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Johnny Kaw: The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas / Jerri Garretson ;
illustrated by Diane Dollar. -- 1st ed.
Summary: Larger-than-life Johnny Kaw creates the land of Kansas by lopping off the tops of hills, digging the riverbeds, planting wheat, and creating the pioneer trails.
Originally Printed in Manhattan, Kansas by Ag Press.
The Pioneer Spirit of Kansas
Johnny Kaw was a mite big for his age from the get-go, but when his pioneer family lit out West and crossed into Kansas, something in that invigorating prairie air had a powerful effect on the boy.
ÔTwarnÕt more than a few miles past Westport when he was towering over that prairie schooner and getting mighty impatient with the slow old oxen. He figured on pulling his family west faster himself, so he unhitched the beasts and turned them loose. He dragged that wagon behind him so fast, and he took so many detours to see the sights, he dug the crooked Kaw River valley a broad scratch out to the west.
He had a mind to settle down in Kansas. His pappy had talked it up fine. Why, here was all this farm land, already cleared of trees by some logger name of Paul Bunyan. It was just waiting for the likes of an industrious young feller to level things out a bit and break the sod. Johnny hacked down a mighty cottonwood and fashioned himself a giant hoe and a grand scythe. With his powerful arm, one swing of the scythe would lop the top off a hill and flatten it out just dandy.
He took a trip out to the southwest to visit Finn McCool and made him a deal. HeÕd help dig that big ditch Finn was workinÕ on, the Grand Canyon, if he could haul the dug up soil and rock back to Kansas. Spread out on the land it made some fine planting fields, and the rock he piled up to form the Rocky Mountains. After that, didnÕt take long but what heÕd smoothed the land clear to those peaks and planted it with wheat.
Word got around, even to Paul Bunyan way up in the north, and he came snooping around to see what had become of the land he had cleared. OlÕ Paul wasnÕt too careful, though, and after he trampled down several acres of JohnnyÕs wheat fields, Johnny had just about enough. Why, he chased that logger clear to the Gulf of Mexico and then used his big nose to plow the Mississippi River bed.
When he got done, he felt sorry for the rascal and gave him a gift to make up. He found that ox heÕd unhitched so he could pull the wagon and gave him to Paul, and thatÕs how Paul got Babe, the Big Blue Ox. You can bet Paul kept hisself out of Kansas after that escapade.
Johnny was such a splendiferous farmer, raising all that wheat, that he had a bit of trouble getting it all to market. WarnÕt no railroads in those days, so the big feller had to drag the monstrous sacks all across the state, and thatÕs how the pioneer trails got a start. Some of the heaviest used ones were the Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail and the Chisholm Trail. Thousands of wagons and horses and oxen passed along them on their way across JohnnyÕs Kansas plain.
Now, Johnny liked pets as much as the next feller but Kansas wasnÕt exactly well stocked with tame little kitties. He had to find himself something that thrived on the local landscape. Out in the wheat field one day he came across a strange little hawk that had taken a first flight and got itself plumb tuckered out. ItÕs blue feathers were bedraggled and itÕs red topknot was drooping. Johnny named him Jay and scooped him up and took him home to his soddy. After some of JohnnyÕs doctoring, that Jayhawk perked right up and followed Johnny everywhere. ÔTwarnÕt long before folks took to calling Kansas the Jayhawk state.
BeinÕ a farmer, Johnny liked to experiment with new growing methods. Wheat was his main crop, but he liked a dish of dandelion greens for lunch now and then, and the durn plants were just too small. Johnny reasoned that if sunshine made plants grow, and Kansas had plenty of it, a hefty dose of the stuff might encourage some dandelions to sprout up a bit. He bottled up several gallons of concentrated sunshine and one night he dipped some dandelion roots in it.
Those plants took out toward the sky like they was running a race. In no time at all, they were fifteen, twenty feet tall, and thatÕs how the Kansas sunflowers got started. But somehow, those greens just didnÕt have the dandelion taste. Johnny let Ôem be and figured they was just weeds in the way of his wheat after that.
Tangled in the weed patch, he found a Kansas kitty, a real wild bobcat. He took that critter home with him, too. He turned out to be the best fishing companion a man could have.
