They have a nice museum there as well with many weapons from the west.
We left Hutchinson and headed west, passing fields of yellow flowers and pumps pumping oil. We have seen quite a few of these pumps throughout Kansas. As we drove through the small town of Kingsley we saw that it is nicknamed “Midway, U.S.A” because it is halfway between New York City and San Francisco.
In the late 1800’s its Front Street was one of the wildest on the western frontier. There was one saloon for every twenty citizens, as well as card sharks and brothels. Cattlemen, buffalo hunters, soldiers, settlers, railroad men and gunfighters crowded the streets with drinking, gambling and fighting. Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp were two of the most famous lawmen who tried to bring law and order to the town.
Dodge City grew up near Fort Dodge which offered them protection.
Dodge City was a stopover on the Santa Fe Trail, and by late 1872, a station on the railroad. Buffalo hunting was popular and the trading and selling of buffalo hides, meat and bones brought considerable wealth to the area. By the time buffalo became almost extinct, the cattle trade had taken over with herds of Texas cattle being the main source of income. Dodge City was one of the largest cattle markets in the country. Today it is still a meat processing, major cattle shipping point as well as a supply and trade center for wheat.
Boot Hill was the highest point in Dodge City and the original location of the Boot Hill Cemetery. From this lookout point you could see wild game and buffalo as well as enemies approaching. Huge herds of buffalo roamed the prairie. Boot Hill was a burial ground for about six years from 1872 to 1878. During the town’s first year nearly thirty people were killed, a large number for a town of 500. Boot Hill became a cemetery for those who did not have money for a proper burial at Fort Dodge. They were stripped of their valuables and any clothes worth saving, and buried without a coffin or ceremony. They were buried with their boots on, thus giving the area the name Boot Hill. They thought it better to bury bodies on a slope so they would be better preserved because the water would run down the hill and not soak in. One theory is burying them on the hill gave them a boost to Heaven which they thought some needed. In 1878 a new cemetery was built east of town. The bodies in Boot Hill were moved to the cemetery. Today there are no known bodies remaining at Boot Hill and the markers and boots sticking up are there just to entertain and fascinate tourists.
We paid admission to visit the Boot Hill Museum and tour Front Street. We began our visit by seeing a short movie on the history of the area, with some emphasis on the settlement’s impact on the Native Americans. We were saddened to learn that the U.S. soldiers and settlers purposely killed off the buffalo herds to take away the Native American’s food supply and force them off their land.
After the movie we toured the Boot Hill Cemetery, the jail and the museum with exhibits on Native Americans and life in 1876 Dodge City. They had fake storefronts of shops such as the general store, post office, gunsmith, undertaker, bank and doctor’s office. They had a working saloon but we were the only ones there when we walked through. I was disappointed to see it really didn’t look much like the Long Branch Saloon on Gunsmoke. Supposedly they have Miss Kitty there and fake gunfights only on the weekends.
Inside the museum they had a room of Gunsmoke memorabilia which we enjoyed. I guess Gunsmoke is what brings many people to Dodge City, including us. But if you come thinking it will look like Dodge City on Gunsmoke, you will be disappointed. We didn’t have high expectations and knew ahead of time it was a tourist trap.
We didn’t have a campground reservation and had considered staying overnight in Dodge City, but our museum visit didn’t take long and we had most of the afternoon ahead, so we decided to press on.
As we continued west we passed one tiny town after another with mile after mile of flat land and frankly, pretty much a lot of nothingness. Each little town had a few houses and each one seemed to have a huge grain elevator, nicknamed “Prairie Cathedrals”. It was a long smelly ride since we passed a lot of very large feedlots crammed full of cattle. The horrible smell was overpowering at times, taking our breath away.
We stopped for the night in the little town of Elkhart, right on the border of Kansas and Oklahoma at a small and economical RV park with full hookups. It was perfect for a one night stopover and sure beats a Walmart parking lot!
We noticed a nearby geocache a few miles down the road so after dinner at the local cafe we drove over to it. The geocache was located at a tri-state point, a point where Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado states meet. We took pictures standing in three states at once!
After a great night’s sleep we continued west, crossing into Oklahoma. We took a two mile detour to find another tri-state point, this one for Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. So in twelve hours time we stood in five states!
We left Oklahoma and crossed into New Mexico, our home for the next two months. We were excited to see the mountains of New Mexico ahead of us. We love the west and are really excited to be back!
We arrived at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico for a five night stay.
- Robert Dole, U.S. Senator and war hero
- Clyde Cessna of Cessna aircraft
- Russell Stover of the candy company
- Edward Asner, actor
- Kirstie Alley, actress
- Burt Bacharach, singer and songwriter
- Martina McBride, singer and songwriter
- Walter Chrysler of Chrysler Motors, established in 1925
- Amelia Earhart, female pilot and first woman to fly nonstop and solo across the Atlantic Ocean
- Aneta Corsaut, played Helen on “The Andy Griffith Show”
- Milburn Stone, played Doc on “Gunsmoke
The day after the eclipse we left Milford and headed southwest to Hutchinson, Kansas. Hutchinson is nicknamed “Salt of the Earth” because the mining and processing of salt as been a major industry since 1888. Instead of the natural gas they were looking and hoping for in 1887, they discovered a salt bed 300 to 350 feet thick and 600 feet below the Kansas wheat fields. If they had dug a little deeper they would have discovered oil that is now part of Hutchinson’s economy along with wheat.
We camped at the nice Hutchinson County Fairgrounds at a full hookup site. Our last days in Milford the heat index had reached 104 degrees, so we were glad to see cooler temperatures forecast for our stay here.
We visited the excellent Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center which is affiliated with the Smithsonian. It has one of the largest internationally acclaimed space artifact collections in the world. We were amazed at the wealth of information and number of items on display. It is hard to choose what information and pictures to share without overwhelming our readers.
In the lobby area they have a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird spy plane and a full size mock up of the Shuttle Endeavor.
