Friday, January 28, 2011

The Settlement of Kansas: Railroad Hype Drew Settlers

The Settlement of Kansas: Railroad Hype Drew Settlers

The Wichita Eagle
Sunday, January 23, 2011
reprinted from

To hear the railroads tell it, Kansas was the Garden of Eden. "Temperate Climate, Excellent Health, Pure & Abundant Water," the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad declared on an advertising flier in 1876.

The "best stock country in the world," the Kansas Pacific Railway boasted in 1878.

The state was more productive than most, according to an 1870 handbook printed by the Kansas Pacific. Its crops yielded more profit because they were cheaper to raise. Its weather allowed farmers to do more work.

Kansas, the handbook said, offered "unsurpassed grazing" and an "enterprising population."

The climate, it said in a statement that would be proven wrong more than once in the state's early decades, "is mild and pleasant."

The hype worked.

People came to Kansas from around the world in the 1870s, after the Civil War and "Bleeding Kansas" days had ended.

In large part, the new immigrants made the prairie into productive farmland and shaped our future.

They farmed the land and founded towns, and they passed their pioneer hardiness and work ethic to future generations of Kansans.

They came from Croatia, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, England, France.

They came from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, New York.

Ethnic groups from foreign lands formed colonies all over the state, retaining their languages, customs and cultures and passing them on.

They came for land and opportunity, and also to escape religious persecution, poverty and compulsory military service in their home countries.

"From the beginning we're being shaped by people of different backgrounds, particularly parts of Europe, but also African Americans and Native Americans," said Virgil Dean, editor of Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains and publications director for the Kansas Historical Society.

"It's kind of symbolic of the story of America."

Railroad Promotions

The railroads, trying to sell the millions of acres given to them by the U.S. government to grow their business, promoted Kansas all over Europe and Russia and the rest of the American states.

"The railroads were highly privileged, and the Supreme Court supported them lock, stock and barrel," said Robert Linder, history professor at Kansas State University. "They were able to make fortunes off settling the Great Plains."

Railroads offered free or reduced-rate transportation to Kansas, and settlers from overseas could bring all of their household goods at a railroad's expense.

It wasn't always a pleasant way to travel. The authors of an 1859 handbook offering advice to prospective settlers of the Kansas and Rocky Mountain territories cautioned that they "will probably have to put up with a sleeping cot in the saloon — a style of nocturnal accommodation which is exceedingly uncomfortable to persons unaccustomed to Western travel."

The restaurants on the trains were run by "very avaricious and inhospitable persons" out to swindle diners, they wrote.

"Frequently, too , the food is filthy, bread badly baked and unwholesome; the tea and coffee cold, or so bitter and black that they are far from furnishing an agreeable repast," they wrote.

And yet, people came. In 1860, a year before Kansas became a state, its population was 107,000. By 1875, it had grown to more than half a million.

Germans were the largest group of foreign immigrants to Kansas. Some came from Germany, but many came from the Volga River in southern Russia, where they excelled in agriculture and were drawn to Kansas by railroad posters.

But before the Volga Germans came, they sent five scouts to investigate. They were wary about the new territory after what had happened to them in Russia.

They had left their native Germany on promises from Catherine the Great of exemption from military service, freedom from taxation and free land. These privileges had slowly disappeared.

One of the scouts was Anton Wasinger, great grandfather of Leona W. Pfeifer of Hays. He and four other men came to America in 1874 to look at the territory and returned to Russia with some soil samples and a favorable report.

The land reminded them of the Volga.

A year later, groups of Volga German colonists came over by ship, then traveled by train to Topeka, where they spent the winter before moving west and starting villages in Ellis and Rush counties, each with its own dialect.

"They were a hard-working people, very reliable," said Pfeifer, who speaks with a trace of a German accent.

Self-reliance was important to them. They were ridiculed in newspapers for their dress, speech and customs, Pfeifer said, so they developed a mistrust of outsiders.

"They didn't get any help from anybody, so they had to take care of themselves," Pfeifer said.

Hard work was the family ethic.

"They worked from early morning to late at night. That's what made Ellis County," said Pfeifer, a former history and German teacher.

