Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge, Kelley Hunt

Today Around Kansas starts with a look at the Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge in Phillips County. Then learn about Kelley Hunt, a musician who is generating a lot of excitement with her music. Next enjoy a poem from Ron Wilson and we’ll end with the Pony Express. Even though it only lasted 18 months, the idea of a horse and rider bravely delivering mail across the country lingers in our imaginations.

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(Frank Chaffin) Well, good morning again. I am Frank. (Deb Goodrich) I am Deb. (Frank) This is Around Kansas. It’s nice and cool. It’s early in the morning [laughs]. (Deb) Because we are in air conditioning. (Frank) Yes, we’re in the middle of July. (Deb) Of course you know the high planes Frank go. Oakley is my new home town and we don’t have air conditioning in the house. I know it sounds nuts. (Frank) The wind is 90 miles an hour. (Deb) Exactly. By the time you get hot it has blown that air somewhere else. But honestly the mornings are glorious. They are glorious. It’s like the air is just delicious. It’s cool and the altitude is high enough. I think Oakley is about 2,500 feet or something and then Wallace, if you get a little further, just a little further west is over 3,000 feet. The altitude really makes a difference, cooling down at night. If you get cool at night, you can survive the rest of it. It’s July. [laughter] It is July. (Frank) Anyway, we’ve got this weekend in Sabetha a Rodeo. (Deb) Ron Wilson told us all about that last weekend and he will not be happy if you don’t show up. Make Ron happy and get on up to Sabetha. It’s going to be a great time. (Frank) It’s going to be nice and cool there in the Rodeo. (Deb) Yes. It’s going to be nice and cool. The horses kick up a breeze, let me tell ya. (Frank) [laughs] If it rains, it will be more interesting. (Deb) Nothing stops them. They’re just like the Pony Express, which we are going to talk about a little bit later. We’ve got a whole horse theme going on today. Don’t we? (Frank) Yes. (Deb) Sabetha is a beautiful town. You’re going to really enjoy going up there, out there, down there, depending on where you are starting from, the corner of Kansas that you’re starting from. You’re really going to enjoy it. They’re great folks and they’ll make you welcome and the Rodeo is fun. It will be a great time. We’re working on a big event for Wallace next year. We are looking for re-enactors and the hard thing is finding skinny guys, [laughter] that look like they did in the 1860s, when people had like 1% body fat or something. It’s a little bit of a challenge. (Frank) There wasn’t a 7-11 or a Quik Shop on every corner [laughs]. (Deb) Exactly. (Frank) You rode 20 miles. It was like through nothing. (Deb) Through nothing. That’s right. You had to take it with you, find a waterhole along the way or something. I’ve got to give them another plug. A good friend, Rob Culbertson, Cowboy Culbertson, up in American Frontier Productions, is doing another artist photo shoot in August. If you are an artist and you want to do Western sets and, Oh my gosh, he’s got some cool stuff planned. Maybe it’d be cool up there too. [laughter] (Frank) Not in July. If I remember, last year it was about a hundred and something, but the model still came out, they would ride over the hill. They would do whatever. (Deb) Sweat and all, sweat and all. They would do whatever, it didn’t matter how hot it was. That’s right. Hey we’ve got a great show. Stay with us.

