Winds of Change, Part III – Waving Goodbye

Indianola, Texas ~ December 2014

Six months before the German brig Johann Dethardt dropped anchor in Matagorda Bay, leaving its complement of immigrant passengers to fend for themselves, Samuel Morse was in Washington, D.C., sending the first public telegraph message to Alfred Vail, in Baltimore.

The message, chosen for Morse by Annie Ellsworth, daughter of the Governor of Connecticut, read, “What hath God wrought?” It was a question residents of Indianola surely would ask themselves, before it all was over. Continue reading

A Ghost of Texas Past

The site of James Briton Bailey’s land grant, known today as Bailey’s Prairie. (Click for larger image)

Twelve years after “Brit” Bailey succumbed to cholera on the hot, humid coastal plain of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, events had taken a turn. Texas had become a Republic, and word of the opportunities to be had there was spreading, particularly among the Germans.

In November 1845, German scientist Ferdinand von Roemer debarked in Galveston. Sent to Texas by the Berlin Academy of Sciences, he had been charged with the task of evaluating mineral assets on the Fisher-Miller land grant west of San Antonio. In the process of meeting his obligation, Roemer not only established himself as the father of Texas geology, through his association with John Meusebach he became an important player in the opening of the Fisher-Miller grant to settlement.
Continue reading

The Hauntings of History

Born to a land his great-grandparents settled in the 1870s, Ken McClintock is bound by blood and affection to Council Grove, Kansas. Shaped by the town’s history, perhaps even obsessed by it, he and his wife Shirley have reshaped a piece of that history into a treasure for us all.

The story of their accomplishment begins long before McClintock’s birth — long even before the births of his parents and grandparents — and stretches back to the time when Abraham and Mary Rowlinson, immigrants from England, built a home in Council Grove.  They began construction in 1860, when Kansas still was a territory. By the time Kansas had been admitted to the Union in 1861, the house was complete.

Seen from the road, its native limestone walls were sturdy and attractive. Inside, light filtered through windows dressed as beautifully as any in Kansas City. In certain seasons, the walnut staircases and trim were warmed by the setting sun, and entire rooms became infused with the same shimmering, golden light that colored the surrounding prairie. Continue reading

A Sweet Little Puff of Buffalo Fluff – Part 2

With Konza Prairie Biological Station to its north and the rich variety of the Tallgrass Prairie to its south,  the Kansas town of Council Grove is perfectly situated to accomodate vacationing families, prairie enthusiasts, nature photographers, and history buffs.

In the 1800s, the trappers, traders, and settlers who passed through town had different concerns. For them, Council Grove was a pivot point, a final opportunity to reconsider their chosen path before moving on.  East of Council Grove, water and wood had been plentiful, and other small communities growing up along the Santa Fe Trail could offer assistance in case of difficulty. Beyond Council Grove, there were more, and arguably less-friendly, Indians. There was less water, less wood for fuel and repairs, and a changing topography that guaranteed new and more difficult struggles.

If a mind-change were to occur, if a new course were to be plotted or a decision made to return to more familiar worlds, it most likely would happen in Council Grove. Continue reading

Still Sorting, After All These Years

They never owned a car and they didn’t drive, so someone made a special effort to bring Grandma and Grandpa – my father’s parents – to my third birthday celebration.

For most occasions and on nearly every weekend, we were the ones who traveled the thirty-five miles to their home, a modest frame house in one of Iowa’s tiny coal-mining communities. Why the routine was broken here I can’t say, but I cherish the snapshot, my only image of this improbable couple sitting next to one another.

Born in Sweden, they traveled to America as strangers on the same ship. After meeting and marrying in Minneapolis, they moved to Iowa, struggled through the Depression, raised six children and delighted in their grand-children. Then, they were gone. Continue reading

How the Grinch Stole Graphics

Most people in Blogville liked graphics a lot.
But the Grinch, south of Blogville,
would give them no thought.
The Grinch hated graphics! For every danged season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knew the reason.
It could be her head wasn’t screwed on quite right.
It could be, perhaps, that her shoes were too tight.
(I think that the reason most likely of all
may have been that her heart was two sizes too small.)
But whatever the reason, her heart or her shoes,
she stood there all Advent, still puzzled, confused.
She stared from her cave with a sour, Grinchy frown
at the warm, lighted windows below in their town.
She knew every blogger in Blogville beneath
was busily hanging a MySpace-type wreath. Continue reading

Tumbleweed Traveling

Out in western Kansas, tumbleweeds seem to outnumber gas stations by a million to one.

I was in tumbleweed country, with a quarter-tank of gas and who-knew-how-many-miles to go before I could sleep in something other than my car.  When I saw the metal building with its gravel parking lot and a pair of pickups out front, it might as well have had a sign nailed up saying, “Tourist Information”.  

I pulled in, walked over to the open doors and saw two fellows welding pipe. The one facing the door saw me, pushed up his helmet and walked over, smiling as though he’d been expecting me all day.

“What can I help you with?” he said. I explained my concern about seeing no gas stations, and asked where the closest one might be. “Well,” he said. “You’re about a tenth of a mile from it. You see those Co-op grain elevators across the way?” I did. “They’ve got gas pumps over there, too. Drive over and stick your head in the office and they’ll give you the go-ahead. Around here, we get our gas at the Co-ops. If you see an elevator, you probably can get gas.”

When I pulled up to the pumps, I still couldn’t find the credit card reader, so a trucker getting diesel across from me explained what no one else had thought to mention. Just one card reader served all six pumps, and it was hidden away at the end of the island.  As I keyed in my pump number, I noticed him grinning.  “Well,” he said, “I guess we’re gonna have to revise that old song.”

I must have seemed confused, so he added, “Looks to me like it ought to be ‘T for Texas, T for tumbleweeds“. Following his gaze, I turned to look at my car and started laughing myself.  “You saw that, huh?”  “Couldn’t help it,” he said. “Don’t often see someone driving around with a tumbleweed in their back seat. Where’d you pick it up?” Continue reading