Thursday, 7 July 2016

Mules and Mountain Oysters

April 7th   A pretty track running west from Horton for several miles.. .
In settled rural areas it is never a problem to find these quiet roads running parallel to the busy highways.  Unfortunately this one came to a dead end about a mile further on at the Delaware river at the approximate site of Kickapoo Pony Express way station.  But it did not take long to back track a little and cross Highway 20 into the official reservation, though it took me away from the line of the trail.  Lady's bad hair day is the result of another incredibly windy day, very tiring to ride in.
The Algonquian-speaking Kickapoo Indians originally came from the Michigan/Ohio area, but were gradually pushed west.  Apart from this reservation there are two other Kickapoo communities in the USA, in Texas and Oklahoma.   The area appeared to be sparsely settled, and although I saw a few houses in the distance, I failed to see a single Kickapoo on my way through.   I will have to resort to watching the movie 'The Only Good Indian' which features members of the tribe.
 It was not long before I discovered to my intense chagrin that I had forgotten something yet again - this time not only my indispensable Ortlieb water buckets, without which it was difficult to water the horses from hydrants and deep creeks.  Happily help was at hand in the form of post mistress Ruth Stirton from Horton (shown on the left) who happened to be driving by, and she summoned son Darren to retrieve said buckets.  L to R  Ruth, Darren's wife Rose and the man himself with daughter Brynn.
 Hope this amnesia will not dog me across the US.  In my defence I think it is the fact that I now have so much more baggage that makes it more of a challenge.

After failing to find a suitable camp spot by a creek south of Granada, I landed on my feet when I was taken in by Jack and Lynette McGee, who provided pens and feed for the horses, and a comfortable trailer for me - it even had a television!  It transpired Jack had heard of me through the Pony Express grape vine, and he arranged for me to stay with Pony Express rider Roy Winkler in Kelley the following evening.  And he declared his intention to ride with me on his lovely mule Gracie.  So on April 8th after a breakfast of easy over eggs and bacon we set off....
 I was now back on the line of the trail, which may have crossed the open land shown in the photo below.   It also unusually shows the type of prairie landscape that would have existed at the time of the Pony Express, as this was a prairie conservation area....
 Passing the tiny settlement of Granada, which now essentially only consists of a pumpkin farm, though there used to be a store and blacksmith within living memory....

There is confusion over the issue, but there is one theory that Granada may possibly have been used as a way station, perhaps unlikely given the proximity of Log Chain Pony Express station less than three miles to the northwest.
 Log Chain station certainly existed as a way station run by the superbly named Noble Rising, and the house now standing on the probable site by the Locklane creek is thought to contain part of the old station building.  One theory for the origin of the name is that it comes from the 'log chains' that were used to pull wagons across the sandy creek, another being is that it is a corruption of the creek name.
I had planned my route to pass Log Chain, but the diversion to Kelley took us away from the trail. I had already been aware that the Log Chain site is on private land and the owners are apparently not very receptive to visitors, and Jack assured me that we would be unlikely to see the building from the drive entrance.  However our detour gave me the opportunity to visit a less historic but arguably more fun landmark directly on our route - the amazing Shoe Tree! ...

 Started by local man John Kissel in the 1980s, it now attracts visitors from as far afield as Japan, many of whom add their contributions to the hundreds of shoes nailed to the trunk and hanging from the branches.  There is even a visitor's book which I signed on behalf of the horses.

Jack delivered me safe and sound to the spacious home of the Winkler family in Kelley. They designed the house with their old age in mind, and have even included doors wide enough for wheelchairs!   R to L Don and Connie Winkler and daughter Shayla on the balcony verandah which looks out over their fields.
Connie looked after me like royalty, and Don and Shayla, together with friend Lucy, joined me the following day for the short ride to Seneca.  As they were all riding Tennessee Walking Horse part-breds, I resigned myself to plodding along well in the rear!   The states were well represented as Don's big Tennessee Walker/quarter horse cross was called Dakota.

 In Seneca I had been invited to stay with the family of another Pony Express Association member Dan Koch (pronounced Cook!).  Dan is very much a self made man, having started up a cabinet making company Koch &Co with his brothers in 1989.  A teenage hobby became a thriving business, and after many struggles, the firm has been a resounding success with sales worldwide. A major employer in Seneca, they employ around 500 people, and have units as far afield as Tennessee.  Dan has now essentially retired from the business, though he retains a share of the company, and has turned his attention to his other interests, one of which is his herd of longhorn cattle.  Here he is with an impressive example....
My tent once again stayed packed away as I was shown to a luxurious holiday apartment they have created for visiting hunters in an enormous newly built shed.  Apparently Kansas is a popular venue for hunters as the deer are bigger and fatter due to raiding the excellent corn fields here. 
The day came to an enjoyable end with a family BBQ joined by the Winklers.  Deliciously tender pork ribs and tasty 'freshly picked' Rocky Mountain oysters were on the menu, and if you don't know what they are, look it up.

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