Local historian releases book of ‘Kansas Oddities’

By Sam Jack

Roger Ringer, a former longtime resident of the Garden Plain/Cheney area, recently released his first book. “Kansas Oddities” includes a sampling of the odd and extraordinary stories Ringer has encountered during his long career as a Kansas history interpreter and enthusiast.

“I tell the stories as they are,” Ringer said. “I’m not a historian that tries to put any kind of opinion or twist on them, other than I’m always in awe of the fact that there’s no such thing as a typical Kansan.

“Kansans walk to the beat of their own drummer,” he continued. “They see that star in the sky, and they reach for it, and they don’t quit until they either fail trying or make it. That’s the history of the entire state.”

One of the stories highlighted on the book’s cover concerns Just Bill, the celebrity rooster.

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“Bill was owned by a man in Stafford, and he won several championships in rooster competitions,” Ringer said. “He was noticed by Warner-Pathé pictures. They were looking for a rooster to be their MGM lion, their mascot.”

The rooster not only had a great crow, he had been trained to deploy it on cue.

“Bill brought down the house,” Ringer said. “So he was given a contract and went to Hollywood. Now every time you see an old Pathé newsreel or one of their early movies, the opening scene is always Just Bill, crowing. It’s one of those strange little stories nobody has heard of outside of Stafford.”

Ringer also highlights Kansas inventors. Two inventors from Goodland created an early model of a helicopter, and the first production automobile west of the Mississippi was built in Parsons.

Some other stories are downbeat, or even tragic. Ringer tells the story of a natural saltwater mineral spring that was destroyed in the 1950s, and of Threshing Machine Canyon, the site of a deadly 1850s Native American attack on a wagon train.

“There are just stories from all over the state, and all different portions of the state. Hopefully the book is successful enough to where we can come back with a volume two or three.”

The book is available in print or via download on Amazon, and it should be stocked at Barnes & Noble, Sam’s Club and Walmart stores in Wichita, Ringer said. Marci Penner of the Kansas Sampler Foundation wrote the foreword.