Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

Butcher Falls 1



Spring seemed to be stalled out somewhere, so Dave and I drove south one Saturday to see if we could locate the lost season and drag it north.

It was early April and even near the Oklahoma line, we didn’t find much in the way of green grass or flowering trees, but the sun was warm and the sky was blue.

From Emporia, we headed straight down K-99, cruising through Olpe, sliding past Madison. At the sundries store in Hamilton, we purchased a few snacks for the road.

In Howard, we noticed the Benson Doll Museum in a storefront on Main Street. Because one of our friends makes dolls, we thought we’d check out the museum so we could mention it to her if she hadn’t already visited.

Hundreds of dolls of all kinds were on display. They were the collection of Bertha Baumgartel, known as “the doll lady of Howard.” She collected and repaired dolls and made some herself. After Bertha died, her family donated the dolls to the Benson Museum and this storefront was renovated for that purpose.

Upstairs in the museum is an area for tea parties for children or adults. They’ve had birthday parties and showers there and they offer fancy dress hats that can be worn by party participants. The museum is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., or by appointment.

Driving along K-99, the highway is lined with cropland and pastures. Spring is calving season and dozens of cow-calf pairs grazed in the fields. We saw lots of new life on the prairie.

As my eyes studied the huge pastures, my mind wandered to a recurring thought: Is there a square foot of prairie that has never been walked on by a human being?

Ranchers have been out on foot on their pastures, tending to cattle and building fences. Farm and ranch kids have surely explored the land in great detail. Over the past 200 years, there have been homesteaders as well as travelers passing through in wagons and on foot. This place we call Kansas was once occupied by Native Americans who lived on the land in a very physical way.

Still, my mind wants to think that spots remain on the planet, on our prairies, that have never felt the pressure of a human foot. I just like to think that sometime I might place a step where no foot has trod before.

When we got to Sedan (pop. 1,124), we looked for a place for lunch and settled in at Buck’s BBQ on the edge of town. It was an excellent decision. Dave and I both had the ribs – which were pretty darned good, as were the sweet potato fries. When the waitress offered dessert, Dave selected blackberry cobbler. I decided on the coconut cream pie and it was the best coconut pie I’ve ever had; it was not too sweet, it was just right.

One of things we had hoped to see in the Sedan area was Prairiehenge, the Stan Herd art installation of upright rocks in the middle of a field on the Red Buffalo Ranch. I expected to get access information at the Red Buffalo Gift Shop in Sedan, but the store was closed, and no answer on phone. Days later, I did speak with someone at the gift shop who said that Prairiehenge was no longer open to the public.

But we did get to see Butcher Falls on the Red Buffalo Ranch and it was easily accessible. Butcher Falls is a 5 to 6 foot-high waterfall complete with actual rushing water in a rock-walled stream. Falling water has a beautiful sound and is something we rarely hear in Kansas.

Heading back through Sedan, we found the Chautauqua County courthouse and I added a photograph of it to my courthouse collection. The courthouse is a big old building – three stories of brick and limestone.

From Sedan, we headed east toward Independence to see if we could find a little house on the prairie.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh

1 Comment

  1. Gosh, here it is Monday, and this is the first time I’ve seen this edition of your column! I think between computer problems and not feeling good, it simply got past me. But I read it just now and enjoyed it. I love a good road trip, even in writing. Thank you!

    Hwy 99 is a great road to take. YOu slid past Madison. But have you stopped here to see where the town is going? They are refurbishing some buildings downtown. Rhinestones and Rust is a wonderful store. They took a decaying building and turned it into something wonderful.

    There is also the refurbished gas station. You can’t get gas there, but you can get nostalgic there. It’s at the bottom of the hill at the north part of town, coming into Madison (hwy 58.)

    Also, there is the Red Brick Cafe. I’ve never eaten there. But people do!

    I looked on the map (which is my habit when reading about road trips). I still need to get to Howard to see the doll museum.

    Too bad the Stan Herd installation is no longer viewable by the public. That one out 54 with the metal sculptures is also closed to the public now. It can still be seen from the road, but the public can no longer get in and walk around.

    Did you ever find the little house on the prairie?

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