Saturday, October 3, 2009

From Tornadoes to Turkville: Touring The Bemis Oil Field Region of Ellis County, KS

Saturday, October 3, 2009 was a perfect Kansas fall day of reasonably warm temperatures and calm winds - just perfect for a driving tour of the Bemis Oil Field region amid the hills of southeast Rooks, northeast Ellis, and northwest Russell Counties in North-Central Kansas.  The tour was sponsored by the Natoma Heritage Seekers of Natoma, Kansas, and by Osborne County Tourism of Osborne County, Kansas.

The tour group of eleven people met at 10:00AM at the community center in downtown Natoma.  Tour vehicles were organized and the caravan then headed west on Kansas Highway 18.

Ed Bright of the Natoma Heritage Seekers served as tour guide.

The first stop on the tour was in the small town of Codell in southwestern Rooks County.  Codell will forever be famous - or infamous - for being the only known community to ever be hit on the same day for three straight years by a tornado.  Because of the events of May 20, 1916, May 20, 1917, and May 20, 1918, the twentieth of May each year is still known as Tornado Day. 

Shown here photographing the former downtown of Codell, a newspaper reporter from the Hays Daily News tagged along for the tour. 

This concrete building in Codell used to house the Masonic Lodge.

The former Union Pacific Depot in Natoma was sold and moved here to Codell, where now it is a private residence.

Heading south from Codell, the next tour stop was at the Rooks-Ellis county line.  Known as King Hill, this point overlooks a section of road seen in the last cinematic shot of the 1973 movie Paper Moon.

A few more miles south and a winding oil road a mile or so west led the group to view the only original oil derrick still standing in Ellis County.  The oil well beneath is still producing.

The tour continued west and north along oil rock roads.  Each curve brought a new vista that topped each previously topless scenic vistas.  In many instances the shale underlying the limestone outcropping each hill was visible amid the turning red sumac.

The rugged hill country is still dotted with oil well after oil well, reflecting the recent rise in oil prices.

Amid the myriad of oil roads is Indian Head Rock, a largely-unknown Ellis County landmark that usually only oil workers get to see.

The base of Indian Head Rock is an area where the shale rock formation is accessible.  Found there are several examples of Septarian Concretions, a rock that has become the symbol of the Blue Hills of this region of Kansas.  Note the dark veins of calcite in the concretion.  The whitish remains of a marine fossil can also be seen throughout the rock.

From Indian Head Rock the tour headed north a few miles to the former community of Turkville, where a Bring Your Own Lawn Chair lunch break was taken.

One of the historical sites in the now ghost town of Turkville is the location of the Hilltop Cafe, which existed from the mid-1930s through the 1950s.  Never to be confused with an Architectural Wonder of Kansas, the small building nonetheless was known far and wide for its excellent food.

A neglected barn is all that now remains of one of Turkville's homesteads.

The ghost town does sport a native garden of yucca plants amid the sumac turned red by the cool fall weather.

A colony from Tennessee came to Ellis County in 1876 and founded the community of Turkville.  This group of Baptists founded the first Baptist church in Ellis County, and Reverend Allen D. King was the first pastor.  Most of its members were from King's extended family.  This foundation is now all that is left of the Turkville Baptist Church. 

East of the Turkville community is located the Norman Cemetery.  Each cemetery has its own charm and interesting tombstones, and this burial ground was no exception. 

This unusual marble stone memorializes William J. McAuley, a Civil War veteran who served in Company F of the 20th Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteers.

Turkville was named for colonist Ben Turk, who passed away in 1879.  The grave of his infant son and namesake lies in the Norman Cemetery.

The final tour stop was at Doug Pruter's elk herd in the extreme northeastern portion of Ellis County.  Pruter has been maintaining this herd for the past eight years, averaging around 55 to 60 animals. 

About 4:00PM the tour ended and was deemed a great success.  Everyone agreed that there is a lot to see and do in Rural Kansas!

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