The RED Hills of Kansas

The Red Hills of Kansas are in the far south central part of the state; from a bit east of Medicine Lodge and to the west. They extend into Oklahoma. They are also know as the Gyp Hills and the Gypsum Hills. The Native Americans called them the Medicine Hills. They are a part of the the Cimarron Breaks.

Image from Keith Stoke's Gypsum Hills website.

My Roots in the Red Hills of Kansas

Arlington Watkins 1854-1912

Matella Evaline Epler 1861-1947

My great grandfather Arlington Watkins was born in Radnor, Ohio, where his grandparents, William & Mary Watkins had settled upon their arrival in America in 1820. In 1857, the family of David, Elizabeth and three-year-old Arlington headed west. With their team and wagon, loaded with all their possesion went beyond the Missouri and settled in Nebraska Territory.

Matella was born in Nebraska City not far from where Arlington's parents settled. They were married in 1881 and sometime between 1893 and 1897 the family went west to Kansas. In 1908 they moved to the Houchin Ranch north of Medicine Lodge and near Eldred School.

David Ralph Watkins 1886-1951

Myrtle Agnes Warren 1888-1983

My grandfather, David Ralph Watkins, was born near where his grandparents settled in Nebraska. He was 12 when his family moved to Medicine Lodge, where he lived for the rest of his life. He married Myrtle, who lived in Medicine Lodge at least as early as 1905.

Papa raised livestock and farmed. Grandma had a big garden and grew flowers everywhere.Their farm was on the east edge of the red hills, about eight mile north and slightly East of Medicine Lodge.

David Arlington Watkins 1915-2002
Eleanor Elizabeth Mease 1920-2000

My parents were both born in Barber County. When I was born in 1941 we were living just east of Medicine Lodge. Dad worked at the gyp mill. He soon found a farm and farmed near Nashville and Sharon for over 50 years. For awhile we farmed the place where dad had grown up on the edge of the red hills. My father and mother were deeply connected to the land, dad in his fields and pastures, mom in her garden. Though I'm long removed from the Red Hills and the Kansas farm, there is still a bond to that soil. Adam means "earth" and red. He was created from the red earth of Eden. I am the 4th generation of Watkins to have had a connection to these hills and this dirt.

Medicine Lodge, Kansas

Medicine Lodge was founded in 1873 by settlers led by John Hutchinson. According to the Wikipedia account it gets its name from what"was in reality an arbor-like shelter of tree trunks and leafy branches which was erected by the Kiowa people for the celebration of their annual sun dance in the summer of 1866." There are other accounts, some more interesting. The cover of Old West history writer Nellie Snyder Yost's "Medicine Lodge: The Story of a Kansas Frontier Town features an impressive lodge.


Red Hills Adventure

Mid morning July 3, 2015 three vehilce left Zenda, Kansas heading west on K42, just past Nashville they headed south on SW 170 Ave,they turned right on Ridge Road and then south on the Isabel Road, a right on US 160 brings them over the Elm Creek Bridge and into Mecicine Lodge. At a gas station on the west side of the hill they are join by a fourth vehicle. They leave town headed west on US 160. A few miles out of town they turn south on Gyp Hill Road. They entered the Red Hills.

After several miles we head west on Scenic Drive, we turn north on Flower Pot Road and drive to Flower Pot Mound.

The Legend of Flower Pot Mountain

Scott Cummins

It would be remiss to leave leave the area without mentioning The Pilgrim Bard and his terrifying Legend of Flower Pot Mountain. Orange Scott Cummins was born in Ohio in 1846 and moved to Barber County Kansas in 1877. Poet, preacher and a frontier travelin’ man. He knew the geography and the Indians. He had lived various places in the county also at nearby Coldwater, just west in Comanche County. Nellie Snyder Yost in her history of Medicine Lodge says that Cummins arrived at the junction of Elm Creek with the Medicine Lodge River in 1871. In his Legend he describes a frightening vision during his night on what in his telling has become a mountain.

"It must have been near midnight when I was suddenly awakened by the most unearthly cries. The entire summit of the mountain was radiant with a weird light like a continuous glare of lightning. All was ghastly to look upon, and near the center of the plateau I saw a scene that froze the blood in my veins. About a score of hideously painted savages were dancing wildly around a blazing fire, and in the midst of the flames two human beings, bound to a stake, were roasting alive. Even above the howling of the Indians I could hear the despairing cries of the doomed victims."

In the stillness that followed the massacre Cummins said a woman's voice gave him directions to a particular spot. In the morning when he awoke he thought at first that it all must have been a dream. Then he remembered the voice and where he was to look for a large flat stone. Under the stone he found a small tin box with various items. Most notably he found Lenora Day's journal. The first entry in the journal is at St. Louis, Missouri, March 13, 1849. It is the story of a wagon train headed for California, but that's another story, an interesting one at that. Enter at the above link.

The Last Cowboy

Bill Mease

My Uncle Bill Mease lived with us when I was young. He worked for awhile on the Culp Elsie Ranch. Somewhere along Scenic Drive Road the drive passes onto the Elsie Ranch. I remember going to visit Uncle Bill at the ranch. They had some buffalo and cattalo in the lot. My sister Judy remembers that someone yelled to keep the kids away from the chute. See my The Last Cowboy blog post for more about him.

The caravan turned north on Lake City Road to its junction with US 160. Here the group divided with two vehicles taking the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway back to Medicine Lodge and then back to Zenda. The other two vehicles headed northward and westward to Sun City.

The Trip to Sun City

Those of us who went on to Sun City had to trust GPS to guide us (who has maps today?), first a few miles to the east on US 160 and then north on meandering dirt roads. We crossed the Medicine Lodge River and then followed River Road NW thru Coldwater and to Sun City.

Sun City is not that complex.

Buster's had customers when we arrived and our number was a challenge to the kitchen. It was an entertaining environment for waiting for our food.

My brisket sandwich was excellent and I had a large beer in a frosty mug. We loaded up and followed River Road south and east. Somewhere along the road, on the right side, between it and the river, Uncle Jim and Aunt Joan had lived a few years on a farm. I can vaguely remember having been there. GPS navigated us along the north part of Medicine Lodge, through more red hills to connect with the Isabel Road and then east on Ridge Road and back to Zenda. The caravan was covered with red dust. When I got back to Pennsylvania there was still red dust on and in the van.

We didn't encounter any buffalo on our adventure. I did get a newsletter from The Kansas Outback that has an excellent Bison. In fact Ken Brunson has just posted the first of a new series titled 8 Natural Wonders of the Red Hills. His 1st wonder is Big Basin Prairie Preserve and St. Jacob's Well in western Clark County. The bison picture is taken in winter it appears and there is an abundance of buffalo chips.

Bison photo from The Kansas Outback.

Old Family Places

Down Home

On the way home we turned right off Isabel Road onto Ridge Road. This part of Ridge Road was not constructed until in the early sixties if memory serves me. It cuts through what was the big pasture of my grandparents farm. As a child Down Home was the best place to be. Grandpa, Grandma, Aunts and Uncles, and a cousin. When I was in high school we were farming it. The Yahoo satelitte map includes all of the farm. Most of the upper left and lower right portions were included. The square at the lower right was the large field. Across the road was the farm of one of mom's aunt's/uncles and north of it another. Most of the upper right quarter of the map was that of my dad's uncle/aunt. There were many of the Mease family in the immediate area. The family house was located along the eastern edge wood of the wood seen in the middle of the left side. The right side is relatively level farmland, on the left it breaks off into more rugged terrain, into the Red Hills.

The Old Home Place

In about 1945 the family of David and Eleanor Watkins moved to a farm, 2 miles west and 6.5 miles north Sharon, KS with a Sharon mailing address. It was about 6.5 miles east and 3 north of Medicine Lodge. It was 3 miles east and 2 south from the right hand location of Ridge Road in the 2nd map above. If you look closely the map above you will see an X near the center. That is where the house once stood. Running west from the house for nearly a half mile is a shelter belt composed of six or so varieties of trees. There were trees on the north and south that, like the house, were removed to claim more farmland. The west end of the shelter marks the western boundary of our farm. The northern boundary is Unity Road, at the top of the map. The southern boundary is near the bottom of the map. There was also a half mile by half mile peace on the east side of the road and near the bottom of the map.

The Old Home Place by J.D. Crow and the New South captures much of the emotion I still have in connection to this piece of land and the first time I went back after the house and trees were torn down.

"What have they done to the old home place
Why did they tear it down
And why did I leave my plow in the field
And look for a job in the town"

David Watkins 2015 The Old Home Place(test of new recorder)

Even now, gazing at the satelite image of the place where I lived from age four to fifteen, I feel deeply connected to that time and that land. The same soil over which my bare feet ran countless miles I was later to plow at thirteen. Our largest field was on the southwest corner of the farm. It also had the farm's highest elevation. On the west were pastures owned by the cattleman Mr. MacReynolds. His fences were five wires and always maintained. His several section of property were prime grassland little resembling the gyp hill photos above. He had the best of Angus stock. This field was most often divided into several different crops. There were times though when the entire field could be woked as a whole.It The southwestern part of the field broke off into washes and gullies that had to be farmed around. At the begininning it was an enormous distance around the field, far more than a square field of the same size. It was a challenge for one who was proud of his plowing skills. MacReynolds' pasture was all native grass. In the distance was Medicine Lodge, often with a plume of white dust from the gyp mill. On the horizon, usually in a haze of gypsum and red field dust, were the Gyp Hills.

The Day Landon Outfoxed Coyote

Coyote howls and the rabbit is at hand
Enter here to the land of the buffalo
The prarie and the plow
A story inspired by the field
a story that needs a couple of rewrites