Chautauqua Scholars Explored Impact of Legislation

Scholars portrayed six prominent historical figures and explored the impact of three important pieces of legislation passed within six weeks of each other in 1862 when the “Free Land” Chautauqua visited Beatrice May 20-25.

Humanities Nebraska (HN) presented the 2012 Nebraska Chautauqua, “Free Land? 1862 and the Shaping of Modern America” in partnership with Homestead National Monument of America and the community of Beatrice. The Chautauqua coincided with the start of a year of events Homestead Monument has planned to Homesteadobserve the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act.

Scholars were in character costume attending the May 20 event featuring entertainment and speeches commemorating the signing of the Homestead Act. The actual document was on loan from National Archives April 25-May 28 at Homestead Monument.

“The significance of the occasion offers a great opportunity for the public to examine the intertwined impacts of these three pieces of 1862 legislation, not only from a historical perspective, but also looking at the continued influences today,” said Kristi Hayek, HN Chautauqua coordinator. “We feel that it is important for the many stories surrounding these 1862 acts to be told—those who benefited, those who took advantage of the potential, and those who suffered as a result. We are very excited to have Chautauqua play an important role in the 150th anniversary plans at Homestead National Monument and in Beatrice and look forward to a great week of exploration and community interaction through Chautauqua.

Patrick E. McGinnis portrayed Grenville Dodge, U.S. Army general and chief engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad. McGinnis holds a Ph.D. from Tulane University and is emeritus professor of history at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Paxton Williams portrayed George Washington Carver, noted inventor and botanist. Williams is the former executive director of the George Washington Carver Birthplace Association in Diamond, Mo.

Taylor Keen portrayed Standing Bear, Ponca chief who was involved in a court case in 1879 that was the first step in establishing basic civil rights for Native Americans. Keen serves as director of the Native American Center and lecturer at Creighton University.

Karen Vuranch portrayed Laura Ingalls Wilder, homesteader and author of the beloved “Little House” books. Vuranch is an instructor at Concord University in West Virginia and has participated in living-history presentations portraying 10 different characters.

Betty Jean Steinshouer portrayed Willa Cather, Pulitzer Prize-winning author from Nebraska. Steinshouer has portrayed Cather in 44 states and in Canada and portrays a number of other female authors in the Chautauqua-style for the Florida Humanities Council.

Warren Brown portrayed Mark Twain, humorist and author who wrote on American culture and politics. As moderator, he provides context and offer a national perspective to the observations and experiences of the other characters. Brown has portrayed Mark Twain in more than 1,000 performances nationwide.

The Chautauqua runs Monday through Friday. Adults and youth explore related topics at daytime workshops led by Chautauquans and other experts, and a Youth Chautauqua Camp was conducted by Drs. Ann Birney and Joyce Thierer of Ride Into History. A pre-Chautauqua Homestead Express was held May 19-20 in Lincoln.



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