Just more than a year after I quit my job as a middle school principal, we’ve made another big life choice. We bought a house in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. (No, we’re not having a mid-life crisis, thanks for asking.)
Regular readers of this blog know that we have absolutely fallen in love with Pawhuska (pop. 3,477 3,479) over the past year. In June of 2017, we made our first stop in Osage County. It was a quick visit to pay homage to The Pioneer Woman and her Mercantile on our way to Texas. We enjoyed a chicken fried steak dinner and wrote a few blog posts about our time in town, including this one that listed six reasons husbands should take their wives to the Merc.
We rolled into Pawhuska for the first time in June of 2017 for a quick visit to The Pioneer Woman Mercantile on our way to Texas.
A couple of months after writing that post, the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce contacted us to see if we’d be willing to return as celebrity judges for the National Indian Taco Championships. We felt obliged to call and tell them that we really aren’t celebrities. They replied, “Well, you are to us! Everybody here loves your blog!” We then shared that we knew little about Indian tacos. They told us not to worry and that we should just be sure to pack stretchy pants and Tums.
How could we say no to that?
We loved learning about how authentic Indian tacos are made from our new friend, Margie Williams, of Pawhuska.
We rolled back into Pawhuska early in the first week of October. We wanted to spend a few days getting to know the town a little better before the Indian Taco Championships and like we did for our own hometown of Crete, we decided to write an article on 70+ things to do after you’ve eaten at the Merc.
We saw our first ever Powwow at the National Indian Taco Championships last fall and can’t wait to see it again this year!
We figured five days would give us all the time we needed in Pawhuska. We were so wrong.
You see, when you’re in this cowboy town that has just one flashing traffic light, you can’t just walk into a store or museum, take a quick photo and leave. Nope. The folks you’ll find there are just too friendly and welcoming for that. We learned quickly that people in Pawhuska were genuinely interested in getting to know us and many of our conversations pushed well through the noon hour or until after closing. Nobody seemed to care. Relationships mattered more than time. We loved that.
The day we met Martha and Margie at Handy’s in Pawhuska, they put their spoons down, forgot about their chili, and took time to tell us all about the history of this unique convenience store and the secret to the best fountain pop in Osage County.
It didn’t take long before we began to feel like locals. Though we had a hotel 25 miles away in Bartlesville, townspeople insisted we should be staying in Pawhuska. By Friday, one had helped us find a room, and so we spent our first overnight inside the city limits. With no 30-minute drive to a hotel, we decided to go to the high school football game to cheer on the hometown Pawhuska Huskies. We met some nice folks as we sat down on the bleachers to watch the game and, as was normal for this town, we felt like old friends by the fourth quarter. It was homecoming that night. We couldn’t help but feel like we’d come home, too.
The Homecoming game had all the pageantry you’d expect in a small town.
By the time the National Indian Taco Championships were over that weekend, we didn’t want to leave and vowed that we’d be back soon. A couple of weeks later we took our moms to Pawhuska. We went back in December for the Holiday Parade of Lights. Starting in January, we found one reason after another to return to the Osage and learn more about its unique history and residents. With each visit, we grew to love the town and the people more and more. We started to feel like maybe we belonged, like maybe we had a bigger calling there.
A view of Pawhuska at the Cavalcade street dance in 2018.
So, after a lot of consideration, investment planning, and prayer, we contacted a realtor, put the word out, and began looking for a house to buy. We had looked at about a dozen homes before getting a text from a friend a few weeks ago that pointed us to one that seemed just right. It was in a great location, in our price range, and newly remodeled. We knew it wouldn’t last long on the market. So, despite the fact that we’d just gotten home from a trip about an hour earlier and our suitcase was not even unpacked yet, we put our dirty clothes in the laundry, re-packed clean ones, got in the car and headed south.
It is less than a six-hour drive from Crete, Nebraska, to Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
We spent time looking at the house and talking with the owners and everything about it just felt right. We made an offer that evening around their kitchen table, shook hands, and were under contract the next day. If all goes as planned, we’ll close on the three-bedroom, craftsman style bungalow Monday morning. We can’t wait to show it to y’all (I think we’re allowed to use that word now that we’re south of Kansas) and be a part of the Pawhuska community.
We were honored to be given this blanket by longtime Pawhuska residents and business owners Mr. and Mrs. Trumbly.
What, exactly does the future hold for us? We honestly aren’t sure. For now, we are planning to go back and forth between Oklahoma and Nebraska, splitting time between the Huskies and Huskers. We hope you’ll stop by for a visit if you’re in the area. We may even look into becoming Airbnb hosts, someday. We can write about travel from anywhere with internet service, so we’ll do just that as we create a new home while maintaining another one, at least for now.
