Grand Genealogical Journey: Kansas City, Here I Come!

We’ve had a great trip aboard the California Zephyr from Sacramento to Denver.  But in Denver, we part ways with the train, which goes on to Chicago, bypassing our next destination, Kansas City.

The quickest way to get to Kansas City from Denver is by air — a one-hour flight for about $149 on all the major carriers except US Airways, which charges $233.  Both of these fares are a bit pricey in my opinion.

Another way to get from Denver to KC is to drive via Interstate 70 and distances slightly over 600 miles; perhaps nine hours time, depending on one’s driving style.

I like the road trip on I-70.  A lot of people however, complain that eastern Colorado and Kansas offer no visual interest at all, being mostly flat in the highway straight with few curves.

I can’t contest that general description of the landscape, but I do find a drive fascinating, having made the trip a number of times.  In Colorado, after leaving Denver, we cross the Centennial State’s eastern plains, which are not entirely flat, but gently roll, very gently.  The only two towns of any import in this part of Colorado, are Limon and Burlington.

Originally a railroad town, Limon is today a transportation hub because several US and state highways, including Interstate 70 come through Limon. The biggest employer in town is the State prison.    Limon’s reputation was stained by the gruesome lynching of a sixteen year old suspected of murdering an eleven year old girl.  The lynching was carried out by a crowd of 300 persons, which the New York Times (many eastern papers had reporters on the scene)  oxymoronically described as “very orderly.” (New York Times, “Boy  Burned At The Stake In Colorado,” November 17, 1900).  The details reported are so savage that it is doubtful that the Times would print them all today.

Burlington was also originally a railroad town, but now is renowned as the home of the Kit Carson County Carousel.  The carousel was built originally for Elitch Gardens, a Denver amusement park popular for over 100 years (1890-1994).   The carousel was actually used in the Gardens from 1904 to 1928.  Kit Carson County bought the carousel in 1928 and moved it to Burlington. For reasons which frankly escape me, the carousel was named a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Out of Burlington we are into Kansas.  On its west side, Kansas has no natural boundary with Colorado, which is one reason that the two states were originally one territory from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains.

There are perhaps a dozen little towns on I-70 from the Colorado border to to the big city of Salina. The notable ones are Oakley, Russell and Hays.

Salina is a city of about 50,000.  Although it was long a trading post before the Civil War, the roots of modern-day Salina were set after the war.  The railroad showed up in 1867 and the cattle trade came through town in 1872.  Then during World War II, the Army built a bomber base near Salina, which eventually became the Strategic Air Command’s  Schilling Air Force Base. The Air Force left in 1965 and the base became the municipal airport in Salina.

The next city after Salina on I-70 is Topeka.  Topeka is the capital of Kansas and was in the news earlier this year for changing its name to Google, temporarily.  Topeka is of historical significance for a number of reasons which we will  explore while we’re in the Kansas City area.

Topeka is a hop, skip and a jump away from “Kansas City,” a multiple county, bi-state metropolis on both sides of the Missouri River. The core of the metropolitan area of course, is Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO), part Midwestern cowtown, part Chicago-type mob city, with a historical dash  of Tammany-like political corruption and the artistic sensibilities of St Louis and New Orleans combined. Barbecue and jazz are essential parts of the culture here. Other parts of the metropolis include suburban Johnson County, Kansas;  Clay County, Missouri, once known as “Little Dixie,” for the prominence of Southerners, especially Kentuckians, in the county; and Independence, the hometown of President Harry S Truman. And don’t overlook “Kansas,” which is how some people on the Missouri side still refer to the combined city-county of Kansas City-Wyandotte, Kansas. These all add up to the existential “Kansas City,” with its heroes of song and story, its seekers of fame and glory.

In 1959, Wilbert Harrison had a No. 1 hit with the song “Kansas City.”

Goin’ to to Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come,
I’m goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come.
They got some crazy little women there,
I’m goin’ to get me one.

In 1920, William Edward Gines and his brother, Henry William Gines, found their way into Kansas City from Shreveport, Louisiana.  Why they went to Kansas City is not clear; but perhaps presaging the song, they both ended up married to Kansas City girls.  (There is a genealogical trick in that story, but we’ll save that for now.)  William Edward Gines was my grandfather.  One of his three daughters is my mother.

Three decades later, my father, another Southern boy, headed for Missouri, with his eye on that particular Kansas City girl.

Next: The Genealogical and Historical Gold Mine that is Kansas City.


September 2010
« Aug   Oct »