We were beyond amazed to see they have an actual V-1 and V-2 German rocket, one of the few complete sets of “V” weapons in the world. They also have the Russian Sputnik I backup unit, the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury capsule recovered from the ocean floor, the Gemini X, and the Apollo XIII Command Module.
Some information we learned:
- One of the most destructive weapons from World War II was the German development of the modern ballistic missile. However in the years after the war the same technology would be used to begin the peaceful exploration of space.
- The Treaty of Versailles after World War I forbid German from building offensive artillery weapons. But Hitler found a loophole in the treaty did not mention ballistic rockets. This oversight would present a huge challenge to the world in the years to come. “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.” Ecclesiastes 9:18
- Hitler’s top weapons were his V1 and V2 weapons with needle noses that were packed with a ton of explosives. The V stood for Vengeance. Hitler had many weapons that were technologically far ahead of their time.
Fortunately they were finished too late in the war to have much of an impact. It is estimated that if the war had lasted another six to twelve months it was possible the Germans would have had ready a giant multistage rocket capable of reaching New York City. During the war, Germany maintained an active program to develop atomic weapons and were even ahead of the Americans in nuclear research. They had plans to have enough radioactive material for a test explosion in late 1943 or early 1944. Documentation was found indicating a modified V-2 rocket was being designed to carry an atomic warhead for attacks against Allied Forces in Europe. Allied bombing raids successfully delayed them. I don’t even want to think about the what ifs!!
- The birthplace of the modern rocket was located in northern Germany on the coast of the Baltic Sea in one of the most top secret facilities of Nazi Germany. Later they moved to a facility in the mountains of central Germany. This would become the largest underground factory in the world. The Germans produced as many as twenty V-2 rockets and nearly 100 V-1 flying bombs a day.
- This underground facility had over 11,000 male prisoners of Soviet, French or Polish descent, but no Jews. They worked sixteen hour days and suffered from hunger, disease and torture. By the end of WWII, more than 20,000 men had died here. “Pay no attention to the human cost. The work must go ahead and in the shortest possible time.” General Hans Kammler. (Kammler was the builder of the Auschwitz gas chambers and the underground factory)
- Wernher Von Braun and his German rocket team used the concepts created by the American rocket engineer Robert Goddard. The American government and military had ignored Goddard’s work but the Germans understood its importance.
- The V-2 was known as “Phantom Thunder” since it could hit suddenly and without warning at speeds of more than 3,200 mph. Except for the Atomic Bomb, it was the most terrifying and sophisticated man-made weapon of its time. “If I had had these rockets in 1939, we should never have had this war…….Europe and the world will be too small from now on to contain a war. With such weapons, humanity will be unable to endure it”. Adolf Hitler after watching film of successful V-2 launch
- Dr Wernher Von Braun’s work led to the development of Germany’s V-2 rocket that would kill tens of thousands. But he saw his work as a way to fulfill his dream of space travel. He has been seen both as an engineering genius as well as an opportunist who supported Hitler’s efforts to pay for his dreams.
- The only way the Germans knew if the missiles were landing in London was by secret radio communications with German spies located throughout London. The Germans did not know that toward the end of the war and during the time of the “V” weapon blitz on London, the Allies had captured all the German spies and had turned some of them into double agents. The information on coordinate impact they were sending back to the German launch crews were inaccurate. The misinformation caused the launch crews to change their trajectory of the missiles which sent them west of London. The Germans thought they were impacting the center of London. The German double agents were so convincing that one received the German Iron Cross from Hitler and then later the Victoria Cross from Winston Churchill.
- By 1945, WWII had directly affected nearly half the countries of the world. Fifty countries had joined the Allied Forces of Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union with 60 million military soldiers. They fought against 30 million soldiers of nine Axis powers led by Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan. By the end of the war nearly five percent of the world’s natural resources were used up. In today’s terms several trillion dollars was spent by the sixty nations. More than 16 million soldiers and 50 million civilians died.
- With WWI and WWII occurring within two generations of each other, Great Britain and France were brought to their knees, never to recover their world domination. With Germany destroyed, it left the United States and the Soviet Union as the two new superpowers. While they had been close allies during the war, they now struggled with different ideologies. This struggle would shape the world for the next fifty years or more with both nations wanting to provide global leadership.
- The Germans had committed more than twice the financial resources to developing the V-2 than the United States had spent on the entire Manhattan Project to invent the atomic bomb. The United States and the Soviet Union knew that capturing the German V-2 rocket technology and hardware after the war was the greatest technical victory of World War II. Because the rocket design center and production facility were in areas the Soviet Union intended to occupy under the conditions of the Yalta Conference, the Soviets thought they had the upper hand. But Von Braun and his rocket team thought the United States offered the best opportunity to continue their dream of space travel. So Von Braun and his team ignored Hitler’s orders to destroy all V-2 information and instead moved fourteen tons of V-2 blueprints and documents by truckloads to safety in mountain caves. When the United States arrived, they surrendered themselves and the documents. Von Braun and his team was considered one of the great technological prizes of the war as well as one of the greatest scientific and engineering “brain pools” ever assembled. “Each of the conquerors will want our knowledge. The question we must answer is: to what country shall we entrust our heritage?” Wernher Von Braun
- The Russians were furious when they arrived to a gutted facility. As a “token of friendship” the United States sent the Soviet Union a trainload of hardware from the region. The Soviets were even more furious to discover it consisted of more than a hundred rail cars of nothing but old, rusted farm machinery. This would have a profound impact on United States and Soviet Union relations for over 50 years. “This is absolutely intolerable. We defeated the Nazi armies; we occupied Berlin and Peenemunde – but the Americans got the rocket engineers. What could be more revolting and inexcusable? How and why was this allowed to happen?”. Joseph Stalin
- Stalin was determined to acquire advanced rocket technology at any cost. Some German officials, who Stalin felt might have V-2 knowledge, were invited to a Soviet summit. While they were there Soviet Secret Police and Red Army soldiers raided their homes and rounded up family members. They sealed off entire cities, including East Berlin looking for anyone who could help with technology. They kidnapped more than 6,000 German technical specialists and about 20,000 members of their families. They were put on trains and shipped to various research centers throughout the Soviet Union. Many of them would never see their homeland again.
