A Visit to Cody and The Cap From Meeteetse, Wyoming

In July of 2006, my wife and I were returning from a vacation out west. We stopped overnight at Billings, Montana, and traveled south into Wyoming the next day. We followed the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River towards Cody, Wyoming. We cut across country to the Shoshone River and stopped at Cody to visit the Buffalo Bill Museum.

I learned that the annual meeting of The Western Writers of America was in progress in Cody. They had set up a meet-the-authors book signing room at the museum. Looking over the room of tables, I spotted Texan Elmer Kelton, one of my favorite Agricultural Journalist/Western Authors.

I introduced myself and bought a book, which he signed. We visited awhile and learned that some of our ancestors left tracks across the same general area of Texas. Mine of course, wandered on into New Mexico. Sadly, Mr. Kelton passed on a few years later. He was, as they say, a gentleman and a scholar, but most of all he was the real thing. It was an honor just to sit and talk to him for a few minutes.
Of course the motels were full up in Cody. Calling around, we found a room at Worland. We left Cody and journeyed across the grassland country southeast of Cody. We watched the landscape for antelope and other wild critters. We observed plenty of sheep and cattle and fields of alfalfa. Suddenly, just as we passed it I spied a large antelope standing stoically in a fence-corner next to the road. I braked hoping for a picture. Glancing in my rear view mirror, I saw it cross the road behind us. It was road-smart and was long gone by the time I stopped.

By the time we reached the small town of Meeteetse it was time for a gasoline and restroom break. I pulled into an old-fashioned corner service station turned modern day convenience store. As I went inside to pay the young man behind the counter for the gasoline, I spied a row of caps on a shelf. They were the out-of-style high crown sign board type. Now that is my kind of cap and I just had to have one. They all had the same logo, a strange looking little masked varmint wearing a kerchief and a cowboy hat. I picked one and brought it to the cash register.

“What kind of animal is that?” I asked the young man behind the counter.

“It is a black-footed ferret,” he replied. “There is a story behind the cap. The black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct. One day my grandparents’ dog brought a dead one in and left it on their doorstep. My grandfather, noting it was a different looking little feller, took it to a local taxidermist. The taxidermist recognized it as being an important find and called in the Wildlife people.

“They conducted a local search and found the colony. The US Fish and Wildlife people captured several animals from the colony and are using those animals to raise enough in captivity to start new colonies in the wild.”

Ferret Hat

It is one of my favorite caps. I wear it and remember Meeteetse, a friendly little town with a story to tell. Meeteetse is approximately halfway between Cody and Thermopolis. It is beautiful country where the grasslands of northern Wyoming touch the mountains. A tip of my cap to Meeteetse, Wyoming.

Best wishes from the Sundown Trail.

Black-Footed Ferret

“Mustela nigripes 2” by USFWS Mountain Prairie – Black-footed Ferret Uploaded by Mariomassone. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Some interesting facts about Meeteetse and its informal mascot:
1. The name of the town is a Native American word meaning, “a meeting place”.
2. The town is also known far and wide for its gourmet chocolate.
3. Saddle bronc rider Tim Kellogg was needing money to buy a new saddle and decided to manufacture and sell chocolate to earn some funds. He still makes and markets chocolate goodies.
4. The black-footed ferret’s main food is prairie dogs.
5. The ferret’s population declined as the number of prairie dogs started to decline.
6. A disease named sylvalic plague was thought to have wiped the black-footed ferret out.
7. The surviving colony was found at Meeteese in 1981.
8. New colonies have been established again in eight western states.


Elmer Kelton’s Official Website
The Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program
The US Fish and Wildlife – Black-Footed Ferret
Meeteetse, Wyoming Website


Categories: Endangered Species, travel, Wyoming | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

My Photo of the Volcano Popocatepetl

In the news lately, Popocatepetl located just southeast of Mexico City, is erupting. I took this picture of a dormant Popocatepetl from an airliner window in 1973, as I returned from a cooperative study trip to Costa Rica.


Categories: Photography, travel | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Harvest 1961

It was the last of May in 1961. Twenty of us were following the harvest to make some money for college. In addition there was the supervisor, a mechanic, a gasoline truck driver, and a man and wife team that cooked our meals. The combine outfit was owned by Norman Hamm of Perry, Kansas. His family started the harvest crew in the 1940’s. It was the largest one-man owned outfit going. They called it Hammtown.


Johnson City, Kansas

Lined up and ready to move out near Perryton, Texas. We could be loaded and ready to move in one hours time.


The harvest equipment consisted of ten new Massey Ferguson 95 self-propelled combines. They were transported on ten shop-made trailers pulled by ten 1959 Chevrolet two-ton trucks. Other support equipment included bunkhouses made out of truck and bus bodies. The diner was a bus body trailer complete with kitchen and a table that would seat fourteen at a time. It was pulled by a truck equipped with a water tank, generator and freezer and other supplies. The diner was supplied with electricity by the generator. All the equipment with the exception of the combines was painted light blue with white tops.

A shower house on wheels with a gas hot water heater and water supplied through a hose connected to the supply truck water tank kept us cleaned up. When we reached our next stop the hoses and drop cords were placed on the ground between trailers. The cooks had their own private trailer. They put in long days cooking for us right there where we camped in the fields. When on the road we ate in restaurants.


Hammtown Sleeper

My bunk house, the Hammtown Sleeper. A converted school bus. Yes, that is me.


I was already an experienced and licensed truck driver. This put me behind the steering wheel of a truck pulling a combine at the start. Ten of us with combine and farm equipment experience were selected to operate the combines in the field. The combine operators also drove the truck-trailer rig hauling their assigned combines on the road. The other ten guys were assigned the job of driving the trucks hauling grain between the combine and the bins and commercial grain elevators. It was a different time, and I don’t think many of them held a commercial license. Back then it was called a chauffeur’s license.

We left Perry, Kansas early Memorial Day morning and headed south, first on the Kansas turnpike and then on the Oklahoma turnpike, and turned south toward Texas. We made camp somewhere in Oklahoma and arrived at the Waggoner Estates Ranch near Vernon, Texas late the next day. I had read of Dan Waggoner and the ranch’s place in history. At the time it was said to be the second largest ranch in the nation after the King Ranch. I believe it still holds that distinction.

Waggoner Estates Ranch

The main entrance to the 55,000 acre Waggoner Estates Ranch. The Ranch’s famous Quarter Horse Stallion, Poco Bueno (little good one) is buried near the entrance.


The first couple days there we were putting the combines in order. Putting the belts on, lubricating and adjusting took up most of our time. We did not get paid for downtime but we got our bunk and meals furnished. The meals were outstanding.

The farmer in me noticed that the wheat was short and thin and certainly looked to me to be low yielding. I asked a ranch employee about it. He agreed, saying that it had been overgrazed during the winter. But, he explained that the management was not concerned, if it yielded enough to pay the combine bill. “After all,” he said, “The ranch makes its money from oil, horses and cattle.” The wheat got better as we got further into the fields.

We cut the wheat in blocks called a land, with five combines to a land. The largest continual field of wheat consisted of 2,200 acres. The Massey Ferguson model 95 combines were considered to be some of the best machines at the time. They were manufactured at Toronto, Canada. On a good day we could cut 750 acres total. We were told the combines cost around $7,500 each. The Chrysler six-cylinder engine was mounted sideways and located under the operator’s platform. Controls were mounted on the platform in front of the operator. The operator was seated on the platform out in the open. There were no air-conditioned cabs. Hats or caps and shirts were advised. Some of us went shirtless as time went on.

We were on the Wagner Ranch about ten days. It rained several times while we were there. Rain, of course, kept us out of the field for a day or two. The supervisors were good to us. They would load us in a truck and take us to town, to a movie, or in one case a county fair. We were warned that if we got into trouble, we were on our own. I drew $20.00 of my pay. That lasted me the entire trip.



Of the twenty harvesters, most were in their late teens or early twenties. The oldest harvester was a 29-year-old Englishman. The rumor was that he came over on a work or tourist visa. He wanted to see the real United States and somebody in Topeka sent him to Hammtown. Guiles was his first name. I have forgotten his last.

I mean no disrespect, but Guiles was a bit obtuse and most of the time downright obnoxious. He left us about halfway through the trip. He decided he wanted to see Denver, Colorado. They had sent him to the heartland with a bunch of fun-loving youngsters. He left us with a lot of stories to tell. I will share a few of the most humorous ones before I move on. I imagine he has a lot of harvester stories to tell, also.

Guiles was prematurely bald. His head was slick as an onion. The first day we told him he needed to get a straw hat. He had already told us what he thought of cowboys. He let us know in his customary rough language that he was not going to wear a “#@!% bloody cowboy hat.” Even though several of us wore them.

After a couple days of Texas sun, his old bald pate was as red as the combines we operated. We saw him slip a five dollar bill to the cooks and they brought him a straw hat back from their trip to town. He promptly punched the crease out of it, saying he did not want to look like a bloody cowboy.

In that level country, the roads were wide with shallow ditches on each side. Guiles, lacking experience, was assigned to drive a truck to the grain bins at the railroad. Of course, they drive on the left side of the road in England. Guiles just couldn’t bring himself to drive in the right lane. He would drive his truck down the middle of the road. Barreling down the middle, he yielded to no one.

One morning a deputy sheriff car showed up just after breakfast. A tall Texas lawman with his pants legs tucked into his cowboy boots unfolded himself from the car and stated he wanted to talk to us. We gathered around. He reached into the car and got his ten gallon cowboy hat and placed it squarely on his head. He wore a regular western-style gun belt with a holstered sixshooter, ivory grips and all. He put his eyes on every one of us before he spoke.

“Somebody from this outfit has been running people off the road. All your trucks look alike. They can’t tell which one it is, just yet. If he don’t stop it, he is going to get to see what the inside of my jail looks like.” We all knew who it was, and some were watching Guiles. He had an absolute look of horror on his face.

When Guiles pulled out of the field with his first load of wheat that morning, he had mastered the art of driving on the righthand side. I never heard of another complaint about his driving. I think his opinion of cowboys had changed, also.


We loaded up and pulled off the Waggoner Estates Ranch on June 10, turning north up the Texas panhandle at Childress. North of Childress we crossed the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River, east of the lower end of the Palo Duro Canyon. On we rolled over the Salt or Middle Fork and then across the North Fork of the Red River. At normal intervals the combines and support equipment took up about a mile of highway.

Perryton, Texas

On the Julius Johns farm at Johnson City, Kansas. The wheat is harvested and we are loaded up, ready to travel on.


We went through some country that I vowed I would visit again. The Canadian River area is some of the prettiest country I have seen. Yes, I have been back there to visit. Our destination was Perryton, Texas. We cut wheat southeast of there for several days. We broke camp and crossed into the Oklahoma panhandle. The caravan went through Liberal, Kansas and then west on to Hougoton. At Hougoton we turned north again and crossed the South Fork of the Cimarron River.

We setup camp near Johnson City and cut wheat around there and Ulysses. One of the wheat farmers we worked for at Johnson City had an airplane. We set up camp near the grass airstrip. One day the farmer’s two teenage daughters came out to the plane. It was obvious that they were dressed to go somewhere. A more adventurous youth struck up a conversation by asking them where they were going. They told him that the family was flying to Denver, Colorado to do some shopping. That was the closest big town. Denver would have been approximately 250 air miles.

The early settlers in that part of the country often referred to it as a sea of land. In 1961 it was mostly dry land farming. Now most of the farms are irrigated by sprinklers and ditch.

Having spent my early childhood on the great plains, the area was not entirely foreign to me. My Grandfather Ryan had owned land over the state line in Bent County, Colorado. In 1915 my maternal grandfather purchased a new steam engine and threshing machine in Amarillo, Texas. He moved north, threshing grain virtually over the same route we took almost 50 years later. Of course he threshed bundled and shocked wheat. He took several years to make the trip north. During the offseason he built houses and worked as a blacksmith around Liberal and several other towns. He finally traded his threshing rig for a blacksmith shop in Cheyenne County, Kansas.

On the move again, we crossed the the Arkansas River near Syracuse and stopped at Tribune. The cool weather and the rain had slowed the ripening process. We laid over a week at Tribune to wait for the wheat to ripen. In that dry expansive country each county seat had a park with a community swimming pool. We were allowed to set up our camp at the back of their park and use the swimming pool. The day we pulled in, there were only a few people at the pool. The next day it was swarming with girls. The word had got out that Hammtown was in town!

Tribune, Kansas

Jerry Parnell poses on the fender of his rig, at Tribune, Kansas.


Before I leave the subject of girls. I will tell of another humorous guy. His name was Doug Adams. He attended college in Arkansas and was a basketball referee on the side. He was a cut-up, with a gimmick he used. He would approach girls, on a street corner, in a restaurant or store. He would say in his best syrupy Arkansas drawl, “Excuse me ma’am. Do you know Doug Adams?”

Almost always they answered sincerely, “No, I don’t think I do.”

He would stick out his hand and say, “How would you like to meet him?” He always got a laugh and sometimes they actually shook hands.

I have forgotten most of my harvest friend’s names. I wish I had written all of them down. But, I remember the name Doug Adams.


We were of many locations and origins. I remember one youngster hired along the way. He was a replacement for a grain-hauler that had quit. He was probably 17 or 18. The young man was of very small stature. He wore a leather jacket with the picture of a wolf’s head painted on the back. He was asked by one prankster about the picture. He explained proudly that it was the symbol of the gang he belonged to. It was called the Wolf Pack. His tormenter said, “You don’t look like a wolf. You look more like a coyote to me. I am just going to call you Coyote!” The nickname stuck. Each time one of them called him Coyote he would get mad and want to fight. The little guy could not fight his way out of the proverbial wet paper sack.

One day I decided to intervene. I stepped in between and told them that it was time to leave him alone. I explained that he was like the rest of us, there because he wanted or needed a job. The same guy that named him piped up, “Listen to Ryan preaching a sermon. I reckon we should just call him Deacon.” For the rest of the tour, some called me Deacon, but they left the little feller alone.

Number 10 Truck and Combine

A shirtless Walt poses with his rig, the number 10 truck and combine, somewhere in Kansas.


Next, we continued north across both branches of the Smokey Hill River and cut wheat east of Mt. Sunflower. It is not a mountain. It is just a rise in the prairie. It is the highest elevation in Kansas. We turned east at Goodland and went near Oberlin. After cutting wheat there, we went north into Nebraska. Chappell on the south side of the Platte River was our next harvest stop. We cut on a farm west of Chappell in the Platte River bottoms.

Again, along the Sundown Trail we touch a bit of history: As our combine caravan crossed the main street of Chappell, Nebraska that July day in 1961, furniture store owner Dick Cabela was starting a fishing lure mail-order business just down the street… It is one of those, wish-I-had-thought-of-that moments.

The Sand Hills rose up on the north side of the Platte. Each morning as we sat on our combines waiting to start, we would watch a herd of antelope go to water. They would walk single file down a path out of the hills and proceed to a windmill supplied stock watering tank. They would mill around the tank until we fired up the combines. When the combines roared into action they would run for the hills.

The river bottom area had an abundance of deer and other wild game. To protect their fawns from the coyotes, the does had hidden them out in the wheat. The older fawns would jump up and run, but the very young ones would lay there and let us run over them. We learned to watch for them and jerk the header bar control up as we passed over, to spare them and leave some cover.

From Chappell we went to Lodgepole. When we finished at Lodgepole we traveled through the Nebraska Sand Hills. At Valentine we crossed over into South Dakota. We finished the season cutting wheat on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Normally the outfit would have went on into North Dakota and Montana, but it had been a poor crop year in those areas. We turned Hammtown south and journeyed home a month early.


Hammtown no longer exists. They ceased the harvest operation several years ago. Harvest 1961, remains a cherished memory along the Sundown Trail.


Group Picture

We pose for a group picture in South Dakota, before heading home. The man and lady on the left kept us fed. The gentleman in overalls was the mechanic. He could repair or make anything for the machines, right in the field. Doug Adams is showing the camera that he wears socks. I am the one wearing the hat. I wish I had all their names.



Categories: farming, times gone by, travel | Tags: , , , , , | 28 Comments

Kit Carson and Howard County Missouri

“I was born on December 24, 1809, in Madison County, Kentucky.  My parents moved to Missouri when I was one year old and settled in what is now Howard county. —-”  So begins Christopher (Kit) Carson’s autobiography.

Kit Carson

General Fremont was so impressed with his civilian scout Carson he recommended that Carson be commissioned a Lieutenant in the army. A haughty congress refused to commission the illiterate Carson. When America’s civil war started they were more than glad to give Kit Carson an officers commission. At the time of Kit’s death in 1868 he held the rank of General (brevet).

Indians harassed the Franklin and Boonslick community constantly in what was to become Howard County.  Carson notes that his family was forced to remain forted for two or three years, after moving to the Missouri frontier.  The settlers resorted to posting guards in the fields and spending the nights in Fort Hempstead for protection.  Fort Hempstead was located in the hills above the river bottoms just a short distance northwest of the current town of New Franklin.  Carson’s father and older brother took their turns standing guard against the Indians.

Kit Carson spent the next fifteen years in Howard county.  After his father was killed by a falling tree limb, he was apprenticed out to a saddle and harness maker, plying his trade in Franklin.

Franklin became the starting place of the Santa Fe trail when in 1821 a trader named William Becknell loaded up a few pack horses with trade goods and started west with four other men for the purpose of trading with the Indians.  Before reaching his original destination, Becknell ran into a troop of Mexican rangers that assured him that he could journey into the previous off limits New Mexico territory.  Becknell sold his trade goods in Santa Fe for Spanish silver.  The Santa Fe Trail route had been launched.  The rest is history.

The capricious Missouri River washed Franklin away a few years after Kit Carson left, but Howard County remains the birthplace of the the Santa Fe Trail.  Franklin was moved back to the foot of the bluff and then New Franklin was born on the bluff high above the flood waters.

The boring life of a leather worker became too much for the teenage Carson and he ran away to join a group of trappers and mountain men on the Santa Fe Trail.  This is really no surprise because his older half-brother Moses Carson was already a mountain man working in the fur trade.  It is a bit difficult for those of us with agricultural roots to understand why Kit would want to leave the fertile soil of Howard County for the cold of the mountains and sand of the desert.  But, picture a sixteen year old boy, sitting long hours, day after day, straddling a stitching horse, a needle and string in one hand and a leather awl in the other, sewing on harness and saddles. 

Stitching Horse

Stitching horses are sort of a work bench with a clamp to hold leather in place while being hand sewed. Similar versions are still used in modern saddle shops.

The Santa Fe traders coming into the shop were talking about the adventure, the mountains, the money to be made, and those pretty Spanish girls in Santa Fe.  In August of 1826 Kit Carson jumped ship, as they say.

He took a job driving oxen hooked to a wagon of trade goods.  According to Josiah Gregg in his book Commerce of the Prairies, a hitch of oxen consisted of eight animals hooked to a wagon in pairs.  The driver usually walked along side to control them.  Kit Carson says in his autobiography that he received one dollar per day in wages.

As an explorer, trapper and Indian fighter, Kit Carson became as they say “a legend in his own time.”  The skills gained in the Boonslick country and a liberal helping of Howard county grit served him well on the western frontier.

Hawken Rifle

I snapped this picture of Kit Carson’s Hawken plains rifle several years ago. It was on temporary display at the Palace of the Governor’s on the Plaza in Santa Fe, NM. The Hawken shops were located on Washington Street in St. Louis MO. The first shop was just off the west end of the modern day Eads Bridge. Percussion caplock guns such as this one were first produced and marketed in St. Louis in the 1830’s. Prior to that flintlocks were used. By the time Kit owned this rifle he had probably worn out several hunting rifles. Note the worn finish on this one.

On a trip through the western states the traveler sees a myriad of commercial enterprises using the Kit Carson name to capitalize on the fame and heritage of the renown frontiersman.

New Mexico has its Carson National Forest.  Colorado and Texas have counties named Carson.  The states of Washington, Colorado, Nevada, California and North Dakota, have towns named for Carson.  Yet, in Howard County, Missouri where it all began, the only marking of Kit Carson’s passage, for many years, was a neon sign in front of the rustic little Kit Carson motel along old highway 40. Even the motel and sign are gone now.  They were torn down in the 1990’s to make way for the north end ramp of the new highway bridge.

On a recent drive through Howard County I was pleasantly surprised to see the growth in southern Howard County.  New road construction and two new Missouri River bridges have helped spur new home and business construction.  The first settlement on the frontier west of St. Louis and the Mother of Counties is growing.  Mother of counties you ask?  Twenty-nine counties and parts of nine others came from the vast area which was once Howard County.

For years, there was no marker at Old Franklin at all, but recently its place and importance to the Santa Fe trail has been marked quite well.  Where it stood is marked by a flag pole in a bottom field.  The flag pole marks the exact center of the old town square.

Several sign boards and markers now tell the story.  A new building nearby and directly across the river from Boonville  is privately owned by the estate of the late Robert Biesemeyer.  Howard County native Chris Rolphing told me that Mr. Biesemeyer had intended to establish a river history museum there, but he was struck down by cancer before he could finish the project.  Hopefully someone will finish it, the history should be told.

Many historically famous people have lived or visited in Howard County.  I could not leave the subject of famous people without mentioning the beautiful and talented country music star, Sara Evans.  Her home town is New Franklin.

I lived and worked in Howard County for nine years.  I managed the consumer owned electrical distribution cooperative. The people there are friendly, wonderful people to know and work with.  Howard Countians are some of the nicest people I have met on my journey along The Sundown Trail.

Some places to visit along the Santa Fe Trail:

Howard County: Old Franklin site and Fayette
New Franklin, MO
Fayette, MO

Boonslick: Nathan Boone and his brother Daniel Morgan Boone extracted salt from the salt spring there. Old Daniel himself lived in a cabin near there for a short time.
Boonslick State Park

Arrow Rock: Lewis and Clark named it.  The Santa Fe Trail put it on the map.  A restored frontier town.  A must see if you are in the area.
Arrow Rock, MO

Fort Osage: in Missouri near the Missouri river.
Fort Osage

Council Grove, Kansas: in the beautiful Flint Hills area of Kansas.  An Indian treaty made there played an important part in Trail history.  One of my ancestral cousins, Mahlon Stubbs, was an Indian Agent there, appointed by then President Grant.  Stubbs was a Quaker.  Quakers were chosen by Grant for their honesty.
Council Grove, KS

Pawnee Rock: an interesting place out in the middle of the Kansas plains.  Josiah Gregg climbed the rock and counted three thousand buffalo on the surrounding plains before he stopped counting.  The grave on top is listed as Kit Carson.  It may be a Carson, but it is not Kit.  He is buried in Taos, New Mexico.
Pawnee Rock, KS

Bent’s Old Fort: Near La Junta, Colorado. Another must see.  Great for children. Completely restored on theoriginal foundations.  A fabulous bit of history.  Kit Carson worked there as their hunter, meat provider.  When I visited during the summer months they had re-enactors working at the daily fort activities.  National Park Service operates it.
Bent’s Old Fort

Taos, New Mexico: Visit Kit and Josepha Jaramillo Carson’s humble home, now a museum.  Don’t miss the Rio Grande gorge just west of town on 64 hwy.
Taos, NM

Santa Fe: It is just a dandy place to visit.  Check out The Governor’s Palace museum on the Square.  Native Americans sell their jewelry crafts on the sidewalk.  Traders brought their wagons loaded with trade goods into town on the street in front of the La Fonda Hotel.  That is where the trail ended.
Santa Fe, NM

Santa Fe Trail links:
Santa Fe Trail – National Park Service
Santa Fe Trail Association
Santa Fe Trail Center in Larned, KS

Recommended reading:

The Commerce of the Prairies
By Josiah Gregg
buy at

Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico
By Susan Shelby Magoffin
First woman over the trail,  her diary.
A young woman newly married to a Santa Fe
trader.  A woman’s perception is keener than a mans.  A good read.
buy at

Categories: American History, History, Missouri, travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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