Road Trip: Caldwell, KS

A cool January day made for a nice backdrop for a drive south to Caldwell, Kansas.  It is the Home of the Ornate Box Turtle; several museums and the cemetery holds some interesting history.

Our first stop was at the visitor’s center.

Caldwell was founded in 1871 along the newly established Chisholm Trail. 

It was a stereotypical Cowtown with saloons, gambling, hangings, cowboys, and it has been said, at one time there were more prostitutes per capita than anywhere else on earth.  It was the first town north of Indian Territory and was known as the “Border Queen City.”

In 1893, Caldwell was also a starting point for the Cherokee Strip Land Run, when the Oklahoma Territory was opened for homesteaders to stake land claims.  My great grandparents, came to the area on a covered wagon, they participated in the land run staking claim to farmland in Enid, Oklahoma.​

There are a couple of gunfighters that you will want to keep your eyes out for.  Don’t worry, they aren’t dangerous.  Just be on the lookout.

One of my favorite resources is  There were several listings about the ornate box turtle.  The turtle is the official reptile of the state of Kansas.  It all began in 1985, when 6th grade teacher Larry Miller and his students began the campaign to make the ornate box turtle the state reptile of Kansas.

Mr. Miller and the class that started the movement
Courtesy: Unknown

On April 14, 1986, Kansas governor John Carlin, came to Caldwell and signed the bill adding a new official symbol to the state of Kansas

Carlin signs proclamation
Courtesy: Unknown

Later that year, the Mayor of Caldwell signed a proclamation declaring that Caldwell would forever be known as the “Ornate Box Turtle Capital of the World.”

Turns out forever is a relative term.  The town does not seem too interested in promoting that little claim to fame. 

Ornate Box Turtle
Courtesy: Lehigh Valley Zoo

One of the few reminders is a mural painted by artist Martin B. Capron of Oxford, Kansas.

Jeremy and I stopped in at the Nostalgia Nook to see if we could find out more.  There were two very kind women we talked to at the shop.  One of them said, it wasn’t really something that was decided, it just kind of disappeared.  The other lady mentioned that the town is focusing more on its historic connections to the Chisholm Trail and its western roots.

Another claim to fame for Caldwell is that it’s the final resting place for Henry Newton Brown.  Brown was a Regulator that rode with Billy the Kid. 

Henry Newton Brown

Interesting side note: Billy and his mom lived in Wichita.  His mother, Catherine McCarty, was the only woman to sign the charter that created the city of Wichita.  Check out the stories here and here.

Henry stayed with Billy the Kid for about four years.  He eventually fled to New Mexico to avoid murder charges.  In 1880, he turned to the light side of the force and became the sheriff of Oldham County, Texas.  In 1882, the city of Caldwell, made him the assistant marshal. The town was so happy with his work they gave him a Winchester rifle and named him the marshal.  The rifle was described as having gold and silver inlay and a plate reading, “Presented to City Marshall H.N. Brown for valuable services rendered in behalf of the Citizens of Caldwell, Kas., A.N. Colson, Mayor, Dec. 1882.”

Medicine Lodge Bank

About a year later, Brown used that same rifle to rob the Medicine Lodge bank, which ended in the death of the bank president and a cashier.

Brown’s Gang

Brown was hunted down and shot by a lynch mob.  He was shot so many times, the locals said he was almost cut in half.  The Winchester passed hands several times and can now be found at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka.

Brown’s Winchester Rifle

Brown’s grave at the Caldwell Cemetery is unmarked and the exact location has been in dispute for years.  Remember when I mentioned we stopped in at the Nostalgia Nook?  We asked about the mystery behind the Brown body.  As it turned out, one of the men eating lunch at a counter in the back of the store, was a history buff, and spends some of his free time looking for Brown’s body.

The city’s mortician, David Mardis took some time to tell us about the infamous outlaw and his whereabouts.  “The day Brown’s wife went to retrieve his body; two plots were purchased on the south end.  So that’s where most people thought he was buried.”  But Mardis said a late-night call changed all that, his cohort in the search said he thought they should look in the north end. “I’ve watched it, Jack witched it, we know it’s a man, we know it’s a grave.” 

Here’s what’s interesting, David said there’s no record of anyone buried there.  “You can fly a drone over it, you can tell the ground is disturbed, we know that, but we want to use ground penetrating radar and look for lead.”  There should be a lot of lead, as we know Brown was riddled with bullets.  “If we find that lead, it can be carbon dated, to find out when he was buried there.”  Mardis, the mortician, does have one other thought on what happened to Brown.  We know his wife picked up the body… “That was a week after it happened.  Back then the body had to be in a high state of putrefaction.  So, did she get halfway back, and couldn’t take it any longer and buried him somewhere between here and Medicine Lodge?  We don’t know.”  The search and mystery continue.

The Caldwell Cemetery is also home to actor Max Showalter. He was born in Caldwell; his mother played the piano for silent movies at the local theater. In the mid 30’s he performed at the Pasadena Playhouse and made his Broadway debut in Oscar Hammerstein’s “Knights of Song.”

Max Showalter
Courtesy: Getty Images

He made his film debut in 1949 with “Always Leave Them Laughing.” Over the years he appeared on “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Bewitched,” “The Love Boat,” “Gunsmoke,” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Showalter in Leave it to Beaver pilot. 1957

In 1957, he was cast in the role of Ward Cleaver, in the original pilot for the television series, “Leave It to Beaver,” but he lost the part to fellow Kansan Hugh Beaumont, who was born in Lawrence in 1910.

Showalter’s last film role was as Grandpa Fred in “Sixteen Candles” (1984).

He retired from acting in 1984 and moved to Middletown, Connecticut, He died of cancer in 2000.

Just on the edge of Caldwell’s cemetery sits another “Boothill Cemetery.”  Originally known as the Arnold Cemetery, this small area makes up a few of the original stones.  The old cemetery was overgrown by the prairie and most of the wood markers of the gunslingers and cowboys were lost to time.

Our next stop was to see the “Ghost Riders of the Chisholm Trail Silhouettes,” which Commemorates the Chisholm Trail. The large cutouts represent the millions of cattle that passed through from 1866-1886.  These things are life size and are a cool sight.  I wish there was a way to get closer to them, but they sit on private property, and I wouldn’t want to trespass.  I also wish someone would trim back some of the trees as they covered up some of the pieces.  Jeremy found several shotgun shells, so clearly people like to use them for target practice too.

One last thing before we leave Caldwell. Check out the vending machine with Caldwell merchandise. What a great idea!

As we headed back to Wichita, there was one more stop, the Drury Dam Waterfall.  Don’t laugh, this is a waterfall in Kansas.  A rarity, seeing how we don’t have a lot of mountains. 

This little waterfall sits in Drury Park.  It’s a dam and ended up being Jeremy’s favorite part of the trip.  The sound of the falling water from the Chikaskia River was relaxing. 

We had the area to ourselves and enjoyed the serenity.  The dam was the former site of a flour mill.  The town of Drury was once called the “playground of Oklahoma and Kansas”

The vacation resort had a hotel, dance hall, bath house, boat house and several cottages for rent. The town is much quieter now.

%d bloggers like this: