Friday, August 30, 2013

Getting out of Dodge

Well podners, its time to leave Dodge City in the dust and head to Colorado. We donated some money to the Boot Hill Casino this afternoon and went to a rodeo tonight. This was a ranch rodeo for working cowboys rather than the high-earners who work the professional rodeo circuit. Very interesting.

I haven’t mentioned the weather on this trip, but our entire time in Kansas has been sunny, hot and dry. High temperatures have been in the high 90s every day. Tomorrow we’re heading to Pueblo, Colorado and then into the Rockies where the highs may by 20 or 30 degrees lower.

So goodbye Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty, wherever you are.


From the Range to the Range

We’ve met a lot of interesting people on our cross continental travels and the among the most interesting have been local folks not affiliated with the tourist attractions.


We’re still in Dodge City, and this part of Kansas is definitely cattle country. Since we like to eat steak and hamburgers, we decided to spend some time at the local cattle auction to find out what we could about the process that takes cattle on the hoof (on one kind of range) to the frying pan (on a different kind of range).  A gentleman at the auction  who was kind enough to answer a couple of questions, sort of took us under his wing and gave us a good overview of the cattle business.

The way it works, at least in Dodge City, is that cattle ranchers breed and raise cattle to a certain weight range. They then ship the cattle to a sale like this auction where they are purchased by feed lot owners. A feed lot is, well, a lot where cattle stand around and get fed.

cattle price

There were 23 head of cattle in the ring (the red side of the sign), averaging 800 pounds a piece, and the selling price was about $1200 for each cow. According to our “tour guide” who caught a little friendly flack about helping us from his colleagues, that price represents a substantial loss for the rancher who sold this lot. But he had to sell because Kansas is in a drought, grass is scarce, and he had to cut his losses. The feed lot owner buys the cattle at this price, fattens them up to about 1400 pounds, and typically sells them again (hopefully for a profit) as cattle ready to slaughter. The gentleman who was helping us told us he works for Cargill, the giant agribusiness.  They do things a little differently by eliminating the middleman. Our helper is a buyer for Cargill. The “feeders” he buys are sent down the road to a Cargill feed  lot, and when those cows reach slaughter weight, they’re sent further down the road to Cargill’s own slaughterhouse and packaging plant. Cattle trucks in…refrigerated trucks out.

Speaking of slaughter, we visited the Dalton Gang Hideout Museum in Meade, KS.


In the late 1800s the Daltons were notorious bank robbers and between capers they hid out at this little house owned by a relative.

The fact that the house was owned by a Dalton family member was well known to lawmen, but every time the law came calling, only the law-abiding relatives were home.




That’s because a secret tunnel (it was rebuilt in 1840 as a WPA project) provided an escape route from the house.




The tunnel led 900 feet to a storage barn behind the house, and no one ever thought of looking there.

Eventually, word got out that the Daltons were planning a simultaneous heist at two banks in Coffeyville, KS. The local residents decided to end it all right then, so they got their rifles and shotguns and waited for the Daltons to come to town.

dead daltons

That’s the last picture of the Dalton gang. An no, they’re not sleeping.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Still in Kansas

Kansas is known as the Sunflower State.


There are both wild and cultivated sunflowers growing on the plains. I’m hoping to get a picture of a field of thousands of cultivated blossoms, but so far we haven’t been able to get one, so these wild ones will have to do.

From the perspective of the east coast I’ve always considered Kansas a Midwestern state, and I guess that would be true for the eastern part of Kansas. But the further west we go it becomes obvious that most of Kansas is truly in the west.

Outside of Oakley, KS is a rock formation very similar to those seen further west.


Known as Monument Rocks, they are mainly composed of sedimentary limestone common in the western part of the state. While driving through Kansas we kept seeing billboards espousing “Rock Chalk”, but we had no idea what that means. The local limestone is known as chalk, but why the billboards? We turned to that source of all knowledge, Wikipedia: "’Rock Chalk, Jayhawk" (a.k.a. the ‘Rock Chalk’ chant) is a chant used at University of Kansas Jayhawks sporting events. The chant is made up of the phrase ‘Rock chalk, Jayhawk, KU’".


The Monument Rocks are very impressive formations which help bring home the amount of wind erosion has occurred in the great plains  over the millennia.


DSC_0281 I took this shot to show the sedimentation in these formations. If you click on the image to blow it up you’ll also see an example of the local fauna. I have no idea what that bug is, but it didn’t look very friendly.

