Another Day, Another Battlefield

Thursday, October 25, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Westward Ho, Day 4: Springfield, MO, to Topeka, KS

For the last several months, we've been looking for cooler weather.  The South had another miserably hot summer and we just wanted some relief.  Today, we found it.  Although the temperature in Springfield this morning was a mild 55° under partly cloudy skies, that marked the end of any hint of moderate weather.

With a full agenda for the day, we got an early start, leaving the hotel at 8:00.  After fueling up at Starbucks, our first stop was Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in Republic, MO, (pop. 14, 864), just ten miles outside Springfield.  The Battle of Wilson's Creek in 1861 opened Civil War fighting in the border state of Missouri.  With citizens who harbored sympathies for both sides of the conflict, most of the remainder of the fighting in the state was characterized by guerrilla warfare.

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield
The presentation of the battlefield itself was not particularly impressive, with only a handful of cannons and a few interpretive signs over a five-mile driving tour.  However, the visitor center was large, housing a research library, classrooms, and a rare book collection, in addition to the usual exhibits and gift shop.  The administrative offices seemed pretty extensive as well, which may explain why there was a $10 per vehicle admission fee.  This contrasts with our visits to the free-of-charge Fort Donelson (TN) and Kings Mountains (SC) battlefield sites earlier this week.  Since all are operated by the National Park Service, we asked one of the local rangers why there was a difference in policy.  She didn't seem to know but made an effort to explain it anyway.

From the battlefield, we charged west on I-44 toward Joplin, dropping south on US-71 to the little town of Diamond (pop. 902), where we visited the George Washington Carver National Monument.  Both rain and the temperature began falling as we got out of the car and headed into the visitor center to learn more about this Missouri native son.

Born into slavery on a farm located at that site, Carver grew up to become a brilliant educator, a gifted orator, and a generous humanitarian.  Yet he is most remembered for his scientific research to transform peanuts into a plethora of products from ink to paper, soap to glue, dyes to oil, milk to cosmetics.

After earning a master's degree in agriculture from an Iowa college, Carver accepted an offer to head a new agriculture department at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute in 1896.  It was there that he conducted his experiments with peanuts with the goal of freeing Southern farmers from their dependence on cotton.  He continued teaching and conducting agricultural experiments and outreach until he died at Tuskegee 47 years after he arrived there.

Professor Carver's instruction was not limited to agricultural science.  He looked on his students as his children and tried to teach them what he considered valuable life lessons:  "How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong.  Because some time in life you will have been all of these."  

Carver was a popular speaker with both black and white audiences.
In his statement of eight cardinal virtues, which he shared in a letter to the Tuskegee graduating class of 1922, Carver encouraged each of them to be a person:

1  Who is clean, both inside and outside;
2  Who neither looks up to the rich or down on the poor;
3  Who loses, if needs be, without squealing;
4  Who wins without bragging;
5  Who is always considerate of women, children and old people;
6  Who is too brave to lie;
7  Who is too generous to cheat;
8  Who takes his share of the world and lets other people have theirs.

From the Carver site, we drove ten miles north to Joplin (pop. 50,559).  Still recovering from the devastating F-5 tornado that struck the city in May, 2011, Joplin seems to be running on optimism, buoyed by the massive input of assistance that has flowed into the city from thousands of volunteers, who are still arriving to help out with recovery.  At the massive vacant pit where Joplin High School once stood and will return, "Operation Rising Eagle" is well underway as earth moving equipment works through the initial stages for construction of a new school.  Meanwhile, the school's 2,000 students are attending classes in a former warehouse and part of a shopping mall. 

When only the letters O and P were left on the school sign, someone knew what to do.
A lone tree that was stripped of its branches and its life in the tornado stands alone in a vast empty corridor of destruction.  Just before the first anniversary of the tornado in May, several local artists set to work to commemorate those who lost their lives and the heroes and volunteers who came to help.  They chose this tree as a symbol of Joplin's tenacity and resilience and vowed to bring it back to life with color.  Before the painting was even finished, Joplin locals spontaneously began calling it the Spirit Tree.

Joplin's Spirit Tree
Much remains to be done, but the city has hired a development specialist in an effort to forge reconstruction efforts into building a better community.  New houses have sprung up on lots left stripped, and the sound of construction equipment fills the air.  Clearly, Joplin is a city on its way back to full strength.

The most famous corner house in Lamar, Missouri
From Joplin, just forty miles north on US-71 took us to the town of Lamar (pop. 4,504)Best known as the birthplace of President Harry S. Truman, Lamar is home to the state historic site which preserves this 20- by 28-foot house that Truman's parents bought for the grand sum of $685 in 1882 (just ten years after Wyatt Earp had left the town).  Harry was born there in 1884 and spent most of his first year in the house until his family moved to Harrisonville and later to Independence. We enjoyed a free guided tour of the house with a friendly and knowledgeable Lamar native.

After driving north to Nevada (no, not that Nevada), we finally turned west to enter Kansas, the real beginning of this trip.  Kansas is one of the 15 states we haven't yet visited this year.  And just across the border from Missouri on US-54, we drove into Fort Scott (pop. 8,087), a town that emerged from a frontier military outpost.

Fort Scott National Historic Site
From 1842 to 1854, the Fort Scott was a link in a chain of military outposts spread along the line separating areas of white settlement with the territory further west where native tribes had been exiled, also known as the "permanent Indian frontier."  The troops' primary mission was to keep peace between the white settlers and the relocated Indians.  Soon, white settlement pushed past this line, and the frontier garrison was no longer needed.  Troops were reassigned, and the fort buildings sold at auction.  The town that grew up around the former military station retained the name Fort Scott.

Officers' Quarters (L) and Infantry Barracks (R) at Fort Scott
One hundred years later, historic-minded citizens organized to restore the fort to its late 1840s appearance.  Structures that were not original were removed,while historic buildings were restored or reconstructed.

By the time we arrived at the fort around 4:30, the temperature had fallen to 45°, and the tenacious wind was doing its part to emphasize that a cold front had moved in.  After a self-guided tour of this interesting facility, we continued west, arriving at our hotel in Topeka about 7:30.  Tomorrow we'll take the morning off to rest up a bit, and try to see some sites in Topeka in the afternoon, spending one more night here before continuing west.

Daily Stats: 
  • Miles driven: 364
  • Letterboxes: F 1, P 0
  • Weather: Sunny, 55° to 45° 
  • States: 2 (MO, KS) 
  • Gas (premium): $3.49/gallon (Lamar, MO) 
  • Uses George Washington Carver developed for peanuts:  >300
  • Harry S Truman's middle name:  S
  • Flattened or blown away in Joplin tornado:  8,400 houses, 18,000 cars, & 450 businesses
  • Height of stockade around Fort Scott:  0 ft. 0 in.
    (As a peacekeeping fort, it did not need a wall.)
Trip Stats
  • Miles driven: 1,621
  • Letterboxes: F 10, P 3
  • States: 8 (GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, IL, MO, KS)
  • Temperature range: 45° to 80° 
  • Gas prices (premium): $3.49 to $3.95 
  • National battlefields: 3 
  • National historic sites:  2
  • State parks: 1 
  • State historic sites:  1

More Photos from Today

Wilson's Creek
Part of the excellent exhibits at the Carver site
New homes going up in Joplin
Site of the once and future Joplin High School
Fort Scott hospital exhibit
The town of Fort Scott