Tales, trails & trials of pioneer women

By Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise
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Mary Alice Sigmon, first vice president of the Oklahoma Questers organization, spoke at the Nowata County Historical Society Museum at 4 p.m. on Oct. 4 about what pioneer women went through as they made their way across the United States to put down roots in areas previously known only to indigenous tribes and a few early settlers.

Sigmon, who has been a Quester for over 40 years, decided to research pioneer women, and the result is the presentation she shared with the audience Thursday at the museum.

“I’ve always felt that there were pioneer women in my past that I’d like to know more about,” Sigmon said.

The Pioneer Woman bronze statue in Ponca City depicts the grit and determination of women of 150 years ago, she said.

“They did not have so many of the conveniences that we take for granted nowadays. … I actually researched diaries of pioneer women. … They actually had a little bit of time in the wagon, if they got everyone to bed, that they could write in their diaries. So, there are volumes of diaries of these women that traveled from the east out west,” she said. “I’m going to give you some excerpts from their diaries and talk a little bit about the era … mainly from the 1840s through the 1870s. By the 1870s the railroad had come through the west through across the plains and there were settlements. It was more civilized, organized. There were churches. There were schools. But, before that time, their school, their church, their everything was in that wagon. She started with a diary excerpt by Tabitha Brown, circa 1954.

“Through all my sufferings in crossing the plains, I have not once got relief by the shedding of tears nor thought we should not reach the settlement. The same faith and hope that I had ever in the blessings of kind providence strengthened in proportion to the trials I had to endure.”

People made the decision to move west with the promise of free land.
“In many cases they didn’t have much, but they sold their farms and their belongings to have enough money to make this trip,” Sigmon said.

As people traveled, they took different trails from various loctions. One starting point for the immigrant travel was Independence, Mo., a major hub for wagons, Sigmon said.

A lot of wagons were manufactured in the Kansas City area and a lot of the travel started from there, she said. St. Joseph and Independence, Missouri, were what Sigmon called “jumping-off points.”

People traveled on the Mormon, Nebraska, Oregon, Santa Fe and California trails, “just to name a few,” she said.

“They would branch off from these major trails that went through Nebraska. Almost all the trails had to go through Nebraska except for the Santa Fe Trail. The northern trails led west of the Mississippi across Iowa and Missouri through the vast plains of Nebraska and Wyoming to the lands of Utah, Oregon and California. …” Sigmon said.

Along the way they drove oxen. They didn’t get to ride often because the children were in the back.

“Oxen were used in the 1840s and 50s mainly. They were strong. They could eat almost anything. They would endure because this was a hard trail for animals and people,” she said.

The Louisiana Purchase brokered by Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the United States.

“Before that time anything west of the Rockies was just open territories. It added 13 states. It cost $15 million to purchase in 1803. That comparable amount would be $1.2 trillion based on the price of land and acreage that we have nowadays,” she said. “It started with fur traders going in the 1820s and 30s to explore. … Lewis and Clark explored and made it to Willemette Valley, which is outside of Portland. …

“They headed for Oregon, Utah, Colorado and California for adventure, a new life and land,” she said. “The women who walked with them left behind their ancestral homes, brought their children, their basics and their most beloved possessions into a wagon that was 10 feet by four feet.”

The basics included — a cast iron frying pan with three legs on the bottom, called a spider, a spinning wheel to make clothing, iron and tin pots, a coffee pot, candles for lighting, butter churn, a kerosene lamp (toward the 1870s), hog scraper candle sticks, which had a base that doubled as a tool to scrape hog hide, cast iron bean pots with handle, crockery, a kettle, quilts and coverlets.

Sigmon showed a container used to make butter on the trail. The jostling of the wagon for four to five hours would separate the cream from the milk and make butter.

They couldn’t put many heavy items into the wagon because they were too heavy.
They would put dishes into corn meal to cushion it.
It was kind of a basic existence, going about 20 miles per day for four to six months, Sigmon said.

On the trail, people would cook brown beans with slab bacon overnight and have beans for breakfast around 4-5 a.m. They would also make johnny cakes from corn meal in their frying pans. At noon after traveling four to five hours they would stop for a lunch of leftovers. At that time they would rest, feed and water the oxen.

