Route 66 - Still in Kansas, Toto

No disrespect meant to the great folks of Kansas, but before this trip, I wouldn't have put Kansas and "interesting" in the same sentence. Kansas interesting? Yes indeed it is! At least along Route 66 it is. Who woulda thunk it? There actually was a good reason Dorothy and Toto were glad to be back home!
 
The shaded bench in the Pappy Litch Park
Rather reluctantly, we put Melba and Tow Tater in our rear-view mirror and drove through the very quiet downtown of Galena. We stopped to check out a small, but very nice little park at the corner of Main Street and 6th. We sat on a wooden bench in the cooling shade and drank the last of our free bottles of water Melba gave us. Named the Pappy Litch Park, I was impressed with how clean and well maintained it was. During the mining years in the 1800's, a large livery stable was located where the park is. Later, a large garage/service station owned by Howard "Pappy" Litch occupied the site. A popular, well-liked avid historian of the town, Pappy retired some years ago and the old building was torn down. To honor him for his life of enthusiastically promoting his home town, the citizens built this park and named it after him. Located at 6th and Main, it has become the site for town events and a resting place for Route 66 travelers.
 
There was nobody else there and after about 10 minutes, we got up to leave and saw a car pass by. It was the first car we had seen go by since we stopped. Supposedly, Galena has about 3,000 residents, but either they were all indoors taking shelter from the heat or they were somewhere other than the part of town where we were. We didn't go there, but I believe a couple of blocks over is where the courthouse and government buildings are located. Surely there were people and activity there, but it was eerily quiet and deserted along the Route 66 part of town. I liked it though. You could feel the history in the air. I would have loved to walk around for a while, but the heat, the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, and the total absence of even a breeze made it too uncomfortable to stay away from air conditioning for long. Little did we know we were experiencing the beginning of The Great Heat Wave of 2012!

The next town on the route is Riverton, home of the Eisler Bros. General Store which was opened in 1925. Not much is left of Riverton. The Mother Road used to come into town over a Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge built in the 1920's, but it was demolished and replaced by a new, generic bridge in 1986. The historic Spring River Inn, built in 1902 was located here, but it was closed in 1996 and then burned to the ground 2 years later. It's a pretty area, but other than the Eisler Brother's store and its interesting guest book register signed by thousands of Mother Road travelers from all over the world, there's nothing here to stop for.
 
The Bush Creek Marsh Arch Rainbow Bridge
just outside  of Baxter, Kansas.
After Riverton is Baxter Springs, one of my "must stop" spots of our itinerary. About 4 miles outside of town, we drove across the last remaining Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge on the route and I can see why these things are famous - it was a beautiful bridge! Spanning Bush Creek, it was designed by an engineer named James Barney Marsh (1854 - 1936). Built in 1923, it is a complex steel skeleton encased in concrete with the bridge deck suspended from the concrete and steel arches. Hundreds of these bridges were built around America between the years of 1910 and mid-1930's, but sadly, like the one that was outside of Riverton, most of them have been replaced and torn down. This one was slated to be demolished in the early 1990's, but thankfully, the Kansas Historic Route 66 Association and roadies from around the world petitioned the state to save it and Kansas listened. The new bridge was built nearby, but the Rainbow bridge was saved. Recently, the Association raised the funds and restored it.

Crossing over the bridge, on the other end we stopped at a small dirt parking area to walk around and take pictures. There was flowing water in the creek below us and lots of trees and underbrush on either side of the bridge. As I exited the pickup, I noticed the area was a bit trashy with some beer cans, cigarette butts and other cast-off matter of civilization. Not filthy, just more trashy than one would expect for a quiet, rather remote country spot. I found out later this is a very popular "parking" spot for a different purpose; especially popular with the local teenage boys as a dark, late night place to bring their girlfriends to discuss important, complicated social matters. 

On this side of the bridge is where we first
saw the  poor little abandoned dog. Hope he
found the Cheerios.
While we were there though, once again it was almost unsettling, like we were the last people in the world - no other people around, no cars, no noise, not even a plane flying overhead. So when we heard a rustling sound coming toward us as we stood there taking pictures at the end of the bridge, we were startled enough to take a couple of steps back from the edge of the tall weeds. What emerged was a pathetically skinny little brown and white dog, a poor creature some hard-hearted low-life had abandoned to die. I guess it was living below the bridge where it had shelter and water to drink from the creek. As it came out of the weeds and saw us, it gave a couple of tentative wags of its tail, but it ran back into the brush as soon as Youngest-daughter took a step toward it. Even with no collar and his visible ribs, it was obvious from the initial wag of his tail that he had at one time been someone's pet. He had to have been covered in fleas and ticks, but if we had been able to get him in the back of the pickup, I would have taken him to town and tried to find a vet to take care of him. A couple of minutes later he poked his head up on the other side of the bridge watching us, but again, as soon as we took a couple of steps toward him, he ran back to his hiding spot somewhere under the bridge. It pained us, but we had to leave him as I knew we were not going to be able to get within 10 feet of him. We had nothing resembling dog food to leave him, so we did the best we could and left a mound of Cheerios at the edge of the bridge where we first saw him.
 