(Deb) You know Kansas is right smack dab in the middle of a lot of flight patterns and not just airplanes, but birds. And this was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen – my daughter Noel and I were headed back from Lincoln Days in Lincoln, Kansas, and we must have been on Highway 18. So we stopped along the highway because as we were driving for 5 miles, 10 miles, we could see a flock of birds from the highway. When we got up there, they were still crossing the highway, and we pulled off into a driveway there and we watched them until we got tired of watching them. So, 15 to 20 minutes. There was no end in sight, on either horizon! I don’t know what they were, they were some little small dark bird, I’m not smart enough, I don’t know if they were starlings, or I don’t know what they were. I’ve never seen anything like that, Frank. And they were maybe 40 feet above us, 40, 50 feet above us and maybe their column was 30, 40 feet wide. And so millions of birds, millions of birds! And because Kansas is smack dab in the middle of this migratory path, we’ve got a lot of places – Cheyenne Bottoms – that are designed to help take care of that migratory bird population. But Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge in Phillips County is just spectacular. And if you’ve never been to Phillips County to see this, and Phillips County is beautiful anyway, its just this rolling countryside – its just gorgeous. But the refuge is amazing. If you’re a photographer, I’m telling you this is the place to be because everywhere you look is a photo op. Its magnificent. (Frank) …and there’s never anything going on in Kansas, right? (Deb) Nope, nope. Nothing happens here, drive on by. Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge was established to conserve, maintain, and manage wildlife and habitat for migratory birds. The nearly 11 thousand-acre Kirwin Refuge is located in the rolling hills and narrow valley of the North Fork of the Solomon River in Phillips County. The Refuge lies in an area where the tall grass prairies of the east meet the short grass plains of the west. As a result of this merging of prairies and plains, grasses and wildlife common to both habitats are found on the Refuge. Over 10,000 migrating waterfowl can be seen on the Refuge during fall through early winter. Other migratory birds, including the endangered whooping crane, can be found on the Refuge. Since the emphasis is on migratory birds, the Refuge provides food, shelter, and nesting areas for migratory birds such as grassland dependents, tree-dwelling neotropical, waterfowl and shorebirds. Depending on reservoir water levels, Refuge staff use a variety of management practices. Corn, wheat, and milo are grown through a cooperative farming program with a portion of the crop left in the field to provide food for migrating waterfowl and resident wildlife. Other management tools include grazing, brush control, haying, mowing, and controlled burning. To minimize disturbance to wildlife and to comply with Federal laws, policies and regulations, these activities are prohibited on the Refuge: camping, fires, water skiing, personal watercraft like jet skis, speed boating, swimming, collecting plants, animals, including antlers, or historical artifacts, fireworks, dogs and other pets must be on a leash, littering, disorderly conduct, intoxication and commercial use, including guiding. The list of don’ts is long because the number of birds depending on this site is so long. Respect the property and its purpose, take the kids and do some amazing bird gazing!

(Frank) And here we are again! You know I’m proudly on the volunteer board of the Jayhawk Theatre of Kansas and we are in the process of raising funds to completely renovate the theatre. In the meantime we have a lot of events that are going on there. One of them was the person that we’re going to talk about next. And not only was she putting on a tremendous show, it was a sellout, and we really do thank Kelley for honoring us to be at the Jayhawk Theatre at one of our fundraising events. (Deb) You’re going to love Kelley! (Frank) Just mentioning the name Kelley Hunt is enough to generate excitement. The singer, songwriter, piano player and guitarist defies easy definitions or pigeonholing. Her website describes her as a “woman who has muscled her way onto the scene on her own terms with an identity steeped in blues/roots/gospel traditions and a refreshing originality”. Kelley makes music with “its righteous roots intact” that also crosses boundaries. Together with a commanding, passionate stage presence and superior vocal, keyboard and songwriting skills, she has earned the respect of critics and fans across North America and Europe. Born in Kansas City, Kelley was influenced by listening to early blues, R&B, roots rock, jazz and Gospel, a crossection of the New Orleans, St. Louis, KC piano traditions, as well as Kansas City masters Jay McShann and Mary Lou Williams. Before that came the sound of her mother singing jazz and blues – her first musical memories – and the influence of her New Orleans Gospel singer grandmother. Reminders of these very traditional influences are evident in Kelley’s live performances and recordings but the lyrics, soul and passion are all her own. Kelley’s resume includes appearances on a long list of premier festival stages, and she has appeared six times on A Prairie Home Companion. Kelley’s latest album, The Beautiful Bones is her 6th release and 4th as co-producer. It has been called the best work of her career. “More than bones prove beautiful on this scintillating release…Kelley Hunt’s time has come.” writes BLUES MUSIC MAGAZINE. Kelley described how the song came to be. “I had already written most of the songs,” she said, “and felt they were about the things that are important to us all as people, but The Beautiful Bones connected them. I was inspired by looking out my kitchen window while I was playing guitar and seeing the bare branches of a tree covered in snow, and I started to think about the layers we all have in our lives and the possibilities that come with each of them. The bare branches of that tree started to resemble a hand, and I started thinking of all the strong women in my family. It was as if they were sending me a message. Fifteen minutes later the song was done.” In a state where we can boast many musical accomplishments, Kelley Hunt is a rare find.

