Come with us today on Around Kansas as we prove there’s a lot of fun things to see and do in the Sunflower state. First up is Stage Coach Station 15 in Norton. See how it became famous in May of 1859 and what Norton looks like today. Next meet Dawayne Bailey, a Kansas musician who played for years with Bob Seger and Chicago and is still playing out in LA. Then learn about a famous Kansas aviator, Philip Billard.
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(Frank) Good morning I’m Frank Chaffin and welcome to Around Kansas. Today we’re gonna cover several topics that we cover in Around Kansas namely, small town living and some history and a native son. The native son is a guy named Randy Sparks. I had the pleasure of meeting Randy about 14 years ago. Randy was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1933. Yes, he’s 81 years old. He formed the New Christy Minstrels back in the ’60s and they’re still on the road doing concerts virtually every night all around the United States and in Europe. Now why do I mention Randy? Because Randy also loves history. And he wrote many songs about the state of Kansas, believe it or not. And we’re gonna tell you about one today. And it has to do with the gold fields of Kansas. Oh, you didn’t know there were gold fields? Yes, there were. In 1858 there was strike near Denver. At that time Denver was part of Kansas, the Kansas territory. In 1859, a stage line was formed that was called the Leavenworth to Denver Express. Now Randy Sparks was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, so he knew about the stage line a long time ago. All along the stage line, every 25 miles there were stage stations. And that’s where they had a fresh set of horses, a new crew and you could get refreshments. We’re gonna talk to you today about Station 15. Station 15 was and still is by the way, in Norton, Kansas. Now Norton, Kansas, of course is on Highway 36. The stage line really was the first Highway 36. Anyway, it was formed in April of 1859. In May, the 24th as a matter of fact, 1859, there occurred at that station something quite unusual. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna read this. This is written by Randy Sparks, I’ve not heard the music to it, but this is the poetry. “On the Leavenworth and Pikes Peak stage the shortest route to the Kansas gold fields, that’s Denver, on May 24th, 1859, there converged at one place of Kansas Station 15, now Norton. A most impressive roster of famous and soon-to-be famous old west characters.” That story when we come back.
(Frank) OK, now Randy Spark’s tale of that day, May 24th, 1859, at Station 15 in Norton, Kansas. Here we go. ” I have ridden on the Leavenworth, Pike’s Peak Express once or twice if only in my mind. I served a seat with tin stars and outlaws of the west. I’ve feasted on the tales they left behind. At the station in the shadows I can see them gathered round. May they rest in peace upon the printed page like a dime novel roll call, upon that hallowed ground. One-by-one they climbed down from the stage. There’s old white coat go west young man, famous Horace Greeley leads the way. Then Albert Dean Richardson, the Civil War reporter eager to commemorate this day. And the keeper of this station on the LPP Express is a Cincinnati lawyer gone astray and his wife, the bowery actress, still wears her wedding dress even though their famous child is on the way. Tis William Bonney Senior looking frail and forlorn, exiled to the Kansas wilderness. Doomed to share his honest name with Billy the Kid. He calls out to the drivers of the LPP Express, Howdy Pat, Wild Bill climb down and set a spell. The news from out of the states. Pat is Patrick Dolan the famous Texas Ranger, Bill Hickok of the Aces and Eights.” Now on that day a stage going east also stopped. When we come back, guess who’s on it?
(Frank) Welcome back. We continue our story. Remember the east bound stage has now arrived. “In stranger than fiction the east bound stage, parts the sage and rumbles to a rest. High up on the box sits a young Pat Garrett, as yet an unsung hero of the west. And the driver riding shotgun is a Californio, who is hired on to steal the Denver gold, Tiburcio Vasquez is the name, we’ve come to know as a villain of renowned in days of old. And there inside the coach of the LPP Express sits a go back from the Colorado strike a young girl from the east who has met with such success. Giving rich and lonely miners what they like. And the Pinkerton detective who is paid to intervene is the hero of great legends yet to be. The law west of the Pecos, is honor Judge Roy Bean. He escorts the youngster to her family. I’ve ridden on the Leavenworth Pike’s Peak Express, once or twice if only in my mind. I’ve shared a seat with tin stars and outlaws of the west. I’ve feasted on the tales they left behind. At the station in the shadows I can see them gathered round. May they rest in peace upon the printed page like a dime novel roll call, upon that hallowed ground, one by one, they climb aboard the stage.” There it is – Station 15. It’s still there in Norton. You can take a look at it. It’s open 24/7 and it’s right off of Highway 36. Now, just a little bit more history about the Leavenworth to Pike’s Peak Express. The company was subsequently chartered as the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company by the Kansas Legislature in February of 1860. It absorbed the stage lines running from Missouri to Denver and to Salt Lake City. And though its President William Russell, he launched the famous Pony Express. Well, when the Pony Express became obsolete upon completion of the transcontinental telegraph, the business ran out of cash. Employees dubbed the company Clean Out of Cash and Poor Pay. On March 21, 1862, Ben Holladay purchased the holdings in a public sale for $100,000 dollars. It’s facilities in the west bottoms of Kansas City, Missouri, were used to outfit travelers on the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails following the Kansas River. After the company went out of business, its facilities became the Kansas City Stockyard. There you have it. We’ve given you a look at Norton, Kansas, at least in our minds, back to 1859. After the break, we’re gonna take a look at Norton as it is now.
