I moved to southwest Kansas in the early nineteen-seventies as that area (Garden City, Dodge City and Liberal) experienced an economic boom based on the growth and influx of cattle feed lots, slaughter-houses and beef transport facilities. Like present day Montana, Finney, Ford and Seward, Kansas counties had just one major export….their young people, most of them leaving for better employment opportunities elsewhere.
Long past were the tourism days of Boot Hill and Dodge City’s famous Front Street and, even the then modern businesses surrounding what were once considered enhanced agricultural-production techniques including over-fertilization, extreme irrigation, and pesticide abuse, had begun to fade, mostly because of the then-already-depleted Ogallala Aquifer and the already increasing electricity costs required to operate the irrigation pumps then in use.
Like Great Falls today, southwestern Kansas was experiencing no-growth stagnancy with regard to population and business. While all of this was going on big cities around the country….Chicago, Omaha, Des Moines, Dallas and Fort Worth, to name a few, were limiting or taxing out of business their major meat packing companies. The three southwest Kansas communities just mentioned offered tax incentives and abatements to encourage those big packers to move to that area. With them came what once was considered “minority” population growth. Dodge City went from approximately 2% Hispanic population to more than 50%, and even though many quality Mexicans moved there, even more left Mexico, illegally immigrating into the United States, imagining to have left their legal and social problems behind. Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal, for the most part, didn’t receive or welcome what proved not-to-be-Mexico’s-finest.
We gained at least part of our population from illegal immigrants who were ex-convicts, mental patients, scofflaws and outlaws. Dodge City’s Naturalization and immigration Service was years behind managing the amazing influx of, not just Hispanics but Cuban Boat People, Laotians and Vietnamese, all of them moving to Dodge, Garden and Liberal to work at what were then considered “high-paying” jobs. Tent cities sprung up all over that part of the country; make-shift trailer parks built of previously abandoned and ancient mobile homes began to grow around the packing houses and feedlots, their room partitions removed so a greater number of people could sleep on their floors. Criminal activity abounded everywhere.
“Integral to the declining life-style of that day’s southwest Kansas population was the extreme filth and foul odor that permeated every part of our community. At that time, approximately 25,000 head were slaughtered daily in Dodge City’s then 3 major slaughter-houses.”
Integral to the declining life-style of that day’s southwest Kansas population was the extreme filth and foul odor that permeated every part of our community. At that time, approximately 25,000 head were slaughtered daily in Dodge City’s then 3 major slaughter-houses. These 25,000 head were also transported in huge semi-tractor-trailers through our town every day of the week, upon most of our major streets and highways, each of them slopping tons and tons of liquefied manure onto everything they passed, especially as they turned corners, slowed down, stopped, or regained movement. Crossing South Second Avenue, where I worked, required overshoes twelve months of the year, if you didn’t want your boots, dress clothes or shoes redecorated. Flies were everywhere and the stench of rotting manure and cooking blood permeated the entire area. Huge centrifuges separated the blood from water, turning the blood into meal. In the morning, everything in town was covered with a ruddy-colored dust.
A major problem then as well as now is the provision of adequate water supply to constantly bathe the kill floors of these packing houses to remove manure, hay, straw, dirt and filth that enter with the cattle. The Ogallala Aquifer, once the life-blood of Southwest Kansas, began to decline, its level lowering so drastically that towns and population bases on the outside of the aquifer no longer had adequate water supplies. Car washes, laundromats and, in some cases, underground lawn sprinklers or farm field irrigation could no longer be utilized. And the Arkansas River, once a major tributary of the Mississippi as it flowed eastward from Colorado through Kansas on its way to Oklahoma and Arkansas, began to dry up. The once stately Cottonwood trees that lined both sides of the river between Garden City and Dodge City and beyond, began to die out until, now, there’s no evidence that either river or trees were once predominate. Water, still the lifeblood of those Southwestern Kansas communities, became a hugely marketable and profitable resource.
Throughout Southwestern Kansas are hundreds of feed-lots containing millions of cows, each of them fattened for their final trip to an area slaughter-house. For 25 miles in every direction of each of these three Southwestern Kansas communities, the overwhelming stench of decaying, fermenting manure fills the air. Roads and highways, worn beyond county and state ability to maintain them, are rough, dusty and manure-packed. Cattle, like us, also have a natural mortality rate, probably aggravated by the rough treatment they receive during shipping and handling. Many of them die before they make it to the slaughterhouse. All over that part of our country are stacks of dead, bloated cattle carcasses, their legs sticking straight into the air, advertising their condition as they wait for National Bi-Products or some such other rendering or pet-food company to pick them up. The smell of death is everywhere.
