Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Oldest Boot Hill West of the Mississippi


Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

So, you think you know the location of the Oldest Boot Hill West of the Mississippi...but you may be in for a surprise!  Did you think it was Dodge City?  No, that came 5 years later.  Maybe you thought it was Tombstone, Arizona, or Dead Wood, South Dakota, but neither of them is older than the Boot Hill pictured above.  The oldest Boot Hill west of the Mississippi is in Hays, Kansas, located on the northeast corner of  Fort and 18th Streets.  When that location was chosen in 1867, it was about half a mile north of town, but by 1874, when the last recorded burial took place, the town had expanded to reach the burial grounds.  Some of the graves were relocated to the new Mount Allen Cemetery, but others remained.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

The statue, called "The Homesteader" was created by Pete Felten, but despite the name, many of the men buried there were not exactly our idea of a homesteader.  The name of these early cemeteries--Boot Hill--was derived from the fact that many buried there died with their boots on in shootouts, from suicides and racial disputes, and from alcoholism.  However, that was not always the case, and the  first man buried in the Hays Boot Hill was a teamster, kicked in the head by a mule.

An early burial in the Hays Boot Hill

The last known burial was in 1874.  Many, if not most, of the burials were done without ceremony, and records of the men buried there are incomplete.  The number is believed to be between 37 to 100, and most likely to be 79.  There are no grave markers, but it is a peaceful spot for those who are buried there.

This post is unlike my usual Memorial Day posts, yet the men and women who expanded settlement across the nation in its early years are worth remembering.  Today we are also becoming more aware of those we displaced in settling America, the Native Americans who lived on this continent before most of our ancestors arrived.  We are also becoming more respectful of those who arrived unwillingly but who also deserve our respect for settling this nation.  Certainly,  Memorial Day is intended to honor those who fought and those who died for this Nation.  However, perhaps we might also pause to  reflect beyond those who served our nation, and our own families.  Perhaps we could also take the time to reflect on some of those men and women we too often forget when we honor the dead who came before us. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Heroes We Should Not Forget


Hays, Kansas Fire Station
Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Always on the lookout for Kansas history, I spotted this statue at the Hays, Kansas Fire Station.  As I wandered back into the corner of the station, I noticed a Plaque.  

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

The plaque  was a "Memoriam of Our Fallen Firefighters," and the two names on the plaque--Stephen H. Tourtillot and Nicholas Arnold--shared a common date.  After doing some research, I learned that the date was the day they died in the line of duty as firefighters for the city of Hays.
In searching to learn more about the two men, I discovered that they are honored at the Kansas Firefighters Museum, a museum of which I was unaware.  

I learned that the last horse drawn fire station built in Wichita, Fire Station #6 was completed in 1909, and had 2 horses, Tom and Dick, and four fire fighters.  When Wichita became an all motorized fire department, it was the first such fully motorized fire department in the U.S. and the second in the world.  With no longer a need for a horse drawn Fire Station, #6 was used for other purposes, and in the 1980s it became a storage facility.  

Faced with the possibility of abandonment, Station #6 was rescued in 1993 when the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County formed the "Friends of Engine House No. 6" with the idea of restoring it as the Kansas Firefighters' Museum.  In 1994 it was placed on both the Registers of the Kansas and the National Historic Places.  Both Stephen H. Tourtillot and Nicholas Arnold are recognized in those places.
Both of these men died while fighting a fire at Ninth & Oak streets in Hays.  According to the Fire Fighters' Museum, they were killed when 3 Standard Oil gas lines exploded.  Also killed were six bystanders, and 150 others were injured.

I will close by quoting from the obituary for Stephen H. Tourtillott, published in The Hays Free Press.  "Monday morning he left home for work and with his usual energy at the call of duty entered into the work of trying to save the property around the burning tanks.  He was one of the victims of the explosion.  He was carried to the hospital where all was done that love and skill could do but he left this world of sorrow at 11:15 that afternoon.  He is survived by his wife, four children, his father and four brothers and their families."

