Steve’s Famous Wagon
Steve Bowers is only 75, but he has vivid memories of seeing the 1889 Land Run. “There was nothing like seeing all those wagons going downhill, bouncing along, ridin’ the brakes hard,” Steve said. “The tires were bright, shiny and new, not rusty like the ones in museums.”
Steve was an “extra” on the set of Far and Away, a 1992 movie about the Oklahoma Land Run. “I stayed a week, riding my horse in the scene where everyone was lined up with their wagon teams, waiting for the bugle so we could bolt forward. We did that scene so many times that my horse would bolt, turn around, sigh, and get ready to go again. I didn’t even hold onto the reins.”
Although Far and Away was Steve’s first foray into films and documentaries, reenacting history was a natural fit for this history buff. He was a founding member of the Cavalry unit in Logan County, established to prepare for the 100th anniversary of the Land Run in 1989. A few years later, he played the roles of both a Confederate and a Union soldier in the 1995 television movie, Buffalo Girls.
Steve’s interest in the 19th century also led him to collect historic wagons and carriages. “I always wanted a stagecoach, but they are expensive and hard to haul. My friend owned an 1870 surrey that was used in my daughter’s wedding. It was smaller, and I bought it.” After that, he collected ten carriages and wagons, which he brought out for events and school visits. His family’s 1885 Newton wagon made an appearance at the Edmond Historical Society & Museum during this year’s spring break.
“The Newton Company wagon was stored for more than a century, and it was in good shape, but then someone bought it as a yard decoration. In two short months, it took a beating, so I bought it,” Steve said. “I found a skilled Amish man who fixed the damaged wheels beautifully. When I olive-oiled the old wood, the Newton name, which had been lettered in yellow paint all those years ago, suddenly popped out.”
People are initially surprised by the wagon’s narrow width, at only 3 feet across. “There were also bigger military-style wagons, and those are mostly what you see on TV, but this one was originally a grain wagon, and it wasn’t uncommon for a farm family to convert grain wagons for traveling west. The family’s food and linens were stored inside the wagon and bows were added to make the canopy tent.”
Steve’s Newton wagon has appeared in several Trail of Tears documentaries and in the 2010 film, Pearl, based on a true story about a Chickasaw girl who was mentored by pilot, Wiley Post, after he landed in her family’s field. “In Pearl, my son drove the wagon through town, which was supposed to look like Marlow, but was filmed in Guthrie.”
Something about the Newton wagon “speaks” to Steve. “I loved horses, and I love knowing the truth of history,” Steve said. “Life in a covered wagon was tough! The people who settled in Oklahoma–now, they had grit! I’m glad my wagon helps people see what life was really like back then.”