Route 66 - Downtown Baxter Springs, Kansas.
About 4 miles beyond the bridge is the town of Baxter Springs which bills itself as "The First Cow Town in Kansas." From its founding in 1858 until the Civil War, Texas cattlemen drove thousands of longhorns along the Shawnee Trail to the area to feed on the grasslands of eastern Kansas and then loaded them on rail cars heading to Wichita and Dodge City and profitable points back east. In 1863, the town became famous for another reason.

After a hard year of almost continuous fighting, "Bloody Bill" Quantrill and about 400 of his Confederate raiders were heading to Texas for the winter. It was safe there and they could rest and resupply. Along the way, his men captured 2 Union teamsters who were taking supplies to the small Fort Baxter. His men were hungry and tired and their horses were too so Quantrill decided to attack the fort to supply his men for the remainder of the trip. Before they arrived though, they ran into a detachment of Union soldiers and a small skirmish ensued. Vastly outnumbered, the Yankees made a mad dash back to the safety of the fort, loosing 3 or 4 killed. The shooting alerted the men inside the fort and as the Rebels came into sight, they began firing their one cannon, which was enough to halt the Confederates. Quantrill took about 200 men and rode around to the back of the fort intending to attack where there was no cannon.

While on their way, the Rebels chanced upon General James Blunt and about 100 armed Union soldiers and a band who were transporting him to his intended new headquarters in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Most of the Rebels were wearing blue clothing they had scrounged from Union dead and Union supply trains they had captured because their own Confederate gray clothes had become unwearable over the months of fighting with no re-supply from their own side. The Yankees were totally unaware there were any Rebels in the area and with the clothing Quantrill's men were wearing, they thought it was a group of Union soldiers from the fort who had come out to welcome the general. The band started playing and the Yankees were standing there watching until the Rebels charged and their bullets began tearing into the Union ranks. They barely had time to get off one volley before the Rebels were on them. General Blunt, who had by sheer chance just changed to a fresh mount, wheeled his horse around and, with a couple of his guards, managed to escape his pursuers and their worn out horses. The rest of his men, including his band, were killed. Union dead numbered 103 while Quantrill lost 3.

General Blunt was removed from command for cowardice and failure to remain with and command his men, but was later reinstated. Union sympathizers claimed that some of the Union men threw down their rifles and tried to surrender, but the Rebel raiders murdered them in cold blood. They called the battle "The Baxter Springs Massacre." Quantrill stated his men didn't murder anyone, but he also said it was war, he had no way to turn over any prisoners to the proper Confederate authorities and besides, he didn't have enough provisions for his own men much less enough to care for prisoners. Whatever the truth, it's safe to say war is hell and this was just another vicious moment in the American Civil War.

I was amused by this hand-painted sign. Auction
 today at 5:31pm - not 5:30 or even 5:35,
but 5:31 exactly!
After the war, Baxter settled into life as a quiet farming community and it remains so today. Downtown Baxter, unlike Galena, had a few people in their cars driving from someplace to another place and we even saw a couple of people walking around. We stopped at the former Phillips 66 gas station at 940 Military Ave. Restored to the way it looked in 1930, it is on the National Historic Register and houses a wonderful little Route 66 Visitor Center. We walked in and were greeted by a very sweet and friendly lady who immediately struck up a conversation with us. We signed the register and looked around at the Route 66 memorabilia on the walls and shelves. Youngest-daughter had seen a picture of some Route 66 earrings in a visitor publication we had picked up in Illinois and we had been on the lookout for a pair with no luck. While I was looking at some pictures, I heard her from the next room say, "Daddy! Come here! Look!" She had found a display shelf with the exact earrings she had wanted. They were a little expensive, but of good quality and I knew she would take care of them and they would be a wonderful memento of our trip. We left with a couple of post cards and the earrings dangling from her ears. The smile on her face and the hug I received was definitely worth a heck of a lot more!

The friendly lady attending the Visitor Center
came outside and took our picture together.
The historic downtown area has a good number of old, interesting buildings. Three blocks have been designated as a Historic District and 4 of the buildings from the 1800's have been restored with other's in various stages of restoration. Fourteen buildings have been marked with signs telling of the history of the buildings going back to the Cow Town era. After picking up a map and brochure at the Visitor Center, we braved the heat and took a walking tour which was informative and very enjoyable.

One of the impressive restored buildings is the 1870 Baxter Bank Building located at 1101 Military Ave. It now houses the Cafe On The Route along with the Little Brick Inn Bed & Breakfast. According to a persistent, but unproven story, in May, 1876, Jesse James and Cole Younger used their guns to make an illegal withdrawal of $2,900 from the bank in this building. As they casually walked out the door, they taunted the men to ride after them if they dared. Jumping on their horses, they were seen to be heading toward Indian Territory. A posse was soon formed and pursued the bandits to a point 7 miles outside of town where the posse found themselves surprised and cornered by Jesse and Cole. After relieving the men of all their weapons, the two outlaws rode away laughing, leaving the posse to ride back to town in disgrace.

The old Baxter Bank Building which Jessie James
and Cole Younger allegedly robbed of $2,900.


One of the many historic buildings undergoing
restoration in downtown Baxter Springs.

Informative sign


Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:
Post a Comment