Summary of the PRAIRIE story
The Great American Dream theme was explored in my second book, titled PRAIRIE. This is the story of another strong individual, Charles Burton Irwin. His true story is fleshed out from childhood on a hardpan Missouri farm in 1875, the year before Little Big Horn. He never went beyond the fifth grade. Even as a youngster C. B. is strong-willed, talented roper with the flair of a showman raging within. In his meetings with the medicine showman, Colonel Johnson, C. B. reveals he is a natural. The Irwin family was part of the great western migration. At the end of a two year drought in Missouri, C. B.’s father piled his family into a covered wagon and headed west for a better tomorrow. They stopped in western Kansas where they fought roaches and rodents. Then they moved to Colorado Springs where C. B. and his father built a family blacksmith shop next to the Antlers Hotel. In 1899 a string of freight cars carrying black powder to the mines in Cripple Creek exploded on the tracks, blowing up much of the town including the Antlers and the Irwin smithery. The Irwin family by this time included C. B.’s tiny wife, Etta McGuckin and their first child, Floyd. They packed up again and homesteaded in wide open land in Wyoming.
C. B. worked for Francis E. Warren, governor of Wyoming and a prosperous rancher. Warren was C. B.’s inspiration and lifelong friend, before he homesteaded his own ranch. C. B.’s life was as large as the man himself. Not only was he a rancher, showman, trader and breeder, he also gave his name to the Irwin Brothers Wild West Show and helped to found and write the rules for the Frontier Days rodeo, an annual event in Cheyenne. His gregarious nature involved him with many of America’s well-known characters; western painter Charlie Russell; cowboy-showman, Will Rogers; Baron de Rothchild; outlaw, Tom Horn; President Teddy Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill Cody.
As an adult he was always involved with rodeos, horse racing and railroading. He had horses in the first race ever run in Tijuana. When that track was closed he had horses in the last race. He ran for state governor before his untimely death at the age of fifty-nine in an automobile accident. To run for governor he used the slogan given him by his good friend and fishing buddy, Will Rogers; “Popular government at popular prices.”
Close friends, including Gen. John J. Pershing, Carl R. Gray, president of the Union Pacific, and Fred Stone, Hollywood actor, were among the honorary pallbearers. It was the biggest funeral Cheyenne had ever seen. Thousands stood in line for more than three hours to walk to the wooden casket that had been specially built to accommodate Irwin’s big 5-foot-4inch, 450 pound frame.
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