Five-mile house president considers himself a ‘Bio-Historian’

Liz Dowell, Copy Editor

Tom Vance, President of the Five Mile House Foundation and the former Ranger Keeper of the Lincoln Log Cabin, performs and writes colonial folk music after hours at the Five Mile House. Vance also performs during the Living History Re-enactments.
Liz Dowell
Tom Vance, President of the Five Mile House Foundation and the former Ranger Keeper of the Lincoln Log Cabin, performs and writes colonial folk music after hours at the Five Mile House. Vance also performs during the Living History Re-enactments.

As a child, sports never interested him. Instead, Tom Vance rather go exploring and better understand nature. That’s why he became an Eagle Scout. Vance got his degrees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He ran a deer check station one time in Greenville Illinois, while Vance was an undergraduate and he also worked as a ranger at Kickapoo state park. Vance did living history and worked at Lincoln Log cabin, but he is now retired and is on the Five Mile House Foundation as the president.

Vance, who considerers himself a “Bio-historian,” has done many things in relation to history though he is retired, he still has an active life.

While as an undergraduate, Vance worked at the deer check station he would try to talk the hunters out of their deer hides.

“They would have them skinned anyways (even if) they didn’t want the hides,” Vance said. “So I had this big collection of deer hides. Dried deer hides.”

Vance wasn’t sure why he had these deer hides, but he did taxidermy in high school and for a short time in college.

Vance worked at Kickapoo state park for three years before he took the job a Lincoln Cabin and finished his history degree at Eastern.

“When I was working at Kickapoo state park, even before I started there, my Indian group sponsored a Powwow, on Memorial Day,” Vance said. “We called down to Oklahoma, Whitecloud, Oklahoma, we got set up with a group of Kickapoos that came up every year for four years and participate in the Powwow and was kind of the stars of the show.”

Vance decided to give them all the deer hides he had been collecting. So the next year they came back up for the annual Powwow and the Kickapoo group had a surprise for Vance.

“The next year they came up they brought me a nice pair of Kickapoo moccasins made from the dear hide and the Kickapoo has a very unique style of moccasins and bead work,” Vance said. “(They also) brought me two brain tan hides and I made leggings out of those, I made a historic traditional Kickapoo outfit.”

What got Vance hooked on history was his childhood influences; he had always been interested in nature and it’s environment.

After Vance took classes at Danville Community College, he had some interest in studying historical court documents.

“My main interest growing up was nature and it’s environment. My degrees at UOFI were wild life biology and I did a masters in entomology,” Vance said. “But I also had an interest in Native American culture.”

Vance was not the sporty type and he chose brains over brawns.

“I grew up in Danville and scouting was my main focus rather than sports, I was an eagle scout and kind of took leadership in the scout group. I was a senior scout and eventually we broke off from the troop and formed a [group for] explorer pros,” Vance said. “Which is high school age. And I think Scouting was probably the very influence in my life.”

Because of his background, Vance decided to go work at Kickapoo state park, until his job got cut.

“When I was in Kickapoo state park, Dan Walker became governor and you know new governors always have to cut budges and cut state workers and my job got cut,” Vance said. “I was able to stay for another year, it was a ranger position, but I wasn’t doing interpretations anymore.”

After he took the job at Lincoln log cabin he went back to Eastern and took courses.

“I worked up by Danville for three years, (at Kickapoo state park) then took a position at Lincoln Log cabin and I was there for 28 years and then I took early retirement. I’ve been doing museum consulting since then,” Vance said.

While Vance was at Lincoln Log Cabin his job focused around living history.

Vance said that he worked on rebuilding the foundation around Abraham Lincoln parent’s farm such as building new buildings and recreating the crops and livestock of that time.

Now that Vance is retired he is on the Five Mile House Foundation and sings on his time off.

Mary Challman, a graduate student major in Historical Administration, said he is very caring and just does things for people because that is just his personality.

“Tom is probably like the one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my entire life, he is extremely caring,” Challman said. “Everything he says is very meaningful. We have a great conversations about a variety of things, he is extremely intelligent.”

Challman has known Vance for a while. They have worked together at the Lincoln Log cabin and other historical organizations.

“I know Tom through an organization called ALHFAM, the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums, I work at the Lincoln Log Cabin state historic sight I’ve worked in living history museums for several years and Tom is the former director of Lincoln Log Cabin,” Challman said. “So he and I met through that.”

Liz Dowell can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]