After touring the George Washington Carver National Monument, about which I wrote in the previous installment of this travel series and at which I had a chance encounter with someone who knew my uncle many years ago, I drove a few miles north to pay a quick visit to the Battle of Carthage State Historic Site.
The relatively small engagement took place on July 5, 1861, less than two months after the first shot of the War Between the States was fired at Fort Sumter. The battle was fought by the Confederate-sympathsizing Missouri State Guard, led by then-governor Claiborne F. Jackson and several Union regiments led by Union general Franz Sigel. The battle was pretty much a draw but it did serve the Confederacy in the sense that it inspired the recruitment of more soldiers for the Southern effort.
As I began to backtrack through Carthage, I made a brief stop at a church that I had seen on the way to the battlefield. By the sidewalk near the church was a sign that read, “Grace Church Bible Garden and Labyrinth.” Some liberal churches have adopted the pagan labyrinth to enhance their spiritual experience. I also passed a Vietnamese Roman Catholic monastery bearing the unbiblical name “Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix.” Underneath that title were the words “Chi Dong Dong Cong.”
I soon connected with the interstate and drove into Joplin, where I had a hotel room waiting for me. The gentleman who checked me in gave me a list of locally-owned restaurants that he recommended.
Driving north on Rangeline Road, which is a heavy commercial thoroughfare similar to Greenville’s Woodruff Road, I spotted a Golden Corral up ahead and decided to turn in there. Over the years I have dined in a number of Golden Corrals in several states – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Tennessee, Kentucky and now, Missouri, ten states altogether. That must be some kind of record.
Upon returning to the hotel I struck up a brief conversation with the personable desk attendant. I asked him about the devastating tornado that ripped through Joplin on May 22, 2011. He told me that he had been just a few miles away from it when it struck. He pulled out a Joplin street map and showed me the route it took, which was just several blocks north of the hotel. He then very graciously gave me the map. When I tried to decline, he told me that the hotel could always get more.
The next morning after partaking of the hotel’s free breakfast and checking out, I fueled up at the nearby Kum N Go gas station and drove north on Rangeline Road to my first destination of the day, Webb City, which is a suburb of Joplin. Along the way, I stopped for a minute to snap a few pictures of an “s” sign indicating that the road that I was on was a part of the Historic Route 66 made famous by the 1960’s TV series that starred Martin Milner, George Maharis and Glenn Corbett.
My next stop was a large statue that I read about in a book called Roadside America, which describes interesting, out-of-the-way sites that would be of interest to the traveler. The statue, which depicts a pair of praying hands, was erected on a 40-foot, man-made hill right next to the highway. The hands, sculpted in 1972, stand 32 feet from the top of the hill and weigh 110 tons.
I then headed north on I-49 to the small town of Lamar to pay a brief visit to the house where our 33rd president, Harry S. Truman, was born on May 8, 1884. I knew that I would be arriving too early to take a tour of the humble abode, but that was fine with me. I was content to get a few photographs of the place and continue on my way.
Continuing north I drove a few miles to my next destination, the town of Nevada (pronounced ‘Nuh-VAY-duh.) I saw a sign for the local visitor center and pulled in. I wanted to find out where the Bushwhacker Museum was and also wanted information on any other sites of interest in the area.
The visitor center was located, or so I thought, in a multipurpose building that also contained other businesses. Walking into the building I could find no sign of a visitor center. As I walked by a real estate office, I saw through the open door a man who was talking on the phone. I waited outside his office until I could hear that he was done with his phone call. He beckoned me to come in and I told him that I was looking for the visitor center. He told me that the chamber of commerce had moved from that building. I then asked him where the museum was and he gave me directions.
Driving just two or three blocks I found the museum which is housed in the basement of the town library. I had first heard about the museum from a man named Steve Pyles whom I had met last April at Appomattox at the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender to Grant. We just happened to be seated next to each other at one of the outdoor lectures and had struck up a brief conversation about our mutual interest in history before the lecture began. He gave me a business card bearing his name and the name of the Bushwhacker Museum and invited me to come check it out if I was ever in the area.
I entered the library and walked down the steps to the basement level and was greeted by a retired man. After I paid the $5.00 admission fee he offered to show me a movie. Just about every museum and historic site that I have come across has some sort of movie or audio-visual presentation.
After watching the movie, I perused the various exhibits in the museum, which tell the story of Vernon County and especially the events and the violence that took place in the region leading up to and during the War Between the States. Many violent encounters during that period took place between the Confederate Bushwhackers and the Unionist Jayhawkers, not only in the Nevada area but throughout the Kansas and Missouri region, which resulted in the unfortunate name, “Bleeding Kansas.”
Before leaving I asked if Mr. Pyles was there. They told me that he was not there that day but that they would tell him that I had stopped by.
Next Installment – Bleeding Kansas