Winfield Digital Collections

Winfield, Kansas

The Great Plains Chautauqua wins Winfield


The Great Plains Chautauqua wins Winfield


Chautauqua Assembly


Brief description of typical events at the Winfield Chautauquas that were held in Island Park from 1887-1924.


Dave Seaton/Courier


The Daily Courier


Winfield Public Library, Winfield, Kansas USA









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Dave Seaton/Courier, “The Great Plains Chautauqua wins Winfield,” Winfield Digital Collections, accessed December 9, 2023,

The Great Plains Chautauqua wins Winfield
By Dave Seaton
“Put the yellow ropes in the black box,” shouted Chautauquan Jerome Kills Small, who interprets the Shawnee chief Tecumseh.
“Block and tackle goes in the big door on the trailer,” he added.
Suddenly 100 participants in the Great Plains Chautauqua began to take down the big blue and white striped tent near the north edge of Island Park.
It was an 80-degree June evening. Everyone had something useful to do, including the kids. Take down poles. Heft the center poles. Separate sections of the tent. Bag them. Cany everything to the trailer..................
Like raising the tent five evenings earlier, it was an experience of many hands doing a lot of work in a short time. We bonded in the task, each satisfied with a job well done.
These activities were just part of the coming together of the talented Chautauqua interpreters and the Winfield community. The bond we formed was temporary, but it was physical, intellectual and emotional. It left us stronger than it found us.
Layers of myth about the Corps of Discovery led by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (1303-1806) were peeled
away during this Chautauqua, with its evening presentations and daily workshops. We were carried back into the era of the opening of the American West.
It was a provocative experience. After a few days, I found myself torn about our place on the American prairie today. A theme of this Chautauqua, “From Sea to Shining Sea,” was the hunger for land on the part of Americans. Our pioneer predecessors wanted to own the land on which native peoples had hunted, gathered and farmed.
In spite of treaties to the contrary, our government abetted settlers as they swept across those lands. The surveys, science and spirit of discovery carried by Lewis and Clark pitted a civilization with gunpowder against Stone Age cultures. The only option for those cultures was to adapt.
On the first evening, Capt. Clark, interpreted by Jeffrey E. Smith, made it plain the Corps of Discovery carried the American flag to the basins of the upper Missouri and Columbia rivers with the purpose of imposing President Thomas Jefferson’s authority over the native peoples.
On the second evening, Tecumseh, interpreted by Jerome Kills Small, arrested the audience in his British red coat. He told a sad story of the impending loss of the Ohio River Valley, which the British had promised to his people. Tecumseh allied with England in the War of 1812 and was killed.
The Americans’ lust for land prevailed.
On the third evening, York, interpreted by Charles Everett Pace,
gave an African slave’s view of the expedition and its leaders. York was Clark’s manservant. A hunter, York served as an informal envoy to the native people, some of whom were fascinated by his black skin.
Pace’s comments on the classes of African slavery in America and his perceptive views of York’s relationship with Clark said much about how the westward movement carried the structure of society from the South and the East across the Missouri.
It was on that evening, a Sunday, that a prairie storm hit Winfield. Some of us moved to drier seats. The crew used folded chairs to push water from the top of the tent. Eventually, the storm passed without damage. It was an anxious experience, one many of us will remember.
On the fourth evening, John Jacob Astor, interpreted by Jerome Tweton, gave us a glimpse of what it was like to be a despised rich man in early 19th century America. Astor bought and sold furs from the Northwest and tried to establish a trading post on the Columbia. He made his fortune in the China trade and New York real estate.
First Lady Dolley Madison, interpreted by Tina Compton, was the hostess each evening. A workshop she led, “Dolley Madison Was No Cupcake,” was reportedly a big hit. So were several other workshops.
The largest crowd — 336 —
came on the last evening to hear Sacagawea, interpreted by Selene Phillips. In an olive green dress with fringe, decorated with shells and bones, she made plain her loyalty was to her man, Charbonneau, and her baby son, Jean Baptiste, not to Clark — as some romantic novels have insisted. Phillips, more than any of her colleagues, debunked the myths about her character.
On the last evening Tweton, who coordinates the Great Plains Chautauqua, gave signed photos of the troupe to two local leaders, Joan Cales of the Winfield Public Library and Rick Meyer of the City of Winfield. Local musical performances told us, again, that Winfield is blessed with talent.
The Cowley County Historical Society, the library and the city were the principal sponsors of this Chautauqua. Over $8,000 was raised locally to match funds from the Kansas Humanities Commission for the Chautauqua.
Now its troupe goes on to Nebraska, leaving us with a stronger sense of community and a greater a wareness of the influences that have shaped our lives here on the Great Plains. They made it all fun. I can’t wait for them to come back.
Winfield Daily Courier
ISSN 0889-6747
(Established 1872)
Published daily except Sundays. January 1. July 4 and December 25 at 200 E. 5th, Arkansas City, Kansas by the Winfield Publishing Co. Inc.
David Seaton, Editor and Publisher, Shane Farley, Managing Editor; Lloyd Craig, General Manager. Marsha Wesseler, Advertising Manager: Beth Glantz, Circulation Manager.
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