Tallgrass National Prairie, Rear Admiral

(Frank) Today on Around Kansas we start with a look at the beautiful Tallgrass National Prairie. Then learn how a young man born in 1884 in Osborne County came to be a Rear Admiral in the US Navy. Next enjoy a poem from Ron Wilson and we’ll end with a story about William Averill Comstock, Army Scout, who is being honored with a statue at the Ft. Wallace Museum.Closed Captioning Brought to you by Ag Promo Source. Together we grow. Learn more at agpromosource.com.

(Frank Chaffin) I’m Frank. (Deb Goodrich) I’m Deb. (Frank) And this is Around Kansas. I’ve always wanted to do that because I don’t know if you remember the Huntley-Brinkley Report. (Deb) I do. (Frank) Yes. (Deb) Because Chet Huntley looked so much like my Grandpa. (Frank) [Laughs] Okay. (Deb) In fact, I was thinking about Chet Huntley the other day. He was from Montana. Did you know that? (Frank) No. (Deb) I did a story about him one time, being, I was looking for famous westerners and Chet Huntley is one that I picked out, but he looked so much like my Grandpa Bowen, who was like the most trusted individual of my life. Huntley-Brinkley, every bit as trusted as Walter Cronkite. They said it; you could take it to the bank. (Frank) Because it would be, turn and we’re ready to do the news now. (Deb) Goodnight Chet, Goodnight David. (Frank) That was a throwback to those journalists then. They commanded your attention and here’s what’s going on now. (Deb) They commanded your respect. More importantly, they earned your respect. O my God, the golden age. Man, that’s gone. O my gosh. When now I watch the news programs. I’ve been a news director, I’ve been a reporter, I mean hard news. The greatest compliment I ever had was one of the district attorneys back home wrote a letter to the paper and said, “My coverage of court was fair and accurate.” That’s fair and accurate. (Frank) It’s what you need. Yes. So anyway. (Deb) Well those are the old days. I don’t know, when I look at Charlie Rose on the morning show and I’m thinking, He must just want to get up and shoot himself. He is sitting there talking about the stuff that passes for news. I watch, is it ABC with George Stephanopoulos? I remember when George Stephanopoulos, every girl in the country had a crush on him, and he was really something and now he’s obviously very successful, but you’re talking about The Bachelor. Who watches this stuff? Who cares? They’re reporting on that, on the morning news show? Today Show with Hugh Downs, remember those days? And Barbara Walters, they did feature stuff but it wasn’t stupid. God, Frank, you really got me started on this. (Frank) And here we are on your morning. (Deb) And here we are. (Frank) Our stories are all about Kansas; people, places and things that make the state a great place to live and play and all of that. (Deb) Frank and I proving you can have fun and you don’t have to be stupid. Is that right, Frank? We try- (Frank) [Laughs] Well. (Deb) – [Chuckles] we try. (Frank) I know you’re speaking to yourself. The people who’ve watched this show…anyway. (Deb) Never mind. Rosanne, Rosanna Dana. Never mind. (Frank) So anyway. (Deb) Stay with us.

