Friday, November 14, 2008

163: The Prairie of Eden

Part One
Chapter One

The Kansas River makes up the northern boundary of Douglas County before curving southward then eastward toward Kansas City, seperating Grant Township from Wakarusa.
Miles and miles of gently rolling hills caressed the landscape bounding up and down creating a lovely view to an area widely considered flat.  Trees abound in much of the county surrounding creeks, rivers and lakes.  The more impressive hills were given names all their own, Blue Mound, Mount Oread, Twin Mound and Liberty Hill.  Douglas County is cut in half by the Wakarusa River and it always seemed that the are north of the Wakarusa was more inviting while the south was darker and less friendly.
Everywhere in the county, little streams and creeks flowed into the Kansas or Wakarusa Rivers and usually were barren rock beds but sometimes the rains would be enough to push the water through.  Sometimes the rains were too much.  Massive floods in 1935 and 1951 inundated the Kansas and Wakarusa causing then to overflow their banks and destroy land, crops, buildings and sometimes lives.  The need for flood control was so great that a levee system was created for the Kansas River and Clinton Lake was constructed for the Wakarusa.
The season change rapidly and while they always arrive like clockwork, they are unpredictable.  Winter, officially arrives in early December and it can get bitterly cold and while it may not snow every year, the weather makes us yearn for the warmer season.  Spring can start in February or it may arrive in April.  Unlike Autumn, Spring seems more bright and welcoming and is admittedly my favorite season.  Summer gets brutally hot and is just a time for laziness in my book.  Autumn tends to bring out the best in people as the leaves change color and fall softly to the ground.  The Fall is home to outdoor gatherings and get-togethers with loved ones  but everything would come full cirlce as winter approaches yet again.

I will forgo telling the history of over six thousand years of Indian occupancy, leaving that to the professors, students and ancestors more aptly qualified to treat that noble period with respect.  Kansas, especially Douglas County, was founded and settled on spilled blood.  Between 1854, when the Kansas Territory was opened for settlement, and 1861, when Kansas became a state on January 29th, Kansas was better known as "Bleeding Kansas" a name it rightfully deserved.  The Civil War may have begun in 1861 at Fort Sumter, South Carolina but the seeds were planted in Kansas.
Big Springs, the oldest settlement in Douglas County, was established by William Harper and John Chamberlain in May 1854.  Kansas had a choice:  to be either a free state or a slave state.  Barely a year after it's founding, Big Springs had an "official" free-state convention and men from all sections of Kansas vowed to give their lives to defend their home from border ruffians in Missouri, a slave state.  Despite being a promising community, Big Springs now stands almost silently on Highway 40 just a mile east of the Shawnee County line.
It is said that in Kansas, you couldn't walk five miles in any direction before running into a town.  The big towns had smaller satellite communities.  Only a few of the communities still exist but their stories live on through generation after generation who has homesteaded in Douglas County.  After Big Springs came other towns like Lawrence, Lecompton and smaller towns like Clinton and Vinland.  Although some names were in honor of people or a city in another state, most are very original:  Hole In the Rock, Yankee Town, Kanwaka and Coon Point.  Every place and every name has a story and maybe someday all their stories will be told but this story focuses on the rolling hills of northwest Douglas County and the prairie land in the southeast.