Dodge City

DSC_0320We’re now in Dodge City, KS, which was, and remains, a western town. We’ve decided to stay here through the week so we can attend a ranch rodeo on Friday. Then we’ll get out of Dodge and head to Colorado.

Now to set the record straight, even though we’re staying at the Gunsmoke RV Park, Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty are fictitious, but in the middle of the 19th century this was a pretty wild place.

DSC_0309As we’ve mentioned before in this ongoing missive, we’ve been very impressed with so many wonderful museums in small towns across the country. Dodge City has the Boot Hill Museum which is much more than an old cemetery, it’s a reconstruction of Dodge City of 1860 with a impressive collection of artifacts.


Oh, there is an old graveyard, but this Boot Hill was only in use for a few years and the remains were removed to a new cemetery around the turn of the century.




And Penny found a horse.




DSC_0311There’s also an Indian (He owns the horse.). We had a nice talk with Kevin Browning (aka Pui Tamobi or “Eyes Like the Sky”, a blue eyed native American actor who claims to be a direct descendant of Comanche  Chief Nakoma, who also had blue eyes.

He also claims his pet is a pure wolf, but he sure looks (and behaves) like a German Shepard cross to us.   Perhaps Kevin speaks with forked tongue.

Dodge City remains a main shipping point for cattle and tomorrow we plan to visit the local cattle auction. Fortunately, we don’t have room in our trailer for a cow.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Looking for Dorothy

We’re in Kansas, and although there is an Oz museum, we decided to go to a Pony Express museum instead. Besides, the actual house that was used in the Wizard of Oz movie isn’t at the museum, its somewhere else.


The Pony Express Home Station #1 Museum in Marysville was the first of 40 westbound “home stations”on the 1840 mile Pony Express route between St. Joseph, MO and Sacramento, CA. The home stations were places for the riders to rest. Horses were exchanged every 10 to 15 miles at relay stations.




The horses may have had it easier than the riders who were recruited with posters seeking “young, skinny, wiry fellows…wiling to risk death daily.” But the pay was pretty good for 1860…$25 per week.



Each rider was provided with a saddle, a bridle and a bible. The mail was carried in a saddle cover with built-in saddle bags called the mochila, which sounds like the name of a mocha cooler at a fast food restaurant.


When the riders got their breaks at the home stations they got to sleep in the luxurious accommodations of the stable, which they shared with several horses and a blacksmith shop.

Even though the Pony Express seems to hold an important place in American history, it lasted only 18 months. It was a private enterprise which went out of business when the telegraph became a common means of communication and reliable railroad service to the west coast became available. Sort of like what’s happening to the US Postal Service in the face of e-mail and texting.

Fort Riley, KS is the home of the US Cavalry Museum.


Fort Riley was first established 150 years ago and served many years as the primary remount and training facility for the US Cavalry. The building that houses the museum was originally the base hospital.



The museum tracks the use of horses by the army since the revolution, and yes, that horse model is wearing a gas mask.


Fort Riley is now the home base of the 1st Infantry, or Big Red 1, so we were surprised to see that there are still horses on the base. The unit is called the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard, which trains and stables here, but does exhibitions across the country, as funding permits. (We were told they currently don’t travel more than 100 miles from base.)


These are the vehicles they travel in. The unit has been seen in parades in Washington and other places, but not recently. It has something to do with the sequester.

We ran into a young master sergeant with the color guard and he was kind enough to give us a tour of the barns and introduce us to some of the horses. The facility is open to the public but the Army seems to keep it a secret from visitors. But if horses are around, Penny can sniff them out.



We also visited the Dwight D. Eisenhower Museum and Library in Abilene, KS. This is the third  presidential museum we’ve visited on this trip.



The property includes Eisenhower’s boyhood home.

We were a bit surprised at the content of the museum, especially after visiting both the Lincoln and Truman museums.


The Eisenhower Museum exhibits seemed to be 80% about Ike’s military career and 20% about his presidency. Considering his role in WWII we expected it to be covered in detail, but it seemed to be overdone. Every small weapon used during the war is on display, as are a few larger pieces. There was a little on his election and re-election, the cold war, the post-war economic recovery, and the interstate highway system, but not very much.

I guess my favorite part of the museum was a quote from Eisenhower who was asked why his presidency seemed to be less stressful than some previous presidencies. I don’t have his exact words, but it was something like: I was fortunate to have a Congress that was more interested in working for the American people than in political battles. When the two parties are willing to negotiate and compromise, its easy to get things done. What a unique idea!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Give ‘Em Hell, Harry

We visited the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, MO, which is a suburb of Kansas City. This is the second presidential library/museum we’ve visited on this trip – Lincoln’s was the first.


