Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Spring is Always Late in Western Kansas

I'm from near Oakley, Kansas where I grew up on a small cattle and wheat farm. The small town of Oakley is where Interstate 70 "dog-legs" Northwards up towards Colby, Levant and Goodland and into the Colorado foothills; as you probably already know. It is truly "flat-land" country  all the way to the Colorado line where the land starts to rise and ripple and grow into the foothills and finally at Denver it turns into the majestic Rocky Mountains                                                                                                                                                       


If you ever watched the TV series "Jericho", Oakley was the town depicted in those - After the Bomb, WWIII stories where the young boy in the first episode watches the Hydrogen Bomb Mushrooms rise over Denver 250 miles to the West,  Kansas City in the East,  Dallas in the South and Chicago in the North East. The Western Kansas plains and Oakley  are one of the safest places to be after a Nuclear Attack. So they say. The town of Oakley has even had a "Jericho" day,  so I've heard.


Springs always seemed a little late out there. Easter Sunday usually came with snow or  ice still on the ground.  Here, near Wichita, Kansas; we see Crocus come up in late February most years. I never seen a Crocus in Western Kansas. Though there were probably a few scattered instances maybe where there was a little more protection from the frigid prairie winters.

As a kid, we planted our Henry Field garden seeds in late May, - if we planted any at all. Our folks were usually more concerned about the state of the tough Russian Winter Wheat coming on in the early spring.  They had literally prayed for a little winter snow in this semi-arid flatland. The hard, reddish kernels had been dropped in long furrows in the fall and  waited to come up in the chill of early spring. The wheat spears are the only green to be seen this early in spring for several weeks. I loved to see it's promise of Spring again after a hard cold winter in Western Kansas. 

Long ago, over a hundred years ago; A few Red Winter Wheat seeds had been brought from the Steppes of Russia near the Caucasus mountains 100 years or so earlier which had been settled  by the  "Volga" Germans - Our Great Grandfathers and Grandmothers who's children years later sewed wheat seeds in their clothes and their childrens clothes traveling light for the long grueling ship ride over. Escaping from the Bulchivic Revolution and  the now frantic Tzar Nickolas - the King of Russia who had demanded that the sons of the Volge Germans join him and hisd White Russian soldiers against the Reds.  Him, his Queen and even his young  children later to be shot down in the woods of Moscow by Lenons henchman. One daughter, Anastesia, becoming a legond as the hidden Queen of the Russians for many years. Until DNA proved otherwise from hair samples  from the remains of the Royal Family found in those same Moscow woods a few years ago. All were present and accounted for - even Anastasia.
Germans in Russia?  Invited their by Catherine the Great - also a German, wife to the King (Tzar) of Russia to help "Civilize the peasents" around the late 18th century. She had "inherited" from her dead husband Peters estate (who she was expected of poisioning). Germans, from the homeland, were  given  land-grants to setup their own Republic in Germany - which could still be found on turn of the century maps found in old history books. They settled along the Volga River valley . German Lutheran and Mennonite farms and villages on one side of the Volga; German Catholics on the other. Minding their own business and trading with each other when necessary. d Sometime it became very necessary to even share Clergy and for good reason.

 Once a year, itenarate priests  or ministers arrived to  baptize the babies, and marry their fathers and mothers when love couldn't Wait another year or two for the Catholic Priest or the Luthern Minister to do the honors.  So they made do.

If one or the other religious made it in alive from their dangerous circuit through the  little German Republic - both sides of the river were happy!   Whoever made it first in the spring, Lutheran Minister or Catholic Priest,  served Both sides of the river.

First, these Giants of Men,  said prayers over the frozen dead who had been stacked like cordwood in some shed away from the wolves through the eyeball freezing winters - waiting for the Ground to thaw and maybe a priest or minister arriving in the spring to bury them with proper form and dignity. There was little or no religious animosity among the various pioneers. They were to busy trying to survive to worry much about religious differences.

Not all died from disease or accident or old age.  Many times, whole villages were wiped out by merauding Caussacks on horseback, gleefully dancing with pioneer babies on spearpoints.   Killing the men and boys and elderly, pillaging and stealing everything. including the  young woman for themselves. The German settlers of the Volga Valley begged Catherine to send troops to put the raiding tribesman in their place.  She paid no heed. The German settlement asked for help several times and for soldiers to protect their farms and homes and villages.partitioned her.  Simple farmers, unprotected  from wild tribes of uncivilized causacks  their wild horses and their spears.

