Keith Downer of Garden City knows the cowboy trade, and he’s going to share a few decades of recollections when the Finney County Historical Society opens the fall segment of our Evening at the Museum program later this month.
Keith went to work in a sale barn when he was 15, devoted 25 years to a career at Brookover Feedyard, and then continued working as a cattle buyer, trader and feeder. Throughout those years he has penned an uncounted number of Cowboy Poetry selections, and recently published his first book, “Cowboy Memories.”
He’ll recite from the book and his additional collection of works at 7 p.m. Sept. 19 in the first of three sessions we’re hosting in the meeting room at the Finney County Museum. Our Evenings at the Museum take place on the third Tuesday of September, October and November, as well as January, February, March and April.
Admission is free, and you can bring your own dinner, if desired. We’ll provide beverages and dessert, with sponsorship by the AT&T Pioneers Southern Council. The museum is located at 403 S. Fourth in Garden City’s Finnup Park, and you’ll want to use our north entrance.
In addition to “Cowboy Memories,” additional sessions at 7 p.m. include “Native American Heritage” Oct. 17, by Debra J. Bolton, Ph.D., of Garden City; and a shared segment Nov. 21 by Dr. Bolton and Conny Bogaard, Ph.D., drawing connections between Finney County in the 21st Century and the times of Alfonso X, the Christian king of Spain during the 13th Century.
The opening program this month will also include a book signing by the featured cowboy poet, with copies available for sale. In addition, the books are available 1 to 5 p.m. seven daily in the museum gift shop.
The collection includes nearly two dozen poems, with titles ranging from “Cowboy Pickup,” “Rain” and “Truckers” to “This Old Saddle,” “Fat Cattle Buyer,” “Ole’ Blue” and 16 others. The book is dedicated to the poet’s wife, children and “all those cowboys at heart.”
The verses are drawn from “personal experiences and feelings, with a few true stories that haven’t happened yet.” The author and other regional cowboy poets have appeared on stage periodically, frequently for benefit events, including a program in 2000 at a U.S. military base in Germany where helicopter crews were being dispatched to Operation Desert Storm.
The program in October will offer insight on the origins, traditions, spirituality, clothing, food, homes and cultural patterns of Native tribes in the U.S. The presenter has spoken at numerous events, drawing on her own Ute, Ohkay Owingeh, Dine and Uncompahgre heritage. Dr. Bolton, a specialist with Kansas State University Research and Extension, is a human ecologist, certified family life educator and geographer.
She recently earned a research and exploration grant from the National Geographic Society, and has shared her knowledge of Native American culture at Garden City’s annual diversity breakfast and in various additional venues.
The shared program in November is entitled “El Sabio, the Wise and Learned King.” Dr. Bogaard and Dr. Bolton will offer the holiday season presentation in partnership, employing visual arts, poetry and live music.
King Alfonso X of Spain, they explained, led a tolerant society and royal court where Muslim, Jewish and Christian people coexisted in harmony. Known as “El Sabio,” the medieval leader ruled by drawing on his faith and the teachings of the Virgin Mary. The presenters believe present-day Finney County, known for its own cultural diversity, reflects many of the same concepts. Dr. Bogaard, executive director of the Western Kansas Community Foundation, holds a master of arts in history and a doctorate in philosophy, aesthetics and art theory.
In addition to the evening series, we’re hosting our annual fall picnic at 1 p.m. Oct. 8 in the grandstand meeting room at the Finney County Fairgrounds, featuring a musical program entitled “The Sounds of History,” by Al and Linda Miller; and presently displaying a short-term exhibit in the museum’s Front Door Gallery, focusing on the 91-year history of the Garden City Community Mexican Fiesta. You can also count on finding us Sept. 16 on Main Street, where our booth at Fall Fest will offer visitors a chance at winning a prize or two by answering questions about local history.
We hope you’ll watch for pending announcements about attending the picnic, come in this month to view “Memorias de la Fiesta,” and stop by our Fall Fest booth between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sept. 16. In the meantime, please be sure and mark Nov. 21, Oct. 17 and Sept. 19 on your calendar, for opportunities to share in some historic connections across the centuries, learn about Native American ways of life, and saddle up for a little hometown cowboy poetry.
Steve Quakenbush is the executive director of the Finney County Historical Society.