- Much to the surprise of the United States, in August 1957 Khrushchev announced to the world that the Soviet Union had successfully launched a giant rocket capable of carrying a payload more than 4,000 miles. Named R-7, it was the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. “The U.S. is the hotbed for the greatest technology the world has ever seen…..We give the Soviets too much credit. They are basically a backward nation with limited technical capabilities….Why should we fear a people that can’t even build a decent tractor?” Charles Wilson, U.S. Secretary of Defense, 1956
- Russia’s Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite, was launched on October 4, 1957.
This put the United States and the world on notice that if they could launch a satellite, they could also place a nuclear warhead into orbit.
- On January 31,1958 the United States entered the Space Race when Explorer I became America’s first satellite.
- On March 17, 1958 the Americans launched Vanguard I which was the first solar powered satellite. They lost communication with it in 1964 and it is the oldest man made satellite still in orbit. It is estimated it will stop orbiting in 2198.
- The Soviets were the first to have a spacecraft escape the Earth’s gravitational pull. To the embarrassment once again of the United States, the Russian Luna III spacecraft would be the first to impact the moon and photograph its far side in October 1959.
- President John F. Kennedy accelerated the space program. “I’m tired of America being second in space.” President John F. Kennedy.
- The Apollo Gallery included space suits, lunar lander, lunar rover and the ill-fated Apollo XIII Command Module Odyssey.
- In 1972 President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Brezhnev opened the doors for a joint manned mission in space.
- Shuttle Program and International Space Station facts were also displayed.
We really enjoyed this museum and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.
Next stop: On the hunt for Marshal Dillon in Dodge City, Kansas
About a month or so ago we decided to change our travel route slightly so we could view the total eclipse of the sun Monday. We settled in at Milford Lake State Park in Kansas for eight days until the big day arrived. Our plan was to drive an hour and a half into Fairbury, Nebraska to a total eclipse location. We had chosen a location within driving distance of our campground and in an area that wasn’t super crowded so we wouldn’t have to fight huge crowds and traffic jams. We began to watch the weather forecast several days out and grew concerned as Mother Nature was working against us with cloudy weather predicted. How potentially disappointing! We had our solar sunglasses and solar eclipse tee shirts all ready to go. But it looked like Mother Nature was going to have the last laugh.
On Sunday the forecast indicated mostly cloudy skies and I, ever the pessimist, suggested we just watch it from home. Bill, ever the optimist, said, “Let’s just give it a try.”
Monday morning we awoke to cloudy skies in Milford, but Bill had spent a lot of time looking at weather forecasts in Nebraska and had a plan. We jumped in the car and headed north and west towards Nebraska. The further we traveled northwest, the clearer the skies became. Our hopes would rise with the sun and then be dashed by big clouds obscuring the sun. But we drove on, singing “please don’t take my sunshine away”.
After three hours of driving, we stopped in tiny Holstein, Nebraska, population 242. The skies were fairly clear with some clouds, but they did not block our view. We pulled over on a side street, aptly named “Sundown Rd”, set up our chairs and had a picnic lunch while we watched the progression to total eclipse. It was amazing and beautiful. It was hard to get a picture with a camera phone, but Bill did a fantastic job! And just as the song by Bruce Springsteen suggested, we were “Dancing in the Dark”.
Far, far too soon it was over. We continued watching the sun reappear for awhile, but it was anticlimactic after the total eclipse. So we climbed back into the car for the three hour drive back home. It was totally worth the long drive. What an experience! Thank you Bill for your persistence and optimism!!
One day we made the short drive to Abilene to visit the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home.
Located on a twenty-two acre site, the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum is made up of five buildings all within close walking distance. Within the site:
- twenty-six million pages of historical records and papers
- 335,000 still photographs
- 768,000 feet of original motion picture film
- 70,000 artifacts
First we stopped by the Visitors Center and saw a twenty-five minute film on his life. Next we visited his boyhood home. Even though he was born in Denison, Texas in 1890, he always considered Abilene his hometown since his family moved there when he was a year and a half old. He was one of seven sons. All the boys were called “Ike”, an abbreviation of their last name. By World War II, only Dwight still used the nickname.
The Boyhood Home was opened to the public in 1947. The Eisenhower family lived here from 1898 until his mother died in 1946. His parents were deeply religious and belonged to the River Brethren, a Mennonite sect with Dutch Pennsylvania origins. The family often spent time reading aloud from the Bible. His mother was a pacifist who was very saddened to learn Dwight wanted to enter the military. Growing up on the farm in Abilene his parents taught Ike humility, the value of hard work, respect for learning, discipline and spiritual devotion. Dwight’s mother sometimes had to take history books away from him so he would pay attention to his other subjects in school.
His childhood heroes were Hannibal, George Washington and Robert E. Lee. In 1909 the high school yearbook predicted that Dwight would become a history professor at Yale and his brother Edgar would be President of the United States. Both his parents attended a small college and four of the sons graduated from college. Every President since Eisenhower has had a college education.
Next we visited the museum, dedicated in 1954. This museum was noticeably different from the previous Presidential museums we have visited. Ten percent was dedicated to cowboy and pioneer life in old Abilene (Chisholm Trail), fifty-five percent to World War II and his military career and about thirty-five percent to his personal life and Presidency. It is one of the very few Presidential Library and Museums we have been to without a replica of the Oval Office.
Abilene was originally founded in 1856 and called Mud Creek, the town was renamed Abilene in 1860 after a Bible passage in the Book of Luke. The American style cowboy boot is believed to have started in Abilene when bootmaker Thomas C. McInerny made a pointed toe boot with a high heel that would stay in the saddle. It replaced the Confederate Cavalry boot. McInerny advertised his boots in the late 1860’s, probably making his shop the first to produce the modern cowboy boot in America. At one point McInerny employed fifteen men in his shop.