“The food they brought would be 200 pounds of flour, 10 pounds of salt, 20 pounds of sugar and molasses, dried yeast, 150 pounds of cured bacon. … If they had chickens, sometimes eggs might be packed in corn meal. They had dried fruit and 10 to 20 pounds of coffee, which masked the bitter taste of the alkaline taste of water along the way,” Sigmon said.

The cost of this would be $500 to $1,000 — $15,000 or $30,000 today, she said. The family depended on hunting and trading with others, including Indian tribes, for fresh meat. Women also picked berries along the way to supplement the food they had brought in the wagon.

“Fuel for cooking was scarce, so they used buffalo chips or meadow muffins,” Sigmon said.

Aprons kept the few clothes they owned cleaner and bonnets shaded their faces from the sun.

There are seven Questers Chapters in Oklahoma. Each chapter takes on a restorations or repair project.

“Even if you think you’re too busy, we want you. Busy people get stuff done. If you love to learn about new things and preserve the old things, then this is just the perfect place for you to be,” said Questers State President Lynda Constantine.

There are two groups in Bartlesville one that is accepting new members. To learn more about joining an existing group or forming a new one, which only requires eight members, email Mary Alice Sigmon email at masig@cableone.net or call her at 918-519-8340.

Pioneer Woman Mercantile Opens in Pawhuska

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See Photo Gallery at end of this article!

By: Roseanne McKee

The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile officially opened at 6 a.m. Oct. 31 in Pawhuska at the corner of Main and Kihekah. The staff, a group of volunteers and Ree and Ladd Drummond were there to welcome guests as the Food Network film crew filmed for an upcoming episode of The Pioneer Woman’s cooking show.

The Deli, located on the first floor, has several dining choices. Guests may be seated and order from wait staff at their table. Next to the deli entrance, an open cold case holds bottled sodas and juices. img_3894

There is a coffee bar where guest can walk up and order from trained baristas serving the Pioneer Woman’s special blend of Topeca brand coffee. Deli guests may also order ala carte food displayed in long glass cases, where the staff waits to fill their serving trays with the items of their choice. Behind the coffee bar is a wooden wall with a carved floral pattern. Above the wall is the original brick from the building featuring a biscuit company advertisement, which the Drummonds wanted to keep to add to the vintage-themed décor of the Mercantile.

During the morning, the case hold: sticky buns, muffins, scones, fruit salad, steel-cut oatmeal with bacon and other toppings, burritos and a parfait bar of yogurt and toppings. Behind this counter are containers of iced tea and lemonade.

The breakfast menu includes: pancakes, biscuits and gravy, the cattlemen’s breakfast, and steak and eggs.

The lunch/supper menu features comfort food favorites, such as chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes and gravy. Sandwiches, salads and soups are also available.

Head barista, Caleb Smith, explained some of the special coffees they serve.

“The cowboy is a mix of our dark roast coffee, our Pioneer Woman blend and milk. The spicy cowgirl is a cold drink; it’s a cold brew with lightly whipped cream and topped with cayenne,” Smith said. “The seasonal flavored [coffee] we have right now is a pumpkin butternut.”
The milk used in the coffees is organic and sourced from a dairy near Tulsa called Lomah.

At Lomah, “the cows are milked one day and delivered the next,” Smith said. Soy and almond milk are also available.

According to the Topeca Coffee Roasters website, Topeca brand coffee is “seed-to-cup”, which means the company doesn’t just purchase coffee directly from farms, they own the farms.

The Mercantile on the south takes up the south side of the first floor and features items with a farmhouse/rustic/vintage flair. There is a display with beautifully-wrapped soaps and bath items, a corner with toys and kitchen sets for kids, a table with items for men, lots of dishes, tee shirts, a gift wrap area and the Pioneer Woman’s branch of clothing/jeans and cookware.
Laurie Martin, the representative from the Park Hill Collection, based in Arkansas, who was volunteering for the opening day, said that about 50 percent of the items on the sales floor were from Park Hill, which features items which she described as “kind of a throwback to yesteryear.”

