A Nuffield Scholarship isn’t just about the research – I love heading into the unknown; wondering who I’ll meet and what I’ll see along the way. And the things that make the biggest impression on me are the ‘human stories’, the little insights into peoples’ lives around the world. A perfect example has got to be Larry’s Museum.
Larry Stomprud is a cattle rancher from South Dakota in the US. Back in June I visited his 6,000 acre Angus beef ranch. It’s about 30 miles from a paved road, and then another hour until you hit a town or grocery store. The prairie is so flat and the sky so vast, you can almost feel the curve of the earth. It’s other-worldly.
Larry is the third generation to make a living from breeding cattle on this land, which can be as brutal as it is beautiful. I first met him when I travelled to South Dakota for BBC Radio 4 to cover the story of ‘Storm Atlas’, a freak blizzard which wiped out thousands of cattle and horses in the fall of 2013 (the fact the BBC showed more interest in their plight that the American news media at the time made Larry an ideal contact for my Nuffield study).
His Scandinavian grandfather homesteaded the first hundred acres or so in 1909, making Stomprud Ranch an officially recognised ‘Century Farm’. In the US, a farm that has been in the same family for 100 years is a big deal.
It’s been said that America lacks history and Americans crave it; their passion for Downton Abbey may even prove the point. But there’s more history on Larry’s ranch than I’ve seen on many farms in the Old World. You see, Larry’s Dad (now in his 90s) loved collecting things – all sorts of things from Native American arrowheads to gas lanterns to vintage cameras. And those eclectic collections are lovingly stored in the family’s very own private museum, and added to through the generations.
The museum is a rather plain-looking hut, in the heart of a working ranch. From the outside you’d never guess it was such a beautiful treasure trove. My Dad, who was travelling with me for a week, loves history as much as I do and we spent ages browsing all the little knick-knacks. It was a privilege to be allowed to see inside, and the photos speak for themselves. I will be asking Larry to identify a few of the more mysterious objects, which have got me stumped. If you know what they are, please do leave a comment on this post!