Archaeology meets tourism for one southwest Nebraska couple

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October 17, 2011 - 7:00pm

In the canyons of southwest Nebraska, you can hear the steady breeze as it blows through the leaves of towering cottonwoods. It's a constant that connects people who lived along Medicine Creek 1,000 years ago with current settlers like Jan Hosick.


Photographer: Ray Meints

VIDEO: Inside a Native American-style earthen lodge

Photographer: Ray Meints

SLIDESHOW: Images of Dancing Leaf

"The Native Americans would watch when those first little leaves popped out in the springtime and start twittering and dancing in the slightest breeze, and they believe that the spirit voices are all up here in the air," said Jan Hosick, standing atop one of the canyons dissected by Medicine Creek. "And so they listen better than any other tree because the slightest little breeze will set them to dancing.

"You stand out on these canyon hills, just like now, (and) you can feel that spirit voice moving past you," she continued. "So it's just a really mystical, neat place up here on these canyon tops."

Hosick is looking down from the old Boy Scout camp she and her husband Les bought 14 years ago, just outside the small town of Wellfleet, a rare stop on the highway between McCook and North Platte. They turned it into something that's a combination of a bed-and-breakfast, classroom and museum. They named it Dancing Leaf, after the cottonwood leaves. Now it's home and business for a couple who both grew up around here.

"Through the school term is when, in the springtime through April and May, we're busy pretty much full-time on just giving daily field trips and things like that," Jan Hosick said. "And then again in the fall, as soon as school starts, we start with school field trips again. But otherwise, we just fill in with anything and everything. We have family reunions and we have retreats and workshops and things even through the wintertime. Receptions for graduations, weddings."

Running a small tourism business means being flexible.

"You're there when somebody wants you, and every time the telephone rings and they say, 'Can you?' You say, 'Yes, you sure can,'" she said.

"And then we turn to each other and (I) go, 'Les, I don't know how we're going to do this, but I just signed up!'" she added with a laugh. "But you don't ever say 'No.' You always just invent something."

Les Hosick lifts up a fabric cover and walks into a part of Dancing Leaf he created, or more accurately, recreated. It's a dome made from wood, grass and dirt, a replica of a Native American earthen lodge from 1,000 years ago.

"This was a pretty good shelter for them," he said, standing inside the lodge. "It's made to ventilate and have good lighting. Sky lighting is very good lighting. There are no dark corners or anything. The long, low entryway makes it possible to climate control your house."

It took Les Hosick two years to build this, using hand tools and primitive techniques.

"You take advantage of the forks in the trees, so everything just sets together. No nails, no ties," he said. "It's a pretty magical design. Pretty hard for us to build a birdhouse without nails nowadays."

Groups sometimes stay overnight in the lodge, or tour a nearby building full of fossils, bones and archaeological gems that Les has found in the valley over the years. It's all designed to let visitors experience the world of primitive Native Americans who used to live here, a people the Hosicks have long appreciated. They get a couple thousand visitors each year, enough business that it's full-time work; Jan Hosick quit her job as a teacher to devote more time to Dancing Leaf.

In a different era and with obviously different resources, the Hosicks said they adapt to survive in sort of the same manner as the Native people who preceded them.

"We just barely can hang in and do what we're doing with having to pay the liability and everything else that you have to do run a business like this," Jan Hosick said. "But we are so rich beyond monetary value that we would never change, (or) do anything else, I don't think.

"I know we wouldn't."




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