The second floor of the museum is an art gallery. A large section is dedicated to Oscar Howe, the Sioux artist I posted about previously. The museum displays bronzes by Remington and Russell, plaster casts of Gutzon Borglum’s miniatures of the faces destined for Mt. Rushmore, work by Western painter Harvey Dunn, and the model created by sculptor James Earle Fraser of his most widely circulated work—the buffalo that graced the buffalo nickel (though the statue End of the Trail is better known, and Washington, D.C. would not look the same if he had not decorated so much of it). For Charles Hargens, there is a display of his art studio, as well as a gallery of original paintings and illustrations. Hargens was best known for recreating the West for such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, McCall’s, Boys’ Life, and more (and whose prints and posters you can still buy online).
Through the splendid bookstore, and then outside, where Rod Brown led me and a handful of other visitors through the four historic buildings that have been moved onto the museum’s property. We toured the 125-year-old Methodist Church (still used for special events and weddings), a prairie schoolhouse (the one-room variety), a train depot (Milwaukee Line came through here), and ended up at Beckwith House. This handsome, Victorian confection was built for Louis Beckwith, the enthusiastic booster who got Mitchell to build the original Corn Palace in 1892. Wagons, a tractor, and other memorabilia are scattered around the site, to add to the sense of history. Great fun.
The Old Schoolhouse
If you do find yourself in Mitchell, this is another worthwhile stop.
Outside the indoor museum, one enters the “village” itself—twelve historic buildings around a broad, tree-shaded lawn. Ranged around the “town” are other relics from the past, including some early forms of now-important farm equipment.
Each building—barns, houses, church, stores, schoolhouse, Pony Express station, print show, doctor’s office—is home to its own collection. The toy store is filled with antique toys. The barns are crammed with tools and inventions no longer at home on farms. The shelves and counters of the general store are crowded with the goods from bygone eras. The schoolhouse has all its original furnishings. The collections are fascinating, but the buildings themselves are wonderful, as well. They are all original buildings that have been rescued, moved here, and restored.
Before moving out into the “village,” we spent a fair amount of time wandering amid the wonders of the sprawling, indoor museum. One can watch the progression of technology over more than 100 years, in fields as disparate as art, transportation, farming, and food preparation. It’s truly a remarkable collection. There are wagons and coaches, more than 350 antique cars, more than a dozen airplanes, and 100 antique tractors, plus toys, sculpture, and machines for every possible task. Fabulous.
One fact I found fascinating was the extent of operations for moving freight. Before Henry and Clem Studebaker made cars, they made huge Freight Wagons, and these wagons moved a tremendous amount of goods (from trade goods to simply people moving households) along the Oregon Trail. The operation of one freight company alone — Bussell, Major, and Waddell — required 6,000 wagons and 75,000 oxen to move freight over the trail. Remarkable. And not the sort of thing one ever sees in schoolbooks.
There was a sign that explained that the buckboard wagon paralleled today’s station wagon or mini van. It could accommodate a family, but the seats could be removed to make room for grain bags or other supplies.
Having already done enough research on popcorn to know that C.C. Cretors would be a major part of my chapter on popcorn, I was delighted to see one of the early Cretors popcorn machines/wagons, with the little Tosty Rosty Man looking a bit the worse for wear, but still at his station, ready to turn the crank if the steam got turned on again.
Early Cretors Popcorn wagon