(Frank) We took a look at Norton, Kansas, in 1859 at least in our minds. Now let’s take a look at Norton the way it is today through the eyes of a young man named Tim Sprigs. So, with that we’ll leave you. We’ll see you again somewhere from Around Kansas. –Song–
(Deb) Welcome to the Celtic Fox in Downtown Topeka and it’s a perfect place to talk about some of our best musicians from Topeka Kansas, because they’re just so devoted to sharing live music here. And while you might be familiar with a lot of names, like the band Kansas for example, one you might not know is Dawayne Bailey. And Dawayne actually grew up in Manhattan and went to high school there. And in 1972, he moved to L.A. with a band he had formed called Rathbone. Now you might not know the name Rathbone, but I bet you know the name Bob Seger. And for those of us of a certain age, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band were just the top of the heap. Well that Like a Rock album, remember that one? Those of you that might not remember the album, I bet you remember the Chevy truck ad, that features the Like a Rock from Bob Seger. Dawayne Bailey is playing lead guitar on that. And after he left Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet band, he went to bigger and better things with the band Chicago. He was with Chicago for ten years. He was actually with them when they got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He recorded some of their biggest albums with them including one that he actually composed, sang lead and played lead guitar on, The Stone of Sisyphus. And that’s become a cult classic. So when you’re thinking about Kansas musicians be sure to look up Dawayne Bailey. He’s still performing out in L.A. Still doing great things.
(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas. I want to visit with you a little bit about Philip Billard today. Now you’re familiar with a lot of the names in aviation that are associated with Kansas like Boeing, Beech, Lockheed, Raytheon. They just go on and on. And of course we have the most famous aviatrix ever in Amelia Earhart. But another name to add along with those is Philip Billard, young man, born in Topeka in 1891. His family was French in fact, it’s a really interesting story about how his family fled France and the reign of Napoleon the Third. And a lot of those French families wound up in Topeka, of all places. He was a daredevil from the word go, and he probably got it honestly from the adventures that his French family had had. And aviation was just in its early days. And we had another aviation pioneer A.K. Longren who was building airplanes. Philip Billard was a friend of Longren. And he watched him fly and Longren actually just told him, just kind of sat down and went over the manual. Philip Billard got in a plane and flew it his first flight. He flew 20 minutes or something at about 125 feet and it was amazing. And Longren commented that he was just relaxed and was just natural in the air. So Billard bought one of those Longren planes. The family was pretty well off. He bought one of those planes and he would just do air shows for the people in Topeka. He was a real dare devil. Now that came to the attention of the Kansas National Guard. So in 1916 as Europe was in the midst of World War I the Kansas Adjutant General actually commissioned Philip Billard as a captain in the Kansas National Guard and the plan was that he was going to create an air unit in the guard. You know, aviation is early so the use of planes as weapons and in warfare was pretty pioneering as well. So, the caveat was he had to buy the planes. And that was pretty expensive. And then the government would buy them from him when they actually got into the war effort and this unit was formed. Well, Billard got tired of waiting on all that to happen and he wound up just listing in the regular Army. So, he went out to California, went to flight school out there and they sent him to Europe, not as a combat pilot, which is what he was hoping for, but as a test pilot. Now, as dangerous as being a test pilot sounds, Philip was actually kind of disappointed in that assignment. But, he was very good at it. And very well respected and this is the story I want to tell you about, the last fateful flight that he had. He was flying with another guy, Robert Holt, who was a mechanic. And they took off in a new de Havilland for a test flight. This was a bi-plane and it performed a series of maneuvers successfully and the test flight was going really well. But then the unexpected happened. After performing an aerobatic maneuver, witnesses reported that Holt who was the mechanic was slumped over the flight controls. The Liberty engine had stopped running and Billard was desperately trying to pull the aircraft out of a steep dive. He was able to get the engine started a few hundred meters above the ground, but the aircraft plunged into the French countryside at an incredible speed. Final determination of the cause of the crash was never known. When the news reached Topeka that the 27-year-old aviator had been killed the entire town went into mourning. Now in compliance with his wishes, his body was later exhumed, he was cremated and his ashes were actually scattered over the flower garden in Provence, France, that had once belonged to his mother. So, his brother Robert, after the plane crash went over the France and did that. It’s very fitting that we’re sitting here in the Ward-Meade home where so many of Philip Billard’s mother’s furnishings are now, including portraits of her, just beautiful portraits, that were done by her sister. So, it’s very fitting also that the Topeka Cemetery marks the grave of Philip Billard’s Dad and his Grandfather every year as we are marking the anniversary of World War I. Tremendous article on Philip Billard, appreciate the contribution of Dave Young from out at the Kansas National Guard who’s researched Billard and so many of the other early guardsmen. And he’s one you definitely need to read about and remember. Hey, next week we’re gonna be talking Fred Funston. See you then.
Closed Captioning brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.