Camp Hayes event marks important point in history
Imagine Norman Schwarzkopf, Prince Charles, Russell Crowe, Ted Turner and Kevin Costner all converging on your small Nebraska hometown.
That's what it was like back in January 1872, when the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia celebrated his 22nd birthday by hunting buffalo in southern Lincoln, northern Hayes and parts of Frontier counties.
Meeting him at the train in North Platte were Gen. Philip Sheridan, second in command of the U.S. Army; showman, former scout and Pony Express rider William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody; Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer; and Spotted Tail of the Brule, who later led the Sioux after Red Cloud was arrested after Little Bighorn.
It was a memorable event for the Grand Duke, who had been sent to the United States largely to get him away from a wife of which his father did not approve. The duke continued to correspond with Custer until the latter's death at the Little Bighorn, and spoke of the hunt often, until his death in Paris in 1908.
It's appropriate that such an event be immortalized with an annual celebration, and that's what's happening starting today at Camp Hayes, near the actual site of the hunt.
This year's "Grand Duke Alexis Rendezvous" at Camp Hayes promises to be one of the best ever, a fitting memorial to Reggie Vlasin, an active member of the Hayes Center Lions Club who helped found the event six years ago and who passed away recently at 45 after a courageous battle with cancer.
The Grand Duke himself will be there, recreated by Jahnis Abelite of Seattle, Wash., and Ki Shapland of Dighton, Kan., will appear as Buffalo Bill, Steve Alexander of Monroe, Mich., as George Custer and Gen. Phil Sheridan will be portrayed by Wayne Mintling of rural Culbertson.
Fortunately for McCook residents, the activities won't conflict with Heritage Days this year, and there will be plenty of activities worth taking in.
That includes presentations by the living historians at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 p.m. Sunday, dancing by Native American singers and dancers from the Lakota Tribe at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, a ladies tea party and children's games at 2 p.m. Saturday and evening entertainment from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday.
Black powder shoots, 'hawk and knife-throwing contests, trail rides, tours to a commemorative monument marking the actual site of the hunt, and craft demonstrations also go on all day. Sunday's schedule starts at 8 a.m. and includes a church service at 11 a.m. and a performance by a gospel quartet at 1:30 p.m.
The Grand Duke Alexis visit was a big deal back in 1872, and celebrating the event today is a great way to honor our area's heritage.