The library was dedicated in 1957  The home he and his wife Bess lived in is just down the road from the library.


DSC_0200 President Truman used this office at the library daily from 1957 until 1966.

Truman was Vice President in 1945 and was elevated to the most powerful office in the world when FDR died. These were tumultuous times in America, and Truman was not the most popular guy to ever occupy the White House.DSC_0194

For Truman, an overriding purpose of the library was to help Americans understand the presidency and the sometimes awful consequences of decisions every president has to make.DSC_0193

The museum includes a replica of the oval office as it looked in 1950. When one realizes the decisions Truman faced during his presidency, its easy to understand why so many presidents seem to develop prematurely grey hair. Among Truman’s issues: end WWII by dropping the atomic bomb on Japan; manage a booming economy in post-war America; recognize Israel as an independent nation at a time when such recognition wasn’t very popular but also at a time leading up to a presidential election; deal with a new war in Korea; manage the beginning of the cold war with the Soviet Union. There were no easy solutions to any of these issues, but the buck stopped with the guy in the oval office, and decisions were made.


In 1948 Truman won a full term as president against Tom Dewey, in a huge upset. Not bad for a farm boy from Missouri.

One fascinating exhibit at the museum is an interactive  decision center in which visitors are asked a series of questions related to the issue of “spies in the government”. In context, this had to do with events related to the McCarthy hearings and the search for communists under every rock and in ever closet. But the questions raised were incredibly timely in light of the Patriot Act and the current controversy about the NSA monitoring phone calls and e-mails. If you were president, what would you do? Protect the nation or protect the right of privacy?


Truman died in 1972 and he and his wife Bess are buried in the library garden.

A final anecdote about what might have been America’s last citizen-president. He went on a road trip.

The trip is detailed in the 2011 book Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure. An Amazon reviewer explains: “On June 19, 1953, Harry Truman got up early, packed the trunk of his Chrysler New Yorker, and did something no other former president has done before or since: he hit the road. No Secret Service protection. No traveling press. Just Harry and his childhood sweetheart Bess, off to visit old friends, take in a Broadway play, celebrate their wedding anniversary in the Big Apple, and blow a bit of the money he’d just received to write his memoirs. Hopefully incognito.

            “In this lively history, author Matthew Algeo meticulously details how Truman’s plan to blend in went wonderfully awry.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

KC and the Sunshine

We’re in Kansas City, MO, where everything is up to date and they’ve got some pretty little women. Okay, that’s enough KC pop culture. Although the sun did shine every day we’ve been here.


The City Market in downtown KC is open every Saturday and Sunday, and since we were in the city Sunday, we stopped by. It was heaven for Penny because it consisted of produce stands and antique shops. For me, we killed two birds with one stone.

The market is also the home of the Steamship Arabia Museum, and that is a truly fascinating place.arabia painting

This image (stolen from the web) shows the Arabia in better days. She was built in 1853 and spent a few years moving passengers and freight along the Missouri River between St. Louis and South Dakota. Then in 1856 near Kansas City the Arabia hit a snagged log which went through her hull. The Arabia sank in 15 feet of water, and all aboard, except a mule that was tied up on deck, managed to escape.DSC_0231

The log that sank the Arabia is on display at the museum. Our tour guide pointed out that had Google been around in 1856 there may have been fewer passengers aboard. It seems that the captain had a history of running river boats aground and into snagged logs. That fact probably wasn’t featured in the Arabia’s advertising.

Anyway, the ship settled in the muddy bottom and was pretty much forgotten about. In the early 1900s the Army Corps of Engineers moved the river about half a mile from it’s old course, and the place where the Arabia sank became farmland. Then in the 1980s a local family that owned a refrigeration company got the wild idea of trying to find buried treasure in one of the hundreds of sunken steamboats known to be at or under the bottom of the river.

After a lot of research, the family realized the Arabia was under a corn field, and asked the owner if they could do a little digging. Maybe no deeper than 15 feet.

Arabia excavation

So, in 1988 they dug, and dug, and dug. 45 feet down they found the remains of the Arabia, and 200 tons of goods that were aboard the ship when it went down. The original plan was to sell the stuff, but when they realized what they had found they decided to set up the museum.


