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2/2/2005

Out On The Trail

I took a little time off from chores and Drovers Mercantile to head south toward Winfield, Kansas, yesterday. I met up with Kansas Jack Curry who now lives in Olathe, Kansas. We made connections southeast of El Dorado and pointed the wagon toward Winfield. My plans were to find the grave of an old Cowboy that had been buried in the cemetery there. I am workin’ up a couple of stories for the next issue of the Kansas Cowboy and in the process of research found out about the grave. I fear we hurried through too fast and may have missed several other Cowboy graves, but we did find the one we were looking for.  
 
William VanHook died at the age of 28 on September 18, 1881. The granite shaft has an engraving of a Longhorn steer on the back side. The story goes that VanHook died of typhoid fever in the Hale Hotel in Hunnewell, Kansas a popular shipping point for Texas cattle in the 1880’s. Van Hook was a friend and foreman for George W. Miller who founded the famous 101 Ranch. Miller headquartered at the time in Winfield, Kansas. That being the reason for the location of the grave.  
 
Earlier in the day we happened upon a Kansas Cowboy icon, Alex & Rosemary Almassy of Liermann’s Saddle & Boot Shop in Winfield, the oldest Cowboy shop in Kansas. Rosemary’s grandfather, George began the shop in 1881. Alex and Rosemary took over operation from her father Lawrence in 1961. The Almassy’s are an absolute delight! Alex was born in Hungary and with an engaging smile the first thing he told me that he was a Hungarian Cowboy.  
 
The he escorted Kansas Jack and The Cowboy to the back where our mouths dropped wide open! The room is filled with a wonderful museum of leather crafting machines. They all work because Alex uses them yet in his daily work. Kansas Jack was intrigued with the machine that nails heals on boots. The machine can be adjusted to produce just the right length of nail from a strand of continuous wire threaded through making the job perfectly efficient.  
 
Alex explained that his daughter Maria was his manager these days and tying on an apron he excused himself, “I’ve got to go to work.” My advise… If ya need some Cowboy goods like Justin, Tony Lama, or Olathe boots head fer Liermann’s and buy a piece of Cowboy history in the oldest boot shop in Kansas. 
 
But our day wasn’t done. We headed for that old shippin’ town, Hunnewell. We picked up Fred Strickland along the way. Fred has written about Hunnewell and is probably the most knowledgeable on the history of the area. The town has no commercial district anymore. There are only scattered homes, yet it is still an incorporated town. Fred showed us the location that had once been the Hale Hotel, headquarters for Texas cattlemen as tens of thousands of dollars changed hands over cattle deals. We drove to the state line between Kansas and Oklahoma where the Santa Fe Railway set up their stockyards just inside the Kansas line and a little farther west Fred pointed out the former location of the Frisco stockyards. Wheat covered the hundreds of acres that once were black with Texas Longhorn cattle. Returning to Hunnewell Fred explained that this road along the Santa Fe tracks had been known as Smoky Row and that saloons and brothels lined the east side of the street facing the tracks. The corner of Sixth & Oak street had once been home to the infamous Red Light saloon. Our imaginations soared! 
 
There is something very special about these old locations. Maybe its just the Cowboy in me, but even standing on a flat wheat field and knowing the spectacle that once filled that very location means that through me, it has not yet been forgotten. I like that.  
 
If ya have some time, why not go out and do a little trackin’ of some old Cowboy, ranch, or cattle town. The stories that you uncover just may get the chance to live one more generation through your efforts. I think we sum it all up in the motto of the C.O.W.B.O.Y. Society, “Never Sell Yer Saddle!” As long as we’re in the saddle those stories will never die. 
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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