Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Rest of the Story

Shoreline of Black Kettle Lake.

While the history is interesting, this is supposed to primarily be a paddling blog, as hard as that is here. So, I will finish the account of the rest of this trip and the conditions encountered. I still want to go back to Custer and the Battle of Washita, but will probably do that as a review of the book “Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869” by Jerome A. Greene.

Leaving the Washita site and Cheyenne, this is what I faced. Foss Lake, a large body with a 42 miles shoreline, as I mentioned in another post, is still down 26% of lake capacity from last year. The feeder streams and coves that would be most interesting are dry. Then Clinton Lake is closed because there is no water in the lake. The next in line was Elk City Lake. The city has built a nice park along the lake, which is supposed to contain 240 surface acres of water with a 6 mile shoreline. Instead, it was about a three acre shallow puddle with foreign objects sticking above the surface. The water was so far from the end of the boat ramps that getting from the ramp to the water would have required a portage. I decided to move along and try the next lake on my list, but in spite of the inability to gain any lake condition information previously, I felt it necessary to call ahead once again.

Rocky Lake, 347 acres and 8 miles of shoreline, is under the authority of the City of Hobart. It was after 4 o’clock on a Friday, so I knew I was pushing the envelope for reaching people. I called the listed number for lake information, and got a recording from the Chamber of Commerce. The lady that made the recording had indeed added a cell phone contact number for when she wasn’t available in the office, so I called her there. She had no information on the lake, and suggested I call the city police, which I did. She also said there was no fishing allowed, but didn’t know why, how long it was prohibited, or who I could contact for additional information. DeLorme lists Rocky Lake as a fishing destination, so while I wasn’t planning on fishing, the ban was puzzling. I went the next step and called the city police. They knew nothing about the lake, nothing about the fish ban, and didn’t patrol the area around the lake. While the lake is the town’s reservoir, it is ten miles out of town, and the city police are responsible only for what is inside the town limits, so I had followed the lead, but wasn’t surprised by the result. They didn’t think the county sheriff patrolled the lake either, but suggested I call him.

I decided this was getting me nowhere, so I’d just go on to Rocky Lake. I was sure I could pitch a tent somewhere. In fact, I might even be able to paddle the lake before it got dark. So even though it was a 70-mile round-trip shot in the dark, I decided to go for it. When I got there, I found the answer to my fishing question. The lake was closed due to toxic algae and a large fish kill. When I got to the ramp, it was doubly painful, because the lake was brimming with water. I got out and looked, and the lake was full of green snot, for want of a better description. I was even tempted for a bit to throw Ibi in the water anyhow, but since some algae is harmful even to humans, and there had already been a large fish kill, I decided discretion was in order. So, now what?

The next lake was still some distance off, camping was not allowed there, and now being Friday evening there was no chance of getting further information. I was at a dead end, with nothing to do but head back home. In all, I had driven 296.9 miles to paddle three miles. It was interesting, a full day out of the house, but a bit of a let-down.

Then, this morning a public service announcement appears on the television concerning the lakes. The slogan is, “If it’s green on top--STOP!” Then, from June 21, this story appeared on Channel 12 news. “A new website developed by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department allows people to check the water quality of over 100 lakes in Oklahoma. The website was created in May after legislation was signed by Governor Mary Fallin in response to the outbreak of toxic blue-green algae in Oklahoma waters.” This was great news! For the heck of it, I checked Rocky Lake. You’ll love this. For the lake I had to leave because it was closed due to a fish kill and toxic algae, the site provided this information. “Rocky Lake: There have been no recent reports of blue-green algae or other concerns for recreational use of this lake.” And now I’m just bubbling over with confidence in the accuracy of information available through this source. The same message was posted for Clinton Lake, which the city says has no water in it. The same message was posted for Elk City, which has but a puddle. The same message was posted for Foss Lake, which is down 26%. Apparently having little to no water in the lake is not a concern for its recreational use. I’ll pass this observation back to Oklahoma Tourism and Channel 12 in the hope something can be done to improve this questionable resource.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lead-up to Battle of Washita

These are the Black Kettle Grasslands, which the Cheyenne
would have called home.

