The Spirit of the Old West Corralled at Blackhawk

Danville’s Blackhawk Museum, which exhibits some of the world’s rarest classic automobiles, has acquired an extensive private collection of American West and Plains Indians historic artifacts for a new permanent exhibition titled, “SPIRIT OF THE OLD WEST,” to open in late fall.

This vast collection of Western and American Indian artifacts has remarkable historic importance. The all-encompassing collection is representative of Plains Indians and the Pioneering Settlers that will take viewers through a portal to the past of America’s Old West history.

Among the rarest objects in the Plains Indian collection are authentic mounts of a 19th century American eagle, a massive Plains buffalo, as well as bear and wolf specimens. Indian Tribes revere Mother Earth, nature, and animals, all of which have sacred significance in their animist cultures.

The extensive exhibit of American Indian and Settler artifacts will offer educational insight into the “Wild West’s” rich past and promises to be one of California’s most popular attractions for adults and school children. Museum docents will bring history alive for visitor tours, adding to the learning experience.

The Blackhawk Museum is presently accepting applications for interested volunteer docents, an integral part of the museum experience, who will share their knowledge on guided tours for children and adult visitors. After training, the docents will bring history to life by guiding tours and children’s hands-on activities to enhance the early California experience.

The multiple exhibits on display will explore how one culture waned while another thrived due to the momentous treks westward in search of land, riches, and a better life. The pioneers’ arduous westward journeys across America were to be one of the greatest migrations in human history as men, women, and children trekked through rivers and across unchartered wilds in unwieldy wagons.Teepee Close Up 0001

“Excitement is building for the upcoming Spirit of the Old West exhibition, and has already generated great interest among educators,” David Behring said after making a recent presentation to the county’s school principals. “I envision field trips early next year”, Behring added about the exhibition space designed by the Pleasanton-based Dahlin Group.
Ken Behring, founder of the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in 1988, negotiated the acquisition of the “Fick Collection” assembled by Jerry Fick’s American Indian family over many generations. “There is no other American Indian collection of this scope in California; I made the decision to bring it to Blackhawk in less than a day,” stated Fick.

Among the premier collection of American Indian memorabilia in “The Spirit of the Old West” installation are rare 18th and mid-19th century feather headdresses. The iconic “eagle feather bonnets” are cultural treasures inherent to Native American cultures. The plumage tells that “feather bonnets” were only presented to the bravest warriors, and each feather represented a courageous deed.


The Plains Indians were made up of several indigenous tribes, their migrations spanning many Western states, and consisting of multiple sub-groups; Arapaho, Lakota, Crow, Cheyenne, Blackfoot, Apache, Pawnee and others.
Among the artifacts of historic significance spanning several disciplines of their cultural identity are; eagle feather bonnets, buffalo horn headdresses, cradleboards, lances, war shields, feathers, porcupine quills, and bead-embellished buckskin garments, ceremonial pipes, bear claw necklaces, moccasins, tools, points, tomahawks and Indigenous Peoples’ stone tools dating to circa BC 8,000.

The Culture of the Old West will be contextualized in the heart of the museum exhibits that will include all aspects of the human presence in the West; Early Reservations of Plains Indians 1860-1910; Cowboys; Homesteading Settlers/Pioneers; Cavalry/Military firearms and weaponry; Trappers and Wagon Trains.Topo Buffalo Hill

To guarantee attention to the historic synergy between Indians and Settler Pioneers, the new installation will ricochet between both cultures by featuring sections dedicated to American Indians and the Migrating Settlers. On the left side of the 27,000 square foot upper gallery, the American Indians will be thematically featured with an authentic tipi and accoutrements.

On the right side a covered wagon, “Prairie Schooner” will highlight the chronology of the Pioneers’ westward expansion and focus on the intrepid determination of people seeking opportunity and a new life.

The exhibition will highlight historic objects affirming the region’s tumultuous history, and the First Peoples’ forced dispersion into scattered reservations, and mythologized Wild West folklore.

