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Holy Ground, Healing Water

Cultural Landscapes at Waconda Lake, Kansas

Donald J. Blakeslee

Publication Year: 2010

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 between 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.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Environmental History Series


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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

List of Tables

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p. xi

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p. xiii

There is never enough room to credit all of the people who have contributed to a volume like this. Still, there are a few that I would be ashamed not to mention. They are: Bob Blasing and Bill Chada of the Bureau of Reclamation, Craig Miner from the Department of History at Wichita State University, Mary Nelson in the Special Collections at Ablah Library, ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-7

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 ...

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2. Native Americans at Waconda Lake

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pp. 8-29

The natural landscape around what is now Waconda Lake began to take form deep in geological time, long before humans came on the scene. All of the bedrock in the region is Cretaceous in age, dating to about one hundred million years ago, but within that time frame there is an east-to-west progression from older to younger deposits...

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3. Tracing the Pawnee Trail

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pp. 30-50

There once was a network of Native American trails that crisscrossed the Great Plains. These pathways in turn were a segment of a much larger web that covered the North American continent. Most of the trails were old in 1492, and features that they shared made them important to later travelers. Explorers, traders, and army expeditions all followed them, and ...

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4. The Pawnee Trail in Regional History

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pp. 51-88

The far- reaching influence that native trails have exerted on the course of the history of the continent has gone largely unrecognized. The truth is that European settlers entered a landscape that had been modified for millennia by Native Americans. That landscape affected much of their behavior from the time that Pilgrims in Massachusetts...

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5. Holy Ground

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pp. 89-112

In this chapter, we will be examining a kind of geography for which our modern, mostly secular lives do not prepare us. It is a geography based on a very different cosmology than ours, and it is a geography in which features of the landscape have varying degrees of sacredness and morals to teach. This is not to say that we do not have our own sacred places, but ...

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6. Creating the Post Rock Landscape

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pp. 113-157

Warfare was an occasional part of life in this part of the world for at least two thousand years. During Solomon River phase times, raiding seems to have been a part of life all across the central Plains. Scalping marks and club wounds on skulls, decapitation, and trophies made from skulls are found.1 And in the succeeding Oneota expansion, warfare seems to have ...

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7. Healing Water

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pp. 158-182

Attempts at Euro- American settlement of the Glen Elder area began in the 1860s, but it was in 1870 that settlement began in earnest. In that year Charles C. DeRudio, lieutenant in command of Company G, U.S. Seventh Cavalry, under the provisions of the Preemption Act, purchased the quarter section that contained Waconda Spring for $200. He created a dugout and excavated a well there.1 As we have seen, DeRudio and his ...

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8. Lincoln Camp

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pp. 183-196

A short distance above the mouth of Oak Creek stood an enormous grove of trees from which the creek took its name. It extended from just north of the modern highway to beyond the boundaries of the federal property. After the land was homesteaded by a Mr. William Belk, the grove became known as Belk’s Grove...

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9. Perspectives

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pp. 197-198

The great transformation that has been the subject of this book started with Charles C. DeRudio (n


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pp. 199-202


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pp. 203-226


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pp. 227-230

Refernces Cited

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pp. 231-246


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pp. 247-252

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443111
E-ISBN-10: 1603443118
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442107
Print-ISBN-10: 1603442103

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 19 b&w photos. 19 maps. 3 tables.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Environmental History Series
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OCLC Number: 680622484
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Holy Ground, Healing Water

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Subject Headings

  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- Kansas -- Waconda Lake.
  • Waconda Lake (Kan.) -- Antiquities.
  • Waconda Lake (Kan.) -- History.
  • Waconda Lake (Kan.) -- Description and travel.
  • Landscape protection -- Kansas -- Waconda Lake.
  • Indians of North America -- Kansas -- Waconda Lake -- Antiquities.
  • Indians of North America -- Kansas -- Waconda Lake -- Social life and customs.
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