Index of Lowell Manis Writings:

"A Little Off Track"

"Return with Me"

Honor Their Dreams

Letter to the Mayor (Home Page)

2015 Was a Very Good Year!

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TOPEKA, A WONDROUS PLACE

Lowell B. Manis
July 19, 2011

You cannot truly know my home town without looking back at the history it created, and try to walk in the steps of those that made that history. For a while, try and see what I see when I think, “TOPEKA."

Imagine if you will, standing at the corner of Fifth and Kansas about 1860. As you look to the south you see a vast, unending sea of prairie. Tall grass prairie, known to conceal a covered wagon as it slowly moved across this green waving ocean. Your thoughts likely would wonder, how truly endless is this quiet and beautiful landscape. Then you would think of the courage of those who moved west. Those, as true with the great oceans, saw it as a challenge just to find the other side. The way Columbus must have felt when attempting what some thought to be an endless voyage. Stories of dragons that could swallow up whole ships most have crossed the minds of those who knew not what lie ahead.

Such stories about the dangers of crossing the prairie and the bias and unfair stories told about Native Americans trying to hold on to the last parcels of their world. People traveled for weeks seeing nothing but this vast inland sea. Something that many now cross in a day, and shamefully, take little notice!

Now turn to the north, glancing east to west, you see a small portion of the resting place of our mighty Kaw River. Flowing so peaceful and quiet, you would never guess that in times like 1844, 1903, 1951 and many others it became angry and flowed from the Topeka side to the Calhoun Bluffs. A raging, killing force sweeping away nearly everything in its path. Those of us who witnessed 1951 know of what we speak.

However in its quiet times, with the hills in the distance to the north, the green fields and the trees on the bluffs in the distance; which in the mid 1800’s were logged for their walnut beams and lumber; it is a view of great peace and beauty. Today that view is well hidden under the presents of human occupation. But I still see it there, for true beauty can never be camouflaged.

And the sky! In Kansas it presents the most wondrous shades of blue with what some call “cotton ball” clouds. But it can present a most frightening darkness, with sounds that send all life to their preferred hiding place--hiding places that too often become death traps to small unprepared creatures. But that is nature in a land we believe we have tamed, but we have not! The land, the sky, the river, all rule what we think we command. We are in fact much less than what we think. But we are in and wondrous place to think it.

This spot at fifth and Kansas was considered the most advantageous location on the avenue of the new city. Therefore, the perfect location for the Topeka House, the first Hotel in Topeka. Considered my many to be an eye sore, its history was brief. But as so accurately said, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Few understand the attraction Topeka presented to America, and many other places in the world. The PR must have been better back then, or word of mouth must have been spread like wildfire in our late fall prairie. Whichever the case, it stirred and interest in many. It was even for a time called,”The Boston of the Prairie.” Never having seen Boston, I can only assume that was meant as a compliment. Even though Dr. F.L. Crane used Boston as an example of a city we did not want to look like, and he had been there. Again I would say, in the eye of the beholder.

Back to our perch at Fifth and Kansas. Looking east to southeast we would have noticed a valley, in which flows a small meandering stream with a scattering of trees along it’s banks as it worked it’s way down the gradual slope to wed with the Kaw. As does many such streams that flow into the bowl like basin in which Topeka calls home.

Having witnessed this location in the new city, and to have watched it progress from 1854 to the end of the 1800’s would have truly been a sight to behold. Buildings being built and raised in a series of moves to constantly improve ad redirect a new and vital city. Where hundreds, then thousands chose to stake a claim, build a home, and in many cases put it all on the line, knowing the price of failure was everything. These were brave people. People with convictions and determination. Where I wonder are they today?

Each day I am honored to sit in my office, in a building coming to pass within a year of the found of our fair city. Built under the direction of one of the founders of the city. A wise and noble man, that as few others, saw the path to the future and accepted the challenge that it offered. A man of principal, of courage, family, and dedication to them all. A man who placed compassion for others above his own ambitions, and love of country above his own needs. Such a man was Dr. Franklin Loomis Crane.

History is at my feet, and in my face. I walk with it. I breath it. It flows in my veins. As native Americans, I believe I am part of the earth, and one with it. This is where I was born, where my spirit walks, and where the love that flows within me wishes to be.

Next time you’re at Fifth and Kansas, or happen to make a special trip just to go there, stand for a few moments at the intersection. Don’t look at what is there now, see what it was a hundred and fifty years ago. Listen with your heart, wait for someone from that time to pass by. Feel the breeze from across the vast prairie as the breath of a mother holding her newborn child, and know this is Kansas. See what was, and think of the history that was about to unfold.

They started with a name, “TOPEKA.” A special place chosen by Cyrus K Holliday. A dream that lived in all of their hearts--a dream of a new city, a free state, and a place to make history. A history we have nearly lost to all but the dreamers. Then remember, sometimes d4eams do come true and history can be revisited. This is our city, and I will tell you now what those from our past would say: “A dream is a fire that burns with hope, kill the dream, and you lose the hope!”

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This was the way it began when settling on the prairie as a homesteader of this 140 acre farm in 1886. C.F. and Lillian Slayton built this stone house just northwest of Topeka (just south of NW 62nd and Humphrey Rd). Its is still standing, with some restoration performed. It was a temporary dwelling of these homesteaders until a wooden house just north (no longer standing) was built. The stone cabin was then used as a smoke house.