Making myself at home

By Beccy Tanner

The Wichita Eagle


SMITH CENTER -- On the night of April 24-25, I likely became the first person in 126 years to sleep in the "Home on the Range" cabin.

I originally had planned to spend the night on Dec. 21, 2010. But after six hours in the cabin with temperatures hovering in the low 20s, I began thinking about the strong potential of freezing to death.

At that time, I had wanted to spend a night in the cabin to help kick off The Eagle's coverage of the 150th anniversary of Kansas and to let readers know how much of what Brewster Higley saw when he built the cabin in 1872 was still available to 21st-century Kansans.

I opted out of becoming a human Popsicle, fled to the warmer surroundings of El Dean and Kathy Holthus's farmhouse and did the story anyway. I was grateful that El Dean Holthus, whose family had owned the cabin and land it sat on for decades, suggest I return once the cabin was refurbished.

The temperatures were more inviting this time -- and so was the cabin. It is less of a renovated chicken shed and more of a cabin, the type a frontier doctor would have lived in.

What struck me this time was the abundant wildlife I could see and hear. Pathways and footbridges allow visitors to walk the meadow and experience the sights and sounds of wildlife scampering and calling out.

At night, you can hear tiny mice scurrying across the loft floor -- no doubt a sound Higley frequently experienced.

Spend any time at the cabin, and you begin to appreciate what a special site it is, not only for Kansas but for the nation. In this humble cabin one of the most famous folk songs ever was written.

The fact that the cabin still exists is a wonder. The fact that Kansans donated their time and money to save the cabin in one of the hardest economic recessions we've had since the Great Depression makes it a miracle.

Put it on your bucket list. Go see the cabin. Sing the song. Send us your video of family and friends singing our state song in the cabin.

And for the record: The first person to sleep in the cabin in 126 years slept peacefully.

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle