Saturday, August 27, 2016

2016 Epic Road Trip - Day 104

Day 104

Aug 25, 2016

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas was the first visit today.  Years ago, there was over 140 million acres of tallgrass in the Midwest prairie lands; today only 4% of it remains.

It could grow to 8 feet high and had roots extending down 15-25 feet below ground, providing food and habitat for hundreds of different prairie animals and soil insects.  One of those animals was the prairie chicken.

After John Deere invented the steel moldboard plow which could cut through the tough prairie sod, the settlers went to work cultivating the land.  It took less than a generation to break the prairie soil and forever change the land.

Tall grass prairie is also home to bison who recently have taken to harassing the hikers...kind of funny in a way.

The land changed hands many times from the settlers to railroad and to subsequent ranchers and farmers. The buildings have been renovated, torn down and rebuilt through the years until purchased in 1996 by the Nature Conservancy to preserve it, in cooperation with the National Park Service. The existing complex of buildings are made of stone and well-restored.

I passed through Yates Center, KS which is the Hay capitol of the world.  What a reputation and another bit of trivia.

Next stop was Fort Scott on the eastern border of Kansas. It has an interesting history.  Back in the days of young America, we pushed the Indians westward.  The US was essentially east of the Mississippi.  Fort Scott was established in 1842 and staffed by soldiers to preserve peace and to enforce a promise made to the Indians that they could have the land west of the Mississippi River where white settlement would be forbidden.  Fort Scott and a number of other forts were built upon the Permanent Indian frontier line.

This Permanent frontier line didn’t last long.  It was in the late 1840s that the gold rush began and white settlers continued westward believing that the US had a divine right to own lands from coast to coast, as well as engaging in the Mexican-American War through which the US acquired vast new land in the southwest. The Indians were moved farther west.

There was virtually no combat among the soldiers stationed here.  However, there was a hospital ward set up, which mostly treated the soldiers for pneumonia, alcoholism and mental issues.  The medical instruments were primitive – hacksaws, pliers and the likes.

The final stop today was the George Washington Carver National Monument in Missouri.  He was born a slave in 1864, kidnapped as an infant along with his mother.  The mother was never seen alive again, but George Washington Carver (Carver was the name of the family who owned him) was found in Arkansas nearly dead from whooping cough and returned back to the Carver farm in Kansas. Due to his frail health, he was freed from many daily chores, giving him time to explore in the woods and marvel at the wonder of nature and learn to paint. 

As a child he was not allowed to attend school, but as he approached adulthood, he was accepted as an art major at Simpson College in Iowa, where he was the only black student.  A year later he transferred to the Iowa State Agricultural College to pursue agriculture, where he earned both his Bachelors and Masters Degrees.

He began working with peanuts, intending to free African American farmers and the South from the tyranny of king cotton.  He convinced farmers to grow soybeans and peanuts in addition to cotton.  He transformed peanuts into ink, paper soap, glue, dyes, massage oil, milk, cosmetics and more.  He became renowned as a symbol of interracial cooperation and when he died in 1943, Congress designated the George Washington Carver National Monument to honor an African American scientist, educator and humanitarian.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.  This park employee was celebrating the occasion at the G.W. Carver National Monument.

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