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The way it used to be

Fran Brownell
Turon farmer-ranchers Garrett Geesling, right, and his father, Eric Geesling, describe for Pratt fourth grade students what life was like on the Chisholm Trail cattle drives from Texas to Kansas during a program hosted by the Pratt County Historical Museum to celebrate Kansas Day, January 29. More than 200 second and fourth grade students from Southwest Elementary and about 15 Haskins School students participated in the special programs on January 30 and 31, 2020.

The wild and woolly west of early Kansas cowpokes was recalled for more than 200 Pratt area second and fourth graders and at programs held Thursday and Friday, January 30 and 31, at the Pratt County Historical Museum. The special talks and tours commemorated Kansas Day January 29, 2020.

“This is the fifth year we’ve hosted a Kansas Day program and the kids just love it,” said museum curator Charmaine Swanepoel.

The students came in class groups for morning and afternoon sessions and also toured the museum following a program presented by a father-and-son team of Eric and Garrett Geesling, fifth and sixth generation farmer-ranchers in the Turon area.

The speakers told how cattle played a crucial role in Kansas history following the Civil War and described for students the life of cowboys on the now historic Chisholm Trail.

Both father and son were outfitted for the program with the same gear that protected the pioneer cowboys on the long, hot, dusty cattle drives and Garrett described how each item gear helped protect the early cowboys and still helps protect modern-day ranchers.

“The soldiers came back from fighting the war and they saw an opportunity,” Garrett Geesling said. “There were lots of cattle in Texas. They had multiplied down there for years and they were all over. Back east in Chicago, New York, Boston, there were lots of people there who needed meat to eat.”

Geesling said the completion of the transcontinental railroad opened the opportunity to ship cattle from Kansas to the populated eastern states areas where beef was in demand. He described for students what life was like for cowboys on the trail as they gathered up to 4,000 head of cattle per herd and drove them up through Texas, across Oklahoma and into Kansas.

“It took 10 to 12 men to gather up the cattle,” Geesling said, which included the trail boss and a cook.

“The cook drove the chuckwagon and he was probably one of the most important people on that crew because he kept everybody happy—he kept them fed,” he said.

The daily fare of the early day cowboys on the Chisolm Trail was bacon, beef, beans, biscuits and coffee.

One of the places in Kansas where cattle were shipped east was Abilene, which is where, from 1867 to 1871, the historic Chisholm Trail ended.

Some of the dangers, including prairie fires, injuries, rattlesnakes, Indians, cattle rustlers.

“It a hard, hot, dirty job,” Geesling said. “It was a dangerous business.”

The students learned that today, Kansas is the third largest beef-producing state, behind Texas and Nebraska.

Following the program, students toured the museum and were told that the sod house exhibit included the door from the Geeslings’ ancestors who homesteaded in Pratt County between Sawyer and Coats in the late 1800s.

“We’re the fifth and sixth generation of the Lambert Family who homesteaded in Pratt and Reno County,” Eric Geesling said.

Assisting with planning and preparations for the Kansas Day programs was Genny Schmidt, who served as Kansas Day Coordinator.

Twelve retired teachers served as tour guides over the two days and, for the occasion, all museum helpers wore western garb to set an authentic stage for the annual event.