In some ways our local economy was enhanced. Hispanics, Vietnamese and Cuban Boat people drove cars and pickups like the rest of us. Small used car lots began to appear everywhere and the largest new car dealers grew even larger, or so it seemed, although most of their growth was due to the demise of dealers less successful. Buy-Here/Pay-Here lots were the main financing method so repossession companies also appeared out of no-where. Title-pawn companies also began to appear, many of them dishonest. Some of the more successful immigrants got into service businesses…if your business used red rags, area rugs or rolled cloth towel machines, for instance, you began to trade with the people who distributed them, or if you hired custodial workers or low-income laborers, there were more-than-enough people to fill this need. Hispanic and Vietnamese grocery stores began to abound as authentic Mexican food restaurants took over every abandoned filling station and barber shop.
I owned a small car lot in Dodge City, similar to what I have today. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t experience growth in business based on my Hispanic and Vietnamese trade, but there was a cost that came with it. If I didn’t patronize their service businesses, I began to experience retaliatory vandalism and theft, and, if I didn’t go along with “the man” who delivered his “friends”, “co-workers”, and “relatives”, to me, I was eliminated from their “trade”. I used to enjoy the most handsome, well-dressed Hispanic man I ever met, a man who repeatedly brought his friends, co-workers and relatives to my business. Neither the Hispanics, nor the Vietnamese trusted American banks and bankers, so they generally appointed the most powerful and influential person, usually a man, from their group to act as their “banker.” Since hardly any of these people spoke English, it was important to have a translator who could help us arrange business transactions.
Julian Medranio had been a carnival worker in Mexico, then became a prison guard and just before leaving Mexico became a policeman. He was probably the most corrupt man I ever met in person. He’d show up in a shiny black Cadillac purchased somewhere else, two or three white, blond prostitutes in the back seat, and the customer of the day up front. Waving a fistful of cash, he’d tell that customer what vehicle he’d be driving home and, if the customer in any way resisted, he was beat to the ground in front of me, Julian careful not to scuff his $1100-a-pair Guccis or smudge his Cartier sunglasses.
Julian’s main business was false identification. At that time Dodge City was gaining 1,000 new Mexicans a month, most of them illegal aliens and unemployable for more than one reason. Julian kept a Rolodex of illegal identification cards, Green cards, driver’s licenses and Social Security cards. His business was selling these necessary to employment tools. To get away with this he “played ball” with local law enforcement, turning in those who refused or who were, otherwise unable, to pay for new, necessary identification.
One time when I wholesaled a Chevy pickup to another used vehicle dealer in Dodge and was asked to leave the keys in the ignition so an employee of that business could pick it up, the vehicle was, instead, stolen….by an non-naturalized Mexican. Law enforcement in Dodge had by that time already become a lot like law enforcement in many other areas…..they’d learned that their pay checks still cashed whether or not they subjected themselves and their families to danger, so did very little to assist property crimes. The “man” to call was Julian Medrano. I called him; he found my pickup, camouflaged in cardboard and cut tree limbs, in less than three hours. He turned the non-naturalized Hispanic over to the Dodge City Police who turned him over to Naturalization and Immigration, who deported him back to Mexico. Julian claimed the man’s attractive young Mexican wife, prostituted her, and took their two small children to be sold to those who’d pay for them.
Julian was constantly working on the fringes of the law and was constantly threatened with expulsion from our country. One time, when deportation was imminent, I asked him what he was going to do. Pulling out his Rolodex of illegal identification cards, he said, “I’ll be a new Mexican tomorrow!”
My family lived on LaVista Avenue, across the street from one of Dodge City’s most prestigious areas. We had apple and pear trees in our yard and enjoyed the fruit they produced, that is, until the Hispanic and Vietnamese population began to overtake us and, more than once, while were at church, our trees were stripped bare. We enjoyed our church family at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church although we never did learn to understand all of the Spanish Mass as we steadily became “the minority.”
My wife, employed by the Dodge City School District, was the head of the local bilingual Program. Because of problems within our school district, many of them caused by the multi-cultures we tried to integrate, we put our kids into safe, private schools. Right before leaving Dodge City, one of my wife’s fourth grade students was murdered near the school where she taught at Wilroads Gardens. We moved to Great Falls to escape all of this, to what we imagined would be a better life. With the Madison Food Park it looks like our lives are starting over again.