CHEYENNE COUNTY — The Big Kansas Road Trip is an opportunity to explore the landscape and history, visit with locals, and support the economy within a rural area that most folks would probably just pass through otherwise.
The 2019 version of this second annual event, held this past weekend, featured four days chock full of events and attractions in three far northwest Kansas counties. A booklet, or online guide, provided a schedule for participants to choose from (see https://bigkansasroadtrip.com/). The chosen route for 2019 rolled through the counties of Cheyenne, Sherman and Wallace.
For some participants, the start of the journey began and ended in Cheyenne County, where there was plenty to see.
At the Cheyenne County Museum in St. Francis some lesser known facts that came to light included, among other things, that the voice of the Jolly Green Giant, Len Dressler, and astronaut Ron Evans both hailed from St. Francis.
A trek to the Cherry Creek Encampment two miles northwest of the intersection of K-27 and US-36 highways revealed a fascinating history connected with the sad story of the Sand Creek Massacre in southeast Colorado. Iron sculptures created by local artist Tobe Zweygardt memorialize Cheyenne and other Indian survivors of the Nov. 29, 1864, massacre at Sand Creek who fled to the the Cherry Creek Valley. They were joined by other plains tribes for an attack at Julesburg, Colo., on Jan. 7, 1865.
The statues also acknowledge that in the Cherry Creek Valley on April 25, 1887, Sam Ferguson and neighboring homesteaders shot and butchered the last known bull buffalo in the area.
A tour of the nearby Arikaree Breaks, a rugged landscape of canyons formed by windblown silt called loess, was an amazement for those who took in that part of Cheyenne County. In general, this loess was deposited by the wind during the past few million years and is a true Kansas wonderland.
Another point of interest on the BKRT itinerary was a dusk stroll at the Keller Pond and River Walk, which is a great area for birding that hugs the Republican River, just northwest of St. Francis. Locals there told visitors about the birds they had seen and also about nearby Beecher Island. In 1905, Kansas and Colorado teamed up to establish a joint historical site and battlefield monument to one of the most notorious battles between the U.S. Army and several Plains Indian tribes. Beecher Island was an Army establishment located on a sandbar along the lower course of the Arikaree River, a tributary of the North Fork of the Republican River.
The original monument is gone and so is Beecher's Island, but the historic facts remain, as does the desolate landscape of trees, river, waving grass, rolling bluffs and scattered ceder trees.
Though population is on the decline in Rawlins County, next door to Cheyenne County, the people there maintain needed services like a historic hotel built in 1888 in McDonald, just east of Bird City. McDonald Grocery was also on the map, proclaimed to be the smallest grocery store in Kansas.
There were similar treasures to discover in Sherman and Wallace counties, made possible by the Big Kansas Road Trip, which will feature another area of Kansas next year.