Oleander - U.S. 81and Dividing Lines

Mar 16, 2019

U S Route 81 extends 1,220 miles N/S following the old Sicth Principal Meridian dating back to 1911. It's been known as part of the Pan-American Highway and follows the Old Chisholm Trail used for cattle drives from Texas to Kansas in the 1860s and 1870s.
Credit Ks Department of Transportation

If you're curious, you're probably wondering:  "Where is Here, Kansas?"  I'll tell you:  real close to Highway 81.  Why, I can walk from Elmer Peterson's Drive-Thru Pharmacy and Car Wash at the corner of John Brown and Kansas streets down to the Co-op at the corner of Wyatt Earp and Kansas streets, and feel like I've moved from Prairie to Plains.

You know, U.S. 81 gets blamed for being a dividing line.  In Kansas, it divides Eastern from Western Kansas.  Folks west of Concordia, Salina, McPherson and Wellington are thought by eastern Kansans to be "out there."  In fact, one Kansas historian named his book WEST OF WICHITA because he thought the experiences west were so different from those east of Wichita.

Of course, there were divisions long before Highway 81.  Geography started it:  Prairie to the east, Plains to the west; 33 inches of rainfall to the east, 14 inches to the west; bluestem grass to the east, buffalo grass to the west.

Experience continued it.  Most prairie was settled before the Civil War, and the politics of North vs. South were embedded in the prairie mind.  And what was embedded in the Western mind?  The cattle drive, the sod house, the windmill, barbed wire strung to stone fence posts, buffalo-dung fuel.  And wind.

Economics continues it.  In Kansas, Suburban Johnson County is not like Johnson, Kansas, though they are both wealthy because of where they are:  Johnson County near industrial, service-laden Kansas City; Johnson, Kansas, above the Largest Natural Gas Field in the United States.

Here, Kansas, straddling that line, is full of all these differences.  The eastern, the prairie half of Here wears overalls, work boots, feed caps, shirts we button to the collar for warmth; we drink water and eat fried chicken; our heroes are John Brown, William Allen White, Dwight David Eisenhower; our women quilt, read from the Bible, and save their egg money.

The western half of Here wears Levi's and pointy-toed cowboy boots, ten-gallon hats, pearl-buttoned shirts that open at the collar, with a kerchief at the neck; we drink whiskey and eat bloody steaks; our heroes are Wyatt Earp, the Dalton brothers, and Mike Hayden (who brought Western speech back to the Kansas statehouse); our women drive pickups, throw darts, and know how to dance in high-heeled boots.

The prairie half mutters while the plains half curses, each at the other.

You know, in Here, Kansas, we're stronger for our differences.  Back in the '40s, Milton Eisenhower wrote a piece he called "The Strength of Kansas."  He felt our state's spirit came from the interaction between New England and the South, Puritanism and the Wild West, thus producing what he called "hybrid vigor."  He ended by saying the Kansas spirit is a "unique mingling of Puritan morality, Southern Chivalry, and Western individualism."  He claimed that "no state is more accurately representative of America as a whole than Kansas."  Yes, Kansas is richer for the mix of prairie and plains, urban and rural.  I’m darn glad Here is where it is.

So goodbye.  I'll see some of you at church, and some of you at the rodeo.  And God bless some of you, and the hell with the rest of you.