Hardy Settlers

Most early Kansas settlers had lived in states farther east before making a final push west.

In 1871 Jesse Tyler Sturm of Shinnston, W.Va., traveled to Kansas by train with a brother-in-law looking for land to homestead.

As a Civil War veteran on the Union side, he was entitled to 160 acres of free land from the U.S. government, although it could have been railroad land they were after as well, said Karen Sturm, wife of Jesse Sturm's great-grandson, Harold, of Caldwell.

After failing to find any land that hadn't been claimed, they planned to return to West Virginia. But when a stage coach they were awaiting arrived, a passenger told them about great land in the southern part of Kansas that hadn't been taken.

The men traveled by covered wagon to the Oklahoma line, seeing Indians and buffalo but no trees, Karen Sturm said.

Jesse Sturm staked a claim northeast of Caldwell in spring 1872 and brought his wife and four children to Kansas.

They lived out of covered wagons the first year. They had to travel 80 miles to Newton to buy processed lumber to build a house, Karen Sturm said.

"That was the way life was. It was hard and they didn't think anything about it," she said. "They were so hardy, our ancestors. They had to be."

Jesse Sturm was a gifted storyteller. In 2002 the state of West Virginia published his Civil War book, "From a Whirlpool of Death ... to Victory," remembrances of his service with the 14th West Virginia Infantry.

Sturm became a justice of the peace, and township trustee and assessor.

He was Sumner County treasurer and trustee of Sumner County high schools, and was appointed by the governor as a member of the River and Harbor Congress and a delegate to the inter-state wheat congress.

An active Republican, he was urged to run for the state Senate in 1918 but declined because of failing health.

His great-great-grandson, Ryan Sturm, is the fifth generation to farm in Sumner County.

His farm is five miles from Jesse Sturm's original homestead.

Haven For Ex-Slaves

Kansas, where anti-slavery forces had prevailed in its "Bleeding Kansas" days, became a haven for former slaves.

W.R. Hill, a white land speculator in Nicodemus in Graham County, traveled through the South to sell the state to African Americans still burdened by Jim Crow laws.

He promised that they could own their own land, build their own town and govern themselves.

Angela Bates' family was among the first group of 350 to make the five-day trip from Kentucky by train in 1877.

Most of them had never been on a train.

And they didn't like what they saw when they crossed the Flint Hills into Graham County — barren terrain where the few residents of Nicodemus lived in earthen dugouts.

"There was nothing except a few holes in the ground," Bates said.

About 60 returned to Kentucky.

More came as part of the exodus of former slaves from the South, but it took strong spiritual resolve to remain, Bates said.

Those who did built the town rapidly in the 1880s, replacing the dugouts with successful stores and businesses.

Bates, who worked to get Nicodemus designated as a national historic site, said the town "represents us and what we did with freedom. It became the icon of our ability to self-govern and make it on our own.

"These people had tenacity," she said. "They took freedom and did something with it."

Nicodemus failed to attract railroad lines in the late 1880s, and its economy declined. Many residents, including Bates' parents, were forced to leave.

But they took the spiritual values and work ethic of their Nicodemus heritage with them and were able to get middle- to upper-class jobs, she said.

Bates said she sees a difference between African-Americans descended from the people who ventured to Kansas and those from families that remained in the South.

"There's a lot of complacency there," she said. "They conform to that environment because that's where slavery took place."

Kansas African-Americans are resourceful, Bates said.

Many of those who left Kansas had sense enough to come back and make Nicodemus their home again.

That includes her father, James Bates, 83, who still farms a mile north of Nicodemus.

Building Towns

While many came to Kansas to farm the land, others came to build the towns that served the farmers.

It's a misconception that Kansas was just a farm settlement, said Dean, of the state historical society.

"A big majority came for farming, but a few miles away there's going to be a town starting at the same time."

Arriving trains unloaded merchants, bankers, blacksmiths, painters, gunsmiths, bricklayers, shoemakers, tailors and peddlers.

And stonemasons, like Franklin Rothenberger, whose family would build much of Osborne and the surrounding area.

Rothenberger was 9 when he came to Kansas by rail as part of the "Pennsylvania Colony" that founded Osborne in 1871.

