Alcove Springs, Dr. Herschel Stroud

(Frank) Today Around Kansas starts with the story of Alcove Springs, one of the best-known stops on the Oregon Trail. Next we get to know Dr. Herschel Stroud, a retired Topeka dentist who travels thousands of miles each year to make presentations on the Civil War. Then enjoy a poem from Ron Wilson and we’ll end with the tale of Elmer McCurdy, the Outlaw Who Wouldn’t Give Up.Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

(Frank) Well, here we are again. It’s Wednesday. I’m Frank and… (Deb) I’m Deb. Great to see you this morning. (Frank) This is Around Kansas. And of course, we’re in the second floor of the beautiful Dillon House in Topeka, it’s right across from the State Capitol and we’re trying to do a little bit of a commercial here. If you really have an event, this would be the place to have it. If you’re going to have some sort of seminar, this would be the place to have it. The holidays are almost here so it would be a great place. (Deb) They’re getting ready to decorate and they’ve been showing us the plans. It’s going to be gorgeous. I can’t wait. (Frank) Oh yea. (Deb) So, still a really busy October and this weekend I’m going to be up in Atchison where they’re having the Smoky Hill Trail Association Meeting and they’re getting ready to plant another BOD marker, Butterfield Overland Dispatch Marker, there in Atchison to mark the beginning of the trail. Really excited about that and you can probably still be a part of this conference, just look ’em up online, Smoky Hill Trail Association. Great bunch of folks, and they’re doing some really great things. Then on Sunday, I’m going to be the guest speaker at Valley Falls for their Historical Society. Valley Falls, another great historic area with a Buffalo Bill connection, his Dad helped found Valley Falls, which used to be Grasshopper Falls. (Frank) Yes, I was just gonna say, Grasshopper Falls. (Deb) Grasshopper Falls. (Frank) And there really is a falls there. Have you seen it? (Deb) Yea, yea, it’s beautiful, isn’t it? (Frank) Yea, several years ago they uncovered it because I lived there for a few years. And I asked too when I first moved there, is there a falls? (Deb) Is there really a falls? (Frank) Yea, it’s over there. And I had to go looking for it. But now you can see it. (Deb) It’s a really pretty community. Just a great community. And the Historical Society there is very active, just some great folks, a big group and they’re doing lots of cool things. And we’ve got similar groups all over the state doing really cool stuff to preserve their history. (Frank) During Bleeding Kansas, before the actual Civil War, there was a battle of Grasshopper Falls, you know about that? (Deb) A little bit I do. (Frank) Well, they fought for two days and really they were fighting over a whiskey wagon. (Deb) Hey, hey. (Frank) And after two days they said, “Ehhh…” and everybody went home. (Deb) It was probably all gone by then, there wasn’t much left. (Frank And there was no one killed and I think a couple injured. (Deb) Well, you’ve got to keep your priorities straight, you know, that’s…probably after a couple of days there wasn’t anything left to fight over, was there? (Frank) Yea, that’s right. Yea, it was gone. (Deb) That’s one way. So, what are you up to this month? (Frank) Well gosh, October, is just, well mostly it’s following grandchildren around to their various sports-soccer, volley ball and what have you. (Deb) Sure, sure, yea. (Frank) That keeps me pretty busy. Any treks out of the city are so, so. (Deb) We were talking at some event last week or so about it’s a shame you have to go through kids to get grandkids because grandkids are so much more fun than actual kids are you know. It’s just grandkids are wonderful. And you get to hang with ’em and spoil ’em and then send ’em to somebody else. (Frank) Yea, send ’em home. (Deb) Send ’em home. That’s right. (Frank) OK, I’m done. Alright. (Deb) We’ve got some great stuff, stay with us.

