Army Scout Jack Stilwell, Walter Johnson from Humboldt

(Frank) Today Around Kansas starts with a dramatic tale of Army Scout Jack Stilwell in 1868. Then learn about Walter Johnson from Humboldt, Kansas, a pitcher who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936. Next enjoy a poem from Ron Wilson and we’ll end with the story – part history and part legend – of Waconda Lake at Glen Elder state Park.

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

(Deb) Good morning, welcome to Around Kansas, I’m Deb Goodrich. (Frank) And I’m Frank Chaffin, I think! Yep, it must be Wednesday. (Deb) It must be. So far, so good. And it’s pretty early. (Frank) And we’re in the shadow of the Capitol, which you probably see reflected in the windows of the beautiful Dillon House, which is our studio on a weekly basis. (Deb) Isn’t it beautiful? (Frank) Yes it is. (Deb) We were just talking the other day about Capitol Square and I had some friends come up a couple of weeks ago who had not seen the newly restored or newly remodeled Capitol and were just blown away. And we hope that all you Kansans will take some time to visit Topeka and see what your tax money has done. It’s beautiful. I know there was lot of controversy about whether or not to restore the Capitol building but as Dick Bond I believe, said This is the people’s house. And it deserves to be well cared for and beautiful. And it really is. I’ve been to a lot of state capitols all over the country and ours – I’ve never seen anything better. (Frank) It is, it’s amazing. And of course the Dillon House too. Them restoring it right across from the Capitol makes it a fantastic venue for parties, meetings, social events of all kind. (Deb) Which is why we’re outside, because they’re so busy with so much stuff going on that there’s just not room for us in there. (Frank) And it’s not raining. (Deb) And it’s not raining. It’s great. (Frank) So,what have you been up to? (Deb) I’ve just been all around Kansas. You know, I spoke at the Wallace Rotary Club the other day, shout out…or Sharon Springs rather, I was in Wallace and then went over to Sharon Springs to speak at the Rotary Club. Wonderful community, enjoyed those people so much. And look forward to going back. I always stop in Oakley, pay my tribute to Buffalo Bill Cody, and see the gals there in the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center. And of course Heather and I were in Oberlin, had great times in Oberlin. So, we get out and Around Kansas as much as we can. (Frank) I’m still recovering from a 200 mile round trip to Cassoday for a first First Sunday and this is well, long after that, but you know I’m old now. (Deb) Yea, recovery is a lot more… I’m telling you recovery for me is a lot more than it used to be. When you get home from a long trip at midnight or something, and it seems like you’ve been gone for a week and it’s only been two days, yea, the recovery time just takes longer. (Frank) OK. (Deb) But as a result we’ve got some great stuff to share with you. So stay with us.

(Frank) We’re back. (Deb) Welcome back. And you know, my first love of course is history and especially the old west. So, I read a lot of magazines and a lot of books on the old west and one of my favorites is True West by my good friend, Bob Boze Bell, who puts out a phenomenal magazine. He’s an incredible artist and always just has interesting little tidbits. So, one of the articles that was just in his magazine was on Jack Stilwell. Have you ever heard the name Jack Stilwell? (Frank) Hmm huh. Yes. (Deb) Well, it’s an incredible story with a great Kansas connection and if you’re familiar with the Battle of Beecher’s Island then you’ll be somewhat familiar with his incredible story. Let’s take a look. When he was 14 years old, Jack Stilwell was sent to fetch water at the family’s homestead north of Palmyra, Douglas County. Instead, he went to Kansas City and joined a wagon train bound for Santa Fe, traveling between New Mexico, Kansas City, and Leavenworth several times, spending the winters in New Mexico. His adventures taught him the countryside and the customs of the Plains Tribes. He landed in the history books as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, Police Judge, U.S. Commissioner in Oklahoma, and as an Army Scout. In 1868, Jack Stilwell joined Major George A. Forsyth’s company, one of fifty U.S. Army Scouts from Fort Harker and Fort Hays. On the morning of September 10, Forsyth’s troops at Fort Wallace received information that Cheyenne Indians had attacked a freighter’s train about eight miles east of Ft. Wallace. The soldiers set out at dawn to find the hostiles. The detachment went into camp on the Arikaree Fork of the Republican River. At dawn the Scouts were attacked by a large party of Cheyennes under the leadership of Roman Nose. Surrounded, the men took cover and dug in on a sand bar in the dry riverbed. Casualties were heavy and their chances were grim. At around midnight on the first day of battle, Forsyth knew their only chance of survival was getting word to the forces stationed at Fort Wallace, 120 miles away. The 19-year-old Stilwell volunteered for the suicide mission and chose Pete Trudeau, an older scout, to go with him. The pair crawled for three miles to get past the enemy lines. According to Marshall Trimble in True West Magazine, On the fourth day they found themselves on an open plain with no cover when they saw a Cheyenne war party approaching. Frantically searching for cover they came upon the carcasses of two dead buffalo lying in some tall grass. The two scouts crawled inside the dead animals and waited anxiously. Suddenly Jack heard a hissing sound. A big rattlesnake slithered out of the skeleton and coiled about a foot from his head. Young Stilwell just happened to have a chaw of tobacco in his mouth and before the snake could strike, with all the aplomb of a veteran muleskinner, Jack spat a juicy wad that hit that snake right in the eyes. That rattler backed off and made a hasty retreat into the grass. The Cheyenne, unaware of what just happened, turned and rode off. They reached Fort Wallace but Trudeau died from the ordeal days later. Stilwell, however, was part of the relief column that came to Forsyth’s rescue in one of the most dramatic stories of the Plains. Stilwell died in Wyoming in 1903.

