Tag Archives: Kansas

Sunday Snapshot: Frosty Clover

I’m in the throes of NaNoWriMo right now. I’m behind on my word count but I can finally feel the rhythm of the story . It’s a weird sort of hope, like finally seeing the life preserver floating in your direction after treading water for hours and hours and hours and being excited about it even though you know you’re in the middle of the ocean and you haven’t seen a boat for days.

In traditional Kansas fashion, our weather has been erratic. Today it’s raining and in the 50s (exactly right for the stormy Kansas horror novel I’m piecing together), but earlier this week, we were waking up to temperatures in the single digits. Still. The morning frost can be magnificent and beautiful if you don’t mind standing still long enough to take it in. It shows us the details that get lost in all of the green of spring and summer.Frosty Clover

Go read this book now: Home, Home Plate on the Range by Tony Hall

Home, Home Plate on the Range: Historical Guide of Major League Players from Kansas and Baseball in the Sunflower State by Tony HallDespite not being a die-hard baseball fan, I am completely in love with what has to be the ultimate historical encyclopedia of baseball in Kansas: Home, Home Plate on the Range: Historical Guide of Major League Players from Kansas and Baseball in the Sunflower State by Tony Hall. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this book deserves to be on the shelves of every Kansas library and in the home of every Kansas baseball fan.

Like many kids, Tony Hall collected baseball cards as a child. But it wasn’t until he was an adult that Hall–a writer with a passion for sports–and his son took to collecting cards at yard sales, rummage sales, and estate sales. Their interests began to focus on players who were born in Kansas or played in Kansas.

That’s when Hall’s passion for Kansas baseball history took off. Decades later, it turned into an amazing 600-page book that traces baseball to its origins in Kansas, follows it to the tiny towns with their own home teams, and on to the players who would play in the majors.

Remember the first time you opened a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records, and how you found your self just flipping through it, fascinated and amazed by the information you never knew you wanted to know? That’s what Home, Home Plate on the Range is like.

This carefully organized book is easy to read cover to cover, but it’s also fun to just open up for the sake of discovering some amazing little factoid. For example:

In 1925, the all-black Wichita Monrovians team played the all-white Ku Klux Klan club. To discourage favoritism, the game was officiated by two white Catholics.

Topekan Gil Carter hit was might be the longest home run in history. The ball sailed over a 60-foot light poll at the 330-foot mark and kept going. It was found the next day under a peach tree two blocks away. Some estimates suggest it was a 733-foot hit.

Four Kansas women played on the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was featured in the movie A League of Their Own.

There are chapters on Kansans who played in the Negro League, lists of the long-forgotten minor leagues that used to exist in Kansas, biographies of Major League baseball players born in Kansas, and information on umpires, sports journalists, and MLB administrators from the Sunflower State.

Because this book often examines the biographies of players and the times during which they played, it’s a unique historical perspective of the state of Kansas. And that’s why it is perfect for the sports fan and the history buff. If you’re from Kansas, chances are good you’ll find your town–no matter how small–somewhere in the pages of this book.

So if you’re feeling a little sad that the baseball season has drawn to a close, pick up a copy of Home, Home Plate on the Range. The book itself and the field trips recommended in Chapter 17 should tide you over until spring training.

This book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and can be ordered through your favorite independent book store.


Disclaimer: I first saw this book in manuscript form several years ago and fell in love with it. I was overjoyed to receive a copy of the finished book from the author a couple of weeks ago.

Why everyone, especially Kansans, should vote

Being in a smaller town, I have seen up close how important my vote can be in an election–especially when it comes time to vote for local issues and local representatives. But this election day, what’s happening in Kansas is IMPORTANT–important enough that that the whole country is watching to see how our election might change the outcome of what happens in Washington D.C. in the upcoming years, and important enough that other countries are watching, too.

It’s important enough that even Kansans are realizing their votes really could make a difference on some important matters.