(Frank) We’re back. Before we were kind of talking while there were commercials on, here, a few years ago, when we started Around Kansas before she came onboard, we did a story on the Tallgrass National Wildlife Preserve. Anyway, someone has done a really great documentary. So now you can talk about that. (Deb) Well, it’s Dave Kendall. Our old friend, Dave Kendall, we’ve been friends for a long, long time. Dave Kendall of course was with the KTWU for years, produced Sunflower Journeys, and did amazing stuff. It was so funny when I had my radio talk show in Topeka a few years back; I had Dave Kendall and was it Scott Williams that came over from KTWU talking about Sunflower Journeys. The same day I had Bryan and now his name is going to escape me, Oh for goodness sake, with Ogden Publications– Oh Bryan I’m so sorry– and Hank Will. Bryan and Hank bring me gifts. They bring me a bag of stuff. I’m looking at Dave and Scott. I’m like, “Geez guys, no presents?” They got me presents after that. Bless your heart Dave. (Frank) This is a pattern – she is usually talking about presents. (Deb) Heck, no. This is my present back to you Dave. Dave has done a phenomenal job with this new documentary on the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. It will air on Smoky Hills Public Television. April 27th at 9 PM. We’ve got a trailer for you. (Frank) If you’ve never visited, you really should. It is a fantastic place. (Deb) This trailer will make you proud that it’s in our state. It really will. [music] (Speaker 1) These five million acres of native grass and the Flint Hills and the southern tip of the Flint Hills which are called the Osage Hills by the Oklahomans, that’s the last large significant expanse of Tallgrass Prairie in the whole world. (Rob Manes) When we’re right here at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, we’re kind of in the midst of all that there is of the Tallgrass Prairie functionally. Yes, there are big chunks of it. There’s a thousand acres here and there in Iowa and Missouri, but when you talk about its full ecological expression, the grandeur and glory of the Tallgrass Prairie that the Native Americans revered that made ranchers able to survive here, this is it. (Kelly Kindscher) Anyone that visits me from out of state, this is on the list of places to come. Where else can you go see and get public access to this sort of expanse where you can go spend some time with bison? You can’t get that anywhere else. (Speaker 4) I’m like, “Wow, here in the middle of the continent in the middle of Kansas, you can have a connection with our planet.” (Speaker 5) It’s the sky dome that goes back and over your head. It’s that whole feeling of, “This is all around me.” (Elaine Jones) The people that were here, the Native Americans, that is a great history and I think for a place that provides people a chance to go and walk out there and think about the history of those people. The most amazing stories are right there. (Nancy Kassebaum) It’s the history of what we were, and are, and will be; and it’s important to preserve. I think a state that can do that is only adding to the richness to the next generation of inheritance. (Speaker 8) It’s been called an important document of how people with strongly opposing viewpoints can listen to each other and finally achieve together a lasting good. So much beautiful content in great explanation of a complex and remarkable story. It’s the story of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, a true love story from the Flint Hills of Kansas.

