Friday, April 4, 2014

Burnet's Mound - Highest Point in Topeka

View from the Top.
Photo by Kevin Surbaugh

Recently my wife and I made our way to Burnett's Mound. However, it is not accessible to those with mobility issues, so I had to make the trek up the side of the mound by myself in order to take these photographs. Burnett's Mound is the tallest point in Topeka and is sight worth taking in. It was also heavily devastated by a tornado that swept through Topeka in June, 1966.

There has been many legends surrounding the mystical Burnett's Mound that have been handed down and told by spiritual and traditional ritual leaders of the Pottawatomie tribe. Wis-Ki-Ge-Amatyuk, a holy man of the Pottawatomie tribe, had told the story of Burnett Mound and the origin of its legend. In his story, he tells that long ago a quick moving tornado swept harshly across the prairies, killing and injuring many of the Pottawatomie people. He told stories of the extreme poverty that had left many of his people unprotected and un-sheltered from the powerful spinning winds. The tornado's anger left many bodies scattered upon the land along with cattle and horses. Preparation for burial took many days of prayer and upon the ceremony, it was asked that the Great Spirit of life watch over and bless the large mound with the ability to stop the powerful spinning winds. It was asked that the mound protect the people of the land and watch over the dead that had been laid to rest upon her shadow. Protected, the people of the Kansas valley will be, only by respecting and leaving the resting place of the dead undisturbed.

It was told that seven Pottawatomie's that had perished to the might of the angry wind were of personal and direct family relations to Chief Burnett. A traditional Pottawatomie song telling the story of the tornado sings, "The grass is moving, the trees are moving, the whole earth is moving..."

A portion of the Trail
to the top of Burnett's Mound.
Photo by Kevin Surbaugh

Chief Burnett often said that the mound must never be disturbed because it was a sacred place that was watched over by the Great Spirit and those who have past on, must always be respected. The people of Kansas believed that by respecting the Chief's wishes that the mound would protect the city of Topeka from the devastating power of tornadoes.

Water tower on Burnett's Mound.
Photo by Kevin Surbaugh
However, in 1960, Chief Burnett's mound was disturbed with construction at its base for an interstate bypass. Upon Burnett's Mound itself, it was cut into at the top of its north side, perfectly visual for all Topekans to view as its desecration continued to fit a 5 million gallon steel drum reservoir water tank. In the following years, building began to slowly progress around Burnett's Mound. At 6:55PM on June 8, 1966, an F5 tornado of immense power struck the city of Topeka, destroying all within its path. It lasted a total of 34 minutes ending at 7:29PM. The tornado was a half mile wide, as about 820 homes were destroyed and 3,000 damaged. Entire blocks were leveled to splinters in seconds. The tornado's violent winds was estimated at around 300 mph. Total cost was put at $100,000,000.00 making it at the time the costliest tornado in American history. Even to this day, with inflation factored in, the Topeka tornado still stands as one of the costliest on record. The tornado claimed 16 lives, injured over 500 people, and left over 3500 homeless.
View of I-70 from the highest point
of the highest point (Burnet's Mound) in Topeka.
Photo by Kevin Surbaugh

The park, Skyline Park has since become trashed and all but closed. Motor Vehicles can not enter the park beyond the gates at the entrance. They are spread apart enough that a wheel chair could be pushed through, however, in the end the highest point is not accessible to those with mobility issues. The easiest for an able bodied person is to climb one of the many trails is to park along Skyline Drive and to make the hike up the side.  The view from the top is beautiful as you can see from the pictures here. 

Burnet's Mound is a part of Skyline Park.
Photo by Kevin Surbaugh
Trail to the very top. Photo by Kevin Surbaugh

Gates leading into park.
It's all on foot from here.
Photo by Kevin Surbaugh

Panoramic View - photo by Kevin Surbaugh
Burnett's Mound taking shape again
Burnett's Mound Returning to it's Roots
Burnett's Mound Story and Legend
Burnett Mound - June 2007

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