Exploring Kansas Legends and Folktales with the Trego County Historical Society

Giant grasshoppers and elusive jackalopes; Kansas is a place of tall tales and legendary characters, but these exaggerations are more than just interesting stories meant to entertain. They are the stories we share to explain the uniqueness of the Kansas character.

Jim Hoy

In celebration of Kansas Day, the Trego County Historical Society will examine our state’s many legends and folktales and what they say about the communities that keep these stories alive during a presentation on “Kansas Legends and Folktales” with Jim Hoy.

“Kansas Legends and Folktales”

On Sunday, January 26, historian and author Jim Hoy will present “Kansas Legends and Folktales,” an examination of the history of these stories and how they have helped shape the character of our state and its people. As a former director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University and an authority on the folklife of ranching, Hoy is an authority on the subject and has co-authored “Plains Folk,” a syndicated newspaper column focused on rural Kansas life.

This presentation is funded by Kansas HumanitiesMovement of Ideas Speakers Bureau, an organization dedicated to sharing stories that inspire our imaginations, spark informed conversations, and generate insights that strengthen civic engagement through presentations and workshops with experts on the subjects.

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Kansas Day Coloring Contest

Along with the presentation, awards will be handed out to the top recipients of the museum’s annual Kansas Day coloring contest This is the eighth year the Historical Society has sponsored the program for Trego Grade School’s first through fourth grades students and every year the entries focus on places found in Trego County.

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Join us at the Trego County Historical Society Museum in WaKeeney on Sunday, January 26 at 2PM for “Kansas Legends and Folktales” with Jim Hoy. The Kansas Day program is an annual event celebrating our state’s entry into the Union and is free to the public. For more information about this event and others contact the Trego County Historical Society of WaKeeney at (785) 743-2964.

Celebrating the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway at the Newly Restored Wilcox School

Fifteen years ago, the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway was given the honor of becoming one of Kansas’s twelve scenic and historic routes. It’s brought photographers, historians and casual travelers to the hazy, blue hills that give it their name and, with the recent restoration of Wilcox School, one of the route’s landmarks invites visitors a peek into Trego County’s past through the eyes of its school children.

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The Story of Trego County’s Historic Wilcox School, District #29

The little, one-room prairie schoolhouse was built in 1886 to serve as a center of learning and as a community gathering place for the newly arrived settlers in the area. Native Niobrara limestone rock cut from a quarry on the south side of the Smoky Hill River was used to construct the building and a local stonemason and a team of volunteers pitched in to do the work. The school was named for William Wilcox, the first settler and postmaster of Wilcox township and from 1886 to 1947 between 3-25 students in grades 1-8 shared the classroom each term.

Education in a prairie schoolhouse brought with it many challenges. There was no water source on the property, so pupils brought their water to school in gallon-sized syrup pails. The absence of indoor plumbing also required an outhouse be available for use behind the school.

The building also served as a house of worship from 1890 to the 1940s, with Sunday school and church services led by ministers from WaKeeney and the nearby town of Ransom.

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A Center for Community Activism

During World War II, Wilcox School served as one location for the Cotton Mattress Program. This federal program helped turn a surplus of government owned cotton into low-cost mattresses for rural families. There were over 250 applications submitted in Kansas for this program and two adults and 8 hours of work went into the construction of each mattress. Over 12,000 families in 79 Kansas counties joined this national effort, making 18,000 mattresses and 10,000 comforters.

After the school closed its doors for good the building took on a new life as a gathering spot for a local motorcycle club called the Hi-Plains Gravel Grinders. After the club moved on the schoolhouse fell into disrepair and was left as a hollow structure for several decades.

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Preserving the Past

New attention was brought to Wilcox Schoolhouse when the Kansas Byway Program added the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway to their roster in August 2003. In May 2006, the one-room schoolhouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, providing Trego County the opportunity to apply for grants from the Kansas Historical Society’s Heritage Trust Fund to go toward restoration of the property. In 2011, funding was awarded to the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway and the WaKeeney Travel & Tourism committee, the organizations leading the effort, and soon plans were underway to save the limestone building.