On the wagon train taking them on the final leg of the trip, the tallgrass was so high they couldn't see where they were going, said Von Rothenberger, Franklin's great-grandson.

Somebody who left the group for supplies couldn't find the party when he returned and had to ask for help.

Franklin Rothenberger eventually was designated a stone and brick mason by the colony because that had been the family's business back in Pennsylvania.

He was trained by fellow homesteading stonemasons and in 1884 started the Rothenberger Construction Company.

Franklin and his five sons quarried and laid the stone for St. Joseph's Church in Damar, a finalist for the Eight Wonders of Kansas Architecture. At the same time, he bicycled to other towns in the region to oversee other construction projects.

The first story of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Damar, Kansas, nears completion.  In the center doorway stands Iva (Claytor) Rothenberger, wife of my grandfather Franklin LaVerne ("Vern") Rothenberger.  In the foreground at center right is Viola (Mark) Rothenberger, wife of my great-grandfather Franklin Antone Rothenberger.  In the foreground at center left can be seen the steeple of the previous frame church building.
Stonework on St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Damar, Kansas, is nearing completion.  The four walls are finished; only the two towers remain.  In the center right foreground in front of the church are the horses Dolly & Polly, who were trained by word command to walk forward or back up.  Attaching these horses to a rope & pulley was how the heavy stone blocks were raised into place.
My grandfather "Vern" Rothenberger (right) was 21 years old when work on St. Joseph Catholic Church started.  The eldest of Frank Antone Rothenberger's five sons, Vern was often laft in charge as his father attended to other work projects in the region.  He took over the company when his father retired; when it was his time to retire as well he turned it over to his son David "Pete" Rothenberger . 

Franklin Antone Rothenberger was nine years old when the town of Osborne City, Kansas was founded on May 1, 1871.
The Rothenberger Construction Company laying down the first brick sidewalks in downtown Osborne, Kansas in 1908.  Here Frank Rothenberger (center) is directing his brother Peter (left). 
One of the numerous jobs that the Rothenberger Construction Company did over the years.  The number of jobs completed in the 95 years of the company's history is believed to be around 15,000.
The business was passed on to succeeding generations until it closed in 1979.

By then, Von Rothenberger said, the family had built foundations, churches, homes, buildings, even sidewalks and curbs, across western Kansas from Syracuse to Medicine Lodge to Salina.

What Franklin gave to his family was the satisfaction of seeing a job done, Von Rothenberger said. "He instilled a work ethic into the family and into the business."

Laughable Conditions

Those who settled Kansas occasionally may have found conditions as agreeable as the railroads had advertised.

But they also faced drought, harsh winters and summers, jackrabbit attacks, grasshopper infestations, dust storms, financial downturns, and dwindling populations.

In the 1890s, the railroads stopped advertising Kansas.

"People laughed at the railroad enthusiasms that once so gripped them," the late Wichita State University history professor Craig Miner wrote in "West of Wichita: Settling the High Plains of Kansas, 1865-1890".

A Mitchell County schoolteacher wrote in her diary in 1881:

"This is a hard place to live, this Kansas is. I wonder what in the world will become of us, anyway?"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The 2011 Ride of the Kansas Gazatteer Musketeers, Day Three

That Wednesday of January 20, 2011 the inclement weather changed many of the plans for the 2011 Retreat for Relentless Rural Leaders at the Barn Bed and Breakfast Inn near Valley Falls, Kansas.  For the rest of afternoon, part of that evening, and much of the next morning were spent in group sessions discussing a number of very serious topics and concerns affecting Rural Kansas and what positive measures might be taken to correct them.  Potential cuts in Arts funding, more needed aid for the elderly, the much-needed role of young people stepping up to take leadership positions in all communities -all this was openly and passionately debated. 

Later on Wednesday evening the somber tones gave way to a lighter tradition - the White Elephant giveaway.  Some items had been picked up on the way to the Retreat; others had been found amid the various towns earlier that day; and there was also one or two items that returned from yesteryear.

All were now comfortable and patiently waiting their turn in the White Elephant Giveaway.

