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The photographic story of the growth, change of the tallgrass prairie

Les Fraizer

By A Contributor

The tall grass varieties of grass are unique to the Flint Hills. It was dubbed the “great American desert” by pioneers facing the prairie’s vastness. The rich grassland, underlain by limestone rich in calcium, became home to early ranchers and farmers. The book contains more than 200 historic images from six counties in the region.

They include natural stone fences and cowboys at work and play. The picture titles present stories from the past that shaped the character of the communities of today.

Hoots plays a part in the preservation of local heritage, making history available to everyone.

Before the settlement of land, between 150 million and 250 million acres of prairie existed in North America. Now less than four percent survives.

“The Flint Hills” takes a photographic journey looking at the past and several towns. The book takes a look at real cowboys at work and play. It is designed to be a handbook for travelers to the Flint Hills, so take this book with you as you travel the area. While change seems to alter the landscape, we will find much unchanged. It is the pristine quality of the landscape that makes this region a true national treasure and an area to be enjoyed.

The designation of the native stone scenic byway makes it one of eight scenic highways of Kansas. It winds through Wabaunsee’s steeply rolling hills and winding roads beginning in southwest Shawnee County. The scenery is gorgeous and rich in history. The highway, K-4, from Topeka to Dover was the first paved highway in the state.

Other scenic, national and historical byways of Kansas are the Glacial Hills, Native Stone, Prairie Trail, Smokey Valley, Wetlands and Wildlife, Frontier Military, Gypsy Hills, Post Rocks, Route 66, and Western Vistas.

A picture illustrates a home built by Herman Richter in Alma after 1880. Also shown is a house in Alma that dates back to the late 1870s.

A ford across the Neosho River brought early explorers and travelers over ground that would later become Council Grove.

In 1925, the U.S. government and the Osage Indians signed a treaty under the “council oak” tree, giving a right of way to travelers along what would become the Santa Fe Trail. In 1847, Seth Hays was put in charge of a trading post on the Kaw Reservation at Council Grove. He constructed the first house and store, becoming the first white settler in what would become Morris County.

Hays was a grandson of Daniel Boone. The Hays House is the oldest continuously operated restaurant west of the Mississippi River.

In 1825 a type of post office operated, known as postal office oak. Travelers on the Santa Fe Trail would leave messages in a hollow spot in the base of a large oak tree for travelers behind them. The post office oak was cut down in 2008. The stump of the 300-year-old bur oak is preserved as a landmark site. A store is shown built by Seth Hays in 1868 that was used for outfitting travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.

One picture depicts employees of the American Railway Express Agency founded in 1839. It became the largest freight delivery company in the United States.

A motorist traveling south on the Flint Hills Scenic Byway will see expansive pastures on both side of the road. While the distances seem vast, they only appear larger and more panoramic the further one travels, says the author.

In 1937, Emmet Roberts held his first rodeo in a pasture on his ranch near Strong City. The Roberts held the first annual Chase County Rodeo in 1938.

It has been held every year since.

Now cowboys from all over the country travel to compete in what is considered one of the most prestigious events in the Midwest.

The book, “Images of America: The Flint Hills” is available in the local library.

Les Frazier is emeritus professor of organization and leadership development at K-State.









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