The Mighty Missouri River Valley out here on our door step is ruled by the mosquito in the summertime, but is also home to some of the greatest catfish in the world and they have been the subject of many stories and exaggerated tall tales down through the years. Sometimes, referred to as the whiskered river whale, the current official world record for a blue cat is a 57 inches long, 130 pounder, which was pulled from the Missouri back in 2010. The Missouri state record for the largest flathead (better known in these parts as the “Mud Cat”) was caught in the Big Muddy and weighed in at 99 pounds.
Across the border in territorial Kansas, before statehood, there was a hotel on the southeast corner of Fourth and State Avenue known as Brown's Hotel. It was a four room log cabin that was run by Isaac Brown, a Wyandot Indian. The Surveyor General and his survey crew stayed there during the time they were surveying the Kansas Border. That particular year, the spring thaw had caused an ice jam that shoved a large number of catfish out onto the banks at Kawspoint (that is the point at which the Big Muddy and the Kaw River collide down there under today's Lewis and Clark viaduct). The catfish were easy pickings as a result, so, the fish were gathered up in buckets and prepared by the hotel cook. The survey crew were so delighted with the numerous catfish meals that they rechristened Brown's, “The Catfish Hotel,” and the name stuck – Brown's was known as the Catfish Hotel from that point forward.
That was a true story, but some of the tales passed down through the ages about those river monsters had to be exaggerated. For example, in 1882 the local newspaper reported that a wrecked riverboat had been located in the Missouri and a rather large number of catfish nearby were dead drunk on whiskey leaking from the hold of the ship. Another whopper reported by the same newspaper in 1889 told of a very wet year and claimed the Missouri River catfish were eating up the wheat crop in parts of Kansas.
One of the old settler tales told about a mud cat that had gotten trapped in a calf lot during an overflow and was found to have swallowed a bear. Then, there was the one told by a politician about a 210-pound mud cat that had a gold bracelet in its belly, along with a hound dog, a pair of leather gloves, and had swallowed seven copies of the city ordinances.
Speaking of river monsters, down U.S. 69 a few miles in Lynn County is LaCygne, along the banks of the Maris des Cygnes River, the Bull Frog Capitol of Kansas. Maris des Cygnes is the French term for “Valley of the Swans.” LaCygne, once French territory, is today the location of a Kansas City Power and Light generating plant. The abundance of water and marshlands is ideal for bullfrog gigging and legend has it, they sometimes grow as big as jack rabbits. Sometimes on summer evenings the bull frog croaking is so loud a fella' can't hear himself think.
Kansas State Fisheries Warden Del Travis even started raising the critters at the state fish hatchery to study the potential for profit for Kansas farmers. Travis said the demand for frog legs is enormous, fabulous prices are being paid by hotels and restaurants for this much desired table delicacy, In fact, business was really hopping for a dealer up in Michigan, who shipped 17,350 dozen frog legs to restaurants across the country in a single season.
Reference: “Forgotten Tales of Kansas City” by Paul Kirkman.
-- To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.