Eisenhower enjoyed reading westerns and watching western TV shows and movies. He loved receiving western theme gifts. On display is a pair of cowboy boots specially made for him. Notice the capitol building on them. He was a cattleman on his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where he raised Angus cattle (see our previous post of October 1, 2016).
- Graduate of the United States Military Academy and a professional soldier. Actually he had wanted to attend the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland but at age twenty was too young to enlist there.
- At the Military Academy he was more interested in sports than academics. His final class standing was 61st in grades and 125th in demerits.
- Served as Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in Europe during WWII
- Military governor of the American zone of occupation in Germany
- Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army
- Supreme Commander of NATO
- President of Columbia University
- 34th President of the United States. He was the first Republican president since Herbert Hoover left office in 1933.
- He began his presidential address with a prayer which is mounted on the wall of the chapel where he is buried.
- Initiated the country’s first civil rights legislation since post-Civil War Reconstruction
- Ordered U.S. Army troops to enforce the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, a highly controversial decision
- Construction of the Interstate Highway System which contributed to economic expansion and improved daily lives of Americans
- His diplomacy kept the “Cold War” cold.
- Under Eisenhower’s administration the North Korean and Chinese believed nuclear weapons would be used if necessary. The two Koreas signed a truce agreement in 1953.
- Between 1955 and 1961 the U.S. provided over $1 billion in weapons, financial aid and advisors to the South Vietnamese government, but no military troops.
- During the Geneva Summit Eisenhower met with leaders of Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The “Spirit of Geneva” that resulted in the meeting provided hope that a post-Stalin Russia would be less hostile to the United States.
- President Eisenhower recognized Castro’s threat in Cuba and approved a covert plan to replace the Castro regime. His plan continued after he left office.
- Created Department of Health, Education and Welfare which Congress had refused under Roosevelt and Truman. Through HEW, he extended Social Security benefits to previously ineligible retirees. He pushed vocational rehabilitation to provide assistance to physically disabled people and also increased the minimum wage by 33 percent.
- Instituted the National Defense Education Act authorizing $1 billion in loans and grants over seven years for college students majoring in science, math or foreign languages. This was in response to Russia’s launching of Sputnik.
- Supported nationwide distribution of the polio vaccine and appropriated $28 million to inoculate those who could not afford it.
- Convinced Congress to accept a larger public housing program because of a decline in urban cities due to middle class movement to the suburbs, leaving behind mostly poor, black Americans.
- In response to Sputnik and at Eisenhower’s urging, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act in July, 1958, creating NASA.
- Today many people view the technology revolution and breakthrough in satellites, atomic energy and jet airliners to be one of the most lasting accomplishments of the Eisenhower presidency. He approved the development of reconnaissance aircraft and satellites to provide better technical information about Soviet military efforts.
Eisenhower suffered a serious heart attack in 1955 but agreed to run for a second term in 1956. He won re-election against Adlai Stevenson by the largest landslide in history, carrying 41 out of 48 states. He suffered a stroke in 1957 that left his speech slightly impaired from then on.
The end of the Eisenhower presidency and the beginning of Kennedy’s signified the end of one era and the beginning of another in many ways. Eisenhower was the last president born in the nineteenth century, Kennedy the first born in the twentieth. At that time Eisenhower was the oldest man ever elected president, Kennedy the youngest. Leaders around the world knew Eisenhower from his leadership roles for over twenty years. Many foreign heads of state barely knew Kennedy.
Eisenhower once wrote that he admired above all others three presidents – Washington, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
Interestingly, a ranking of presidents in 1965 placed Eisenhower well below average. Over the years as more became known about his presidency, by the year 2000, he was ranked in the top ten. As part of C-SPAN’s third Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership in 2017, almost 100 historians and biographers rated him as fifth best President.
We finished our visit by stopping by the Place of Meditation, a chapel where President Eisenhower, Mamie and their son Doud are buried. Doud died at the age of three of scarlet fever. Eisenhower said his son’s death was “the greatest disappointment and disaster in my life”.
Eisenhower passed away in 1969 and was brought home to Abilene where he was buried in a regulation U.S. army casket.
Quotes by and about Eisenhower:
- “The final battle against intolerance is to be fought – not in the chambers of any legislature – but in the hearts of men”. Campaign speech, 1956
- “Always try to associate yourself closely with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you. Apart from the rewards of friendship, the association might pay off at some unforeseen time – that is only an accidental byproduct. The important thing is that the learning will make you a better person”.
- “Desire may sometimes have to give way to a conviction of duty”. (Eisenhower was reluctant to run for president, calling the idea absurd. In 1945 President Truman told Eisenhower he would support him for President in 1948, even joking he would agree to be Vice-President. In 1952 when leading Republican candidate Senator Robert A. Taft refused to support the United States providing troops to NATO, Eisenhower agreed to run. By 1952, an estimated eighteen million American homes owned a television set, making it the first televised campaign.
- “God help the nation when it has a President who doesn’t know as much about the military as I do.”
- “Ike could be reelected even if dead.” columnist Walter Lippmann on Eisenhower’s possible third term as president even though he was constitutionally prevented from running for a third term. Eisenhower had an average approval rating of 64%.
- “My principal political disappointment was the defeat of Dick Nixon in 1960.”
- “There is no victory in any war, except through our imagination, through our dedication, and through our work to avoid it.”
- “One of my major regrets is that as we left the White House I had to admit to little success in making progress in global disarmament or in reducing the bitterness of the East-West struggle. But though, in this, I suffered my greatest disappointment, it has not destroyed my faith that in the next generation, the next century, the next millennium, these things will come to pass.”
- “If all that Americans want is security, they can go to prison.”
- “I wish to say a word directly to our young people. It will soon be your country to run, and you should be interested and personally involved.”
