Tag Archives: Ohio

Where the Wild West was Born

You might be surprised to find out how far east the Wild West actually began.

Annie Oakley was born in Darke County, Ohio. You can learn more about the legendary sharp shooter at The National Annie Oakley Center at the Garst Museum, in Greenville, Ohio.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, Illinois, in a lovely Victorian house on a quiet suburban street that doesn’t hint at the adventurous future (other than the large picture of Earp, to make sure you know you’re in the right place). He grew up in Iowa, which is where his youngest brother Morgan was born. Older brother, Virgil, was born in Kentucky. Like many in the 1800s, the Earp family just kept moving west. Wyatt Earp first became a lawman in Kansas—and would later offer advice about recreating the Wild West to another Iowan, John Wayne.

Wild Bill Hickok was born in Mendota, Illinois. There is a statue of him outside the Mendota historical museum. (A delightful museum that is a good reason to stop in Mendota.)

Buffalo Bill was born in Le Claire, Iowa, where you can drive down Cody Road to the Buffalo Bill Museum. The bar that lays claim to being a favorite hangout, Glur’s Tavern, is in Columbus, Nebraska. (And you can still dine at Glur’s. Pretty good burgers.)

Calamity Jane was born and raised in Missouri, a pretty wild place in the early 1800s.

Jesse James was also born and raised in Missouri, and died there, as well. (The last place James lived is just out the back door of the outstanding Patee House Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri.)

Another notorious outlaw, Harvey Alexander Logan, better known as Kid Curry, was born in Iowa. Curry was said to be wildest member of The Wild Bunch.

Zane Grey, the writer who created the Western literary genre was from Ohio—near Zanesville, which was named for Grey’s grandfather, explorer Ebenezer Zane. (If you want more on Grey, he is remembered in a section of the National Road & Zane Grey Museum in Norwich, Ohio.)

Missouri (St. Joseph) is where the Pony Express originated. (Another great museum.)

Iconic Western towns such as Wichita and Dodge City are in Kansas.

Just to say that its worth remembering that much of the history of the Wild West is, in fact, the history of the Middle West.

Of course, it’s also worth remembering that the speed with which the Midwest grew meant that you had to keep moving if you wanted to stay wild.

(Above photo was taken at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Le Claire, IA.)


Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, History, Midwest, Travel

New Book Ready for Pre-Order

Why pre-order a book? Right now, prices on everything are going up, but if you order the book now, the price is guaranteed. It’s available on all the usual sites (including Amazon and the publisher’s, U of IL Press).

This is a fun book filled with surprising tales and delightful destinations. I take you along as I explore a much-overlooked region, the American Midwest. Everyone from Wyatt Earp to Henry Ford is there. Don’t just read about history, but learn where you can explore more about Native Americans, the Pony Express, shipwrecks, the Underground Railroad, early pioneers, the Civil War, railroads, and a lot of stuff that will make you wonder why it got left out of your textbooks!!!

Don’t be scared by the price of the cloth-bound library version. That is for libraries. The general population version is paperback and only costs $19.95 — and the e-book is cheaper still. But you owe it to yourself to pursue this adventure. The Midwest and its past really are remarkable—and the present is pretty cool, too.

University of Illinois Press


Hope you’ll join me for the adventure.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Geography, History, Midwest, Recipe, 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.


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.



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.


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.

Leave a comment

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

Revisiting Ohio

Ohio is a big part of the history of the Corn Belt, and when I started research on my book, Midwest Maize, a few years ago, I definitely wanted to interview people in Ohio. I was directed by friends to Ed and Sylvia Zimmerman, who have a farm not far from Columbus. That was a few years ago, but we enjoyed each other’s company, and I’ve been invited back a few times.

My most recent visit, a few weeks ago, is when I learned about the festival I mentioned in the previous post—but that’s not why I went to visit. Sylvia had invited me to not only spend a few days on the farm, but also to speak at the Magnetic Springs Café—her newest project, which was just an old building at the beginning of refurbishing when last I visited.

The topic was, of course, corn—I have a presentation I give titled “How Corn Changed Itself and then Changed Everything Else.” I’d given it successfully at a few venues in Chicago, but this time, I’d be surrounded by corn people—people who live with corn, from developing seeds to growing and harvesting to getting corn to market. A little intimidating. However, it was a wonderfully sympathetic crowd, as well—I didn’t have to convince them first that corn is a big deal. We had a splendid evening. Sylvia’s food was excellent, and my presentation was well received.