Leaving Black Kettle Lake, my next stop would be the National Park at the Washita (WA-sha-taah) Battlefield. Just north of there and the town of Cheyenne, OK, is where the 2,000 mile California Trail crossed Oklahoma to carry settlers and those seeking their fortunes in the Gold Rush. From here the trail swung northwest to the Antelope Hills, which I pictured on the 20 June post on Lake Lloyd Vincent. It then continued northwest to join the trail leading from Independence, Missouri. The trail was heavily used from 1845 until 1869, when the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad made travel west faster and safer. The trail then just as quickly fell from wide use. The Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail followed the California Trail and split off further west.

Arriving on the Cheyenne lands, the settlers would dig into a ridge and
erect such a structure of local materials until lumber could be shipped
from the East.  Grass thatch and 3" of sod would go on the roof beams,
and the floor and back wall would remain dirt.  Wood is scarce on the Plains,
so buffalo manure was a popular fuel for heating and cooking.

I’ve learned a lot about the importance of this area, the Indian Territories, in the nation’s history. Unfortunately, I find little for an honest, objective observer of history to take pride in. The more I learn, the greater the apparent dichotomy between reality and what our kids are taught in school. In short, while the history is interesting, I left Washita with a strong sense of injustice, guilt, and embarrassment, if not shame.

Custer's forces hid behind the ridge to the left awaiting dawn.  Elliott's forces
were behind the ridge to the right, and Thompson's forces were further to the left
out of the picture.  Custer's men were to charge through the village, and Elliott's
and Thompson's men were flanking forces to minimize escapes.  The village was
set in the meadow between the two lines of trees, on the Washita River.

War crimes were not defined until the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, and crimes against humanity were not defined until 1945. I learned that the massacre under Col. George Custer would be defined as both war crimes and crimes against humanity. This was indeed the second such massacre, the first under Col. Chivington at Sand Creek and then the Custer attack on the village at Washita. My response is not a na├»ve, innocent reaction out of the full context of history. Even at the time, the public reaction was that the events “made one’s blood chill and freeze with horror.” Senator James R. Doolittle, of Wisconsin, directed a Congressional inquiry, and Territorial Governor John Evans, of Colorado, was removed from office for his inaccurate, biased, and inflammatory reports to Washington for political and financial gain, which helped set the stage for these atrocities toward the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and other tribes.

This is the approximate position of the village.  Due to the minimal impact
of Indian life on the land, archeologists have never been able to set the
exact layout of the village.

To lay the foundation of what led to Washita, Gov. Evans appointed the Reverent John Chivington as colonel of the Colorado Volunteers and sent him with 800 cavalry to “quiet” the Indians and remove them from lands Evans and other business interests wanted for the laying of the railroad to Denver. Chivington knew of a village of unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho along Sand Creek. The men, under Chief Black Kettle, the leading chief seeking peace talks, were off on a hunt, and the village was populated mostly by women, children, and the elderly. On November 28, 1864, Chivington ordered his men to attack the village, killing 53 unarmed men and 110 women and children, and wounding many others. Under cover of darkness that night, while the volunteers were still committing desecrations and mutilations of the dead and wounded, Chief Black Kettle slipped into camp to find his wife to either rescue her or claim her body. She managed to survive in spite of sustaining nine wounds.

This is the mound from which Custer observed the battle.  The village
would be on the light green area among the trees to the right of the mound.

Governor Evans decorated Chivington for his “valor in subduing the savages.” In an effort to cover-up the incident, to avoid all-out war on the Plains, Pres. Andrew Jackson, on July 18, 1865, asked Evans to remove himself from office. Because of his bravado and ability to continually agitate and provoke the public to “kill Cheyennes wherever and whenever found,” Evans amazingly remained popular in the territory. In spite of his complicity in the atrocities, a mountain was named for him, and a liberty ship was christened the SS John Evans during World War II. It’s amazing how much history can be colored, or spun, as we would now say. 

