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Kansas History - Autumn 2009

(Vol. 32, No. 3)

Kansas History, Autumn 2009

L. Robert Puschendorf, "Trails of the Twentieth Century: John C. Nicholson and Newton, Kansas."

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It was the coming of the age of the automobile and the call of the open road that lead communities and their boosters to spur the movement for cross-country highways. As L. Robert Puschendorf, associate director and deputy state historic preservation officer at the Nebraska State Historical Society, shows, two of the most ambitious efforts in this movement originated in the state of Kansas. Energized by one of its remarkable citizens, John Charles Nicholson, the city of Newton became the crossroads of two "trails" of the twentieth century. The first, the New Santa Fe Trail, was envisioned in 1909 as a "sandhills" road from Hutchinson west to Garden City; following closely on its heels, the second, soon called the Meridian Road, began as Nicholson's idea of a north-south road from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The story of two of the nation's major highways is rooted in these beginnings.

Anthony Kovac, Nancy Hulston, Grace Holmes, and Frederick Holmes, "'A Brave and Gallant Company': A Kansas City Hospital in France in the First World War."

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Base Hospital No. 28, commanded by Dr. John Binnie and Dr. Lindsay Milne, professors of Surgery and Medicine at the Kansas University School of Medicine, respectively, was staffed by "a brave and gallant company" of Kansas City area doctors and nurses and served at Limoges, France, from July 1918 until January 1919. Although its wards were located in hastily constructed temporary buildings, a girls' school, and tents, the 2,900 bed general hospital was state-of-the-art for its time and admitted 9,954 patients during the months it was active. Treating complicated battle wounds, serious medical problems, and victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic, the staff lost only 69 patients, a remarkably low mortality rate considering this was long before the antibiotic era. Perhaps even more than the use of aircraft and tanks, medical and surgical practice of the First World War define it as a "modern war," far different than those of the nineteenth century. Many of Base Hospital No. 28's records have survived the years and are in the archives of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City.

Douglas S. Harvey, "Learning the Hard Way: Early Water Control Projects at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area."

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Some admirers have called Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, a unique wetland in the heart of North America, the "Jewel of the Prairie." It is vital as a stopover for migratory birds on the Central Flyway as well as a nesting and wintering ground for some species. "Learning the Hard Way," by historian Douglas S. Harvey, describes some of the early consequences of efforts by the Kansas Forestry, Fish, and Game Commission-the predecessor to Kansas Wildlife and Parks-to manage the wetland. These management efforts began in the late nineteenth century when Great Bend town boosters, hoping to create a resort, hired Francis Koen to dig a ditch from the Arkansas River to the Bottoms. That project ended in failure, but by the 1940s renewed efforts to keep the Bottoms flooded year-round were coming to fruition. Diversion dams were built on Walnut Creek and the Arkansas River, and water flowed into the wetland to supplement the area's spotty rainfall once again. As Harvey demonstrates, this time the project was a "success," but throughout the 1950s it created new problems for engineers and Cheyenne Bottoms managers.

Emmett Redd and Nicole Etcheson, "'Sound on the Goose': A Search for the Answer to an Age Old 'Question.'"

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During the years immediately following passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Missourians used the phrase "sound on the goose" to signify a commitment to the proslavery cause in Kansas. According to the nation's leading abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, Missourians commandeered the ballot box at an early Kansas territorial election and prevented anyone from voting "unless he was right on the 'Goose question,'-a slang phrase used among the Missourians, implying they are in favor of extending the institution of Slavery over Kansas." It was, then, a widely known and used password on the border. Despite its ubiquity, however, until now the origins of the curious phrase have remained a mystery. After several years of tracking leads, physicist Emmett Redd and historian Nicole Etcheson believe cartoon imagery, a widely reprinted story about a meeting between a Northern and Southern politician at a Washington hotel, and local political issues converged to produce "sound on the goose" as shorthand for support of slavery's territorial expansion.

Book Reviews

Law Touched Our Hearts: A Generation Remembers
edited by Mildred Wigfall Robinson and Richard J. Bonnie
xiv + 249 pages, appendix.
Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 2009, cloth $45.00.
Reviewed by Ronald C. Griffin, professor of law, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas.

The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa
edited by David Hudson, Marvin Bergman, and Loren Horton
xiv + 594 pages, contributor list, topical index.
Iowa City: University of Iowa Press for the State Historical Society of Iowa, 2008, cloth $45.00.
Reveiwed by Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, professor of agricultural history and rural studies, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

Custer into the West: With the Journal and Maps of Lieutenant Henry Jackson
by Jeff Broome
238 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
El Segundo, Calif.: Upton and Sons, Custer Trail Series 11, 2009, cloth $45.00.
Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Tony R. Mullis, USAF, retired, assistant professor, Department of Military History, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Fort Laramie: Military Bastion of the High Plains
by Douglas C. McChristian
448 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
Norman, Oklahoma: Arthur H. Clark Company, 2009, cloth $45.00.
Reviewed by William E. Whyte III, adjunct professor of history, Northampton Community College, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Class and Race in the Frontier Army: Military Life in the West, 1870-1890
by Kevin Adams
xvi + 276 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009, cloth $34.95.
Reviewed by James N. Leiker, associate professor of history, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas.

