Archive for September, 2008

Wednesday, September 17 – On the Cimarron River

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

We move the vehicles, then hiked more, completing a 24-mile day at 4 PM. ‘Twas hot, sunny and dry – but that’s not the best part of our day.

For this evening, Jeff Trotman, our local Santa Fe Trail buff, reenactor and all-round miracle worker, pulled together a local event which was attended by about 75 folks. We held it at the Wagon Bed Spring historic site just about sundown.

Jeff lets me go first and I spend about 45 minutes telling about the Battalion and how their story resonates with the stories of the people we’ve met here in the past few days. It’s that confidence/faith/trust idea that keeps maturing as I think about it more each day. Expressing my thoughts on this hasn’t been easy yet, but it’s improving.

Jeff then takes the “stage” and tells about Jedediah Smith, mountain man who was killed in the area in 1833. Weeks after Smith disappears on a scouting ride, his son’s wagon train is in Santa Fe and sees some traders with his father’s equipment. They relate that it was traded to them by some Indians who told of a fight between their chief and a white man. Both died from wounds but Jedediah’s grave has never been found, if indeed the Indians buried him which isn’t likely.

We met Ed Lewis whose grandfather paid for and used his horse drawn wagon in 1906 to bring three of the pink granite Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Santa Fe Trail markers from the railroad station at Ulysses to where they were placed. We’ve seen aplenty of these solid rock markers that indicate “the trail crossed here” but it hadn’t struck me that in 1906 there really weren’t many cars and few trucks that could haul these markers to their proper locations. Like the wagon trains that moved along the SFT, these markers had to make their final journey in a wagon similar to the ones they commemorate. It was a neat, goose-bump moment when that connection was made for me by Mr. Lewis.

Tuesday, September 16 – Lower Cimarron Springs, KS

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

We’re actually one day ahead of our hiking schedule – nearly 24 miles by day’s end! We’ve decided to push ahead so we can attend a Santa Fe Trail seminar. More about that later in the week.

Sunrise is moving later each day and we start hiking now about 8 AM. Crystal clear blue skies with not a single cloud. As we hike the road, the Santa Fe Trail crosses. Again, we can see a slight ridge they likely followed.

For the second day in a row, we have some difficulties following our maps, getting slightly off course here and there by a mile or two. It’s easy to claim we’re the scouts and guards, hiking off to the side of the main Battalion body so it’s legitimate to claim that we’re still on “the route.”

Actually, let me make a couple observations about “hiking the trail.”

First, except for a few RARE instances, it’s difficult to ever say where the Battalion ever was with ultimate precision. That doesn’t bother me and I hope it doesn’t bother you. For me, it’s sufficient to know (within a few thousand feet) the general location of their route, camps, stopping places and things they saw. If I hike close to that, I’m happy because, for the most part, one can get onto the “original” trails only with permission from the property owner.

For example; the Santa Fe Trail has the approved Auto Tour Route that lets one “follow” the Santa Fe Trail but sometimes is miles away from the original route. Does that constitute “following” the SFT? It depends upon your goals. For me, it wouldn’t suffice to meet my goals for this Trek but for someone on a 2-week summer vacation and who only wants to hit the key locations along the SF Trail, it probably is good enough.

Secondly, the Battalion was often spread out – front to back and side-to-side. There were sentries and guards all around the group, trailing parties, scouts, guides and hunters all of whom were off the “trail.”

So, if you think we’re following a painted line on the ground, it just isn’t so. Even among the Santa Fe Trail experts, there’s lots of (ahem) “polite” disagreement about exactly how the trail developed and exactly where it went in any given year. And, the Battalion trail will be even less well defined in some spots as we go further west.

Arriving at the Lower Cimarron Springs area, I take to the fields (with permission) and check out some wagon rut swales in the area.

Later (like in the 1850’s?) someone develops a more reliable water source by taking a wagon bed and sinking it in the sand to be a water trough. Think about Col Cooke’s experiment with the laundry bucket at Cooke’s Wells and you’ll get the picture. Keeping sand from collapsing into your water hole is not an easy task. A wagon bed is big and provided a watering trough for a number of animals or people. So, this location is now known as “Wagon Bed Spring” – singular, because there was only ONE wagon bed watering trough.

However, there were more springs in the area and the Cimarron river bed could be dug in to obtain water. Hence, in earlier times (before the wagon bed innovation) the area was known as the Lower Cimarron Springs (plural) by which name I will generally refer to it since that is the name by which the Battalion would have known it.

