(Frank) Today on Around Kansas our first story is about Charles Curtis, Vice President of the United States during Herbert Hoover’s administration. We’ll learn about his early life in Kansas and how he came to be in the national spotlight. Next we’ll meet our weekly From the Land of Kansas business and tour the soon to be restored Jayhawk Theatre in Topeka and then wrap up with a Kansas poem.
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Good morning, I’m Deb Bisel and welcome to Around Kansas. Charles Curtis. Every school kid in Kansas can tell you that he was Vice President of the United States and they can probably tell you that he was part Kaw and Osage. What else can they tell you? Precious little. And this fascinating man who rose from literally being born in a log cabin in North Topeka in 1860, and became Vice President of the United States just a breath away from the Presidency. Had a really remarkable life. And there’s so much more to tell so we’re gonna spend a couple of segments today talking about his incredible story. Now Curtis was born to a French and Indian Mother and a white European Father. His Mother Ellen or Helen Pappan, depending on who you talk to, which source you use, lived in North Topeka, which was land owned by the Kaw. So, the Pappans owned and operated a really important ferry crossing in North Topeka. It came across to the south side of the river and was part of the Oregon Trail crossing. So, the Pappans operated a pretty lucrative business with the ferry. Come along Orren Curtis. Now Orren Curtis, typical pioneer comes from the east, his lineage goes back to the Pilgrims. Now he was a little bit of a shady character in some respects. He had abandoned one family. By the time he died, he’d married five times. He was not around, which might have been a good thing for young Charles Curtis. So, he married young Miss Pappan He’s working with the
Pappans in the ferry business and then the Civil War breaks out. So, he joins up. He becomes a Red Leg, not just a Jayhawker, he’s a Red Leg. The Red Legs are notorious, thieving and killing all along the border of Missouri. So, there is a photo of him actually with George Hoyt, who was the leader of the Red Legs and so we know he was in the thick of things. He was actually even court-martialed at the end of the war for executing prisoners that were in his, under his protection, under his control. He only served a month of that before he was paroled. But we know that Orren Curtis, or Captain Jack Curtis as he was called was a little iffy character. Charles Curtis, his mother dies when he is only three years old, is essentially raised by his Grandmothers. He’s raised by his white Grandmother in North Topeka, a staunch Methodist Republican and his French and Indian Grandmother, who goes to live on the Kaw Reservation in Council Grove. So much of his childhood is spent on that Kaw Reservation, with really an idyllic life for little boy. He’s hunting, he’s fishing, he’s riding horses. It’s a really good time. But as we’ll see when we come back from the break, his life is about to change drastically.
(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas and we’re talking about Charles Curtis, Vice President of the United States under Herbert Hoover and native Kansas and Native American. Now, when he is living on the reservation with his Grandmother down in Council Grove, the Kaw Indian Reservation, 1868. He is only eight years old. And the Cheyenne attacked the Kaw Reservation. It’s little Charlie Curtis who walks back to Topeka, by himself or with his uncle, depending on the story and lets Governor Crawford know that they are under attack. So, he is a first hand witness to the Indian Wars. He goes on to become a jockey. Part of the way he makes money is riding horses. And he is a jockey at a race in Ellsworth, Kansas, documented by my friend Jim Gray in the book, “Desperate Seed.” He meets the legendary lawman Bill Tillman who actually buys a pie for the Indian boy and they sit out and share a pie. There’s another time they’re racing in Kansas City at the fairgrounds in Kansas City when Frank and Jesse James rob the ticket office. Young Charlie Curtis hears the shots being fired as Frank and Jesse are robbing the ticket office there. He’ll go on to have a taxi business in Topeka, which means that he had a buggy. So he would… he had this buggy around town that he would carry the legislators, the attorneys. You know he was their taxi driver, he got to know them. And he got to know one really well, Hib Case. And Hib Case mentored young Charlie and Charlie eventually passed the bar and then he was elected County Attorney for Shawnee County. And when he was elected County Attorney he did a couple of things that brought him to the national spotlight. He closed the saloons. He had campaigned on the prohibition ticket, so he was going to close all the saloons and enforce the laws that were in place. And he prosecuted Boston Corbett the man who killed John Wilkes Booth. So, those two things brought him to national attention. Now Boston Corbett, bless his heart, a civil war veteran with a few issues, had been living out in Cloud County, just south of Concordia, when he got a job at the Statehouse. He was a door keeper or guard of some sort. And he held up the State Legislature at gunpoint and some say he actually fired a gun and can point to marks in the walls that may have been made by bullets. And he was committed to the State Asylum in Topeka, where he eventually escaped and never to be heard from again. But Charlie Curtis is the man who put him there. So that’s when he gained national attention for that. And then his career was just off and running. Congress, the Senate; he became the first Republican Majority Leader of the Senate. And then the convention, the Republican Convention in Kansas City to nominate a presidential candidate and Charlie’s name was in the running. Now he acknowledged that he was really disappointed that he didn’t get the presidential slot. He said, “I didn’t come here to be second place.” But when he got second place, he got over the disappointment and actively campaigned, a tremendous response in Kansas and Oklahoma when he was nominated on that ticket. He was often called the third Senator from Oklahoma because he had so much family there. He had so much business interest there. He was also called, while he was in the U.S. Senate one of the four western men who had basically taken over the power in the Senate. It was at that time in the teens and twenties, that the power shifted from the east to the west, a really significant time in American history and he’s front and center. Fascinating character and I just wanted to let you know some of the stuff that I’m doing on him. I’m working actually on a book and a documentary film about Charles Curtis. So stay tuned for more, we’ll be right back.