- “America will be a lonely land without him. But America will always be a better nation – stronger, safer, more conscious of its heritage, more certain of its destiny – because Ike was with us when America needed him.” Lyndon Baines Johnson
- “He was a general who truly hated war, but who hated the Nazis more. He was the President who made a peace and kept the peace and this provided the conditions that made it possible for the American people to exercise their rights to pursue happiness.” Stephen E. Ambrose
The Capitol was built between 1866 and 1903 and is designed after the U.S. Capitol. On top of the dome is a 4,420 pound, 22 foot high sculpture of a Kansa Indian. It is named “Ad Astra” after the state motto “ad astra per aspera” meaning “to the stars through adversity”. The arrow in his hand is pointing to the North Star.
Kansas was named for the Kansa Indians, a Siouan tribe in the region. The French explorers were the first to write down the name Kansa. One French explorer wrote Kansas on a map and soon everyone was calling it Kansas.
We don’t usually take guided tours of Capitol buildings because we prefer to take our time and wander around looking at exhibits and taking pictures. But since a tour was about to begin when we arrived, we decided to go along.
The building has beautiful murals and statues to famous Kansas people including Dwight Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart and Charles Curtis, the first Native American Vice-President of the United States.
The flags in the Rotunda represent all the nations that have claimed all or portions of Kansas: United Kingdom, French Monarchy, the French Republic, Mexico, Spain, Texas, United States and Kansas. Representative Hall featured marble, gold leaf, and pink columns made from faux marble.
The Senate chamber featured several types of marble, original native Kansas wild cherry wood desks and hand cast columns with ornate circular grills that helps with air circulation.
In 2014, a thirteen year, $330 million dollar renovation was completed.
After touring the Capitol we drove to the nearby Brown v Brown Board of Education National Historic Site. It is the only national park named for a U.S. Supreme Court case. It is located in the former Monroe School, at one time one of four schools for black children in Topeka. In 1949 parents of six students who attended the school participated in the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “in the field of public education, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. Inside the school today is a museum to the Civil Rights Movement, especially in the field of public education.
- Kansas became a state in 1861, the 34th state.
- President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956 which began the effort to build a nationwide system of highways. Today the national system is called the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and stretches over 46,000 miles across the country. Kansas was the first state in the country to open an Interstate highway with a portion of Interstate 70 passing through Topeka.
- Some early travelers crossed the Kansas plains in wind wagons–wagons outfitted with sails. It is said they traveled up to forty mph as the wind blew over the plains.
- The state bird is the western meadowlark. It is also the state bird of Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming!
- Kansas is part of “Tornado Alley”, an area of the country hit by more tornadoes than any other place in the world, along with Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Kansas doesn’t lead in states with the total number of tornadoes, but it has the record for the highest number of F-5 intensity (most intense) tornadoes since 1880.
- Kansas state flower is the wild native sunflower. The sunflower image is on their state road signs. They flower from July to September and can be up to ten feet tall.
- Kansas state tree is the cottonwood.
- Topeka was established in 1854 by a group of antislavery settlers, seven years before statehood was granted in 1861. It had one of the most complex Underground Railroad networks in the country, with as many as 23 stops.
- Payless Shoes was started in Topeka in 1956. Mars, Inc came to Topeka in 2015 and now produces Peanut M&M’s and Snickers at its Topeka plant. If you see TOP on the wrapper, it was made in Topeka!
Next stop: Milford, Kansas
While we were staying near Independence we drove one day into Kansas City to visit The National WWI Museum and Memorial, the world’s most comprehensive WWI collection. The museum was amazing!
On the top of the Memorial are two Assyrian Sphinxes. One, named Memory, faces east toward the battlefields of France, shielding its eyes from the horrors of war. The other Sphinx is named Future and faces west, shielding its eyes from an unknown future. Around the top of the Tower are carved Guardian Spirits of Honor, Courage, Patriotism and Sacrifice. We began our visit by taking an elevator to the top of Liberty Memorial, a 217 foot tower completed in 1926 with views of Kansas City.
Sixty-five million people served in the Great War (later referred to as World War One), nine million died and the war involved over thirty-six countries around the world.
On the outside wall of the museum is the Great Frieze, one of the largest sculptures of its kind in the world. Dedicated in 1935, it is 148 feet by 18 feet and represents the progression of humankind from war to peace.
The current museum was expanded in 2006 and designated a National Historic Landmark. To enter the museum you walk on a glass bridge over a symbolic red poppy field, a symbol of the war because they grew profusely on the European fields of war.
Inside are two main galleries, 1914-1917 and 1917-1919. The amount of information presented through pictures and exhibits was overwhelming. Each year 500,000 people visit this museum.
One of the best known symbols of WWI was trench warfare. Both sides dug deep trenches and by the end of 1914 there was a network of over 400 miles of trenches across Belgium and France. By 1917 there were 35,000 miles of trenches across the Western Front. Poet John Masefield who served in the British Army called it “the long grave already dug”. Replicas of trenches were located throughout the museum.
President Woodrow Wilson signed the declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917. Millions were inducted, given basic combat training and by June 1917, U.S. troops had arrived in France. The army was small and poorly equipped with uniforms the same as those used in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Equipment was scarce so in some cases they had to train with wooden guns and rifles. For many, it was their first time in the military.
Americans across the country answered the call to help by rationing food, buying war bonds or stamps, worked longer hours and enlisted. Industries switched to producing weapons, ammunition and uniforms. The American Red Cross auctioned wool from sheep grazing on the White House Lawn, raising $100,000. The wool was used by Americans to knit socks and sweaters for the troops. Within a year, America had a military force of four million men and women.
Bill’s Grandfather Robert Tucker was a dispatcher motorcycle rider on a motorcycle like this for General MacArthur, 42nd Division, Rainbow Division.
By November 11, 1918 fighting ended on the Western Front and Germany signed an armistice and began to withdraw its forces. The Treaty of Versailles to end the war was drafted in January by the leaders of the United States, England and France. In June, Germany signed it but protested the harsh conditions.
At the end of the year the U.S. Congress rejected both the Treaty and the recently formed League of Nations. The United States later signed its own treaty with Germany and never joined the League of Nations. The League of Nations was replaced 26 years later after World War II by the United Nations.
