In an obscure patch of NE Kansas, Ray Omar Smith built his 60-ton monument to the American buffalo. And a 45-foot concrete map of the United States and Canada with rocks from every state and province. And a 200-foot wall of an unusual sandstone. And a 2,500-pound concrete Christmas tree that lights up and rotates on a wagon wheel.
Of the idea for his buffalo monument (The Smithalo), built to honor the buffalo's place in American history, Ray said it, "Was like a wart on your hand. If you don't do something about it, it will keep on growing." It can be seen for miles on top of a hill on Ray's property.
We met Ray briefly one summer morning in 1999, when he was 79. He was heading off for a doctor's appointment with his wife in a city a good drive away. After Ray left, one of his five sons, Wayburn, offered to show us Ray's various creative projects, as well as the ranch's caged lions and tigers.
To get up close to the Smithalo, Wayburn drove us out around the property, opened a few fence gates, passing a herd of live buffalo, and led us up to the top of Smithalo hill. The Smithalo is impressive, though not quite the monster civic buffalo you'll find in Jamestown, North Dakota. Its vantage point reminded us of Gene Cockrell's hilltop dinosaur in Canadian,Texas. Only here in Longford, there's no highway, and really nothing but swaths of grazing land in all directions.
A wire runs from the ground up the side of the Smithalo's head to a lightning rod -- this is the highest point in the area.