$25,000 so far for 'Home on Range' cabin

The log cabin in Smith County where Brewster Higley wrote the words to the Kansas state song needs major repairs.
The log cabin in Smith County where Brewster Higley wrote the words to the Kansas state song needs major repairs. The Wichita Eagle

In a month's time, more than $25,000 has been raised for Brewster Higley's "Home on the Range" cabin in Smith County.

And the checks keep coming.

"It just shows that this is something that not just a few people are into," said Orin Friesen, operations manager at the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper near Benton and a local country radio personality who launched the grassroots effort to raise money for the cabin last month.

"People realize the significance of this, even though it is just a one-room cabin," Friesen said. "It is a Kansas landmark. And it is important because of how that song has touched the world."

On May 5, cowboy singer Michael Martin Murphey did a benefit concert at the Prairie Rose and participated in the Western Days Festival at the ranch. The proceeds from the four-day event collected more than $20,500 for the cabin. An additional $5,000 came from fundraising efforts through the Higley family and friends of the cabin.

That kind of response was exactly what El Dean Holthus hoped would happen. Although between $80,000 to $100,000 is needed for a complete restoration of the cabin, the money raised so far will enable the trustees to apply for preservation grant funding.

"We are going to continue to seek and receive funds. The smaller amount we need for the grant, the better chance we have of receiving a grant. "said Holthus, whose aunt and uncle, Ellen and Pete Rust, owned the property for nearly 75 years. He credits them for saving the cabin and keeping it in Kansas.

Ideally, Holthus said, most of the money — if not all — needed for the cabin's restoration could be raised from private sources. Much of the restoration cost comprises landscaping to restore a slope that is causing the cabin's north wall to fail.

"This thing has gone around the world," Holthus said. "We are part of a historical undertaking. This cabin has stood for 140 years with little or no maintenance. Just imagine what could happen when it is all fixed up, when we get nature walks put in and funding dedicated to maintaining it."

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.

"It has become the most famous state song there is," Friesen said. "Our little state song is the most famous cowboy song and is known around the world."

Each day since the fundraising effort began, checks and letters come in for the project, Holthus said.

Some of the responses include:

"I am in the third grade, please use my dollar to save the Cabin."

"I want to save the cabin. This donation is in the name of my grandchildren. I want my grandchildren to be able to one day visit the cabin."

"I spent my childhood in Smith Center and visited this Cabin when it was a chicken house, thanks for saving it."

Besides Murphey's name recognition, other Western groups have added their support for the cause.

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.

In addition, the "Home on the Range" cabin fundraiser has been featured by ABC News, Fox Radio News, the Washington Post and USA Today, among others.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle