Friday, July 18, 2008
Dances with Buffalo (make that Wolves)
I found a DVD of Kevin Costner’s 1990 epic “Dances with Wolves” a few weeks ago on the $7.50 bargain table and decided it was high time to watch it again --- not quite the same as the big (and only) screen at the Forest Theater in Forest City, where I saw it the first time, but good enough.
I’d forgotten what an epic it was --- and also had forgotten that it opens with a gory amputation scene (unsuitable if you’re eating supper, as I was, with both eyes on the screen).
Great film, although very long --- and I’m going to watch it again one of these days when enough time opens up. It won seven Academy Awards, including best picture, and also was the Golden Globe best motion picture of the year.
Its scenery and the buffalo were especially interesting to me and assorted cousins because much of the location shooting (including Fort Sedgewick and all those buffalo) was done on the Triple U Enterprises/Standing Butte Ranch in central South Dakota --- which we like to think has a Lucas County/family connection, albeit a very distant one. But I find obscure connections to this and that endlessly fascinating.
L. Roy Houck (whose wife, Nellie, had died in 1988) owned and operated Standing Butte when the film was made; and Roy’s dad, Jacob R. Houck, was a Lucas County native.
Roy’s granddad (Jacob R. Houck’s father), Charles W. Houck (22 October 1834-15 December 1915) was born in Esslingen, Wurttemberg, Germany, but came to Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, when he was 15. A veteran of the Civil War, he married Sarah A. Myers, an elder sister of my great-grandfather, Daniel Myers I, about 1867 in Westmoreland County and they continued to live there for a time.
In the meantime, Sarah’s father and stepmother, Jacob and Harriet (Dick) Myers, moved from Westmoreland County to Benton Township, Lucas County, in 1867, and in 1870 the Houcks joined them there. They farmed in Benton Township for 16 years.
In September of 1886, the Houcks left Iowa and moved to central South Dakota where they farmed and ranched first near Norfolk in Sully County, then in Riverside Township, Potter County, before retiring and moving into Gettysburg in 1907.
About 1909, they became interested in an old soldiers’ colony in St. Cloud, Florida, and began spending winters there. Sarah (born 27 May 1835 in Westmoreland County) died at St. Cloud on 9 May 1911. Charles died four years later in Gettysburg, where both are buried.
Charles and Sarah had six children, one of whom, Cora (27 September 1869-27 March 1881) died of scarlet fever in Benton Township and was buried in Salem Cemetery.
The other children were George Abram Houck, Phoebe Elizabeth (Houck) Peck, Jacob Roy Houck, Edward H. Houck and Daniel Myers Houck.
Jacob R. Houck married Helena B. Hoerber, and L. Roy Houck (left), born 28 January 1905 on a ranch 17 miles north of Gettysburg, was one of their four children. He married Nellie Beohmer in 1928 and they were operating the Triple U Hereford Ranch when the Oahe Dam project was conceived and built --- taking much of their land.
When that happened, the Houcks’ Triple U Enterprises purchased the Standing Butte Ranch, about 50,000 acres (now 60,000) located about 35 miles northwest of Fort Pierre.
The new ranch, however, proved unsuitable for large-scale cattle ranching, so the Houcks became pioneers in commercial Buffalo ranching --- acquiring the first of what became a herd numbering approximately 3,500. By 1974, all the cattle had been sold.
At the time “Dances With Wolves” was filmed, the Houck ranch herd was the largest in the world and that, combined with the ranch’s setting, made it the logical choice for much of the location shooting for the movie, a process Roy Houck and his family reportedly enjoyed very much indeed.
Roy Houck died on 2 November 1992 in a Rapid City hospital at age 87, concluding a career that had included service as state senator and South Dakota lieutenant governor as well as countless agricultural and conservation honors.
Their daughter, Kaye Ingle, and her family continue to operate the ranch.
This Houck family photo was taken on 26 December 1908. Charles W. and Sarah (Myers) Houck are seated. Their children (standing from left) are Edward, Phoeobe Elizabeth, Daniel, George and Jacob.