Everyday, somewhere, firefighters face danger, trying to save us and our property.  I chose to do the research and share the story of these two men as a way to thank so many firefighters who have faced danger to protect us, sometimes at the cost of their lives. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Bravo for the New Kansas State Fruit


Copyright by artist, Lyn Fenwick

Did you know that in April of 2022 Kansas Governor Laura Kelly signed House Bill 2644 making the Sandhill Plum our Official State Fruit!  Those of you who follow my blog already know that I am a great fan of the humble sandhill plum.  Past blogs have shared my jelly making, and in 2019 I entered my pastel painting titled "State Fair Jelly" at the Kansas State Fair.  It didn't win a ribbon but it garnered many comments from fellow sandhill plum lovers!

Naturally, as a sandhill plum enthusiast, I was thrilled by the Governor's choice.  But I was also surprised that Kansas had not already selected the Kansas State Fruit.  We have young Kansas students to thank for bringing that omission to the Governor's attention.  Apparently there were a few other nominees for the honor, but the sandhill plum won by a landslide.

I began to wonder what other fruits might have been chosen, and the one that quickly came to mind was the mulberry,  We had mulberries at the farm when I was a child, and because I ran around everywhere in bare feet, the soles of my feet were always stained with the purple mulberry juice that carpeted the ground under the trees.  I learned why mulberry trees spread so easily.  Mulberries are wind pollinated, they are not particular about poor soil, buds develop in later spring and are rarely affected by spring frosts, and they tolerate drought. 

My 2021 jelly making

There were other nominees, but some of those were eliminated because they were not native to Kansas.  I am certain that the early homesteaders found sandhill plums on the prairie when they arrived, because Isaac Werner, my prairie bachelor, wrote about them in his journal.  Isaac also had a peach orchard, but he planted it.  He tried to plant apples, but that was not successful, although there is a mention of one apple tree in his journal, so one tree among the dozen he ordered may have survived.  His garden also contained melons, but they were cultivated from seeds he bought.

Other native fruits existed in Kansas, but many of those are native only to a certain part of the state.  Some are very difficult to raise, particularly the PawPaw tree.  After doing the research about the few other fruits native to Kansas, I agree that the sandhill plum was the best choice--although I admit that I am prejudiced.  

This year there are absolutely no sandhill plums in our pasture.  I have seen some blooming bushes along roadsides, so I have no explanation for the absence of plums in our pasture.  We did have late snows, and I also wonder if the extremely strong winds might have interfered with pollination.  Fortunately, we still have jelly from last year's canning! 

Congratulations to local school children in our area who were part of the selection of our new state fruit!  

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

An Air Base Becomes a Municipal Airport

As a child, I remember driving far to the east of what is now Highway 281 in order not to pass through the military base a few miles north of Pratt.  However, by 1962 the former B-29 training base had become Pratt's Municipal Airport, and the special edition Pride Magazine proudly declared "While its airport is not as fancy as some in larger cities, Pratt is proud to claim one of the best- equipped small-town airports in the Midwest...[with] two long runways, both hard surfaces, plenty of hangar space (even for overnight transient aircraft) and complete facilities for major engine and airframe overhaul."  The article added, "In addition there is a lighted runway, beacon, courtesy car and a certified radio repair station."

Jim Newhouse managed the airport at that time, and also operated Pratt Air Service.  The article admitted that "air traffic is never very heavy" but touted the unicom radio and the two long runways of 6,000 and 4,000 feet.

Ted Turner's plane on the Pratt Runway

Today the airport remains a valuable asset for Pratt.  The 1962 article mentioned that "some 20 aircraft owners make use of the facility, and local pilots continue to utilize the airport and house their planes there."  That continues to be true today, and in addition, planes from across the nation land there.  During hunting season, another growing business in the region, hunters often fly in to hunt.

The history of the Air Base and the men and women who served there are honored today at the airport,  which includes not only the museum housed in the former parachute building but also descriptive signs around the airport identifying locations and the structures and purposes of those places during war time.

An exhibit at the Pratt Airbase Museum

Part of the mission of the museum is to record interviews of people who served at the base during World War II.  Although the museum is operated by volunteers, there are very professional and educational exhibits to be seen.

The Pratt Airport remains something of which the community can be proud, convenient for local pilots and those passing through. From the original purpose as a military base to  its present use, the air port remains an asset for Pratt and surrounding communities.  Today the fixed base operator is Randy Huitt, following in the footsteps of his father, Mr. Curt Huitt.