(Frank) And we’re back. I just had this thought-it’s very obvious we’re back, but we have to think we have to say, we’re back! Hey, I know you know this, but you know, Kansas had all kinds of trails coming through it, I mean we’re pretty much the center of the United States, and so there were cattle trails and of course there were trails… (Deb) Just like this. (Frank) …heading to Oregon and California and all of that. And this was one of the stops. So, with that I’m gonna kind of let you talk a little bit about that. (Deb) Well if you haven’t been to Alcove Springs, it is beautiful and it is easy to see why it became a popular stop with folks along the Oregon Trail, and it’s just…it’s like an oasis in the prairie you know with the trees and it’s beautiful, falls again, they do have actual little falls there. But it’s just one of those beautiful, must have been a beautiful respite for the pioneers that were coming through. So, we’re gonna take a look at that. Our friend Bob Hoard, state archaeologist, recently headed a group of volunteers that conducted an archaeological survey at Alcove Springs on the Blue River downstream from Marysville. As Bob wrote in the Kansas Preservation Magazine, Alcove Spring is one of the best-known stops on the Oregon Trail and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Proposed parking areas necessitated the investigation to insure that nothing important would be lost of disturbed. The arm of volunteers turned up few artifacts, including a five-cent piece from 1866, but not enough to delay the construction plan. This picturesque area was a favorite campsite near the Independence Crossing of the Big Blue River. The spring originates in an unusual rock formation and falls over a rock ledge into a pool below. Emigrants carved their names in the rocks surrounding the spring and many of these carvings are still visible. The ill-fated wagon train led by George Donner and James Reed camped here in May, 1846. Later that year, trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, some of the pioneers resorted to cannibalism to survive. While camped in the lushness of Alcove spring, though, one of their number wrote “We found a large spring of water, as cold and pure as if it had just been melted from ice. It gushed from a ledge of rocks, which composes the bank of the stream, and falling some ten feet, its waters are received into a basin. A shelving rock projects over this basin, from which falls a beautiful cascade of water, some ten or twelve feet. The whole is buried in a variety of shrubbery of the richest verdure. Altogether it is one of the most romantic spots I ever saw. We named this the Alcove Spring and future travelers will find the name graven on the rocks, and on the trunks of the trees surrounding it.” Reed’s mother-in-law died here while the party was waiting for the river to fall enough to cross. She was buried somewhere in the area. In September the Topeka Symphony Orchestra opened its 70th season at Alcove Spring. Kyle Pickett, music director and conductor, told the Topeka Capital Journal that performing music in the natural setting of Alcove Spring was “an unparalleled experience.” Alcove Spring is located about six miles south of Marysville on the River Road. Follow the highway directional signs.

(Frank) Ha. (Deb) Not gonna say we’re back. (Frank) I’m not gonna say it. No. See, we really are. (Deb) Yea, but we’re back. (Frank) See we do have a lot of fun. We’re so happy that you join us every Wednesday here on Around Kansas. You know we have talked about so many people that are in the entertainment industry from Kansas. And there’s another one that I know you know him quite well, and he’s having kind of a landmark birthday. So, why don’t you talk a little bit about Herschel Stroud. (Deb) Well, he’s just one of my dearest friends. He and Jacque both are just the most amazing people. And we’ve been involved in a lot of history events the entire time I’ve lived in Kansas pretty much. And they’re just the most amazing couple. And yes he just marked his 85th birthday which is unbelievable. This man’s energy is just unreal. And Jackie matches him every step of the way. Just awesome folks. Awesomely talented and generous and just can’t say enough good about ’em. (Frank) Yea, isn’t he a reenactor and he was a dentist? (Deb) He’s a reenactor, you name it, he does it. There’s nothing he doesn’t do. (Frank) Herschel Stroud just celebrated his 85th birthday. His energy, and that of his wife, Jacque, would make most 20-year-olds envious. Herschel retired from dentistry but hardly took to the rocking chair. Rather, he took to the roads. The Strouds travel thousands of miles every year to make presentations on Civil War history. Herschel often appears as a civil war-era doctor and Jacque portrays Mary Ann Bickerdyke, a civil war nurse and veterans advocate. Herschel has portrayed Samuel Crawford on many occasions, the state’s third governor. When not traveling, the two are ardent KU fans and can be found cheering on the Jayhawks. Herschel is truly a renaissance man of many talents, not the least of which is music. He performs with the Kings of Swing, a 14-piece ensemble that began in 1981, but traces its origins to the Carl Johnson Orchestra, which got its start in the early 1930s in the north-central Kansas town of Marysville. Herschel has worked for decades with Ray Rathert, the director of the Kings of Swing, which performs at a variety of events throughout the year. Most Kings of Swing performances include dancing by attendees, a staple of the music when it first was heard several generations ago. The Kings of Swing specialize in Swing dance hits of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, made popular by musicians such as Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Count Basie and Woody Herman. Among hits performed by the Kings of Swing are as follows: “A String of Pearls,” “Cab Driver,” “Lazy River,” “Kansas City,” “Moon River,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Sentimental Journey” and “Tuxedo Junction.” Herschel is a vocalist and plays trombone. Whether grasping a scalpel to demonstrate 19th century medicine or singing the classics, Hershel lives with passion. What a life!!!

(Ron) We’ve started having weddings out at the ranch and that makes for some interesting combinations when cowboy culture encounters bride and family. This is a poem I wrote titled, “Just a Bit Off.” The cowboy stared in bewilderment across the crowded room, filled with venders, young women and the prospective groom. A lady said, May I help you sir, as she gave a curious look. And handed him a copy of the wedding exhibitor book. The puzzled cowboy said, Well where is all the tack? I don’t know what that is, said the lady, taken aback. I mean the bit and bridle, the saddle and the reins, the utterly confused cowboys said as he explains. A lady said, Young man you must be in the wrong place, with a look of uncertainty showing on her face. She added, Let me explain, this is our spring bridal show which a future bride will visit with her family and her beau. We have caterers, photographers, DJs and hotels around town, tuxedo rentals, wedding venues and designers of bridal gowns. We don’t have any tack, she said to the young man. Just a hundred different vendors to help with wedding plans. The loudspeaker began to play a pretty wedding song. The cowboy said, I heard some talk, but I guess I got it wrong. So I’m sorry to have troubled you I think that I should go, cause I was looking for a different kind of bridle show. Happy Trails.

(Deb) OK Frank, I bet you haven’t heard of this next guy. He’s one of my favorite outlaw stories in the Wild West, Mr. McCurdy. And I got to visit his grave down in Guthrie, Oklahoma, I think it was in April, when we were down for the Wrangler Awards. McCurdy, I don’t know how to not give the story away, but he was not a very successful outlaw. And I will say this, he winds up as a mummy and he winds up as basically a sideshow exhibit. And that sounds really crazy but you can’t believe how many mummies there were traveling in the 19th Century and early 20th Century. That was really common. In fact after John Wilkes Booth died, the man who killed Abraham Lincoln, there were three mummies traveling the country that were supposed to be John Wilkes Booth and for a nickel you could pay to see the mummy of the man who killed the president. So, the fact that poor Mr. McCurdy here ends up a mummy is really not that odd. But the rest of the story really is. (Frank) Oh. Well I’m gonna watch this one with you. So, here’s the rest of the story. (Deb) You might think Elmer McCurdy would have given up when his attempts to blast into safes went awry. In one attempt he used so much nitroglycerin that it destroyed most of the money he was trying to steal. Another time the nitro melted the silver coin. In a Chautauqua, Kansas, bank they blew the vault door clear through the bank but couldn’t get through the interior door and made away with only change. In 1911 he and his crew planned to rob the Katy Train carrying $400,000 to the Osage Nation. Only he stopped the wrong train. Three days later he was surrounded and shot dead by the law. Poor Elmer’s body was taken to a funeral home in Pawhuska, Oklahoma where it went unclaimed. The owner embalmed the body using arsenic preservative to halt decomposition. Hoping to make a dollar off the unclaimed cadaver, he gave McCurdy a shave, dressed him in street clothes and put him up for display. For a nickel you could see the Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up. This would go on for five years until out of the blue McCurdy’s long lost brother aver arrived in town to claim the body. After satisfying local law enforcement and paying the undertaker for expenses the body was released into his care where it was supposed to be shipped to California for burial. Instead it was send to Arkansas City, Kansas. It turns out that Aver’s real name was James Patterson, partial owner of the Great Patterson Carnival Show. McCurdy’s corpse was renamed The Outlaw Who Would Never Be Captured Alive and traveled with the carnival until 1922. Following a series of owners the body eventually ended up in a LA warehouse until it was sold to the Hollywood Wax Museum and then in 1976 to a funhouse in Long beach, California. On December 8, 1976 the crew for The Six Million Dollar Man were filming an episode in the funhouse where McCurdy’s body was thought to be part of the set. However when one of the prop men tried to rearrange the “wax mannequin” the arm broke off, revealing human bone and tissue. The police were called in and an investigation ensued. In 1977 a funeral procession transported McCurdy to Boot Hill in Guthrie, Oklahoma. McCurdy was buried next to Bill Doolin, pretty good company considering McCurdy never managed to successfully complete one single robbery.

(Deb) That’s another one in the bag Frank. (Frank) I love that one. So, anyway. (Deb) Well, we’re not back, but we’ll be back next Wednesday. (Frank) Next Wednesday, same place, same time, same station, or wherever you are. So anyway, I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m Deb. (Frank) And we’ll see you somewhere…. (Both) Around Kansas.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

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