by Susie Lofton
A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to a new lesson in history and geography. A minister from the Bahamas had expressed the need for an automobile, and a generous minister from Wyoming had a car he was willing to donate to his fellow minister. Since my husband and I had not had a REAL vacation in several years, we decided to take a few days off, fly out to Wyoming and leisurely drive the car back. Walter got all excited about the trip, bought an "Atlas" and began to plot our route back mostly keeping to state roads. On the top of the list, he wanted to see Dodge City.
On our flight to Wyoming we saw some interesting sights from the air. This was not our first time flying, but it still amazes me how something that big and that heavy can fly and transport a person hundreds of miles in such a short time. Wilbur and Orville Wright would be speechless, I'm sure.
After we reached maximum altitude we could still see the green trees and land below. Then we flew into thick clouds. After about 30 minutes the clouds dissipated and we could see the ground below. It was like some sci-fi program. A drastic change had taken place, everything was different. Trees had become very scarce and the land was mostly brown. As we watched the ground below we saw distinct circular patterns below. From the altitude we were flying they appeared to be about the size of a dime. Sometimes there would be five or more grouped together. They were colorful in various shades of green, red, yellow and brown. We found out later that these were irrigation fields. The colorful circles we saw from the air were fields of corn, wheat, maize, soybeans and sunflowers.
As the growing season wears on, the water supplies diminish. Farmers have to drill wells and water is piped through a long irrigation arm on wheels which rotates slowly in a circular pattern. From the air these fields appeared small, but from the ground, had we not known to look for them, we would not have seen them for what they were. The size of the fields were most impressive. Having grownup in Louisiana, my husband thought he had seen flat land and large farms. In comparison, the fields in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma out-sized those in Louisiana by far. We drove stretches of road where we did not see another vehicle for twenty miles! Awesome!
South of Ness, Kansas I saw something that I thought was obsolete. A one room school house. The windows had been modernized, had a good roof and there was a large propane tank in the back. This was an operating school. Since our return home I stumbled on an article in a Doctor's waiting room about a teacher in Nebraska who teaches in a one room school house, has nine students and teaches grades 1-8. According to the article there are more of these oddities than just the one we saw in Kansas.
We arrived in Dodge City in the late afternoon. We saw where the old Dodge City main street had once been. There was a monument with pictures of how it looked in days gone by. We found a Bed and Breakfast two streets up the hill. The proprietoress gave us a tour of the house. The rooms were named for characters such as, Matt Dillon, Doc Holliday, Miss Kitty, and Wyatt Earp. Then our hostess informed us that the house was built about 1920 on what was known as "Boot Hill." Our faces must have registered surprised or shock, because she quickly added. "Oh, those that were buried here were dug up and moved to another location." Sure they were. My aunt had triplets that died and were buried in Fort Hill Cemetery. Where? Your guess is as good as mine. No one knows just where. I could not help but think about that as the lady explained that those outlaws and gunslingers had all been moved. Up until that point we had considered staying at the Bed and Breakfast.
After about one hour, we had seen all of Dodge that we cared to and decided to move on further down the road. We shaved a few miles off here and there and ended up spending the next night in Woodward, Oklahoma.
For some reason, I did not want to go through Fort Smith, Arkansas. We considered going southeast to north Louisiana and visiting his two sisters. I was sort of the navigator for the trip and said we could drive to Mena, Arkansas, spend the night and drive on down to Louisiana the next morning. Walter told me that Daniel Lance was from Mena, Arkansas. Daniel was a boy who grew up with Walter in Louisiana. When we got to our motel room, out of curiosity I looked up Lance in the phone book. I found a Daniel Lance listed. I called the number and asked the male who answered the phone if he was by any chance the Daniel Lance who once lived in Newellton, Louisiana. He hesitated a couple of seconds and said, "Yes?" I asked him if he remembered someone from Newellton named Walter Lofton. He answered, "I sure do." Daniel and his son came to the motel room and we had a nice visit. I do not know who was the most surprised, him or us.
I first met Daniel in Louisiana when we lived there for about four years. I loved hearing him tell about going frog-gigging and standing on a log that moved and had eyes. He said he did not know till then that he could walk on water.
Daniel told us that we were near Pine Bluff, Arkansas where the Lum and Abner series came from. Lum and Abner was a radio program that aired from 1931-1953. The plot was centered around real people from the community. Today, the old Jot 'Em Down Store stands and is an active bonafide post office with zip code 71966. We both agreed this discovery made up for our disappointment in Dodge City.
We decided against going to his sisters, as we were beginning to tire and wanted to get back home. We drove north to Hot Springs and took the Interstate the rest of the way home.
We would love to make another trip out west as there is so much to see and so much history. History is something one cannot shake, it keeps writing itself on the pages of time. Those pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail had no idea that in the year 2003, people would stand in the tracks where their wagons had gone many years before cutting "Ruts," into the sandstone. What trails are we cutting today? Will anything worth seeing be left behind? Will anything of worth be left?