I grew up in Neosho County that rubbed elbows with Crawford County, Kansas. Both counties are near Cherokee County. Funny, how you go through life seeing places, driving their roads and yet not truly recognizing them either. In the past few years, I have learned to see these counties in their historical lights.
I did not know that Cherokee County was once Cherokee Land, that some of my ancestors settled and farmed there. I did not know my great-grandpa on the other side owned numerous vaudeville theaters and some stills in Crawford County. (This county was nationally famous during Prohibition for producing the best brew, called Deep Shaft.) The area drew immigrants from various European and Balkan countries when the coal mines opened up. Many a miner’s wife opened cafes in their homes serving Italian or German dinners to coal miners.
The area is still known for its chicken dinners! The menus are all about the same. Crusty fried chicken, German potato salad (vinegar and oil style), and German slaw. The only real variance is the amount of garlic used. I say the more the merrier. We have eaten many times at Chicken Mary’s and Chicken Annie’s, but we had never been to Barto’s Idle Hour. That changed on Saturday night.
Barto's has been in business for about 65 years now. It was a packed house so we were grateful to have made reservations. When the gal learned we had never been there before, she reserved us a table right at the dance floor edge. Yep, they dance too. The crowd is mostly seniors and they knew how to dance. Some wobbled when they walked, but their feet were free birds when dancing. I loved watching the grace of their slides and stomps. The music was rock and roll, western, ballads and polka was my favorite and boy, would I like to learn how to polka! You can’t watch or listen to polkas without your happy button lighting up!
The real draw was music was provided by my Dad’s cousin, Cotton Westoff. I had never met Cotton, but since he plays at Barto’s one a month, we decided to drive over. He plays his guitar and sings now to fancy equipment, but he played in bands during the 60’s. He has performed in 48 of 50 states, Europe, and South Africa. He once toured with the Roy Clark band among other musicians. He has lead an interesting life. Now 77 and his family grown, he sticks close to Kansas. I hope to go back and hear more of both his music and stories.