St Joseph Missouri Danish Windmill Iowa

Missouri: St Joseph

Iowa: Lewis (Hitchcock House famous stop on the underground railroad), Elk Horn and their famous Danish Windmill

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Missouri: St Joseph

Iowa: Lewis (Hitchcock House famous stop on the underground railroad), Elk Horn and their famous Danish Windmill

Places Visited:

Missouri: St Joseph

Iowa: Lewis (Hitchcock House famous stop on the underground railroad), Elk Horn and their famous Danish Windmill

Wednesday August 11, Beacon Campground/RV-Park St Joseph, Missouri: N39° 45.520': W94° 48.323' $25.35 for full hookup 50amps (cable available / extra)

It got cold last night. I know it isn't supposed to get cold in August but we broke out our electric heater for the bathroom this morning. I wore jeans and a long shirt today.

Things worked like clockwork for us today. Our first stop was the Patee Museum. We thought it was going to contain memorabilia from the Pony Express. To our surprise we stepped into a frontier museum on the order of a Smithsonian. The building housing the Patee Museum was at one time the most magnificent hotel west of the Mississippi River. It was built to house rail road passengers when the railroad stopped in St Joseph. At that time this was the westernmost terminus of the Rail Road. The Patee Hotel later became headquarters for the Pony Express. Now it is a showcase for a host of artifacts from the mid-1800s.

Housed in this museum is a collection of the finest artifacts from that era. Pianos and organs, desks, chairs, beds, mirrors the complete inside furnishings and motif from the areas most notorious bar from that era. I think he said the magnificent 26' bar was from the Buffalo bar here in St Joseph as was the huge mirror and decorative woodwork that surrounded the mirror.

An almost complete general store from that era is on display as is a dentist office. Walter Cronkite was born in St Joseph in 1917 and his father was the town dentist.

Eugene Field was the editor of the local newspaper in 1875. In his spare time he authored "Little Boy Blue" and "The Gingham Dog and Calico Cat" two children's books that we all are familiar with.

St Joseph is where Aunt Jemima brand pancakes originated in 1889. Aunt Jemima as well as Quaker Oat brand products were packaged here until 2001. The museum had a room full of machines and memorabilia from the Quaker Oat factory.

Where Jesse James was shot by one of his gang members for the $10,000 bounty St Joseph, Missouri



We stopped and looked at the home where Jesse James was shot by one of his gang members for the $10,000 bounty on his head. The bullet hole is still in the wall. We just took a picture of the house and passed up on paying $2 each to see the bullet hole on the inside of the house.

Our next stop was the Pony Express stables and Museum. The actual stables have been refurbished and now function as the museum. The museum did a good job of telling the story of the Pony Express.

The Pony Express is something we have all heard about but know very little about. It never was part of the U.S. Postal System. It was private enterprise all the way. The Pony Express only lasted for 19-months.

The Rail Road finally reached across Missouri to the town of St Joseph. From there mail had to reach California. A series of stations with horses and stables were stretched out across the prairie every 10 to 20 miles where fresh horses, water and food were provided. Wells had to be dug, corrals had to be built & maintained, horses had to be purchased and buildings constructed at way stations. Ferries had to be in place to carry the riders across major rivers. Riders had to be small wiry guys to keep the weight down. During the winter snow in the Sierras presented major problems to riders as did the long stretches across the arid area surrounding the Great Salt Lake.

On occasion riders actually rode over 300-miles changing worn out steeds over 20 times. The things they accomplished in the few short months of their existence are the stuff of legends. Buffalo Bill Cody was one of the riders to ride over 320 miles without sleep exhausting over 20-horses in this marathon.

When the telegraph reached across the continent it spelled the end of the Pony Express.

St Joseph is said to be the place where the most settlers outfitted and headed west from. It was as far west as steamboats could get passengers then it was the western terminus of the Rail Road for a number of years. Each of these played a role in making St Joseph primary place for pioneers to start their overland journey to the west coast.

Joyce next to a giant sycamore tree at the Pony Express Museum in St Joseph, Missouri




Across the street from the Pony Express Museum was a city park. This park had a number of interesting trees in it. One was a GIANT sycamore. We have seen sycamores that size and they were over 200 years old. I would imagine this tree is also.

