Post Rock and Barbed Wire

The Shale You Say…

Post Rock, a Kansas thing. Some of you know what post rock is and some of you might have been wondering what the heck I was talking about in my song Lost In the Graveyard recorded in 2005:

Kerosene stoves cane fishin' poles
Post rock and prairie grasses
Sun bearin' down from that western sky
Air as thick as molasses

Sometimes I'm lost in this graveyard

According to an article in Kansapedia, “In 1862 the Homestead Act opened the way for the settlement of the plains. People with varied backgrounds were drawn to the dream of relatively free land. The fact that much of central Kansas was treeless created numerous problems for early settlers. A significant problem was finding a means by which to enclose portions of the free range. The area known as ‘Post Rock Country’ stretches for approximately 200 miles from the Nebraska border on the north to Dodge City on the south. The limestone that is found here comes from the uppermost bed of the Greenhorn Formation. It was out of necessity that settlers in the late 1800s began turning back the sod and cutting posts from the layer of rock that lay underneath. By the mid-1880s limestone fence posts were in general use because of the widespread use of barbed wire.”

Post Rock and Barbed Wire.

A decade or so ago I photographed a couple long-ago abandoned homes that are within a mile of my homestead property in western Kansas, both made with limestone. (I was into HDR processing at the time, thus the exaggerated coloring of the photos)

As an aside, I was raised in the north section of the Flint Hills which were formed by the erosion of Permian-age limestones and shales. Big and little bluestem, switch grass, and Indian grass are the main native grasses there and it is the last sizable remnant of a tall grass prairie that once stretched across a vast swath of North America. Because of the prevalence of limestone in the area many buildings in Manhattan, Junction City, and Fort Riley were built with the manageable and adaptable material. When my parents moved us to Manhattan from Riley in 1970 we lived in a two-story limestone house at 9th and Moro. I was in heaven.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I started to travel quite a bit to central-western Kansas, due to my first marriage, that I started seeing the amazing fences…and then to discover that many of the posts were carved with faces! Here are a couple images I shot in the early 80s.

Most of the faces were carved by a dentist turned carver, Fred Whitman, after a bad back ended his dental career. Many of his posts are still in the original locations and some are now at the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas. Read more about them in the blog Vagary Vagabond.

The Post Rock Scenic Byway is an 18-20 mile stretch that showcases the weathered bedrock over the rolling Smoky Hills, connecting the towns of Lucas and Wilson just west of Salina. And if you really want to get all nerdy and roadside attraction-y about it, check out the Post Rock Museum in La Crosse, Kansas. And if that weren’t enough, and to go hand-in-hand, check out the Barbed Wire Museum, also in La Crosse! Damn! Who said Kansas was boring?

Which leads us to Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, the PBS series produced and shot by three Lawrence, Kansas guys, who tooled around in a van looking for the oddest shit they could find. Shown widely in the mid-90s, the boys summed it up by saying, “Along the way, we mix in the odd and the unusual; the roadside attractions that we like to say ‘your father would never stop the car for,’ making a show not only about art, but one that we believe celebrates human creativity.“

(L-R) Don Mayberger, Theresa Disney, Mike Murphy, and Randy Mason (seated)

Check out Episode 101: Kansas where you’ll find segments on both Post Rock Country (19:30) and the Barbed Wire Museum (20:00).

I’m hoping for a trip back to my home state sometime this year or in 2022. I need to smell some prairie grass!

And now, wisdom in cartoon form…