gradiant yellow and dark brown divider line


MARVELS! The idea catches the imagination. There are all sorts of marvels in our lives-- large buildings that defy the sky, wide prairies that lift our spirits, strange tales which make us shiver, that such a thing could be so. Some marvels are very small -- the perfection of a tiny delicate flower -- while others sweep before us on a grand scale -- a stormy sky stretching from horizon to horizon, far as the eye can see. William Thayer wrote in Marvels of the New West that he had found so many, they wouldn't all fit into his book (which still ran over 700 pages!).

Many such marvels are described in KanColl, and we've put together a sampler of some of them here. So come right this way!



     The sweet assuring smile of peace fell on Kansas for the first time in her existence when the war of the rebellion ended. Twelve years of turmoil and bloody strife - twelve years of constant effort where danger was ever rife, had trained the inhabitants to know now rest save in motion and no safety save in incessant vigilance. Under such discipline the character of the whole people had become as peculiar as the experiences through which they had passed. A restless energy was the controlling characteristic - to take one's ease had ceased to be a thing to be desired; obstacles to be overcome were the desire objects, and to overcome them the grand aim of a typical Kansan's life. Pluck, independent of hope and defiant of despair, was the ruling passion of the people. The war being ended, they turned to the most vigorous pursuit of the peaceful arts; they had conquered the right to the free soil they trod; henceforth their energies should be devoted to the development of its highest possibilities through every means which ingenuity could devise, patience endure, or energy execute.
     What costs dearest lies closest to the heart; so the intensest love of the strange people who, impelled by diverse motives, from remote points had come to Kansas, and suffered and endured to hold possession, became centered in the commonwealth which had cost them so much, and forgetful of old divisions and feuds, the combined energies of the whole people, trained to an intensity of action which brooked no restraint, turned with irresistible force to the development of the resources of their beloved State.


     Your letter has been duly received and found us all well. I was surprised to get a letter from you and well pleased to learn that you want to leave the factory and Waterloo. You or any other man cannot do better than to come west and that right away, if you think you can live without hearing the factory bell. Well, Ed, I have been over most of the western states and Kansas is far ahead for everything....
     Ed, this state is settling faster than any other ever has and the quicker you come the more chance you have got to pick. If you calculate to come here to stay, fetch your family along with you....I believe you think Kansas is out of the world but believe me it is right in the center and God Almighty was in one of His pleasantest moods when he made it.

Kansas postcard, circa 1910, proclaiming, 'Every opportunity -- room for a million!


     The History of Johnson County as here set forth is not an attempt at metaphysical disquisition, nor a profusion of legendary lore; neither is it an effort to analyze the unknown motives of man or to seek the hidden causes for certain human events. The constant object before the writer has been to present the story of Johnson County as told by the men and women whose faith, courage, foresight and industry have made the county what it is today. The story of the adventures, struggles and achievements of these pioneers form an indispensable and most interesting part of this work. They possess the value of authenticity, and are the plain, unvarnished tales of those who bore the burden of the days of trying endeavor and who endured almost incredible hardships. Confronted by drouths, pests, plagues and repeated failures, and rent by political dissention of the border war period, these brave pioneers never lost faith in the future greatness of Johnson county, and many of this noble band of self-sacrificing men and women still live to exult in its beauty and progress, and to prophesy that the astounding development of today is but the fore runner of still greater things to come.


     During late summer of 1888, interest developed very quickly among area residents when the "Wyandotte Line," officially the Kansas City, Wyandotte & Northwestern Railroad Company, announced a plan to extend operations from Seneca, Kan., to the Nebraska border, with a train station to be located at the northern terminus. Around the middle of September, John P. Taylor, a Seneca businessman speaking for the company, relayed news of the venture to associates and friends. The new depot conceived for the north end would handle freight, passengers, and mail traffic. The setting on the very north edge of the Sunflower State could become a significant trading center with goods marketed to the surrounding community and the area's farm produce shipped to all points along the line southeast to Kansas City, Mo.      Very soon afterward, the marketing center indeed became a reality, growing with a rapidity apparently unparalleled by any nearby town in its initial year. By the time of incorporation in October, 1889, the platted village reportedly had a population of about 500 with close to 100 buildings erected.



A true Kansas sunflower     I suppose that it was among the seed that we put out in our back-yard bird-feeder, but we had one of those big sunflowers sprout up in our back yard this past summer. You know, the real native Kansas variety. It had gotten about fifteen to twenty feet tall before the buds began to swell, and we had to use binoculars to see the blossoms when they finally opened. The thing was very topheavy, though. It had grown so fast that its stalk was barely a foot in diameter, and one of those late summer winds sent it crashing down, narrowly missing our garage, our neighbor's back porch, and the lamp post down at the corner. I had a couple of fellows with a truck come in, and they used chainsaws to cut the stalk up into twenty-foot lengths. I thought that I would have to pay a high price for all that work, but they didn't charge me at all. It seems that a couple more sunflowers like ours had come down in the wind, and they had already made a deal to sell the entire carload to a rancher down near Dalhart in the Texas Panhandle. He had gotten tired of his flimsy aluminum irrigation pipe getting bent and twisted, and had been looking for some good solid Kansas sunflower stalk sections for a long time. Of course, the Arabs buy most of the mature specimens for oil well casing, but I seem to have gotten off the point.....