“I think that for the first time in almost half a century Kansas might be consequential, that my vote might make a difference,” said Dixie Mills, 79, a retired teacher in Wichita who said she has voted in every election since 1960. “The races this time are quite critical for the national makeup of Congress and the effects that it might have on millions of people.” — Wichita Eagle, November 1, 2014

Even if you’re not lucky enough to be in Kansas, if you’re a U.S. citizen, you’re lucky enough to have the right to vote. Please get out there and exercise your right.

Candles on All Souls’ Day

All Souls' Day Candles

Today is All Souls’ Day.

It’s easy to forget this holiday exists. At the stores, the Halloween costumes have already been replaced with Christmas decorations, and the grocery stores are trying to wedge Thanksgiving fare in between October and December.

Historically, Halloween is the day we pray for protection from evil. All Saints’ Day–November 1–is the day we celebrate those in heaven. All Souls’ Day–November 2–is the day we pray for the dead.

***

When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents. They lived only a couple of miles from my childhood home, and we saw them every few days, which means we were there to witness the routines of daily living.

My Croatian Catholic grandparents brought with them many of the Old-World rituals. Soup before every meal. Baking povitica every weekend. Special rituals like sprouting wheat seeds at Christmas.

It just so happened that I found myself at my grandparents’ house on November 2 one year. I remember walking into my grandmothers’ kitchen and finding a pie pan full of glowing white candles.

“What are the candles for?” I asked.

“Today we light candles for our family and friends who have died,” she said. And she pointed to each candle and told me who it was for. Her mother. Her father. Her grandmother. Her first husband. And on and on.

I was in awe of so many glowing candles on something other than a birthday cake.

“I don’t have anyone to light a candle for,” I said. Not really comprehending what those candles really meant, I was disappointed not to have any of my own to light.

“That means that everyone who matters to you is still here,” she said. “One day, though, you’ll have candles to light.”

***

I still remember when my brother called me in March of 2002 to tell me that my cousin was killed in a car wreck. It was the first time someone who truly mattered–a cousin we’d grown up with–was gone.

“We’re lucky, you know,” my brother told me before the funeral. “Somehow, we made it until now before anyone in our close circle of friends and family died.”

I was twenty-six.

And then it began.

The Big Deaths. The ones that truly alter the flow of your life. The ones that make you realize that generations are passing, that things will never be as they were. That there will come a time when you realize people you loved have been gone from your life longer than they were in your life, even though some part of you thought they would always be there.

And now I understand why my grandmother lights candles. It is more than a prayer for their souls. It is a day to remember the people who touched our lives and to celebrate how they shaped us.

***

Today, I pulled out my own pie pan and found myself filling it with candles.

My husband and I light candles for my cousin, my mother, my paternal grandmother, my mother-in-law, my husband’s four grandparents, my husband’s uncle, a candle for all of our pets, and one more candle for everyone else who touched our lives and has since passed on.

After lighting her own candles and offering prayers and reflection, my grandmother went on with her day. Cooking. Cleaning. Folding laundry. And the candles were allowed to burn. Because those who touch our lives are always a part of us, always glowing in the background, even when we aren’t thinking about them at all.

Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site, home of one of the least-known battles of the Civil War

The most fascinating thing about the Battle of Mine Creek is how little your average Kansan knows about it. It was one of the most important cavalry battles of the Civil War. It marked the end of the South’s last major campaign west of the Mississippi River.

Ask Kansans to rattle off important Kansas people or Kansas events connected to the Civil War, the list will probably be limited to William Quantrill, John Brown, the Lawrence Massacre, James Lane, and Bloody Bill Anderson.

Yet if you ask them about the day that brought nearly 10,000 men to a Kansas field and left more than 600 of them dead or wounded, they’ll probably look at you in bewilderment.

Welcome to the Battle of Mine Creek.

Here is a simplified version of events:

By late 1864, the War Between the States was shifting in favor of the Union. Fearful that the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln would lead to the South’s defeat, they CSA decided that if they could recapture a Union state and seat a Confederate governor, they might be able to change the outcome of the election and the war.

