Unearthing Secrets of the Ranch

purdy, low, kaaua

Always more to learn, always more to discover. Knowledge is like a bottomless well that you can always draw more water from. Today was a day in which I was able expand even further my understanding of the paniolo and their history in Waimea. The day started out normal enough, as I covered the basics of paniolo history and listened to some of the well known songs about paniolo life, Kila Kila Na RoughriderWaiomina, Kaula `Ili, etc… It was when we met with Dr. Billy Bergin that things got really interesting.

If you don’t know Dr. Bergin, he possesses an amazing wealth of knowledge of all things paniolo and information about the ranching industry in Hawai`i. Please, if you are interested in Hawaiian history, ranching, cowboys, the paniolo or Waimea you must check out his books, Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch, 750-1950Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch, 1950-1970: Volume 2, The Senior Stewards and Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch, 1970-1992: Volume 3, Agents of Change. They are truly fascinating and thorough histories of all things paniolo.

But there were two things that really stood out to me during our conversations and his presentation to the students. The first and probably most fascinating this is that much of the photographs and documents that are part of the Paniolo Preservation Society’s displays and part of their archives were almost thrown away. About fifteen years ago, seeing no use for these items and lacking space to store them, Parker Ranch had the archives brought to the dump where they were to be disposed of. Fortunately HPA English teacher Gordon Bryson was there at the dump at the same time dropping off his garbage when he saw the Parker Ranch trucks there with the large containers to be disposed of when he asked what was inside them. Upon learning that it was the vast collection of photographs, documents, letters and other archives from Parker Ranch he asked if they not be dumped and if he could have them.

Parker Ranch obliged and for ten years they were stored at HPA where he led students through the details of proper archiving and preservation of these documents. If not for that fateful day when Gordon Bryson needed to dump his garbage, all of that history and documentation would have been just thrown away and lost for ever, amazing thought.

The second thing that struck me as fascinating concerned the trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming by the three cowboys immortalized in song for the Frontier Days World Championship roping competition. Well it turns out there wasn’t just Ikua Purdy, Archie Ka`aua and Eben Low who competed at that championship from the Big Island, but three more cowboys as well. One was Eben Low’s brother who competed in a two day roping competition only to suffer a major asthmatic attack. He was replaced by William Spencer (related to John Spencer composer of Waika) who finished the second day for Eben Low’s brother and placed respectably. The third paniolo’s name escaped Dr. Bergin, but he did say he was a Hawaiian man from Waipi`o valley who was well known as a top level roper. So while many of the songs form the time only mention three paniolo’s Purdy, Low and Ka`aua, there were actually three more as well, Low’s brother, William Spencer and the nameless cowboy from Waipi`o.

So it turned out to be a fascinating and informative day for all involved. It was a reminder that while we often get excited when he dig away the surface to revel the jewels on the top layer of soil, it is when we dig deeper that the true precious gems reveal themselves, and more information is unearthed.


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