     So it was with the marvels of agriculture in the New West a generation ago. They presented so great a contrast with the agriculture of the East that credulity could not span the chasm. If the reports had been half the size they might have been believed. As it was, caricature and burlesque modified even the facts that were generally accepted, after the manner of the following:--
      "Yes, sir," resumed the Dakota man, as the crowd of agriculturists drew back from the bar and seated themselves around a little table, "yes, sir, we do things on rather a sizable scale. I've seen a man on one of our big farms start out in the spring and plough a straight furrow until fall, then he turned around and harvested back."
     "Carry his grub with him?" asked a Brooklyn farmer who raised cabbage on the outskirts.
     "No, sir. They follow him up with a steam hotel and have relays of men to change ploughs for him. We have some big farms up there, gentlemen. A friend of mine owned a farm on which he had to give a mortgage, and I pledge you my word the mortgage was due on one end before they could get it on record at the other. You see it was laid off in counties."
     There was a murmur of astonishment, and the Dakota man continued:--
     "I got a letter from a man who lives in my orchard just before I left home, and it had been three weeks getting to the dwelling-house, although it had been travelled day and night."
     "Distances are pretty wide up there, ain't they?" inquired a New Utrecht agriculturist.
     "Reasonably, reasonably," replied the Dakota man. "And the worst of it is, it breaks up families so. Two years ago I saw a whole family prostrated with grief, -- women yelling, children howling, and dogs barking. One of my men had his camp truck packed on seven four-mule teams, and he was around bidding everybody good-by."
     "Where was he going?" asked a Gravesend man.
     "He was going half-way across the farm to feed the pigs," replied the Dakota man.
     "Did he ever get back to his family?"
     "It isn't time for him yet," returned the Dakota gentlemen. "Up there we send young married couples to milk the cows, and their children bring home the milk."


     One of the most interesting cases of resuscitation that ever came to my knowledge was that of George Lennox, a notorious horse-thief of Jefferson County. He was serving his second term. Sedgwick County sent him to the prison the first time for a similar offense -- stealing horses. During the winter of 1887 and 1888, he worked in the coal mines. The place where he was laboring seemed dangerous to him. He reported the fact to the officer in charge, who made an examination, and deciding that the room was safe, ordered Lennox back to his work. The convict, obeying, had not continued his work more than an hour, when the roof fell in and completely buried him. He remained in this condition fully two hours. Missed at dinner-time, a search was instituted for the absent convict, and he was found under this heap of rubbish. Life seemed extinct. He was taken to the top, and on examination by the prison physician was pronounced dead. His Remains were carried to the hospital, where he was washed and dressed preparatory for interment. His coffin was made and brought into the hospital. The chaplain had arrived to perform the last sad rites prior to burial. A couple of prisoners were ordered by the hospital steward to lift the corpse from the boards and carry it across the room and place it in the coffin. They obeyed, one at the head and the other at the feet, and were about half way across the room when the one who was at the head accidentally stumbled over a cuspidor, lost his balance, and dropped the corpse. The head of the dead man struck the floor, and to the utter surprise and astonishment of all present, a deep groan was heard. Soon the eyes opened, and other appearances of life were manifested. The physician was immediately sent for, and by the time he arrived, some thirty minutes, the dead man had called for a cup of water, and was in the act of drinking when the physician arrived. The coffin was at once Removed, and later on was used to bury another convict in. His burial robes were also taken from him, and the prison garb substituted. On an examination, he was found to have one of his legs broken in two places, and was otherwise bruised. He remained in the hospital some six months, and again went to work. I learned of his peculiar experience while apparently dead, soon after, from a fellow miner. Prompted by curiousity, I longed for an acquaintance with Lennox to get his experience from his own lips. This opportunity was not offered for several months. At last it came. After being removed from the mines I was detailed to one of the prison offices to make out some annual reports. The subject of this man's return to life was being discussed one day, when he happened to pass by the office door and was pointed out to me. It was not long until I had a note in his hand, and asked him to come where I was at work. He did so, and here I got well acquainted with him, and from his own lips received his wonderful story....


