National Geographic : 1969 Jul
origin. In May 1867 a new railroad, soon to be known as the Kansas Pacific, extended its tracks to Abilene, and by September cowboys were driving herds of longhorns from Texas to market them by rail. For a hectic five years the devout inhabitants suffered a plague of trail-weary cowhands who sought strenuous amusement at the Drovers Cot tage and the Alamo Saloon. Drunkenness and licentiousness reigned. Marshals like "Wild Bill" Hickok-still a local hero-frequently employed violence of their own to keep the peace. Then other towns replaced Abilene as the South west's pivotal railhead, and the brutal tumult ended as abruptly as it had begun. In the ensuing calm, the Kansas town grew quietly and solidly into a typical Midwestern county seat-the pleas ant, tree-shaded agricultural center of Dwight Eisenhower's formative years. Golden Age in Abilene The passage of more than half a century has wrought few changes in Abilene. Huge grain ele vators flank the town like sentinels-stark against the scudding prairie clouds. Where the neat frame houses end, the rich farmland begins, rolling from horizon to horizon. Religion still dominates com munity life, as it did in Ike's boyhood. One minister says proudly, "Abilene is the only town I know that has more churches than gas stations." "In the case of Dwight Eisenhower," a historian has explained, "the influence of Abilene can't be overemphasized. Ike grew up in a kind of golden age. From 1900 to 1917, towns such as this repre sented the most stable and vital element in Ameri can life. The virtues cultivated by townsfolk industry, thrift, independence-shaped his entire philosophy." The future President bore the stamp of Abilene throughout his life, just as another small-town boy, Mark Twain, bore that of Hannibal, Missouri, through a long and illustrious literary career. The first thing that strikes a visitor to Abilene is the location of the Eisenhower home-preserved now as a shrine. The President and his parents lived, literally, on the wrong side of the tracks. Then, as now, the Union Pacific roadbed split Abi lene socially and economically. To the north lay the principal streets, the shops, the opulent dwellings. South of the tracks-and the Eisenhowers lived on Southeast Fourth Street-lay smaller, plainer houses and open fields. Not long ago a reporter, in Abilene seeking friends who might have known the general in his youth, was told not to bother visiting one high-school classmate. "He lived on the north side," a local informant explained. "He wouldn't have been a friend of Ike's." For the Eisenhower children-seven boys, of "I've always loved my wife..." FROM LAST WORDS, MARCH 28, 1969 SAUCY, BLUE-EYED BELLE from Den ver and the ramrod-straight West Pointer (right) met late in 1915 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Ike's first post after graduation. On July 1, 1916, Mamie Geneva Doud and the young lieutenant repeated marriage vows that would hold strong and true for more than half a century. Numbing tragedy struck in 1921 when their first born, Doud Dwight, died in infancy. A second son, John, was born the following year. He graduated from West Point, served under his father's command in World War II, and is now Ambassador to Belgium. The Eisenhowers knew many homes and many separations, as Army life kept Ike moving from one assignment to another. Not until the twilight of their years-after the vicissitudes and vic tories of World War II and the Presi dency-would they establish permanent residence in their own home, the be loved farm at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where they quietly celebrated Ike's 73d birthday in 1963 (above).