This was a super day, things couldn't have been better.

Thursday August 12, Bluffs Run Casino RV-Park Council Bluffs, Iowa: N41° 14.107': W95° 53.328' $20.12 for 50amps & water -----central dump

We moved the motorhome to Council Bluffs, Iowa this morning. It is 125-miles upriver from St. Josephs, Missouri. We are out of Missouri for the first time in weeks. As we were leaving the state we thought back on things we would remember about Missouri; the Mississippi River on the east, the Missouri River bisecting the state from St. Louis on the east to Kansas City on the west. How at Kansas City the Missouri River abruptly turns north to form the border between Missouri and Kansas. How Missouri played a major role in the western expansion of our country. Towns like St Louis, St Charles, Arrow Rock, Independence and St Joseph that at different times in the westward expansion were the places that explorers and settlers left from. They each spent time on the "frontier". As steam boats provided reliable transportation to towns' further west new immigrants and settlers chose to travel as far as possible by boat before disembarking and heading further west overland. How rapidly things changed in the 1800s as first the steam boat changed river transportation then the Rail Road changed that.

We also noted the monster sized sycamore and catalpa trees throughout Missouri. Then in Independence we saw the Burr Oak and Gingko trees that were either state champion trees or nearly so.

We will always remember Missouri for the fields of corn and soybeans. I have no clue where all that corn can be stored much less marketed. What do they do with all those soybeans?

And there is no way to think about Missouri without remembering their Frozen Custard aka Concrete that seems to be the State "treat".

In Council Bluffs we got the motorhome set up then dropped by the Visitors Center that also doubles as the Western Historic Trails Center. The Exhibit Hall incorporates interactive maps, audio descriptions, historic photographs and paintings as well as quotations to interpret the trails and the pioneers who crossed the trails. They explained the reasons individuals were heading west, views from the people who aided them or in some instances impeded their journey. The Lewis & Clark Trail was the first route taken in 1804 to 1806 as the Corps of Discovery explored and mapped the Louisiana Purchase while searching for a water route to the Pacific Ocean. Then starting in 1843, the Oregon Trail took thousands of overland emigrants to new homes. After 1846, the Mormon Trail took the Latter Day Saints to religious freedom in what is now Utah. The California Trail became popular during the Gold Rush years beginning in 1849.

Transcontinental railroads and highways eventually replaced the pioneer trails.

Friday August 13, Bluffs Run Casino RV-Park Council Bluffs, Iowa: N41° 14.107': W95° 53.328' $20.12 for 50amps & water -----central dump

Instead of staying in historic Council Bluffs we decided to explore the Iowa countryside. This area is one of the richest farmlands in the world. To us it is exciting to just take a drive through this lush verdant rolling countryside. Corn and soybeans dominate the countryside with occasional pastures or hay fields thrown in for variety. As we headed to the northeast from Council Bluffs on US-6 things continued to become more rural.

We were on our way to visit the historic Hitchcock House in Lewis, Iowa. There was NO address with the information I had other than it was in Lewis, Iowa. No larger than Lewis appeared on our map we thought that the Hitchcock House just might be in the center of town. We were going to look for signs and follow the signs. No worry. Two miles from Lewis we saw the State's telltale brown sign directing travelers down a gravel road to the Hitchcock station on the Underground Railroad.

Hitchcock house is historic for being a "station on the underground Railroad" Lewis, Iowa

The Hitchcock house is historic for being a "station on the underground Railroad". Not many of these stations exist today. As we drove down this gravel road our little red Saturn was quickly becoming little dusty Saturn. We knew what was happening from the immense cloud of dust that was following us. The property surrounding this house is lush corn fields but the immediate yard contains beautiful large walnut and hackberry trees. The house itself sits on a beautiful promontory overlooking a big bend in the East Nishnabotna River. The area has some of the richest farm land in the world. Hitchcock House is built of brown sandstone taken from a quarry, south of here and across the river. The stone was hauled to the Nishnavotna River by ox-cart, floated across, reloaded, and hauled up the slope - about two miles to the house site.

