Missouri, along US 36, looks like Iowa on I-80: lovely, rolling, hills. The flora remains mostly green and familiar to eyes accustomed to east of the Mississippi. Not my cup of tea, compared to the Appalachians, but prettier than the flatlands on I-80/90 between Toledo OH and western Illinois.
It's said that the true West begins around the 100th Meridian: halfway through Nebraska and the Dakotas, where the High Plains start and the climate becomes arid. I have a modern tourist's definition: it's where you need to think about planning your stops. This is east of the 100th Meridian, not far west of the Mississippi. It's where you can't count on a gas station at the next exit. US 36 is the most direct route to Manhattan, KS, from Chicagoland. It may be a Federal highway, but it ain't crowded.
|Ninety degrees west of Greenwich, England, in Illinois between Springfield and Jacksonville.|
The Oregon Trail has long captured my imagination. So of course I had to make a flying stop in St. Joseph, MO. Along with Independence, St. Joe was the jumping-off point for the Oregon Trail. They were where emigrants bought their oxen, wagons, and "outfits" if they were headed for the Far West in the 1840's.
US 36 in Kansas is "The Pony Express Highway." I saw numerous signs for sites where the Oregon Trail crossed 36, or US 75 or 77, or a river or a creek crossed by both the Trail and modern roads. The Wolf, Big Blue, Little Blue, the Republican. Most were forded going northwest, "cross lots" toward the Platte River. There's not much to see. Maybe a marker for some incident in Trail history, or wagon ruts.
My ex-neighbor's family has been farming land near Manteno, IL, since the 1840's. He grew up on the farm and his younger brother still owns and operates it. He didn't expect to live out his days in Manhattan, KS, where his son-in-law is a professor at Kansas State University. In one of those really odd coincidences of life, his father was born in Chapman, KS where his grandfather farmed a 160-acre
"quarter section" northeast of town. Chapman is about 35 miles west of Manhattan. We found the quarter section--and almost got stuck. The gravel road turned out to be about 1/4-inch thick, below which was a few inches of thick, clay, gumbo. When I was sure we'd make it out, the line from the movie My Cousin Vinny came to mind: "Ya got muuuud in yo taaars."
We visited the Chapman Public Library to see what information it might have on the family. None, it turned out, even though there's a street in Chapman that shares my neighbor's name. The library had a very good local history collection. We tried the County Historical Society in Abilene, too. It had a plat survey from 1909 showing the name on the quarter section, and who it was bought from and sold to, but that was all. Just the same, here's a shout out to local archivists who really know their stuff and are very helpful. The lady at the historical society spent the better part of an hour combing through her records.
Probably the reason there wasn't much of a paper trail was because my neighbor's grandfather and father (who was born in Chapman) were on the land for a only few years. They returned to the Manteno homestead when the opportunity arose to take control of and expand the farm there. I can see why. The land around Manteno is rich, dark, loam. The land around Chapman is hilly clay with scrub growth, used mostly for grazing.