Forty-four miles west of my hometown Pawhuska in Ponca City, a bronze statue honors the spirit of the women who were vital to America’s western expansion. This Pioneer Woman is depicted striding valiantly forward while leading her child. Her faith and fortitude shine forth.
As a child growing up in Pawhuska, I remember staring at the statue with my mother, a true pioneer herself, as she recalled how she and her mother had arrived in Oklahoma before there was an Oklahoma and before women could vote. They came in a covered wagon. Women pioneers were and still are the best America has to offer.
In between Ponca City and Pawhuska lies the heart of the Osage Indian Nation and the Drummond Ranch. It is a beautiful expanse of tall waving prairie grasses. Nearby, thousands of buffalo (American bison) roam freely on the Nature Conservancy’s 39,000-acre Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. The Drummond family has operated their ranch for over a 100 years. And about a 100 years ago, the immigrant from Scotland who started the ranch was operating a general store he named the Osage Mercantile Company on the corner of Main Street and Kihekah Avenue in Pawhuska. On Oct. 31, Ree and Ladd Drummond reopened it to the pleasure and wonderment of thousands of the new Pioneer Woman’s fans.
If you do not watch The Food Network on television you may not have heard of The Pioneer Woman. However, when Ree published her first cookbook, my sister, another pioneering woman, bought a copy of it and gave it to my wife, Peg, for Christmas. It was the beginning of a true FAN-atic following of Ree’s televised life by Peg. Then when it turned out my old friend and classmate, Chuck Drummond, was Ladd’s father and Ree’s father-in-law, Peg was near euphoria. Peg found this out at my 50th high school reunion when Ree hosted the class for breakfast at the Lodge on the Drummond Ranch in 2011.
Now, I truly enjoyed the maple-glazed cinnamon rolls and buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy but, since I had never, until then, known about the gracious lady and wonderful cook called “The Pioneer Woman”, I just saw it as a chance to reminisce with Chuck. Peg on the other hand was like a teenager next to Brittany Spears.
Fast-forward six years to the gala opening of Ree’s new Mercantile Building. It reminded me of my first visit to Disneyland in 1963. It was exhilarating, fun and very tasty. In the two days my family and several thousand people from Alaska to Alabama bought cookbooks, merchandise and copious helpings of great food Pawhuska was changed forever and for the better.
If you are looking to find the Old West in new clothes, buffalo, Native Americans, cowboys, good food and gracious southwestern hospitality, you might want to go visit both of The Pioneer Women who inhabit the old Cherokee Strip of northeastern Oklahoma.
Jim Redwine is a 1961 graduate of Pawhuska High School and have been writing a weekly column since 1990. He lives in New Harmony, Indiana.