No amount of storytelling or Hollywood movies could ever convey the sheer drama of what actually happened, portray stark hardships, or tell of the families’ anguish on the westbound wagon trains who buried their children along the way. When we hear the docents’ tours and see authentic artifacts that belonged to those very people we may better imagine their stories as we travel to the past.Medicine Hoop 0001

And many more stories will be told through the collection of 19th century photographs that portray Plains Indians, the pristine mountains, and untrammeled wilderness of the American West as it was before the settlements, and before the scars of mining and farming.

Historic themes of the ever-migrating and intrepid tribes on our ancient landscape, and the subsequent interaction during the westward expansion of heroic cowboys, pioneers, and cavalry legends will evolve to a visually-rich and tangible 21st century experience at the Blackhawk Museum.

To anchor the history of American Indians and the Old West, a 140 foot long centerpiece of three-dimensional topographical dioramas will visually portray their life in miniature and enhance the 18th to 20th century experience. Momentous events will highlight America’s Western history, including the turning point of Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn, the discovery of gold, and the impact of the transcontinental railroads.


Ken Behring not only founded the Blackhawk Museum, but also developed the world-class Blackhawk residential community over 40 years ago. With forward-looking vision and strong philanthropic ideals, he strove to add to the historical culture of the San Ramon Valley.

Behring spearheads the construction of thirty Natural History Museums in China to promote them as places of learning. He built the Blackhawk Museum to showcase a world-class auto collection, and partnering with the Smithsonian, also featured art, science, and history. “I like to stress leadership qualities; societies cannot survive without it. The American Indian Chiefs were great leaders too, their people revered them,” Ken Behring made his point by referring to the words of Crazy Horse, Sioux Chief; “A very great vision is needed, he who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky.” TTP0279 (2)

The Behring Family believes in philanthropic leadership and with close affiliation to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, succeeded in bringing President Abraham Lincoln’s iconic top hat to the Museum. Behring’s leadership radiates across our nation; the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History is named to honor the philanthropy of the Kenneth E. Behring family.

In 1975 when Behring bought approximately 5000 acres of prime Danville land to develop Blackhawk, he donated a large parcel to Regional Open Space and Mount Diablo State Park with the objective of preserving the rich history of the San Ramon Valley.

In keeping with his philanthropic works, Behring founded the Wheelchair Foundation and has nearly met his lofty goal of donating one million wheelchairs to people in need of mobility all over the world.

San Ramon Valley bustled in mid-19th century, the catalyst being the Gold Rush when Easterners flocked here by the thousands. When news radiated that rich gold deposits were in the California hills; first came the wagon trains, and then came the trains. Intrepid families came in search of riches and a new life, and thus begun the evolution of the American West.

Trekkers from Eastern cities or ghost towns like Deadwood, Dakota settled in California; bankers and bakers, frontiersmen, buckaroos, vaqueros, gunslingers, gunfighters, trappers and cowboys. When wagon trains encountered the Indians along the way, cultures clashed and the harmony of the plains was disrupted forever. We will learn how the cultures clashed, the ways of the Wild West, and how it really was way back then.

Ken Behring and family have brought “The Spirit of the Old West” to the Blackhawk Museum to share with historians, teachers, children, and those who yearn to take a long glance back into Wild, Wild West history.
We may not hear all the thrilling stories of the pioneers, gold seekers, gunslingers, or American Indians, nor encounter the ghosts of Billy the Kid, General Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, or Kit Carson, but we may learn about such American Indians who compare to Chiefs Joseph, Cochise, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Geronimo or Black Hawk.

America’s “Spirit of the Old West” will come alive with the historic exhibition of antique artifacts and memorabilia at the Blackhawk Museum featuring American Plains Indians, settlers, cowboys, and gold seekers who became linked to the land and built the Wild, Wild West thus earning a major role in California’s mystery, myth, and history.