What else happened during WWI:
- Herbert Hoover announced the United States sent $1.4 billion worth of food to the Allies in 1917.
- Wartime Prohibition began with the Food Production Bill, making the U.S. completely “dry” until demobilization was completed.
- President Woodrow Wilson signed the Selective Service Act which required all men between the ages of 21 to 30 to register for the draft. It was later extended to men 18 to 45. On the first day, over 9.2 million men registered at their local draft boards. Only 252,294 men failed to report.
- June 1917, Congress enacts the Espionage Act allowing the government to censor mail and making it a crime to aid enemy nations or interfere with the draft. On July 20th, the first American draftees are chosen by lottery.
- U.S. Post Office began airmail service and issued the first airmail stamps.
- “Over There”, a patriotic song written by George M. Cohan was recorded by Enrico Caruso.
- The first Choctaw Code Talkers, in which Indian languages was used as a substitute for code, occurred during WWI. They translated field telephone calls, radio messages and field orders. The code was never broken by the German intelligence. This led to a greater use of Navajo and other languages as codes by U.S. forces in WWII.
- March 31, 1918 U.S. begins daylight savings time by Congressional Act to save daylight.
- The American Legion was formed in 1919 as well as the Women’s Overseas Service League was formed to aid returning WWI veterans. Congress authorized disability compensation and vocational rehabilitation.
- “I am back from the front and believe me!!…I have just come out of one of the worst battles and the most deciding battle of the war. The American soldiers are the most gallant, brave, witty and stubborn fighters in the world”. Corporal John Lewis Barkley, 4th Infantry, 3rd Division in a letter home, November, 1918
After touring the museum we were famished and made the short drive to Kansas City, Kansas to have dinner at Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue. Bill had ribs and I had beef brisket. Both really, really good. Located in a gas station, the long line attested to their reputation. A newspaper clipping on the wall named them one of the thirteen best places to eat before you die (see #13).
Kansas City Missouri Facts:
- Population 460,000
- Has more than 200 fountains, giving it the nickname “The City of Fountains”; more fountains are here than almost anywhere else except Rome. In the 1800’s the fountains were used as water troughs for horses.
- Locals say Kansas City has more barbecue restaurants per capita than any city in the country, earning it another nickname, “Barbecue Capital of the World”.
- During the 1800’s Kansas City was the last stop for travelers to get provisions as they headed west.
- During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Kansas City was known as “The Paris of the Plains” because of the many jazz clubs, gambling halls and disregard of Prohibition.
- Across from the museum was Union Station, built in 1914 and formerly a train station but now a science museum. We read that more than 79,000 trains passed through the terminal in 1917 and half of all GIs deployed during World War Two passed through this Union Station.
Next stop: Topeka, Kansas
Sunday we left Papillion Nebraska and headed towards Independence, Missouri. It was a longer travel day than usual for us, but the miles passed quickly. We passed over the Missouri River and as we passed through Kansas City we caught a glimpse of Kauffman Stadium where the 2015 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals were playing a home game.
We arrived at our campsite at Blue Springs Lake Campground just outside Independence.
Our main reason for coming to northwestern Missouri was to tour the Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, population 117,000. This was the first presidential library to be created under the provisions of the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act. The Presidential Library and Museum was dedicated on July 6, 1957 and Truman actively participated in the day to day operations of the library. In the lobby is a beautiful mural entitled “Independence and the Opening of the West”. We began our visit with a video detailing Truman’s life from birth to the beginning of his presidency in 1945.
Harry Truman, our 33rd President, (1945-1953) was a very simple, common man. In no way do I mean that in a negative way. He was a man with humble beginnings on a farm in Missouri. He did not attend college because his family could not afford it. He worked in Clinton’s Drug Store at the age of 14, before and after school and all day on weekends, making $3.00 a week. He was never comfortable with the pomp and circumstance of life in the White House and never warmed to being served his meals by butlers and servants. After his presidency ended he spent time at his presidential library personally training docents, talking with school groups, answering phones giving directions and answering questions.
We found Truman’s reflections on life in the White House and his thoughts on previous Presidents in letters to his wife and daughter fascinating. I know these are not easy to read because they didn’t photo well, but I hope you can make them out.
Truman’s political career began as a county administrator. He once said his years in the Senate were the ten happiest years of his life. In the Senate he found a brotherhood unlike any other he had ever experienced.
Truman was chosen as Roosevelt’s running mate as a “Missouri Compromise”. Democratic party leaders knew Roosevelt would most likely not survive another term. They distrusted the current Vice President, Henry Wallace, and Truman was seen as a moderate border state Senator, acceptable to both liberal and conservative Democrats. At first Truman did not want the job of Vice President. During the Democratic National Convention, Roosevelt told Truman if he refused the nomination he would be responsible for breaking up the Democratic Party in the middle of the war. Truman felt the call to duty and accepted.
On April 12, 1945 Truman was summoned to the White House where Eleanor Roosevelt told him the President was dead. He had only been Vice-President for 82 days. When he asked Mrs. Roosevelt if there was anything he could do for her, her response was, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now”.
Truman took over as President with a country at war. Few presidential acts have been met with as much controversy as his decision to use atomic weapons against Japan. Even though seventy years has passed, the debate continues.
After the war ended Truman had his hands full with the challenges of shortages, inflation and labor unrest. The worst shortage was in housing as soldiers came home, married and started families. During the war little permanent housing had been built because building materials were needed for defense production. Truman tried to remedy the situation with public housing and federally subsidized homes but his plans were derailed by Congress who felt the marketplace would fix itself. The shortage persisted.
During the war, wage and price controls had kept inflation under control but once the war ended, restrictions eased and unions began striking for higher pay. By February 1946, over two million workers had gone on strike, many in key industries like steel, mining, railroads and automobiles. Truman ordered government takeover of the mines, railroads and threatened to draft railroad workers into the army. These steps damaged his relationships with labor unions.
After price and wage controls were lifted after the war, there was a massive rise in inflation. During the second half of 1946, consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 30% and wholesale prices rose 50%, especially in food like meat. The double digit inflation continued into 1947 and Truman’s popularity plummeted with some wondering if he was up to the job of President.
