September 07, 2012

Touch of Nature hosts ‘buffalo tro’ in October

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The annual "buffalo tro," an ancient American plains Indian ceremony, returns to Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Touch of Nature Environmental Center Oct. 5.

The event features dinner, drinks, an evening reception, and live and silent auctions. The University's buffalo tro, a popular event steeped in tradition, dates back to Lloyd B. Sharp, who brought it to the University, with the support of Delyte Morris, then president of the University, and William Freeberg, an SIU Carbondale recreation visionary. Sharp passed along his tro knowledge to Doc Abernathy who in turn shared it with his son, Scott Abernathy who will perform the buffalo tro at Touch of Nature, which is located about eight miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road.

The event, set for 6 to 9 p.m. at the center's Freeberg Hall and Sledgefoot Lounge, serves as an important fundraiser for the center.

The event kicks off with a 6 p.m. reception featuring wines and beers from Alto Vineyards, Big Muddy Brewing and Venegoni Distributing. Dinner begins at 7 p.m. and includes beef steaks prepared in a similar fashion to the way the Plains tribes cooked buffalo -- although in this case hardwood oak, hickory and maple chips will take the place of the buffalo chips. After the wood burns for a few hours, cooks will pile it 6-8 inches high and cover the steaks in ceremonial fashion. The intense heat sears the meat, sealing the juices inside for a real taste treat.

Those attending the tro will enjoy the steaks, "klinked" to remove the coals, and served with salad, baked potato, hot bread and dessert. A vegetarian option with stuffed portabella mushrooms is also available.

Tickets are $75 per person and cover dinner and two alcoholic beverages. Those purchasing tickets will receive a gift receipt for $25 indicating the contribution above the value of the meal.

The deadline to purchase tickets is Sept. 25. Those who wish to attend can download the RSVP card and find additional information, including auction items, online at To purchase tickets, send in the RSVP with payment, or contact Julie Eisenhauer at 618/453-5682 or by email at Seating is limited; the dinner and auction was a sellout last year, so organizers suggest people make their reservations as soon as possible.

Proceeds of the 2011 event paid for new air conditioners for Camp Little Giant cabins and for three new challenge components at the camp: a zip line, pamper pole and elevator. Funds raised this year will go toward enhancing the camp, too.

Donations are also welcome in support of Touch of Nature, which opened in 1951 on a 150-acre plot along Little Grassy Lake. The facility now encompasses 3,100 acres bordered by Giant City State Park, the Shawnee National Forest and the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. It is home to Camp Little Giant, the nation's first university-affiliated residential camping program for people with disabilities, as well as a host of other programs, activities and services including Therapeutic Recreation, Environmental Education, Underway Adventures, Spectrum Wilderness and more.