(Frank) And we’re back again. Good morning this is Around Kansas. And you know Kansas is full of lots of interesting people and great athletes, one of them being Walter Johnson. (Deb) You know, what an amazing story. And you know I’ve always said baseball players… of course I grew up as a real baseball fan, more so than any other sport. I guess it was accessible. You know kids were always playing baseball. You could just pick up a game of baseball anywhere. So that’s the one I grew up as a bigger fan of than any other sport. So, yea, Kansas has produced some pretty incredible baseball players. (Frank) In fact, this one was one of the first to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. So, anyway let’s take a look. Few names loom larger in baseball lore than that of Ty Cobb. Universally acknowledged as one of the greatest players ever, he was a larger than life character with enough ego for the whole team. Few things daunted him. Yet, this was his account of a game his Detroit Tigers were playing against the Washington Nationals: On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us. He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty, with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves, and with a sidearm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance. One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing, and we hollered at Cantillon: Get the pitchfork ready, Joe, your hayseed’s on his way back to the barn. The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn’t touch him. Every one of us knew we’d met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park. The hayseed with the powerful arm was Walter Johnson, a farm boy who was born near Humboldt in 1887. He was 14 when the family moved to Orange County, California, where the oil boom was in full swing. He played high school baseball and was playing for a team in Idaho’s state league when a talent scout spotted him and signed him to a major league contract. He was 19 years old. His fastball was, and still is, legendary, clocked at more than 90 mph. His unique sidearm delivery was difficult for batters to follow. He set dozens of records, many of which stood for decades and a few remain unbroken. Johnson’s record total of 3,508 strikeouts stood for more than 55 years until Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and Gaylord Perry, in that order, all surpassed it in 1983. Johnson, as of 2014, ranks ninth on the all-time strikeout list, but his total must be understood in its proper context. Among his pre-World War II contemporaries his closest competitor was Cy Young who was 700 strikeouts behind him. In the win column, Cy Young comes in first with 511 but Johnson is second with 417 wins. Johnson was one of the Five Immortals, the first players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, along with Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. Johnson’s gentle nature was legendary, and to this day he is held up as an example of good sportsmanship, while his name has become synonymous with friendly competition. Johnson died of a brain tumor at the age of 59 and is buried in Maryland. A baseball field in Humboldt and a park in Coffeyville are named in his honor.

