The next time you are driving into Ryan, Oklahoma, take a look to the right before you come to downtown. The 22-year old Chisholm Trail scenery that has always been an eye-catching welcome suddenly appears a little different. Its subtle change might have you turn around and crawl back by. The Chisholm Trail mural!! Something’s different. The sage-covered hillside scenery has a focused depth to it. And the cattle, the cowboys and horse-drawn wagon come alive on the forefront of the dimensional landscape. To passersby, it’s beautiful and a nice addition to the town. To the people of Ryan, it means so much more.
What started out as a pipe dream for the Ryan Regeneration Group became reality during the month of July. The talk began in early 2018 to develop a plan to refurbish the 40-foot long mural depicting a scene from the glory days of the historic Chisholm Trail. A path laid by drovers, cowboys and the cattle they ran from deep in Texas through Ryan and into Kansas throughout the last half of the 19th century. The mural is the work of M.H. Henry, an artist, a passionate advocate of preserving the Trail’s history and a resident of Bowie, Texas. With the structural assistance of Hershel Shofner, the sign was erected in 1997. This mural stamped Ryan’s presence in southern Oklahoma and was a proud addition for the citizens of the town. The timing was perfect, with hundreds of former students pouring into town for the Ryan High School reunion in September. Everyone was in awe of the work and happy to know that our history would now be shared with everyone that passed through the town.
Over the next two decades, the mural stood strong, but began to take on the effects of the intense weather of southern Oklahoma. With the birth of the Regeneration group, thoughts began to come into words about assisting with its refurbishment and longevity. The suggestion came up to find an artist to bring the mural back to life. But not only that, find someone that shares the passion of beautifying the town. Maris Blanchard, granddaughter to Theresa Blanchard, was approached by the group to see if she would consider taking on this timely task. As recalled, the group did not even have to fully ask her help, as Maris excitedly interrupted and said, “I would LOVE to help you with the mural.” It was a joyous occasion not only for the Regeneration group, but just as much for Maris. Her father, Bobby Blanchard, was a 1975 graduate of Ryan. Back in her childhood, Maris came back to Ryan frequently with her Dad. She and her Dad shared the love of going out on land northeast of Ryan to hunt for cow skulls or any skulls she could find. Along with spiders, bugs and critters that she could talk her Dad into taking home. Maris found this would be one of her many outdoor passions that still carries on to today. Bobby passed away in 2007 and with this, Maris’ memories of Ryan started to fade over the years.
At the beginning of the project, Maris began the preparation and studied the work of Mr. Henry so that her efforts would accent his vision. All the way down to the brands on the cattle that depicted the symbol of ranches in the local area. Maris unexpectedly and pleasantly found help as the citizens of Ryan became her eyes, ears and cold-water providers during the intensely hot days of late July. Work on the project started early in the morning and went on till sundown. What could have been an arduous task became a celebration as she moved slowly and carefully through bringing the wonderful scene back to life. The town was vibrant with talk at Stick’s and the Parlor about the young lady working on our mural. It did not take anyone long to find out that Maris invited everyone in to the scene going on at the junction of Highways 32 and 81. Among the topics of interest were Maris’ other hobbies and line of work such as taxidermy and making organic home décor themed around animal cadavers and skeletal remains. Many were intrigued and Maris was endless with conversation as she learned hunting in this part of Oklahoma is right up there with football as a favorite sport.
Now with the task complete and the mural looking like new again, the Ryan Regeneration group share the joy of their pipe dream becoming a reality. And as the folks of Ryan cherish anew this testament to our heritage, the warmth and joy of knowing that the spirit of the town stretches far past the limits of the ranches and fields surrounding the city.
A very special thanks go to so many of the hard-working, fun loving members of the Ryan Generation group. A special thanks to Sherry and Eddie Pewitt, Heather and Crosby Casebolt, Dennis Underwood and many others for showing up and sharing time with Maris. A very, very special Thank You goes out to Walker and Linda Ryan. Not only for providing the scaffolding, which without it, the project could not at all have been completed. But for your warm-hearted, incredible hospitality each day this project was going on. Maris said that she has found her second home in Ryan and a new extended family that would make her Dad proud.