This is what the Indians feared more than anything else: more than Washington,
more than the 7th Cavalry, more than disease or the other tribes.  This was the
railroad bed from that period.  This is what told the Indians that the white
man would never stop coming in ever greater numbers.
More than a century old, discarded ties lie alongside the
old railroad bed.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Black Kettle Lake

The water level is down a bit, but it is still very popular with fishermen.

Black Kettle Lake was the water I wrote about originally on 27 February (Dead Indian Water). That post also included information on the current water wars in Oklahoma over lake water on Chickasaw and Choctaw lands that the state wants to lay claim to. I wanted to come back not just for the lake, but to learn more about the history here.
A killdeer sits in her gravel nest on the little island just offshore.

Black Kettle is located on P. 38 (A-3) of the Oklahoma DeLorme Atlas, and is on Rt. 283 between Roll and Cheyenne. Even with the detailed DeLorme Atlas, finding the lake is not a given. There is no sign on the highway for the lake or park, and the entrance looks like any other country lane with a wire fence and cattle grid across the drive. You need to turn into the drive and between the shrubs before you find a sign for the park and lake.

Fearing I may disturb her nest, she tries to draw me away.

Black Kettle Lake is small, only 79 acres, with a three mile shoreline. Built in 1959, it was first named Dead Indian Lake. The Indian was later promoted and it became Dead Warrior Lake. Finally it became Black Kettle Lake for Chief Black Kettle, one of the primary peace chiefs of the Cheyenne. The area is called the Black Kettle Grasslands, and it was just south of here along the Washita River that Chief Black Kettle and his wife, along with many members of their village, were murdered in a dawn massacre by forces under Lt. Col. George Custer, but much more on that later.

She stops to see if I'm going to follow her away from the nest.

The lake was down about 3-4 feet, but at least it had water. Foss Lake, by comparison, a much larger body about 25 miles to the east is still down 26% of lake capacity from last year. In this part of the country, one has to be happy with what dampness can be found, and it was indeed a nice paddle that produced some enjoyable wildlife.

Click to enlarge.  The plant obstructs the view a bit, but she moves
a couple more yards away, and then falls on the ground and turns
her feathers out to make it look like she has a broken wing.
The grey goose in background center behind the stick is a nearly grown
gosling from this spring's hatch.  There were a couple others that the Canada
geese kept herding further into the grass away from me.
A very skittish and bashful nonbreeding Little Blue Heron.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Headed to Black Kettle Lake

I’ve been happy to see the state of the prairie this year, but it looks like that’s about to change fast. We had 106 degrees here today, and looking for 111 tomorrow. It was 111 in Buffalo today, which is not far from Fort Supply. There’s no sign of the heat cap moving, and no sign of rain.

The prairie dog is a herbivorous rodent that lives in burrows that are as much
as 30-ft. long and 6-10 feet below ground.  In these temperatures, the
burrow is critical to their survival, and they will spend much of the
 hottest hours below ground. They pop up and down out of their
burrows, and get the "dog" name from their habit of rising on their
hind legs and barking to warn others in their colony of approaching harm.

I also wanted to get you a better picture of the Great Western Cattle Trail. The first picture didn’t really show how deep and significant the trail depression is. Even this one doesn’t do it justice. It may be like taking pictures of waves at sea. You can never capture what a 40-foot breaking wave is until you’ve been in one, no matter how many pictures you look at. This may be somewhat the same. I found it really impressive. I would guess that if you laid in the grass on one bluff and looked straight across to the bluff on the other side, you could nearly hide a ranch house in the trail notch and not see but the peak of its roof. That’s quite a dent in the earth from the passing of 11 million longhorn cattle.

Monday, June 25, 2012

So This is How It Is?

Like most weather forecasts, you can pretty much pick the weather you prefer simply by switching between channels. One station forecasts 106 degrees for us today, and 112 tomorrow, and at the other end of the scale is 101 to 104. There were a smattering of numbers in between, so it becomes more of a lottery than a forecast. The only thing they seem to agree on is that there will be no daytime high of less than 100 degrees for at least the next week, and it will likely continue beyond that. Between trying to sleep in stifling, airless tents, or lakes flashing over to toxic algae blooms, or lakes with little to no water, the number of paddling opportunities seem to be crashing to near zero until September.