(Ron) Kansas is sometimes called Tornado Alley, along with Oklahoma and Texas. And those were the very same states where the great cattle drives happened in the post Civil War era when the legend of the cowboy came to life. Imagine being on the trail drives in those days without weather radio, weather radar and all the modern communications we have. This is a serious poem that I wrote. It’s titled, Terror on the Trail. It was cloudy and dry that hot day in July, as we drove cattle up the trail. We were needing rest in our dogged quest to drive ’em to the Kansas rail. But in the western skies, where we turned our eyes, a cloud bank started to build. Then the clouds turned dark, we saw lightening spark as the black clouds grew and filled. The air was muggy, Hoss’ eyes went buggy, the cattle were restless and flighty. As the clouds drew near, the boss made it clear this storm is gonna be mighty. Then the sky turned green like nothin’ we’d seen, the air was so still it was eerie. With nary a bicker, we pulled on our slickers even though we were bone tired and weary. Rain started a fallin’, the cattle were bawlin’ and the clouds started whirling around. We hear a distant roar, then the noise seemed to soar, til it filled our ears with the sound. To our terrified stare, from the devilish air, a black rope dropped from the skies. With a roar like a train, it plowed cross the plain, tossing men, dirt and cattle like flies. It’s a cyclone boys, the boss yelled though the noise. Now it’s every man for hisself. My horse spooked despite my rebuke as I rode him off a side hill shelf. The cattle stampeded, and ran unheeded as brave men rode for their lives. Critters ran pell-mell in the face of this hell, in a desperate race to survive. Then the roar started fading, and the sounds started trading, some rain drops for the cyclones roar. The rain came in torrents to the riders abhorrence, like an ocean tide pounding the shore. Then we saw the rain stop, with a few stray raindrops, all of a sudden the sky was clear blue. But the path of the storm and the death it performed came fully into our view. Dead cattle and a horse, along the storms course gave the killer storm mute testimony. Two cow hands were dead and 21 head of long horns plus one cow pony. We grieved for our pards and though it was hard, we buried them there on the plain. Then I mounted my stead and resumed the deed, of gathering the herd that remained. Now we made Abilene, but the sights that I’ve seen will stay in my nightmares without fail. For I saw bodies fly that hellish day in July, when a cyclone hit out on the trail.

(Deb) Welcome back and as we were traveling the other day on Highway 36, you know there’s the sign that points to Waconda. And of course, Waconda, up in that northern tier of Kansas, was once a big tourist mecca – a health club, health spa and everything. And the spring up there has a legendary story. Have you visited that area? (Frank) No, in fact this is going to be new and news to me. So, I’m interested. (Deb) Good deal. (Frank) OK. (Deb) A mysterious crater of water once drew visitors from near and far in what is now Jewell County, in the north central part of the state. This large saltwater spring was believed to have spiritual and healing powers. It was a mound about 300 feet wide and rising 40 feet above the surrounding Solomon River Valley. Legend claims that Wakonda was the daughter of an American Indian chief. One day while walking near the spring, she met and fell in love with a warrior from a rival tribe. Eventually war broke out between the tribes and an arrow from Wakonda’s father struck her lover. Mortally wounded, the warrior fell into the springs and Wakonda dove in after him, never to resurface. Her spirit is still believed to dwell in the spring. Waconda means spirit to many Plains Indians. The Pawnee worked to live in harmony with the universe and looked to animals to provide spiritual guidance to reach this goal. The Pawnee traveled to the springs to make offerings and to gain wisdom to treat disease. After the establishment of Mitchell County in 1870, the Cawker City Mineral Company purchased the springs with the intention of harvesting salt. When the endeavor failed, a bottling company bought the spring. In 1907 Dr. G. F. Abraham of Mankato converted the pleasure resort into a health spa where patients were bathed in pure Waconda water, and drank the water each morning as a mild and gentle laxative but a sure laxative. Perhaps to create publicity and boost sales of bottled water, a deep-sea diver was hired in 1908 to validate the well’s depth. According to legend, the bottomless well was connected to the ocean and fell with the tide. The diver claimed to find no bottom, and instead uncovered trinkets that were interpreted as past spiritual offerings. Forty years later a team of geologists from the University of Kansas used sonar and found the well to be nearly 115 feet in depth. Abraham and his descendants operated the spa until 1964 when federal flood control measures required the construction of a reservoir at Waconda Springs. Despite efforts to preserve the site as a national monument, the structures were bulldozed and the well was sealed in 1968. The spring was covered by water after a dam was built in on the Solomon River. Today is it Waconda Lake at Glen Elder State Park.

(Deb) I’m Deb. (Frank) I’m Frank. (Both) And we’ll see you, somewhere Around Kansas.

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

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