In Lawrence, Kansas, Michael enjoys a prairie chicken dance with a student of the Haskell Indian Nations University.
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I have crossed the Atlantic,
to ride the railroads of North America
with my reliable Appleton's guide.
Published in the late 19th century,
Appleton's General Guide to North America
will direct me to all that's novel,
in the United States. THEY CHANT GREETING
As I journey across this vast continent,
I'll discover how pioneers and cowboys conquered the west.
And how the railroads tied this nation together,
helping to create the global superstate of today.
The early pioneers made their way across North America
in wagon trains, but the railroads made possible
the wholesale settlement of the west.
I started my journey in St Louis, Missouri,
then headed to Kansas City.
From there, I'll forge west across the plains, to lawless Dodge City,
before arriving in the mountains at Colorado Springs
and finally, heading south, through New Mexico.
I'll end in the awe-inspiring
natural wonder of Arizona's Grand Canyon.
Today, I'm leaving behind Kansas City, Missouri.
I'm travelling to the college city of Lawrence, Kansas
and then on to storm-battered Topeka,
from where I'll strike out to the wide-open prairie.
Along the way, I pay homage at the cathedral of basketball...
-You've got to turn and shoot. There we go, good job.
..get my hands on a vintage hooter.
Wow, that was fun!
'..and head out on the range where the buffalo roam.'
What fantastic animals, aren't they?
On my American odyssey,
I'm continuing to puff westwards, towards the state of Kansas,
admitted to the Union in 1861.
By the time of my guide book,
Kansans had converted this state of prairies and tornadoes
"into famous wheat and corn fields and immense cattle ranges",
according to Appleton's.
But what sort of cultures had blown in on the wind?
Kansas celebrated its statehood as the United States
was descending into civil war.
No stranger to bloodshed, in 1854,
Kansas territory had been a flashpoint in the nationwide battle
over slavery, when pro-slavers and abolitionists clashed
over whether their future state should be slave or free.
And the town of Lawrence, Kansas was named in honour of an abolitionist,
Amos A Lawrence.
I've arrived in Lawrence, which, according to Appleton's,
even then had 10,000 inhabitants.
"Located here with over 300 pupils is the Haskell Institute,
"a United States Indian school."
"Indian school" - I find those surprising words in a 19th century
publication, a period that one would think was dominated by shootouts
So far on my journey west,
Appleton's has proved a useful guide to pioneer settlements and railway
boomtowns. But I've read little of the people who lived on these lands
before the arrival of the wagon trains and the railroads.
When it was founded in 1884,
Haskell College in Lawrence was one of 60 schools designed to rid
Native American children of their tribal identity.
I'm meeting Stephen Prue, part of the Haskell administrative team,
and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
I was very surprised to find that
this school was founded in the 19th century. What was its purpose, then?
Well, it was founded by the United States government
in partial fulfilment of trust and treaty obligations.
American Indians at the time were under the War Department,
many were still considered hostile,
so the schools' primary job was not only to educate, but to assimilate.
Kill the Indian, to save the man.
What was the difference between the culture of the Native American
and the culture of those who were coming in from Europe?
Well, I think the people that came in from Europe,
their focus was on ownership.
Native American culture views our relationship not only with the earth
but with each other, in terms of a community,
and that those resources are here for all to share,
but not for all to just use for themselves.
Haskell started with just 22 pupils and, by 1894,
the number had grown to 606, drawn from 36 different states.
Many had been forcibly separated from their families and transported
thousands of miles across the country.
The regime at Haskell was harsh.
On arrival, the children were stripped of all traditional clothing
and tribal belongings.
They were made to work the fields in preparation for lives as labourers
and servants and in the schoolroom,
they were taught white American history.
What about language?
They would be disciplined and punished for speaking
their language, saying their prayers.
There was even a jail on the campus, where students,
if they were not following the rules, could be handcuffed,
brought to the jail and locked and given food and water for the day,
to correct their behaviour.
Not until the civil rights movement
in the 1960s did government educators
begin to adopt a more enlightened
approach to the education of these people,
who President Lyndon B Johnson described as "forgotten Americans".
In 1993, the Indian school became
the Haskell Indian Nations University.
Business student Chris Sindone combines his degree studies
with American Indian dance performance.
Would you mind telling me about the regalia you're wearing?
The regalia, this is a traditional prairie chicken dance outfit.
The beadwork all comes from different pieces and parts
of my family. I have porcupine needles that are softened up
on my roach and I have my eagle feathers and I have our prairie
chicken pheasant bustle.
It originates within the Blackfeet community, up in Montana,
close to the border of Canada.
