The trip to the northwest towards Kansas City was a short trip of just under two hours as we bypassed Joplin and went north to Nevada, Missouri. Since nearly all of the trip was along interstates, it went very quickly. Our destination was a commercial campground on the edge of Nevada called Osage Prairie RV Park. Like most commercial RV parks next to an interstate, it was just a bit better than an unpaved parking lot. The sites were narrow with barely enough room for a picnic table and possibly a tree between them. However, most of the sites were pull-through, at least for the first RV to pull in as each site was actually for two rigs back-to-back. Each site had full hookups and 50 amp electrical service. We were able to easily park the RV and get set up quickly. This was a good thing, since we were there for just over an hour when the weather turned severe with a nasty thunderstorm and high winds. The rain continued through most of the night and began a cycle of heavy rain and bad storms. We had already seen a lot of rain the past month and it was only the beginning!
Tuesday morning was still cloudy with light rain, so we planned to stay in the campground. I checked with the owners and got their recommendation for a local RV repairman to get our stairs fixed. I talked with him on the phone and sent him pictures of the stairs. He strongly recommended the Mor-Ryde stairs that are solid stairs that swing up into the doorway when traveling. However, he would not be able to order them and have them by Thursday which was his day to be in our area that week. So we called Camping World in Kansas City to have them order the stairs and made an appointment for a week from Monday when we would be traveling to Kansas City. Hopefully, we will be able to get them installed with enough time to go to our campground without losing any time. By this time we still had half the day, so we decided to travel south back to Joplin and check out the Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw, Oklahoma just over the state line. We had a nice afternoon at the casino, although we did not come out as winners.
The weather on Wednesday was a bit better, although there were still storms in the forecast for the afternoon. So we once again headed south to Joplin, this time to explore the George Washington Carver National Memorial. Through my agriculture education and visiting Tuskegee Institute where he led the Agriculture Department for over 40 years, I thought I was already familiar with his scientific contributions. However, I was not familiar with his early life that began on the Carver Farm in Diamond, Missouri. George Washington Carver was born a slave near the end of the Civil War, when he and his mother were kidnapped by Arkansas raiders and taken to Kentucky. His owner attempted to track them down, but could only find George and had him returned. After the Civil War, he and his brother James, were raised by the Carvers as their own children. George was a sickly child and could not do the physical labor required on the farm. So he spent his early childhood gaining domestic skills of laundry, cooking, and sewing. This left him a good bit of time to wander in the woods on the farm where he learned to appreciate and understand the natural world and all its wonders. All of these skills were important in later life. He also had a burning desire to get an education, which was difficult for an African-American during Reconstruction in the south. In fact, he left home at around the age of 10 in search of an education. He attended school, while working at domestic jobs, at a school for blacks in Neosho before moving to Fort Scott and eventually to Minneapolis, Kansas where he finally obtained his high school diploma. He then attempted to attend college, however, as a black man this was even more difficult. Highland University in Kansas initially accepted him and then denied admission when they found out he was black. After trying his hand at homesteading where he spent more time experimenting with alternative crops and establishing an arboretum he moved to Iowa to attend Simpson College where he studied music and art. Although a promising artist, his teacher encouraged him to seek a degree in Biology at Iowa State. He was the first black student at Iowa State where he obtained a Bachelor and Master degrees before joining the teaching faculty. His research was already gaining national recognition when Booker T. Washington offered a position as Head of the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee Institute. Beginning with nothing more than junk collected from the trash piles, he built a first rate agriculture research program at Tuskegee. Throughout his career his goal was to develop agriculture practices and programs to assist small black sharecroppers. He published nearly 50 extension publications on a large range of topics from alternative uses of crops, soil conservation, paints from soils, and the proper storage of vegetables and meat. He is best known for his work with peanuts as an alternative to cotton, where he found over 150 uses for. This work with peanuts and other crops were instrumental in creating the scientific field of chemurgy which is today gaining a resurgence in interest. He became a valued national speaker promoting Tuskegee, peanuts and racial morality.
They have a very nice museum at the National Monument with exhibits and video about his life and career. Much of the museum is setup for young children to explore and interact with, including a reproduction of a chemistry classroom that is used for school groups that visit. The most interesting exhibit, however, was the traveling school Carver created to take his wisdom to the public, a model copied by extension services throughout the nation. There is also a nice trail through the woods he enjoyed in his youth that includes a bronze statue of young George and a reproduction of the home he lived in with the Carver family. It was a nice short hike as the weather began to be threatening once again.
We headed back to the campground and by 6:00 the weather turned severe. This time we found ourselves in a Tornado Warning and we were the first to ascend to the office. Their “tornado shelter” was the women’s bathroom and laundry room in the center of the wooden building. While not the best structure to shelter in during a tornado, it was the best they had available. Thankfully, the owners of the RV Park were both retired firemen and had access to the first-responders radio. They were able to provide constant updates of the location of the tornado, which thankfully stayed about 8 miles to the south of us. This was the same tornado that did all the damage in Springfield a few hours later. By this point we had already received more than the average rainfall for the month and flooding was becoming a problem. Thankfully, the RV Park and interstate are far from any rivers or streams, so local flooding was not a concern.
Thursday was another wet day in the campground with light rain most of the day. We spent it staying in the campground and working on this blog. The rain let up on Friday so we headed out to the other National Park in the area, Fort Scott National Historic Site in Fort Scott, Kansas. This was a quick trip east on US 54 and although it threatened rain all day, it held off until we returned. Fort Scott is an interesting place that for some reason neither of us had never visited before even though we grew up just a couple of hours away in Wichita. Most of our vacations growing up were to the west towards the Rockies in Colorado and not to the east. Fort Scott was established in 1842, as part of a string of forts extending from Minnesota to Louisiana to provide a buffer between the Indian territories to the west and settlers to the east. It was meant to be a permanent buffer and most of the time was spent running off settlers. Over the next few years they spent time patrolling the border and providing protection along the Santa Fe and Oregon trails to the west, as much to keep settlers from stopping as to protect them. However, the Mexican-American War from 1846-1848 pulled most of the soldiers from these forts and the addition of Mexican territory from the war only spurred more settlers and ended the idea of a permanent boundary. In fact the fort was abandoned in 1853 in favor of the more western Fort Riley and the buildings were sold at auction in 1855. However, this did not end the history of Fort Scott as a military post as fighting leading up to the Civil War heated up with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. This Act not only created the Kansas and Nebraska Territories, but also allowed them to determine whether they would enter the Union as either free or slave states based on popular vote. Men adamant on both sides of the issue began coming to Kansas in order to influence this vote and the blood began to flow, known as “Bleeding Kansas.” The fort was now the town of Fort Scott and two of the buildings became hotels facing across the drill field from each other. The Fort Scott Hotel was used by “Free-Staters” and the Western Hotel by proslavery men. In 1858, radical elements from both factions converged on the area and James Montgomery attempted to burn down the Western Hotel. During this period, soldiers would return to the fort to restore law and order, which only worked until the soldiers left once again. While Fort Scott was never attacked during the Civil War, it was used as a supply base, general hospital, training ground, and a haven for people fleeing the war. The military stores did make it a target for the Confederate General Price who led the Missouri State Guard in two failed attempts to capture it before he was defeated at Pea Ridge in 1862. Following the Civil War, the nation began the process of healing and railroads were a major factor in this recovery. Fort Scott became a railroad hub for the area. The military once again returned to the fort from 1869-1873 to establish the Post of Southeast Kansas, primarily to protect the railroad workers from Indians and upset settlers or squatters that did not want to give up their land to the railroads. Since the buildings of Fort Scott were never abandoned for long and many continued to used for houses, inns, and business, most of them were still in good condition when the National Park Service obtained the site in 1978.
We had a great time exploring Fort Scott, which at the time was being decked out with 7000 American flags for the upcoming Memorial Day celebration. The drill field was literally filled with small flags. Most of the buildings that make up the fort have exhibits in them and have been restored to their original condition and use. Our exploration started in the Visitor Center within the Fort’s Hospital. Exhibits upstairs give a good idea of what it looked like as a hospital. Next is the largest building in the fort, the Dragoon’s stables. Mounted troops were known as cavalry during the Civil War, but in 1842 they were Dragoons. The barracks for the dragoons and infantry were interesting since each had its own kitchen, dining room, and laundry on the ground floor with communal sleeping rooms on the second floor. One of the three story duplex officers quarters is laid out as originally planned with an interesting floor plan. The first floor had the family parlor and kitchen, whereas it was the second floor that was more formal with an exterior staircase leading up to the balcony. The third floor were the bedrooms. Another of the duplexes was used for a number of different purposes after being sold the public and they have left it in the condition as it was when the NPS got it. They have done a great job with numbered signs and a brochure to show the original structure, as well as, the changes that were made over time. Very interesting. The other surprising thing was the open nature of the fort. There are no surrounding walls or fortifications. These were deemed to be unnecessary due to the open condition of the tallgrass prairie and accuracy of the artillery. Besides trees were too valuable for construction to be used for fortification. It only took a couple of hours to explore the entire site, so we ate lunch at their picnic area and headed back early to the campground.
Saturday was suppose to be wet, especially in the afternoon, so we spent the day in the campground even though it did not rain all day. Flooding had now become a regional problem, especially south of us in Oklahoma and Arkansas, so we were happy not to see any rain all day. However, we did learn that the COE campground on Truman Lake was flooded and they had cancelled our reservation. So we extended our stay in Nevada for another week. On Sunday, we were not so lucky as it began raining in the morning and we had storms again in the late afternoon. We were happy to just stay in the campground once again.
Since we did not travel on Monday, we had another day without rain to get out of the campground. We had already seen the two national parks in the area, so had nothing else we had planned to visit. After asking the owners we learned of a couple of state parks that sounded interesting in the area. So, on Monday we drove a short distance north on I-49 to Butler, Missouri where you can find the Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site. I was correct in assuming it was a Civil War battlesite, but I was wrong in guessing it was a battle involving the Missouri State Guard and General Price. Instead, it was a battle, more of a skirmish, between Union troops out of Kansas and Confederate guerillas that were causing problems along the state line. These skirmishes were actually quite common in 1862-1864 along the Missouri-Kansas border. What made this skirmish unique was the fact the Kansas troops were the First Kansas Colored Volunteers. Three months before the Emancipation Proclamation and the forming of colored troops in the Union army, the First Kansas Colored Volunteers had already seen action and proved themselves to be fierce fighters as commented on by both sides. In October, 1862, the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry of 240 soldiers were ordered to clear out the Confederate guerillas encamped at Hog Island on the Marias-des-Cygnes River. Arriving on October 27, 1862 they commandeered the home of local Southern sympathizers at the Toothman Farm. Once they realized they were facing a superior force they barricaded the farm with rail fences and named it Fort Africa. On October 29, the guerillas retaliated by setting the prairie on fire, which was a common guerilla tactic. The First Kansas responded with a back fire, but the smoke and fire continued to be a problem. A patrol was sent out to scout the guerilla positions and were soon embroiled in a fire fight. An additional party of 20 were sent out to extricate the soldiers but they were soon trapped in a ravine they used for cover. On the southern slope of Island Mound, the troops engaged in hand-to-hand combat. When reinforcements from Fort Africa flanked the combat, the rebels fled. When Union reinforcements arrived the next day and descended on Hog Island and found the guerillas had pulled out. Exploring the site took less than an hour, as it consists of a 0.6 mile paved loop around the location of Fort Africa. The battlefield is actually a couple of miles away and is not part of the state historic site. In fact, they have not even located the farmhouse itself. So we had a nice short walk around the Toothman Farm fields that are being restored to a tallgrass prairie before returning to the campground. We did not even take the time to eat lunch before heading back.
Tuesday was another cloudy, cool day without rain, so we headed to another state park south of us, Prairie State Park. As the name implies, this is a 3500 acre park that is devoted to restoring the natural tallgrass prairie. We had our choice of hiking trails through different sections of the park, all fairly level and easy grassy trails. We were lucky to catch the State Ranger at the Nature Center as the Center is not open on Monday and Tuesday. She provided a map of the many trails and suggestions of where to go. Areas that were recently burned would be best for wildflowers, trails along the stream were best for birds, and of course the trail behind the Nature Center was best for viewing the bison. This area is fenced and the 50 head bison herd has free range of the area, so we would have to be careful to stay back from any bison we saw. We chose this 2.75 mile trail through the restored prairie in the hopes of seeing some bison. It was an easy trail starting with a small climb to the top of a hill with great views of the park and then down to the stream. We kept our eyes open for bison, but unfortunately, did not see any. Except for all the ticks we knocked off our pants, it was a great hike. The ground was certainly saturated as we had to negotiate mushy ground and mud puddles on the trail even on the top of the hill. The weather stayed cloudy and the constant westerly wind kept the temperatures cool all morning. We ate lunch in the truck at the Nature Center before heading back to the campground to more evening showers. This weather is certainly getting VERY old.
Even though Wednesday was probably the best day with respect to the weather, it was past time to get the laundry done. So instead of taking advantage of a cool and sunny day with the cold front FINALLY pushing east, we spent the day doing laundry and cleaning the RV. Hopefully, now we will have a few days without rain allowing the area to dry out a bit.
Thursday was another nice day, however, we decided to give the area a day to dry out after stomping through the muck on Tuesday. Instead we headed to Pittsburg, Kansas to check out the Kansas Crossroads Casino. This was another nice, medium sized casino and we spent a couple of hours playing the slots. While I did alright coming close to breaking even, Kal had a terrible day quickly losing her stake. Sometimes it is just no fun for one of us. Thankfully, it rarely happens for both of us.
Friday was another cool and comfortable day so we headed east out of Nevada to explore the nearby Osage Village State Historic Site. This was the location of one of the large Greater Osage Villages that in the early 1800s numbered between 2000-3000 inhabitants. The Osage lived in semi-permanent homes made of wood struts and woven mat walls. They would spend the winters at the village, going out in the spring to hunt beaver and bear for furs, returning in April to plant their crops of corn, beans, and squash. They would then leave for the summer to hunt and return in the fall to harvest their crops and repair their homes for the winter. The Osage were the dominant Indian tribe in the region by this time until they were forcibly removed to the Indian Territory in the 1830s. Except for the kiosk near the parking lot, there is not very much to see at the historic site. They have a nice loop trail that circles the hilltop with numbered signs that correspond to a brochure. However, most of the stops tell about other villages, trading posts, and settlements in the surrounding area, which were difficult to understand without some kind of map. Since the homes were only semi-permanent to start with, it is not surprising there is nothing left today. Archeological work has found a couple of home sites which are mentioned in the brochure, but there is nothing on the ground to indicate their locations. Once we traveled around the circle we ended up with more questions about life in the village then when we started. Since the trail is only an 0.8 mile loop we had another early trip back to the campground.
The weekend was spent in the campgrounds relaxing and working on this blog. We will have to start to get ready to move on Monday as we need to leave here by 8:00 in the morning to get to Camping World by 10. This is going to be difficult since I am generally getting up around 7:30 to 8! Oh, the sacrifices we have to make!!