Archive for Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Shouts and Murmurs: Chief takes up place in new home

November 3, 2004

It was with relief and regret that I watched chainsaw artist Russell Ehart cut the statue of "Chief Tonganoxie" off its base.

With relief because the statue will be protected from the weather and on display inside Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse.

With regret, because to many, myself included, the statue symbolizes Ton-ganoxie's history, as well as the city's determination to recover from the May 11, 2000, tornado.

For those who are new to the community, here's how it came about.

When the tornado destroyed a tree at the house where I lived in the 300 block of Fifth Street, I hired Russell Ehart to carve a statue out of what was left of a century-old elm tree.

The tornado twisted the tree about 180 degrees, sending a deep split through the trunk's west side.

The damage was too great to save the tree, and now, more than four years later, the damage is too great to save the statue.

Where the tree was split, along what became Chief Tonganoxie's right leg, water ran in and soaked the wood. By this year, the base of the statue was beginning to rot.

Six months after the tornado, I sold the house to Jenny and Matt Kessler, including a clause in the contract that the woodcarving would belong to me if they ever sold the house.

Jenny called a couple of months ago saying they were selling their house and asking what did I want to do with the statue.

I knew it should continue to be shared with the community, but out of the weather. My co-workers and I talked about it, deciding Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse, located in an historic century-old former dry goods store in downtown Tonganoxie, would be a prime spot.

Matt and Vickie Bichelmeyer agreed to accept the statue on loan.

Last Thursday, Russell Ehart, who's in the area to carve angels from cedar trunks at Holy Angels Cemetery near Basehor, stopped by with the time and equipment to help take down Chief Tonganoxie.

Incidentally, Ehart's career as a chainsaw artist took off after carving the Indian chief. He now lives in New York where he works full time doing what he loves best -- carving.

Later that evening, with the help of nine strong men, the "Chief" was loaded in a pickup truck and hauled into Bichelmeyer's.

Jenny told us Monday that since then numerous cars have stopped in front of her house, the occupants looking for the Indian chief. To all, we apologize that he's no longer on Fifth Street. But we hope, by moving him indoors, he'll be around longer.

Local historian Fred Leimkuhler noted the statue is not a likeness of Chief Tonganoxie. As far as is known, no picture of the Chief exists. Chief Tonganoxie, a member of the Delaware tribe and for whom the city is named, likely wore western apparel, and probably did not wear a feather on his head.

My husband and I plan to spruce the statue up, fill in some of the cracks and apply a finish. We hope that in doing so, Chief Tonganoxie will still be around for a long time to come.

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