Info: Blackhawk Museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Centre, Danville California. 94506 925.736.2280. email:

The Prospective College Road Show

Oh, to be a high school junior living along the I-680 corridor. A typical East Bay high school junior is between 16 and 17 years old, has probably just come into possession of a car and is undoubtedly thinking about their college options. Life is good and they have the world in front of them. I acknowledge that their class load, friends, work, extra-curricular activities and issues with parents (forgive us for loving you so much) can be a bit challenging, but if they play their cards right, in two short years they’ll be heading off to the college of their choice. College selection ranks as one of the most important decisions a young person is asked to make. A college degree positively impacts a person’s self-esteem, employability and earning potential. Not to mention, it serves to eventually sever the financial umbilical cord from parents.483345071

My family and I are planning a visit to the University of Arizona and Arizona State. Kacy H., MVHS Class of 2016

A great many families will be incorporating college campus tours in their upcoming vacations. Our family, who will be heading to Texas for Thanksgiving, has already scheduled school visits at Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University and Baylor University. Call us odd (everyone else does), but ever since we visited Harvard University while in Boston about ten years ago, our family has tried to incorporate a campus tour whenever and wherever we’ve been on vacation. So far we’ve seen Georgetown in Washington D.C., University of South Florida near Tampa, Boise State in Idaho, Columbia and NYU in New York City, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In past trips to Texas, we’ve been through Texas A&M, Rice, and University of Texas in Austin.

Then there were tours of Fresno State, Cal State Northridge, UCLA, Pepperdine, San Diego State, UCSD, and University of San Diego, during numerous adventures in Southern California. We’ve even done day trips to CAL, Stanford, and UC Davis locally. Sadly, we missed Oxford when in England last year, but knowing they don’t have much of a football program, it probably wouldn’t have made our short list.

Needless to say, we’re well stocked when it comes to hoodies, t-shirts and flannel lounge wear with college logos.

I’m going to tour Ohio State. Conner B., MVHS Class of 2016

When planning to visit a college or university it’s best to book a tour in advance. The traditional campus walking tour usually takes about 90 minutes and begins in the university administration building or student union. In most cases, a student volunteer will lead the tour and answer questions. It’s a chance for high school students to view the school’s various academic and athletic facilities, observe classes and experience campus life from the safe confines of an organized group. It’s a lot like a safari jeep ride through a wild animal park.

Somehow, every tour ends at the Student bookstore. Truthfully, the best part of a prospective college campus tour may be the quality time parents get to spend with their children. As self-assured as your high school junior may seem at home, most are a little overwhelmed when walking a college campus for the first time.

I want to visit my dad’s alma mater, Stanford, as well as the Ivy League schools (Princeton, Yale and Harvard). Conner S., SRVHS Class of 2016

Interesting enough, a lot of kids will have a tough time getting into their first choice of colleges. From what we’ve seen, the UC system requires an 8.0 GPA and a perfect 2400 SAT score (plus ace the extra credit questions) to be worthy of consideration. At the same time, there are some highly desirable out-of-state schools where acceptance is just as tough. My guess is, colleges in Minnesota might be the exception, where 7 of the top 10 coldest weather college campuses are located. The University of Minnesota—Morehead (Ranked #1 coldest campus)—might consider eliminating academic requirements for California kids all together, as an incentive to increase applications. Unless I’m mistaken, their brochure tag line reads, “Just pack warm clothes.”178732888

I’m looking forward to touring Pepperdine, Cal Poly SLO, USC, and Chapman. Jasmine D., MVHS Class of 2016

My friends and I agree that most of us would have trouble finding a college that would accept us (outside of the Minnesota schools) given our mediocre high school grades. I’m happy to report that kids today take their high school studies so much more seriously, due in large part to the competitive nature of college admissions. If memory serves me, the toughest class I had my junior year was an English class where we read such tame literary masterpieces as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Scarlett Letter. Unless I’m mistaken my daughter’s class is currently reading War and Peace, The Bible (for literary purposes) and the collective works of William Shakespeare. Math and sciences were my scholastic kryptonite. I may have stumbled through Algebra I and Geometry, but I truly had to grovel for a passing grade in Biology. My little girl is already trudging through chemistry and Algebra II. I knew my collegiate future was going to be at the local community college (Foothill JC) followed by a state school (CSU Northridge), so in my mind there was no point in pushing myself. Given the choice between trigonometry and photography, taking pictures won every time. Sadly, film developing is a lost art. It’s not uncommon for today’s high school junior to be a student athlete, enrolled in several AP classes, a member of a school club, and involved in at least one community service project.