The amount of intact cargo they found was amazing. And that’s what makes up the bulk of the museum’s holdings. The artifacts provide a wonderful look at the kinds of things used in the everyday lives of people living in “Indian Territory” in the mid 19th century.DSC_0212

Although amateur archeologists, the family sought out expert advice on the preservation and displayof the material they found. The read books on the subject and have managed to put together a very professional looking exhibit, well-worth the price of admission. DSC_0224

Most of the artifacts look like they’re brand new, and they run the gamut from shoes to shovels, and buttons to rifle balls.

In 1988 the family estimated it would take about 15 years to preserve the 200 tons of material. That estimate was on the low side. DSC_0220

This technician is working on a part of the ship’s boiler. The preservation work has gone on since 1988 and they estimate that there are still 65 tons of artifacts stored in freezers.

After the artifacts were removed from the excavation the hole was filled up so the farmer could plant his next crop. Except for a section of the bow DSC_0232preserved in the museum, the remains of the Arabia will remain forever 45 feet under a corn field. The museum is now the family’s full time enterprise.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mark, Tom and Huck

We’re in Hannibal, Missouri, the place where Samuel Clemens (AKA Mark Twain) spent his boyhood years and provided the memories upon which he based some of his best-known works.

I thought this quote from Twain was truly prophetic:


I don’t know about the rest of the state, but Mark Twain certainly became an attraction in Hannibal and environs. There’s Mark Twain Cave, Mark Twain Lake, the Mark Twain Museum, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home, etc., etc. I haven’t done a study of Hannibal’s economy, but one gets the impression that without Mark Twain tourist attractions, Hannibal may have disappeared by now.


Hannibal is located on the Mississippi River. Twain described his childhood here as a wonderful time, and the main characters in some of his books were based on his friends and neighbors, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent, as well as the guilty.


Twain was born in this cabin in 1835. The cabin was originally located in Florida, MO. (We’ve noticed that Missouri seems to have had trouble coming up with original town names: there’s also a Louisiana, MO, a Paris, MO, a Miami, MO and a Newark, MO. I won’t even mention that big city named after the state to the west. They apparently ran out of imagination on street names as well, We’ve seen T Road, M Road, TT Road, etc.) The cabin has been moved from Florida to a nearby state park and enclosed in a museum.


This bed is the only piece of original furniture in the cabin. Samuel may actually have been born in this bed. Then again, maybe not.



This is the boyhood home in Hannibal, which is about 20 miles from Florida (the town, not the state). The street and several houses related to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have been preserved as a museum. Twain wrote those books based on his memories of life in Hannibal well after he left town.

fence cu

The “historical markers” on this street are interesting because they seem to refer to events and characters in the novels as  real.



Rockcliff Mansion is a neat old house situated on, well, on a rocky cliff in a residential area of Hannibal. After he became a renowned author, Hannibal’s favorite son returned several times to visit. On one of those visits he stayed in this house. The mansion fell on hard times and sat vacant for more that 40 years. In 1967 it was somewhat restored and turned into a B&B and show house depicting the gilded age. It is currently owned by a retired Cuban-American banker from Miami who gives tours, runs the B&B and is doing additional renovation.

Okay, so we’re in Hannibal, on the Mississippi, and there’s a river boat. So we had to go for a boat ride.


And guess the boat’s name. Go ahead, guess. I’ll wait.

Give up? It’s the Mark Twain! The excursion goes up and down river about a mile and provides a good view of another local attraction known as Lover’s Leap.


Our riverboat captain told the tale of how this spot got its name. It seems that many years ago an Indian maiden who lived on this side of the river fell in love with a young brave from a different tribe from the other side of the river. The maiden, the chief’s daughter, was told in no uncertain terms that the romance had to end, but young love, being what it is, knew no bounds. The brave, Falling Rock, would often swim across the river and rendezvous with his lover on this cliff. One night the chief spotted them and confronted his daughter and her lover. He told them that she had brought shame upon him and the entire tribe. He pulled an arrow from his quiver, and was about to shoot his daughter in the heart. Falling Rock grabbed his love and together they plunged over the cliff. But as fate would have it, they landed on a haystack and survived. They then fled the area, never to be seen again.

The chief was irate and sent out word across the area for anyone who sees the brave and his daughter to report back to him. They were never found, but the all points bulletin (as it were) is still in effect. As you drive along the local roads you’ll see the signs the chief erected: “Watch for Falling Rock”.

After almost five years of our odyssey, I’ll close this entry with a wonderfully appropriate quote from one of Mark Twain’s novels: