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Exhibits move from trails to rails

Somewhere in Barton County, north of Cheyenne Bottoms on privately owned land, Native Americans once cut crude drawings into an outcropping of sandstone.
Donald Komarek’s father showed him the site when he was 12 years old, more than 70 years ago. These petroglyphs pre-date Coronado’s expedition to Kansas in the 1540s, according to Karen Neuforth, research coordinator at the Barton County Historical Society Museum.

They may be much older than that, said Beverly Komarek, executive director of the museum. “According to a professor in archeology from Wichita, some of them could be as much as 10,000 years old.”
That assessment came from Dr. Donald Blakeslee, archaeological anthropologist from Wichita State University. He explained the stick figures incised into the soft stone may be raising their arms to the heavens and giving thanks to God. Another symbol represents the sun.
Neuforth’s enlarged photos of the petroglyphs are on display now at the museum, as part of four new exhibits. They are shown with arrowheads, scrapers and other stone tools collected in the same area over several decades in the 20th Century.
“Each year when the farmers plowed up the land they found more arrowheads,” Donald Komarek said. It appears that Native Americans returned to the site annually for hundreds of years. The sheltered area with fresh spring water made it a great place to camp and hunt.

Members of the Barton County Historical Society got to see the new exhibits at an opening reception on Thursday. Other new displays include a covered wagon and campsite, where visitors are asked to consider what they would bring if they were traveling to Kansas in the days before they could travel by railroad.
In 1854 the newly created territory of Kansas was opened for white settlement. After the Civil War, Barton County and the rest of the state experienced a significant increase in population attracted by free and cheap land provided by the Homestead Act and the railroads.
The Barton County Historical Society documents the area’s entire history — from the prehistoric tribes to the recent past. It’s been years since the core exhibits saw an update of this magnitude, the director said.
For the past few weeks, the four-person staff — Komarek, Neuforth, Office Manager Leslie Helsel and Maintenance Director Brad Maddox, have been putting together the new displays.
“We’ve really been working hard on this,” Komarek said. “Reorganizing part of the museum tells the stories of Barton County better.”
The other two new exhibits are two dozen realistic bird carvings by Bob Button and a display about Frank Robl, a rural Ellinwood man who banded thousands of birds over the years, and thus identified central Kansas as the central flyway for North America’s migratory birds.

Free program
The Barton County Historical Society Museum & Village is located just south of the Arkansas River bridge in Great Bend at 85 South U.S. 281. From October through April its hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
The museum will offer a free program this coming Monday, Oct. 24, at 7:30 p.m. Lu Adams from Ellsworth will portray Mary “Mother” Bickerdyke, a hospital administrator for Union soldiers during the Civil War. Bickerdyke also helped poor Barton County residents after a grasshopper invasion in 1874.