 Finally, after nearly a hundred years of surviving on their own,  when the Russian Revolution revolution started, and Moscow was threatened; Tzar Nicolous told these farming people who had been given their Own republic and never given promised protection or anything from Nicholous or his predicessors; these sons would have to join his defending White soldiers against the Bulshivicks and later the "Reds" who had been egged on by Validmer Lenon to take the city of Moscow. You seen it in Dr. Jevogo.  This demand from the Russian Tzar was the last straw. Many of the Volga Germans packed a few belongings and departed from the harbor of Odessa on ships heading for  America in the  year of 1875.  The trip took over a month. Mostly families huddled together in the wet, stinky hulls of the ships. Finally arriving in New York and catching a train that eventually ended them up in Topeka, Kansas. My Grandpa told me how he strolled down the boardwalks of the town while his mother and father bought provisions and transportation. A team of horses and a wagon. He was 12 years old.
ailed on a weeks long trip to  America - again to settle Western Kansas that so resembled the Steppes of Russia which they had left behind. Their home for 100 years. And they had  brought their hard red winter wheat, that had been sewn into the childrens clothes on their back bringing it over to plant in the familiar western plains of Kansas. Many  died in the hull of the ships from various diseases.  Generations remember  Christopher, a great. great uncle of mine, on my mothers side, who died on the way over at 7 years from some dreaded disease that swept the boat, and whose body had to be dumped into the sea by his distrout parents. Immortilized forever in stories they pass down. 

These were the people who settled Hays, Kansas. Ellis County, Russel, Quinter,  Gove County and later even further west to Grainfield and later closer to Colorado near Oakley in Logan County. And in the nearer area of Central Kansas, the Minnonite farmers many of which had also escaped the Russian Revolution who still speak German at times today.  Later, back in Russia, after the struggle with Hitler began, Stalin was to wipe the area clean, and dissolved the Republic completely, sending the rest of the Germans who hadn't left yet another century later;  to their death in Siberia- Loyal to Russia still after all those years, but accused of spying for Germany entirely without justification. 

The people of Hays, Kansas were still speaking fluent Low German when I was a kid. My mother going to school at 7, and learning English on the school playground - so well- she all but forgot her mother tongue by the time she had become an adult.  There was no Second Language classes then. My mother learned her english on the playground of a country school.You learned English then because you wanted to fit in. You wanted to be "An American". You may start our as an immigrant in a neighborhood or ghetto because of ethnicity or race, or nationality or all of the above; but you strived to not be held back by it.

My grandparents on both sides spoke broken German. They wanted to become Americans and so did their sons who gladly fought for the United States in World War 1 and 2 for the privaledge of being an American.



This is part of what the Volga Germans went through to become Citizens of the United State. These were the people who helped develope some of the richest land in the United States. The "Bread Basket of the World," as it was to be later called.

These are the people in Western Kansas who raised me. The land that so resembles the Steppes of Russia where my Grandparents migrated from as children with their immagrant parents.  These were a people whose story has just began to be told.

Their first days in Kansas were not easy. My grandmother remembers when they first arrived  in Fort Hays as a train of several families in wagons.  Fort Hays where Buffalo Bill shot buffalo for the Union Pacific railroad coming from the Eastern Sea Board soon to be united with the golden spike with the otherline from the Western Seaboard. They arrived a few years to late to see him. But German families would go out after Church and pick wagon loads of  Buffalo Bones to take to Fort Hays to load on the train to go back East to be made into Buttons for fancy dresses.  

 The Cival War had recently been ended by just a few years. The Indian wars were fast becoming history. There was no Ellis Island or Statue of Liberty to greet them. These  were still years into the future.

They were fresh off the Union Pacific train arriving in an English (England) established town pulling in with their wagons and horses purchased in Topeka; camping out on the prarie outskirts of the town  and nervously watching the curious Union Soldiers and tamed Indians as they casually  walked over  and checked out the giant iron  pot of soup full of hard little German Dumplings and brown beans that smelled so good. A few indians and soldiers even ventured to try out the strange looking German food. 

