Day 27 – Proud to Be an American

Sean’s Journal: When I think of Oklahoma, I remember reading about the early days of America’s oil boom and all the activity that centered around Oklahoma and Texas. I think of grassy plains and fields of grain. I think of cowboys. I also remember the news in recent years about tornadoes and many small earthquakes. (Utahns are currently experiencing many small earthquakes.) Oklahomans have proven themselves to be hearty and resilient people. And, Vince, you can tell us about the big cities and the modern industry that now powers the state.

The Museum. Based on Vince’s travel tales, I had an especially strong interest in visiting what he called the Cowboy Hall of Fame, which is now called National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.  It is home to the famous “The End of the Trail” sculpture by James Earle Fraser. Vince and his son were there and stood at the base of the statue that towers above people in its magnificent glass exhibition hall. This is what Vince raved about. Here’s a link. Go to the “About” menu tab and watch the short video. The initial image is that of the great sculpture:

The End of the Trail. James Earle Fraser grew up in South Dakota where he was exposed to much western frontier culture. He had friends among the Plains People, who historically included the Sioux, Lakota, and many other tribes. Before I left on my trip, I watched “Dances with Wolves” for about the tenth time. Like Dunbar (Kevin Costner), young James Fraser was aware of the enormous dilemma that has continuously faced the indigenous people of America. They have experienced the transition of a proud warrior/hunter culture that possesses a deep sense of spirituality. They have wondered if their future would be somehow bright or bleak as they witnessed the westward movement of white settlers and the expansion of U.S. territory. The Indian warrior sitting atop his weary horse captures these emotions. His shoulders are slouched forward with heaviness—suggesting his weariness and perhaps despair.

You can tell that I have now been to Oklahoma City and I have seen the sculpture and the other wonderful exhibits in the museum. These are inspiring.    

About Cowboys. What is it with them? What is it that we fantasize about? What did they contribute to American history and folklore? I think we see the lone cowboy on his horse as symbolic of freedom, self-reliance, courage, heartiness, and a zest for adventure as new frontiers await. I know the truth is that early American cowboys endured a lonely, hungry, difficult, dusty, and dangerous existence. They ate boiled beans and rabbit, slept on the ground, got soaked to the bone, listened to wolves howl, and sometimes confronted cattle rustlers and fierce Indian warriors. They were lucky to have a bath or two each year. But they loved the land. They loved their horses, saddles, six-shooters, and the sunsets. They “rode for the brand.”   

The modern cowboys I know are cattle ranchers and farmers who have lots of access to the outdoors and to horses. They don’t spend much time in an office. They eat steaks and salads, have warm homes where they can take frequent showers to wash off the dust and sweat, and are not lonely as their families scurry about.

Vince has told me that, while he was a businessman outside, there was always a cowboy inside. And, now he seeks to escape from his desk to get his chain saw and cut timber in the Manti-La Sal Mountains of Utah. I am now preparing to head north on I-35 to Kansas where Vince and his son had some of their most memorable adventures. Vince will reminisce.

Vince’s Response: Very few artistic images have lingered clearer or longer in my mind than The End of the Trail sculpture. My son and I stood there for a long time looking at that Indian on his horse at the end of the trail that he had once known. As I may have mentioned earlier, I had a boyhood friend who was a member of the Navajo Nation in Arizona. He shared with me feelings of pride, sadness, and hope. My youngest son and I have spent time in Chinle and other towns within the Navajo Nation. I always experience a mixture of feelings: warm friendship…an appreciation of a people whose culture is both proud and spiritual in showing great respect for nature and their ancestors…and, a sense of the turmoil and disappointment that these Native Americans have endured.

I have made multiple business trips to Oklahoma. My son and I visited the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. There is a modern economy, a visitor-friendly central city, and a “culture of family” that I found to be very tangible. There are people with strong faith and a solid work ethic.

Bookends: (1) There is an American cowboy in me. How about you? (2) The term “Native American” implies: natural, home-grown, first, or original American. (3) Just ask any Oklahoman, sooner is generally better than later. (4) Finally, I think I hear Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Footnote: The photo of the distinguished cowboy on horseback that I have attached here is one of my favorites from a collection of “public domain” images that I purchased years ago. This is also the case with other nostalgic images used in Sean’s earlier journal entries. These often do not include the artist’s name. – Darby Checketts