I can’t wait to visit Scripps Institute at UC San Diego. Ally A., SRVHS Class of 2016.

My wife and I encourage our high school junior daughter to think big and we want her to attend the college of their choice (within reason), but that means buckling down with their studies. Allow me to say, I am crazy proud of how hard both my girls work to bring home good grades. To say I’m a little envious about their future is an understatement. To be a high school junior with a world of opportunities in front of you would be surreal. I try and explain to my daughter that it’s different in other parts of the bay area, state and country, where economics play a significant part in your advanced education opportunities, but for most along the I-680 corridor, attending college is a forgone conclusion.

I never even visited Fresno State before committing to go to school there. It was close enough to home for my parents not to object and it had the major I wanted. Julie C., Marina High School Class of 1979.

Flick Nation Review: Boyhood

As we leave behind a mostly forgettable (raccoons excluded) Summer and transition into (cue trumpets) prestige season, a number of awards contenders will attempt to salvage in quality what the 2014 box office has thus far lacked in quantity. If festival buzz and early reviews are to be trusted, The Imitation Game, Gone Girl, Foxcatcher and Birdman will be among the acclaimed films we’ll see going for the gold between now and year’s end. And I look forward to each and every one.

But we have already seen the most profound and important film of the year: Richard Linklater’s, Boyhood. By now the story of the film is well known. Shot over a nearly twelve-year period, Boyhood traces the fictional life of a boy through the ages of 6 to 18. For the first time, over the course of a singular fictional film, we see the actors aging naturally along with their characters. Since its debut earlier this year at Sundance, Boyhood has amassed one of the most ecstatic and unanimously positive critical responses of the 21st century. It’s been hailed the movie of the year, the decade, and the new millennium.

When Linklater came to town in July to do promotion, we had the opportunity to have him as a guest on Flick Nation Radio; the next evening, he and I did a series of Q & As following the SF premieres of the film. It was certainly an honor to support him and the film and share in the excitement, and as always he was a very forthcoming and thoughtful interview. Like his films, Linklater is a man without pretension, and our discussions of Boyhood, and his career, illuminate one of our very best directors at the pinnacle (so far) of his career.MAT_4110 (2)

Typically, he was modest regarding the high praise for Boyhood, even stating that he thought it would be a hard sell, “Because I thought you couldn’t describe the movie properly, but it was right there in front of me. The concept of the movie is a description of the movie. You can’t separate the content from the structure.”

He even downplayed the immense challenge of creating a film over such a long time span. “I felt the film gods were with us. All these magical things that happened along the way occurred to allow this film to exist. You can go through life thinking ‘what if what if what if’…but the odds were that we’d all be here twelve years later, and we are.”

I expressed my surprise that Boyhood offers none of the expected beats, the big moments one would expect in this kind of film—we’re aware that they’ve happened but we’re not seeing them. Was it a conscious choice to keep those big events off screen?

“Or are they that big a deal?” he explained. “The big beats, the first kiss? I had every year to weed through the obvious ideas, the bad ideas, things that didn’t really fit this movie. I was getting rid of things I felt were represented in other films, that have been done to death. I thought, ‘I have nothing so say about that, but I do have something to say about these other areas.’”

Most directors know every shot, dramatic beat, and line of dialogue before they start shooting – at least they should. But the sheer unpredictability of such a prolonged on-again, off-again production would certainly reveal potentially calamitous problems lurking up around the bend – was that something he grappled with?

