Friday, January 14, 2011

A Difficult January Journey

A Little Family History, 
Some Random Thoughts and
Observations While Traveling

Some Background: Nancy's parents have not always been Kansans. They hail from Beaver County in the Oklahoma panhandle - what was once known as "No Man's Land." The government had offered the unwanted territory to the Indians who likewise had no use for it. It was eventually settled by a few hardy risk-takers, including the Glidewell and Staker families. Fred and Edith, Nancy's parents, later moved to California where Fred was a highly-skilled welder in the ship yards. In the late 40s they returned to the family homestead in Beaver County, followed by a move to Seward County, Kansas, in the mid 50s, where Fred farmed near Kismet, and Edith taught elementary school. As an "almost senior" adult, she had earned her degree at Fort Hays State and was able to land a position at the little school in Kismet.  They have lived in Kansas since that time.

Now well into their 90s, Fred 98 and Edith 93, they have been residing in a senior center in Sharon Springs. However, the time has come when they must be moved closer to the home of the their son in the Oklahoma City area, a move complicated by Fred's hospitalization and Edith's dementia. It is a trying trip for all of us assembled in Wallace County to make the arrangements for the move, to divide and dispose of belongings, and to say farewell to those in Sharon Springs who have treated them with such love and respect through the years.

Following is collection of observances and thoughts as we make this particular journey through Kansas.


I had planned to do some reading as we drove across the state from one end to the other, but as usually happens, I became mesmerized by the passing countryside instead. How many times have we made this trip? How many times, and at how many places, have we promised ourselves to get off at "that particular exit" and visit "that particular site" without ever doing so? Like everybody else it seems, we are always, always rushing across I-70, in a hurry to reach our destination. Retired? No matter, we're still in a hurry.

Now it seems that these unvisited places - the Chrysler home at Ellis comes to mind - will be seen only by choice and planning, not on a whim.


Walker: We have frequently left the interstate to view the "Cathedral of the Plains," more properly identified as St. Fidelis Church in Victoria. On this Sunday morning, we instead exited at Walker to check out the stately church we had seen from the highway. Services are not scheduled for Sunday morning, so we were not able to gain entrance, so walked around and took a couple of photos. St. Anne's, like the larger church in nearby Victoria, was built by the German - Russian immigrants who settled the area. The cornerstone was laid in 1904.

[One of my goals for the year is to return to the area in order to photograph and write about the beautiful churches of Ellis County and vicinity.]

There is little left of Walker, Kansas, but for several years during World War II it was a vibrant community, home to Walker Army Airfield where the Army's Second Air Force trained bomber crews.* After the war, the base with its three 8,800 feet runways was abandoned. It is reported that these runways, ramps, and streets are still intact, though crumbling, because the costs of digging up and disposing of those concrete structures would have been prohibitive.

View from the Motel: We stayed in an inexpensive motel in spite of the available free lodging so I could have access to wi-fi. Below is a view of the surrounding countryside, taken from the east end of the motel while experimenting with the effects of different filters (neutral density and polarizing) on snow scenes. Viewing that snow-covered landscape the day before had inspired a reference to Siberia on my facebook page, a comment which did not sit well with my sister-in-law who has lived in and loved this community for many years. No question about it, this is a nice town with wonderful people. I was considering only the landscape and the harsh conditions at that moment. Here is that view. I rest my case.**


The Diner: Totally bundled against the blast of Canadian air, I slogged crossed the highway to Stephens, one of the two local diners, for a late breakfast, supposing all the "usual suspects" would be in their usual booths, drinking coffee and giving the good-natured waitress a hard time. Not the case today. Apparently -7 degrees keeps even these hardy fellows at home. Those few who were there laughingly ribbed me about my parka, stocking cap, etc. "Whatsa matter, you cold?" Only good natured and friendly folk will jab a stranger like that, so I felt very much at home. 

After downing (just barely) a short stack - two of the lightest, fluffiest pancakes imaginable, plus a side of sausage, I studied the cafe bulletin board. A death notice, an announcement of a baby shower to be held here at the diner, business cards for farriers, custom cutting crews, estate sales. Not one hint of yoga or nutrition classes, pyramidal schemes, rock concerts, or  environmental rallies. I'm not in Johnson County.


Monday afternoon, we drove Nancy's mother to Tribune to visit Fred at the hospital. It was touching to see them reunited after the days apart. Even though cruelly stricken with dementia, Edith recognizes her partner of 72 years... Back in the car, I spent my time reading, but looked up when Nancy commented on the birds flying across the highway. "They're pheasants, dear." I replied. ... No pheasant seen while headed back north, just a small herd of white-tailed deer. 


North of Tribune I again noticed a sign seen on previous trips along this lonely stretch of highway: "White Woman Creek." Curious about the naming of that dry creek bed, I researched the subject online and learned of two accounts, variations on the same theme. Each legend involves an Indian attack on a small traveling party. The version more often quoted tells of a white woman being kidnapped, then making an escape with a stolen rope. With that rope she hanged herself to avoid the anticipated torture. The second, more "romantic" version tells of the white woman escaping, then perishing on the wide open prairie where her spirit my still be seen wandering the creek valley at night.

If you wish to learn more about these legends, here is a good place to start:


This is not related to our just-finished road trip, but worthy of mention. The Kansas Historical Society has introduced, just in time for the state's sesquicentennial, a new webpage which is going to be a great resource as well as an interesting read. I'm loving the panel of rotating photos from the archives. Check it out at:


* In the early sixties, I spent some time in Russell, a few miles east of Walker. North of Russell, dug into a rugged bank of the Saline River, is a cave which was said to be dug by German spies during WWII. Walker AFB, though distant, could be seen from these caves. It was further told that local residents of German descent, many of whom were still speaking German in the 60s, provided food and other supplies for these spies. That's the story, anyway. According to an on-line article at, the cave had been dug long beforehand by a local electrician. Nowhere in the article, however, is a statement that the cave(s) were not used by German spies. I wonder. [cave photo from]

** To be fair, I think many of us may not have a totally accurate picture of Siberia in our minds, or of western Kansas. If you have viewed some of the amazing photos of Boyd Norton or recent videos on the National Geographic Channel, you might be surprised to learn there is far more to Siberia than our stereotyped view of a totally flat wasteland fit only for the condemned . Western Kansas - Ditto!


  1. Frank, I too have relatives in Tribune. And we lived in Ellis county for three years. It is really interesting country.

  2. Frank,

    Enjoyed your post. I have stayed in Sharon Springs several times and do enjoy the area. When you get back to Ellis County for the churches, be sure to go to the ruins of the Emmeram church north and west of Walker. Also, a great drive I recommend is the road north from Walker up to the Saline River and back west to US-183.

  3. Frank, as always, I enjoyed your blog. Especially liked the shot of the church signage at Walker and the story of White Woman Creek. Keep up the great work sharing the Kansas story!