|About Willa Cather|
|About the Foundation|
|Visit Red Cloud|
|Books & Gifts|
|Newsletter & Review|
|Country Tour Around Red Cloud|
The Country Tour highlights 21 historic sites related to the life and writing of Willa Cather. You may schedule a guided tour of these sites by contacting the Willa Cather Foundation; or, you may purchase a detailed map for a self-guided tour.
Heading south out of Red Cloud, you will see to the left a large cottonwood grove on the top of a knoll about half a mile east of the highway. This is the setting for A Lost Lady. On this hill in 1870, the first settlers in Webster County built their stockade. Later, Silas Garber built his home there.
Willa Cather describes the cottonwoods as throwing sheltering arms to left and right of the house. The Garber house burned in the 1920s, but the cottonwoods and the lilac hedge are still there. It was in the cottonwood grove that the Cather children and their friends used to picnic as described in A Lost Lady.
Continuing south, you come to the Republican River, the river of O Pioneers!, My Antonia, One Of Ours, A Lost Lady, Lucy Gayheart, and many short stories. On the bluff south of the river, you may ascend to the Indian grave and view the Republican River Valley. Here Willa Cather used to bring her younger brothers and sisters to spend the day, entertaining them by reading Idylls of the King (Tennyson) and "Sohrab and Rustum" (Matthew Arnold). It was from this bluff that Willa Cather saw the plow against the sun, described in My Antonia.
Four miles south (on 281), visitors will find the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie. Owned and managed by the Willa Cather Foundation, this 608-acre tract of virgin mixed-grass prairie exemplifies the land that Cather loved and wrote about in her novels.
"As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea...and there was so much motion in it, the whole country seemed somehow, to be running." — My Antonia
Old Mill DamAs you begin the tour, one of the first stops you will make is the Old Mill Dam, the site of the mill location in One of Ours. The mill dam was destroyed in the flood of 1935.
"Claude told his mother he meant to take Enid Royce for a sleigh-ride. Enid was the daughter of Jason Royce, the grain merchant, one of the early settlers, who for many years had run the only grist mill in Frankfort County. She and Claude were old playmates; he made a formal call at the mill house, as it was called, every summer during his vacation, and often dropped in to see Mr. Royce at his town office.
The mill road, that led off the highway and down to the river, had pleasant associations for Claude. When he was a youngster, every time his father went to the mill, he begged to go along. He liked the mill and the miller and the miller’s little girl. He had never liked the miller’s house, however, and he was afraid of Enid’s mother. Even now, as he tied his horses to the long hitch-bar down by the engine room, he resolved that he would not be persuaded to enter that formal parlour, full of new-looking, expensive furniture, where his energy always deserted him and he could never think of anything to talk about.
Claude was thinking, as he walked, of how he used to like to come to the mill with his father. The whole process of milling was mysterious to him then; and the mill house and the miller’s wife were mysterious; even Enid was, a little— until he got her down in the bright sun among the cat-tails. They used to play in the bins of clean wheat, watch the flour coming out of the hopper and get themselves covered with white dust.
Best of all he liked going in where the water-wheel hung dripping in its dark cave, and quivering streaks of sunlight came in through the cracks to play on the green slime and the spotted jewel-weed growing in the shale. The mill was a place of sharp contrasts; bright sun and deep shade, roaring sound and heavy, dripping silence. He remembered how astonished he was one day, when he found Mr. Royce in gloves and goggles, cleaning the millstones and discovered what harmless looking things they were. The miller picked away at them with a sharp hammer until the sparks flew, and Claude still had on his hand a blue spot where a chip of flint went under the skin when he got too near.
