Matfield Green - Our first years

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

High Prairie Cemetery part 2

Follow the link above for a virtual tour of High Prairie Cemetery created by Marva Weigelt. Annie Wilson's poem is included.

Monday, October 30, 2006

High Prairie Cemetery

At dinner on Saturday night, at the home of Annie and John Wilson, conversation turned to the High Prairie Cemetery. Marva Weigelt first mentioned the cemetery to me a few weeks ago, and then last Sunday Bill and Pepper and I took a walk, starting at Jane and Marva's house and then following the farm road across their land, then under a barbed wire fence and over a prairie hill or two to the cemetery.

There are perhaps 100 graves in the fenced yard, which Charlie and Betty Swift, although they live at least 8 miles away, keep mowed and clear. The first striking thing is the gravestones. Only about five or six of the dead are marked by purchased headstones. The rest of the graves, line after symetrical line of them, are marked at head and foot by a simple and small rock of which there are many to be found in the grass that surrounds the place.

The engraved stones indicate that the last time anyone was buried at High Prairie was around 1902, and if the five or six markers speak for all, this is a cemetery full of only women and children. A one month old boy, a fourteen year old girl, a 49-year-old mother.

What happened in this place? Annie Wilson asks the question in a poem she read at dinner - a poem written after Annie stumbled upon the cemetery for the first time, several years ago. Bill and I asked the question last Sunday. What happened in this place? This place so unhospitable to farming and homesteading. This place so remote out in the hills. Are there men in the unidentified graves or was there really some epidemic (of disease or sadness) that claimed only mother and their children?

Tim from El Dorado (who promises he will be checking this entry to make sure I am reporting correctly about the dinner for eleven at which Annie and John served ham and mashed potatoes, garden-fresh sweet corn and sill-ripened tomatoes rescued before the frost) ... Tim told a cemetery of his own - of finding a place called "The Muslim Cemetery" in Butler County just to the south of us. Graves identified in English and Farsi of people burried lately and as long ago as the 1960s. While there are some Muslims in Wichita, there are none that Tim knows of in neighboring Butler County. A little bit of google research reveals that the cemetery is used by members of the Islamic community in Wichita - a contributer to expressed his appreciation for the help of the various police departments, the Kansas Highway Patrol and the courtesy of drivers who yielded to a recent funeral that processed the 40 miles from Wichita to the rural cemetery.

The contributor wrote, "This courtesy and a culture of respect for people of other faiths is endearing and refreshes all that is best about Wichita and Kansas. Speaking for my family and other like-minded folks, this is one among many reasons why we love this country and our hometown."

Autumn glory

It turns out we did get the rain I'd hoped. It rained 1.7 inches while I was away, brightening the fall colors and leaving an encouragingly big puddle at the bottom of our pond-to-be. Dr. Jack Casner of Kansas City visited the bunkhouse on Saturday with his friends Ann and Phil Johnston of Eureka. Jack took this rich picture of the corral on the west side of the railroad tracks.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I'm in Chicago and it has been raining steadily all day. I feel jealous on behalf of our poor parched prairie. We need, as Bill would say, a gully-washer.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Rogler Auction

It was quite a scene at the long-anticipated auction of the Rogler Ranch last Thursday. At least 350 people (and 200 or so cowboy hats) gathered at the community building in Cottonwood Falls for the event - a handful of bidders, five sellers and their spouses, Rick and Nancy Griffin along with a couple of assistant auctioners, and a large crowd of concerned observers.

I missed the morning history presentation but arrived in time for the complimentary lunch of beef sandwich, beans, potato salad and iced tea. At about 1:30 on this perfect autumn afternoon Rick (dressed in a suit as befitted the occasion) asked us all to step outside for a moment so they could clear the tables and set up the chairs in rows for the auction, set to begin on the dot at 2pm.

Just about everyone I could imagine was there. Waiting. Sharing gossip. Wondering about the future of the most famous ranch in the county and one of the most beautiful spots in Kansas. The ranch has been beautifully cared for by the Rogler family since 1859 but now everything was up for grabs.

Bill had been wheeling and dealing (in his understated way) until the last moment. Still hoping as of Wednesday evening to line up a conservation-minded investor whose contribution would allow us to purchase and protect the whole ranch. The final NO, after over a year of working toward the deal, came at about 8 oclock the night before the auction: by morning we were left with one generous partner, some funds of our own that we could use in a pinch, and two friends from Chicago willing to put in $10,000 each if that would put us over the top on any piece of the ranch. But, no matter how you count it, we had not raised nearly enough to buy the whole 4100 acre ranch, which ultimately sold for just over 6 million dollars.

The ranch up for sale in 6 tracts - four tracts of grass and cropland plus two smaller tracts, each with a house and outbuildings.

Sitting down in the third row with Bill and Wes Jackson as the auction began, I knew that the only one of the six tracts that we could afford was the "Henry House" built in 1908 and situatated on 12 acres about 1/2 mile north of where our new house is going up. The tract also includes three historic and beautiful barns. Our partner was particularly taken by the biggest of the barns. Also, part of our plan for the whole ranch was a small organic farm and bed and breakfast in the Henry House. If he had to choose and could have afforded it, Bill would have elected to buy one of the much large tracts of just grass. But by 2pm on Thursday, if we wanted to play any part in the future this historic ranch, our only hope was the winning bid on tract 6.

