Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Border Queen

Shotgun Quiz: There were six major cattle trailheads in early Kansas - each a rough and tumble place where trail hands could expect all kinds of excitement when the herd reached its destination and was sold.  How many of the six can you name? Dodge City and Abilene come to most minds immediately, then Wichita. After a little thought, some will remember that Newton and Ellsworth had their days of "glory" as well. Hays? No, not Hays. I guess the image below has given it away by now. It's Caldwell - "The Border Queen." Never heard of it? Well belly up to the bar, cowhands, I'll tell you about that wicked "Border Queen," Caldwell, Kansas.

Located on the Chisholm Trail just north of the Kansas state line, and the first town outside of Indian Territory, Caldwell became an eagerly-awaited destination for dusty, bored cowboys ready to let off a little steam en route to the rail heads at Wichita and Abilene. When the Santa Fe Railway extended its line to Caldwell in 1879, the little town known as the Border Queen grew quickly, as did the numbers of saloons, gambling houses, and brothels. One Caldwell tour guide and historian has been quoted as telling visitors that his hometown once had more prostitutes per capita than any place in the world. [I guess we'll just have to take his word for that, because however would you, if you were so inclined, research that peculiar topic?]

1881 Opera House

Border Queen Museum Exhibits
Chisholm Trail Marker and mural

Kathy Weiser, in her article "Caldwell - The Wicked Border Queen," reports that "...between 1879 and 1885, Caldwell 'boasted' a higher murder rate, and loss of more law enforcement officers than other more famous cowtowns. During this period, violence claimed the lives of 18 city marshals, leading a Wichita editor to write, 'As we go to press hell is again in session in Caldwell.'"* 

Visitors to Caldwell can see what is left of an authentic Boot Hill - no cartoonish grave markers or made-up names here to lure tourists. It is believed there were once approximately 60 graves in Boot Hill, but many of the markers have disappeared over the ages. How many bodies lie below the wheat fields surrounding the current cemetery? Who knows?

Located south of town on US Highway 81, on the route of the old Chisholm Trail, is an evocative reminder of those who rode the long, dusty trail - "The Ghost Riders Silhouettes." The monument was added to the Sumner County landscape in 1995 thanks to local labor and donations. How appropriate that at the precise moment I began to take photos standing next to one of the trail's successors (the highway), a train would be speeding along on another.

A word about Jesse Chisholm: I was surprised to learn that Jesse Chisholm never participated in any of the cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail, and had passed away by the time the larger numbers of cattle herds were being driven to Kansas. The son of a Scottish merchant and slave-trader father and a Cherokee mother, Jesse became a master of a number of Indian languages and dialects, a guide and interpreter, and the owner of trading posts in Indian Territory. It was these outposts that gave the Chisholm name to the trail.

Unlike some sister towns in Sumner County, Caldwell survives. Sumner City, which once had a population greater than any town in the county today, with a horse racing track visible from the air into the 1950s, has completely vanished**. The stories of early Caldwell are still around, as well as some remnants and relics of its exciting past. 

Finally, Caldwell is also known as The Ornate Box Turtle Capital of Kansas Forgetting this during my visit, I failed to take a photo of the colorful box turtle mural on the side of one the town businesses.

*from a detailed account of Caldwell's early history at: www.legendsofamerica.com/ks-caldwell.html

** More on the disappearance of Sumner City and the alleged role of one of my Hackney ancestors in its demise will be explored someday in a posting of Memories from My Life's Journey

Enroute to Caldwell, I sought out the site of the old mill at Drury, a few miles east of Caldwell on the Chikaskia (pronounced shuh-KASK-ee locally) River. My 94-year old mother still has memories of picnics and wading in the cool waters. I'm not certain, but think her papa might have taken grain there for milling, although the mill at Oxford would have been closer. The mill building itself burned to the ground in 1953 and only some of its foundation and the dam survive. There is a small park at the now, with picnic and restroom facilities.
Educator, naturalist, and photographer Larry Miller has reported that David Carradine and Hollywood film crews used the area as a movie location in 1973 and showed photos of it while being interviewed by Johnny Carson on the "Tonight Show."  Carradine was  involved in the "Kung Fu" television series at the time, but I have no knowledge if portions of that show were filmed at Drury or the Chikaskia River.