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(Frank) Good morning, I’m Frank Chaffin and on Around Kansas we’re doing some stories about the old Opera Houses in the state of Kansas. Many have been restored and we’re really in the Gallery of one that is in the process of being restored. And we’re here with Ben who is the secretary of the Jayhawk Theatre of Kansas Board. We had said previously that in 1926 it took $750,000 to one million dollars to build the theatre. (Ben) Yeah. (Frank) Now we’re looking at a restoration, kind of give us an idea of the cost. (Ben) The restoration’s total bill is going to be right around 8 to 9 million dollars. That includes re-doing the theatre, also we’re going to have a conference center attached to it as well. (Frank) Now where we are now not in the theatre itself, we’re adjacent to the theatre. This is the Upstage Gallery which is on Jackson Street, in the 800 block. And there are a lot of activities that go on here as well. So tell us some of the things that have been done. (Ben) Sure, we’ve been busy, course you see here in the Upstage Gallery which is part of the theatre we have First Friday, the First Friday of every month we have a new artist who comes in here and shows off their paintings and any other type of medium they may be working in. We also do some events inside of the theatre, we just recently show “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” showed it four times over a weekend and had great success and were sold out at almost every showing. And we’re looking to do some more things of that nature. (Frank) if someone would want to get interested in the restoration process how can they find out more about that? (Ben) Go to our website the jayhawktheatre.com or jayhawksociety.org. We’re also the official State Theatre of Kansas, we got that designation during the Bill Graves administration, while he was Governor, the official State Theatre. (Frank) Kind of elaborate on that. What does that mean, that nobody can tear it down now, or what? (Ben) Yeah, it can’t be torn down now because we’re also on the Historic Register. So we are safe but as the official State Theatre of Kansas it was a Boller Brothers design, the prototype of the Boller Brothers, a prototype for about 300 other theaters across the United states at one time, this was the first one. So it does have some historical significance. It was one of the very first concrete and steel theaters, no wooden beams and they always said every seat in the house was the best seat in the house. (Frank) During “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” there were a lot of people who came here that had never seen this. And if you haven’t seen this place, I mean there’s a beautiful walkway which they’re out there polishing tile. Give us an idea, can there be groups that come in and take tours? (Ben) Sure, just go to our website and give us a call and come down and take a tour, we have volunteers that would love to take you on a tour. We have Board Members that if someone says Hey we’d love to come down and take a look, we’re always anxious and we’d love to do that. Although right now the theatre is in a lot of disrepair, it has great bones. I’ve never done a tour where someone’s gone in and said, Oh my goodness..everyone goes in and says, Wow! This place is amazing and when it gets going it’s just going to be even more amazing. (Frank) Yeah, it is a Wow! So for around Kansas, this is Frank Chaffin with Ben at the Jayhawk Theatre in Topeka, Kansas, and we’ll see you somewhere Around Kansas!
(Ron) Howdy folks, I’m Ron Wilson, Poet Lariat. Some years ago I was invited to a statewide festival and it was mostly urban people. And I felt I needed to do a reminder of the great cowboy history of our state, Kansas. Kansas is a cowboy state, it’s in our legacy. Kansas blazed a trail, throughout western history. It all started with the Native American Indian as you know, who roamed the open prairie, and hunted buffalo. The new explorers charted the wilderness, braving harsh conditions Coronado, Lewis and Clark and John C. Fremont’s expeditions. U.S. Calvary soldiers came out west to build forts. Fort Scott, Hays, Leavenworth, Larned and Riley of course. Kansas was a key crossroads of the trails of the day, to Oregon, California, and down to Santa Fe. When Texas Longhorns needed to be shipped east by rail, the cowboys drove those herds up the Big Chisholm Trail. It was the toughest cattle drive those cowboys had ever seen, up to Dodge City, Caldwell, Wichita, Ellsworth and Abilene. The townsfolk knew they better have things all battened down. Cause some cowboys sure went wild when they finally got to town. They gamble and shoot and drink up their fill and a few left their graves up on top of Boot Hill. But like everything else, those times went through change. Homesteaders built fence where there was open range. Brave pioneers came west to make the homestead as their perch, and built the institutions of the home, the school, the church. Now the spirit of the cowboy in our state is living still, from the feed yards out west to the rolling Flint Hills. In the heart of a Kansan the cowboy spirit lives on, and the values our people will still draw upon. They work hard and play hard, are honest and free. Values that matter to you and to me. It’s part of the history that makes Kansas great, so we’re thankful Kansas is a cowboy state.
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