Johnny took Bob fishing whenever he got the chance. His favorite fish was a new species heÕd created by scrubbing all the scales off. Bob would catch Ôem with a swipe of his paw and a pounce after Johnny stirred up the mud in the river so the fish would have to come up for a breath of fresh air. ThatÕs how JohnnyÕs new scaleless fish came to be called catfish.
JohnnyÕs two pets were best friends, but the jayhawk and the wildcat didnÕt always get along. Sometimes theyÕd get in a scrap and raise dust all over the plains, and thatÕs when folks started complaining about that part of the country being the Dust Bowl. To this day in Kansas, the jayhawks and the wildcats enjoy a friendly scuffle.
It was just as easy for Johnny to settle them down as it was for him to get rid of those pesky tornadoes. No one had to worry about them in JohnnyÕs day. Why, if one of those funnel clouds showed up, Johnny just took his sickle and sliced off the spout and everyone enjoyed a nice bit of rain.
If things dried out and no whirlwinds were in sight, Johnny just reached up and grabbed a cloud and wrung it out like a dishcloth, or took his big hoe and nicked holes in a few clouds till the rain came down.
Big as he was, Johnny loved to eat, and all that rain and sunshine on his good Grand Canyon soil made things grow to a mighty impressive size. His potatoes would have won the size contest at any state fair.
When that tall tale cowboy from Texas, Pecos Bill, asked Johnny to send him 100 pounds of Kansas potatoes, ole Johnny had to tell Bill he wasnÕt going to cut one of his potatoes in half for anyone. Such a potato as that could feed a family of four for days, but Johnny was a big man with a big appetite.
His idea of a good meal wouldnÕt have included just one measly hundred pound potato. HeÕd roast several, add a side of buffalo and several side dishes.
As you might of gathered, Johnny was a right good cook, too. His favorite breakfast was a stack of wheat cakes. JohnnyÕs stack wasnÕt just some piddly pile of three little pancakes, oh, no. A stack to Johnny was more like the size of a chimney, and heÕd slather those wheel-sized flapjacks full of a gallon or so of molasses or honey.
He like nothinÕ better than to invite all the folk traveling through Kansas for a genuine pancake feed. YouÕd better believe nobody went off down the trail hungry!
What with all the cooking and the hospitality, the stupendous wheat farming and the shaping of the land and trails of Kansas, ole Johnny got to be a famous feller. Did his Ma and Pa proud.
People had a lot to thank Johnny for, seeinÕ as how their state was famous for so many things Johnny started. Some enterprising folk even put up a statue in his honor. Now that there statue is pretty near 30 feet tall, just about the size of Johnny hisself. You can see it for yourself in the City Park at Manhattan, Kansas.
Now think how youÕd measure up standing in one of his boots.
And if you get that far, youÕd just as well take a gander around the rest of the state and see JohnnyÕs handiwork. He was a big man in a big land, a hardworking pioneer, anÕ donÕt you forget it.
AuthorÕs Note I was in second grade when Manhattan celebrated its centennial in 1955. It was a grand time. I remember the pioneer costumes, which we wore to school and saw around town. Many men grew beards for the beard contest. There was a terrific celebration in the City Park. I ate a buffalo burger, which impressed me mightily. My second grade teacher, Miss Velma Lambotte, had us churning butter, baking bread, and learning about pioneer life. And the story of Johnny Kaw was born.
Johnny Kaw was created by Dr. George A. Filinger for the Manhattan centennial. His Johnny Kaw stories were originally published in the Manhattan Mercury, the local newspaper. Dr. Filinger self-published the stories in a booklet, The Story of Johnny Kaw, illustrated by Elmer J. Tomasch of the Kansas State University Art Department. He published a revised edition in 1969 which included the account of the creation of the giant statue. There had been three small statues of Johnny, beginning with the centennial model in 1955, sculpted by Mrs. Walter OÕNeill. This one was displayed during the centennial but was beheaded by vandals, then moved to a farm, where a wagon backed over it. The first model for the giant statue was sculpted by J. Cranston Heintzelman of the KSU Art Department. The drawings and design for the statue actually constructed were made by Elmer Tomasch. Each portrayed a different vision of Johnny. One of the models is at the Riley County Historical Museum and another is at the Agricultural Hall of Fame at Bonner Springs, Kansas.
