May 3, 2011

Michael Martin Murphey to help save historic cabin

Cowboy singer Michael Martin Murphey has never been to the Home on the Range cabin in Smith County in northern Kansas.

Cowboy singer Michael Martin Murphey has never been to the Home on the Range cabin in Smith County in northern Kansas.

Yet, he feels passionately about it — enough so that he wants to do a Thursday benefit concert at the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper near Benton to help save the cabin where Kansas' state song was written.

He's also planning on making his first pilgrimage to the cabin this week before the concert, at which he plans on playing "Home on the Range" in tribute to Brewster Higley.

"Brewster Higley wrote that song," Murphey said. "He might have been living anywhere but he was inspired by that place. This song gives focus to the heritage of the American West, to the prairie and its songs, poems and literature."

Murphey, best known for his 1970s hit "Wildfire," recorded "Home on the Range" on his "Cowboy Songs" album, which earned him a gold record. Currently, he is spreading the word about how the historic Kansas cabin is in need of repair.

True West magazine and several national associations with history-related themes are among the organizations helping to bring awareness to about the Smith County cabin.

Bob Boze Bell, the executive editor of True West Magazine, the leading Western history magazine, said on Wednesday that he is encouraging his readers to help save the cabin.

"Saving the West is my passion," Bell said. "We are all about salvaging the West. Our motto is, 'if we don't support each other, who will?' We are always looking for causes by locals to save things.

"We support this and will put an editorial behind it. We are doing what we can to bring it to a national audience."

Orin Friesen, operations manager at the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper near Benton and a local country radio personality, launched the effort last month.

In less than a month's time, more than $6,000 has been raised for the project, some of it donated by Kansas schoolchildren, concerned citizens and Higley family members.

The restoration project is expected to cost between $80,000 and $100,000.

Restoration includes landscaping to restore a slope that is causing the cabin's north wall to fail.

Cabin's significance

In the fall of 1872 in Smith County, Higley, a frontier doctor, penned a six-verse poem he called "My Western Home" at the cabin.

It was later set to music and became the words to "Home on the Range."

The tune quickly spread along the cattle trails and towns throughout the West.

"Just like it is cool to stand at the table where the Civil War's treaty of Appomattox was signed, it means a lot to me to stand in the cabin where the Home on the Range song was written," Murphey said. "Western music has been my life. And there's hardly a more important song than 'Home on the Range.' It is the foundation of western and cowboy music. It was the first widely popular song about the West."

As the song gained in popularity, people all across the nation claimed they wrote it. Still others claimed they wanted the cabin. It was nearly taken out of Kansas at least twice during the 20th century by people offering to buy and move it off its site.

The Rust family, owners of the nonprofit property where the cabin sits, has remained consistently firm it should stay in Kansas and be open to the people wanting to see it.

The cabin is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bell, of True West, said the cabin is an important American symbol of the Old West nationally and internationally.

"It is a critical part of our past that needs to be revered," Bell said. "Kansas is so critical to the development of the Old West. It gets short-shrifted because it was settled early. But every legend in the West came first through Kansas — Bill Tilghman, Custer, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, they are all there in Kansas. The Kansas story is the settling of the West."

Western Days festival

In addition to Murphey's Thursday fundraiser concert for the cabin, the Prairie Rose Ranch is hosting a three-day festival beginning Friday in celebration of the Kansas sesquicentennial. Visitors will be able to enjoy over 40 events, activities and music. They will be able to interact with American Indians, mountain men and cowboys.

Murphey is host of this year's festival. Among the other nationally-known cowboy singers scheduled to perform are R.W. Hampton, Les Gilliam, Barry Ward, Fred Hargrove and Geff Dawson.

Murphey will host a chuckwagon breakfast and wagon ride early on Saturday. He will also be leading a panel discussion on Kansas history with some of the state's experts, such as Kansas historians Leo Oliva and Jim Hoy, and Kansas cowboy Jim Gray.

Daily admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children. Weekend passes can be purchased for $15. Free tickets can be picked up at Sheplers, while they last.

Gates open each day at 9 a.m. with most scheduled activities beginning at 10 a.m., following the daily flag-raising ceremony.

Friday is Kids' Day and all schoolchildren and their teachers can get in for $2 apiece.

Murphey will also perform at the chuckwagon suppers on Friday and Saturday. Tickets for the Friday and Saturday shows are $40.

Related content