We headed west from Topeka for a little road trip, traveling mostly on scenic byways. The scenery was pretty through rolling tree covered hills, quaint towns, farms and prairie grasslands. Our first stop was in Council Grove (above) a very historic town that I was interested in seeing. We learned quite a bit about the Santa Fe Trail at the history museum in Topeka (as well as at other museums) and the trail ran right through the town.
We headed to a cafe for what we hoped would be breakfast but got there a minute too late, so it was lunch. When we went to pay at the counter it was amusing to see this big wooden clip sitting there with tickets. We knew we were experiencing small town living at its best … a cafe where you can charge your meal!
I call Council Grove the town of three stumps. Three events took place in this town by trees long gone leaving only stumps. I doubt there are too many towns that have three historic stumps (chuckle). The first stump we visited was Council Oak (pictured above) where in 1825 U.S. Commissioners and Chiefs of the Osage tribes signed a treaty to allow passage for the Santa Fe Trail across Osage lands. The tree was destroyed in 1958 during a wind storm leaving only the stump.
The second stump is called Post Office Oak (above). From 1825 to 1847 Santa Fe trail travelers left messages in a cache at the foot of this tree to inform others of trail conditions. The tree died in 1990 and now only the preserved stump remains. The third stump, Custer Elm was the site of a camp for General Custer and his men in 1867 while they were patrolling the Santa Fe trail. The tree died in the mid 1970’s.
Thousands of travelers passed through Council Grove and stocked up before heading into the frontier. It was their final opportunity to get what they needed before they reached New Mexico. The picture above shows the Last Chance store built in 1857 and the last chance on the Santa Fe Trail to purchase supplies.
My favorite old building in the town is the Farmers and Drovers Bank (above) which was built in 1892 and has a fancy dome and roof work. I am a sucker for beautiful historical buildings.
The Madonna of the Trail statue was erected in 1928 by the Daughters of the American Revolution and is a monument to a pioneer woman and her children. It is one of 12 statues placed in each of the states through which passed the National Old Trails Highway.
Our next stop was the Tallgrass Prairie National Monument. I had been curious about visiting this area for some time and wanted to come in the spring when the wildflowers bloom. In the fall there are few flowers of course but the prairie grass is taller and more interesting. My sister Barbara first introduced me to the wonders of the prairie. Approximately 20 years ago she suggested we do a road trip from California to South Dakota to see the prairie and the Little House on the Prairie sites of Laura Ingalls Wilder fame. Taking our daughters Shannon and Kyla we made it across South Dakota and I can still recall the day we laid in the prairie grass on the Ingalls homestead site. The grass was tall and cocooned around us, sheltering us from the sun and wind. I realized on that trip the special beauty of the prairie.
At one time tall grass prairie covered the Midwest but most was lost when the land was cultivated and developed. Today less than four percent remains, mostly in the Flint Hills of Kansas where the Monument is located. After parking at the visitor center we noticed a hitchhiker on our windshield, the largest grasshopper I think I have ever seen. I started thinking about how the pioneers in Kansas had to deal with grasshoppers coming in great numbers and ruining crops. This grasshopper in numbers could sure wreak some havoc.
After getting a trail map at the visitor center we took off for a hike to see some tall grass. There are a variety of hikes here of various lengths. There is a herd of bison that roam a certain part of the monument and signs warned that at this time of the year, the bison were acting aggressive towards people. We decided to walk away from their area and avoid a bison charging us.
It was a lovely and peaceful walk. The grass wasn’t as thick and tall as I thought it would be but it was still interesting to walk around and see some prairie. Much of our walk also followed a creek.
It had been a warm, sunny day when we started with no rain in the forecast. After walking awhile we heard thunder in the distance and the weather changed dramatically. Dark clouds started moving in and we finished our walk watching lightning in the distance. By the time we got back to the visitor center, it was raining.
Spring Hill Ranch is part of the monument and located next to the visitor center. It was once a cattle ranch which began in 1878 and grew to 7,000 acres. The huge barn, house and ranch buildings built of native limestone are well preserved. I walked around checking out the interior of the barn and the farmhouse. I really liked all the beautiful stone walls around the property. I read that 30 miles of stone fences were built on the land to keep the cattle contained.
Thanks for reading – in my next blog we are on to Missouri!