Pieces of the 34th Starr
David Hann, Lib’ral
The Cimarron River, when it flows, is about ten miles from the southwest Kansas town of Liberal. It is not a dependable water supply for a town. However, a few springs made settlement of the area possible. When the region was settled in the 1880s, water was scarce and well owners locked their wellhouses to prevent wayfarers from watering animals and exhausting the supply. Ranchers and farmers limited the amount of water travelers could have and charged from five to ten cents per bucket, a steep price in days when $30 was a good wage.
Word quickly spread about anyone who defied the normal rationing and selling of water. The name of the men mentioned in the following account varies with the telling. One source mentions L.E. Keefer, another Seymour S. Rogers. When travelers on the Fargo Springs trail stopped at the man’s well and asked his price, he said, “Oh, just help yourself to all you want at $25 the bucketful!”
wayfarers realized the $25 figure was given in jest and replied, “Why thank
you! That’s mighty lib’ral of you, Mister.” They called the
place the “Liberal Well” and finally, simply, “Liberal.” The federal
government established the Liberal Pony Express Office at Roger’s (or Keefer’s)
ranch. Today, the site of the old well is near the intersection of
Second Street and
After quenching their thirst, visitors may go the Liberal Memorial Library and find it, figuratively an open book, one made from concrete. George Pitcher, a local architect, designed the weighty tome and Vane Higgins, a local contractor cast the concept into concrete. Higgins completed the construction of the library front in 1953.
The libraries local reference section has a bit of area history, where a visitor may be directed to local places of interest. One such place exists because of, not in spite of, Liberal’s remoteness. The dry and wide-open spaces surrounding Liberal made life difficult for travelers heading west, but met needs of the U.S. Army in World War 11.
The army needed a safe and remote place with stable weather to train bomber pilots and crews, helping to develop the flyers known as the Army Air Force, which evolved into the U.S. Air Force. Thus, `00 years or so after the U.S. Army troops were sent to fight Indians and keep Spain at bay, the army returned. Perhaps descendants of soldiers and the Indians who fought them trained, flew and together fought the Axis powers in World War 11.
The level country outside of Liberal became the Liberal Army Air Field. The facility housed a unit of the Army Air Forces Training Command and 5,493 B-24 Liberator bomber pilots earned their wings there during World War 11. That air field is now the site of the Liberal Air Museum, fourth largest general aviation museum in the United States. Its display of more than 60 aircraft spans decades of aviation history.
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