“Love blurs your vision; but after it recedes, you can see more clearly than ever. It’s like the tide going out, revealing whatever’s been thrown away and sunk: broken bottles, old gloves, rusting pop cans, nibbled fishbodies, bones. This is the kind of thing you see if you sit in the darkness with open eyes, not knowing the future.” – Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
On any journey, I search for the signs. The slight part of twisted branches, the shock of weathered shingles peaking over a hill of waving prairie grass, or the bare doorways and window sills, left dark and gaping. In December, I travelled to Oklahoma for business. On my way home, beneath the veil of twilight, an owl dove through a slight clearing. Between the tangled trees, I glimpsed the sagging roof of a rotting house. I snapped a few photographs, but none of them turned out. I vowed to return as soon as I could.
On New Year’s Eve I found the house again. As with most of these beautiful old places, I couldn’t find much information on this place. I decided to include what I found on the land.
The land near the Kansas/Nebraska border is rich in history. Two towns, Plymouth and Lexington once stood where highway US-75 sits, serving as outposts.
Near the Nebraska/Kansas line, the settlers made a stand against proslavery settlements, building log cabins surrounded by forts, armed with guns and a cannon. Responsible for the name, “Bleeding Kansas,” in May 30 of 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed United States Congress, thus establishing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The Lane Trail, named after abolitionist James H. Lane, and established in 1856. The trail was in close proximity to Plymouth and Lexington, also running through Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and other parts of Kansas to avoid proslavery areas in Missouri, and provide settlers a safe path through Kansas. It was also used as part of the underground railroad (a system of trails with safe shelter for runaway slaves) by John Brown, and others who assisted in taking slaves north to their freedom.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it a federal crime to aid escaping slaves, causing the URR to peak. Plymouth and Lexington eventually disintegrated. James Lane (also called “The Grim Chieftain,” and “Bloody Jim”) was elected one of the first senators in 1861, and was appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in December, 1861. He then went on to command “Lane’s Brigade,” consisting of the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Kansas Volunteers. He also raised the “Frontier Guard,” and he was responsible for forming the first regiment of African American troops to see action on the side of the Union during the Civil War. On July 1, 1866 he took his own life, shooting himself in the head as he leapt from his carriage in Leavenworth, Kansas. Mr. Lane was buried in Lawrence’s Oak Hill Cemetery.
I realized as I read about the courageous men and women who risked everything to escape a life of torture and servitude, how privileged I am to set my boots on the same ground.
While I was unable to find details about the home itself, the land is rich with history. Many different Native American Indian people originated in Kansas. Wichita, Pawnee, Osage, Kiowa, Kansas, Comanche, Cheyenne, and the Arapaho are believed native to current day Kansas. Many immigrant tribes have also been moved to Kansas from their original homelands.
The entire stretch of US-75 from Nebraska City to Topeka is the route of the URR, and the Lane Trail, making each of these houses all the more interesting. Perhaps a family took shelter in the cluster of trees or, even behind the crumbling walls.
“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves” -Abraham Lincoln
Just as people grow ragged with age; sagging skin, and thinning hair. Eventually all that remains are the the rattling bones, whispering it’s story to anyone who passes.
“You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.” –Booker T. Washington
Trish Eklund is the owner and creator of Abandoned, Forgotten, & Decayed, and Family Fusion Community, an online resource for blended families of all types. Trish’s photography has been featured on Only in Nebraska, ListVerse, Nature Takes Over and Pocket Abandoned. Check out the new Bonanza Store for AFD merchandise! Follow on Instagram and Facebook. Trish is regularly featured on The Mighty, Huffington Post Divorce, and Her View From Home. She has also been featured on Making Midlife Matter, and The Five Moms, and has an essay in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz.