Show to highlight statue dedicated to pioneer womanhood

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital
The bronze Pioneer Woman is 17 feet high and weighs 12,000 pounds. It was erected in 1930 at a cost of $300,000.

The term “pioneer woman” has a very specific meaning for most current residents of Pawhuska and Osage County. It’s a reference to Ree Drummond – she of the blog, the books, the cooking show, The Pioneer Woman Mercantile and other ventures. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2018, and is arguably a world famous figure.

Once you start talking about pioneer women, however, you’ve entered upon a longstanding discussion about what makes Oklahoma women special. There’s a 17-foot, 12,000-pound bronze statue in Ponca City, commonly referred to as the Pioneer Woman statue, that dates back to April 1930. The woman depicted in statue has a Bible in one hand and the hand of her son in the other. Next to the statue is a museum, dedicated in 1958.

Among older Pawhuskans with the sort of memory that makes age an advantage, there is also an awareness of women of previous generations who made their mark. Mabelle Kennedy is an example. President Harry Truman named her assistant treasurer of the United States, and she was inducted in 1965 into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

In late April of this year, folks in nearby Ponca City intend to give public awareness of the heritage of pioneer womanhood a boost, with the production at the Poncan Theatre of a multimedia musical theater show titled “Pioneer Women.”

Debra Harden Rue, a Ponca City native and descendant of Ponca City pioneers, developed the show and will produce it in conjunction with the Ponca Federated Music Club, which is celebrating its centennial.

Show tickets are $25. Each production will be preceded by an historical prologue of about half an hour. Thus, the historical prologue is to begin at 7 p.m. April 23 and 24, and at 1:30 p.m. April 25. The show, itself, will begin at 7:30 p.m. April 23 and 24, and 2 p.m. April 25.

Rue explained that the statue at Ponca City was the result of a process initiated by millionaire oilman and Oklahoma political figure E.W. Marland, who commissioned the creation of a dozen prototype statues and sent them all over the nation to solicit public reaction. The statue at Ponca City was developed from the prototype that the public liked best.

Rue said the idea for her show occurred to her years ago, after she had seen "The Will Rogers Follies" in New York. She thought that certainly someone would develop a stage production based on Marland’s pioneer woman statue project. No one did, so she finally did it.

Those who attend “Pioneer Women” in Ponca City in late April will hear from the statue prototypes, to which the production will give voices.

The Pioneer Woman statue in Ponca City was dedicated on April 22, 1930, the 41st anniversary of the 1889 land run that opened the Oklahoma Territory to white settlers. Some 40,000 people attended the dedication event.

Rue has had an accomplished professional involvement with music, to include composition, songwriting and music publishing, as well as production of musical theater shows. She is also a descendant of a paternal grandmother she described as “a very progressive pioneer woman.” Rue’s grandmother ran a train station, ran a general store, wrote her memoirs and much more.

“We have a whole interesting evening in store for us,” Rue said of the educational opportunity to be afforded to those who attend the musical.