I've got all kinds of notes on the ups and downs and ins and arounds of the auction. The first and largest tract of rangeland and tillable acres sold for the most money. Four eager bidders went up to $1700 an acre. Good sources tell us that in the end the 1600 acre tract that is most of what we can see as we look out from the frontporch of the bunkhouse went to a man named Allen Wise who is buying up land in the Flint Hills to protect it from development. If that rumor is true he will make an excellent neighbor.

Happily the 710 acres west of the bunkhouse went to TW Burton, son of Tom Burton, Rogler Ranch Manager for 45 years. I say happily first because TW will be a great neighbor and will certainly take care of the grassland better than anyone we could imagine. Secondly happily because Bill and I bid with our hearts and against our better judgment and without a clue as to where we'd get all the money, as the price went up in $10 per acre increments from $11oo to $1150 per acre. At that point our wiser minds prevailed and we dropped out. I was shaking from the rush, sitting beside Bill calculating total cost on my Palm Pilot as he bid into the stratosphere beyond our available funds. Ten dollars goes very quickly when you are multiplying it by 710. We were giddy with relief when the moment of truth had passed and TW owned Tract 4 at $1160 an acre.

Tract 5 was the Rogler headquarters - a house built in 1924 by Wayne Rogler and about 300 acres of grass and cropland. TW and his wife were going for that piece too but lost in heavy bidding to a man who owns 5 furniture stores in Wichita.

Tract 6 was the Henry House. And now it is ours. Ours writ loosely since most of the purchase price will be paid by our partner. But certainly ours in the way of ours to manage, ours to work with others in the community to protect, ours to fundraise for, ours to worry (not too much I hope) about, ours to make the best of as the precious gift from the past that it truly is.

If you have a really fast Internet hook-up and quite a bit of patience to let it download, you can watch this video presentation of photos of the property.

Let me know what you think! And please share any ideas you have about the future of this special place.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Just in case you were wondering

Here is what a our scorpions look like. About 2 inches long and probably living in the walls of the bunkhouse where we have yet to finish tuckpointing. Pig roast regular Tom Landmann of Wisconsin took this picture when he was here in 2004.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The calm after the pig roast

Our fourth annual bunkhouse pig roast is over and we are relaxing in the glow of a good time. We had at least 150 people at our place on Saturday evening, inaugurating the not yet complete barn with good food and great music. We cooked a pig (Dennis Arb from Emporia cooked it I mean, for the third year in a row) and everyone brought a covered dish. The desserts were amazing - the number and variety - and I have never seen so many varieties of baked beans.

Little miracles abounded. Not the least of which is that by simply writing "please bring a covered dish" on an invitation all of this bounty appears, like so many loaves and fishes, enough for all of us to eat our fill.

More than that, a couple named Penner, whom we had not met before Saturday evening, gave us the pig. June Talkington raises pigs and he raised this one - which weighed in at 165 lbs before it was slaughtered - but apprarently he does not own all of the pigs. He raises them for others. In this case for the Penners who live about 40 miles away from here in own pigs who live (and die) on various farms in Kansas and Nebraska. They liked the idea of contributing to a community event. What a happy thing!

We ate and talked and Jess Dean and his band played blues and country music. Emily and Lyn Armstrong danced on the upstairs deck in the barn. Willie McBride and Jim Worster hung their art up on the catwalk, drawing people upstairs to look around.

In spite of trains and cars and construction site there were no significant accidents. Hurray! (Although I did have to take my dad to the emergency room in Emporia on Friday - a chili making accident in which his thumb got caught between bean can lid and knife - some superglue and a splint did the job and I don't think he'll be any worse for the wear.)

Family were here from California, Ohio, Wisconsin and New York. Laurene and Vladimir and Doug and Mimi - friends from Chicago - too. New friends from Emporia and almost-old-friends-now from Matfield Green. They are all gone now. Dad was the last to leave today after a lunch of pork sandwiches. Karl went back to Wisconsin on an early morning flight out of Wichita.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


There was an armadillo in Victor Baskin's yard last night. Poking around in the grass looking at for bugs, I suppose. Oblivious of the longed-for rain that blessed us all day yesterday and unabashed by my headlights. Strange looking beasts, they've been wandering north on the path of global climate change.

Speaking of animals, preparations for our annual pigroast are in full swing and Bill and Karl (our bunkhouse partner who arrived last week) went out to the Phyllis and June Talkington's place this afternoon to watch Dennis Arb kill the pig. A new experience for both Bill and Karl. Watch this space for a report on their experience.

Friday, October 06, 2006


We are infested with scorpions.

Okay, only 6 or so sightings in the last week and they're not the poisonous type. But when they sting like that, any is too many. Pepper has a welt the size of nickle on her nose. Our apartments is in chaos as we try to vacuum every nook and cranny. Pat was attacked in his sleep. And Bill has caught three of the 2 inch long arachnids scooting right in through our front door.

We caught one last week and dropped it off by the side of the road 30 miles away. But that was last week. This week has made murderers of us.

When we see one, we stomp it. And we've laid a ring of poison around the bunkhouse. I don't like it. But, they've driven us to it. I don't want to feel that pain.