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Chikaskia River


by Larry L. Miller


The following article is modified from page #1 of the Conway Springs (Kansas) Star and The Argonia (Kansas) Argosy dated Thursday, 1 June 1989.


My memories of the Chikaskia River date back about as far as I can remember. I don't know just when I first fished on the river, but it must have been sometime in the mid 1950s. I was about six or seven years old at the time.

One early fishing trip that I remember quite well must have taken place about 1956. I remember traveling from our farm near South Haven (Kansas) to Braman, Oklahoma one hot summer day with my dad to meet Mr. Enos Martin. Mr. Martin was an older man. He must have been about 55 or so at that time. That really seemed old to me!

Mr. Martin, my dad (Clyde G. Miller), and I then traveled west of Braman on the Braman Road where we put a small boat on the river. We spent most of the rest of the afternoon setting lines along the Chikaskia. I remember how big the river looked, and how clear and clean. I also remember watching frogs jump in about every time we came close to the bank and seeing large softshell turtles sliding into the water as we rowed upstream.

I did not think setting lines was very exciting, but I remember Mr. Martin telling about all of the big catfish that he had caught over the years. Mr. Martin and my dad had both fished the river for may years. Flathead catfish well over 30 pounds had been taken from the very area where we were setting our lines. I couldn't wait until we checked our lines the next morning. We went to the river quite early the next morning. I was excitied as we put the boat into the water and started checking the lines. I remember that we did not have any really big fish, but we did have some flatheads up to about eight pounds and a number of smaller channel catfish.

There were many other fishing trips both in Oklahoma and Kansas on the Chikaskia. Some were quite successful. I can remember one such trip near Corbin, (Kansas) on which we caught a number of fish in the ten to twenty pound range and had a big fish fry along the banks of the river that evening.

Fishing wasn't the only activity involving the Chikaskia River. There were a number of picnics with friends from Hunnewell, Kansas and other towns that were held at the low water bridge on the Kansas-Oklahoma line just south of Drury. That was also a good place to play in the water on a hot summer day. We often did just that.

I spent much time around Drury, (Kansas) during 1973. That was the year a movie crew from California came to Drury to make movies. I had been teaching school in Caldwell, Kansas since 1971 and had become quite interested in photography. A few of those working with the crew provided me with some valuable help, but what I remember most was how some of the photographers seemed so interested in the river. They took many photos of the river, the old mill, and the dam. One of those photos later ended up as the cover photograph on a record album. I remember listening to David Caradine tell about the Drury Mill and the dam on the Chikaskia one night as he was being interviewed by Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. The photo of the dam and what was left of the mill was shown on network TV.

I started doing wildlife photography along and near the Chikaskia in 1975. There were lots of subjects to photograph. In 1976 I became very concerned about what was happening to the river and the southern Kansas environment in general as tons of deadly chemicals were being sprayed on wheat fields all over southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma. (Page #1 of the 28 March 1976 issue of THE KANSAS CITY STAR & page #14A of the 7 November 1976 issue of THE KANSAS CITY STAR can be used to document the massive dammage caused by the careless use of such pesticides as endrin, toxaphene, and parathion. Since these articles are coprighted by THE KANSAS CITY STAR they have not been reproduced. They were written by John M. Wylie II.) I continued my research and photography along the river and found a number of problems.

I felt the river needed help, and I felt the best way to give it that help was to better educate people. I, along with Gene Trott of Hummewell, (Kansas) and Martin Capron of Oxford, (Kansas) organized the first Chikaskia River Wildlife Study. It was held along the banks of the river near Drury in 1977. The idea was to better educate citizens as to the importance of the Chikaskia River and the wildlife that depend on it to survive. The Wildlife Study caught on and continued for the next ten stright years. Hundreds of people attended from all parts of Kansas as well as Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas during that period. Some did their own research and others helped with some ongoing projects of the time.

I continue to have a love for the Chikaskia River. Much of my photography has featured the river and its wildlife. Those photos have appeared in several Kansas magazines, on Kansas calendars, and other publications around the world. I always like to see my work published, but there is a very special pride when I see one of my photos dealing with the Chikaskia River published.

The Chikaskia is one of the few southern Kansas rivers left that is still rather free flowing, clean, and has some natural beauty left to enjoy. I hope generations to come will be able to enjoy the river as folks like Mr. Martin, my dad, and I have in the past.

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