Backtracking to Bonner Springs: October 24-28, 2010

Now that we were pumped about Kansas, we decided to double back for a few days before heading south to Wichita. Our goal was to visit Atchison, Leavenworth and Kansas City. We located a campground in Bonner Springs, and while it served our need by being a short distance of all those destinations, we’ll never stay there again!

National Agricultural Museum and Hall of Fame

Dot did, in fact, visit one local attraction: the National Agricultural Museum and Hall of Fame. It was issued a federal charter on August 31, 1960 – signed, appropriately enough, by President Eisenhower. Outside of schools and banks, there aren’t many federally chartered groups; the VFW, American Red Cross and Future Farmers of America are among the short list. Its goal is “to awaken people to the importance of agriculture and help them understand and appreciate its influence.” The focus is on both rural heritage and the technology that’s used today to help feed and clothe America and the world. No governmental funds are supplied; the museum relies solely on generated revenue and fund raising.



Kansas’ first city yielded multiple attractions. Established in 1854, with the Missouri River flowing by, it was already a commerce center and valuable hub on the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. Fort Leavenworth, founded 27 years earlier, was the first trading post and frontier protection facility west of the Mississippi and served as a steamboat port as well as an overland trading post. The railroad arrived in 1866, and all lines west and south have used the city. Leavenworth Landing is an honorific, replete with iron fencing celebrating the railroads. It shares its space with Riverfront Park, a tribute to two famous visitors on July 1, 1804 and again on September 14, 1806 on their way to and from the Pacific coast. Multiple plaques along the river tell the story of both visits. Also honored are the Kansa, who migrated up the Missouri from east of the Mississippi in the 1600’s and occupied the area until their forced relocation in 1846, lending their name to the state in the interim.

Fort Leavenworth is most famous today as the leading federal incarceration unit. Its earlier history is well document in its Frontier Army Museum. The Frontier Army actually pre-dated the fort, reaching back to the time of Lewis and Clark. It was charged with maintaining peace, protecting traders and travelers, and colonization and relocation of Native Americans. It provided the Civil War fighting force west of the Mississippi, and it was a vital force in the Mexican campaigns, including the “Punitive Expedition of John J. Pershing against Pancho Villa in 1916-17. In 1834, it became the headquarters of the first permanent mounted regiment, the U.S. Dragoons. In 1881, General William Tecumseh Sherman established the school that became the Command and General Staff College, whose highest scoring graduate ever was Ike. It had famous assignees, like General Custer, and “guests,” like Chief Joseph and his Nez Pierce tribe. And it was home to the 10th Cavalry regiment of Buffalo Soldiers, established in 1866-67.

Flash photography in the museum was verboten, so you’ll have to settle for some grainy pictures. The sleigh was crafted for General Custer to his specifications. The uniform tunic belonged to Colonel Leavenworth, founder of the post. Traveling atop the stagecoach is a company of Buffalo Soldiers.

The pictures of the Buffalo Soldier Monument, on the Fort’s grounds, are better!

We made two other stops in Leavenworth. One was St. Mary’s College. We were on a mission to cover it for an alumnus, Susan Butchart. Susan is our best Schipperke friend we’ve never met. She lives in Montana, and we will be visiting with her next spring. The other was the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum. Parker, of Abilene, bought a used carousel in 1892. He repaired not only his own but others, and he soon started a business building carousels and other amusement rides. Of the 1,000 or so he either built from scratch or rebranded, only 16 are known to still operate. And the museum has two of them, along with what is likely the world’s oldest. Other competitors are honored. The repair and restoration shop is constantly busy. Although it was closed, our sad faces outside the door led to a private showing.


Another great stop. It is named for U.S. Senator David Rice Atchison, who, as President pro tem from the previous Senate, was considered president for a day when incoming president Zach Taylor refused to be inaugurated on a Sunday!

The Atchison County Historical Museum and the Visitors Center share space in the old Santa Fe depot. While humble by comparison to many, it does an excellent job of telling the story of the county’s early days with a series of vignettes. Here are a few.

Rev. Pardee Butler came from Illinois and staked his claim in 1855. Awaiting a delayed steamboat departure back to pick up his family, he uttered a remark that branded him as an abolitionist. Met by an angry group, he was spared the “hemp necklace” but set adrift on the river on a two-log raft, expected to drown. He made it to shore 12 miles downstream, on to Illinois, and back with his family — only to be recognized and tarred and feathered by another mob. Yet he persevered.

Senator Atchison’s display is considered his “presidential library.”

The museum hosts a life mask of Abraham Lincoln, created by local sculptor Leonard Volk in 1860, shortly after Abe was nominated for president. Volk made the mask to reduce the sittings required for the bust he was creating. Removing the plaster cast with difficulty after an hour, Lincoln declared it was “anything but agreeable.”


Songwriter/musician Jesse Stone, whose Rock Around the Clock was a hit for many perforrmers, did his part to assure that Achison woulkd be remembered as a major contributor to the music of the Twentieth Century. His first jazz composition, “Idaho,” was recorded by Benny Goodman. He was a co- founder of Atlantic Records. As a performer, he led groups from Chicago to NYC and played the Cotton Club.

The ATSF railroad gets a fair amount of space, as expected. So do Lewis and Clark; a fair sized replica of the statue of L&C, along with Sacajawea (that’s how they spell it here), Pomp, York and Seaman dominates the entrance. There is also an extensive collection of Amelia Earhart memorabilia.

The outdoor Atchison Rail Museum is right next door on a series of rail sidings. Owned and operated by a group of voluntary rail enthusiasts, it’s available all the time for exterior viewing and more extensively in the summer.

Next stop was the waterfront, where Lewis and Clark memorials abound. They landed here a few days after Leavenworth. And not far from downtown is Independence Creek, so named by the explorers because they spent their first Fourth of July celebrating there. In addition to a memorial and extensive signage, the site contains a Kanza mound home, well preserved.

Our last visitation was to the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum. It was the home of Judge Alfred Otis, prominent and wealthy citizen of Atchison and Amelia’s maternal grandfather. Situated on a bluff above the Missouri River, its neighborhood is one to behold. Amelia and her younger sister Muriel spent a great deal of her childhood there; her father relocated several times as he tried to build his career, and this was always the children’s summer home. Amelia acted like a tomboy during her youth; she selected her own high school for its technical curriculum and was fascinated with becoming successful in a career dominated by men. She was a pioneer of open marriage; when she and publisher George Putnam (you’ll probably recognize “GP Putnam”) were married, she declared that neither she nor George should be inhibited by marital stereotypes. The house is meticulously restored by its current and perpetual owners, The Ninety Nines, an international organization of female pilots that was originated by Amelia herself in 1919. Two owners followed the Otis family; after both members of the second died in the 1980’s, a wealthy local gave The Ninety Nines a $100,000 contribution to purchase the site. They have since raised major additional sums for its restoration and maintenance. In the picture below of the small study with the hanging plane model, Amelia’s original contract for the plane in which she disappeared is in view on the table, complete with amendments. The flight suit on the model is that worn by Hillary Swank in the movie, “Amelia.”

And here’s a small sampling of the neighborhood.

The Kansas Citys

From Bonner Springs, we had too little time to cover the KC’s, but we did get to visit four interesting sites.

The first was Quindaro, a settlement founded just north of the city in 1855 by abolitionists, Wyandottes and freedmen It was established to create an escape route for slaves from Missouri and a connection to the underground railroad, and to help prevent the western expansion of slavery. The center picture below is the path of freedomup from the river. The original settlement faded in a few years, and successive settlements founded by liberated blacks followed. One of its major accomplishments was the founding of the Quindaro Freedman’s School in 1867, later chartered as Western University. In 1986, an archeological exploration unearthed the remnants of the original settlement. Both KU and KSU have participated in rebuilding its historical heritage. It was added to the National Register in 2002 and is undergoing extensive restoration resulting from a 2007 grant by the Kansas Humanities Council. Current features are an educational rotunda above the path used by escaping slaves and a statue of Kansas’s most illustrious abolitionist, John Brown.