The yard chores come before paddling, but an occasional
reward comes in the form of a daylily.

Since lakes in the western part of the state are mostly small and scattered, the intention was to make a several day paddling/camping trip by stringing a number of lakes together. Planning included contacting the regulating authorities for each lake to determine local lake conditions, but that soon proved fruitless. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board publication, “Lakes of Oklahoma”, lists the regulating authority for each body of water. Internet sites then will list a contact number for more information. There seems to be a concerted effort to use a phone number as far removed as possible from any person that may actually have information. The Corps of Engineers are probably the best for providing timely information, the municipal authorities the worst. In the latter case, I’ve been transferred as many as five and six times, still unable to get any information. One of the contact persons didn’t even know there was a lake under their authority. Getting nowhere, I finally decided to say the heck with it, and just go and figure it out as I went. This trip was the effort to that end.

Sometimes someone else appreciates all the work.  This guy followed
me as I crawled around on my hands and knees.  He liked the fresh mulch,
and wasn't too upset with the occasional bug I turned up.

As I drove west, I was surprised at the number of wildflowers still blooming.
This is what the prairie looked like this time last year.

Of course, you'd expect the thistle to survive.  Like the Scots, they survive anything.

Englemann's Daisy


Prickly Poppy


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rowing to Latitude

Illus. credit:

Another selection out of the Paddlers’ Reading List is “Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge” by Jill Fredston. (2001, 286pp., North Point Press, NY, with selection of color photos) Jill rows and her husband, Doug, paddles a kayak. They live in Alaska, work as scientists inspecting snow ridges and predicting avalanches, and coordinate rescue teams when victims are caught in slides that do occur. During their off season, they do expedition paddling and camping in areas clogged with ice. I found myself wondering if they ever really get warm. Their travels have taken them along the Alaskan Peninsula, the inside passage from Seattle to Skagway, above the Arctic Circle and along the North coast of Alaska, down the Yukon and Mackenzie Rivers, Labrador, the coast of Greenland, Norway, and Spitsbergen.
The first 50-pages are autobiographical about how Jill grew up rowing on Long Island Sound, rowed her way through Dartmouth College, migrated to Alaska, and met and married Doug. Their interests were so linked that their wedding cake, consuming a hundred eggs and 20-pounds of butter, was covered with seals, whales, moose, caribou, and a couple in a rowboat negotiating whipped cream waves.

The value of the book to almost any paddling reader is not just the sharing of their adventures, but some great insight into how they planned and executed their travels, from the equipment they used, to how they provisioned for five months, landed in surf, slept on rock and ice, dealt with numerous encounters with grizzly and polar bears, protected supplies, and even the importance of the 20-book supply of reading materials they routinely carried. Their smallest pack was always clothing. While selecting good gear, and insuring that they could layer for hot, cold, wet, and freezing weather, they changed in and out of the same clothing for months.

The whole of Chapter 10 concentrates on risk and hazard assessment, and sharpening decision making skills. They walk you through some of the mind games they’ve gone through over go or don’t go; turn around or press on issues. While they define experience as an accumulation of survived bad decisions, the importance of experience is making fewer mistakes, understanding the possible consequences of mistakes, and making sure those that creep through are of minimal significance, especially when paddling in places where one is in 30-degree water and where support or assistance is non-existent.

They emphasize that the importance of trips, any trip, is in the going. Just go. Travel, however, is not meant to be easy. It comes from the French travail, meaning “hard work or arduous effort.” The author emphasizes the importance of accepting nature on its terms and giving yourself and your body time to settle in. She said, “Rowing trips require a certain adjustment period to relax into a different pace, to weave a web of connectedness in surroundings much bigger than we are. Even on several-weeks forays, it may never happen.” So, while sharing a series of great stories, the author imparts many invaluable lessons on preparation and survival.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lake Lloyd Vincent

Located near the Texas-West Oklahoma state line, south of Shattuck, is Lake Lloyd Vincent. It is another small lake of 160 acres and a four-mile shoreline. It can be found in the Oklahoma DeLorme Atlas, P. 28, E-1.

