Blue bus with tallgrass in foreground


Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Podcast Library

Tallgrass Prairie

A collection of podcasts about the nature, history, and culture of Tallgrass Prairie NPres and the surrounding region.


Tallgrass Prairie NPres Orientation Film Audio


Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve VISITOR CENTER VIDEO This film has been made possible by a gift from the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation.

“Whenever you stop on the prairie to lunch or camp, and gaze around, there is a picture such as poet and painter never succeeded in transferring to book or canvas. [We] ought to have saved a Park in Kansas, ten thousand acres broad-the prairie as it came from the hand of God, not a foot or an inch desecrated by “improvements” and “cultivation.” It is only a memory now.” -- D.W. Wilder, editor of the Hiawatha World, Kansas, 1884

Welcome to one of the most magical places on earth, America's Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, established November 12, 1996. This magnificent "sea of grass" once covered almost one third of North America. This landscape of subtle beauty was named “prairie” - the French word for “meadow.” At this moment, you sit in the heart of one of the most remarkable stretches - a unique place that is being preserved by those who have banded together in their love of the prairie, setting aside a place for all to enjoy, a jewel in our National Park system.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve: Once an Inland Sea Over 250 million years ago this area was covered by a vast inland sea that left behind sediment and sea creatures to form layers of limestone, shale, and flint. The Flint Hills are the result of differential erosion. This process eroded away the softer shales and limestones, leaving behind the hardened flint and eroded shelves. These layers of flint and limestone enabled natural springs to form, which provide entire aquatic habitats, home to crayfish, turtles, frogs, and fish. Three types of grasslands occur in North America, ''tallgrass, mixed grass, and short grass prairie", each dependent on a specific amount of rainfall; the four main grass species - big and little bluestem, switchgrass, and Indian grass, provide a nurturing habitat for hundreds of prairie animals. There are magnificent stands of wildflowers - with different ones brightening the prairie every few weeks throughout the growing season. In the rich bottomland the grasses grow taller, where the deposited soils are deeper and more fertile and hold more rain runoff. What has made the tallgrass prairie truly thrive for thousands of years are two surprising factors: Fire ... and grazing. Nature allows tall grasses to grow to several feet high. Fire reduces shrub and tree encroachment, inhibits exotic plant species, and removes dead plant growth. This "thatch" blocks sunlight from reaching the soil - choking off new plants. Nature's solution for this dilemma is fire. Throughout the tallgrass prairie's history, lightning would strike the dead undergrowth and start a fire. These fires would race unchecked across the prairie for hundreds of miles, until they came to a river wide enough to stop them. What was left behind looked likethe surface of the moon with the limestone against the blackened prairie.

Plains Indians and the Prairie Long before the settlers came to the prairie, it was home and hunting grounds for numerous Plains Indians -Wichita, Osage, Pawnee, and the Kansa. The word "Kansa" has been translated to mean "people of the southwind". The value of bison to the Plains Indians is well documented. This magnificent animal provided food, shelter, weapons, tools, medicine, and figured prominently in ceremonial life. American Indians knew the potential of these grasslands and were “managing” the grasslands using fire, or "red buffalo" to attract bison. They watched as the bison herds sought out the fresh new shoots in the recently burned areas. Fire also improves plant palatability to grazers. Large grazers of the past included bison, elk, and pronghorn.

A Young America Moves West In 1806 Zebulon Pike and his party camped on the east bank of the Cottonwood River, below Florence, Kansas close to the preserve. He unknowingly named this area through a journal entry: "Commenced our march at seven o'clock. Passed very ruff flint hills. My feet blistered and very sore. I stood on a hill, and in one view below me saw buffalo, elk, deer, and panthers." Once considered the "Great American Desert" early explorers and traders rushed through the prairie's vast reaches for the rich soils of Oregon or even richer gold fields of California. Eventually however, this prairie land was found to be rich with nutrients and suitable for farming. Sodbuster plows tilled the North American tallgrass prairie and within a generation these vast grasslands began to disappear. Today, less than 4 % remains - mostly here in the Flint Hills of Kansas. As the westward settlers expanded into Kansas, peace officers and plowshares began to tame the "wild" west. With the vanishing bison, also came the end of nomadic tribes as they were removed to reservations and the land was settled, primarily by Euro-Americans. Not long after settlement people realized the grazing potential of the Flint Hills. The land was quickly purchased and fenced, thus ending the open range.

Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch One of the most significant ranches in this area was the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch, where you are today. Beginning with 160 acres in 1878, Stephen and Louisa Jones grew their holdings to 7,000 acres as they developed a self-sufficient farm and stock operation. The house was completed in 1881 for the sum of $25,000. The outbuildings, including the three-story barn were completed in 1882 for $15,000. These buildings were built using local Flint Hills limestone. In addition to the stone buildings, Mr. Jones donated land for the construction of the Lower Fox Creek School in 1882. To enclose his land and divide into pastures, 30 miles of stone fence were built. Jones raised Durham, Galloway, Hereford, and Polled Angus cattle. A variety of other livestock was also raised. Large gardens, orchards, and vineyards occupied the bottomland across from the house.

A Preserve for All Today at nearly 11,000 acres the preserve is a partnership between the National Park Service, ·The Nature Conservancy, and the Kansas Park Trust. Together they are working to preserve and enhance a nationally significant remnant of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, along with the cultural resources of the preserve and the heritage associated with former ranch property. The ranch headquarters area, comprised of the limestone buildings, is open to visitors year-around, including special events that highlight the natural and cultural heritage of the Flint Hills. By making such a magnificent piece of our natural and cultural heritage a reality, it is now available to be experienced and enjoyed by all. So, go .... experience the trails, breathe in the air at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve; you are in the heart of America's tallgrass prairie ...

D.W. Wilder's vision is more than a "memory now". The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is waiting for you to discover its beauty, vastness, and significance to our nation's history. The prairie is beckoning ....

Audio from Tallgrass Prairie NPres orientation film

Spring Hill Ranch House Tour Stop 1: Introduction


Welcome to the Spring Hill Ranch House at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. The grand 4-level ranch house forms the centerpiece of the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch. Completed in 1881, it stands as a beautiful example of French Second Empire Architecture, a style popular in the late 19th century. This large, stately home is also an example of great change in the American West, the transition from small ranches on the vast open range to large, enclosed ranching businesses, laying the foundations for the present-day American cattle industry.

Introduction to the Spring Hill Ranch House

Spring Hill Ranch House Tour Stop 2: Beginnings


Historic Spring Hill Ranch House Beginnings

Born in Tennessee on November 6, 1826, Stephen F. Jones, his wife Louisa, born in Georgia on January 6, 1833, and daughter Loutie, born in 1871 as the youngest of five children, all came to Kansas in August of 1878 to start a cattle ranch in the Flint Hills, building on success found in the cattle business while living in Texas and Colorado from the 1850s through the 1870s.

The ranch house, built with native limestone, faces east, making a dramatic first impression. The French Second Empire style of architecture was very popular in the 1870s and 1880s, with many public buildings, like the Chase County Courthouse and other large homes, sharing the style. This architectural style is notable for the mansard roof enclosing the upper story, with dormers and projecting gables, as well as stone cornices, brackets, and quoins adding to the elegance of the style.

Constructing the four-level, eleven room ranch house cost $25,000 and, according to local records, took 20 men working night and day to complete the home. In fact, so much activity occurred during construction, that travelers often thought they had reached Strong City, Kansas, two miles to the south, and would try to find a room for the night.

Jones came to Kansas with $100,000 to use in building the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch, named for the many springs he found on the property. He eventually acquired 7,000 acres of land and built 30 miles of limestone fences to enclose the ranch.