The natives sure seemed strange, but  the land was as flat and fertile as it was in  the steppes of Russia! And the Climate, with it's cold winters and hot dry summers, perfect for hard Red Winter wheat. And so they survived, and grew and prospered. The little towns surrounding the fronteer town of Hays. Named after A soldier. Built up by English Dandies who read about Cowboys brought over Herford Cattle and played polo on the plains and finally grew bored of the Old West and went home to England leaving  the town to the German Emagrants .

Little German towns sprung up around Hays. Many named after a sister village in Russia. Leibenthal and Shencshen. Villages of   of love and beauty. Russel to the East struck oil. Ellis to the West raised Chrystler - the Car magnate.  And the German decendents kept moving west toward Colorado to become even bigger farmers and ranchers.

My folks ended up way out west in Logan county, Oakley the county seat by default if not by fact. Oakley became  commerce center for  the entire county.  So busy that at one time it sported 2 uptown theaters and 2 drive-in theaters.  A Golf  Course. A swimming pool. 2 beer Joints. 2 drugstores, 2 doctors and several main line churches.  3 public schools and a new Catholic  parochial school. 2 busy resteraunts and 2 new car dealerships. Ford and Chevrolet. 

 Saturdays were shopping days for the farmers. The mainstreet was full of slow moving teenagers in cars crusing Center street. The good days lasted until I was out of High School. Then things changed for Oakley. Progress passed it by.
But that is another story...

As a kid, I loved the climate of the farm in the Spring, Summer and Fall in Northwest Kansas. But I hated those cold Siberian Express winds and blizzards out there on the rolling flat prairies. Nothing out there to slow the wind down. Hardly a tree in sight on the sometimes table flat farmland, and frozen prairies in the winter and green winter wheat  and lush prairies in the spring.



It got really nasty in the Winter. Animals had to be fed and protected irregardless of how you hate to go out there - twice a day. And in really bad weather, checked even more often and provided extra feed and made sure the stock-tank was cleared of ice for the livestock and for the big goldfish that usually swam below; so they could get enough oxygen to breath.

Those were the days when you went out at 5:30 am; even in the snow, and ice, and cold, (if the weatherman at "K-Triple-X Radio  so chose) to "do your chores". Finally, maybe an hour or 2 later you got into the house to eat a real hot breakfast. (We didn't have PopTarts then). And change into decent clothes for school.



15 or 20 minutes later we walked nearly a quarter mile to the mailbox where we caught the big yellow school bus every morning.


When you got to school - at least your freshman year of High School - you had to take "PhysEd". Physical Education they called it. Frankly, I resented it immensely as a kid.

I'd already had 2 hours of PhysEd battling the weather and feeding the cows or milking the milk cows and maybe the chickens or pigs. I figured I was fit enough. The town kids needed it worse then me. At least some of them did. Especially Denny!


Back then, the "chore" you were awarded with by your folks, depended on your age - and your physical stamina! Not your sex.

Boy or girl. Didn't matter. You usually started doing farm chores at the age of 6 or 7, if only to feed the chickens or gather eggs, or bucket feed an orphan calf with fresh milk from the cow if you were strong enough - and agile enough that is! Hungry calves can be very aggressive and insistant. Many a kid has been bumped on his butt by a 2 week old Calf. Covered with several quarts of Cows Milk.



Anyway, later on at school, at about 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon; you hopped back on the bus and bumped your way home with 20 or 30 screaming little kids. And usually a stressed out, angry bus driver yelling over his shoulder telling them to sit down and shut up every 5 minutes! He usually had to contend with One fight a day. Or maybe two! - One on the way to school. And One coming home. Boy Vs. Boy - Girl Vs. Girl, - Girl - Vs. Boy. We were coed back then too.

Finally getting home from school, you changed clothes and gulped a ham sandwich and swigged some milk down(which we had by the gallons). We were expected to hurry out, and do more "PhysEd", (evening chores) out in the barnyard or milkshed, or the stuffy chicken house.



Finished with your evening chores, you washed up and sat down to a hardy "Supper". We didn't call it "Dinner" back then. Only the Doctors Boy and the Lawyers Son in town called it "Dinner".