“She wanted it to feel more like home than a gift shop,” Martin explained.

One special item is a custom leather bag, designed by the Pioneer Woman, made by a women’s prison work program for in Georgia. All proceeds from the sale of the bags go toward building playgrounds in Africa, a Mercantile Associate Debbie Long said.

On the shop side of the Mercantile, near the gift wrap area, a cowboy read one of Ree Drummond’s children’s books to a group of children seated on the wooden floor as the Food Network crew filmed.

Another Food Network crew member filmed Ree Drummond greeting guests and signing her cookbooks for fans.

The north side of the second floor holds offices and a conference room, which are closed to the public.

Large white-tiled public restrooms with ample room for guests are located on the second floor.

The south side of the second-floor bakery seating area is decorated with tables, chairs, sofas and coffee tables. The large windows let in lots of natural light. The bakery kitchen and counter are located on the second floor. The kitchen is behind large glass windows, so that guests can see the bakers at work. The bakery offerings include: pastries, muffins, brownies, lemon square and scones.

Coffee is also available and the bakery also sells gourmet chocolates and a variety of candies displayed in large glass jars.

On the walls throughout the Mercantile store and Bakery are black and white photos of Ree Drummond’s four children on the ranch.
Outside the Mercantile, Kihekah Ave. was blocked off from Main Street to the next block and a policeman was posted at the crosswalk on Main Street to assist pedestrians. Along the street, pumpkins were piled around street lights.

In front of the Mercantile shop column were hay bales, mums, pumpkins alongside wooden planters of decorative tallgrass. The door to the shop was open for guests who wanted to get straight to the shopping floor. On the Kihekah side of the Mercantile were brass stands with red velvet ropes to guide guests through the line to the Deli door. Deli Manager, Kurtess Mortensen, was one of those greeting guests at the deli door.

Mercantile buyer, Hyacinth Kane has described Mortensen, as “really at the top of his game in the chef world in Las Vegas. He has opened a number of celebrity restaurants. His gift is really meeting someone, and taking their ideas and conceptualizing it and putting the processes into being that really executes their vision. He’s done that for Guy Fieri and Giada, some of those Food Network people who have their flagship restaurants in Las Vegas.”

Mid-morning, Ree Drummond and Hyacinth Kane took time out to be interviewed in front of the Mercantile by a reporter from Channel Eight News in Tulsa.

Kane spoke for Drummond, who had partially lost her voice. Kane said that Pawhuska had always had much to offer, great, warm people, the architecture, the Osage Nation, Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, cowboys, ranch land, but now that the Mercantile was open “the match has been lit” for Pawhuska.

In an effort to save her voice, Drummond smiled and said, “ditto! Then added, “we’re just thrilled. I can’t explain it any other way. We don’t know what the Mercantile will do or what adventure is ahead, but we’re ready no matter what.”

Kane then interjected, “like the birth of her fifth child.”

Drummond responded, “fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth child!”

The Mercantile will be open 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. Mon. – Thurs. and 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Fri. and Sat, and closed on Sundays.

Signage across Main Street from the Mercantile designates the lot for guest of the Mercantile only. Additional free public parking is available behind the First National Bank Building on Main Street and a block northeast of the Mercantile.

Here is a photo gallery of the Mercantile’s Opening Day!

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Rep. Speaks about Pioneer Woman’s Shop Opening in Pawhuska

By: Roseanne McKee
img_3334-2On Sept. 13, Mrs. Kane, known on the Pioneer Woman program as Hyacinth Kane, spoke to the Pawhuska Rotary Club about the Pioneer Woman’s store coming to Pawhuska.

Kane described the renovated building, located at the corner of Main St. and Kihekah Ave., in Pawhuska.

“It used to be a mercantile store,” Kane said. “At some point it was even a speakeasy. They found liquor bottles in the basement. Ree and Ladd bought the building a few years ago, and wanted it to be preserved and be something for the town.”
004Kane: “Last summer, knowing that I used to Lowry’s Ree asked me if I could help her go to market and get the retail side of things up and running.

“I’ve never wanted to be store manager … because it’s going to have a lot of moving parts.