(Frank) Back again. This is Around Kansas by the way, if you just joined us. I’m Frank, she’s Deb. (Deb) Thanks, Frank. (Frank) Michael’s over there. (Deb) Trying to keep us in line. (Frank) Yes. (Deb) We promised him we wouldn’t be stupid, Frank. Remember at – (Frank) Oh that’s right. (Deb) – the beginning of the show? (Frank) That’s right. We just started with…that. (Deb) You started with that. (Frank) Anyway, I’m sure every state can claim all of their heroes and all of that, but it seems like Kansas is overloaded with people that have done remarkable things. (Deb) I think we are. I do. (Frank) Think about it. We had Dwight Eisenhower, who’s not only president but of course was a general. (Deb) Supreme Allied Commander. (Frank) Supreme Allied Commander. (Deb) That’s like ruler of the universe, Frank, Supreme Allied Commander. That’s like the Jedi or something. That’s what Ike was. He’s one of the few presidents in our history where it was probably a step down to be president. After you’re Supreme Allied Commander, you’re President? Eh, whatever. Big deal. (Frank) We’ve got astronauts. Also, we have an admiral. (Deb) Who’d of thunk it? (Frank) Yes. An admiral. Not only that but he had a great deal to do with the development of the submarine force in the navy. He’s from a very small town in Kansas. We’re going to thank the people of Osborne because they did– remember we said, ‘If you have something you do not wish to talk about,” and they did. Thank you for sharing this because we did look up the story. It’s a great story about– (Deb) It’s a great story. I was shocked after moving to Kansas and really getting into the history, we had, in World War II, most of the Fifth fleet was from the Midwest. It was Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma boys that made up. I’ve thought about this a lot lately when we talked about that sea of grass. They used to say, “If they ever saw the ocean, then we’re going have to join the navy to see it.” But part of it– the more I researched, people have said it wasn’t that unfamiliar to them. That vastness. The vastness of the prairies and the vastness of the ocean. That it wasn’t as foreign to them as it was to some of the east coast boys who were. You might see the ocean once a week if you went to the beach or something. Or once a month. But you didn’t live in that landscape, with that vast expanse. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. (Frank) But you’re right. “Well, I want to get to the ocean. Well, I guess I better join the navy.” (Deb) Join the navy. They’ll get me there for nothing. (Frank) This gentleman did. (Frank) It is a long way from the hills of Osborne County to the rank of Rear Admiral in United States Navy. Felix Xerxes Gygax was born March 30, 1884, in Hancock Township, Osborne County. He was raised on a farm and attended the local rural one-room schools. After graduation, Felix taught school for a couple of years, until 1903 when he won an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He graduated three years later and was assigned to the U.S.S. Kearsage in time to participate in the 14-month around-the-world voyage of the Great White Fleet. Ordered by President Theodore Roosevelt, the voyage lasted from December 1907 to September 1909 and was designed to display America’s might to the world. Upon his return, Felix was transferred to the U.S.S. Minnesota. Felix was then appointed first officer in charge of the submarine school in New London, Connecticut. In1920, he assisted in the establishment of the submarine base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. He then served in the Naval Department in Washington, D.C., and held the rank of Admiral. A week after marrying Estelle Ise, Felix reported for duty as a naval inspector in Switzerland. At Winterthur, submarine engines were being built in a diesel factory for the U.S. Navy. When he learned that the Swiss wanted to charge him income tax, he succeeded in being appointed naval attaché at Bern, which exempted him from the tax. In 1933, Felix was made Professor of Naval Science and Tactics at the University of California at Berkeley. Later, he commanded the U.S.S. Augusta, then the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. After a brief command of Cruiser Division 3 he was transferred to command of the Norfolk Naval Yard in 1940, also receiving a presidential designation as Rear Admiral. In 1942 he was appointed commandant of the First Naval District in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was in charge of the Boston Naval Yard and later the Norfolk Navy Yard. Upon his retirement in 1946, he was the holder of the Legion of Merit and was an honorary commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Felix and his wife Estelle raised two sons, Felix Jr., and Rex. He passed away February 24, 1977, in San Diego, California, and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery at Washington, D.C. He was inducted into Osborne County’s Hall of Fame in 1997, and we thank them for this bio.

(Ron) We have lots of barn cats here on the home ranch and they seem to get into predicaments. And as we get this, around this time of Easter, it reminds me of one particular cat. This poem is entitled, “The Search” or “The Prodigal Cat.” We had a litter of kittens a year ago spring, then we had to decide what to name the darn things. The kids named one cat Easter Egg, it loved to rub upon your leg. They hauled that kitten all over the ground. Maybe that’s why it liked people around. I’d reach for a tool where it’s put, and that cat would always be under foot. One day Ma noticed the cat wasn’t here, we didn’t know why it would disappear. Then Grandma and Granddad called to say, that cat had become a stowaway. They’d visited us and when they got home, Easter Egg was in the trunk where he’d gone to roam. They put him in the garage and fed him that day, but their dog chased him off and he ran plum away. They called the neighbors and looked around but that cat was simply not to be found. A dead critter by the road was spotted first, for Easter Egg’s fate we feared the worst. But it was not Easter Egg, no sign of that cat. We wondered where in the world he was at. One day I went over to Granddads house to get a load of hay to feed to the cows, Ma went to the barn and called, “Kitty, kitty,” but nothing was found, which seemed like a pity. But then before I could haul that hay home to the cows, I could swear I thought I heard a meow. I followed the sound with curiosity and dread and found the cat on top of their old hay shed. So, I climbed the hayloft and brought him down. Easter Egg the cat was safe and sound. Now Easter Egg’s home and not forgotten. In fact the kids have spoiled him rotten. It’s like Easter Sunday when after church the kids all go on a colored egg search. But my Easter Egg search was different now, cause all I had to do was to follow the meow. Happy Trails.