When most people think of border war states, they think of Kansas. But by the time the Civil War was underway, Kansas had pretty much settled on being a Union anti-slavery state, even if all of it’s residents didn’t agree. Missouri, on the other hand, was much more on the fence. Many of the pro-slavery people who fled from the sometimes-dangerously enthusiastic Kansas abolitionists ended up in Missouri, and though Missouri technically fought for the Union, many of its citizens owned slaves and sympathized with the Southern cause.

Enter Maj. Gen. Sterling Price.

In an effort to gain control of Missouri, Price was given this to-do list:

  • Conquer St. Louis, the most abolitionist of Missouri cities.
  • If that’s not possible, take over Jefferson City, and while there, seat a new governor.
  • If that’s not possible, smack down the areas around Kansas City.
  • If all that fails, destroy as much of Kansas as possible on the return trip.

While he was on his march across Missouri, he was to accumulate additional men and commandeer supplies. So began what was to be known as Price’s Raid.

By the middle of October, things were not going too well for Price’s men. St. Louis was too heavily fortified, as was Jefferson City. So they continued marching west, successfully adding men to the ranks and filling wagons with supplies, weapons, and ammunition. When the reached what now the Kansas City metro area, they were forced into retreat at what would be called the Gettysburg of the West: the Battle of Westport.

Missouri was lost, but Price and his men still had one item on the list they could accomplish: do damage to Kansas.

The Kansans, though, were ready. In October, the governor called the Kansas militia into service, and Gen. Samuel Curtis declared the state was under martial law. The Union was in hot pursuit of Price.

Meanwhile, Price and his men was storming through Kansas along the road to Fort Scott. That’s when the weather and geography sealed their fate. Heavy rains had filled the Marais des Cygnes River and Mine Creek. The ground was soft and muddy and both waterways were hard to cross. The men on foot could have managed, but the problem was the wagons and horses. By that time, Price’s men had amassed a fortune in ammunition, weapons, and other supplies, enough to form an entire wagon train–a slow-moving, frequently-stuck-in-the-mud wagon train. Price and many of his men rode ahead, but the wagons and the men guarding them found themselves in the bottom of a ravine trying to cross a swollen creek at a small rocky ford when the Union men caught up with them.

A view from the rocky ford in Mine Creek. Slowed down by heavy wagons sinking in the mud, Price's men were trapped when the Union cavalry arrived.

A view from the rocky ford in Mine Creek. Slowed down by heavy wagons sinking in the mud, Price’s men were trapped when the Union cavalry arrived.

In a field that rarely saw humans moving through it, about 10,000 men clashed with cannons, swords, rifles, and guns on October 25, 1864. The Confederates outnumbered the Union men nearly three to one, but the Northerners had higher ground and better weapons on their side, and by the time it was over, nearly 1,200 of Price’s men would be wounded, captured, or killed. The women from the nearby farm houses were tasked with caring for the injured and dying men. The dead were piled into a ravine and buried, and the smell of death lingered long after the battle was over.

Looking south at the Mine Creek Battlefield site. The land has been returned to native prairie, recreating how it would have appeared to men who fought there in 1864.

Looking south at the Mine Creek Battlefield site. The land has been returned to native prairie, recreating how it would have appeared to men who fought there in 1864.

It was an amazing defeat. Soon after, those very wagons were set ablaze so that they couldn’t be confiscated by the Union or further hold back the retreating men.

What amazes me about the Battle of Mine Creek is the fact that all we know about it is what was recounted in the letters and journals of the men who were there. The battle didn’t even have a proper name, because it didn’t happen in a town; it happened in a field with only a few farmhouses in the area. There were no reporters or photographers nearby. Yet it ended Price’s efforts to destroy Kansas.

Fortunately for us, the battlefield isn’t in an area where it was paved over and planted with houses before anyone realized they’d destroyed a piece of history. The Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site has preserved the land (even though their original land acquisition turned out to be west of the actual battlefield). The land has been returned to native prairie, making it look and feel much more like it would have 150 years ago. Mowed paths walk you through the battlefield, and kiosks highlight important elements of the battle. You can see for yourself where Price’s men found themselves trapped trying to cross the rocky ford on Mine Creek.