If you find yourself in the Columbus area and Magnetic Springs isn’t too far out of your way, you might want to consider detouring through and having breakfast or lunch with Sylvia at the café. The historic town is small enough that you don’t really need directions—find the main street, and you’re there. The meal will be excellent, home-style cooking in a charming setting.


Charming interior of Sylvia's Magnetic Springs Café

Charming interior of Sylvia’s Magnetic Springs Café

I’ll post more soon about other places in Ohio, as well as earlier visits to the Zimmerman farm. But since I shared a couple of posts ago about caring for mom this summer, I thought I’d also mention a few of the fun things I’d fit in, between hospital visits. So more to come.


Filed under Agriculture, Culture, Farming, Food, History, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Travel

Bridges and Bluegrass at Ohio Festival

Traveling around the U.S. reminds one that there are myriad wonderful things to see, do, learn, and experience. During the summer and fall in particular, fairs and festivals join the museums and living history venues as potential destinations. On a recent trip to Ohio, I learned about a delightful festival that I won’t, in fact, be able to attend—but maybe you can.

In the region just a few miles northwest of Columbus, rivers and streams are regularly crossed by wonderful, old, covered bridges. At least one of the bridges is large enough that it serves as a venue for events and dinner parties. However, next weekend, September 18–20, 2015, many of the bridges will be highlighted during the Covered Bridge Bluegrass Festival. As the name suggests, there is more to this than just covered bridges. There will be music, food, storytellers, crafts, cooking demonstrations, farmers’ market, horse-drawn carriage rides, and more. So if you’re in that part of Ohio this coming weekend, it might be something to add to your “to do” list. Should be a great way to celebrate the end of summer.

For lots more info, including maps and schedules, check out festival website: Covered Bridge Bluegrass Festival.


Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Midwest, Travel

Monumental Corn

Having posted photos and stories of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, I thought I should also mention that Mitchell is not by any means alone in honoring corn in a big way. Sure, it’s probably the most impressive and certainly the most complex of the monuments to corn here in the Midwest, but it’s not alone.

In Midwest Maize, I relate why Olivia, Minnesota, might actually feel justified in considering itself “The Corn Capital,” as the sign near the entrance to town announces, but simply being located in one of the country’s top four corn-growing states is a good starting point. This spring, I was invited to give my presentation—“How Corn Changed Itself and Then Changed Everything Else”—at the library in Olivia, which pleased me, given the area’s corn-centric economy. Someone in Olivia had supplied me with a photo of Olivia’s giant ear of corn, but when I visited, I was able to get my own shot of the big ear.


Several months earlier, I had visited another impressive monument to the golden grain in Dublin, Ohio, not far from Columbus. Here, an art installation titled “Field of Corn” features 109 concrete ears of corn that stand 6 feet, 3 inches tall. Worth noting is that it was not far from this area of Ohio that the Corn Belt actually started.


Clearly, the massive impact of corn on the Midwest is very much appreciated by those who live in the region.

Leave a comment

Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Travel

Today’s Combine

After the tractor, the next big advance was the self-propelled combine—a harvesting machine that you drove, rather than dragging it behind a tractor. The modern combine looks more like a space station than a piece of farm equipment. The combine on display at the Pavilion is fitted with a wheat head—a front end that harvests wheat. In 1954, John Deere introduced the first corn head—though combines then looked more like golf carts, and the corn head only harvested two rows at a time. Things have definitely changed since 1954.


And just so you know what a corn head looks like, here’s a photo I took from the cabin of an International Harvester combine during harvest time in Ohio. You’ll note that it’s quite a bit different from the wheat head, and is clearly designed for row crops.  (I think this photo also shows why being in the middle of a cornfield is sometimes compared to being at sea.)


Traveling around the Midwest, one learns that color matters. There are a number of manufacturers of harvesting equipment, but the two “species” one encounters most commonly in the Heartland are made by John Deere or Case/International Harvester. Green with yellow means John Deere farm equipment. (There are other green combines in the world, but one quickly learns the precise shade of green that means John Deere for farmers.) Red usually means International Harvester (and the combine in the second photo is IH red). It can also mean Massey Ferguson, but I never saw one of their combines on a corn farm. People are as divided and as loyal as any car owner you’ve ever met. Yellow is pretty much reserved for earth-moving equipment, even when it’s made by John Deere. (Hence, a book on the history of the earth-moving equipment industry is titled Yellow Steel.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Farming, Food, History, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Travel