“My role primarily has been along with the buying and helping her get really talented people in key positions and recruiting people who are at the top of their game in their respective arenas.

According to Kane, the projected opening date is Oct. 31, and the store will have a retail store, a deli/restaurant on the first floor and on the second floor there will be a bakery.

Kane: “There will be a retail store with a throwback concept of a mercantile store: abundant merchandise stacked up in an orderly fashion. That’s the visual and merchandising concept of the retail store. It will have some of her things that she has in Wal-Mart, it won’t be an exact replica, but a lot of the tableware, some home décor, a lot of kitchen utensils, which you’d expect from someone on Food Network – whisks, wooden spoons, baking pans. There will be clothing. She has a signature clothing look that will be there. There will be some neat children’s items and a men’s section with some really cool, functional things that could be used out on the ranch or in a working-man capacity.”

They are really pleased with the person they’ve found to manage the deli.

Kane: “Through her Food Network connections, she found a man whose name is Kurtess Mortensen, and he is really at the top of his game in the chef world in Las Vegas. He has opened a number of celebrity restaurants. His gift is really meeting someone, and taking their ideas and conceptualizing it and putting the processes into being that really executes their vision. He’s done that for Guy Fieri and Giada, some of those Food Network people who have their flagship restaurants in Las Vegas; he’s worked for Caesar’s entertainment. Then he went out on his own to do restaurant consulting worldwide. I kind of laugh because the last place he was opening a restaurant was Dubai. He went from Dubai to Pawhuska!
kurtessmortensen“He was really this very humble, not flashy, very understated. He has grown up in southern Utah. He has a 12-year old and a 5-year old. He and his wife are this really solid couple, but they were living in Las Vegas … and he was ready to move,” Kane explained.

Kane: “They live in Bartlesville and his wife is a nurse. He absolutely loves Pawhuska!”

In planning for the menu, Kane said, “they are sampling a number of delicacies and it’s going to be a really world-class restaurant.”

The restaurant will also have take-out items to cook at home, she added.

“They have two baristas to prepare world-class coffee. Ladd is very intent on having coffee open very early in the morning. There are a group of men that meet and need to have somewhere to go,” Kane said.

Kane: “Kurtess, knew a husband and wife team that were really fantastic chefs in their own right one of whom was a baker and worked for world-class bakers in Las Vegas. They are going to have a full-service bakery upstairs with lots of different offerings.”

Regarding the bakery, Kane said, “They’ve had to stabilize the floors in order to put equipment of that magnitude up there. …It’s one of those things where if they’d known all that needed to be done in advance, they probably never would have done it, but fortunately they didn’t know!”

Kane: “As is normal, there have been a variety of little construction hiccups here and there, so we’re probably looking, at this point, at the end of October for an opening.

One hiccup has been the legal requirement of an elevator to the second-floor bakery.

Kane: “Upstairs before the bakery opens, the elevator has to be in place, so it’s a nine-day installation process and it will come in the middle of October.”

Kane is pleased with the economic impact these businesses will have on Pawhuska and the surrounding county.

“From a town perspective, I’m just delighted because I think it’s going to be a huge shot in the arm. I mean, the e-mails of people that are planning, groups of people. I mean we can truly expect thousands of new people into our town. I mean, it’s going to be a big deal and I just pray that our local townspeople don’t get irritated by the traffic, you know, because we all realize this is a just tremendous blessing, I think ultimately for our commerce in general.

“We’ve had some job fairs. Ree’s really committed to see that local people get a preference. We’ll probably hire 125 to 150 people, most of them part-time, but nonetheless great, well-paying jobs for that type of work.

“There’s also the warehouse, that was formerly the Alco building and that’s where all the inventory is housed and she will have an on-line shipping operation too, or an on-line store. Fed Ex will be coming with big trucks every day and so that’s another aspect of the commerce that will be present in Pawhuska. There will be a full staff of workers that will be doing the shipping operation for that as well as the service that will be in the brick and mortar store downtown.

“If anybody knows folks, we’re still recruiting people. …You can Google Pioneer Woman jobs and you’ll find a link for a simple application there.”

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.