The statue now in the Manhattan City Park was completed and dedicated in May 1966. It was the culmination of a dream for George Filinger, a dream aided by Dr. E. J. Frick and the Park Board, and the Community Johnny Kaw Boosters (Frank Anneberg, C.C. Brewer, Bill Colvin, Dave Dallas, Bill Farrell, Lud Fiser, Jack Goldstein, Lowell Jack, O.W. Kershaw, Hurst Majors, and J. Robert Wilson). The statue was erected at no cost to the city. Two local businessmen donated the steel and concrete; other businesses gave materials or reduced bills, and donations were solicited to pay for construction. The group hoped that the statue would establish Johnny Kaw as a local legend and prove to be a tourist attraction. William Stewart, Dr. TomaschÕs graduate assistant, supervised the construction. Glenn C. Klimek and his son Paul did the plaster and finishing work.
When I returned to live in Manhattan in 1992, Johnny Kaw was part of my Manhattan lore, but I discovered that few Manhattanites, let alone visitors, had any idea who the big fellow was. Many people thought the statue was Paul Bunyan and wondered what he was doing in Kansas. Tall tale characters like Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and Finn McCool are perennially popular, yet here in town was a tall tale fellow who created Kansas and there werenÕt any childrenÕs books to introduce him. Dr. FilingerÕs book is available at Manhattan Public Library and at the Riley County Historical Museum library but it is long out of print, and his stories were written for adults.
I thought it would be fun to create a book about Johnny for children. When I approached Diane Dollar with the idea, she was enthusiastic about illustrating it. In order to make it a cohesive text short enough for a childrenÕs picture book, I left out the details about JohnnyÕs family, the Kawmandokansans, which included his parents and brother Jim and sister Carrie, and I attributed some of JimÕs deeds to him. George FilingerÕs book tells much more about JohnnyÕs exploits in creating the Kansas we know, JohnnyÕs politics, and even how he invented the game of golf. I hope you will find time to read it. We wish JohnnyÕs original creators could be here to share this version.
The Creators of Johnny Kaw
Dr. George Filinger Records at Kansas State University and Riley County Historical Museum note that George Filinger was born on a farm near Munden, Nebraska on April 23, 1897. However, a member of the Munden, Kansas community wrote to Jerri Garretson that this is incorrect and that he was born near Munden, Kansas.
Dr. Filinger was a member of the Kansas State University faculty from 1931 to 1966, serving as a professor of horticulture. He had a strong interest in tall tale characters and created Johnny Kaw Òfor funÓ to help publicize the Manhattan, Kansas centennial in 1955. Dr. Filinger worked to promote Johnny throughout the rest of his life, expressing the wish that the stories of JohnnyÕs exploits not be forgotten at the end of the centennial. Filinger died in 1978.
Professor Elmer J. Tomasch Elmer Tomasch, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, was born November 16, 1914. He joined the Kansas State University Art Department in 1947. His work was exhibited in both group and one-man shows and is found in private and museum collections. He had a lifelong interest in portraying the solidity and mass of the human figure, and this is reflected in his monumental illustrations of Johnny Kaw. Professor Tomasch died in 1977.
The Creators of this Book
Jerri Garretson Jerri Garretson started Ravenstone Press as a vehicle to publish a Johnny Kaw story for children. Her writing for children had been published in magazines such as Highlights for Children, Child Life, The Friend, and others. Jerri was the childrenÕs librarian for Manhattan (Kansas) Public Library at the time. Since the original publication of the book, she has authored five more books and contributed to two more. She now lives in Florida.
Diane Dollar Diane Dollar was an Assistant Professor of Art at Kansas State University when she created the illustrations for Johnny Kaw. She has since retired and lives in Manhattan, Kansas. Her childrenÕs publishing credits include the illustrations for WhatÕs Under That Rock by Stephen M. Hoffman, Space Baby, written and illustrated by Diane, and the Kansas childrenÕs summer reading program art for 1998.