The Hitchcock House was built in 1856 by Reverend George Hitchcock, a Congregational minister. The two-story structure measures 30 by 40 feet, and the walls average 20 inches in thickness. Wood used in construction was local walnut and oak. The House has a full basement with a large fireplace, and is accessible from the kitchen and by an outside entrance.

This basement was the station for the "underground railroad". A hinged cupboard separated two rooms in the basement. To gain access to the "secret" room, the cupboard could be swung open. It was here that fugitive slaves would be hidden in times of danger. (It was a federal offense to shield or aid fugitive slaves.)

The legendary John Brown traveled along the "road/Mormon Trail" that passed the property in an east west route. It is said that John Brown made several stops at the Hitchcock House on his travels to Kansas Territory to visit with the Rev. John Todd, at Tabor.

Some of you are probably wondering what an "underground railroad" was and what on earth a "station" on the railroad was. The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes used by fugitive slaves escaping to freedom in Canada. It was only active in the years preceding the Civil War like from the mid-1850s to the early 1860s.

Fugitive slaves crossed from Missouri into Iowa all along the Iowa border. But the fugitives who passed through here came mostly from Kansas Territory. After the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, many Blacks seeking freedom entered Iowa at Nebraska City, Nebraska. Blacks flowing through this part of Iowa headed east to Des Moines, Grinnell, Iowa City and on to Illinois-generally crossing into Canada in the Detroit area.

The National Park Service maintains a web site with Underground Railroad information. I don't have that site but you should be able to google for it. The Hitchcock House has a web site at

Trail to the Ferry House, this ferry enabled Mormon travelers headed west on the Mormon Trail to cross the East Nishnabotna River in Iowa




Not far from the Hitchcock House was one of those ubiquitous brown signs pointing to a historic "ferry house". It was just a few hundred yards along one of those gravel roads. Of course we investigated this "ferry house" and are glad that we did. This ferry house was on the Mormon Trail that ran east to west across Iowa from Illinois. The man that operated this ferry obviously lived in the house. The ferry enabled Mormon travelers headed west on the Mormon Trail to cross the East Nishnabotna River. From the ferry house we could see the deep ruts from the old Mormon Trail. The trail along here was rather narrow like a modern day foot path. Joyce and I walked a ways on it to just get the feel. An exhibit at the ferry house explained that many of the Mormons heading west did not have wagons pulled by mules or oxen. Many if not most pulled hand carts loaded with 500-pounds of supplies & equipment. I read that exhibit several times to make sure of those numbers but that is what it said. I can not see an individual pulling a wooden cart with 500-pounds of supplies on it from Illinois to Utah. I am sorry but I just can't visualize that. This is hilly terrain. The entire wagon and supplies had to weigh 600 to 650 pounds and a man was between the two poles doing the work instead of an ox or mule. The idea that these Mormons actually did that is totally unbelievable. If I had internet access I would be researching the Mormon Trail and see what was available on those individuals that pulled a hand cart from Illinois to Utah.


Elk Horn, Iowa and the "Danish Windmill"




From there we ventured north to Elk Horn, Iowa and the "Danish Windmill". The Danish Windmill is a popular tourist attraction. It is a real Danish Windmill. This area of Southwest Iowa is in the midst of the largest rural Danish settlement in the United States. In addition to the Windmill there is a Danish Immigrant Museum also in Elk Horn that tells the story of the Danish-American experience from Maine to California-and preserves their rich culture, traditions, and heritage that Danish immigrants have brought to America.

The windmill was the brain child of one of these Danish immigrants. He set about to purchase a real Danish windmill and bring it to Elk Horn and reconstruct it. He accomplished that feat in 1977 with donated money. Today the Norie Snede windmill once used to grind grain in Denmark sits in downtown Elk Horn, Iowa. This particular windmill is a huge thing used to power a 2,000-lb grinding rock for rendering grain into flour or meal. The Norie Snede mill was originally constructed in 1848 in Norre Snede Parish, Skaderborg County, Denmark.




