Friday, June 25, 2010

Notes from the Ozarks & Commemorating the Big Burn of 1910

I'm just a little road buzzed after a quick out and back to Branson, Missouri. I had a chance to perform at an intimate fundraiser for Congressman Roy Blunt, the next Republican Senator from Missouri. In the audience was former Attorney General John Ashcroft and his wife. Yakov Smirnoff, the Russian born comedian who reminds us how blessed we are to live in America performed a little earlier in the evening and General Ashcroft and Congressman Blunt both made insightful remarks. I was happy to support a good man in the arena.

I finally banged out a bit of promotional text for a return engagement at Red Rocks Canyon outside of Las Vegas. I thought I'd share it below. As noted, I'll talk about the fires of 1910, subject this year of a great book called Big Burn by Timothy Egan. The fire fighters of the Bureau of Land Management like fire fighters throughout federal, state and local agencies have already begun their hot and dangerous summer fire fighting duties. I once asked a Black Hills forest ranger how long he had been doing his work, and he answered "Thirty-eight fire seasons."

In 1910, two forces of nature swept across the American West. Fresh from his safari in Africa and triumphant tour of Europe, former President Theodore Roosevelt toured the West by train. Meanwhile, in July and August of 1910, tens of thousands of acres of forests burned in hundreds of fires, most started by lightning strikes and others by train sparks. On August 20 and 21, 1910, hurricane force winds combined force with the fires, killing an estimated eighty-seven souls, destroying over three million acres of forests in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, including several small towns and over one third of Wallace, Idaho. The primary heroes of the fire were the men of the National Forest Service, dozens of whom died fighting the fires. Created just five years before by Theodore Roosevelt and administered by Chief Forestor Gifford Pinchot, the predecessor of the United States Forest Service was the front line of fire fighting in the American forest.

On July 3, 4 and 5, Theodore Roosevelt will come to life at Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area in the person of Joe Wiegand, an actor who tours the country performing as the great conservation President. As Theodore Roosevelt, during performances at the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center Wiegand will salute the men and women of the Bureau of Land Management and others who fight fires throughout the nation. Performances are free and open to the public and Wiegand will take questions from the audience in character as TR.

Hour-long performances on July 3 are at 1:00 P.M. and 3:00 P.M. Performances on July 4 and 5 are at 11:00 A.M., 1:00 P.M. and 3:00 P.M. When he’s not performing, Wiegand will greet visitors from noon to 4:00 P.M. on July 3 and 10:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. on July 4 & 5.

Wiegand’s performance is sponsored by the Red Rocks Canyon Interpretive Association. For more information, visit the organization’s website at

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