Meet Stan Ellsworth, your favorite new history teacher-biker-turned-TV host
History teachers come in all shapes and sizes. Stan Ellsworth's form just happens to be bigger, scruffier and more charismatic than most. The brawny intellectual is just one of many reasons to check out American Ride, a television series that highlights the best stories you may have missed in high school history classes and starts a new season tonight.
Ellsworth is a former college football coach whose handful of film stints led him to create a TV show focused on two things he loves: motorcycles and talking about America's past. Westword caught up with Ellsworth last week, when he was in Denver filming a segment for the fourth season on the cattle drives that helped make the West what it is today.
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Westword: How did you catch the history bug?
Stan Ellsworth: Originally I'm from Charleston, South Carolina, but I grew up mostly around Manassas, Virginia.
No wonder you're doing what you do now, considering all the Civil War reminders you grew up around.
When I was a little kid, I used to ride my bike up to the battlefield, and I'd look at the statue of General Jackson. And I'd say, "I'm gonna be like that man." So I started reading everything I could on him, General Lee and General Stuart.
So why are you filming here in Denver?
We came to the stockyards, one, to discuss the Goodnight-Loving Trail. And two, the Western "experience." Denver plays a large part in the cattle boom of the 1860s. After the Civil War, that's the first big money thing that hits the American economy. So you have the Chisholm Trail, which lots of people traveled. You have Goodnight-Loving, which opened up the West; it went from Fort Belknap, Texas, across the Pecos River and hitting the Rio Grande, up through Fort Sumner and up to Denver. There were a lot of people bringing beef up this way. In one of our episodes, we talk about how beef, after the Civil War, was really driving the American economy until the crash of '73. We were in Denver discussing the importance of the city to that movement.
There's been a lot of American history television shows over the years. How's this one any different?
As far as history goes, and I don't know if you watch many history shows --
I don't own a TV....
Yeah, I just watch football on it. My wife has to DVR my show. A lot of history shows are presented by a scholarly gentleman who is wearing a sweater vest and bow tie. We don't have sweater vests and bow ties. We have denim jackets and leather. It's a little out of the ordinary. There's a lot more energy in our show. And it's authentic, I believe. I'm not going to evaluate myself that way. The people who have watched the show, their perception and take is that our show presents history with a great deal of passion. Very definitely with a patriotic point of view. It's exciting stuff, and it's important that the rising generation understands what their history is. By and large we're forgetting who we are, and that's a tragedy.