Get oriented at the historic site's museum, where you can watch a video detailing the history of the battle, see evidence of the battle recovered by archeologists, and study maps of the battlefield.

Get oriented at the historic site’s museum, where you can watch a video detailing the history of the battle, see evidence of the battle recovered by archeologists, and study maps of the battlefield.

But before you tackle the battlefield, I recommend visiting the museum itself. The 45-minute video, which originally aired on the History Channel, will orient you to the finer points of the battle (much of which I glossed over here). Artifacts collected by archeologists are thoughtfully interpreted and displayed. One of our favorite objects was a binder explaining the archeological process that helped determine the actual location of the Fort Scott road and the battlefield. Give yourself at least 90 minutes at the museum to really take in the information and ask questions.

Mine Creek Battlefield Sharps Carbine Bullets

One display shows the various types of ammunition found by archeologists on the site of the Battle of Mine Creek.

Then hit the trails, which are easy enough to follow (it’s pretty easy to see a trail when the grass is six feet tall on either side of a mowed path). Amazingly, we only confused ourselves when we tried to follow the trail map, which did not accurately represent the trails. If you go before a hard freeze, douse yourself in bug spray.

Well-maintained trails through the grasses and woody area by the creek are dotted with kiosks that tell the story of the Battle of Mine Creek. Bug spray is a good idea if you visit during the spring, summer, or fall before a hard freeze.

Well-maintained trails through the grasses and woody area by the creek are dotted with kiosks that tell the story of the Battle of Mine Creek. Bug spray is a good idea if you visit during the spring, summer, or fall before a hard freeze.

The battlefield land is quiet, save for the sound of insects and the wind blowing through the grasses and trees. It is easy to forget the present day, and as you look north up the hill from the creek, you can lose yourself in the moment and imagine what it must have been like for those Confederate soldiers, who were trapped by their wagons, as they watched the Union soldiers ride over the hill.

***

The battlefield trails and interpretive kiosks are open all year long from dawn to dusk. However, the museum is only open from April through October. If you’re traveling far to visit, consider spend the entire day in the area and visit the Marais des Cygnes Massacre Site  and the town and cemetery of Trading Post for a more complete understanding of how the area was repeatedly assaulted in the times leading up to and including the Civil War.

Sunday Snapshot: A Cow in a Field

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve managed to not post anything for almost a month, even though I have a whole bunch of things I can write about.

Here is a picture of a cow to tide things over.

We met on a minimum maintenance road somewhere in southeastern Franklin County. When we stopped to inspect a section of muddy road, this cow came by to say hello.

We met on a minimum maintenance road.

We met on a minimum maintenance road.

Sunday Snapshots: A walk on the prairie

Our weather station reported that today’s temperature reached 102.3 degrees. The air is thick with humidity, yet the ground is so dry the grass is brown and even the weeds are losing the will to live. But two weeks ago, parts of Kansas were blessed with heavy rains and mild temperatures, and Jim and I found ourselves at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

The movement of clouds create ever-shifting light and shadows on the prairie.

The TPNP is quintessential Kansas, one of the few places where you can experience giant views of native prairie. In addition to the original homestead and school, the park includes bison that graze in the pastures, and nearly 40 miles of hiking trails weave through acres of grasses and prairie flowers. The trails are open 24/7/365, and the lighting around the visitor center is thoughtfully designed to minimize impact on the night sky, making it a perfect place for stargazers and photographers.

Southwind Nature Trail.

Following Jim along the Southwind Nature Trail.

Because we didn’t have a lot of time that day, a park ranger recommended that we follow the Southwind Nature Trail and the spur to Lower Fox Creek School, a total of less than three miles of walking. Yet in such a short hike, we climbed hills, crossed a creek, spotted butterflies, and were surrounded by cheerful birdsong. It was good for the soul.

Wide Open Spaces