Holy Ground, Healing Water: Cultural Landscapes at Waconda Lake, Kansas

Holy Ground, Healing Water: Cultural Landscapes at Waconda Lake, Kansas

Holy Ground, Healing Water: Cultural Landscapes at Waconda Lake, Kansas

Holy Ground, Healing Water: Cultural Landscapes at Waconda Lake, Kansas

Synopsis

Most people would not consider north central Kansas' Waconda Lake to be extraordinary. The lake, completed in 1969 by the federal Bureau of Reclamation for flood control, irrigation, and water supply purposes, sits amid a region known--when it is thought of at all--for agriculture and, perhaps to a few, as the home of "The World's Largest Ball of Twine" (in nearby Cawker City).
Yet, to the native people living in this region in the centuries before Anglo incursion, this was a place of great spiritual power and mystic significance. Waconda Spring, now beneath the waters of the lake, was held as sacred, a place where connection with the spirit world was possible. Nearby, a giant snake symbol carved into the earth by native peoples--likely the ancestors of today's Wichitas--signified a similar place of reverence and totemic power.
All that began to change on July 6, 1870, when Charles DeRudio, an officer in the 7th U.S. Cavalry who had served with George Armstrong Custer, purchased a tract on the north bank of the Solomon River--a tract that included Waconda Spring. DeRudio had little regard for the sacred properties of his acreage; instead, he viewed the mineral spring as a way to make money.
In Holy Ground, Healing Water: Cultural Landscapes at Waconda Springs, Kansas, anthropologist Donald J. Blakeslee traces the usage and attendant meanings of this area, beginning with prehistoric sites dating betweennbsp;AD 1000 and 1250 and continuing to the present day. Addressing all the sites at Waconda Lake, regardless of age or cultural affiliation, Blakeslee tells a dramatic story that looks back from the humdrum present through the romantic haze of the nineteenth century to an older landscape, one that is more wonderful by far than what the modern imagination can conceive.

Excerpt

When we face the past, we pick out from the endless string of days certain ones to mark the passing of one era and the beginning of another. Sometimes we remember the precise day—the fourth of July in 1776—sometimes just the year—1066 or 1492. I would like to offer a new date for consideration: July 6, 1870. On that day, a Mr. Charles DeRudio paid two hundred dollars to the clerk in the land office in Junction City, Kansas, and under the provisions of the Preemption Act, he obtained ownership of the SE1/4 Section 25, Township 6 South, Range 10 West. This is on the north bank of the Solomon River in north-central Kansas.

On the face of it, this was a very mundane event. Settlers from all over the eastern United States and from a growing number of European countries had been obtaining title to land in the West for decades. and it was not unusual for someone to pay the two hundred dollars; the Preemption Act had been around for nearly three decades by the time Mr. DeRudio laid down his cash. By 1870, claims under the Homestead Act were certainly more common, as they required cash payments of only nineteen dollars. Instead, the claimant had to live on and work the land for five years, making improvements to it.

When we look more closely at the date, the significance of the exchange becomes clearer. Euro-Americans had been trying to settle the area around Mr. DeRudio’s land since 1864. But natives of the region, Pawnees and then Cheyennes, Arapahos and Sioux, defended their territory fiercely. the years 1867 and 1868 had seen raids on the Saline, Solomon and Republican rivers, in which some settlers were killed, others kidnapped, their cabins burned and their livestock slain or taken. After 1870, however, raids were reduced to isolated nuisances, and natives were no longer an enemy to be feared but a rarity and the subject, when seen, of idle curiosity.

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