There were a number of water seeps and opportunities for finding grazing grass for your cattle within a couple miles of the “official” spring location. Kansas has a beautiful set of aerial photographs made in 1939 that clearly show many wagon routes into and out of the area. There isn’t ONE single spring/campsite at this area. Take your pick on which one the Battalion used. There just isn’t enough information to determine with precision which one they used.

This evening, we’re Jeff Trotman’s guests at the 46th Annual Grant County Home Products Dinner. Each year, the locals celebrate the diversity of their agricultural efforts by holding a community dinner at which all the meal portions are locally grown – from the salad, to the meat and potatoes to the ice cream and cobbler dessert. The Chamber of Commerce has done a great promotional job and pulls in lots of folks from around the state. In fact, for a county of only about 6,500 souls, fully 1,500 attend the $5 per plate dinner that raises scholarship funds. And, did I mention that this was the 46th annual dinner?

Sitting across from us at the table was a gentleman who acted as the chief quality control engineer for the B-2 bomber production line. He couldn’t tell us about the other projects he had worked on before retiring. Dang!

Monday, September 15 – North Fork of the Cimarron River

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

We are almost done with this “journada” section across the dry plain between the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers. Between the two of us, Denny and I clocked an incredible thirty-one miles today – our longest yet.

It IS extremely flat here. Locals claim it’s the flattest county in the United States and that was before they leveled it so they could irrigate better back in the 1960’s. We’ve seen our first jackrabbits and magpies. One of the most astonishing items for me is that until today, we’ve daily had blue-jays scolding us as we hike. We appear to have finally left them behind. The area is also known for pheasant hunting with a number of “farms” that raise the birds for release.

The environment has also noticeably changed, becoming much drier. Historically the 100th line of longitude has been the line dividing the “wet” east from the “dry” west and our experience this week certainly supports this interpretation. The fields, the animals, the lack of clouds, the drier air all let us know that we have arrived at the great American Desert. Grass is much smaller with many bare spots between grass clumps. Here, it takes four acres of pasture to support a single cow.

Our stopping place is about where I think the Battalion camped. They said they went about a mile or so north of the Santa Fe trail to camp. This beautiful location isn’t open to the public. It’s in a small valley about a mile wide with a grove of trees along the dry branch of the Cimarron. Years ago (we’re told) the local 4-H club planted trees here. There’s a wagon route swale down the hill and into the river bottom – or at least, I think it’s a swell swale.

Rex and Lana Coleman will host us tonight. They’re “empty nesters” like Denny and I and we get to have a good time sharing life stories around a lasagna meal. What another unexpected treat for us. Good folks these two.

Sunday, September 14 – Ulysses, Kansas

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Darlene and Max Groth invite us for breakfast. They’re part of Jim’s family and we have a casual morning talk around the table with folks who’ve lived in the area for generations. Three generations, to be exact. Their families settled the property and have kept it since. Roots are deep in the soil. They’ve run a number of successful businesses related to farming and pretty much roll with the punches as the economy changes. Survivors are tough people. They know how to work and we like them a lot.

We make church in Ulysses and then stop by the Grant County Historic Adobe Museum. We meet there with Jeff Trotman, local historian, reenactor, Santa Fe Trail National Board member and business owner. “My life is a wreck” says Jeff about his auto body business.

Jeff is helping us sort through the route in Grant County leading to Wagon Bed Spring – part of the Lower Cimarron Springs complex. It’s here the Battalion camped on September 19, 1846 and we plan to arrive there on Tuesday. The night is spent at the Groth’s home again, but we have to move all the vehicles tomorrow, so we call it quits “early” – about 11 PM.

Saturday, September 13 – On the Cimarron Cutoff

Friday, September 19th, 2008

It’s day two of our press through the Trek’s first “journada” between the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers. They had another 20+ mile day but we have difficulty getting our 17 miles completed.

We’re invited to the home of Howard and Londa Koehn for breakfast. They’ve invited in a neighbor and brother Les. It’s another chance to share the common themes of duty, sacrifice and devotion with folks. The Koehn’s are Mennonites, a sect that has a long history of being misunderstood and persecuted. Very similar to the Mormon story in many aspects. It’s a good time of sharing and we better appreciate the Mennonite background now.

The Koehn’s property has a fairly large natural depression that has historically held water. Even with farming changes, it’s still about three acres in size and could have easily held “thousands” of buffalo as described by the 1846 Battalion journalists when they talk about the wallow they drank from. I haven’t checked the hiking distances to see if it’s a potential match for their location, but it’s one of the few large places that could be a Battalion used wallow.