Lake Lloyd Vincent with the Antelope Hills on the horizon.

The lake is rather unremarkable, but being the only water for many, many miles, it draws a respectable number of fishermen. I had probably a half-dozen fishermen with me on the lake. It is so notable for fishing, that the wildlife division said as many fishermen come to the lake from Kansas and Texas as from Oklahoma. I had one person speak of fond memories of swimming there in Shattuck Lake. That is a local nickname for the lake, a habit we’ve seen elsewhere, but it is indeed Lake Lloyd Vincent. A Google search for his name was fruitless, because there were thousands of them from all over the country. When I contacted the Division of Fisheries, I was told the lake was named for a retired wildlife commissioner. In the process, I also learned that Evans Chambers was also named for a wildlife commissioner. So, perhaps the famous lariat twirler was a grandfather of the commissioner. There can’t have been too many Evans Chambers around.

Still 15-miles away, I could see the Antelope Hills. These are very obvious buttes that rise 2,600-ft. above sea level, and sit in a large oxbow of the Canadian River. Being so conspicuous on a flat prairie, they served as a landmark for many people and purposes. They were mentioned by the Spanish explorer Coronado in his journal after having made camp near the hills in 1541. When they were claimed by Spain in 1682, they served as a property marker on the border between the American frontier and Mexico. They were claimed by France in 1800, but were acquired by the U.S. when they became part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. In the mid-1800’s, they served as land marks for those trying to find their way to California to settle, or for the Gold Rush. In 1867 they were included in the lands granted to the Cheyenne and Arapaho, but Native Americans again lost out when the lands were taken from them to be included in the land run of 1892. The Antelope Hills then became part of the Oklahoma Territory.

Diamond Back Water Snake

I had a snake cross my path, and I followed long enough to get a picture. It was not at all pleased with my attention and kept diving. It couldn’t hold its breath long, but continued this practice until it got close to some grass along the shore and disappeared. There is an Oklahoma snake identification site (, and I sent a picture to them. They responded promptly to say that it was a nonpoisonous Diamond Back Water Snake.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Great Western Cattle Trail

After getting Ibi loaded back on the Ram, I decided to drive down to Lake Carl Vincent. On the way, we passed through the town of Fargo, OK. Like a lot of Plains towns, it appears time has left Fargo behind. According to one report, it has never fully recovered from the Dust Bowl years, but at one time it sat center stage.

If location, location, location was really the secret to success, Fargo should be a bustling city by now. Instead, in the 2010 census, it had only 364 proud residents who still called it home. It had been a transportation hub for a long time. The Fort Supply-Fort Elliott Military Road went through here. The Fort Reno and Fort Dodge Trails went through here. The Great Western Cattle Trail went through here. The Southern Kansas Railway, later the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, went through here. The town included three churches, telephone service, two banks, two grain milling companies, a public school, three general stores and other retailers in town, but then a fire leveled half the town in 1909, and it never seemed to regain traction.

The U-shaped notch through the field is still evidence of the passing
of 11 million Texas Longhorn cattle.

For me, one of the most interesting periods in its history had to have been when Fargo was a regular stop on the Great Western Cattle Trail. Beginning in 1874, Texas Longhorn cattle were gathered and driven from Texas, across the Red River, and to the railhead in Dodge City, Kansas. From there they were carried by rail to meat markets as far as Canada and the U.S. Northeast, and to stock our country’s newly opened rangelands. Herds of 3,000 cattle would be driven at a time by ten to twelve cowboys accompanied by a chuck wagon. Besides driving the cattle, each cowboy would lead a string of ten to twelve saddle horses. The trail would have been laid out by scouts, but once a couple trips had been made by the huge herds, the trail could have probably been followed blindfolded. A couple reasons are given for why the cattle drives ended in 1885. One is because Kansas enacted an embargo against Texas cattle in an effort to stop the spread of Texas Fever, transmitted by ticks. The other is attributed to the opening of the Cherokee Strip to homesteading, which suddenly put thousands of private properties in the way. In all, over 11,000,000 of these huge animals had traveled the trail, and had left a series of permanent depressions in the earth the length of the trail that are still visible today in spite of a century of tilling, planting, and harvesting the land.

