Category Archives: Thoughts

Topeka Stop

I’d stopped in Topeka en route to Wichita at the urging of a friend who grew up nearby. I had not originally planned on this stop, but my friend said two things were absolutely worth seeing: the Kansas Museum of History and the Kansas State Capitol. So I wedged another half day into to my driving plan—and I was pleased that I did. I definitely agree that my friend’s choices were outstanding.

The museum was first. What seemed like a relatively small temporary exhibit took a surprising amount of time, as it offered a remarkable amount of history. For each of the 105 counties of Kansas, there was a story of a significant event or person, as well as some background on the county. For example, the death in 1872 of Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune, probably influenced the naming of the counties of Horace, Greeley, and Tribune—primarily because he was a noted abolitionist, which was an important cause in Kansas.

That was a fun bit of information, but most of the counties were represented by historic firsts, remarkable discoveries, or important events. For example, Sumner county gave women the vote in 1887. Soon thereafter, the Quaker town of Argonia in Sumner County elected Susanna Madora Salter the first woman mayor in the United States.

Dr. Brewster Higley, who lived in Smith County, was probably a good doctor, but he is best known for a poem he published in 1872 titled “My Western Home.” Friend Daniel Kelley set the poem to music, and it became widely known as “Home on the Range,” now the state song of Kansas.

Chautauqua County’s Alfred Fairfax, who escaped slavery, fought with the Union Army during the Civil War, moved to Kansas, and became the first African American elected to the Kansas legislature.

Lots of other stories, of rough-and-tumble towns, of striking oil, of poets and inn keepers, of Native Americans and African Americans were good reminders that there is almost nowhere you can go that doesn’t have some bit of interesting and even significant history.

And all that was before I even made it into the main part of the museum. And what a great museum it was. Big, impressive displays—such as a full-size tipi, full-size covered wagon, and an actual engine and a few cars from the famed Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe train line—make this museum not only educational but, along with all the stuff that can be touched or explored, also very kid friendly. The narrative moves from Native American to early Spanish and French explorers and trappers, to the waves of pioneers that swept in during the mid-1800s, through the Civil War, up to the present. Here’s a photo of just one of the many displays that help connect visitors to the past.

Bison

Exploring the museum one encounters a remarkable number of familiar names: Amelia Earhart, Dwight Eisenhower, Fred Harvey, Carrie Nation, plus all those associated with Wichita, from Clyde Cessna to Pizza Hut. Legendary lawmen included “Bat” Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Wild Bill Hickock. Exhilarating seeing how much “American history” is really “Kansas history.”

I could say more—I have pages of notes—but I’ll leave something for you to discover. To either see more about the museum, or possibly to even plan your own visit, here is their website. https://www.kshs.org/p/kansas-museum-of-history/19578 Impressive place.

The capitol building is splendid—a great, domed edifice that makes it clear that it is to be taken seriously. However, the visit here was primarily to see the famous murals by John Steuart Curry, most notably the once-controversial painting of abolitionist John Brown. I enjoyed touring the impressive capitol building. Then it was time to head for Wichita, which fortunately turned out to be so wonderful that I didn’t feel bad about having only one day in Topeka. Still much more to see in Kansas than I fit in this trip. There needs to be a next time.

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Filed under History, Midwest, Thoughts, Travel

Dining on the Santa Fe Trail

Driving through the Flint Hills, I was again delighted by their beauty. As I drove, I was reminded of an observation, stated in a variety of ways: that Europe may have more years than the U.S., but the U.S. has more miles. Crossing so much of the Midwest, I have been vividly aware of how true that is.

Today, I was heading to another historic town: Council Grove. I was definitely not going to have enough time here, as I had to keep going (promises made sometimes drive schedules). I would not have a chance to visit a number of museums and historic buildings that sounded interesting, but I was determined to visit Hays House Restaurant, the oldest continuously operational restaurant west of the Mississippi. But antiquity isn’t the only thing remarkable about Hays House. The builder, Seth Hays, was Daniel Boone’s great-grandson and Kit Carson’s cousin—so a little bit of extra history there. When Hays arrived here in 1847, he was also the first white settler of Council Grove. He had been sent to trade with the Kansa Indians (also known as the Kaw—the people for whom Kansas was named). He soon found himself also handling steadily increasing traffic along the Santa Fe Trail, on which Council Groves sits.