Farm kids had "Dinner" at around Noon during the Summer months and also on Sundays. Saturdays were usually spent in town when the folks went shopping for the week. You probably just skipped Dinner. If you could trade in a few pop bottles from underneath your mothers kitchen sink, or "gunny sacks" that you could steal out of your dads feed shed, you could "trade 'em in" for a buck or two for fun on the town while your Mom shopped and your Dad sat in the Sale Barn.


All day long Dad visited with his neighbors while they auctioned off feeder cattle and fat hogs. Our auctioneer only had one arm, no hands to grip the mike, but he was one of the best auctioneers in Kansas- hands down! Dad would be eating a hotdog and a cold coke or a hamburger and and maybe some fries and analyzing the market and contemplating if he should start selling off extra livestock because the buffalo grass wasn't greening up as it should that spring. It never seemed to rain much.

We would usually have plenty of time to see a western movie, a short newsreel, and always a WarnerBros. Cartoon! And you usually had what was left of a couple bucks to buy a Popcorn and a Coke! If you really made a haul with the bottles or the sacks, you could take home two or three Marvel comic books!

The only super hero's (other than the Singing Cowboys) that made it to the movie screen in those days were Tarzan and Superman. That's it! Well, maybe Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and the Roadrunner were heros too!


We survived - and Thrived through the bad and the good of Country living! What a wonderful way to raise a kid! Most of us were forever grateful that our parents provided such a good life - after we grew up !


My kids, growing up in the city, missed so much. They missed the great wonderful enriching environment of farm living. The solitude, The wanders of nature missed in town life.

And the adventures. Riding our bikes to distant neighbors, or a fishing hole or  six or seven miles into town and back home again as a challenge.

The views of distant, small town Wheat Elevators poking out of the ground, upside-down Mirages, seen on the early morning horizons of Fall and Springtime, glowing in the early morning sun, strung out along a giant 360 degrees far horizon.


The smell of buffalo grass burnishing under the scorching sun on a hot July afternoon.


The Wild Sunflowers sharp smelling, tarry resoness in our fingers after being freshly broken off the stem so you can pick at the yellow pedals one by one.


The taste of new winter wheat awash with dew just 4 inches tall on a foggy spring morning.

Or the howl of a coyote in the deep hours of a late summer night.

And the low co-o-o of a dove perched in a lonely tree as evening falls.


The distinct sharp song of the Meadowlark on a fencepost at sunset.

Or the stern stare of a Chicken Hawk a few hedge down as he watches for the errant Field Mouse or Ground Squirrel to just try to make a run for it!


And the old experienced "Nanny Cow" standing alert and alone on guard over the baby calves hidden in the tall grass in the lower draw, while the young mothers graze blissfully over on the far side of the hill. Her vigilance a volunteer contribution to the safety of the new crop of young babies Some only a few hours old.

And finally the brilliant starry nights in the Winter, sharp. Almost too cold to breath. But you hardly noticed. Your a farm kid, you probably didn't even Own a pair of pajamas. And you wouldn't have seen the need. Even when you had to get up in the middle of the night and run barefoot through the snow - to the bone-chilling outhouse somewhere out there in the scary darkness.

You could make it to the little house in about 4 seconds flat! Because you had lots of practice.

Some farm kids become great runners like Jessy Owens who took home 4 Gold Metals in Berlin in 1939. Right under Hitler's bent nose. Jessy was a black  kid  raised on a farm in his early years. I bet He didn't have indoor plumbing either! REA electric line were strung to the farm about 1951. Indoor plumbing arrived a few years later.

You bet! I clearly remember growing up in Northwest Kansas. I'll bet it's still not too different even today.


Well folks, I hope I didn't bore all of you who are reading this.
Sometimes, it helps our outlook on things to see how other folks got to be where they are.   


Tell your Friends about GrandBob,s  Garden.

Hopefully, within a few weeks I will have a report
on How to Build a Hoop House for 65 Dollars (or Less).
Start a raised garden early, or extend it a month with a
Hoop House. 


Bob
GrandBob
KansasFarmandGardenNews@yahoogroups.com
HaysvilleFarmandGardenNews@yahoogroups.com






























































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