After ten miles, we break for a lunch invitation with Daymon and Marilyn Yost, another Mennonite family. Their kids are out of the home and Marilyn loves to garden like Denny. They hit it off quite well. Lunch is pheasant, home produced veggies and yummy blackberry cobbler. Daymon shares his arrowhead collection experiences and we part about 2 PM to continue hiking.

It’s a hot, dry and dusty day for us. We hike until 5 PM but don’t get ahead of the schedule as we’d hoped. We need to hustle over to the home of Jim and Jan Groth north of Satanta, named after an Indian chief. They’re hosting a BBQ for us with a bunch of invited friends that includes some of the folks we’ve already mentioned. The Groth’s built an adobe house in the hacienda style. Very nice and they’re kind enough to share the story with us. It’s a comfortable time with lots of family and friends around. We’re not the center of attention tonight, somewhat of a relief.

We put up a Battalion tent in the Groth’s yard where we sleep the night away. It’s very windy but we don’t care. It’s been a long, long day and we sleep just fine under the buffalo robe.

Friday, September 12 – On the Cimarron Cutoff

Friday, September 19th, 2008

We’re now on the first of the “desert” crossings during which the Battalion had little water to drink. On this 50-mile stretch between the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers, they reported that they had to lie face down in a buffalo wallow in order to suck water through their teeth so they could slake their thirst. It took them two and a half days to make the distance.

In our case, we’re not short on water. It rained all night and continues as we hike during most of the morning. So, we put the support vehicle in 4-WD and slog through the wind, rain and sloppy roads making our average of 17 miles. The sky clears in the afternoon and things start to dry off.

We’re camped tonight at the home of Ken and Margaret Weidner. We share a pit cooked turkey dinner with a bunch of Weidner friends along. Ken is a reenactor who specializes in native American presentations. He’s put together a tipi with full accouterments – buffalo robes, point blankets, leather bead work, bows and arrows, painted leather bags using natural homemade paint pigments – all quite accurate and revealing a strong sense of history.

After dinner, the group is invited to the tipi where we sit around small council fire in the center. The flickering fire and shadows Outside, Ken’s horses walk and trot around, their hoofbeats further adding to the sense of historic realism. We talk about the Battalion story, local history and the state of the world. Along about 11 PM, we exit the tipi to a full moon surrounded by a rainbow ring seen through a light ground fog. It was magical.

To top the night off, Ken offers to let Denny and I spend the night in his tipi. This is a high honor and we readily accept. We move into the tipi with our buffalo robe, blankets and pillows. It’s a very cool night with a brisk wind that snaps the US flag posted beside our tent. The tipi door flaps quietly. An owl hoots, ending the day for us.

Thursday, Sept 11 – Cimarron Crossing west of Ingalls, KS

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

We remembered today all those who have recently fallen for this county. Even as other memorials were held, we held a short memorial service for Alva Phelps who died here on this lonely stretch of river in 1846. He was just 32 years old with four children and a wife back in Council Bluffs.

War all too often involves those who should least be called upon to bear the burdens of conflict. Families are divided and disrupted. Lives of promise for constructive work are cut short in destruction or limited by disability. Spirits are crushed while minds are tormented by things seen and done. War truly is hell.

Still, there are things worth fighting for: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, equality under the law, the safety of our families and preservation of all those freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the other Amendments.

The promise of this land and the ideals which we espouse is something my father, a WW2 and Korean War Vet, felt deeply about. A realist, he knew there were lots of problems; that we had not yet reached the goal of becoming “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

There are other wars being fought today. Wars for our minds, our bodies and our habits. “Freedom isn’t free” as they say. Sacrifice is necessary to gain and keep freedoms. So, I salute, on this New Memorial Day, those who bear the brunt of sacrifice in my behalf.

Brigham Young’s promise to the Battalion was that they would be held in “honorable rememberance to the latest generation.” He then continued his promise, but note that this next part was NOT specific to the Battalion:

“I will prophesy that the children of those who have been in the army in defense of their county will grow up and bless their fathers for what they did at that time.”

It seems there is a special, multi-generational blessing pronounced upon all who serve; one that will turn the hearts of the children to their fathers.

To our daughter-in-law, Vanessa, to her children and to our son Christopher, we say a heartfelt, yet entirely insufficient “thank you” for your sacrifices and service. We pray this war ends honorably and soon, that good leaders will arise who will lead their people in peace and prosperity, but more importantly, in righteousness.