Book Notes

Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. By James D. McLaird. (Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, South Dakota Biography Series, 2008, ix + 174 pages, paper $12.95.)

This second offering in the South Dakota Biography Series, put out by that state's historical society, examines how the stories of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane came to be so closely entwined in our cultural memory. Although James Butler Hickok and Martha Canary were not much more than acquaintances, who were in Deadwood at the same time for only a few weeks, they are buried beside one another and live on as a pair in literature and film. In this volume, historian James D. McLaird explores the intersections between myth and reality as he reconstructs the lives of two of America's most notorious wild westerners.

Desperate Seed: Ellsworth, Kansas on the Violent Frontier. By Jim Gray. (N.p.: Kansas Cowboy Publications, 2009, viii + 230 pages, paper $21.95.)

"The evolution of Ellsworth is far from typical," Jim Gray begins in his history of the central Kansas town (p. vii). From accounts of its founding to legends of its most famous residents-including William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok, and the Thompson brothers Ben and Billy-—Desperate Seed tells of Ellsworth's first few decades and its transformation from a violent, "tough little hole" to a town "squarely civilized" (pp. 18, 184). Gray also records the stories of citizens less well known, who daily made their way in "the wickedest cattletown in Kansas."

Alias Charley Hart: William C. Quantrill in Lawrence, Kansas in 1860. By Charles F. Harris. (Wyandotte, Okla.: The Gregath Publishing Company, 2008, 83 pages, paper $14.95.)

"For a brief time during 1860," begins this study, "a young man named 'Charley Hart' lived in and around Lawrence, Kansas. In reality, that man was William Clarke Quantrill" (p. 1). Harris gathers anecdotal evidence of Quantrill's life in Lawrence, from his reputation as a thief to his kidnap and sale of escaped slaves. Time and again, according to Harris's witnesses, Quantrill befriended antislavery activists, seemingly in the hopes of betraying them. Quantrill used this method and his alias to escape arrest in Kansas by joining a group of abolitionists who planned a raid into Missouri to free slaves. None of the antislavery raiders survived Quantrill's double cross, and he used the notoriety the stunt gained him to gather the band of guerrilla fighters that would accompany him on his infamous 1863 return to Lawrence.

Powder River Odyssey: Nelson Cole's Western Campaign of 1865: The Journals of Lyman G. Bennett and Other Eyewitness Accounts. By David E. Wagner. (Norman, Okla.: Arthur H. Clark Company, 2009, 288 pages, cloth $39.95.)

Lyman Bennett, a civilian engineer with the Eastern Division of the Powder River Indian Expedition, ended a September 1865 journal entry with the revealing record, "we marched and fought over 15 miles today" (p. 11). This summary well describes the experience of the division, comprised in part of the Sixteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, as it moved through the Nebraska, Dakota, and Montana territories. Along this route the combated Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho who struggled to retain their hunting grounds and, as a result, threatened white emigrants and traders moving west. In Powder River Odyssey this little-known campaign is examined through the lens of Bennett's previously unpublished diary and other primary sources that document the mission's difficulties, including a bout with scurvy and brush with mutiny.

Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West. By Michael Punke. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009, xvi + 286 pages, paper $18.95.)

First published by Smithsonian Books in 2007, this is the first paperback edition of Michael Punke's nicely written "story of how the buffalo was saved from extinction." Familiar to students of Kansas and western history, it is nevertheless, as Punke writes, "one of the great dramas of the Old West. More profoundly, it is a story of the transition from the Old West to the New-a transition whose battles are still fought bitterly to this day." Last Stand focuses on the life and adventures of George Bird Grinnel, a scientist, journalist, hunter, and conservationist, who "personified" this historic transition but is "little known today. . . . In his remarkable life, Grinnell would live the adventures of the Old West even as he helped to shape the New" (p. xvi).

Milton S. Eisenhower: Educational Statesman. By Stephen E. Ambrose and Richard H. Immerman. (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009, xv + 331 pages, paper $30.00.)

This volume, first published in 1983 and now available in paperback, focuses on the years Milton Eisenhower worked as president at Kansas State, Pennsylvania State, and Johns Hopkins universities. It is based on extensive research in university archives, as well as on hours of personal interviews with Eisenhower, who the authors recall as always "ready to hear and learn, just as ready to instruct where and when he could" (p. x). The authors freely admit that they are "too fond of him to be objective" (p. xii), though this does not prevent them from offering a balanced account of Eisenhower's years as a university administrator that includes descriptions of university life in Manhattan, Kansas, in the 1940s and 1950s.

Breathing in the Fullness of Time. By William Kloefkorn. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009, 244 pages, cloth $22.95.)

"Desire," writes William Kloefkorn in the last of his four-part memoir, "without it, you might as well pack up and go home" (p. 3). A consummate storyteller, in this volume Kloefkorn weaves moments from his childhood in Attica, Kansas, his days studying at Emporia State University, and his years teaching at Ellinwood High School and Wichita State University with more proximate retrospection from his life in Nebraska. There he has been appointed state poet for life and with good reason, known as he is as a distinctly American and regional writer who can craft lines from ordinary time, that "moves slowly, but not slowly enough. We are a picture," he writes, "waiting until now to be taken" (p. 88).