Wooden gears on the "Danish Windmill" in Elk Horn, Iowa



There was no wind today so I did not get to see the blades turning or the big grinding rock turning. But I did get to climb up in the tower and inspect the inner workings. Almost everything is made of wood. I should say massive wood because the driveshaft turning a 2,000-lb grinding rock is the size of a large telephone pole. Likewise the gear mechanism (spur-gear) that transmitted horizontal power from the windmills blades to the vertical drive shaft was what looked to be a 10' diameter wooden drive gear. Twelve-inch replaceable, wedge shaped hard maple teeth were driven into slots along the outer edge to form the gear face. It was this large drive gear that transmitted power from the horizontal shaft from the mill's blades to the vertical driveshaft.

Unlike electricity generating windmachines a windmill used to grind grain needs to generate torque not rpm. The base of this 60' tall windmill is 30' in diameter. The wooden shafts of the "sails" span 66'.




Wooden gears on the "Danish Windmill" in Elk Horn, Iowa




If you are interested I suspect they have more information at:

From Elk Horn we headed west across the rolling hills of rich farmland through the German Settlement of Harlan then continued west on into Council Bluffs where we stopped to experience the Lewis & Clark Monument atop the bluffs at Council Bluffs where Lewis & Clark held their first Council with Native Americans.

President Jefferson instructed Lewis to document information about each tribe they encountered, explain their purpose of friendly commerce, and treat them in the most kind and conciliatory manner. Keep in mind that the United States had just purchased the Louisiana Territory and this was now "our-land". Also notice how Jefferson is intent on treating the Native American Indians in a "kind & conciliatory" manner. That would change within 50-years.

As Lewis & Clark prepared for this expedition and encounters with the Indians, they learned about the types of trade goods they should carry from experienced traders. As a result, they purchased peace medals, beads, buttons, knives, cloth, garments, and so forth to give as offerings of peace.

When the expedition encountered new tribes, they participated in a council meeting. Each council included smoking a peace pipe, a military parade, a lengthy speech by Captain Lewis, and presentation of gifts to the chiefs and leaders. In Lewis's speech, he explained that the new government would trade with and care for its new patrons as long as they remain friendly to the government and to each other. The response was usually acceptable, yet most tribes were only concerned with the continuation of trade. The expedition encountered and documented nearly 50 different tribes, and with few exceptions successfully carried out Jefferson's wishes. Overall, the Corps of Discovery proved to be outstanding ambassadors of the United States.

It was here at Council Bluffs that the Corps of Discovery had their first "Council" with the Native Indians. They met with the Oto Indians where they gave presents and peace medals and informed them of the new sovereignty of the United States. This is where Captain Lewis gave the first of his many speeches to the Native Indian tribes.

View from Council Bluffs made famous by Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery




From the monument at the top of these bluffs we can see west across the Missouri flood plain and into present day Omaha, Nebraska. The view is nothing short of spectacular. You can feel the significance of that first meeting. This was a really awesome place for Lewis & Clark to have that first Council.

We ate dinner in Omaha, now we can say we have been in Nebraska on this trip.

As if we had not done enough today the same "Mo Town" group is providing free entertainment in the Casino tonight, and we didn't miss that. On top of that we had friends arriving from central Iowa to spend the weekend with us. Det & Judy have become "old" friends after I met Det on an RV-Talk group that exchanges e-mail on RV'ing. Since our first meeting we have been getting together whenever we get close to each other. Det & Judy arrived shortly after 8 PM (they had to work until 5:00 then drive their motorhome 3-hours) and got set up in time to join us as we all enjoyed the "Mo-Town" entertainment at the Casino.

We did not get to bed early!!!

Saturday August 14, Bluffs Run Casino RV-Park Council Bluffs, Iowa: N41° 14.107': W95° 53.328' $20.12 for 50amps & water -----central dump

This was our day to "do the town" with Det & Judy. We had a day packed from can to can't. After a breakfast at Cracker Barrel we took Det & Judy to the Western Historic Trails Center, then headed downtown to tour the Union Pacific Railroad Museum which turned out to be a really good experience. The museum presented a good history of the railroad and how it was extended west across the nation. It is an exciting story about extraordinary individuals in an extraordinary time. President Abraham Lincoln was a big player as was a fellow named General Dodge.

