automotive garage business in Shattuck, Okla. “1929 is when I first noticed the depression. In those days people came to have their car batteries recharged, and Daddy lost the garage. There were a lot of sacrifices made.”
Ruby described her life: “In 1935 everyone was poor. We were poor but we didn’t know it. We were happy.
“Life was much more simple. Even though you were poor, you shared with those who had less than you … The Santa Fe Railroad ran through our town. We fed many homeless men who were riding the rails looking for work. They were daddies riding from town-to-town looking for work,” Ruby said.
“Mom baked homemade bread twice a week. We shared what we had. My mom said, ‘We can’t afford to give both jelly and butter – you get one or the other.’ If we had milk, they got that too.
“They rode under the box cars. It was dangerous,” she added.
“When the class of ’35 graduated, we were too poor to get a class picture. No class rings – our families were too poor to buy them, but no one whined,” Ruby explained.
After graduation, college was not affordable, so Ruby became the society editor for the Ellis County News, working Wednesday through Friday. “I got $1 a day. We would go to press late Friday and if I stayed to hand-fold the newspapers, I got an extra dollar.”
“My best source of information was an old dentist, whose office was on the second floor above the drug store,” she said. “Dr. Fulton was the most gossipy person I knew.”
At this time, the dust had already begun to blow,” Ruby said. On Saturdays, Ruby also cleaned house for her boss and his wife, Gladys. “Gladys always had smothered steak. We didn’t have that much steak at our house,” she said with a chuckle. As time went on, Gladys reduced Ruby’s cleaning duties a bit because the daily dust made her efforts moot and Gladys said no one would notice.
Soon, a young man came on the scene. “There was a misplaced Texas cowboy in Oklahoma who bought a ranch northwest of Shattuck — Kay Duke. We started dating. He had a car, could take me to the movies, buy me a steak dinner once in a while and he loved to dance,” she said. They spent many an evening together at local dance spots.
“He had no plan of getting married, and I didn’t either, but we sort of grew on one another.” The next thing she knew, she married Kay Duke and moved out to the ranch.
“There was no electricity, no running water, no piped-in gas. You had to be young, dumb and happy and in love, but I was happy – extremely happy,” she said smiling as she thought of those days.
“As a pioneer ranch woman, we had some funny happenings,” Ruby said.
“Ranching is hard work. You hit the floor at five o’clock and you’re set for the day – all day.
“My first wash day, I looked like I could bite a tin-penny nail in two and I felt the same,” she said.
“There was a stick that moved the dash to make the wash go. Then you had a boiler – and you boiled your whites a while,” Ruby explained with a look of exasperation.
When the Oklahoma Dust Bowl began in earnest, everything changed. They went into a survival mode. Ruby took the down the curtains and bed spreads. She just put sheets on their bed because the dust made it impossible to keep them clean. She covered the furniture with sheets to protect it.
Fortunately, this was before the couple had their four children.
Each night the dust blew. The next morning there was a dirty film over everything it reached. “This was like powder. You couldn’t wipe it off. You had to wash it off. That didn’t start you for a happy day,” Ruby said. Before she could make breakfast, the kitchen floors and cabinets had to be scrubbed with soap and water daily, she explained.
Her husband, wearing a bandana around his nose to block the dust, would head to the barn to tend the livestock. “Before he got to the barn, he would just be a shadowy figure,” Ruby explained.
She described Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, when black blizzards of dust rolled across Oklahoma. “We were at home and Kay went out on the porch and he called to me. All you could see was rolling thumping coming toward you. We went back into the house. It was so black, you couldn’t see your hand in front of you. We stood in the living room with our arms around each other. I was crying and Kay was trembling. It rolled over us and went on. Gradually, the light returned.
“In Beaver [Oklahoma], the sand would blow over the fences and you could walk right over the fence in the corners.”
Of the experience, Ruby said, “I guess it must have fortified me, because here I am!”
After the Dust Bowl days, “Kay had wanted to enlarge his ranching business and go where there was better grassland. We were sitting on the porch one evening and looking out across the landscape and it seemed the sage brush took on a silvery hue. There were two creeks and lots of trees in the background and further to the south there was a high flat hill where it was rumored that in the early Indian days, when the Indians roamed, that was a lookout for them. I said to Kay, ‘Isn’t that the most beautiful scenery?’
Kay Duke responded, ‘Ruby, cattle can’t eat scenery.’
“This in turn caused me to do some serious thinking. We decided to tour all of Oklahoma. We stopped in many places and talked to real estate people,” Ruby Duke said.
“When we came to Pawhuska, there were red vinyl curtains blowing out of a window on Kihekah. My husband said, ‘Should we stop here?’ Nope, I said, let’s go on,” Ruby Duke said.
They went on to visit Ponca City that day, but nonetheless ended up purchasing a ranch near Pawhuska soon thereafter.
“We moved to Pawhuska in 1952 and we were happy and never looked back,” she said. “Our cattle felt like they had found heaven and we did too. That was good ole’ bluestem grass.”
She and Kay had four children – three sons and a daughter. The youngest son, Ricky, was born after the move to Pawhuska. Kay Duke died in December 1975 and their son, Ricky, graduated from Pawhuska High School the following year.
At the time, they were living at 403 E. 7th Street in Pawhuska.
“When Ricky left to go to college I didn’t cry and didn’t show much emotion until after he drove away. For the first time in my life, I realized I was all alone. I went back to the house and threw a ring-tail fit. If you’d seen me, you’d have thought I was crazy – and maybe I was,” she said.
However, soon thereafter, she threw herself into GFWC – Heeko and volunteerism. “I became involved,” Ruby said.
As a GFWC – Heeko Club member, Ruby chaired or participated in many projects. Here are a few highlights as described by Eileen Monger, who introduced Ruby at the meeting.
Ruby spearheaded efforts to clean up Pawhuska, meeting with the city manager seven times in 2003 to discuss the need to clean up the town. As a result, a code enforcement officer was hired to put teeth in the project.
Ruby also wrote to absentee property owners in Pawhuska’s historic district and organized a committee to decorate empty businesses on Kihekah Avenue.
She was instrumental in the renovation of the Blacksmith House, which now serves as the offices for the Chamber of Commerce. She chaired a two-year community improvement committee, enlisting the help of the city manager, chamber of commerce and the newspaper. “We worked together,” she said.
Ruby was given the “Outstanding Volunteer Award” in 2002 for her many efforts.
In addition, she has served in several capacities for the GFWC – Heeko Club, including as its president in 1957-58.
As a leader in GFWC – Heeko, Ruby was always full of fun. She organized, what became the first of many, “style shows” for the club and has participated in many skits.
“Ruby has always been our mentor,” said Eileen Monger. “Today we wore our hats for Ruby Duke Day.”
Of her warm introduction, Duke said, “No wonder I’m so tired!”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Heeko member and Oklahoma GFWC President Joyce Ward thanked Ruby for her contributions over the years and gave her a gift of the first newly-released Oklahoma GFWC lapel pin.
These days Ruby, who will be 95 on Aug. 12, is still going strong. She lives in Norman, Okla., and spends time with her family.
Several family members accompanied her to the meeting including: son Kelly and his wife Kathy Duke of Bixby, Kelly’s son/Ruby’s grandson Kasey Duke – a youth minister in Gore, Okla., and daughter Gayle Kerwin and her husband Jim Kerwin of Norman.
Summing up her life experiences, Ruby said, “I’m so glad I have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people along the way, and have been fortunate to participate in so many interesting activities with a wonderful family with me all the way.”