A shaded Boggy Creek.

Boggy Creek still flows just on the east edge of Fargo. When a herd reached Fargo, the 3,000 cattle would be watered in the creek and bedded down nearby before the cowboys took turns visiting the town’s version of watering holes.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lake Fort Supply -2

While I was up during the night, it had gotten chilly enough that I grabbed my watch cap to keep my head warm in the sleeping bag. It was 46-degrees when I got up to break camp at 5:30. My wool sweater was fine for awhile, but I finally dragged out my Mustang coat. I was greeted by a pair of Canada geese as I was having breakfast. They made it down the ramp and into the water ahead of me, but only by a couple minutes.

As the sun rises, shadows spread across the sand hills that dot
the southeast corner of the lake.
Coots, easily identified by their white beaks, in search of breakfast.

The south end spread into a series of fingers and feeder streams, and is part of the wildlife management area. I was able to watch a lot of waterfowl there, and at one point was surprised when I flushed a doe out of a thicket. I just got a glimpse of her before she was gone.

As the wind picked up, it started to snow.  It looked like snow, but the air was
filled with tufts of cottonwood tree seeds carried long distances by their white fluff.
Two sandpipers with a turtle peeking over the branch.

All of the wildlife were on the east side and south end of the lake. The west side of the lake was all developed and given over to larger campgrounds, but I did meet a Canada goose family with their goslings out for a paddle. I drifted in slowly to get the best picture I could, but when the gander began to get perturbed with me, I turned away before he felt it necessary to come flying straight at my head. I heard about a kayaker that was killed recently by a gander. It attacked the paddler and knocked him over, and each time the kayaker tried to roll back up, the gander would push him under again until he drowned.
A family of twelve out for a practice swim.
Oops, make that fourteen.
A pause at a quiet spot to stretch the legs during the 17-mile paddle.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lake Fort Supply

Fort Supply Lake has 1,820 surface acres and 17 miles of shoreline. I wanted to have most of a day to cover that, so I headed from Evans Chambers back to Fort Supply Lake. It is just south of the town of Fort Supply, northwest of Woodward, and on P. 18, 4-H of the Oklahoma DeLorme Atlas.

I arrived at the lake at 5 :30 and began weighing options for camping the night. With the America The Beautiful senior’s pass, I could stay on the east side of the lake for $5.50, so the east side it was to be. My intention was to set up camp, have dinner, and then get Ibi down, put her on the cart, and have her loaded ready to go at dawn. Then discovering that I had forgotten the key to the security cable, I decided to leave Ibi on the truck and unload her in the morning. When on a trip, I always wear the key around my neck, but eventually take it off at home, and so it stayed on the dresser. I have now tied the key to the cable so they stay together, and I can then slip the cord with the key over my head when I head out in anticipation of using it during encampment at night.

The escort for my morning departure.

The lake had settled down with the calming of the wind, and by sunset, was as smooth as glass. Dinner was Mountain House chicken and rice, cinnamon apple sauce, and coffee with Pop-Tart smores for desert. I had skipped lunch, so a hearty dinner was enjoyable. A cloud of black flies decided to join me, but I found that by just moving to the picnic table in the next camp site allowed me to leave them behind. They were a bit slow on the uptake, and wouldn’t discover my new position for about fifteen minutes. As soon as I had cleaned up, I crawled into the tent and had the campground all to myself, except for a couple nighthawks that serenaded me through the night.  
White-faced Ibis.  It sure would be nice to have
a 400mm lens, but we can't have everything.
Red-winged blackbird.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

No Man's Land and Slapout

As I mentioned earlier, paddling is a great vehicle for discovering nature, and while moving from one body of water to another, I find it fascinating to discover who has paddled, camped, and trod these lands and waters before me. Some of this stuff seems just too incredible, but it’s so strange that it can’t be anything but true. I’ve mentioned No Man’s Land and the town of Slapout, so it’s time to shed some light on both.
The moon setting over No Man's Land.

