Leaving Atchinson, KS, we went down US 36, the “Pony Express Highway.” Alie said, “this is how I remember Kansas: rolling hills up and down.” Then she remembered she had been over the same route when she was 12.
For about 18 months during 1860-61, 120 young riders covered 650,000 miles back and forth between St. Joseph and Sacramento carrying the mail. Only one was killed by the Indians and only one mail sack was lost, but the company failed when the telegraph came through and electricity out-ran horses.
Just outside Hanover near the Nebraska border, one can find the Hollenberg Pony Express Station where riders stopped to change horses. Built in 1857, it is the last remaining original station. It survived because it was a farm home and also served stage coaches and pioneers on the Oregon trail.
One can see where the wagon trains camped along a creek for the night. The trails from St. Joseph and Independence joined here and split later in Wyoming
for either Oregon or California. The railroad followed through the property, and today we watched a long train pass on the present line behind it.
We had lunch next to a sign that proclaimed we were close to the geographic center of the continental United States. I would have thought we were farther north, so for all our travels, I have lots more to learn.
We then proceeded down 36 to The Pawnee Indian Museum State Historical Site which is built over the excavated remains of a Pawnee lodge. This early in the year, we were the only visitors. The one employee, who was very well educated, spent a long time with us explaining the history of the Plains Indians and what we were seeing.
The French named this group the “Republican” band of Pawnee and the river they lived on, the Republican River. It wasn’t because of how they voted but because they voted on tribal issues. Even the women in the 1700s had a vote!
The Pawnee, who numbered around 30,000 in 1800, ruled most of what is now Nebraska and Kansas for about three hundred years, but were in constant warfare with the surrounding tribes. They were the only North American tribe to practice human sacrifice. Zebulon Pike came through in 1806. When we said we wanted to learn more about Pike, our guide found us a book. European diseases hit the Pawnee hard and by 1900, they were down to about 650.
Before we left, he directed us to a tiny cabin off Kansas route 8
further up the road. It was where Dr. Brewster Higley wrote “Home on The Range.” Now almost in a state of ruin, it is open to passing strangers and filled with old artifacts including an 1849 newspaper and what they claimed was the oldest chair in Kansas. On to Nebraska!