The rhythmic sound of steel striking steel echoed across the prairie – ping, ping, ping, ping, ping. A brief pause, then steel striking steel in a slightly different tone – pong, pong, pong, pong, pong. This identical cadence background noise had become as familiar as the constant southern wind to members of the Fort Hays Kansas State University Golf Team.
Fort Hays Country Club in Hays, Kansas (home course for the Fort Hays State Golf Team) is located on the grounds of Historic Fort Hays. During my high school and college years I spent thousands of hours chasing a golf ball across the blood soaked battleground of Old Fort Hays.
In 1965 the Kansas Historical Society elected to restore the Old Fort and create a historic museum. The museum was established to pay tribute to the soldiers who protected the European settlers who came to homesteaded the prairie wilderness and the railroad workers who brought civilization to the Kansas prairie. Fort Hays (the military fort not the country club) was opened in 1866 immediately following the end of the Civil War. 1866 was the same year that Willie Park Sr. beat “Old” TomMorishfor his fourth (British) Open Championship.
The Historical Society commissioned local sculptor, “Fritz” Felten, to create a commemorative statue to preserve the memory of the 60 million American Bison (buffalo) that once roamed the Great Plains. “The Monarch of The Plains” was born.
For the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians who made the Great Plains their home, the buffalo was the main source of food… and clothing… and shelter. The abundant buffalo were slaughtered almost to extension as post Civil War American was settled at a blistering pace.
For the frontiersmen, who had the courage to battle the elements and the Indians, the buffalo provided an instant source of wealth. Buffalo meat was sold to the railroad to feed the workers and military to feed the soldiers at the Fort. The buffalo hides, a byproduct of the daily slaughter, were loaded onto railroad cars and shipped to the prosperous eastern cities. Once connected to the wild west by the railroad, the rich people could not get enough of the coats and tall stovetop hats fashioned from buffalo fur. Among those frontiersmen who prospered near Fort Hays was “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Buffalo Bill and his men worked daily in the weather extremes of the Kansas prairies to keep the troops and railroad workers feed.
The Monarch Of The Plains, located near the seventh tee on Fort Hays Country Club, was created from a 24-ton block of yellow Kansas limestone. The thick layer of yellow limestone, located just under the surface top soil, is prevalent in west central Kansas. The limestone was created from sediment at the bottom of a vast inland sea during another time. The yellow limestone was quarried into stone fenceposts as the treeless land was settled. The same stone was used to create the administration buildings for Fort Hays. Bullet proof, fire proof and virtually indestructible, two of these buildings stand virtually unchanged today.
For two years members of our golf team shared the time-lapse transformation from a raw block of yellow rock to a perfect replica of the American Bison, The Monarch Of The Plains. The process is indelibly etched into our brains as our friend, Fritz, magically converted the immense block of stone into an incredible work of art.
Fritz, a hippy before his time, was always dressed the same. His ever-present olive color army-issue knit cap (the kind worn under a helmet), moccasins and shapeless kaki pants were supplemented with a sweatshirt and fatigue jacket in winter months; in the warmer months he was always shirtless. His sun-bronzed skin accented his lean, sinew-strong muscles. Remove his knit cap and substitute a feather he would have been mistaken for the Natives who roamed in search of the beast he immortalized.
Armed with only a small replica model, a steel chisel and a two pound maul, Fritz worked tirelessly to uncover the magnificent beast that only he saw hidden within the chalky stone. We marveled as he would mindlessly place the chisel with his left hand and strike five evenly timed blows with his right hand. Subconsciously, he would switch hands, chisel in the right, maul in left. With the same rhythm, but a slightly different tone, he strike five blows with the left. The sound of steel on steel could be heard for hundreds of yards across the golf course as chips of stone fell silently to the ground. When the transformation was complete the silence on the golf course was deafening.
Today and for centuries to come the Monarch of The Plaines stands guard, overlooking the wind swept prairie, where millions of his ancestors once roamed.
If you are traveling on I-70 through Kansas stop at the museum and relive history and play a very unique golf course.
Related stories: https://rjsmiley.com/buffalo-wallow/, https://rjsmiley.com/the-most-beautiful-trophy/