Well, I’ve been in St. Louis for a week and it has been enjoyable. Of course, having a base of operations complete with secure parking for the bike is a plus. I’ve visited five shops, all with unique personalities and located less than thirty minutes apart. There is a thriving bike scene in this city.
The Mungenast Museum with its 350 plus machines, is easily my favorite. When I walked into the main display room, complete with rustic brick walls and rough concrete floors with a drip of oil here and there, it was like being transported back in time. When I saw my first real motorcycle, a 1972 Suzuki 90, I knew I was there. The motocross room likewise stirred powerful memories in the form of a 1973 Suzuki TM125, my first real moto crosser, and a bike I broke my leg on. Good Times.
The Moto Museum complex was no slouch, either. Divided into three segments including a KTM/ Ducati/Triumph dealership, the Triumph Bar and Grille, and the museum itself where dozens of expertly restored, rare machines are presented in professionally constructed settings.
Motorcycle Classics was a different animal altogether. More of a resto/export operation, there are likewise dozens of unique machines on display/sale. The owner Mike, an Australian, is a real character, and I mean that in a good way. Once again, this shop carries the back-alley flavor that has been all but purged from modern facilities.
Flying Tigers is another combo type of operation. A Moto Guzi/Royal Enfield/Genuine Scooter dealership, they likewise repair many makes and models. Head honcho, Eric, also likes to showcase a creative flair. Currently, a new Guzzi is under the knife, and will serve as a giveaway bike for Rebel Yell Bourbon to be delivered at Sturgis this August. Another Rebel Yell commissioned machine, a 2005 Kawasaki ZRX 1200, currently graces the showroom floor. The craftsmanship on both bikes is outstanding.
We’ll wrap up our quick tour of Saint Louis with one of the oldest dealers in the area, Donelson Cycle. A Yamaha/Ducati/Triumph/Honda shop, they also have an impressive selection of gear. For example, the Alpinestars boots I purchased from Amazon recently are in stock and available to try on before buying. To most of the shops in my Beautiful Northwest Indiana home, this is an alien concept. Donelson also contains another gem, a fantastic collection of vintage dirt track machines and memorabilia, with rare, record setting bikes and the leathers the riders wore as the churned the dirt.
On a final note, I was impressed with the openness of all the shops I toured. To me, it’s kind of a big deal that they let a stranger, even one carrying an expensive camera into the back rooms of their operations. Midwestern hospitality is alive and well in Saint Louis. I’m looking forward to relocating to Missouri and being a part of the motorcycle community.
“Olathe?” The curator of the Sterling Price Museum in Keytesville, Missouri seemed puzzled. She continued. “Tony said you were going to Kansas City.” Her bewilderment, however, soon turned to mild irritation as the grandmotherly lady asked a question that was largely rhetorical: “Why, Olathe is in Kansas. . . what in the world do you want to go to Kansas for?”
The tour of the Price museum had been prearranged by a friend of the author of this paper. At the time, he served as mayor of Keytesville. Knowing the attitude of many native-born western Missourians regarding Missouri-Kansas history, he had anticipated the curator’s brusque reaction. To soften the blow, he had led her to believe that the east side of the state line was the ultimate destination when it really was on the west.
An obvious question is why one-hundred-fifty odd years after that great bloodletting also known as the American Civil War do passions such as illustrated here continue to run high? Looming large is the fact that western Missouri and eastern Kansas endured what amounted to a civil war within a civil war.
But the border war in the West was much different than what transpired on the great battlefields of the East. The body count of the former over a decade of raids and counter-raids numbered less than one thousand. This is in stark contrast to the tens of thousands killed and maimed during single battles east of the Mississippi. But there, in another seemingly contradictory circumstance; a modicum of decency and chivalry were routinely observed, at least early in the war. The border conflict was shockingly deficient in both.
In answering the question of why bitter memories linger, it is helpful to understand what transpired in Missouri and Kansas. Bleeding Kansas, as the struggle came to be known, was a classic guerrilla war. As such, it carried all the viciousness and lawlessness that the term denotes. That is, partisan groups of fighters carried on their campaigns sans uniforms and unfortunately often, rules of engagement. When uniformed government troops did get involved, they often were indistinguishable from the guerrillas, behavior wise.
Running roughly from 1854 with the opening of the Kansas-Nebraska Territory, until 1861 when Kansas achieved statehood, the struggle that ignited along the Kansas/Missouri border has been called a dress rehearsal for the Civil War. But the hostilities did not end with the larger war’s commencement. In many ways, they intensified. In large part, ratification of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its mechanism of popular sovereignty as determiner of whether the territories would be slave or free, was key in triggering the sectional conflict. This turmoil in turn influenced the initiation of the national struggle as well.
On the surface, Americans choosing their destiny at the ballot box, the heart of popular sovereignty, was as democratic a principle as one could hope for. But actual implementation, combined with high stakes for the South which required an ever-expanding slave base for survival guaranteed problems. At the top of the list was the proslavery Kansas territorial government installed through fraudulent voting practices including Missourians overrunning polling places with large numbers of ineligible, that is, non-resident voters.
One of the opening scenes in the popular 1976 Clint Eastwood film, Outlaw Josey Wales, portrays the murder of Wales’ family and burning of his homestead which was located on the Missouri side of the line. The setting is shortly after the Civil War, and Wales, a former Confederate guerrilla or Bushwhacker, has laid down his arms. His new desire was to live peacefully, eschewing the violence that had dominated his life for so many years. The events described, however, prompted him to take up his guns once more to avenge his losses.
While the above is a fictional depiction from the imagination of Forrest Carter, the Cherokee-born author of Josey Wales: Gone to Texas and The Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales on which Outlaw Josey Wales was based, the brutality portrayed was all too common. Similar atrocities were repeated thousands of times on both sides of the line during Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War itself.
The raiders who attacked Wales’ family were Kansans known as “Red Legs.” They were based out of the Johnson House Hotel in the abolitionist stronghold of Lawrence, Kansas. Red Legs were a splinter group of the overall Kansas “Jayhawker” movement. These were loosely organized citizen bands that sought to punish depredations by Bushwhackers or Border Ruffians, as Kansans often referred to Missourians. They were in effect the Missourian’s Kansas counterpart. Both iterations, whether from Missouri or Kansas, often devolved into common banditry under the cover righting wrongs.
The Red Legs were different from most border operatives in that they nominally operated under governmental authority. They were not, however, subject to standard military protocols. Donald L. Gilmore in Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border quotes historian Stephen Starr: “The Red Legs were not the kind of military body that keeps records and makes reports. . . they stole, robbed, burned and killed indiscriminately. . .” Gilmore also quotes Kansas historian William Elsey Connelly as to their origin: “. . . they were organized by Generals Thomas Ewing Jr. and James G. Blunt for ‘desperate service along the border [and] received usually the salary of a commissioned officer whose uniform they were authorized to wear. Once they were formed, however, they became ‘fatherless children.’” Gilmore adds, neither general wished to own them officially. One notable Red Leg, William H. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, admitted “We were the biggest gang of thieves on record.”
James Henry Lane, or General Lane, as liked to call himself courtesy of a dubious commission from the governor of his native Indiana, served as overall commander of forces in eastern Kansas, or what was sometimes called “Lane’s Brigade.” Forming military organizations within a given state or territory was normally the prerogative of the governor. Lane, however, circumvented this convention by using his connections within President Abraham Lincoln’s administration. During the war Lane was a close advisor to Lincoln, serving as his liaison in Kansas, and securing a brigadier general commission as a result. Lincoln for his part was trying to hold the Union together. Having a man such as Lane on the far-flung frontier, while lacking scruples, nevertheless proved useful to the beleaguered president.
The relationship with Lincoln was something Lane fully capitalized on to advance his political career, along with his wealth. He would rise to the office of United States Senator when Kansas achieved statehood in 1861. However, after the war Lane’s fortunes faded. Criticized by Kansans for failing to represent interests that they felt were being threatened by President Andrew Johnson, and under investigation for war contract profiteering, a despondent Lane took his own life on July 1, 1866.
Historian Albert Castel, in A Frontier State at War: Kansas 1861-1865, gives a rundown of the various classes of fighters on the Kansas side of the line. A key point to remember is while lumped together in the broad category, many Kansans recoiled when called “abolitionist.” Castel explains that while they were anti-slavery, they were also “anti-Negro” in that they wanted a Kansas free of Africans altogether and the competition for jobs and resources their influx would entail. Economic self-preservation, then, was their motivation in their struggle for a free Kansas rather than altruistic goals. Nicole Etcheson clarifies the typical emigrant attitude: “Many Midwestern settlers . . . possessed an agnostic position on slavery in the territories: they disliked competition with slave labor about as much as they did abolitionist moralizing.”
There were also emigrants sponsored by anti-slavery institutions such as the New England Emigrant Aid Company. These organizations understood how popular sovereignty worked and planned to populate the territory with men who would help defeat slavery at the polls. Still, according to Nicole Etcheson, even among New England Emigrant Aid Company clients, “. . . only a minority of northern settlers came to Kansas with strong, moral positions against slavery.”
Albert Castel identifies another group that would fall into the radical abolitionist category, nevertheless, their motivation should also be examined. Men such as Ohio born James Montgomery and New York bred Charles “Doc” Jennison, were fanatical in their hatred of not only slavery, but also Missourians who they referred to as “poor white trash” who came from “an exceedingly dark place.” Once the war started the term “sesesh,” slang for secessionist was a preferred handle. This assessment, however, runs counter to the fact the Missouri never seceded and while there were large numbers of pro-Confederate citizens, there were many who identified as pro-Union as well. But whichever moniker was applied, the attitudes represented doubtless did much to elevate tensions that were already high to begin with.
As for what Montgomery, Jennison and their type promoted, plunder would be at the top of the list, with their cross-border Jayhawking enterprises bringing in substantial amounts of booty. Their followers, young men mostly, tended to have similar anti-slavery, pro-looting tendencies. overall, the Jayhawkers created many problems for territorial and Federal authorities charged with containing hostilities on the frontier.
The payoff of a truly free Kansas, one formed by the melding of those who sought economic freedom for whites by excluding blacks, with the small number who labored specifically for black’s benefit would be a long time coming, decades in fact. According to Nicole Etcheson, Kansas of the 1880s would become a prime journey’s end for “Exodusters,” or Southern blacks fleeing the oppression of Jim Crow. While a far from perfect destination, one refugee from Louisiana observed of Kansas “They do not kill Negros here for voting.”
When discussing Kansas and radical abolitionism, John Brown must be addressed. Doing him justice could easily fill a paper, but due to space constraints only a brief explanation of his exploits and attitudes are included here.
Born in Connecticut in 1800, Brown’s uncompromising fundamentalist Calvinist faith worked to instill a visceral hatred of slavery in him. He considered the institution an affront to God’s laws and something that must be destroyed by any means necessary. At the same time, Brown was devoid of the prevailing racist attitudes. For example, he helped found a community for free blacks in North Elba, New York, and lived among them. When deciding on what action to take regarding the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, he consulted his neighbors, saying “. . . they had a right to vote, as to the course I take.” This was a rare position for a white man to take in the 1850s. Brown’s acceptance of all men extended beyond the black race and towards Native Americans as well, of whom he wrote: “Some persons seemed disposed to quarrel with the Indians. But I never was.”
Browns attitudes were also different from those of late-to-the-movement abolitionist Abraham Lincoln, who for a time embraced colonization, or returning freedmen to Africa. Lincoln predicted slavery might die a natural death by 1890 or 1900. He also held that whites and blacks could never live in harmony together. Brown on the other hand, called for immediate emancipation from the beginning. Regarding John Brown, Lincoln repudiated his propensity for violence while at the same time praising his courage remarking “even though Brown is with us in thinking slavery wrong, that cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason.”
Brown is routinely credited with escalating violence on the Kansas-Missouri border in 1856. Arguably, his most notorious act was the murder of five pro-slavery settlers on Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 25, 1856. His intention was to put Slave Power in Kansas on notice that there were Northerners that would do more than talk. He achieved his goal. Conversely, a year later he felt Kansas too peaceful after Free State forces gained control of the legislature. This was nominally what Brown set out to accomplish when he followed five of his sons there in the fall of 1855. His exploits during the spring and summer of 1856 and again in the summer of 1857, included several para-military operations and numerous “slave liberation” actions in Missouri. These incursions were often used by Missourians to justify their own cross-border forays into Kansas.
While Brown was not averse to taking the property of slave holders, he did not appropriate it for personal gain, but as spoils of war to be applied to the cause of slave liberation. Reinforcing Brown’s claim was the fact he often resembled a pauper. The New York Tribune’s reporter James Redpath served as Brown’s first biographer. Upon their initial meeting at Brown’s bush camp in Kansas, Redpath observed “A week’s worth of white beard bristled on his craggy face, his clothes were soiled, and toes protruded from his worn boots.” 
Brown’s attitude towards property theft could be viewed as a nuanced, but nevertheless significantly different from Jennison, Montgomery, and even James Lane who had no problem with personal enrichment as a side benefit of their anti-slavery work. Conversely, when it suited Brown’s purposes he at various times formed alliances with them. Still, even Jennison eventually came to view Brown’s methods as overly reckless. This was the case on a joint raid when he had to dissuade Brown from burning a town out.
Ultimately, Brown saw the conflict in Kansas and Missouri as a stepping stone to an invasion of the South, a strike the heart of Slave Power. Nevertheless, his take-over of the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, which he hoped would spur a massive slave insurrection, was a tactical failure. Strategically, however, the heavily-publicized trial that followed provided a national platform to air his ideology on abolition, influencing fence-sitting Northerners, and terrifying Southerners who believed an army of Browns and their slave allies would appear at any minute. Ironically, it was in large part Abraham Lincoln in his role as Commander-in-Chief who fulfilled Brown’s prophecy that America would not be purged of slavery but with much blood.
Far from dying down with the onset of hostilities on a national level, many of the factions that had faced off against each other in the Missouri woodlands and on the Kansas prairies, simply continued fighting. Often settling old scores was as much of a motivation as rending or preserving the Union. There was after all relatively little in the way of law and order on the frontier. In some ways, the squabbles were reminiscent of those that occurred in the backwater areas during and after the American Revolution.
Federal authorities while frustrated by the Jayhawker’s activities, not to mention those of Brown who had a price on his head courtesy of President Pierce, caused many of their own problems, the Red Legs notwithstanding. Thomas Goodrich explains the dilemma the government faced. “Union Troops assigned to the western border quickly realized that their war was not just with a shadowy foe in the bush but with the people themselves, the vast majority whom secretly aided in one form or another the Confederate irregulars.”
Early in 1863 it became apparent that the women of western Missouri were prime offenders with respect to suppling the guerrillas with food, clothing and ammunition. Border commander General Thomas Ewing’s solution was to round up suspected troublemakers and confine them in makeshift prisons in and around Kansas City. One such facility was of dubious construction and further compromised by Union troops who removed support columns in the basement to free up space for more prisoners. The structure subsequently collapsed on August 13th killing four women and maiming many more. One of them, a teenager named Jenny, had been “shackled to a bed and suffered broken legs, lacerations, and a back injury.” She was the youngest sister of William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson. Anderson would go on to become one of the most vicious guerrilla leaders the state ever produced.
In a bit of irony, or perhaps artistic inspiration, the ruined structure described above was owned by a man named George Caleb Bingham, a Missouri artist. His famous painting, “General Order No.11” which depicted the expulsion of Missourians from their property prior to it being burned, has been criticized as sensationalizing the conditions present. Nevertheless, Bingham’s work was utilized as an effective propaganda tool by pro-Confederate operatives to call attention to Union excesses on the border.
As can be expected, outrages such as the prison debacle along with the general heavy-handed treatment dealt out by the Army played a significant role in motivating the young men who went on to form the bulk of the Missouri guerrilla contingent. Thomas Goodrich in Black Flag: Guerrilla Warfare on the Western Border, 1861-1865 tells of the exploits of one such young man, twenty-four-year-old guerrilla chieftain William Quantrill. His August 21, 1863 invasion of Lawrence, Kansas featured over 400 guerrillas. The attack was motivated in large part by the prison collapse eight days earlier.
William H. Gregg, Quantrill’s second in command, issued the grim orders for the day: “Give the Kansas people a taste of what the Missourian has suffered at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawkers. . . Kill, kill and you will make no mistake. To that end, the guerrillas often carried “death lists,” names of men marked for that fate. Individuals so targeted were thought to be abolitionist leaders, involved in Jayhawking, or Red Legs, or a combination of the three offences. One notable example is Senator Jim Lane. Once the attack commenced, Lane fled for his life into a nearby cornfield wearing only a nightshirt and leaving his wife to confront the mob of angry guerrillas.
To his credit, and fortunately for Mrs. Lane, Quantrill did not target women and children. Perhaps this was in deference to the shabby treatment the women of Missouri had suffered. Nevertheless, the raid resulted in more than one hundred and fifty Lawrence men dead, and roughly $2.5 million in property destroyed or damaged. The Johnson House Hotel, haven of the Red Legs as previously mentioned, was one of the first structures targeted. The mayhem was accomplished at the loss of but a handful of guerrillas, with bulk of Quantrill’s force slipping across the border to the safety of the Missouri woodlands.
Quantrill’s Lawrence attack of August 21, 1863, was the final, and most devastating in a lengthy series that extended to the opening days of Bleeding Kansas. Predictably, Federal response was severe. General Orders No.11 signed on August 25th by General Ewing forced roughly 20,000 people to vacate the four northcentral Missouri border counties within fifteen days. Ewing’s men then set out burning hundreds of houses as they laid waste to the countryside. Missourians that had not evacuated and had the bad luck of encountering them, or worse yet, Red Legs, were often killed.
Thomas Goodrich suggests “Order No.11 was perhaps the harshest act of the U.S. Government against its own people in American history. For obvious reasons statistics were not kept, but it is safe to assume the death toll of innocent and guilty alike was well into the hundreds and the property loss far into the millions.” Donald L. Gilmore opines that Ewing’s “draconian measures” would be termed war crimes had they occurred in the twentieth century. He adds that the Lincoln administration ignored them.
Irrespective of Order No 11, the guerrillas were far from pacified. In fact, the excesses only inflamed them further. Thomas Goodrich observes “To punish helpless and disarmed civilians was not, however, to punish well-armed and determined guerrillas.” It is notable that General Ewing was a brother-in-law of General William Tecumseh Sherman. When Sherman embarked on his March to the Sea in late 1864, his orders explicitly stated non-combatants were not to be harmed, and their property other than what was required to feed and equip the army, not molested.
Perhaps Sherman reflected on Ewing’s obvious missteps and did not want a similar blot on his legacy. Or on a practical level, possibly he recognized that the resistance of Missouri could materialize in Georgia and did not want to get bogged down in a guerrilla action of his own. Thomas Goodrich lays out that bleak situation where, “. . . the Federal solider of Missouri found himself trudging afoot through sucking black mud in fetid, dense jungles, fighting off swarms of mosquitoes and flies, hunting an elusive, deadly adversary that refused to come out and be killed.”
Regardless of Federal operations to stymie guerrilla organizations, the number of young men from Missouri who decided to “take to the bush” grew ever larger. More likely, though, it was a result of the government’s punitive actions. Along with high profile leaders like Quantrill and Anderson, other notables such as Frank James signed on with Quantrill at sixteen, following his brother Jesse’s lead. The James boy’s motivation was the torture of their stepfather by Union militia along with the imprisonment of their mother and sister. Cole and Jim Younger also heeded the call of the bush. Once again, persecution of family provided the instigation; Cole had been pro-Union prior to Jayhawkers burning his home and killing his father.
Bloody Bill Anderson, as previously noted, had a sister who was maimed while in Federal custody. This tragedy undoubtedly fueled the rage that drove him to eclipse even William Quantrill in viciousness. Ironically, Anderson’s gang was called the “Kansas First Guerrillas” owing to his claim that most of the members were Kansans. Another contradiction in Anderson’s life, was as opposed to the coarse, weathered appearance many guerrillas, or even John Brown for that matter projected, his was that of refinement. Thomas Goodrich provides one Federal officer’s description of Anderson:
He had four revolvers buckled around him and two very large ones across his saddle. He was well dressed with rich clothing: had on a white wool hat- with a long fine black plume in it; wore fine net undershirt and over it one of fine black cloth most elegantly embroidered on the sleeves and breast; a fine blue cloth vest; and a close bodied frock coat of excellent drab colored cassimere and pants of the same.
Almost matter-of-factly, the same Federal officer had prefaced his description of Anderson with another observation, one that belied the sophisticated appearance. It reminded the reader exactly what sort of man the guerrilla was: “Anderson rode a fine Iron Grey mare with a human scalp tied to the head stall of his bridle . . .”
George Todd, a Canadian who came to the territory at age eighteen was another young man who rose quickly in the guerrilla hierarchy through ruthlessness and violence. Albert Castel describes him as “. . .an illiterate, murderous brute, probably the cruelest of all of Quantrill’s followers and eventually supplanting him as leader.” Thomas Goodrich in Bloody Dawn: The Story of the Lawrence Massacre, describes one encounter with an unfortunate man in Olathe, Kansas in October of 1862. The incident highlights the lack of scruples on Todd’s part, and at the same time shows that irrespective of his reputation, Quantrill occasionally displayed a bit of restraint. It also illustrates how cheaply life was valued on the border.
… a raider now with Quantrill, recognized a much-hated neighbor from territorial days. He, George Todd, and several others approached the man. One of the gang baited the Kansan, and asked him where he stood politically. Proud, defiant to the end, he boldly responded he was a devout Unionist, same as always. In a twinkling Todd raised his gun, jerked the trigger, and shot him through the head. As the man’s wife and daughter screamed in horror, the old neighbor, feeling cheated, bent down, placed a pistol in the victim’s mouth, and shot him once again. Another guerrilla, angry and wild, accused the wife of being an informer and argued to kill her too. At that Quantrill quickly stepped in and threatened to shoot the bushwhacker if he didn’t calm down.
Regardless of which side of the border they represented, or even the righteousness of the cause that motivated them, or alternately, lack of the same, the violence of the guerrilla often visited them as well. Here are a few examples. William Quantrill was killed near Louisville, Kentucky by Federal guerrillas in June of 1865. Bloody Bill Anderson was shot in October of 1864 by pro-Union Missouri militia in northern Missouri, after which his head was cut off and “stuck. . .atop a telegraph pole” as warning to other guerrillas. And John Brown, the man who helped start the border carnage, was hanged by the state of Virginia in December of 1859.
Still, some of the men made it through the border wars alive and found other vocations. William H. Gregg, for example, went on to become sheriff of Jackson County, Missouri. The James and Younger boys also survived, but were now infused with a propensity for violence. Their subsequent careers were the stuff of legend and included bank and train robberies. The James-Younger gang had relatively long life as far as criminal enterprises go and attracted numerous former guerrillas as well.
What should be obvious is by and large the men who heeded the bushwhacker call consisted of average Missourians who were sucked into a vicious conflict that was determined by geography and politics. They were often supported by mothers, wives, and sisters who also saw their world turned upside down. Feeling powerless to affect change on an individual level, they banded together with like-minded friends and neighbors to resist, albeit with a large measure of futility. True, there were loot-seeking adventurers on both sides of the line. These opportunists are unfortunately present in any civil war and driven by lust for treasure as much as vengeance. But absent the heavy-handed tactics authorized by the general government, or at least actions that a blind eye was turned towards, the border conflict might not have degenerated into the savage contest that is bitterly remembered by the participants’ descendants many generations hence.
Castel, Albert. “A Frontier State at War: Kansas 1861-1865.” Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas Heritage Press, 1958.
Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt. “John Brown.” New York: International Publishers, 1909-1996.
Dupuy R.Ernest and Dupuy, Trevor N. “Sherman’s March to the Sea.” The Complete Civil War.
Eastwood, Clint director
1976 /1999 The Outlaw Josey Wales, video: Warner Brothers.
Etcheson, Nicole. “Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era.” Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2004.
Gilmore, Donald L. “Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border.” Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 2005.
Goodrich, Thomas. “Bloody Dawn: The Story of the Lawrence Massacre.” Kent, Ohio and London England: The Kent State University Press, 1991.
Goodrich, Thomas. “Guerilla Warfare on the Western Border, 1861-1865: Black Flag.” Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999.
Horwitz, Tony. “Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War.” New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011.
Oates, Stephen B. “To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown.” Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.
Reynolds, David S. “John Brown Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights.” New York: Vintage Books, 2005.
 Nicole Etcheson, Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2004), 191.
 W. E. B. Du Bois, John Brown (New York: International Publishers, 1909-1996), 103.
Far be from me to turn down a test ride on a 160 horsepower $20,000 superbike. I was in the Kansas City area just back from riding the western plains, when the Letko Cycles sign caught my eye. A couple of my riding buddies have been raving about the KTM 1290 Super Adventure. It was time see what they’re so fired up about.
Letko has been in business since 1969 and carries the full KTM line. The salesman mentioned they had an 1190 Adventure in back, ready to ride. When I told him I really wanted to check out the one with cruise, a must-have feature on my next machine- he said “no problem, I’ll just pull this new1290 off the floor.” How’s that for customer service?
The Super Adventure has the features I want in a traveling machine: 7.9 gallon tank, heated grips, tubeless laced wheels, hard bags and the all-important cruise control. I’ve always used a throttle lock and they work well on long straight runs, but throw in some rolling pavement like U.S. 36 in Kansas and my right shoulder/neck area gets tight. A set-it, forget-it electronic wrist should take care of the issue.
After I signed a waiver and was given a rundown of the controls, I was cut loose on a truly impressive motorcycle. The only real restriction was I was asked not to put the mode switch in “Sport.” This would unleash the full 135 horsepower to the rear wheel- something that needs to be worked up to. Fair enough, “Street” mode puts out something like 115 horses- not a slouch in any sense of the word.
The first thing that struck me as I gingerly pulled into traffic was the snarl from the exhaust can- positively intoxicating. There was an idiot grin under my helmet as I blipped the throttle. The seat, heated by the way, something definitely not needed in the 97 degree KC heat was plush. One thing I had been concerned about was engine heat- there was a bit on my left thigh, but nothing excessive. The bars were rotated a bit farther forward than I like, but a series of hash marks indicate they are adjustable. The heated grips, again, not tested, are of a normal diameter rather than the typical oversize aftermarket items. The windshield is large and adjustable. In short, the Austrians have designed a bike to accommodate a variety of riders.
My hour-long test included a brief blast up I-35- lots of fun, but could be hazardous to the drivers license. The balance was on surface streets in stop-and-go conditions where the high ambient temperature didn’t affect the machine in the least- the temp gauge never broke the half-way mark.
The Super Adventure carries a full complement of electronics: lean-sensitive traction control which is mode settable, ABS, again adjustable for road conditions, suspension pre-load and dampening controls, and the aforementioned power settings. The bike has all the bells and whistles. And that is my only concern. I am a bit of a Luddite and while I appreciate modern conveniences, I worry about their service life, particularly ten years down the road when the new-bike smell has worn off. The upside is much of this electronic wizardry is automotive sourced and well-proven in millions of miles of four-wheel applications.
KTM has a growing dealer network, another consideration. Alaska and Canadian provinces sport at least one dealer. But critically, the shops understand that KTM owners buy their machines to ride. Accordingly, they carry consumables like tires and brake pads- parts that can make or break an adventure. With a set of D.O.T. knobbies I can just picture myself ripping up the Canol Road in the Yukon, exhaust bellowing though the wilderness with a fuel supply sufficient to make the 288 mile round trip. Am I ready to pull the trigger and buy? I made it clear that my time-frame is 18 to 24 months out, but this machine sparks my imagination like few others. I’ll be thinking about it a lot.
I avoid taking long rides to hot places in August for obvious reasons. This year though, my goal is to do an article on north central Kansas from the Missouri to Colorado border. Since the Christian Motorcyclists Association state rally was slated for Hutchinson, pretty much in the center of the state, I figured I could meet with some like-mined riders and incorporate it into the story. It just happened to be in August.