Jason Royce must have kept his mill going out of sentiment, for there was not much money in it now. But milling had been his first business, and he had not found many things in life to be sentimental about. Sometimes one still came upon him in dusty miller’s clothes, giving his man a day off. He had long ago ceased to depend on the risings and fallings of Lovely Creek for his powder, and had put in a gasoline engine. The old dam now lay “like a holler tooth,” as one of his men said, grown up with weeds and willowbrush." ”“One of Ours
Murphy GraveShortly after seeing the site of the Old Mill, you will come upon an abandoned cemetery. This land was part of the Miner Ranch, and was given by J. L. Miner to be the Catholic Cemetery. About 1904 most of the graves were moved to the Red Cloud Cemetery.
Interest for Cather scholars lies in the fact that here is buried the prototype for Larry Donovan of My Antonia. He died of tuberculosis in 1901. On his tombstone is the inscription, "Gone but not forgotten."
“Larry Donovan was a passenger conductor, one of those train-crew aristocrats who are always afraid that someone may ask them to put up a car-window, and who, if requested to perform such a menial service, silently point to the button that calls the porter. Larry wore this air of official aloofness even on the street, where there were no car-windows to compromise his dignity. At the end of his run he stepped indifferently from the train along with the passengers, his street hat on his head and his conductor's cap in an alligator-skin bag, went directly into the station and changed his clothes. It was a matter of the utmost importance to him never to be seen in his blue trousers away from his train. He was usually cold and distant with men, but with all women he had a silent, grave familiarity, a special handshake, accompanied by a significant, deliberate look. He took women, married or single, into his confidence; walked them up and down in the moonlight, telling them what a mistake he had made by not entering the office branch of the service, and how much better fitted he was to fill the post of General Passenger Agent in Denver than the rough-shod man who then bore that title. His unappreciated worth was the tender secret Larry shared with his sweethearts, and he was always able to make some foolish heart ache over it.”— My Antonia
The IslandWest of the mill dam was the island which appears in "The Treasure of Far Island," "The Enchanted bluff," and Lucy Gayheart. The island is also a wistful memory in Alexander's Bridge.
In Lucy Gayheart winter prevails on the island. Cather mentions black willows, twisted scrub oaks, and the bronze light of a winter sunset. In "The Enchanted Bluff" it is summertime with yellow-green willow wands, new sand, and skeletons of turtles and fish. In "The Treasure of Far Island" the island marks both the beginning and the fulfillment of a dream.
This island was the playground for the Cather and Miner children. They came southwest from Red Cloud across the open fields to the river where they used an old boat to reach the island. The island was destroyed in the flood of 1935.
Miner RanchNext, you’ll stop at the Miner Ranch near Indian Creek, also a playground for the Cather and Miner children. On the banks of Indian Creek, Silas Garber and other early settlers decided on the name Red Cloud for their town.
Bladen Road (Road 800)This road leads to the Divide. This may have been the one Alexandra traveled in O Pioneers! As you travel this road, you will notice the slow, steady climb in elevation. The Divide marks the high middle ground between the Republican River and the Little Blue River, near where Cather’s family originally homesteaded.
“When the road began to climb the first long swells of the Divide, Alexandra hummed an old Swedish hymn, and Emil wondered why his sister looked so happy. Her face was so radiant that he felt shy about asking her. For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her. Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every great country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.”— O Pioneers!
Clay Shelving DrawsClay draws are examples of land formations used to provide initial shelter for the pioneer families. A cave type structure was often dug into the side of the hill with a sod house added on the expanded front entry.
“But for the piece of rusty stovepipe sticking up through the sod, you could have walked over the roof of Ivar’s dwelling without dreaming that you were near a human habitation. Ivar had lived for three years in the clay bank, without defiling the face of nature any more than the coyote that had lived there before him had done.” -O Pioneers!
North of Highway 136, on the Bladen road (Road 800), stands the Dane Church. Active in the early history of this church was Yance Sorgesen, a Norwegian immigrant farmer, who hired a Czech named Ondrak to paint a picture behind the altar. He chose "Christ in the Garden." When Willa Cather took her father to see it, Mr. Cather observed that the halo looked like a ring of cheese. Cather was furious. Later a tornado destroyed the little church, and when Ondrak heard it, he cried, "My Yesus! My Yesus! Blown all to hell!"