Origins of the Spring Hill Ranch House at Tallgrass Prairie NPres

Spring Hill Ranch House Tour Stop 3: Formal Entry, Parlors, and Interiors


Historic Spring Hill Ranch House Formal Entry, Parlors, and Interiors

The formal entry and two parlor rooms were the most elegantly decorated areas in the entire ranch house. The large formal entry doors, ornate walnut staircase, custom built for the house, and tall foyer, add to the grand feel of the space.

The parlor furnishings were donated to the preserve in 1995. None of the original furnishings survive to the present. However, the mantelpieces in both parlors, as well as the basebords, the woodwork with faux walnut paint finish, the doors and windows and associated hardware like handles and doorknobs, and most of the plaster crown molding still survive and can be found throughout much of the house.

The parlors were used for both formal and more casual gatherings. A newspaper reporter visiting the ranch in 1882 described the house as "one of the most elegantly furnished in eastern Kansas," adding that the house is "richly furnished throughout. The floors are all laid with velvet and Brussels carpets, while large and costly mirrors and an ample supply of appropriate furniture for the various rooms convinced the visitor that rare good taste was employed in the selection."

History and description of the formal entry, parlors, and interiors of the Spring Hill Ranch House at Tallgrass Prairie NPres

Spring Hill Ranch House Tour Stop 4: Staircase and Original Wood Floor


Historic Spring Hill Ranch House Staircase and Original Wood Floor

With only minor modifications, the elegant walnut staircase remains as it was when installed in the 1880s. It was custom built for this house off-site, then assembled when the house was under construction from 1880 to 1881. Each of its 98 balusters was hand carved individually. The banister consisting of seventeen separate, hand-carved pieces of walnut, was assembled with the aid of Roman numerals on the underside of each piece.

Also, please note the original pine floorboards on the staircase landing. Most of the original pine flooring was replaced in the 20th century and is now covered in oak flooring.

History and description of the walnut staircase and original wood floor at the Spring Hill Ranch House at Tallgrass Prairie NPres

Spring Hill Ranch House Tour Stop 5: Former Kitchen Areas


Historic Spring Hill Ranch House Former Kitchen Areas

The former kitchen areas of the ranch house, separated from the parlors by a short set of stairs and doorway, illustrate the changes that have taken place inside the ranch house more than any other space. Later residents would transform the space by dividing it and creating the present-day utility room and bathroom

The Joneses prepared their food downstairs in the kitchen and then carried it up a short staircase and by dumbwaiter to a butler's pantry, where the food was put onto plates and served in the dining room. Later residents would modify the butler's pantry into a modern kitchen and remove the dumbwaiter.

The root cellar stored preserved fruit, vegetables and homemade foodstuffs for the Joneses in a cool, dry environment and doubled as a storm shelter. Stephen's wife, Louisa, insisted on a storm shelter she could get to quickly since she had a great fear of tornadoes and the damage they could cause.

Down the tunnel is the spring room, where the Jonses stored perishable food. Cool spring water was piped into the house from the cistern atop the hill west of the ranch house, where it was used in the kitchen, as well as diverted into this room, continually filling a shallow trough. Glass and ceramic containers of milk, cheese, and other perishable foods were immersed in this cold, spring water, helping to preserve them for longer periods. Cool air trapped in the spring room help keep foods from spoiling.

The water followed a channel around to the other side of the spring room and was piped into yet another cistern, located underground east of the spring room. From there the water was used to power a small fountain in front of the house and to irrigate gardens, an orchard, and a vineyard in the bottomland east of the ranch house.

History and description of the former kitchen areas of the Spring Hill Ranch House at Tallgrass Prairie NPres

Spring Hill Ranch House Tour Stop 6: Office/Bedroom and Back Porch


Historic Spring Hill Ranch House Office/Bedroom and Back Porch

The first use of this room was as the Spring Hill Ranch Office, complete with telephone service. People conducting ranch business would enter the office directly from the outside through the side door to the west. The back porch enclosure was added in the 1920.