At the beginning of the mating season,
all the male prairie chickens are out there, trying to be
cocky, you know, they want to impress the best lady out there,
so they're out there fighting each other to, you know,
to show their vanity.
Will you honour me with a display, a performance?
Absolutely, I'd be honoured.
I have learned one word which I hope will express my thanks
and I hope I'm going to say it right. Aho.
Aho! Thank you, you said it perfectly.
Haskell is not the only academic institution in Lawrence.
The University of Kansas, or KU, was founded in 1865.
Now, it has a student body of almost 25,000,
making it the largest in the state,
and it accounts for almost a fifth of Lawrence's population.
"The state university," says Appleton's,
"is a large and handsome structure
"standing upon a bluff called Mt Oread
"in the south-western part of the city."
If you are ever asked in a pub quiz what Kansas university is famous for
and you were to answer "basketball", you would score a slam dunk.
The Kansas University basketball team is known as the Jayhawks,
a hybrid of the quarrelsome blue jay and the fighting sparrowhawk.
It was the name given to those 19th century abolitionists who fought
to make Kansas a free state.
'Curtis Marsh is director of the DeBruce Center at the university
'and a Jayhawks fanatic.'
-How are you?
-Good to see you.
-Lovely to see you, as well.
-May we sit down?
And we're sitting next to whom?
This is Dr James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.
He was in Kansas for 40 years, until his death in 1939,
and he helped the university create a historic basketball programme.
Dr Naismith was a Canadian sports coach and chaplain
who came up with the idea of basketball while working
with a YMCA training group in Massachusetts.
Why had he invented the sport in the first place?
Ah, there was a very cold winter in the north-east.
He had a great number of athletes at the school that were used to playing
American football and rugby and they were...
Quite frankly, they were restless.
The winter months were just too cold for those outdoor activities, so he
was challenged to find a sport that they could play inside where perhaps
they don't beat each other up and tackle each other
and basketball was created.
Naismith divided his class of 18 into two teams of 9.
The object of the game was to lob a ball into a goal fixed high
on the wall. The only thing available at the time
was a peach basket.
Michael, one of the things that we love about this game is that
the scoring is just astronomical.
You can have a game where 100 points are scored.
Not when it was a peach basket because you had to stop the game,
grab a ladder, head up to the peach basket and take the ball out.
Well, they created a wonderful improvement,
which was nothing more than cutting a small hole in the bottom
of the basket so that a broom handle could pop the ball right out.
After a few more refinements,
Naismith arrived at KU in 1898,
where basketball was wholeheartedly embraced.
In 2016, the university opened a permanent exhibition
to honour the great man.
'I made up some more rules. The most important one was that there should
'be no running with the ball.'
Two pages of typescript, with Naismith's signature.
Give me an idea of how important this document is.
This document, which as far as we know is the only
initiating document for a major sport,
was purchased at auction for 4.3 million
and it was bought by one former student of the University of Kansas
and donated to us.
And now you have it behind glass with electronic paraphernalia.
This is like the Crown Jewels.
I think it's the Crown Jewels of basketball, no question.
# Jayhawks, come on!
# Jayhawks, here we go!
# Jayhawks, come on! #
All the greats have played here in the famous Allen Fieldhouse Stadium.
And today, there's a new rookie player on the team.
Right, how do we begin, Coach?
So, the first thing we're going to do, we're going to get on the block,
-where it gets real dirty.
-Real dirty? OK, fine.
What you're going to do is put your back to the basket.
Yes, and you're going to post up and when you post up,
-you're going to get physical.
-You're going to get physical.
-All right, get big!
Go, Michael! Go, Michael!
-There you go.
-Yeah, there we go.
Look at that!
Thanks to the dedication of KU players and coaches,
basketball soon became a national sport.
Yeah, that was good, that was good.
# Michael, Michael... #
And in 1936, an Olympic one.
Here we go, get ready. Turn and shoot. Good job! There we go!
Here we go. We're big on high fives at KU. Yeah!
Curtis, do you remember coming here to watch games?
I will never forget it.
It's what made me a Jayhawk fan.
What does this place mean to you?
Next to my family, it's the most important thing in my life.
The games here are like no other.
There's so much energy here that it's really like nothing else.
You'd better get ready now,
cos you're going to get licked in your own stadium today.
You got it, Michael.
# Go, Michael!
Stop him, stop him!
In truth, there are not many passenger trains nowadays
running in the state of Kansas,
which is why it's a great joy to find a heritage line running between
Baldwin City and Ottawa at a very dignified speed.
Ladies and gentlemen, all aboard!
'After the end of the American Civil War in 1865,
'the United States government began to speed up settlement of the west
'by investing in the railroads.'
