When Liberal Was a Good Word

cows-cropped.jpgWestern Kansas is pretty dry. Irrigation, using water from the Ogallala Aquifer, makes it possible for farmers to grow bumper crops of wheat, corn, and soybeans out there. Some of this crop will go into tortillas, tofu, or bread; but a lot of it will be burned for fuel in the form of ethanol or biodiesel. In fact, some folks even heat their houses in the winter with corn-burning stoves. A whole lot of the grain will also go to feed cattle.

A year ago we spent some time in Hugeton, in the far southwestern corner of the state. We had a great time and met some lovely people there. The land is flat and you can see forever. You can almost see the nearest big city, which is Amarillo, Texas.

They have some magnificent sunsets in Hugeton. The farmer who hosted Sonja and me described the time he had spent in Chatanoogo working in his first job after college. He said “the hills and trees are nice, but you can’t see anything.”


Hugeton has Bultman’s hardware store, but when folks want to go to Wal-Mart, they drive to Liberal. I had planned to visit Liberal but didn’t get around to it. I was curious about the name and asked some Hugeton residents. They said when the area was first being settled, there was a man who had a good well and offered free water to any thirsty passerby. The common response was, “mighty liberal of you.” Liberal meant generous in those days. It was a good thing to be generous.

Our friend Alex has been working in Liberal as a pipe fitter. I told him I like it out there. He said, “I don’t.” When I asked why, he said it stinks because of all the feedlots and the strong winds constantly blow sand in your face. Evidently Hugeton is just out of range of the feedlots.

Our daughters recently drove through the southwestern corner of Kansas and the area where Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico nearly meet.

(Go to Part II)