What we know for sure is that Pawhuska is a special place, and very soon we’ll be proud to call it home.
As you may have heard, earlier this month we were invited to be celebrity judges for the National Indian Taco Championships in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. We’d been invited by the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce to join six others (who had much greater celebrity status than we do) in sampling the eight Indian Tacos selected as finalists by a group of anonymous judges.
One of the many homemade Indian Tacos we sampled at the National Indian Taco Championships in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
We had no idea what to expect, as this was the first time we’d been invited to judge a national food competition and only the second time we’d ever had Indian Tacos. So, we drove to Pawhuska a few days early, explored the town and talked with locals about what we should expect. Then on Saturday, we saw for ourselves just what a special weekend this was, not only to local residents, but to the more than 5,000 people who came. Here are five things we learned as judges for the National Indian Taco Championships in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
1. It’s all about the fry bread
In the days leading up to the National Indian Taco Championships, we spent some time exploring Pawhuska and visiting with lots of locals. Often, we’d share that we were going to be celebrity judges and asked their advice about what to look for in an award-winning Indian Taco. The answer was always the same. “It’s all about the fry bread.”
Indian Taco fry bread being cooked in oil at the National Indian Taco Championships in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
Amanda Bickford at Wild Fusion Leather told us making fry bread is an art. She said we should look for a hot golden crust on the outside of the fry bread and a middle that is warm and moist (I know, I hate that word, too), but not gooey. Several others told us the same. As we strolled Kihekah Avenue the morning of the championships, we were impressed by the artistry of the fry bread makers who lined the streets, cooking fry bread in enormous cast iron skillets on portable stoves fueled by propane tanks.
Making fry bread at the National Indian Taco Championships in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
From what we saw, most of the contestants made their fry bread dough at home and carried it to the street festival in plastic containers, some as large as the Rubbermaid tubs I use to store Christmas decorations. They typically grabbed a small ball of the dough, rolled it in flour, and shaped it in their hands or on a table with a tiny rolling pin. Just before dropping it in the hot oil, most of them made a small hole in the middle that helped create a sort of bowl shape to more easily contain the taco’s meat filling.
Rolling fry bread out at the National Indian Taco Championship in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
Monie Horsechief was last year’s National Indian Taco Champion and with a total of five national championships to her name, we thought we should learn more about making Indian Tacos from one of the best. Check out the video and see how quickly Monie can shape and fry the bread.
As you can see, her fry bread comes out golden brown, with a warm, moist (I know, I did it again but it really is the best word to describe it) center that was absolutely to die for! We estimated she and her team made and sold about 500 Indian Tacos that day.
Monie’s sugar covered fry bread at the National Indian Taco Championship.
2. Powwows are amazing
In addition to the Indian Taco contest, there was also a dance competition at the event. Despite living most of our lives on the plains of North America, this was the very first time that either of us had the opportunity see a Powwow or American Indian dance. It was nothing short of amazing!
One of the beautiful outfits worn by a dancer at the competition.
We were impressed by the variety of styles of outfits worn by dancers, many hand made by the people wearing them. Prizes were awarded in eight categories such as cloth/buckskin, jingle/fancy, and straight.
Powwow at the National Indian Taco Championships
We spent much of the afternoon listening to the drummers and singers and watching the dancers perform on the streets of downtown. Many tribes were represented including Osage, Quapaw, Ponca, Seneca, Pawnee, Kiowa, and Tonkawa. Our first experience with Powwows will not be our last, we are now even more interested in learning more about North American Indian culture and can’t wait to attend another Powwow someday.
One of the junior division winners
Winners in the men’s competition.
3. I’m just a small town girl
We live in a small town in Nebraska — pop. 6,700 to be exact. Pawhuska is even smaller with about 3,500 residents, and we just loved it. We loved the way business owners greeted us at their store fronts and waved across the street at their friends and neighbors. We loved joining the locals who lined Kihekah Avenue to watch the homecoming parade come down the street the day before the festival.
We met the nicest people at the high school football game the night before the NITC, including the Perriers and it was great to run into them the next day at the event.
To be honest, we loved meeting new people everywhere we went — at the high school football game, The Pioneer Woman Mercantile, the art gallery, and even in the local convenience store. Residents of Pawhuska are some of the sweetest people we’ve met in all our travels. They treat everyone with respect, make it a point to remember names and faces, and go out of their ways to make newcomers feel right at home.
We had a great week in Pawhuska, thanks in large part to Pawhuska Chamber staff Reba Bueno and Joni Nash.
The Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce staff welcomed us with open arms (literally) and we were so impressed with the business owners and festival volunteers who pulled off another successful event, their 14th in as many years. Everyone seemed to rally together and demonstrate the type of small-town hospitality we’ve grown to know and love. It’s the type of place we will never forget and we can’t wait to go back.
4. Pace yourself and wear stretchy pants
Some of the best advice we got coming into our first (and we hope not our last) National Indian Taco Championship, was from Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joni Nash, who said, “Pace. Pace. Pace. And wear stretchy pants.” Her advice was appreciated and after tasting the top eight Indian Tacos, we were glad we listened to her.
Ann and Steve in the judging room at the 2017 National Indian Taco Championships.
The day of the event, we spent the morning walking around the stores and booths, constantly tempted by the smell of frying bread and taco-flavored meats.
A booth at the National Indian Taco Championship in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
Other than a small piece of sugar-covered fry bread we shared in the morning, we resisted the Indian Tacos until it was time to judge. We also got some good advice from Kurtess Mortensen, a professional chef and general manager of The Pioneer Woman Mercantile. He had judged food competitions before and advised us to take the same amount from each entry and not to eat too much. He said if we eat too much, we’d be doing a disservice to the contestants whose tacos we tasted last, because we’re too full. We trusted Kurtess and heeded his advice.
National Taco Championship celebrity judges included several authors, a local politician, a state highway patrolman, an NITC champion, the general manager of The Pioneer Woman Mercantile, and us.
After receiving instructions about the judging process, I took one good-sized bite of each of the eight Indian Tacos (tearing the fry bread with my hands) while Steve decided to take two bites of each one. Those were just the right amounts for judging, and at the end we took a few extra bites of the ones we liked most. Trust me, they were all good, and I still have no idea who made my favorite. Each entry was passed to us under a curtain at the judging table where we blindly tasted each one, giving them one score for appearance and another score for overall taste.
As celebrity judges, we sampled eight individual Indian Tacos and scored them on appearance and taste.
I gave the highest marks to Indian Tacos in which I could see the fry bread, easily tear it with my hands and to those that had a more complex flavor with a little kick.
5. The secret to good Indian Tacos
We tasted so many delicious Indian Tacos the day of the championships but more importantly, we met amazing people who each had a little secret to their success.
This year’s National Indian Taco Championship was chaired by community volunteer Patricia Counts.
The 24 home and professional cooks who entered the National Indian Taco Championship were some of the nicest (and funniest) people we’ve ever met. They each had a story behind their Indian Tacos, who taught them their recipe, why they shape the dough a certain way, or what the “correct” toppings should be.
One of the 24 contestants in the National Indian Taco Championship.
One of our favorites was Pawhuska resident and Osage Margie Williams, who let us watch her roll out her dough as she told us what makes her Indian fry bread so special.
We believe her. Margie’s Strike Axe team was the third place finisher in the National Indian Taco Championship this year and even more noteworthy, they also took home the People’s Choice Award. Perhaps it was the prayers of her grateful heart.
Below is a complete list of winners from the 2017 National Indian Taco Championship as provided to us by the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce.
Indian Taco Winners:
1st – Frybread Factory
2nd – Ponca NAC
3rd – Strike Axe Tacos
People’s choice – Strike Axe Tacos
Pow Wow Winners:
Jr. Cloth Buckskin
1st- Masha-Ta Littlecook-Osage
2nd Olivia Littlecook- Osage
3rd Lena Tsosie- Quapaw
Jr. Jingle Fancy:
1st- Cedar Littlecook- Osage/Ponca
2nd Katzy Buffalohead – Ponca/Kaw
3rd Cayla Magee- Delaware
1st Dan Madden- Osage
2nd Cameron Soxie Pawnee
3rd Ashkii Stumblingbear/ Otoe/Kiowa
1st Nickolas- Ponca
1st Joe Pratt- Iowa/Osage
2nd Ricky Eaves- Osage/Pawnee
3rd Dave Madden – Osage
1st Jeff Mccullan – Seneca
2nd Sly Isaac- Pawnee
3rd Ryland Moore- Otoe/Osage
1st Cher Satepauhoodle- Kiowa/Osage
2nd Angela Toineeta – Kiowa/Osage
3rd Darian Lookout- Osage
1st Tylnn Bronco- Ponca/Creek
2nd Jeana Rush- Ponca/Tonkawa
3rd Janea Gruss- Sac and Fox/ Creek
We’re Steve and Ann Teget. We spent more than two decades in corporate America and public education before Ann’s health and Steve’s aversion to middle school girl drama convinced us to try something new. Now we are making the most of midlife and telling authentic stories about extraordinary travel. And yes, we send ourselves postcards.