(Frank) Okay, we’re back. (Deb) What? You? What did you pour on your Wheaties this morning? (Frank) Well, it’s the middle of April. I don’t know what. (Deb) You just got April Fever or what, Spring fever? (Frank) Beware of the eyes of April– no that’s March. (Deb) Well, eyes of April or worse. That’s tax day. That’s helped you survive till now of course my sister, they’re accountant, they’re busy right now. All the extensions for people up until midnight on tax day. This is her– I won’t say down-time but it’s like the first few months of the year are so hard and then relaxed just a little bit. I’m hoping to get her out to Kansas, come visit. We’ll have her as a guest star on… (Frank) That would be great. (Deb) …on Around Kansas sometime. (Frank) Sure. (Deb) Well we got a great story coming up. One of the things, I’m hoping to get my sister and a lot of other people out for their July event at Fort Wallace. One of the highlights of our friend, Jerry Thomas, will be unveiling a bronze sculpture of Medicine Bill Comstock who was a storied scout and I want to talk a little bit about scouts. I was doing a program with Jane Pierce a year or two ago in Oakley and we were talking about scouts who scouted for the army and they still, the army still has scouts and the kids just think army and they think guns and they think, “Well they’re out there in the plains and they’re shooting Indians,” and I’m like their ability to communicate is one of the things that set them apart. So the scouts knew a lot of the Plain’s tribes languages. They knew their customs. So it was that ability to avoid trouble that made them very valuable, their sense of direction, their understanding of where to find water, where to find forage, all that stuff. But their ability to communicate and that’s still a huge deal in training and recruiting scouts for the army, the ability to communicate with different cultures, different languages. Rather than just thinking you got this wild guy out there without a clue. No, they tended to be very bright, very interesting, very individualistic, some real colorful characters. Some figures loom large over the landscape, transcending time and death, entering the realm of legend. Such a figure is Medicine Bill, William Averill Comstock. In his short life, Comstock who was chief scout at Fort Wallace set himself apart. Said George Custer, “No Indian knew the country more thoroughly than did Comstock. He was perfectly familiar with every divide, watercourse and strip of timber for hundreds of miles in either direction. He knew the dress and peculiarities of every Indian tribe, and spoke the languages of many of them. Custer also described Comstock as “perfect in horsemanship, fearless in manner, a splendid hunter and a gentleman by instinct, as modest and unassuming as he was brave.” He was defeated in a buffalo hunting contest by his friend and rival, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He was believed to be part Indian, but was not. He was actually a Michigander by birth, from a prominent and educated family. But he let the rumors of his frontier birth and upbringing flourish, likely understanding the PR value of such stories. The legendary scout will receive a permanent home at the Fort Wallace Museum this summer when artist Jerry Thomas unveils a life-sized bronze statue, ensuring that the figure will always cast a shadow on this landscape. Jerry’s paintings are also on permanent display at the museum along with artifacts from the original fort site in the Floris Weiser Room. In the past weeks, the museum’s staff and volunteers have been helping Jerry construct the base for the statue, a lot of work itself. The statue is being set at the front entrance to the main museum and will be unveiled on July 8 in conjunction with the Great Fort Wallace and Western Kansas Exposition July 6-9. The Expo will feature tours of the scenic byways, a symposium on events of 1867, an encampment featuring dozens of reenactors, a concert by Michael Martin Murphey, and a final ceremony at the Fort Wallace Cemetery.

(Frank) Well, that’s it for this week. I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m Deb. (Frank) And we’ll see you somewhere… (Deb & Frank) …Around Kansas.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by Ag Promo Source. Together we grow. Learn more at agpromosource.com.

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