Maybe not a “Wonder of the World”, but I had never seen these stone posts, aka post rock, until I moved to Kansas. And I hadn’t really looked close. When I noticed these, I was fascinated!
Years ago we were headed west and Big Boss was pointing out the field of corn and how much it had grown the past week. A pasture of cattle came up next…yep, they were looking good. Really gaining fast! But, what in the world was holding that fence up around them? It looked almost like…well, it couldn’t be…wow, it was! Rock!!??
The history books tell us (along with several websites) that when Kansas was first settled, farmers went about breaking out the tall prairie grasslands. You could see for miles and miles and miles! All that grass just swaying in the wind! Remember the scene from “Dances With Wolves” where Costner is on his way to Fort Hays and he stands on the prairie with his hands touching the top of the grass turning around in wonder at the beauty of the countryside? And he could see for miles and miles…
Those miles and miles were visible because the Kansas landscape lacked something. It certainly didn’t have mountains or many hills to block the view. That was obvious. But it also didn’t have trees…something that I suspect the early pioneers were shocked to discover. NO TREES?!! Seriously?
No trees meant that there were no logs to build cabins out of. There was no firewood to build fires with so they could cook meals, keep warm and ward off wild varmints. There was no wood to build fences with to mark their land off and keep their livestock secure and confined.
The settlers adapted. Quickly. They found that buffalo dung, when dried, made a very nice fire. Many hours were taken up by dung/chip collecting…usually a job for the women and children. Then they found that wood wasn’t absolutely necessary for house-building. They could simply dig into a hill and make a cave aka dugout. Or they could harvest huge patches of the prairie topsoil/sod and use the pieces like brick.
The fences were another matter. What to do. What to do. Searching the prairie for something, anything to use to hold the fence wire, their eyes turned to the ground and there lay before them rock. Solid rock. And lots of it. Seems most of the state has a 8″-12″ thick plate of limestone and that would work nicely for a fence post.
The process of extracting those stones from the earth was time-consuming, back-breaking, dangerous and ingenious. Without going into detail about the quarries and the rock, it will suffice to say that if our only source of fence posts today was following this process, we wouldn’t have many fence posts!
The minute I laid my eyes on these stone posts that still stand today, especially west and north of us, I saw all sorts of possibilities. I wasn’t the only one. There’s an entire industry in carving these posts..some by hand, some using laser technology and sand-blasting. Now, the “post rocks” are used as landscaping features and in architectural design.
See the two vertical marks on the center stone? Those are quarry marks show where, according to the Bluestem website, “holes were drilled about 4 or 5” deep into the rock and 9- 12” apart along a line marked for splitting; feathers and wedges were placed in the holes; and tapping the wedges lightly with a stone hammer split out the slabs, posts, or blocks.”
We were fortunate to have some neighbors to supply us with some of the post rocks that were on their land and no longer used, so BB built the fence around our house using these posts. At that time, we were still running cattle on pasture all around the house. They were eating everything in sight, including my newly planted trees, veggies, bushes, grass….yeah, we needed a fence!
Then I got the notion to try my hand at stone carving. The limestone is not hard to carve and with some time and a few false starts, I turned out my very first carved post. The bigger projects though, were left to the experts!
There’s just something about these fence posts that are so intriguing to me. I always wanted our home to look like it had been here for the last 100 years…like it just kind of sprang up out of the ground. Natural and plain and sturdy. Simple.