Hays initially built a log cabin and trading post, but by 1856, he needed to expand, as the numbers traveling on the Santa Fe Trail had grown so much. That’s when he built the restaurant that still bears his name. Then, in 1867, after 20 years in the log cabin, Hays built a brick house for himself, which today houses the museum of the Morris County Historical Society. In addition to the restaurant, Hays also started a newspaper for the town and opened the first bank.

Council Grove is as charming as one might hope. I drove through, admiring the layers of history evident in the tidy little town. I parked near Hays House and walked around a bit, discovering a few other places to add to my “next time” list, and then headed for the restaurant. It was too early for lunch and too late for breakfast, but there were still a few folks in the place. I asked the waitress what the fastest thing was I could order. She said biscuits and gravy. While I have a particular fondness for my own sausage gravy, this dish is usually reliably tasty just about everywhere, so I said yes, plus coffee. Still a long drive ahead. Enjoyed my late breakfast, and was delighted when the waitress offered me a large, lidded cup of iced water for the hours ahead on the road. Then I had to leave.

Definitely need to get back here sometime, to explore further. But I had an appointment in Kansas City, so I had to keep on moving.

Below are photos of the front of the restaurant, on the town’s main street, the National Historic Marker for the Santa Fe Trail, and an interior shot that reveals a bit of the older wood from which the building was built. Somehow, perhaps because I grew up with stories of Daniel Boone and the Santa Fe Trail, it seemed every bit as remarkable to be here as it did to visit much older places in Asia and Europe, to which I did not have quite so strong a cultural connection.

Hays House Restaurant

Santa Fe Trail Marker

Hays House Interior

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Filed under Food, History, Midwest, Thoughts, Travel

Before Leaving Wichita

I should probably note that there is vastly more to do in Wichita than go to museums. I was there specifically to do research, so I focused on history this time. However, I’m also a world traveler and know what it takes to make a great destination. As wonderfully worthwhile as the places are that I’ve mentioned, know that there is vastly more, both indoors and outdoors. But one can never do everything. In fact, in addition to theaters and hiking trails, restaurants and art galleries, breweries and botanic gardens and zoos, there are many other museums. And if you like camping, not only does Wichita camping outfitter Coleman have a museum, they have an outlet store.

Wichita is a dandy town in a lovely setting, surrounded by wide-open spaces. Definitely worth a visit, no matter what your interests might be.

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Kansas: We’re not in Illinois, Toto

Everyone knows that the Midwest is flat, but leaving Illinois and heading west, across the Mississippi River and then the Missouri River, one learns that “flat” is a relative term. Granted, there were no towering mountains, but the terrain I was crossing was a lot more varied than that of Illinois.

In fact, after Florida, which is largely close to sea level, Illinois is the nation’s second flattest state, so Missouri and then Kansas are far more topographically interesting. They are also a lot more open. Missouri has about half the population of Illinois, and Kansas has about half the population of Missouri.

Knowing this, I had actually expected wide open spaces in Kansas. What I hadn’t expected was to find it so enchanting. As I drove into the Flint Hills region, en route from Topeka to Wichita, the phenomenal greenness of the area led me to imagine that, if the farm hands were the inspiration for Dorothy’s Oz companions, the Flint Hills were the inspiration for the Emerald City.

A friend would later tell me that the Flint Hills are not always as astonishingly verdant as I was seeing them, but what I witnessed was glorious, and it is the image I currently carry with me of the heart of Kansas. Plus, the Flint Hills are home to the world’s largest continuous tallgrass prairie, so even if not always so green, they will always be remarkable.

This is not my photo, as I was on a highway. It is from a Visions of the Flint Hills exhibition, and it reflects what I saw—though I tend to think what I saw was even more beautiful, and it was certainly far more extensive.