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The Work Begins

The stonework and the roof were the first projects to be tackled. Metzker Restoration of Ness City reset the foundation, replacing damaged stones, repairing the brick chimney, and installing a new roof on the school.

Planning for the windows, door, fascia, and soffit restoration began when a second grant was received in 2015, and earlier this year Schamber Historic Preservation, LLC of Damar, Kansas completed those projects. Five panels have been installed within the windows to tell the stories of Wilcox School, as well as offering information about the abundant and colorful wildflowers that fill the prairie in spring, summer, and fall.

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Unveiling Ceremony to Celebrate the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway and Wilcox School

Join us on Sunday, October 21stat 2pm at the Wilcox School, just 15 miles south of WaKeeney on Highway 283 to celebrate the 15thanniversary of the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway and the newly restored, historic Wilcox Schoolhouse.

A short program will be held to dedicate the site and to honor Harm Schneider, whose family generously donated the property to the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway in his memory. We invite you to explore the school and several displays featuring school memorabilia and artifacts from the families who settled the area from the 1880s to 1947. Also of note are items from the Hi-Plains Gravel Grinders Motorcycle Club and information about the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway. Refreshments will be served.

Hope to see you there!

The Trego County Historical Society Museum Is Ready For Kansas Day (January 29)

This Sunday, Kansas Day, is the 156th anniversary of our beautiful state, making it a great day to visit the  Trego County Historical Museum, where new collections, guest speakers and the recently completed annex have given our historians more opportunities than ever to tell the stories of our county.

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More Exhibits

At a museum, more floor space means more room to explore interesting collections. At the Trego County museum visitors will find 20th-century artifacts from local people, as well as prehistoric era fossils from a time when a great inland sea trapped some of the earliest sea creatures in limestone at the bottom of the great inland sea that once covered the High Plains.

Of particular interest are the early agricultural tools and machinery and the collection of memorabilia from the Trego County schools. Soon they’ll be adding to that display with photos from the Collyer school.

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A recent installation in the museum is the ornate 1920s façade that once graced the front of the WaKeeney State Bank. Its 145 stones were a donation from local collectors Max and Irene Dirks and local volunteers contributed many hours to preparing them for installation.

Coming soon is a group of prehistoric and ancient fossils that were found on the farm of Leonard and Irene Purinton. Most of the items from either Trego or Gove County and the collection includes a mammoth femur and a squid fossil, sharks teeth, arrowheads, and many other unique items.

Look for the announcement of a special exhibit in April when the museum commemorates the 100th anniversary of World War I. They’ve recently uncovered several vintage propaganda posters deep in their archives and they will take center stage during the exhibition.

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More Events

Last weekend Jim Gray, executive director of the National Drovers Hall of Fame, shared his knowledge of cowboy life during his talk, “Head ‘em Up and Move ‘em Out.” It was a great success, with over 95 people in attendance coming from as far away as Oklahoma.

Several other presenters have enlightened us with stories of other heroic pioneers, such as executive director of the Nicodemus Historical Society Angela Bates who spoke about the history of Nicodemus, the first all-black settlement founded on the Great Plains.

The museum is committed to hosting speakers who can provide a glimpse into the past through storytelling, research and their enthusiasm for the subject.

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More Room

The recent addition of a 120 x 60 square foot building has doubled the museum’s display area, allowing easy access to twice as many displays with artifacts that had spent years in storage due to lack of space. Sections are dedicated to history dating back to prehistoric eras, the ancient past, early pioneer days, and all the way to our modern times, with ample room for guests to explore and a beautiful mural covering one wall.

In addition to the public space, an additional storage space is currently in the works to provide safe and secure storage for artifacts not on display. With this additional space the historians will be able to more efficiently organize and catalogue the museum’s entire collection.

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Next time you’re in WaKeeney stop by the museum to explore all the great stories brought to life by the historians and volunteers of the Trego Historical Society Museum. Check their website for more information about their hours and directions to the museum.  (TregoHistorical.org, 128 N. 13th St, WaKeeney, KS, 785.743.2964)