Next, we headed downtown to Case Park/Clark’s Point/Quality Hill. All three names reference the same area. It’s a high bluff overlooking the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. It was scaled by Lewis & Clark on their return journey in September, 1806. Clark identified it as an excellent location for a defensive fort, but oddly enough, it was he who supervised the building of a fort further down river after the trip was over. The park contains the original of the statue by Eugene Daub that we originally saw a diminutive version of in Atchison.

Several other features piqued our interest. One was a statue of Jim Pendergast, one of the original bosses of Kansas City, Missouri. If you think back to our Independence, MO segment, you might recall that the Pendergast “family” played a role in the early political success of one H. S Truman.

There is also a series of signs posted by the Chouteau Society settlers of both St. Louis and the Kansas City area, originally named Chez le Canses. French influence in the KC area dates back to the 17th century, when traders lived in concert with the local Native Americans. Many French people occupied the area, some on their way south to Taos and Santa Fe, on which was to become the Santa Fe Trail. By the end of the 18th century, there were permanent settlements.

One of the plaques interlocked the Chouteaus and the Corps. St. Louis family members housed both captains and were extensively involved in procurement for the expedition. The plaque also claimed that French traders and voyagers had covered almost two thirds of the trail prior to 1804. The second plaque was a testament to Etrienne Vieniard, Sieur de Bourgmont, who explored the Kansas (Kaw) and Missouri Rivers as far north as Leavenworth in 1713 for Louis IV, and a decade later, he explored down to the present border of New Mexico, prfecursing the Santa Fe. Trail.

Whew. Two episodes to go.

The Missouri has been described as “too thick to drink; too thin to plow.” Its course today, and for many more recent years, has been straighter and more navigable. But in 1804, Lewis and Clark found themselves and crew tediously dragging their boats over shallow after shallow. By the 1850’s, conditions were a little better – but still treacherous. It was these conditions that caused the death of many a steamboat as it plied its trade among shallows and snags – heavy tree stumps with one end still dug into the bottom.

The Arabia had made many successful trips up and down the river, carrying up to 222 tons of freight and passengers on each voyage. But in 1856, her luck ran out. Not far north of the confluence, she hit a snag and foundered. Not a soul was lost, but most of the cargo went unrecovered.

While several attempts were made to effect a recovery, it took the discovery of the “corpse” in 1998 by an area HVAC contractor and amateur treasure hunter, David Hawley, struck the site. With the help of his family and friends, he assembled a crew that excavated the site, now half a mile from the river’s current course and 45 feet down.

I won’t try to chronicle the adventure that followed – a Google to “Steamboat Arabia” will get you to that. But the museum, housed in a mall environment in downtown KC, is outstanding. Upon entering, one sees a giant paddlewheel rotating. And by paying a reasonable admission, one gets to tour the sections of the craft that have actually been excavated, the snag that doomed it, and — my god — the cargo they have recovered. There’s even a lab where the tedious time consuming process of additional recovery is taking place – we saw boots that had been conditioning for over three months. This is truly a story that’s better in pictures – so here goes.

I’ll bet you’ve heard of “Eighteenth and Vine.” It rivals Basin Street and Beale Street as one of the birthrights of American music. It is hard to name a jazz musician who didn’t perform there. Today, it’s the home of the American Jazz Museum. The AJM shares space – and admission – with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. We didn’t have time to tour the latter, but we did spend an hour wandering through the history of jazz and its practitioners. Photography was strictly forbidden; you had to check your camera at the door. But I sent Dot over to pay the admission and pocketed my Kodak. Actually, I was good, but when it came to The Blue Room, where many of the greats had performed, I snuck (sneaked?) a shot. Circular ramps led to different periods and modes. In each, there were photos and stories and listening devices to sample all those sounds of the past. A TV room presented multiple performances. And a percussion exhibit allowed you to blend a combination of techniques to develop your own rhythm section – neat! Just a trip down the street, with its vintage nostalgia, would have been well worth the visit.

All in all, our backtracking trip was a highlight! Now, on to Wichita

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