What would become No Man’s Land was originally part of the lands guaranteed to the Cherokee. The federal government later told the Cherokee that they were not making adequate use of the land, so took it back so it could later be opened to Boomers, who advocated taking the Indian lands by whatever means so they could settle on it themselves. If you vaguely remember the mention of the Missouri Compromise in your grade school history, No Man’s Land is the only piece of the country created by the Missouri Compromise to set the boundaries of Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Congress called this 34 mile wide by 167 mile long strip of land No Man’s Land, because it was outside the jurisdiction of any form of government. People often bemoan the influence of government, but the absence of its stabilizing influence here led to an area overrun with horse and cattle thieves, robbers and any other outlaws, fugitives, squatters, claim-jumpers, etc. They could run amuck and do pretty much as they pleased until enough locals got tired of the foolishness and formed a “local vigilance committee.” Their aim was to insure that the offender’s anti-social behavior could be resolved with a finding of “dead or fled.” They didn’t much care which. There were no inquests, bails, drawn-out trials, or paroles. Justice was as quick as the trigger of a Winchester.

When established law did begin to take a hold, it was in the form of men like Marshall Chris Madsen. The traveling district judge was holding a hearing in a room over the saloon in Beaver City. The noise from the saloon was disrupting the dignity of the court upstairs, and the judge asked Madsen to do something to restore some quiet. Madsen went downstairs, identified three revelers, shot one and pistol whipped the other two, and quiet was restored.

In No Man’s Land, if more than two buildings happened to occur in the same place, it was called a town. One such was the town of Slapout. Tom Lemmons bought a land claim, and when a road was being put through next to his property, he moved his chicken coop out next to the road and created a store inside. With that done, he figured a store would be a good hub around which to build a town, and he would call it Nye. It was hard to get supplies for the store, so it was not uncommon for a customer to be told by Tom’s sister that she was “slapout” of whatever they were looking for. It happened so often that folks began to call the area slapout, and if there was going to be a town, that should be its name. Lemmons protested until a tornado came through and removed the Nye town sign.  Lemmons decided that was divine intervention, and gave in to the name of Slapout for his town. He even added another building to house his rock collection. In its heyday, a census listed the town’s population as ten. It is now reported to have a population of three, but the convenience store and gas pumps still stand as the town of Slapout, and that is where you turn to go to Lake Evans Chambers.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lake Evans Chambers - 2

The yucca is a common prairie plant.  These are just starting to bloom, but can develop a fairly large column of white blossoms.  On the Plains they are often called "ghosts in a graveyard," because in low light they can appear to be floating apparitions. 

I counted on seeing not a single person either here or later at Lake Vincent. I was wrong on both counts. Water is life to everything, and if there’s any of the stuff around, people will come. Pelicans and geese certainly wouldn’t be anticipated in No Man’s Land, yet here they are, drawn by the water. As remote as these lakes are, I was joined by two fishermen here in small boats, and probably a half dozen at Vincent.
This is the reality of Plains lake paddling.  The flat land can stretch for a hundred miles and more, with not a thing to slow or break up the wind.  There is no lee from hills, banks, or trees to hide behind most of the time, and the only protection is if the lake is small enough that the fetch (the distance that wind can blow over water) is small enough to not create large waves.  Plains winds come from a couple things:  by the time winds reach here after being pushed high above the Rocky Mountains, they are now sliding back to the surface and rolling fast; the Jet Stream commonly loops down through this area; and any lows draw winds and moisture up from the Gulf.  Once we have the three coming together, especially with the warm, moist Gulf air, we have severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
 This is a beautiful yellow blossom, but I haven't been able to identify it yet.  I'll keep looking.  If anyone has an idea, please chime in.

One thing that was different was paddling on a lake and looking at prairie with its yucca plants and ruderals, which means rubble plants, which in a few weeks will be bowling across the prairie as tumbleweed. The lake is just northwest of the town of Slapout, and while the lake is small, it had a number of coves that helped shelter wildlife, and it gave me a nice 2.9 mile paddle.