‘Pioneer Woman’ builds me­dia em­pire on the plains

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY KEN MILLER

PAWHUSKA, OKLA. | Grow­ing up in an Ok­la­homa town she con­sid­ered too tiny, Ree Drum­mond sought the bright lights of a city and headed west for Los An­ge­les.

She never dreamed the jour­ney would send her back to the plains of north­east Ok­la­homa, to a place with even fewer lights where she’s be­come known and built a brand as “The Pioneer Woman.”

Vis­i­tors from all 50 states, Canada, South Amer­ica and Eng­land have come to The Pioneer Woman Mer­can­tile, a store-bakery-restau­rant she and her hus­band opened af­ter start­ing a pop­u­lar blog, then writ­ing New York Times best-sell­ing cook­books and chil­dren’s books, host­ing a Food Net­work cook­ing show and, her most re­cent ven­ture, The Pioneer Woman Mag­a­zine.

The mag­a­zine is the first of two planned edi­tions re­leased this month and avail­able at The Mer­can­tile and at Wal­mart, where she also has a sig­na­ture line of cook­ing, kitchen and din­ner­ware. Her digital and print cat­a­logs are all full of her quips about moth­er­hood and quick-and-easy meals mixed with musings on her late basset hound and com­par­ing her cur­rent life in cow­girl boots to one where she used to wear pumps.

Re­cent blog en­tries cov­ered ev­ery­thing from tak­ing her home­schooled chil­dren to see the mu­si­cal “Hamil­ton” on Broad­way to fi­nally fin­ish­ing the TV show “Break­ing Bad” and a forth­com­ing cook­book. Sony Pic­tures holds an op­tion for a pos­si­ble movie on her book “Black Heels to Trac­tor Wheels,” in which she re­counts how she met her hus­band, who isn’t a smoker but whom she of­ten calls “Marl­boro Man.”

“I think peo­ple are drawn to ‘The Pioneer Woman,’ not be­cause I am some fas­ci­nat­ing per­son, but be­cause I present things that a lot of peo­ple can re­late to,” a self-ef­fac­ing Mrs. Drum­mond said in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press at the store, a re­tail and restau­rant lo­ca­tion she and her hus­band opened in Oc­to­ber. “I’m not a chef, and I’m not an ex­pert at any­thing. I’m just a mom and a wife.”

Mrs. Drum­mond grew up the daugh­ter of a sur­geon in Bartlesville, a town of about 36,000 peo­ple about 20 miles east of Pawhuska. As she puts it, she grew up on the sev­enth fair­way of a golf course, a far cry from the work­ing cat­tle ranch she now calls home. She left for school at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and, a few years af­ter grad­u­at­ing, planned to move closer to home, to Chicago.

Her plans took a de­tour when she stopped for a visit in Bartlesville, where she joined some friends at a bar and met “a cow­boy wear­ing Wran­glers.” She went on to marry him in 1996, and never made it to the Windy City.

The cow­boy, Ladd Drum­mond, is part of a prom­i­nent fam­ily that op­er­ates a more than 400,000-acre cat­tle ranch in Osage County, about seven miles west of Pawhuska, pop­u­la­tion about 3,900.

“It was, kind of just, love that got me out here, and then af­ter we got mar­ried I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what have I done?’ You know, ‘Where am I, and this is real? I live in the coun­try,’” Mrs. Drum­mond said. “If I had sat down and tried to plan an em­pire, there’s no way, no way any of this would have hap­pened.”

It’s pay­ing off for her and, town lead­ers hope, for Pawhuska.

About 150 miles north­east of Ok­la­homa City, Pawhuska has one stop­light that blinks red in four di­rec­tions. Most of the last 40 miles of a two-lane state high­way headed into town from the west are dot­ted with ranches, oc­ca­sional cell­phone tow­ers, more than 100 wind­mills, and no signs with di­rec­tions to the town, much less Mrs. Drum­mond’s store, which she and lo­cals call “The Merc.”

Pawhuska City Man­ager Mike McCart­ney said he hopes to see an in­crease in the town’s “less than 50” mo­tel rooms with plans to ren­o­vate a five-story build­ing across the street from The Mer­can­tile into a hotel. Many vis­i­tors stay in nearby Bartlesville or Ponca City, he said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ree Drum­mond grew up in a town she con­sid­ered “too small,” so she sought the bright lights of Los An­ge­les, but wound up in an even smaller town.

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