Travel America: Land of wheat and rodeos

If you yearn for the romance of the rodeo, a glimpse into frontier days and a chance to see Ike Eisenhower's childhood home, then follow Anne Perret to Kansas

"One Kansas farmer feeds 101 people - and you," declared a sign on the state's main road, Interstate-70. And if you're looking for a holiday destination that combines cowboys and history with giga-bushels of wheat, there's no place like Kansas. Kansas City, a farmer told me, "is the breadbasket of our nation, ma'am".

As you drive west on I-70 through the Flint Hills, a spectacular landscape of rolling hills, wooded river valleys and tall-grass prairie stretches to the horizon. From the interstate road, cowboys can be seen moving their herds across this quintessential American countryside. And south of I- 70 is the Homestead Ranch - a women-only cattle ranch. If you fancy yourself as a hard-riding wranglerette, you can brand, rope and herd here.

Pioneers streamed across Kansas in the mid-19th century on the Oregon, Santa Fe and California Trails. Near Topeka, there are antique ruts gouged into the prairie by wagon wheels. Fifty miles farther west stands Fort Riley, built to protect "pilgrims" on the Oregon Trail from marauding Indians. Now it is one of the US Army's most important bases. It also offers the excellent US Cavalry Museum, a buffalo herd and Quarters 24 (better known as the Custer House) which provides a glimpse of the romance and trials of military life after the Civil War. George Armstrong Custer commanded Fort Riley, before riding away to the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Off the interstate road are towns such as Industry, Cottonwood Falls and Enterprise, with streets lined with reminders of frontier days - hitching posts, jailhouses and old false-fronted stores. At Longford, the sign on Slim's Place reads "Hamburgers & Ammunition". These are tiny communities, and their young people are leaving for the cities. At Hope - on a seat bearing the town's name - someone has added "less" in black paint.

We stayed in Abilene, featured in a corralful of Westerns. Once it was a wild cowtown, the terminus of the Chisholm Trail. Cowboys drove millions of longhorns up from Texas, to be shipped by rail to Chicago. Even now, immense, moaning Santa Fe trains rumble through the "dee-po".

A whiff of gunsmoke lingers in Abilene. In the 1860s it was a gaudy mix of gambling halls, brothels and saloons. The town hired Wild Bill Hickok to impose law and order, but one night he killed a drunken gambler in a gunfight before accidentally gunning down his own deputy. The townspeople were aghast - a lawman who couldn't tell the good guy from the bad guy was a danger to everyone. They got him out of town fast.

In "Old Abilene Town", original structures stand beside replicas. In summer there are strutting saloon girls, fast-draw competitions and a cowboy encampment where cowboy poet Jack Dewerff drawls stories about spooked herds and round-ups. Rodeos are held all over Kansas; the best is probably Abilene's Wild Bill Hickok rodeo, which opens with a parade. It is part of a week-long county fair, a showcase for quilting, canning, horseshoe-tossing and, inevitably, wheat. It's a chance to mingle with folks wearing cowboy boots, big belt buckles and Stetsons, and load up with calorie-busting fair food: corn dogs, hog wings, funnel cakes and root beer floats.

Abilene has two historic homes open to visitors. The Seelye Mansion was built by a patent medicine manufacturer enriched by Wasa-Tusa, "health restorer for man, stock and poultry". Dr Seelye and his spinster daughters had one house rule: never throw anything away. The result is a time capsule of Midwest turn-of-the-century ephemera.

President Dwight Eisenhower's boyhood home is nothing fancy - a simple house on the wrong side of the tracks. His mother was proud of her small parlour: its dime-store vases, the patchwork cushions she embroidered with her seven sons' names, and her books. Beyond her net curtains is something that made her prouder still - her son Dwight's presidential library. House and library are part of the Eisenhower Center. There's an Ike statue - a typical pose in uniform, hands on hips. There's a museum stuffed with memorabilia: the "lucky coins" Ike carried throughout the Second World War; "I Like Ike" presidential campaign buttons; and Mamie's hats - feathered, beaded and frisbee-like. Ike and Mamie are buried here.

Leaving Abilene, you may go west to Dodge City and the Rockies, but we went east, to Lawrence, an attractive town that's home to the University of Kansas. Lawrence was founded by New England abolitionists. In the 1850s it was an underground railroad stop, an improvised route for runaway slaves escaping to freedom in Canada. In Old West Lawrence, you can take a self- guided tour of the sites where townspeople courageously clothed, fed and hid these black Americans.

Fascinating stuff, and you'll have the place pretty much to yourself. Kansas, after all, isn't famed as a tourist magnet. But I'll be going back - if only to see the monument to its farmers. America's agricultural hall of fame is in Bonner Springs: sodbuster ploughs, barbed wire - and endless varieties of wheat.

Suggested Topics
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

KS1 Primary Teacher Supply Halifax

£130 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Are you an inspirational, ent...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Maths Teacher required for ...

Lower Key Stage 2 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education and recruitin...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Group: Being the UK market leader, Ran...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements