Thursday, August 11, 2011

As Seen in Kansas: The Western Home

One of the truths that I hold to be self-evident is that places aren't boring, people are.

As a life-long Kansan maybe that's just some kind of defense mechanism. But I've traveled a fair bit both domestically and abroad, and I find that no place it boring as long as you're curious.

Take, for example, the middle of nowhere.

It would be tempting to look at a flat, mostly blank spot on the map, such as Smith County, Kansas, (the entire population of which numbers fewer than the available parking spaces where I work) and conclude that there can't possibly be anything of interest there.

But with a good guide and sincere curiosity, I've found that even such places as these have interesting nuggets to yield. And, to steal a line from Bill Cosby, if you're not careful, you might learn something.

One of the nuggets of interest we checked out on our recent visit there was a small, ancient cabin in the woods.

The cabin, of basic construction and even more basic amenity, is notable for it's original occupant, Dr. Brewster Higley, né Brewster Martin Higley VI, a homesteader originally from Ohio.

Higley's primary claim to fame is a poem he wrote in 1873 after moving to the Kansas prairie and building cabin by a small creek. The poem was called The Western Home, and it so captured life on a pioneer homestead that it was set to music and became a popular folk song.

The Kansas Legislature adopted it as the official state song in 1947.

The cabin, as it stands today, in the midst of a wild cannabis grove near a wooded creek, has been reinforced with stone, cement and angle iron. There is also a gigantic circular saw blade that I'm pretty sure wasn't part of the original structure.

But much of the original log structure is still there. You can see axe marks in the wood and the rusty square nails from the era.

It's difficult to imagine being the original occupant of this house. Indeed, most people these day's have nicer garden sheds. I'm fairly certain that nobody today would be inspired to think of "home" given a life in these accommodations. The interior has barely room for a single mattress, let alone a queen sized bed. The "kitchen" consisted of a small, camp-sized wood-burning stove and the air conditioning was provided by half-inch gaps between the logs (though I assume these were patched when people were actually living here).

I guess it's possible that Dr. Higley's poem may have been more aspirational than inspirational — not so much an ode to his little hovel, more of a longing for something nicer. Still, it's impressive to consider the hardy folk like Dr. Higley (and perhaps more impressively, Mrs. Dr. Higley) who chose this lonely, primitive lifestyle in pursuit of their American dream.

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  1. I love stuff like this! Thinking back to what it must've been like to live in a single room with a small family...what it must've been like to cook, sleep, and generally live there...


    Very cool, dude. :D

  2. Very cool.

    When I'm driving out and away from the city, I see dilapidated structures and wonder what stories they could tell. So many good ones go missing as people move on. I'm glad some are still preserved.


  3. Artifacts like this and the stories behind them are fascinating.

    Your take on how a seemingly empty spot on the map can still be of interest reminds me of LHM's PrairyErth. I really enjoyed that book.

  4. I enjoyed the Horizon Red Ale at the UNICO Microbrew Festival yesterday.

    They also had the Oatmeal Stout, but I went with the Red Ale because I am drawn to beers where the brewer
    incorporates one of the key ingredients into the name. In this case, Horizon hops.


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