Just the other day we were in the town of St Joseph, Missouri. St Joseph was the "first" Western terminus of the railroad. It was where settlers arrived and started their trek on foot across the California and Oregon Trail. It was the reasonable place for the railroad to continue west, wasn't it? Well, not quiet! Politics reared its ugly head. As the time neared to construct the railroad west the nation became engaged in the Civil War and as we all know Missouri was an extremely unruly and belligerent slave state even after the war was over.

I think the Federal Government (aka Lincoln) said….."OK, be that way". We will construct the railroad to Council Bluffs then across the Missouri River and the railroad will follow the Platt River route across the continent. When Lincoln made the decision the then important Railroad town of St Joseph, Missouri was bypassed and the cross country railroad route was moved up to Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska. Talk about being snubbed! Talk about wrong bed fellows! One day St Joseph, Missouri was "the consummate place of opportunity" then "THE" decision is made to have the cross continental RR pass through tiny Council Bluffs, Iowa a dinky town upriver.

Now you know the story, Iowa was a Union (non-slave) state while Missouri was a rabid slave state. My Momma used to tell me to be careful who you hang around with. That was good advice when she gave it to me. Missouri settlers, in the early 1800's, made the decision to side with slave states and it costs them dearly. If not for that decision the railroad most likely would have crossed the Missouri River at St Joseph following the Oregon Trail to the west coast.

We next visited the famous historic Council Bluffs "Squirrel Cage Jail". When the railroad came to town Council Bluffs was not ready for all the transients and the trouble they brought with them. The citizens had to construct a Jail. The one chosen was unique. In all I think 18 "Squirrel Cage Jails" were constructed in the mid-1800s.

Constructed in 1885 this unique rotary jail is one of three remaining examples of the "Lazy Susan" jails in the nation. This particular jail operated until the mid-1960s. The jail is a large steel cylinder divided into 3-stories with 12-pie shaped cells on each floor. Massive stationary bars were arranged around this movable cylinder. This perfectly balanced "jail" could be rotated by the jailer using a hand crank. All three floors moved at the same time. There was only one door out of the jail on each floor. To get out of that door the cylinder containing all the prisoners was rotated until the cell with the chosen occupant was in front of the door. No one escaped from the jail. The fire department finally closed the jail down in the 1960s because it did not meet fire codes. I don't have a web page for this place but I bet a quick google search would find some information and most certainly a better description. It was fun and we are glad that we saw it. I am glad that I didn't have to spend time in there!

The historic old Dodge Mansion in Council Bluffs, Iowa




From the "Squirrel Cage Jail" we headed 5-blocks away to the old Dodge Mansion. The "Dodge-Mansion" is where General Dodge of Union Pacific Railroad fame lived. Saying that it was opulent would not do it justice. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of this old mansion especially noting that 5 sitting presidents had dined at the dining room table in addition to Civil War Generals Sherman and one of the other "Big-Boys" who's name doesn't come to me right now. Dodge and Lincoln were close enough friends that Lincoln visited Council Bluffs and took Dodge's recommendation to run the cross continental Railroad through Council Bluffs.





Joyce at the Lewis and Clark Monument and Outlook at Council Bluff, Iowa





From there we took Det & Judy up to the Lewis and Clark Monument and Outlook located on top of the bluff overlooking the Missouri River and Omaha, Nebraska.








Det & Judy Abel as we dined in the Old Market District of Omaha, Nebraska




And as if that were not enough Det guided us to the "Old Market District" in Omaha where we dined before heading back to our motorhomes where we barely had time to spruce up before heading to the Casino for the Mo-Town entertainment that started at 8PM. During one of the bands breaks Det & Judy slipped away to drop a few nickels in the one armed bandits. Within minutes Judy hit a jackpot worth $244. That ended her gambling. She had to show us the ticket where we could see it before she cashed it in. By the end of the bands 2nd set we had to head back to our motorhomes, the activity of the day had caught up with us even if it was before the midnight hour.




Mike & Joyce Hendrix

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Mike & Joyce Hendrix

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