Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Penokee Man

The small unincorporated community of Penokee was founded in 1888 by Ben Chadsey as Redford. Since the town kept getting confused with Rexford, the residents decided to change the name to Penokee after the Penokee Mountains along Lake Superior in Wisconsin. In 1857, Colonel Edwin Sumner built a sod fort in the vicinity of the South Solomon River. In July, the Cheyenne attacked and Sumner used this fort as a defense against the Natives and to tend to wounded soldiers. The fort was soon abandoned due to the constant attacks.

When Graham County was opened for settlement, the remains of the fort were discovered and cattle drivers used the old fort to corral their herds. The fort was only 100 feet wide and 250 feet long but the walls were four feet thick and seven feet high. By the 1880s, the old fort had crumbled and almost nothing remained. Carl Kobler remembered where the old fort stood and this location became the site of Penokee.

Penokee started off as a very prosperous town. A post office opened in 1889, closing in 2006, and by 1915 there were several grocery stores, elevators, lumberyards, hardware and implement stores, drug stores and a hotel. But the town suffered during the depression years of the 1930s and except for a few businesses related to farming, the town is no longer as prosperous as it once was.

A unique aspect of the Penokee area are the more than 100 cobble-sized limestones arranged to form the outline of a man 57 feet tall and 30 feet wide. The figure is known as the Penokee Man and it is unknown who built it or for what purpose. A Harvard paleontologist in 1879 examined the figure and noted its similarities to other stone figures in the Northern Plains but most of those were destroyed breaking the ground for agriculture. The Penokee Man is one of the few survivors.

The figure is located on a hill overlooking the Solomon River Valley, his arm stretch over his head to the west and his legs face east. It's suggested that the site was a religious site for tribes in the area before white settlement or a symbol for fertility. According to one story, he is Naape, "not the creator of the world, but a heroic figure who transformed the Earth to make it suitable for human beings. The Blackfoot in the north believe he was doing this when he got tired and laid on a hilltop. He spread out his arms and marked where he was with a series of boulders. The view when you are at the Penokee Man is that you can see 360 degrees on the horizon."

Whatever the story or reason, the Penokee Man has been declared an important part of Kansas history. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and its location has been restricted to protect it.
An aerial view of the Penokee Man.
More information on the town of Penokee can be found here.

Until next time, I remain...