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Barbara Salvatore Klopping

Barbara Salvatore Klopping (right) celebrates counting to 10 in the Omaha language with classmate Connie Toney in Oldfather Hall on Friday, October 7, 2011. (ROBERT BECKER/Lincoln Journal Star)

In June, Barbara Salvatore Klopping asked her husband if she could load up the New York couple's two daughters and two horses and move more than 1,100 miles west to live and study.

OK, he said.

Six weeks later, she hopped a 5:30 a.m. flight from Scranton, Pa., to Omaha, rented a car and arrived in Lincoln in time for the first day of Omaha Language I at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"There was a lot of shifting and shuffling that had to be done so that I could be here," said Salvatore Klopping, a writer and business owner from Walton, N.Y. "I owe a great deal to my husband, who's been very supportive."

So what drives a woman to move her children and horses hundreds of miles from home to learn an endangered language?

Salvatore Klopping always wanted to write books, but she could never find the time as co-owner of a theatre set design company. Then, in August 2003, while she was riding a horse on her 100-acre farm in the Catskill Mountains, she fell and was run over by a manure spreader, breaking her hip.

She and her husband, Bill Klopping, had bought the ranch hoping to start a botanical sanctuary and herb farm, but her injury prevented her from helping plant seeds.

"I realized at that point, I'm going to plant my seeds with my words and my pictures," she said.

For eight years, she had been writing a fictional book about a Ponca woman who rescues a colt from a flash flood. The colt grows up to be the largest horse the Ponca tribe had ever seen.

The idea for the book came from a dream Salvatore Klopping had about a woman riding a big black horse and carrying seed pouches. In the dream, the woman took the seeds and planted rings of plants around her earth lodge.

Unable to walk for six months after her pelvis injury, Salvatore Klopping finally completed "Big Horse Woman." Since then, she has written three other as-yet unpublished books, all part of the same series.

The books revolve around two main characters, Big Horse Woman, who is a plant medicine healer for the Ponca, and Magghie, an immigrant who has learned about herbs from her mother. The two women eventually meet and, unable to speak to each other, converse through their shared knowledge of herbs.

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"All of this is what's led me to here," Salvatore Klopping said.

She came to Lincoln to learn the Omaha language, which is very similar to the Ponca language, so that her use of the Ponca language in her books is accurate, she said.

Judi Morgan gaiashkibos, a Ponca tribal member and director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, said Salvatore Klopping's commitment to learn the Omaha and Ponca languages is inspirational.

Her UNL professor, Mark Awakuni-Swetland, said he has never had a student travel as far as Salvatore Klopping did. He said he expects his students to participate in community events hosted by Native people in Lincoln.

"We're not teaching Sanskrit or some dead language," he said. "We're talking about a language that's still part of a community. They need to understand what are the cultural values."

​Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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