September 29, 2012 – Council Grove, Herrington, Lost Springs, Pilsen and Marion, Kansas
Today, I decided to do some sightseeing in the area around where I lived for 11 years.
On the way to Council Grove, I passed through Americus where I saw several black squirrels. While Marysville claims to be the home of black squirrels, it seems that Americus might be able to make a counterclaim to this title.
The drive through the Flint Hills was beautiful as usual. Each drive through this area is like being there for the 1st time. The scene changes with the seasons as well as whether it is a clear, cloudy, overcast day or even the time of day and is always fascinating.
The 1st stop was in Council Grove. The name of the town derives from a treaty signed in 1825 with the Osage Nation in a grove of oak trees. The treaty allowed overland wagon traffic to pass through Osage lands on the Santa Fe Trail. For a time Council Grove was the last outpost on the Trail where travelers could obtain supplies on their way to Santa Fe. The Trail was used until 1866 when the railroad reached Junction City.
On the outskirts of the town is the Old Stone Barn which was built in 1871 by Seth Hays who was the 1st permanent white settler in the area for use to house livestock. From 1899 to 1945, the farm functioned as the County Poor Farm. I didn’t realize that Poor Farms existed that long into the 20th century.
The Council Oak under which the above mentioned treaty was signed died in 1958. It was 70’ high and 16’ in diameter. They have preserved the trunk by covering it with a roof. It is located in a small park which also has the City Calaboose. It was reconstructed in 1998. For a long while, it was the only jail along the Santa Fe Trail and housed a variety of desperados, border ruffians, robbers and other disreputable folks including moonshiners.
Nearby is the Post Office Oak. From 1825-1847, a cache at the base of the tree served as a post office for the folks who traveled the Trail. They left messages for those on outgoing or incoming wagon trains. This tree was 270 years old in 1990 when it died.
The Kaw Mission was established to education Kaw Indian boys. It operated from 1851 to 1854. It is located near the Neosho River. The Neosho had a safe crossing site at Council Grove. It had a rock bottom, shallow depth and gentle banks down to the river which meant that heavily laden wagons which could weigh anywhere from 2-3 tons could cross without sinking into the bottom. Also livestock were not spooked by the shallow waters.
The Neosho Riverwalk is a beautiful walk along the banks of the Neosho River. It was built by volunteers and was completed in 1998. At the entrance of the walk is a statue entitled Guardian of the Grove. It is a bronze sculpture that honors the Kaw tribe.
Across the street from this statue is another one entitled Madonna of the Trail. This sculpture is a memorial to pioneer mothers of the covered wagon days. There are 12 of these statues located across the US.
One of the more interesting buildings is the Farmers and Drovers Bank Building. It was built in 1902 and still serves as a bank today. In addition to this building the Last Chance Store which was built in 1857 by Tom Hill still exists today. It is not used for anything, but it is well preserved and interesting to see. Once you passed this store, there would not be a place to purchase supplies until you arrived in Santa Fe.
The next stop was Herrington where there is a really nice mural celebrating the railroad heritage of the town. There is also a Coca Cola mural by the same man on another building in town. To me, one interesting thing was a hardware store which proclaimed itself “At the Center of the Earth”. It was out of business.
Father Padilla Park has a swing which is interesting. The swing is suspended between 2 trees and it looks like a branch from each tree has grown around the bar which supports the swing and suspends it between them. You’ll just have to look at the picture to see what I mean.
Father Padilla was a martyr killed in Kansas in 1542. The city park is named for him and there is a monument to him located in the park. He traveled with Coronado in his search for gold. He established a mission near here and was killed by Native Americans and is considered the 1st Christian martyr in the US.
The drive to Lost Springs was again through the Flint Hills. It was a lovely autumn day, and much of the drive was over gravel roads so there was time to enjoy the scenery. Lost Spring was an overnight camping spot where the wagon trains could obtain water. Since water was a scarce commodity, any place where you could reliablely could get water became an important stop as you headed out across the prairie. The Lost Spring Station was established in 1859 by George Smith who soon lost it in a poker game to George Costello. It was located on the mail route and as such was a place where drivers obtained supplies and fresh horses. It also served as a post office for settlers in the area during the 1860’s.
From there I continued over gravel roads to Pilsen to visit the St. John Nepomucene Church. It was the site of the 1st mass of Father Emil J. Kapaun who has been nominated for sainthood. There is a statue of Father Kapaun on the church grounds and a memorial to him in the cemetery. He served as a chaplain in the India and Burma Theater during WWII from 1944 to 1946. He re-enlisted in 1948 and was sent to Korea in 1950. The regiment he was serving with was surrounded by Chinese and while the regiment attempted to flee, he volunteered to stay behind with the wounded. He was captured by the Chinese in 1950, and while in captivity his unselfish courage and his ministry endeared him to his fellow prisoners of war.
Father Kapaun displayed courage in the battlefield by ministering to his men regardless of the circumstances. He went to the men in their time of need, often when his own life was threatened. In the prison camp he cared for the spiritual and physical needs of his fellow captives, often disobeying direct orders from their captives as he provided food, prayers and whatever creature comforts he could for his fellow prisoners. Kapaun is remembered by his fellow prisoners as a man of great humility, bravery and constancy. He was their hero, their admired and beloved "Padre." He was a man of hope, and instilled that hope in others.
Fr. Kapaun, weakened as months passed, managed to lead Easter sunrise service on Sunday, March 25, 1951. With frozen feet and suffering from malnutrition and dysentery he developed blood clots in his legs. Seizing the opportunity to be rid of Father Kapaun, his captors took him to the camp hospital, the "death house" to his fellow prisoners. Father Kapaun died on May 23, 1951 and was buried in a mass grave. There was been a book written about him called A Shepherd in Combat Boots.
From here I was back on paved roads. In the town of Lincolnville, I saw 2 castles which had been built in yards. I don’t know why they are there. One of them is in a yard which could use some TLC not to mention the house.
Marion was the last stop of the day. Marion is named for the Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion. It is nicknamed Stone City because many of the buildings are built from limestone. The main attraction, though, is dozens of rhinoceroses which have been decorated and are located around town. Apparently the town’s Chingawassa Days celebration uses a rhino as its mascot.
The last thing to see was a Pepsi bottle carved from a tree trunk. When the tree died, the owner decided to have a friend shape the 6’ tall trunk into the shape of a Pepsi bottle. He then painted it to look like one. I met him while I was taking a picture and had a chance to hear the story of how it came to be. He and his wife have bought a lot in Mission, Texas and will be spending the winter there. He seemed to want to talk a lot. Fortunately, I had to be back in Emporia to have dinner with Sue so I was able to get away from him. Otherwise, I might still have been there.
I got back in plenty of time to make it to Sue’s for supper. She had prepared a great dinner. John Sheridan and his mother-in-law Audrey were the invited guests, and I was the add-on. John’s wife, Joan, was visiting friends in Omaha so I didn’t get to visit with her. After dinner, we played a version of Uno which I’ve promptly forgotten the name of. I’m not much of a card player, but this was fun – especially since we didn’t keep score. It was all just for fun.