True Grit

stone fence posts along the back roads of Kansas

I had a chance to revisit a special part of the High Plains last week.

I was scheduled to meet with some farmers in a small Kansas town, so headed out in my truck along I-70.  I love the drive this time of year, with pastures awash in late season grasses, and farm fields filled with ripening crops.

Turning south from I-70 in west-central Kansas, I headed down a series of country roads through an open expanse on the western fringes of an area known as the Flint Hills.  This is called Stone Post Country, and alongside the road was the testament to that name. For mile after mile stood fence lines made not of wood or steel, but of bleached limestone.

There simply weren’t trees around to supply fencing material for the homesteaders who ventured out here in the late 1800’s. But beneath the thin layer of soil was solid limestone that pioneers began to use to build their homes, their barns and their barbed wire fences.

I was a bit late for my meeting, but couldn’t help pulling over and getting out of my truck to admire a stretch of these stone posts still standing tall after a likely century of use.

Running my hands along the rough edges of one of the posts, I was overwhelmed by the sheer grit that must have been involved to coax a living from this land.

These posts weren’t installed with modern machinery. Human hands and muscle chiseled the stone from the ground, shaped it to the proper size, hauled it to a field, and placed it into hand-dug holes spaced roughly ten paces apart. On a good day, a farmer would put in about 25 of these 400 lb. posts.

Hard work doesn’t begin to describe the labor involved. The people who left their homes and farms in the east and settled in this part of Kansas must have had determination as solid as these stone posts.

Breaking new ground in agriculture has always required a lot of hard work and risk. Farmers and ranchers committed to organic agriculture and sustainable food production know that well. These silent sentinels along the back roads of Kansas stand as proof that determination and grit can build something that weathers the test of time.

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