Martha Slater Farrell of Andover, KS wonders what is in her box.

Jay Yoder of Partridge, KS really liked Martha's Las Vegas Dice Clock, but . . . .

He decided that this Viking Horned Helmet was more his style.

Eileen Robertson of Humboldt, KS, 39-something and matriarch of the group, thoroughly enjoyed her new moustache!

Add Jay Yoder's hat to her ensemble and the transformation was complete.  Was that Einstein sitting there? 

Things got even lighter when Anita Goertzen of Goessel, Kansas was urged into telling a couple of jokes!

The White Elephant Giveaway concluded with a major revelation: we had amongst us long-lost triplets!  From left: Gloria Moore, Barnes, KS; Jay Yoder, Partridge, KS; and Ashley Bogle, Eureka KS. 

The next morning Retreat organizer Marci Penner led still more serious discussion before giving way to the second great Retreat tradition: the Sampler Auction.  Never discussed or solicited, every year those attending the Retreat bring items for the others to bid on, with the proceeds going to the Kansas Sampler Foundation.

Bob Topping of Leavenworth, KS served as the auctioneer for the event.

The Ta-Da Girls - Susie Haver of Concordia, KS (Center background) and Commodore Bacon (Lucas, KS) assisted the auctioneer.  Here the Commodore displays and explains the tiems for auction from World's Largest Things, Inc.

And here the Commodore shows off the Get Lucas Chamber Special Package deal.

She really worked the crowd with all the items.

After a spirited bidding war the triumvirate of Julie Roller, Wamego KS (center); Jennifer Arnold, Clearwater KS; and Abby Amick, Alma KS won the Lucas package and will be visiting very soon.

Oh, in case you were wondering - Flat General Direction and Flat Princess Pee were not left out of the auction.  Both bought a book for the other and then spent the rest of the Retreat reading!

At noon the Retreat ended.  There was time for a quick bite, a last ice cream cone for the Count, and a weather update - up to 10 inches of snow overnight, potentially icy roads across central and western Kansas - and being all packed the Kansas Gazetteers Musketeers bid their goodbyes and hit the road.  Bearing southeast down State Hwy 4, they headed west at Topeka on US Hwy 24, passing through Silver Lake and Rossville before stopping on the west edge of St. Mary's, Kansas at a thrift store that was closing out.  Calumet, tap shoes, and books were just some of the bargains that they managed to discover.  Then it was on to downtown St. Mary's to see about Commodore Bacon picking up a pith helmet of her very own at the St. Mary's Military Surplus Store.  Unfortunately they were sold out, the clerk having just sold his last two to a guy from Rossville.  But he would reorder! 

The Musketeers then passed on through St. Mary's and Belvue and around Manhattan, their lunch destination being a certain restaurant at 8th and Grant in Junction City, Kansas that neither had been to before.  Taking State Hwy 18 they headed west down to Interstae 70 and then on State Hwy 57 into Junction City. 

Here is where the younger Musketeers really missed General Direction's guidance!  After driving around the downtown they dedcided to drive west down 8th Street, looking for Grant Street and the fabled restaurant.  They never found Grant Street; indeed, all of 8th Street is a residential area with no commercial buildings until its western intersection with Old Hwy 18! 

They did, however, manage to discover this great eight-sided business building in Junction City.  And along 8th Street to boot!

Taking State Hwy 18 west from Junction City the Musketeers drove this new road for the Commodore past Talmadge, past the turnoffs for Manchester and Solomon and Vine Creek and Niles and Verdi, until at last they drove into Bennington, Kansas at 4PM to stop at the Linger Longer soda fountain, their third soda fountain of the trip and one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs.  The Commodore immediately met one of the few people she knew in Bennington, the Count had a real chocolate shake made with chocolate milk, and then the Commodore had a dream come true: she got to play a real James Bond pinball machine that was in the back!  That was the perfect end to the trip for her.  Reluctantly they left the soda fountain and its impressive collection of Dr. Pepper memorabilia and sojourned on west, through Tescott, past Beverly, around Lincoln, past Vesper, Denmark, and Sylvan Grove until, with the sun going down, they rolled into Lucas at 5:30PM - just in time for the Lucas Area Chamber of Commerce meeting at 6PM at the K-18 Cafe.  And so ends the 2011 Tale of the Kansas Gazetteer Musketeers for this year! 