.Flint Hills

Tales of Wichita will wait for future posts, but one more thing is worth mentioning about this handsome region. Returning north, I headed through the Flint Hills region to historic Council Grove. During this drive, along more rural (but still excellent) roads, I encountered a touch of whimsy that delighted me. Just off the road, on hills and rises around Council Grove, there are metal statues recreating once-familiar scenes. It is hard to judge from a car, but the statues appeared to be life size—though I imagine that to create that impression they would need to be larger than life. The two I saw were a cowboy on horseback roping a calf and a Native American gazing out over the hills. I have, since returning home, searched and found photos of other of these Flint Hill statues, but the surprise of seeing the two I encountered was sufficient to make them vividly memorable.

But these were not the only things to love about Kansas. More to follow.

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Filed under History, Midwest, Thoughts, Travel

A Surprising Museum in Ohio

Serendipity: the finding of valuable or agreeable things not sought for. Travel just seems to multiply the likelihood of experiencing serendipity.

In Ohio doing some research, driving toward the hotel, I saw a sign that read “Welcome Center and Fulton County Museum, 1 Mile.” This place wasn’t on my radar at all. However, I was leaving the next morning and had nothing else planned while there, so I thought I’d give this place a try.

MuseumExterior.jpeg

What a surprise. This was not a huge museum, but it more than made up in splendid detail, insightful presentation, and brilliant planning what it lacked in size. And who knew so much interesting stuff happened in Fulton County, Ohio?

There are a couple of possible approaches to viewing the museum. You can read absolutely everything, which was what I chose to do. Alternatively, you can accept their invitation to see how history repeats itself and focus on periods that are in some way similar to the one in which you were born or in which you currently live. I thought this approach was immensely clever, but I didn’t want to miss anything.

The museum starts in the area’s pre-history and moves up through the centuries. One way they handle the abundance of artifacts is, under a primary display, there are drawers and drawers of additional items labeled by time period.

Pre-HistDisplay.jpeg

Drawersjpeg.jpeg

Signs are abundant, making it possible to really fit together the pieces of Fulton County’s history–which includes a remarkable range of events and people who operated at the national level, from the show promoter who helped Buffalo Bill to race-car driver Barney Oldfield, plus of course involvement in such key elements of U.S. history as the Civil War and industrial progress.

CivilWar.jpeg

The museum only took us about 2 hours to view–so this isn’t a place you’d likely plan an entire vacation around. However, if you happen to find yourself on the Ohio Turnpike near Hwy 108, you might consider stopping.

Of course, the other lesson is, when you see a sign telling you there is something of interest a mile ahead, you might want to check it out.

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Filed under Culture, History, Midwest, Thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized

“Smarter Every Day” Looks at Grain Bins

I have long enjoyed the video channel “Smarter Every Day.” It offers insights into how a lot of things work. However, host Destin has now truly endeared himself to me by focusing on farmers — and pointing out just how much farmers need to know to make things work. I already knew about the bins (I cover the invention of corn bins and drying equipment in my book <em>Midwest Maize), and I knew farmers were smart (and most of the farmers I know have multiple degrees, in subjects ranging from monogastric nutrition to economics to agricultural communication), but it’s lovely to see someone else enthusiastic about everything that goes into keeping a farm going — and us fed. What you see here goes on all over the country, with bins filled with corn, beans, wheat, lentils, peas, garbanzos, barley, and more.

Oh — and that “danger” element Destin mentions — farming is considered second only to coal mining, as far as danger. So no one is farming because it’s easy. It can be hard to make a profit, but most of the farmers I know love the land–and love knowing that they are feeding people.

Here’s Destin’s video.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Video

Don’t Worry about Roundup

As the author of a book on corn, I get a lot of questions about Roundup. The press and a few renegade lawyers have done their best to vilify this product. But talk to farmers—especially those who have grown up around the product (we’ve been using it for nearly half a century, so that is most farmers)—and you’ll find out that none of them are experiencing health problems. Plus it has no negative impact on the environment (which other products often do). It is, in fact, tremendously safe. One of my favorite little factoids comes from Forbes Magazine: “The acute toxicity of glyphosate is lower than that of table salt.”

So throw out your table salt and keep eating corn ground with Roundup.

If you’re interested, here is the full article from Forbes—written by a cancer epidemiologist—a person whose job is studying and knowing what can hurt you.
The Guardian’s Scare Piece On Glyphosate And Cancer Is Designed To Fuel A Tsunami of Lawsuits.

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Farming, Food, Thoughts, Uncategorized