No. In fact, for him that was the cool part. “Think of all the special things that were going to happen if you look at time and the unknown as your collaborator, in a positive way. How interesting it will be to see these kids grow up, to collaborate with their future selves. You had to make your relation with time in a certain way in that it was something positive and something exciting to look forward to.”

Linklater has always been a very confident filmmaker; with Boyhood he has achieved a cinematic transcendence, vividly manipulating time and inducing memory through sheer suggestion, evocative symbolism, and narrative intuition. This is the realm of deep jazz, high art, and creative genius. Consider Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper, two pop music masterpieces also concerned with the passage of time—both projects began as ruminations on childhood. And let’s not forget that Pulp Fiction, perhaps the most influential film of the last twenty years, was also a meta-statement on freeing cinematic narrative and the potential of film to alter time.

And there is an even more apt analogy: I believe Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is the cinematic equivalent of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, (the seven-volume literary masterwork also known as Remembrance of Things Past). A critique published by Harper in 1949 summarizes this seminal work, which, along with James’ Joyce’s Ulysses, became the definitive statement of Psychological Realism in 20th century literature: “Unfolding without plot or crisis…Remembrance is great art distilled from memory itself; the structure determined entirely by moods and sensations evoked by the illusion of time passing, or seeming to pass, recurring, or seeming to recur.”

This could have been extracted from nearly any review of Boyhood. Now, I am not suggesting that Linklater’s refreshingly realistic dialog is stylistically akin to Proust’s filigreed prose, simply that they both evolved the potential of their art by communicating this mystery, this ineffable aspect of our lives, our relationship to lost time. Linklater’s description of what he really wanted to explore with Boyhood? Proustian, indeed. “How the memory attaches to certain things and forgets others—it’s a mystery. The one relationship we have our entire lives is ourselves to our previous selves. We’re stuck with that. That makes up who we are, and how we process the world, and the narrative of our own lives. I think in this movie I was trying to replicate what it feels like to go through life, through time.”

Linklater’s commitment to collaborating with his own future self, and succeeding, is a model of creative filmmaking, heralding a new approach to narrative structure and redefining the concept of Life as Art through Cinema. What Linklater accomplished with Boyhood is in league with the great triumphs of the art world: creating a piece that is at once a bold leap forward conceptually and also the apotheosis of his previous films, bringing into focus and deepening an entire body of work.

If you take his Hollywood movies (School of Rock, Fast Food Nation, Bad News Bears) out of the mix and focus on his personal films, it is apparent that Linklater has been exploring the territory of time and memory throughout his career, from an impressive variety of angles and perspective: Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, The Before Sunrise series, now all coalesce into a sustained study of our relationship to these mysteries. Boyhood both synthesizes and elevates his prior efforts, and solidifies his cinematic canon; one I suspect will remain as sturdy in that genre as In Search of Lost Time has proven in literature.

So, as we race towards awards season, other films will feel more powerful. They will tell more dramatic stories. They will have the big beats. The big actors. The big scores. They will be in your face, telling stories of love and war and death and outer space and criminal enterprise. They will entertain the hell out of you. But none will rattle your memory cage quite like Boyhood, and none will strike such a delicate, poetic balance between life and art while boldly going where no filmmaker has gone before. Boyhood is not about irony, surprise, or retribution. It is about truth. It simply rings true. The truth is the entertainment.

Linklater humbly concurred, “I think it couldn’t help but resonate with everybody’s life, because there is such a commonality. Yeah, it’s set in Texas, but it could be anywhere.”


Steve Wagner is a writer and co-host for Flick Nation Radio ( He was co-host and executive producer of the San Francisco (KGO/ABC Ch. 7) television program Filmtrip, and was the featured film critic on KFRC Classic Rock FM 99.7 and KKSF Talk AM 910 in San Francisco. Steve has contributed articles on film, music, and popular culture to numerous magazines and has interviewed over 300 actors, directors, screenwriters, and musicians. Steve is a regular contributor on The Talk Pod