The 2011 Ride of the Kansas Gazetteer Musketeers: Day Two

Wednesday morning, January 19, 2011, dawned early for the 26 men & women, both young & old, gathered from all points of the state of Kansas for the 19th Annual Retreat for Relentless Rural Leaders at the Barn Bed & Breakfast Inn near Valley Falls, Kansas.  The Retreat is organized and facilitated by the Kansas Sampler Foundation (KSF).

"The Retreat is designed to rejuvenate individual spirit, increase peer networking and discuss new ways to look at common rural issues. One of the main topics this year was figuring out how to identify and match community needs with citizen’s skills to improve quality of life in a community." - Marci Penner, Kansas Sampler Foundation.

This was the real full day of the Retreat and the morning session started at 8:30AM.  Everyone learned quickly that (a) there was an impending snowstorm due to hit later in the day, and therefore (b) many plans that had been made for the day were being thrown out the window, including a meeting with the civic leaders of Everest, Kansas, and attending a pot luck supper in Muscotah, Kansas.  Instead, we would be getting on a bus and traveling that morning to five communities in Northeast Kansas - Bendena, Denton, Purcell, Everest, and Muscotah - and still try to beat the storm by getting back by mid-afternoon.

Marci Penner, Director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation.  - Photo courtesy of Cloud County Tourism.
The first photograph the Count has ever been able to take of the Barn Bed and Breakfast  Inn in the daylight!  Well, he was excited.  Sigh.  Fine.  Moving on . . . .

On the bus the travel time between towns enabled the KSF group to hold "interviews" with one another, trading information and establishing new friendships.
Today's trip was first northeast into Atchison, Kansas, and then north and west to the group's first stop:  Bendena, Kansas.

"Bendena is an unincorporated community in Doniphan County, Kansas, United States. Its ZIP Code is 66008. It was named for the sweetheart of the first telegraph operator at the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska railroad station." - Wikipedia.

The KSF group was divided into two groups - one to explore the downtown, and the other to visit the Bendena State Bank.  The Count found himself in the second group.

The Bank in a Barn - the Bendena State Bank on the community's eastern edge.
Inside the bank are framed photos of the barn before and after it became a bank.
The story the Count heard was that in 1906 a bank robber tried to hold up the bank at its original location in downtown Bendena, but ended up shooting himself.  A writeup of the robbery in the local newspaper noted that the robber "was easy to lay out" and had "a fine physique."  Decades later the bank had outgrown its building, and at the same time a large hog barn on the edge of town was in need of preservation.  So the bank moved into the barn and the renovation worked.  The old loft was turned into two apartments.  Inside the bank can be seen several photographs of Bendena High School classes through the years.

Photographs inside the now insurance agency.
Afterwards the Count and his group were brought back to downtown Bendena.  In the old bank building, now an insurance agency, they were shown photographs of the old bank, the new bank, and one other photograph . . . .

One of the photos on the wall was indeed of the 1906 bank robber!  Evidently he was "easy to lay out."
The four photos above are what one can see of downtown Bendena  from just outside the insurance agency.   
One never knows what one will see when looking up in downtown Bendena!
Heading into the Bendena Grocery Store.
Some of the KSF group shopping happily inside the Bendena Grocery Store.

A local customer unfortunately got caught behind the KSF group in being helped at the Bendena Grocery Store.  Happily she was the patient type! (Photo courtesy of Commodore Bacon.)
Flat Princess Pee helps Commodore Bacon select the correct pie at the Bendena Grocery Store!
After getting back on the bus it was time for new "interviews" and then a stop 4.5 miles on west at Denton, Kansas.