At first, settlers hailed the railroads
as the bringers of prosperity. Many also invested in their
construction and sought to influence the routes.
'I'm meeting Kansas historian Virgil Dean,
'to find out how all that changed when the railroad companies
'became over-mighty and how the people fought back.'
-Good to see you.
-Good to see you, yes.
The public got involved in these railroads as investors, did they?
Exactly, especially if you were in a rural area, just getting started.
They were vital to a town's success and so towns would
get into bidding wars over railroads
just like they do with businesses or corporations, factories now.
Once the railroads have become a settled part of the landscape,
how do people feel about them then?
I think you could say, as some people have,
that it was kind of a love/hate relationship with the railroads
from the very beginning. People lost money on them.
Railroads didn't always live up to their promise.
They might just decide at the last minute to go this direction,
instead of this direction, and miss your town,
or planned town, altogether.
In the late 19th century,
numerous privately-owned railroad companies operated in Kansas,
including the Santa Fe, the Kansas Pacific and the Union Pacific.
How was it that they affected people's lives?
Well, they're very important to people,
but they also see abuses from time to time.
Most commonly, what you'd hear is that railroads charged too much
for hauling freight and that the passenger fares were too high.
By the 1870s, the political corruption,
which a lot of people tied to the large railroad companies and other
businesses, but railroads in particular, is a big issue.
In the 1880s and '90s,
a combination of drought and competition from overseas
had left farmers struggling and angry with the wealthy railroads,
whom they accused of naked greed.
They formed a political party, the Populists,
to demand, amongst other things, that the railroads be nationalised.
So, would it be going too far to say that amongst rural communities,
anyway, at the end of the 19th century,
the banks and the railroads have become villains?
Yeah, that's definitely the case
when you get to the Populist movement
during the 1890s, where you have attacks on Wall Street, even,
railroads and bankers, banks,
similar to what we have today with the talk about too much
concentration of wealth and power
and how much of a corrupting influence that has on society
in general and individuals.
'In the end, people power didn't win the day.
'The railroads stayed in private ownership and the Populist Party
-Thank you very much.
-Off to the loco.
'But on this train, at least, the people are firmly in control.'
Hello, how you doing?
Mark, are you a volunteer?
We are all volunteers.
What's the impulsion to come and do this volunteer work?
-Why do you do it?
-I love old machinery.
-Old cars, trucks.
I'm a gearhead.
Would you mind if I pulled the hooter?
You've got to go long, long, short, long.
No traffic over here, are we good?
Wow, that was fun!
All right, you got it.
Travelling through the lush farmland of Kansas at a stately 20mph,
it's hard to imagine a more peaceful place.
But the area has its surprises.
This is Tornado Alley,
where dry air from the Rockies meets moist air from the Gulf,
creating more tornadoes than anywhere else in America.
The weather centre in Topeka gathers vital meteorological information
and there, I'm meeting Mike Smith,
one of the country's foremost tornado experts.
Did you become a tornado expert by following tornadoes around?
By being a so-called tornado chaser?
I was one of the very first tornado chasers in 1972,
while I was attending the University of Oklahoma.
But that's not how I got interested in tornadoes.
I got interested in tornadoes when I was five years old and an F5,
the most intense type of tornado, passed a few blocks to my south.
When I saw all of the damage the next day,
the thought went through my mind,
"Anything that could do this had to be pretty interesting."
Mike has turned his passion into a business and amongst his clients
are railroad companies.
What have you been able to do, then,
to help the railroads to avoid disaster?
We tell the railroads in advance where the tornado is going to cross
the track on a milepost by milepost basis
and they will stop the trains in that area.
And do you believe that you have avoided catastrophe?
Oh, we know we have.
The railroads tell us that.
In the case of the Greensburg, Kansas tornado,
another EF5 tornado back in 2007,
they were able to keep the trains out of the area
and the two trains stopped were able to watch the tornado in the darkness
pass safely in between them, illuminated by lightning.
This is the first known image of a tornado on the Great Plains,
taken by a Kansas farmer in 1884.
Back then, there was no way of predicting where or when
these forces of nature would strike.
Nowadays, any dramatic shifts in air pressure and humidity are monitored
from the weather centre's upper air building.
Every day, meteorologist Brandon Drake sends two of these balloons
up into the atmosphere.
The instruments will send back data,
which can be used to forecast tornadoes.
This balloon's going to go up about 35 km.
Once it does that, it'll pop and it'll fall back down with
the instrument attached, still.
This thing will take a profile of the atmosphere
roughly above this location.
-May I watch the launch?
On the Great Plains, spring is tornado season,
but they can occur any time.
Er, don't let go!
-Let me know when you've got it.
I've got a good grip on it. Wow!