(Ron) There is a group called the Kansas Barn Alliance, which promotes and preserves barns as a vital part of the rural lifestyle of Kansas. This poem is entitled “Barns are Beautiful”. I think a barn is a beautiful thing, surrounded by grass in the early spring. It’s a place of shade to store some hay, with stanchions for milking cows along the way. Or perhaps a tack room or stalls of course, where you can stable a cow or a horse. Or maybe its converted to some modern use, which a rural landowner will come to choose. It may have a gable or gambrel roof to maintain, topped off by a cupola or a weather vane. It may be built of stone or old wood, but it brings back memories of when times were good. It’s a symbol of our nation’s rural legacy. A part of our landscape for all to see. And when you’ve worked hard on the range and you’re all in, just waitin’ for the work day to come to an end, it’s sweet to hear those words when the boss says, “Oh, darn. I guess it’s quittin’ time. Let’s go to the barn.” Happy Trails.

(Frank) Ready or not – here we are again. (Deb) Here comes the Pony Express; here comes the mail! (Frank) Pony Express, I still can’t imagine riding full gallop for 20 miles. It was really short-lived. (Deb) Yeah, it was. (Frank) The telegraph kind of put them out of business. And then the same company started the Overland Stage Company, which was also short-lived. (Deb) Well, things were changing so fast, and that’s one of the coolest things about the 19th century. I mean, everybody that knows me knows how I worship Buffalo Bill Cody, and one of the things that I love about Cody, he embodies all that change going on in America. He lived through every step of it. When he was a child he sees a sea of wagons at Leavenworth, all headed west. And then one of my favorite photos of him, and he’s on the Pony Express, is Cody maybe just a year of so before he died, and he’s standing there looking up at an airplane. So he lived through all of that change, the railroads, all just coming just like that…smack, smack, smack. Something is being outdated and something is being created. It was a scary time, but what an exciting time to live. (Frank) Oh yeah, it had to be. Of course you say the Good Ole Days, but still… (Deb) Oh no. (Frank) But the west was open, it was free if you wanted to go west, you could do about anything you wanted to. (Deb) Anything, you could do anything. You could get out, find out about it and enjoy it. Let’s take a look. Even though the Pony Express lasted just 18 months, its impression on the imagination lingers. The goal was to provide a mail route from St. Joseph, Missouri, to California that was faster than the Overland Stage. Johnny Fry was one of nearly 200 young men selected to take part in an ambitious endeavor. Fry carried a mail pouch on the first leg. Fry was scheduled to leave the station at 5 p.m. April 3, 1860, with his parcel, but the train delivering his pouch was delayed and he did not depart until 7:15 p.m. A cannon boomed, the brass band played, and a crowd of people cheered as Fry’s mount raced from the station. They headed west to Seneca, Kansas, a distance of 80 miles with the leather “mochila” that held 49 letters, five telegrams, and special edition newspapers. Fry’s horse galloped the short distance to the ferry, which transported them across the Missouri River. At Elwood, Kansas, they followed the trail through the wooded bottoms, across the Kickapoo reservation, and to Seneca, where another rider and horse were ready to continue the trek. Express horses carried a maximum of 165 pounds, which included the 20-pound mochila and the rider whose weight could not exceed 125 pounds. Other items were a water sack, a horn to alert the station, a Bible, and two weapons: a revolver and optional rifle. Fresh horses were provided every 10 to 15 miles at stations along the trail. Two minutes was allowed to switch horses and transfer the mail pouch before heading off on the next leg. Riders were replaced every 60 to 80 miles. Fry went on to become a soldier in the Union army and was killed in 1863 in Baxter Springs in conflict with William Quantrill’s raiders. All Pony Express envelopes coming from California were hand canceled with Atchison as the postmark and carried the Famous Wells Fargo Pony Express Stamp.

(Frank) Well, we have to go again. (Deb) But we’ll see you at the Rodeo! (Frank) I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m Deb. (Frank) We’ll see you somewhere… (Both) Around Kansas!

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