Later ranch house residents would make good use of this back porch access to turn this room into a bedroom, with the quick access to the outside useful in case of any overnight emergencies on the ranch.

History and description of the office/bedroom and back porch in the Spring Hill Ranch House at Tallgrass Prairie NPres

Spring Hill Ranch House Tour Stop 7: Dining Room and Sitting Room


Historic Spring Hill Ranch House Dining Room and Sitting Room

The two rooms north of the back porch were the ranch house's original dining room and sitting room. A doorway to the north provided entry into the dining room from the outside. The sitting room located east of the dining room were where most evenings were spent when the parlors were not being used.

This room may have also become the primary household living room in the 20th century when the parlors downstairs were turned into storage rooms. The butler's pantry and the top of the staircase from the former downstairs kitchen are along the north wall. In the 1920s and 30s, the ranch house's kitchen was moved from downstairs into the butler's pantry. To make this possible, the butler's pantry was widened to accommodate a stove, refrigerator, and other modern appliances. A doorway was also added connecting the dining room to the sitting room/living room space.

History and description of the dining room and sitting room of the Spring Hill Ranch House at Tallgrass Prairie NPres

Spring Hill Ranch House Tour Stop 8: Upper Floor Rooms


Historic Spring Hill Ranch House Upper Floor Rooms

Three rooms on the upper floor were used as bedrooms and guest rooms. Although the Jones family still had to use an outhouse, the upper floor of the ranch house also featured a bathing room, complete with a copper bathtub and water holding tank.

History and description of the upper floor rooms of the Spring Hill Ranch House at Tallgrass Prairie NPres

Spring Hill Ranch House Tour Stop 9: Front Porch


Historic Spring Hill Ranch House Front Porch

Explore the front porch and view the impressive eastern face of the house and the lovely terraces and landscaping Mr. Jones constructed to enhance the look of his ranch. Along Fox Creek, marked by a line of trees east of the ranch house, Jones began building the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch. In August 1878, he purchased 160 acres of rich Fox Creek bottomland for $2,000. He eventually purchased around 7,000 acres from local landowners and railroads and built.

History and description of the front porch of the Spring Hill Ranch House at Tallgrass Prairie NPres

Spring Hill Ranch House Tour Stop 10: Jones Family History After Leaving the Spring Hill Ranch House


Historic Spring Hill Ranch House Jones Family History After Leaving the Spring Hill Ranch House

The Jones family lived on the Spring Hill Ranch for only eight years, from 1878 until 1886, living in the ranch house for only five of those years, from 1881 until 1886. In 1886, they moved to Kansas City, Missouri so their daughter and two of her nieces could attend high school. However, within a year, Loutie married E. Percy Hickman and Stephen and Louisa returned to the Flint Hills, taking up residence in Strong City.

In 1888, they sold the Spring Hill Ranch to their southern neighbor, Barney Lantry, a limestone supplier. Stephen would then go on to be successful in banking, real estate, and several other businesses throughout the remainder of the 19th century.

In 1891, Stephen and Louisa celebrated the birth of their granddaughter, Mildred Hickman, but three years later mourned the passing of their youngest daughter and Mildred's mother, Loutie Jones Hickman at the age of 23. Mildred would be then raised for a short time by her grandparents, until she went to go live with an aunt in 1905. Then in 1908, Louisa passed away, leaving Stephen to live his final days in Wichita with his daughter, Christiana and her husband, Calvin "Wit" Adair.

Finally, in April 1914, Stephen passed away at the age of 87. He was laid to rest in Prairie Grove Cemetery in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, five miles to the south of the Spring Hill Ranch, along with his wife Louisa, daughter Loutie, and his wife's mother, Adeline Barber.

The experiences of the Jones family on the Spring Hill Ranch helped to set in place the foundations of the beloved way of life in the Flint Hills, a way of life that continues today.

History and description of the Jones family's life after leaving the Spring Hill Ranch House

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