#139y Nicodemus, Kansas: Built by Exodusters

Fleeter Log #139y
Nicodemus, Kansas: Built by Exodusters 
and Center of the USA

Day 31 - Friday
May 15, 2009
250 miles

Denver CO to Colby KS

The morning found me sleeping in while the GS received some tender, lovin' care at the hands of a trained BMW technician at Foothills BMW of Denver. The world is obviously happier when we all stick to doing what we do best and letting others take care of what they do best. I do a pretty good job of putting fleetering miles on my motorcycles and the trained technicians do a good job of making sure those motorcycles keep moving down the road. Today the techs get their turn at making this system work and I am happy keeping my pillow company.

Later, I accept a ride back to the dealership via the same shuttle service as yesterday and spend the early afternoon perusing the sales floor for anything I might feel an urgent need to latch onto. There are numerous temptations, but nothing I feel that I can't live without. By the time the GS is ready to be returned to my custody (after payment of a small service bill, of course), it's 3:00pm and I'm getting itchy to get back on the road.

Since today will be less than half a day in the saddle and I still want to get deep into Kansas before stopping for the night, I will spend today's miles rolling straight east on the I70. This freeway through the eastern part of Colorado does not offer near the exciting adventure as found in the western part of the state and I didn't take the time to stop and socialize. About the only interaction I had today was with this admirer in the dirty jeep. You could tell by the expression I got through the window, that even dogs can appreciate a good road trip. This is the exact look that I normally get from kids in backseats -- part curiosity and part "I want to do that when I grow up!"

Nightfall found me stopping in Colby, Kansas. After spotting the Quality Inn, I decide to take care of fueling up and looking for a place to refuel me. I see the hotel has an in-house Mexican food restaurant -- El Dos De Oros -- and I notice a lot of locals coming in to eat. That was my clue that my best choice for supper is probably right here under my nose. So I finished the checking in process, then followed the flow toward the chips and salsa.

Day 32 - Saturday
May 16, 2009
410 miles

Colby KS to Omaha NE

Time to get this roadshow back on the road . . . back scenic roads that is. I don't even look in the direction of the freeway (except to clear traffic) when I head into downtown Colby to connect to US24. I took time for the breakfast spread at the hotel and still got on the road at 7am. I was anxious to be back on the backroads and wanted to be fueled for the day. Eighty miles of surfing the flat plains later, I come to my first stop and history lesson. 

Nicodemus, Kansas was established in 1877 at the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction. The newly established community was billed as the "Western Eden" where the climate was always like a pleasant spring day with plenty of wild game, and wild horses just waiting to be tamed. The hospitality of the plains of Kansas (home of the Free-State Party) was greatly exaggerated since it was portrayed as the Great Promised Land when heavily promoted to the black refugees of the Deep South. Printed circulars, inviting the "Colored People of the United States" to come and settle in the "Great Solomon Valley," were aggressively distributed throughout Kentucky and Tennessee.

The recruitment efforts were successful as several groups, known as Exodusters, became a part of the great Exodus to Kansas and arrived in Nicodemus between 1877 and 1879. By 1880, the population of Nicodemus was almost 500. The community supported a bank, two hotels, three churches, a newspaper, a drug store, three general stores, even a baseball team and swelled to a population of 700. However, many of the Exodusters were so disillusioned by the reality of the starkness of the land that they packed up and made the long trip back to the east after their first winter on the plains. Making a life on the plains of Kansas was not the easy task that was portrayed in the recruitment efforts, but the ex-slaves were tough folks that wanted to make a new life for themselves away from the war torn and prejudiced south. Most of them felt that the effort required to survive in this harsh environment would be worth it to create a new life for themselves and their families though the homesteading opportunities available to the Exodusters.

In 1887, the thriving town of Nicodemus took on debt as the townspeople made a great effort to attract the Union Pacific Railroad to pass through the community, but an agreement could not be reached. The railroad missed Nicodemus by 6 miles and a river. This left the prosperous and growing town stranded and isolated. It was the beginning of the decline of Nicodemus and the town never recovered. Then came the Great Depression and the droughts of the early 1930s. When the infamous Dust Bowl of 1935 came it doomed the town and the population dropped to 76 and has been in decline ever since. The last reported census (2000) shows a population of 52, but today's unofficial population has dropped to 20 residents.

Today, Nicodemus is the only remaining All Black Town West of the Mississippi and is recognized as a National Historic Site. The last weekend in July is Homecoming Weekend where the numbers will swell to several hundred for the event. Homecoming isn't just for past residents of Nicodemus, but for anyone that feels an affinity to the location or anyone wanting to honor the perseverance of Exodusters.


Leaving Nicodemus, I continued about 40 miles down US24 where I came upon a wide spot called Alton. That's my Dad's given name, so I had to stop for the photo-op.
Alton, Kansas

When I reached Downs, I turned up. US281 took me 'bout right near to the geographical Center of the US. I've ridden across this country a few times now  --  working my way East to West, West to East, finding my way to the North from the South, or working my way back South from the North. On one trip in August of 2008, I found the Exact Center of the Northern Half of the Western Hemisphere while crossing Wisconsin.

Today, I see a sign directing me to the historical Geographical Center of the USA. So, there I must go. Sign says follow highway 191 to the end. Okay, that's easy enough.
The road leading the Center of the USA!

At the end of the highway, I find the monument with a US flag flying and a sign welcoming me to the Center of the USA.

Historical Geographical Center of the USA
Oddly enough, the Crossroads of the Nation isn't much of a crossroads, but more of a T out in the middle of nowhere.

The next gem I stumble upon is the Willa Cather Roadway and Memorial Prairie.
I became a Willa Cather fan after reading "My Antonia" in high school.

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, NE

The rear tire still has some rubber, but these straight roads across the prairies of the USA are starting to show their effects by squaring off the tires. And I still need to get across Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana before I have a chance of finding new tires in the right side.
Downtown Red Cloud, Nebraska: Willa Cather referred to this area as her "happiness and her curse."
Rec Cloud, NE

Another 100 miles past Red Cloud, I make another stop for ink stamps at the Homestead National Monument northeast of Beatrice, Nebraska. This visitor center has a very nice extensive interactive display. Try to leave some time to spare if you make it by here. You'll want to take your time exploring what they have to offer about the pioneers that settled the West.
Homestead National Monument
Omaha, Nebraska awaits a bit over 100 miles away. I'm expecting a visitor to meet me in Omaha -- Sharon will ride from Chicago to meet me in Omaha . . . just because. It's great to have a friend willing to take a 500 mile ride just to say hello and visit with me.

 Copyright 2009 Fleeter Logs

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