PADUKAH, KA — One of our nation’s great myths is that Native Americans were the only people living in this country when the European settlers arrived.
“There was another race,” American historian George St. Jones announced at a recent History Network Symposium. He held a small, tattered book high above his head. “I found this diary of one James Smith in the Padukah, Kans., library archives. It tells of the Scarecrow Nation which made its home in the wheat and cornfields of the Midwest.”
According to the diary, the settlers’ arrival surprised the “strawmen,” who had tried to keep their presence a secret.
“They had hidden from the Native American tribes in the region and were caught with their overalls down,” St. Jones said. “We believe they evolved from a Pleistocene form of grain that prospered during the Ice Age. Either that, or the weight of the glaciers crushed cave people until their skin became flat, shredded strands. That would account for the slightly blue tint described by Mr. Smith.”
Drawings in the diary suggest that the average strawman stood 6 feet high and wore a plaid shirt, denim overalls and a floppy hat. Their strange language contained many birdcalls and whistles, which made them adept at scaring off crows. Fragile but very intelligent, the strawmen were terrified the new arrivals would make them slaves — or worse.
“But the two groups not only became friends, they came to an arrangement,” St. Jones went on. “The settlers would protect the Scarecrow Nation from aggression and fires and, in return, the Scarecrows would stand in the fields all day to ward off the destructive crows. It was a win-win situation.”
The Scarecrows helped the new farmers survive the harsh seasons and often hostile environment.
“The ‘People of Thatch,’ as they were sometimes called, knew the land,” said St. Jones. “They’d been there for hundreds of years. Here on page 76, the diary’s author wrote, ‘Many of the men go to the strawmen with questions about seasons, sun, rain, soil, temperatures, planting and harvesting. The strawmen carry inside their heads a wealth of information about the natural world.’”
The diarist says that the Scarecrows would doze during the day, lying in stacks. The farmers went about their business, trying not to disturb them. If a Scarecrow were awake, the settlers might take a break from their labors and talk together. They would share water — which, along with sunshine, was the only sustenance the strawmen required.
“Unfortunately, more and more settlers came and one day the Scarecrow Nation just vanished,” said St. Jones. Reading from the diary he said: “‘June 1, 1823. I went to talk to their leader, a straw boss named Reed. When he failed to respond with his usual sing-song tootling, I had a closer look. Reed was gone, replaced by an inanimate replica. I looked around. The Scarecrows were all gone. We shall miss them.’”
A week later, while investigating the fields around Padukah, St. Jones heard a strange whistling sound on the wind. He thought it came from a series of caves known as Big Gypsum. However, when he went to discover the source he found nothing — except strands of straw on the dark cave floor.