To bone up on local lore, I’ve been reading a book, Prairy Erth, by William Least Heat-Moon, one of my favorite travel authors. As only he can do, Heat-Moon constructed a 500 plus page narrative based on one just county in Kansas, Chase. Cool, Chase county lies in the heart of another place I wanted to ride and write about, the Flint Hills. This is process of how I construct my riding stories; connecting bits of random ideas that pop into my head. Hopefully a salable piece emerges at the end.
So, I jumped on the Strom early yesterday morning and headed southwest on U.S. 50/ I-35. Like Heat-Moon, I too eschew the super slab; they’re useful to digest vast chunks of real estate, but lack character. Trouble is, many fine old routes like U.S. 50 are being supplanted by them.
I-35 turns into a toll road at Emporia, another reason to exit. Emporia also marks the entrance into the Flint Hills. I didn’t have an itinerary, but Chase County courthouse where Heat-Moon did much of his research was a must-stop. Other than that I just rode. All told, my loop of the hills covered from Eldorado in the south, to Council Grove in the north. Tally for the day was just under 400 miles, not particularly ambitious, but given it was in the upper nineties, challenging nonetheless.
Coincidentally, the previous evening I read a list of ways to make hot weather riding safer and more enjoyable, ironically on the Rider Magazine website. Of course covering all skin was a no-brainer; my Aerostich Darien suit handles that well, with vents that pass a lot of air for cooling. I also froze a couple of bottles of Gatorade and stashed them next to the camera to remind myself to hydrate. I figured I was good to go. The suggestion I didn’t heed and should have: avoid riding during the hottest part of the day. And if you do feel heat stress coming on, get to a cool place. On a bike, that last one can save you life.
Trouble is many people don’t recognize heat stress. The steel mill where I work constantly hammers away at “shared vigilance,” looking out for your co-worker under hot conditions, something my preferred ride-alone mode doesn’t allow for.
So, when I saw a sign advertising the Hays House in Council Grove, Kansas, an establishment dating from 1857 and located right on the old Sante Fe Trail to boot, I knew I had to check it out. That I wasn’t hungry didn’t enter into my thinking. After I located the place, I stumbled into a cool in more ways than one, throwback to another century. When the server asked what I’d like to drink, I forced out a barely audible “iced tea.” After four or five of them I was revived enough to take a tour of what has served as a restaurant, bar, town hall, church, hotel and host of other functions over the years. General Custer and Billy the Kid were once customers at the bar in the lower level. Lots of story material to work with.
This whole deal has got me thinking about the connection modern motor cycle riders have with horsemen from another era. In my mind’s eye, it’s not hard to see a lone cowboy strung out from a long day on the Sante Fe Trail tying his mount up, maybe to the same hitching post I parked the Strom in front of. I like that image.
For many years I rode a Harley Softail; you might say I was one of the Faithful. When I jumped to the Dark Side in 2002 with the purchase of a new Suzuki Bandit 1200, it was quite a shock to my riding buddies. With the move I begrudgingly admitted what many riders already knew: an import’s power, handling and braking was far superior to that of Milwaukee Iron. My only issue was the Bandit’s forward lean, not bad for a bike marketed as a sport-standard, but different than the relaxed posture of the FXSTC. A simple handlebar riser kit took care of the problem.
That original Bandit was ultimately totaled- another story for another day. Its eventual replacement took the form of two more Suzuki’s, 2007 models also purchased new: a Bandit 1250 and a V-Strom 1000. Those bikes each took me to Alaska in pretty much stock trim. It’s funny, but with a combined 80,000 miles on the clock I recently decided it was time to raise the bars a bit.
Since I’ve had good luck with SW-MOTECH products, I ordered two sets of their risers from Twisted Throttle, one 25mm and the other 30mm. This modest height increase assured there would be no need for longer hoses or cables. This proved to be the case on the Bandit with the installation being a ten-minute deal. I stuck with the shorter version to be on the safe side, but the roughly one inch height increase still makes for a tremendous improvement in comfort.
The V-Strom was a different story. I spent a couple of hours rerouting and adjusting cables and hoses, but in the end it was the clutch-side wiring harness that nixed the deal as it was pulled taught as bowstring at full lock. Not good. Since I’m heading for the plains of Kansas in a couple of weeks I put the stock parts back on.
The manufacturer claims 30mm or less of rise should not require anything more than minor cable/hose/wiring adjustments. But they also offer a caveat that individual machines can vary. The Strom is one of them. Thankfully, the bike was already pretty good comfort wise so I’ll just live with it.
As the Bandit has plenty of cable/wire slack, I’ll eventually swap to the 30mm units when I replace the clutch and brake hoses with longer braided versions. There should be another incremental, but useful increase in comfort with the change. Still, even with all the power, brakes and handling it will never completely replace that Harley.
