Posted 7/12/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The town of Epping held its annual Buffalo Trails Day event this past weekend, and this year marked the 50th time they’ve done it.
Shelly Alexander, who helped organize this year’s event, was worried a bridge closure south of town might dissuade people from attending, but the event was a success, with a dozen vendors and hundreds of visitors.
Epping was a different town 50 years ago, said Duane Lindberg, who was one of the Buffalo Trails Museum founders.
Lindberg came to Epping to serve as a Lutheran pastor in the Epping and Wheelock churches in 1961.
At the time, the buildings were showing a lot of age and wear, and there wasn’t a lot of money floating around to make improvements.
“That aspect made people depressed,” he recalled.
That first year, he performed the funeral services for 18 people.
“These were the original pioneers. They were our teachers, our businessmen. And then I realized I was burying the story of the community,” he said.
Losing the history of Epping and surrounding towns was compounding what Lindberg saw as a lack of pride in the values of small town America.
“Rural America draws the short straw in terms of the ideal notion of success,” he explained.
Lindberg wanted to find a way to not only preserve the history of the community for future generations, but also give people a sense of pride in where they lived.
The idea started to take shape when an artist friend of his, Elmer Halvorson, was struggling to make ends meet by selling his artwork around the state.
Lindberg pitched to Halvorson the idea of collecting artifacts from around the area and putting together some dioramas for a museum.
If Halvorson would put together the artistic presentation, Lindberg told him, the pastor would do the fundraising. Through a combination of funding sources, Lindberg was able to pull in about $20,000 for the museum and some other community improvement projects.
An old store that required extensive work was donated for the museum, and the funding paid a local carpenter to repair the structure. The funding also paid Halvorson’s salary, and he worked as the museum’s curator and artist for the next few decades.
The museum’s name was the result of a joke that gained traction. Someone had found a buffalo head in a nearby creek, and something about buffalos was tossed around playfully in regard to the museum name. One farmer proposed they call it “buffalo chips.”
They laughed about the suggestion, but Lindberg said the museum sits in an area along a trail the Native Americans followed across the plains hunting buffalo.
With that fact, the name Buffalo Trails was born. The museum opened officially in May 1967.
Halvorson passed away in 1994, but his creations are still on display in the same building where it all began.
The museum outgrew that old store and now consists of eight buildings throughout downtown Epping.
When Lindberg, along with his friend Halvorson, opened the museum in the 1960s, he never thought he’d be there fifty years later watching a crowd of people come to Epping and walk through it.
“In my most naïve dreams, I would have never thought it would grow and thrive as it did,” the pastor said.
He thanked all the people over the years who have built, preserved, and maintained the museum for future generations, who will now have the opportunity to experience the history he so wanted to preserve.
In terms of helping to instill a sense of pride in their community, Lindberg said he felt very successful.