"Denton is a city in Doniphan County, Kansas. The city is the location of Midway High School.  The zip code is 66017.  The population was 186 at the 2000 census." - Wikipedia.
"Denton was laid out October 27, 1886, by D. C. Kyle assisted by Moses, John, and William Denton." - Gray's Doniphan County History: A Record of the Happenings of Half a Hundred Years, by P. L. (Patrick Leopoldo) Gray [Bendena, Kan.: The Roycroft Press, 1905].
     "Mr. [George] Denton had friends in Kansas, who had sought the west at an early day and who induced him to join them by sending him encouraging reports as to the climate, the soil and the crops. Soon after arriving in Doniphan County [1873], he bought the Underwood farm, once the site of the Underwood post office. He resumed there the business of farming and combined with it, as opportunity arose and his property permitted, the feeding and shipping of stock.
     "Upon the organization of the bank of Denton in 1894, Mr. Denton was chosen its president and has since been identified with the active management of its affairs. He is universally regarded as one of the most successful of men. His ready grasp of situations and conditions and his guarded manner and conservative methods in transacting business bring to him and his institution the confidence of financiers and the unreserved patronage of the community." -  Genealogical and Biographical Record of North-Eastern Kansas, dated 1900.

At Denton the KSF group was given some minutes to explore the downtown and talk to the local business owners. 
The community well in downtown Denton, Kansas.
Commodore Bacon almost sticking her tongue on the well pump.  Don't do it, Commodore!

The count began taking a walk west from the community well one block.  First he found The Denton Cafe.
While across the street was the Denton Post Office.
And around the corner from the post office was the local Co-op office.
Looking back toward the bus in downtown Denton.

And then who did he run into?  None other than Flat Princess Pee and Commodore Bacon coming out of the Denton Post Office!
The Denton Bank first opened in 1894.
Behind the bank was either the old coal shed or the original outhouse!
While taking a walk around the block west of the bus the Count was discovered by one of the town's watchdogs, who was very unsure of this unknown foreign person type!

Down the street stood a very nice home in Denton.

And another stood just next door.

Around the corner this garage sported monarch butterflies.

A block south of the bus stood this ceramic tile building, whose faded signage once read:
"C. H. Gish Company
Lumber Hardware Paint"

Completing his tour of the block, the Count came to this now empty building for sale that appeared to have last been used as a daycare. 

Then it was back on the bus and another "interview" on the way to the unincorporated community of Purcell, Kansas.

"PURCELL.  This little town came into existence about the time Bendena and Denton were born. It at once became a good shipping point for the farmers who had long been obliged to haul their grain to distant points. It is not likely that the town will ever develop into a city, but it will always remain 'a handy little place to have on the map.' The farmers in the neighborhood are among the wealthiest in the county. One of the finest church buildings in northeastern Kansas is St. Mary's near this place, erected about 1898." - Gray's Doniphan County History: A Record of the Happenings of Half a Hundred Years, by P. L. (Patrick Leopoldo) Gray [Bendena, Kan.: The Roycroft Press, 1905].

At Purcell there are two things left of the community, one of which was the KSF group's main stop. 

Alright, the KSF group leader is lying on the cold, hard, tarmac.  Whatever is she taking a photo of?

Ah!  The spire of St. Mary's Church! 

With the weather getting colder, the group was pretty fast in getting out of the bus and into the church.

 The local guide (center) told of the history of the church and of the long efforts to restore it.  St. Mary's Catholic Church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

GOOD THINGS TO KNOW:  The Ushers' responsibilities at St. Mary's Church.
View out the bus window of the Purcell school.  The snow had started by the time the bus was loaded and rolling on down State Highway 20 five miles to the next town, Everest, Kansas.

"Everest is a city in Brown County, Kansas.  Elevation is 1,150 feet above sea level.  The population was 314 at the 2000 census.  Everest was named in honor of Colonel Aaron S. Everest, an attorney for the Central Branch Union Pacific Railroad. Everest also represented Atchison County in the Kansas Senate.  The city's 1880 Methodist Church can now be found in Ward-Meade Park in Topeka, Kansas." - Wikipedia.

Now, originally the KSF group was to meet with community leaders and discuss the many ways that the local Everest bank and other investors had turned the economy of this town around in just the past ten years.  But due to the incoming snowstorm, the group found themselves at the Everest Cafe in time for the noon meal.  So 26 hungry people took up 90% of the seats in the cafe; as the locals came in they were greatly surprised to see their customary seats taken by strangers from far, far away.

