Meet the Chautauquans

2012 Chautauquans

The Chautauquans will include Grenville Dodge, Standing Bear, George Washington Carver, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Willa Cather, and Mark Twain.


Patrick E. McGinnis presents Grenville Dodge, the U.S. Army general during the Civil War and Plains Indian campaigns, who became the chief engineer for the Union Pacific during the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Dodge settled in Iowa in 1854 and, with the possibility of an eventual transcontinental railroad route, began to scout areas in the Platte River Valley and Rocky Mountains. Following his military service in the Civil War and in the Great Plains, Dodge led the efforts of the Union Pacific Railroad crews building from Omaha westward to the eventual meeting point with the Central Pacific Railroad, Promontory Point, Utah. Repeatedly he proved his engineering abilities by overcoming obstacles and deciding on the ultimate location of bridges, cuts, and fills. Dodge resigns from Union Pacific in 1869 and settled in Council Bluffs and served as a consultant for other railroad projects.


Taylor Keen presents Standing Bear, Chief of the Poncas. As was the case with many Native American tribes of the 1800s, increased settlement in their lands led to disastrous consequences for the Poncas of Northeast and North Central Nebraska. Eventually forced to relocate to reservation land in Oklahoma Territory, the Ponca faced a great deal of hardship. Upon the death of his son, whose last wish was to be returned to the Ponca homelands, Standing Bear honored his wishes and took his son home. On the course of the journey, Standing Bear was apprehended by the U.S. Army and was forced to stand trial. In this famous case, Standing Bear v. Crook, it was found that "an Indian is a person within the meaning of the law" and Standing Bear was being held illegally. This case, while not addressing many of the other policies of the action of the Federal government toward Native Americans, was an important first step in establishing basic civil rights for Native Americans.


Karen Vuranch portrays Laura Ingalls Wilder, homesteader and author of the beloved Little House books. As a child and young woman, Laura Ingalls Wilder experienced first-hand frontier towns, the coming of the railroad, and homesteading on the prairie as her family moved from Wisconsin to the Dakota Territory by way of short periods of settlement in Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa. As a young wife and mother, she homesteaded with her husband, Almanzo, until a series of personal tragedies forced them to leave Dakota Territory and pursue another course, eventually settling near Mansfield, Missouri. As a farm wife in Missouri, Wilder began to write for local papers and magazines and upon the urging of her daughter, widely-respected author Rose Wilder Lane, began to write accounts of her family's life in what became the bestselling and beloved Little House books.


Betty Jean Steinshouer portrays Willa Cather, Pulitzer Prize winning author. Just before turning ten years old, Cather and her family moved from Virginia to the infant Nebraska town of Red Cloud. It is that little town in Nebraska and the experiences of the people that settled there that served as the backdrop and the inspiration for some of Cather's most famous novels, including O Pioneers and My Antonia. Upon graduation from Red Could High School, Cather was able to take advantage of the opportunity of studying at a land-grant college, the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. This experience led her to her literary career as she then traveled the world and became the author of many beloved works.


Warren Brown presents Mark Twain, American humorist who commented on American culture and politics. Born Samuel Clemens in 1835, Mark Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri which would eventually become the setting for two of his most famous novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain began the travels that became the catalyst for much of his writing as a steamboat pilot's apprentice on the Mississippi River. In 1861 Twain traveled with his brother to the Nevada Territory and later served as a correspondent from the Sandwich Islands and Europe, which gave him his reputation to launch his lecture and literary career. He became a national voice of his time and fully embraced the "Free Soil, Free Labor" ideology at the heart of the 1862 legislation and was fascinated by the development of railroads through the latter half of the 1800s.


Paxton Williams portrays George Washington Carver, noted inventor and botanist. Carver was yet another American who took advantage of the many opportunities presented by the 1862 legislation. Born in Missouri into slavery, in his young adult years Carver moved to Kansas seeking an education and claimed a homestead in West Central Kansas. Like many Americans who homesteaded, he was not able to "prove up" and left for Iowa to continue his quest for an education, arriving at what is today known as Iowa State University, the first land-grant college under the Morrill Act. Carver is best known for his work at Tuskegee Institute and the agriculture innovations that he formulated there.

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Last updated: June 20, 2018

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