Wednesday, Sept 10 – Dodge City, KS

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

We commute back to Fort Dodge this morning and continue our hike into and past Dodge City. Yep, they are different locations about five miles apart. The town of Dodge City didn’t exist until the 1850’s after Fort Dodge was built so there aren’t any references to it in the Battalion journals. Dodge City (back then) was a typical “just off the military base” kind of town: saloons and other “diversions” calculated to separate the soldiers from their pay. Later, the cattle drives brought a whole new slew of folks: cowboys, ranchers, towns-people. Bat Masterson, Wyatt Erp and other famous frontier lawmen tried to keep things in line.

While in Dodge (today), we are hosted by the Dodge City Convention Bureau. Jan Stevens and her staff are very “upbeat” about Dodge. “Get the Heck ‘Into’ Dodge” is their new buzz-phrase. They capitalize on the “wild west” period when Dodge got started. Older folks (or rerun fanatics) will remember that the TV program “Gunsmoke” was set in Dodge. The tourist mecca “Boot Hill” has some great collections but since we arrive after Labor Day, lots of the live performance excitement is missing. We’re going to return sometime in the future to see it all.

Dodge is a busy town. Cattle is king. The second largest meat packing plant in the world is here and there are some other pretty large ones as well. It’s a normal mid-sized town with a couple colleges, lots of churches and businesses that support cattle and agriculture. We passed one of the cattle auctions today.

For lunch, we stop into City Central as hosts of Inga. I can highly recommend the Steak Philly sandwich, but then, I’m a sucker for Phillies. Very yummy.

Leaving town and hiking further west along HW 50/400, we pass a historic marker about the Caches and finish our day at the magnificent trail swales about 9 miles west of town. Off to the north of the highway and on the ridge, the Convention Bureau has laid out a nice interpretive walk. The boardwalk carries you right over three large swales which stretch off over the hill into the distance. They are beautiful and again, I can imagine the wagons, the men, the women and the feed stock following along towards the Cimarron Crossing, just a day ahead of us now.

Tuesday, Sept 9 – Fort Dodge, KS

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Leaving Windthorst, we decide to not tempt the Dirt Road Fates since it is still cool and wet. We modify the route somewhat to allow us to stay on hardtop. This change throws us a little west of our desired route close to the river, but at least we don’t have to worry about getting stuck (again).

We’re passing the southern “bend” of the Arkansas River along the Wet Route. The Battalion arrived here on September 11, 1846. They had started on the Dry Route after crossing at the Pawnee Forks crossing at Larned, then Lt. Smith changed back to the Wet route. According to Lt. Emory, General Kearny had led the rest of the US military forces down the Wet route and we can only speculate as to why Smith attempted the Dry. There are a couple of obvious options: first, that Smith confused the two since they are so close during the early sections, or second, that he really did intend to follow the Dry to save time then changed his mind. This is an area for more study if someone wants to take it on as a pet project.

We’re also speculating that the Battalion camped across from Johnson’s Island, a favorite camping location about the correct distance for their hike this day. Now, Johnson’s Island is where Philip St George Cooke in 1845 prevented a band of Texas ruffians from accosting some Mexican traders using the Santa Fe Trail. Called the Snively Affair, Cooke’s forceful handling of the Texas brigands earned him the praise of not only his government, but also the Mexican government! How’s that for irony?

Monday, September 8, Windthorst, KS

Monday, September 8th, 2008

We put in another 18 miles today working our way down towards the Arkansas River. And, just so you know – despite my earlier post, it really IS pronounced like the state of Arkansas. Some of the old pioneers even wrote it out phonetically as “Arkansaw” – so we know it’s not really “R-Kansas.”

A few words about today’s weather: Windy, drizzly, gray, cold. It only got up to about 65 today and it felt like the wind matched the temperature. Pretty strong blow. Until noon, we were hiking in the clouds. Yep. The cloud base was at ground level – really. One of the weirdest things I’ve seen. My felt hat kept getting blown off, so I switched to my straw hat that has a chin strap. HA! Didn’t lose it once.

The 1846 Battalion also battled poor weather in the area. As they arrived at the Arkansas River/Pawnee Fork crossing, they got dumped on. It rained all day and apparently blew up a storm too. They were soaked and couldn’t cross the Pawnee because it was swollen. Same for us. The Pawnee was pretty full and the rain certainly would have made crossing more difficult.
We moved the trailer to Dodge City and will drive back to continue from Windthorst to just about Fort Dodge which is a few miles southeast of Dodge City.

A word about Windthorst. Remember our ranting about how beautiful St John Lutheran church in Corning Missouri was? Well, the Catholic church at Windthorst Kansas is well worth stopping to see as well. It is over 100 years old, the center for the surrounding Catholic communities/parishes and sports some pretty incredible stained glass windows. Don’t miss this location if you’re in the area. It’s about 7 miles south of highway 56.