The title, 'The Wizard of Oz,' superimposed over a bright rainbow      She was awakened by a shock, so sudden and severe that if Dorothy had not been lying on the soft bed she might have been hurt. As it was, the jar made her catch her breath and wonder what had happened; and Toto put his cold little nose into her face and whined dismally. Dorothy sat up and noticed that the house was not moving; nor was it dark, for the bright sunshine came in at the window, flooding the little room. She sprang from her bed and with Toto at her heels ran and opened the door.
     The little girl gave a cry of amazement and looked about her, her eyes growing bigger and biggerat the wonderful sights she saw.
     The cyclone had set the house down very gently--for a cyclone--in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty. There were lovely patches of greensward all about, with stately trees bearing rich and luscious fruits. Banks of gorgeous flowers were on every hand, and birds with rare and brilliant plumage sang and fluttered in the trees and bushes. A little way off was a small brook, rushing and sparkling along between green banks, and murmuring in a voice very grateful to a little girl who had lived so long on the dry, gray prairies.



     The grasshoppers have now invaded Kansas, and are devastating thousands of acres. A correspondent of the New York Tribune tells how they come and what they do:
     At times they came in such immense clouds, that on the north and west sides of buildings, bushels of them could be gathered, partially stunned by the sudden contact, and the sound produced in striking frame buildings in the range of their flight was similar to that of a moderate hail storm. In an exceedingly short time since they completely covered apple, pear, and peach trees, shade trees and grape vines, and immediately began their destructive work on fruit and foliage. Most of the fruit has the stems cut off, and after falling, is soon covered by a hungry crew. At this writing they have completely stripped a favorite pear tree of its fruit and foliage. They even intrude within the precincts of our houses, and at this moment, one, bolder than the rest, is trying to devour a newspaper by my side. The sound produced by his efforts is similar to that of a wood rasp vigorously applied. The doors and windows are closed to keep the intruders out. It is even unpleasant to be out doors, to have them circle in myriads about your head and feet, and hear the incessant humming. At nights they closed their travels, but do not fail to satisfy their voracious appetite. Their general actions and attitudes in the endeavor to satisfy their hunger forcibly reminds one of a lot of partially starved swine at their first meal after a long fast. It is amusing to watch them while on an ear of corn or a luscious apple, while it is undergoing a change under their mastication powers. For the purpose of examination, I visited a neighboring field of corn, comprising 100 acres, in the afternoon after their arrival, and I must confess I was deeply impressed with a sense of solemn dread as I witnessed the work of destruction going on before my eyes. How insignificant and puny as an individual, yet how mighty and destructive by reason of its powers of rapid propagation! At this writing, the storm still continues, and the number of arrivals is increasing after 14 hours incessant duration, and the end is not yet. If it lasts much longer, a total destruction of crops is open to our view. So upon the whole a dire calamity is impending and has already come upon us in our western and south-western counties. It would be absurd and a sin to attempt to conceal the fact. Aid must be secured from other quarters.

A snowplow clears the Union Pacific railroad tracks at Dorrance, KS in 1912


     I don't remember the exact year--sometime in the mid 1960s--but I was working as a carpenter on the Valley View bank at 96th & Metcalf in Overland Park, KS. The day became hot & humid. There was an eerie stillness. The sky to the west took on that yellowish-green tint that any native of the midwest learns to fear. Suddenly, someone yelled, "look over there!" "Over there" was about four blocks southwest of the construction sight. Dipping out of that ominous sky, appearing to be heading right at us, was a funnel that looked at least as large as an inverted mountain. (We later found out that it was really a very small tornado.) About the same time as that sighting, the sirens began wailing.
     The bank's vault, two stories high and constructed of reinforced concrete, had recently been completed. Ironworkers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, everyone on the job site, piled off scaffolding, half leaping and half falling. The fact that the bottom of the vault contained about three feet of water from a recent rain was of no consequence. It was soon filled with tough, seasoned construction workers hugging the west wall. Fear was etched on every face.

Vast expanse of sky with towering clouds floating by


Tuesday, 12-May-98 09:16 PM
     And in far, far western Kansas (even further than Hays) you could see the Northern Lights sometimes.
Lee Nichols

     You didn't have to be that far west. I remember seeing them from just south of Hutchinson in the fifties. Of course they were a little more spectacular when I saw them from the North Slope of Alaska's Brooks Range while on a Wichita State University expedition in 1967. They were south of us from there.
     And if you really want to enjoy the vast expanse of the state and appreciate it anew take someone from the eastern coast on an auto trip across the state with you. They teach you a new appreciation for how far you can see and how beautiful it really is.
     I remember a friend of mine telling of stopping to help some out of state motorists who'd pulled off to the side of a Kansas highway. It turned out there wasn't anything wrong with their car. They were simply overwhelmed by that increadible expanse of sky, uninterupted by tree or hill or mountain or even a cloud, that day, from horizon to horizon. It's kind of an awesome sight, especially if you aren't used to it.


gradiant yellow and dark brown divider line

Voices 'Contents'

gradiant yellow and dark brown divider line