But as the economy adjusted to peacetime, production continued to increase which generated large investments in manufacturing along with government spending for military and domestic projects. The United States was now the world’s economic powerhouse with 7% of the earth’s population which produced half of the world’s manufacturing output. Per capita income was 50% higher than any other country and unemployment barely averaged 4%. Americans were now consuming and earning more than ever and the GI Bill provided healthcare, Education Grant’s, as well as home and business loans for veterans.
In 1948, the state of Israel was announced and Truman immediately recognized the new nation, the first country to do so and against the advice of Secretary of State George C. Marshall. Marshall and others felt the new nation had little chance of survival and it would anger oil producing Arab countries. Truman felt deeply about the horrors of the Holocaust and the plight of displaced European Jews, but he also knew it would provide Jewish support in the upcoming 1948 presidential election.
He ran for President in 1948, crisscrossing the country in the Ferdinand Magellan, the Presidential railroad car (we have pictures of the car in our Miami blog). He was the first president to fly on a regular basis. With economic difficulties and low popularity, some questioned his electability. He lost the support of Southern Democrats with his support of civil rights while others in the party attacked his policy on the Soviet Union. The Republican Congress had rejected almost all his domestic reform policies. Many felt he would not even win the Democratic nomination. The Democratic Party was split.
The Presidential Museum had interesting exhibits on the beginning of the Cold War which dominated his second term, overshadowing his domestic agenda of national health insurance, housing, civil rights and federal education. Little of what he called the “Fair Deal” was made law.
From 1793 to 1949, America made no military treaties with European nations but Truman changed that with the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). America joined Canada and ten European nations in a treaty of mutual defense to defend Europe from Soviet attack with the agreement that an attack on one is an attack on all.
In June, 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea and Truman sent troops to South Korea. By 1951 some wanted Truman to bomb China and end the war. Truman feared this would lead to worldwide nuclear war. General Douglas MacArthur favored the bombing saying “there is no substitute for victory”. Truman, favoring a “limited war” and fired MacArthur citing the constitutional precedent that civilians, not generals, control the nation’s military policy. The firing was the most unpopular decision he ever made. His failure to end the war quickly led to further unpopularity at home.
On display was a Purple Heart and the letter from the father of a serviceman killed in Korea. The letter said since Truman was responsible for his son’s death, he might as well have his Purple Heart too. As the war dragged on his popularity continued to plummet and by the time he left office his popularity was below 30%.
Truman expanded presidential power by reorganizing the executive branch and creating new agencies responsible to the President, including the Department of Defense, Atomic Energy Commission, Council of Economic Advisers and the National Security Council. He set a precedent for future presidents actions when he waged war in Korea without congressional declaration.
President Truman integrated the armed services and federal civil service and worked to end discrimination in voting, education, jobs and housing. Even though Congress blocked most of his proposals, they led the way for future civil rights leaders.
He did not seek a third term in office, saying he had had enough of Washington and preferred his life back home in Missouri. He had compared the White House to a big white prison on occasion.
We stayed over three hours at the Presidential Library and Museum. The Museum was well done and informative. We learned though Truman was a simple man, he served as President during a very complex time in American history.
After touring the library we made the short drive to the Truman home where they lived from the time of their marriage in 1919 until his death in 1972. Truman loved to walk and the city of Independence uses his silhouette.
Bess Truman continued to live there until she passed away in 1982 at the age of 97. Their daughter Margaret was born in the house in 1924. The house originally belonged to Bess Truman’s maternal grandfather and is where Bess and her family moved to in 1909. When Harry and Bess married they lived there with her mother. It served as the Summer White House during his Presidency. His Winter White House was in Key West, Florida (we have pictures of it in our Key West blog). Upon her death Bess Truman left the home in Independence to the United States to preserve the legacy of her husband and his presidency.
- Truman was born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri. The “S” in his name is only an initial to honor his grandfathers.
- The family moved to Independence when he was six and he always considered Independence his home town.
- As a child he dreamed of being a concert pianist and loved reading, especially history. By the time he was 14 years old he has read all the books in the Independence Public Library.
- Truman’s jobs included a bank clerk in Kansas City in 1903 as well as working on the family farm from 1906 to 1917. He wanted to attend college but after his father lost the family savings in risky investments he went to work as a bank clerk. He gave up that job to work on the 600 acre family farm because his family needed him. He worked twelve hour days planting crops and tending the farm animals.
- When his father died in 1914 he assumed responsibility of the farm. He left the farm in 1917 to enlist in World War I. He said his time on the farm taught him the value of hard work and common sense.
- Harry married Bess Wallace on June 28, 1919 after he returned from World War I. They both loved to write love letters to each other, especially on their anniversary. There are more than 1300 handwritten letters from Harry to Bess in at the Presidential Library and Museum with a few on display.
- He and a friend opened a haberdashery store in Kansas City in 1919 after he returned from World War I but it went bankrupt. While he struggled to make a living with other jobs, he found success in the military. He started with the rank of Private in the National Guard of Missouri and left military service 37 years later as a Colonel in the U.S. Army Officers’ Reserve Corp.
- As Vice President Truman was the “forgotten man of the Roosevelt Administration. After the inauguration he only met with President Roosevelt twice. He presided over the Senate and once said, “I am trying to make a job out of the vice presidency and it’s quite a chore”.
- Truman and his family lived in Blair House for four years while the White House was being renovated. It is amazing to see how they gutted and rebuilt the White House from the inside.
- An assassination attempt was made on his life in 1950 while living at Blair House.
- “Our Goal Must Be – Not Peace In Our Time – But Peace For All Time”. Harry Truman at Independence Day address delivered at Monticello, Virginia July 4, 1947.