Well, the semester at PNC is done and it’s time to attend to this long-neglected blog. I figured a good place to start was with a link to my latest Rider article from the May 2016 issue. The story ran pretty much as submitted. They did delete a favorite part about using my Indiana gun permit in lieu of my misplaced driver’s license when I got stopped for speeding. The officer was cool; let me go with a warning to slow down. I followed his advice, but it reminds me of an emerging pattern with my Rider pieces. In three of the articles that referenced interactions with law enforcement, all were either struck or re-worded. Hmmm, maybe the editor is trying to tell me something.
The other thing is the print version had twenty pictures while the web site only carries half as many. This was the case with my previous five stories as well. Kind of weird since paper and ink cost actual dollars and the internet is just code hanging in cyber-space. I won’t lose sleep over it, but I’ve included a few shots that didn’t even make the magazine.
It was a long day of riding and I’m tired, so here’s a short one. Plus, I’m heading for Kansas in the morning via the Pig Trail. My plan was to ride the Magazine Mountain loop, which I did. Magazine Mountain Scenic Byway is often compared to Talimena Drive. It was a stunner, but I still prefer the latter. Magazine Mountain is the highest point in Arkansas. Problem was, above 2000 feet there was so much fog I couldn’t see anything, so no stunning pictures. I did get some good ones on the way up, though.
Mount Nebo State Park was a side trip, one I almost didn’t do, but am glad I did. A Civilian Conservation Corps project from the 1930’s, the access road rises over 1200 feet in 2.5 miles with some 18% grades. Hairpin turns abound. The fog was burning off by the time I got there giving a good view of Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas One Nuclear Plant. That little 45 minute diversion is going to get a decent amount of ink in my Rider story.
One thing that has struck me on this ride is the profusion of churches and public professions of faith along the way. I feel a kinship with these people. This too I will attempt to convey in my story.
On my way back to camp I became lost in my thoughts and inattentive, net result: I was pulled over for speeding. I followed my time-honored practice of shutting down the bike and removing my helmet, they say it sets the officer at ease. I don’t know, but it generally works for me. Small problem though, I lost my license somewhere in my travels. Turns out an Indiana gun permit has all the pertinent information and will stand in for an Indiana driver’s license. Good thing our states have reciprocity. I was released with a pat on the back and warning to cool it. I shall.
I rode what I’d envisioned would be my favorite loop today, Talimena Scenic National Byway. The Ouachita’s are rather unique as far as North American mountains are concerned as they run east to west rather than the more common north to south orientation. Since the route crosses into Oklahoma, I figured I’d ride it to the end and take in the Winding Staircase region of the Oklahoma Ouachita’s. My only concern was getting a tour of the fire watch tower on Rich Mountain, the road’s highest point at around 2700 feet. I shouldn’t have worried. A helpful ranger lady drove on ahead of me and unlocked the gate. She also let her husband, who works at Mount Magazine State Park know that I’d be showing up tomorrow. I understand the ride there is every bit the equal of what I experienced today.
Since I’m supposed to be doing research, I’ll offer a critique. Arkansas is on the ball as far as promoting their roads and resources, Oklahoma, not so much. Case in point: I need maps for both states to give the Rider map artist something to work off of. I have more than half dozen for the Arkansas side; they were everywhere. Motorcycle specific guide books were plentiful as well. I asked several times in Oklahoma, finally locating a 2010 version. The Department of Agriculture station did have some slick Talimena Drive stickers and patches, so I guess that counts for something. But they need to get with the program; the real estate they manage begs to be promoted to the fullest.
I picked up this morning where I left off yesterday on Arkansas 9, just south of I-40. I had a vague plan that included riding through Hot Springs, which I did. Beyond that, my goal was to get off the beaten path and hit the roads represented by squiggly lines on map. I have to tell you, in west central Arkansas there are a bunch of them! If I had to pick a favorite though, it would be AR 246 that skirts the southern edge of the Ouachita National Forest.
While not as technical in nature as AR 16 from yesterday’s ride, AR 246 has plenty of grin producing fast sweepers bending its red tinted pavement. The other thing is smells. The Ouachita’s, like all national forests is managed by periodic logging. The scent of fresh cut pine and cedar at times was overwhelming. When considering odors though, it is obvious that livestock production is also a major activity in this part of the country. I guess you could say the pine and cedar acts as a type of air freshener.
Tomorrow I plan to ride Talimena National Scenic Byway. It is one of the best runs in the area. The forecast is for rain late in the day, so I need to get an early start as the pictures to make the story into a Rider feature are on that particular loop.
The manager at Iron Mountain told me if the weather turned bad to feel free to move my tent under the canopy. Much appreciated. I think I might spring for one of the camping cabins one night as well. The $35 fee can be chalked up to research.