The day's specials.  A large portion of the group asked for the meatloaf; unfortunately there were only two servings of that left. 

The Chicken and Noodles special. 

 The Bacon and Cheese Chicken Sandwich was nothing to complain about, either!  Yum!

At the Everest Cafe Homemade is indeed Best!

The Count then went out and walked around the city.  First he looked west and then east in the downtown district . . . .

Then he set his sights on walking the block north to the town watertower.

A block west of the watertower was the old junior and senior high school building, now the home of the Everest Historical Society.

While a block south and a half block back east stood the Everest Public Library.  The time was 1:30PM, and it did not open until 3:30PM.

Across the street was the Everest Christian Church.  By now the snow had really begun to fall.

A block to the east, at the intersection of 6th Street and Main Street, four of the KSF group were huddled together in the middle of the streets.  What was going on?

Aha!  Turns out that the KSF group had scaled Mount Everest and did not even know it.  WenDee LaPlant and Commodore Bacon are shown here in a photo of their taking a photo atop Mount Everest in downtown Everest, Kansas, just before WenDee's death-defying slide down the sheer face of Mount Everest. (Photo courtesy of Cloud County Tourism.)
WenDee LaPlant and Commodore Bacon in their self-portrait atop Mount Everest in downtown Everest, Kansas. (Photo courtesy of Commodore Bacon herself.)

With the snow coming down harder it was time to head back for the Barn - literally.  On the way the group stopped at the town of Muscotah, site of last year's Retreat meeting.  The group was originally scheduled to attend an evening potluck here and learn of the many things that the local residents had accomplished in the past year, but instead the group broke into to factions - one to visit the Muscotah Mercantile, and the other to tour the former schoolhouse/now private home where palns are being made to turn part of it into a restaurant. 

     "Muscotah - Located about 26 miles west of Atchison in Atchison County, Kansas, the first town site was situated about 2 ½ miles northeast of the present town. It was surveyed by Dr. W. P. Badger and Major C. B. Keith, proprietors, who had settled there in the spring of 1856. The survey was completed in the fall of that year, and in 1858, Mr. Keith opened the first store. Dr. Badger soon became the local Indian Agent, a position he held from 1858 to 1862. The town name is of Kickapoo Indian origin and means 'beautiful prairie' or 'prairie on fire.' The village gained a post office in December, 1861. In 1867, the Union Pacific Railroad purchased land on the present-day town site with Dr. W.P. Badger acting as agent for the railroad. The land was surveyed that fall and the first general store was opened by a man named Armstrong. Soon, other residents and businesses moved closer to the tracks and the former town site was then referred to as 'Old Muscotah.'
      "By the early 1880s, Muscotah had grown to the largest town in the county, boasting over 500 residents. it also had four general stores, a grocery store, three drug stores, three blacksmith shops, a bakery, meat shop, two shoemaker shops, two cabinet shops, one pump dealer, a nursery, three hotels, two livery stables, a grist mill, a school, one lawyer and three doctors.
     "By 1910, the town remained prosperous and continued to maintain a number of businesses. At that time its population was nearly 500. Like other small Kansas towns, Muscotah declined over the next century. Though it still maintains a post office and about 200 people, the village is filled with abandoned buildings." -
The Count was part of the group that visited the Muscotah Mercantile.  It opened less than a year ago in a house in the middle of town.  The Mercantile has a great selection of antiques, woodcuts, groceries and sundries. 

By the time the Count's group had gotten back aboard the bus and over to the site of the former Muscotah school building, the weather had turned definitely for the worse.  So it was decided to immediately head back for Valley Falls.  If we could turn the bus around.

The streets of Muscotah are narrow, and the bus was big and long. Our bus driver Stephanie did her best, but in the end all she could do was back up until she could come to an intersection where she could turn onto another street. 

Bob Topping braved the snow and cold to help the bus driver back the bus down several blocks until it came to an intersection that it could turn on.  (Photo courtesy of Erika Nelson.)
Then it was (for several in the group) a scary ride back to the Barn.  But our bus driver was up to the occasion and got us through the snow-packed roads safely.