- “There can be no greater service to mankind, and no nobler mission, than devotion to world Peace.” Harry S. Truman
From Papillion outside of Omaha we made the short trip to Lincoln, the state capital. We had a reservation at Branched Oak State Recreation Area with a great full hook up site overlooking the lake. Branched Oak Lake is the largest of ten Salt Creek flood control projects built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect the city of Lincoln and surrounding communities. The Branched Oak Lake Recreation Area is made up of an 1,800 acre lake and 3,960 acres of land.We stayed at Branched Oak for a week and spent much of the week relaxing and enjoying the lake views.
On Tuesday we drove into Lincoln to tour the state capitol building, named one of the Seven Modern Architectural Wonders of the World by the American Institute of Architects. We did not find the building as visually appealing both inside or out as most of the other state capitol building we have visited. The inside was very dark. We rode an elevator to the 14th floor to the observation deck for a view of the city of Lincoln.
The Capitol was built between 1922-32, the state’s third capitol building. There is a 400 foot tower visible for miles. It is said to be the first capitol building designed for function rather than as a memorial, and the first to deviate from the design of the U.S. Capitol. On top is “The Sower”, a bronze sculpture of a barefoot man casting grain seeds.
The University of Nebraska was founded in 1869. We rode by Memorial Stadium, home of the Nebraska Cornhusker. It was built in 1923 and was named in honor of Nebraskans who have sacrificed their lives in military service to the country. It seats 90,000 and the stadium is said to be the third largest city in Nebraska on game days. Every home day has been sold out since 1962. Across the four corners of the stadium are words written by former Nebraska professor of philosophy Harley Burr Alexander. My favorite is on the southwest front of the stadium:. “Not the Victory But the Action, Not the Goal But the Game, In the Deed The Glory”. I also like his words on the northwest corner: “Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor; In these are the true awards of manly sport”.
We were looking for a geocache to do in Lincoln and noticed one located in a cemetery. It said it was located at the grave of a famous actor/singer. To get credit for the cache we had to name the person and the inscription on the tombstone. We were intrigued so we set out to find it. The grave belonged to Gordon MacRae. He was best known for the movies “Oklahoma” and “Carousel”. The inscription, by President Ronald Reagan, was “Gordon will always be remembered wherever beautiful music is heard”.
On Thursday we did drive an hour south to the 211 acre Homestead National Historic Monument of America located in the Tallgrass Prairie. In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act which granted 160 acres of land to anyone over 21 and head of a household who agreed to live on the land for at least five years, build a home and cultivate crops. It was part of Lincoln’s plan to modernize the west and end slavery. This prompted thousands of settlers to migrate west to the Nebraska Territory. President Thomas Jefferson had proposed something similar in the early 1780’s. Many in the industrial North hoped the Homestead Act would lure excess workers from crowded cities. Eventually the Homesteaders created a vast market for agricultural equipment which helped factories in the east.
One interesting example was barbed wire, invented by Michael Kelly in 1868 and Joseph Glidden in 1874. Used by Homesteaders to fence off their property and keep off free ranging cattle that trampled crops, the barbed wire was mass produced in factories.
This free land opportunity appealed to immigrants eligible to become citizens, former slaves who became eligible after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and the 14th Amendment guaranteed equal treatment, Civil War veterans and women. Foreign language advertisements distributed in Eastern Europe where famine in the 1870’s had destroyed crops and caused famine, promoted the idea of America, the Land of Plenty and the American Dream. In the first half of 1862 twenty-five thousand Europeans, mostly Germans crossed the Atlantic. By 1870 one fourth of the population of Nebraska was foreign born. By the turn of the century, over two million Anglo-Americans, Italians, Danes, Swedes, Finlanders, Hollanders, Hungarians, Icelanders, Russians, Poles and Ukrarians had relocated to the Great Plains.
But along with this Land of Plenty they were often unprepared to face extreme drought, prairie fires, hailstorms, tornadoes, grasshopper plagues and crushing loneliness. 270,000,000 acres of land in thirty states or 10% of U.S. controlled land was distributed to homesteaders. Surveyors, relying on the 1785 Land Ordinance Act, laid out 36 square mile townships. This townships were then split into 640 acre (one square mile) sections. These sections were then subdivided into four 160 acre homesteads.
160 acres was thought to be the ideal size for a family farm. By 1900, 95% of Indian land had been lost to homesteading and other land politics. The Native Americans were forced from their ancestral homes and relocated to reservations, usually on the least desirable lands. A lot of the land was taken from the native American Indians.
In 1976 the U.S. Congress repealed the Homestead Act. According to a sign at the Heritage Center, there are more than 93,000,000 descendants of homesteaders today.
Along the sidewalk leading inside to the Heritage Center were outlines of each state included in the Homestead Act. The square cut out in each state represented the amount of state land given in the Homestead Act.
We visited the wonderful Heritage Center with a movie and many exhibits on the Western Expansion and pioneer life. The monument is located on the site of the Daniel Freeman homestead. Daniel Freeman was the first to apply for the free land on January 1,1863, giving him Patent #1. His grave, along with his wife and family is located on the monument property.
In the Heritage Center they have computers where you can research family whose state was part of the Homestead Act. Since Bill has relatives from Alabama, a Homestead state, he spent some time researching the park system’s sites.
On the way home we stopped in the tiny town of Malcolm, population 472, at Lippy’s BBQ. It was the best brisket I had ever eaten. So good that since it was only three miles from the campground we drove back the day before we left and bought pulled pork and more beef brisket to take with us to Missouri.
Next stop: Independence, Missouri
- Lincoln was named one of Lonely Planet’s Top Ten Places to Travel in the U.S. for 2017 (Lonely Planet is the largest travel guide book published worldwide.)
- Lincoln’s average yearly temperature is 63.1 with a January temperature of 35 and July average of 89. Annual precipitation is 28.9 inches and annual snowfall of 26 inches.
- Lincoln has over 6,000 acres of parks and natural land, 125 parks and 131 miles of trails.
- Lincoln has a population of over 250,000, smaller than Omaha.
More Nebraska Facts:
- Nebraska is the nation’s 16th largest state.
- Famous Nebraskans include Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando, Warren Buffet, Gerald Ford, and Henry Fonda.