Into The Great Wide Open: Touring The American West (Part VI)…
As the Denver skyline faded to a distant silhouette in the rear-view mirror, the broad expanse of eastern Colorado opened. It was a reminder of what was to come as I hurled east bound along I-70 headed for the farm fields of Kansas.
Say the word “Kansas” and that classic movie The Wizard of Oz comes to mind. The dust bowl of the 1930’s hit hard here, but cruising along the Interstate there’s no sign of the wild winds that whisked topsoil into virulent clouds of gloom back then. Instead, the area is begotten with lush farms of wheat and corn as far as the eye can see. Almost 90% of Kansas is dedicated to agricultural uses making it one of the most productive agricultural States in the Union.
So, as I pulled into the parking lot of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, it made me wonder what it would have been like to grow up in a small rural Kansas town during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Surrounded by corn and wheat in grasp of “Tornado Alley” (one is reminded of this by a bowling alley sign right off the Interstate exit), it was here that President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) spent his formative years. On seeing downtown, it’s amazing to think that such a towering historical figure hailed from such humble beginnings.
The museum does a fantastic job of displaying the breadth and depth of Eisenhower’s life. From seeing the original boyhood home to visiting the chapel where he and his wife are laid to rest is an awe-inspiring tour. The main museum entrance features fantastic murals depicting Ike (a childhood nickname which stuck) while he was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during World War II. The museum houses an excellent array of exhibits that bring the full scope of his life to bear. It demonstrates the incredible journey of this once small-town boy becoming Supreme Allied Commander and then to serving two-terms as U.S. President. It leaves one with a sense of wonderment.
“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything…” said Eisenhower, and with that in mind I dropped my original plan of staying the night and headed north to Nebraska. I figured I could make Nebraska’s state capitol of Lincoln by sundown and I would have, if it hadn’t been for a couple of digressions along the way.
The history of the American West never ceases to amaze and again it struck while driving north. Not far from the Nebraska-Kansas border is the town of Marysville. Little did I realize that this town sits on the historic Pony Express route and is home to the only original Pony Express station still standing. Built in 1861, it’s now a museum open to the public, albeit I arrived late for a tour. Instead I settled for a few pictures of the solid stone structure and the black-silhouetted Pony Express memorial statue sitting around the corner.
Then further up the road, halfway between Marysville and Lincoln on Route 77, I stumbled upon a sign for the Homestead National Monument of America. Due west of the Nebraskan town of Beatrice, I once again interrupted my trek and turned left onto Route 4. In the twilight of a prairie sunset, the Monument came into sight. It was also closed, but I had the good fortune of learning a few fascinating facts about homesteaders from the plaques out front.
In 1862, Congress passed The Homestead Act, which offered 160 acres of free land to anyone willing to live on it, farm it and build a house on it. The government privatized some 270 million acres in some 30 U.S. states through the Act, which through this and other laws eventually privatized more than 1.1 billion acres.
In describing the homesteader experience on one of the plaques, American author Willa Cather (1873-1947) wrote in her celebrated 1918 novel My Antonia that, “There seemed to be nothing to see: no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields…There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.”
As the rolling fields and farm fences of Nebraska slipped by on my continued odyssey to Lincoln, they beckoned to remember the backbreaking work and dedication these early pioneers had. They carved an existence out of nothing, and in doing so forged a nation out of the soil upon which they found themselves. One shovel at a time, one pick at a time, and one plow at a time, the American West came to be.
And I came to arrive in Lincoln late that night…
Note: Photos are by the author.
For those interested, The CAT Principle now has a new podcast! Change, action, trust as they relate to life, culture and society are its themes. Join me on Apple, Spotify and Anchor, among other platforms, for thought-provoking conversation and fascinating interviews.
For more check out the Global Ebook Awards GOLD & SILVER Winner of 2014 & 2016, The C.A.T. Principle: Change, Action, Trust – Words to Live By available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. See the latest Amazon reviews here. Sign up above and receive this blog once every two weeks to your inbox. Comments and thoughts welcome.