1870s ‘radio show’ highlights Mormon pioneers

Credit: R. Scott Lloyd

It was the broadcast that never was, but folk musicians Cory and Jill Webster transported a Church History Museum audience back to the 1870s for an old-time, live “radio show” emanating from Great Salt Lake City and highlighting various elements of the Mormon pioneer culture.

The Websters are a married couple who together comprise the “Haywire Ranch String Band,” which they named after the hay and cattle ranch they operate full-time near Downey in southeastern Idaho. Between them, they play guitar, fiddle, banjo, autoharp and harmonica.

They were featured Oct. 26 for the latest offering in the “Evenings at the Museum” series presented free to the public.

Replete with folk songs and dance tunes with plenty of lyrical parody of the Mormon pioneer history, and laced with tongue-in-cheek commercials and news, weather and traffic reports, the program invited the audience to suspend reality and imagine what things would be like in Utah had radio been invented in the 1870s.

Think: Garrison Keillor meets Brother Brigham.

“Jill is a musician, and Cory is a musician, a painter and poet, and he is an artist who does ranching on the side; that’s the best way I can describe it,” quipped Ray Halls, museum education manager, in introducing the Websters.

“Yes, it’s time, folks, for another pleasant Saturday afternoon pioneer country get-together, right here on K-Deseret Pioneer Radio with the territory’s favorite band, the Haywire Ranch String Band,” Cory said after the two sang the theme song.

“I’m Haywire Cowboy, and this is my partner, Salt City Sue. We’d like to get the music rolling with one of our top hit songs called ‘Brigham Young, Western Pioneer.’ ”

The lyrics are, in part:

Brigham Young, western pioneer,

Brigham Young, he won a noble race.

Brigham Young made a proud statement

When he raised up on his elbow and said, “This is the place.”

The Websters had fun with the “commercials” from imaginary sponsors:

“Are you having a little trouble staying stuck in the saddle these days? Well, why not try a little Buckin’ Bob’s saddle glue. This stuff is guaranteed to keep you stuck in the saddle all day long. … If you put a little bit on each inside of your trousers, it will help you stay stuck in the saddle. Now, this is not recommended for bareback riding or for those who ride side saddle. Please be sure to tighten your suspenders and your belt when using this glue. You can pick up a can of Buckin’ Bobs at Zebadiah’s Corn Meal Incorporated — that’s ZCMI, for short — right next to the saddles and horseshoes.”

Jill said, “Haywire has a traffic update for all you folks listening as you roll down those western trails this afternoon.”

Cory spoke up: “Well, Sue, Emigration Canyon looks like a parking lot at the moment. Some old pioneer has turned over his wagon right there near the bottom of Little Mountain pass, just before the creek crossing. No injuries have been reported. If you’re coming down the old Mormon Trail around Big Mountain, you may want to take the cutoff of Mountain Dell over to Pat’s Canyon Road. Even though you have to pay little toll to go down Parley’s Road, it’s worth it. The roads north toward Farmington and Big Sand Hill are wide open this afternoon, although a bit sluggish at times. Utah Trails Patrol reminds us to always give a wide berth to anyone out there pulling with an old ox team. And as you travel within town, especially down Main Street, please stay on the right side of the road. And always, please take care to never leave small children unattended in your wagons.”

He added, “The traffic report was brought to you by Deadwood Doug’s Handcart and Wagon Wheel Alignment. Deadwood Doug is conveniently located in Fort Collins, Fort Bridger, Fort Laramie, Fort Apache, coming soon to Fort Hall, but no longer serving Fort Custer and surrounding areas.”

A promo from Cory reminded listeners to “tune in Sunday mornings for the Deseret Bowery Choir broadcast. Tomorrow they’ll be singing their latest hit, ‘Come, Come, Ye Saints.’ I heard a rumor, though, that the choir may be changing their name to the Tabernacle Choir since they finished that tabernacle over there on the square and they tore down the bowery.”

Cory and Jill Webster each have pioneer ancestry extending back to the Nauvoo period of Church history. Thus, it is with affection that they look back at their ancestral roots with humor.

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