The long-awaited opening of the C.F. Coffee Gallery at Chadron State College will take place at 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2 in conjunction with the Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Art Show that weekend.
The gallery, which is dedicated to the ranching heritage of the High Plains, is located on the lower level of the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center. Six of the approximately dozen displays that the gallery will eventually feature will be available for viewing, according to Ken Korte, the interpretive planner.
“We’ve been making progress,” said Korte, who is working closely with Tammi Littrel, a rancher, history instructor at CSC and the gallery’s research historian. “This is going to be a great little museum. We’re far enough along now that we’re ready to show off the first of our exhibits. The ranching industry is so important to this region that it needs to be emphasized and the history preserved. Those are our goals.”
The visitors will be greeted by two “stand-alone” displays. The first contains a large photo taken in northern Sioux County by CSC photographer Daniel Binkard, a pair of branding irons and a bronze sculpture featuring a cowboy pushing longhorns across a river. The sculpture was made by Joe Beeler of Texas and loaned to the Coffee Gallery by the First National Bank of Chadron. Printed on the photo that serves as the backdrop to the display is a quote by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott, a cowpuncher in the late 1800s.
The quote says: “Here was all these long-horned steers overrunning Texas; here was the rest of the country crying for beef and no railroads to get them out. So they trailed them out, across hundreds of miles of wild country.”
The second exhibit is at the bottom of the stairs entering the gallery. It features a painting by W.H.D. Koerner called “Trail Herd to Wyoming” and obtained from the Buffalo Bill Museum at Cody, Wyo. Below it is an essay by author Linda Hasselstrom of Hermosa, S.D., providing much more information on the cattle drives and how they led to today’s ranching industry in the High Plains.
Korte said the third exhibit will discuss grasses, the fourth will focus on cattle origins and cultures in North America, the fifth will illustrate “the Texas system,” discussing how the trail drive were conducted and the sixth will feature “the cowboy.”
The latter display will replicate the interior of a bunk house. Included will be prints of large paintings obtained from the Western Heritage Center in Cheyenne and the Montana Historical Society and numerous artifacts such as an 1880s saddle made by J.S. Collins of Cheyenne, boots, hats, chaps, spurs, bits, head stalls and reins.
The gallery was founded with countributions from two area ranch couples, Bill and Virginia Coffee of Harrison and Charles and Barb Marcy of Hay Springs and Chadron, and the First National Bank of Chadron early this decade. Both Bill Coffee and Charles Marcy have died, but their widows are still instrumental in the gallery’s development.
The gallery is named for Charles F. Coffee, Bill’s grandfather, a prominent rancher and banker and one of the leaders in the founding of Chadron State College.
The elder Coffee helped lead three cattle drives up the Texas Trail before locating a ranch in eastern Wyoming in 1872. Six years later, he pushed his herds into the Hat Creek Valley north of Harrison with plans to supply beef to residents of the Black Hills mining towns and the U.S. Army. When the railroad reached Chadron in 1885, he was the first to ship cattle to the Omaha stockyards.
In 1900, Coffee traded 2,000 cow and calf pairs for the finest home in Chadron and First National Bank. A few years later, he was selected by the Chadron Commercial Club to lobby the Nebraska Legislature to locate a college in northwest Nebraska. After the bill was passed, he was influential in the decision by the Nebraska Board of Education to locate the school in Chadron.