Other Links of Interest:

The "Official Sesquicentennial Cattle Drive" 400 head of Texas Longhorns will be driven from Caldwell to Ellsworth. Labor Day weekend.   http://www.kansascattledrive2011.com/ 

The Official Caldwell, Kansas Web Site: www.caldwellkansas.com/

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Red Hills

The Red Hills of Barber and Comanche counties* fascinate me. The terrain is unlike much of Kansas, particularly the flat wheat belt where I was born and raised. It has long been my intention to return to that area  to try my hand at photographing those landscapes. The first week of May of this year, I was able to accomplish that. I had hoped that the hills and grasslands would have greened up by this time and that the wildflowers might be in bloom. Apparently I was about a week to ten days to early for that, although some wildflowers were beginning to pop up.

The Red Hills get their color from the oxidation of the sedimentary iron deposits left during the Permian Period, 250 to 300 million years ago. The hills are also known as the Gypsum (or Gyp) Hills due to the large natural deposits of gypsum, which are mined in the vicinity.

US Highway 160 from Medicine Lodge to Coldwater (42 miles) cuts through the area and is known as the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway. There is another scenic drive on county roads which begins just west of Medicine Lodge. These scenic drives are collectively one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography Better views, however, are obtained by getting off the highway.

You must "dare to do dirt" to really see this country.

The Landscape

Branding Time at the Marsh Ranch
While driving along the Gyp Hills Scenic Byway, I noticed a lot of activity going on at one of the corrals, and pulled off onto the right of way. I tried to take some long-distance photos with my long zoom lens without much to show for it. A distinguished-looking man in western working attire came over to me and introduced himself as Mr. Marsh, the owner of the Marsh Ranch headquartered in nearby Sun City, and asked me if I would like to come in for a closer look. Absolutely! He was preparing to leave and offered me the use of his mount, but as I have not been on horseback in a "few years," and have had several shoulder, knee, and other surgeries in the intervening period, I decided this would nor be a good time to make a fool of myself in front of these professional horsemen and women.

The cowboys and women were branding calves, attaching fly tags to the ears, and administering spring vaccinations, a process requiring skill, teamwork, and horsemanship. I had seen these and similar skills on display at the State Ranch Rodeo Championships at Medicine Lodge, but this was my first opportunity to watch it "up close and personal," and "for real." A big thanks to the Marshes and their crew for allowing me to photograph them at work.  

Sun City
Population 53. That's down from 81 in 2000. What is Sun City known for? Perhaps the whiskey-fueled gunfight in 1880 that left one Mr. Adams mortally wounded as a result of  a billiards wager. Maybe the 1883 cyclone that killed three townspeople. Folks in the know, however, would tell you unequivocally that Buster's Smokehouse Bar and Grill is what keeps Sun City on the map. Buster and his wife Alma have been dead quite some time now, but this iconic Sun City landmark just keeps going.

You can even find Buster's on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001319851865

* Red Hills ~ Much of the area known as the Red Hills is located in Clark County as well, including the three highest points in the area: Mount Nebo, Mount Jesus, and Mount Lookout. I hope to visit Clark County on another photo journey. 

Some Links of Interest:
Medicine Lodge, Kansas - At the eastern end of the Gyp Hills Scenic Byway, a colorful and historic frontier town. Long-time camping ground for plains Indians, site of a landmark peace treaty between natives and the US government, and later home to that hatchet-yielding prohibitionist Carrie Nation. http://www.cyberlodg.com/mlcity/

Medicine Lodge Indian Peace Treaty Pageanthttp://www.peacetreaty.org/ My first visit to Medicine Lodge and this pageant at age twelve made a huge impression on me. Not much was different when Nancy and I took in the festivities a couple of years ago. The event is held every three years, and this (2011) is the year. Parades, a large-scale pageant on a 40 acre "stage," a Plains Indians pow wow, and a rodeo are just part of what happens.

Coldwater, Kansas - At the western end of the Gyp Hills Scenic Byway. Served as my home base while exploring the area. http://www.coldwaterkansas.com/

© text and photos Frank Thompson