-I must say, this is very distinctly different from holding on
to a party balloon, isn't it?
-Brandon, ready for lift-off?
Ready for lift-off, Michael.
Whoa, watch it go!
The Great Plains make up about a third of the whole landmass
of the United States, but here in the Midwest,
the climate has created a very particular ecosystem,
known as tallgrass prairie.
Paula Matile is a rancher who heads a conservation project in the Kansas
Flint Hills. It's the largest area of prairie to survive.
Paula, how much prairie do you have left here?
The national preserve is about 11,000 acres.
And before this was disturbed by the white man,
how much prairie was there in what we now call the United States?
Tallgrass prairie once covered about 170 million acres
and now we're estimating less than 4% of that is still around.
A rare herd of American buffalo, also called bison,
roams freely over the whole preserve,
so we're extremely fortunate to come across them.
You have to drive very carefully, don't you?
This is... I never thought I'd ever be this close to a bison.
What fantastic animals, aren't they?
Yeah, we reintroduced the bison to the preserve in 2009,
with 13 head, and we're up to about 100 head, right now.
They graze differently than cattle, so they leave these little
micro-habitats for different species of bird.
The immense treeless horizon of the prairie was shaped by the constant
grazing of the buffalo and by fires caused by violent electric storms.
Oh, that is beautiful. That is very, very beautiful.
This is such an important landscape.
It's getting developed and it's getting ploughed up
and it's disappearing right before our eyes
and the tallgrass prairie is American history.
This was the American Dream - to be out in the tallgrass prairie
and to make a living.
The Kansas prairie has been mythologised in American culture.
Bye-bye, Paula. Thank you very much.
One writer in particular fixed the landscape in the public imagination.
The poet, Walt Whitman.
Known as America's bard, he was born in New York in 1819,
but in later life, adopted the persona of a western frontiersman,
complete with beard and Stetson.
'Philip Barnard is an English professor
'at the University of Kansas.'
Who was Walt Whitman?
Walt Whitman is one of the greatest of American poets.
What is the impact that this landscape,
these prairies, have upon him?
He idealises the prairies.
They represent for him a fertile new territory, where a new society
can be built that's both modern and democratic
and free from the influences and limitations of the past in his mind.
A distinctively American society for him.
What do you mean by that?
He felt that US culture to the mid-19th century
was still derivative on its European origins
and envisioned a more modern, a more egalitarian culture
linked by railroads and growing in vast spaces, like the prairies.
Did he write specifically about railroads in his poetry?
There's a very beautiful poem called To A Locomotive In Winter,
where he celebrates the railroad and locomotives as engines of modernity.
"I hear the locomotives rushing
"and roaring and the shrill steam whistle.
"I hear the echoes reverberate
"through the grandest scenery in the world.
"I cross the Laramie Plains.
"I note the rocks and grotesque shapes, the buttes.
"I see the plentiful larkspur and wild onions, the barren,
"colourless sage deserts.
"I see in glimpses afar or towering immediately above me
"the great mountains.
"I see the Wind River and the Wahsatch mountains."
So, here's a man who celebrates nature, but also the railroad,
which, after all, is violating the nature.
For Whitman, the railroad is part of nature.
It's a modern window onto nature,
through which one can appreciate nature differently.
The landscape of the prairie and the expansion of the west continue
to inspire American artists today.
The composer Mark O'Connor is one of them.
This is his beautiful Poem For Carlita.
In this prairie landscape from which the Native American was brutally
expelled, the poet Walt Whitman hoped that a distinctively American
culture would emerge, free from European influence.
I don't know whether basketball was the sort of thing
that he had in mind.
Inevitably, people here would write and paint and think differently,
looking outwards from what Whitman described
as the grandest scenery in the world.
Next time, I discover what life was like in the old Wild West...
He's got a gun!
..give my verdict on a Kansas staple...
Mmm, nice bit of crispness around the crust. Very nice.
..and hear about the harrowing tragedy at Sand Creek.
A quote comes to mind.
"In all atrocities,
"the only thing necessary for evil to succeed
"is for good men to do nothing."
Michael Portillo continues his 1,500-mile journey through the American Wild West, armed with his 19th-century Appleton's Guide. In Lawrence, Kansas, Michael enjoys a prairie chicken dance with a student of the Haskell Indian Nations University and learns how Native American Indians were treated in the 19th century. Michael joins the Jayhawks basketball team in the famous Allen Field house stadium with energetic encouragement from their cheerleaders, before travelling through Tornado Alley to Topeka to meet one of the first storm chasers in America. Driving out on the Great Plains, Michael learns about the Tallgrass Prairie and comes face to face with a herd of wild buffalo.