Charles F. Horner came to Nebraska from Wisconsin in 1886 at the age of eight. He graduated from high school in Lexington in 1894 and later bought and sold land and cattle in Lexington. A subsequent move to Lincoln proved to be the opportunity not to enter law school (as Horner had planned) but to work in the field of Chautauqua, where he became well known.
The Chautauqua movement began in 1874 at Lake Chautauqua in western New York as an interdenominational program for Sunday School teachers. Similar groups, at first independent of each other, soon sprang up elsewhere. Horner reported in his autobiographical book Strike the Tents (in the Library/Archives of the Nebraska State Historical Society):
"The Chautauqua movement, in its enlarged form, began with the establishment of the circuit Chautauquas. A circuit comprised, say, sixty to a hundred towns. The program in each town began one day later than its predecessor from first to last. The first two of the approximately 100 circuits began operation in 1907. Mr. Keith Vawter (originally of Redpath Lyceum Bureau of Cedar Rapids, Iowa] was the manager of one, and I was the manager of the other."
Horner had been involved in Lexington with local, independent Chautauqua activities. He later became skilled in the organization and management of traveling circuits as he built his incorporated Redpath-Horner Chautauquas, with all its affiliated and subsidiary groups.
Although World War I gave Chautauqua-style entertainment and educational programs a temporary boost, Horner realized during the early postwar years that changing social and economic conditions were eroding public interest in it. By 1926 he had begun to dispose of his financial holdings in Chautauqua, and in 1928 completely left the business. Most traveling circuit Chautauquas had ceased to operate by the early 1930s.