Tuesday, September 27, 2016

P. S. to Libraries

I just discovered that September 25-October 1 is Banned Books Week.  I thought that was interesting, since this week's blog features the importance of books, libraries, and librarians!  The article I read said that this year the emphasis focuses on the importance of diversity in children's books.  A review showed that only 10% of published children's books have multicultural content.  That is not reflective of our population.  As for banned books, many popular books have appeared on that list over the years, including "The Wizard of Oz"!  Since my post shows my husband reading from "The Wizard of Oz" I thought it was worth mentioning that sometimes well-intentioned people  get a little carried away when it comes to banning books.  That is another instance in which the role of librarians can be so important!

Maybe that banning is why the Scarecrow looks so perplexed!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Libraries Make the Difference!

Reading Oz in Macksville Grade School Library
Whatever the cost of our libraries the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.  --Walter Cronkite

Isaac B. Werner left family behind to build a new life in the West, and as a young druggist he prioritized the acquisition of a fine library at the top of his list for spending saved cash.  When he decided to move further west to claim a homestead and timber claim in Kansas, he managed to find a way to ship his impressive library to his prairie home. 

His collection of books included a wide range of subjects, including law, penmanship, history, art, literature, biography, travel, politics, elocution, grammar, medicine, and other topics.  (See "Isaac's Library," 2/2/2012; "Who Reads Shakespeare," 5/30/2013; and "Art in Isaac's Life," 1/22/2014, in the blog archives.)  Isaac was a serious reader.  As I have indicated in other blogs, I attempted to purchase some of the titles Isaac had owned, buying the oldest editions I could find to better represent the editions he owned.  The scholarly content of most of the books he collected stand as evidence that he was a sincere autodidact.  See "Isaac, the Autodidact," 11-13-2014 in the Blog Archives.
Summer program in Macksville City Library

"...[W]hen a library is open, no matter its size or shape, democracy is open too."  --Bill Moyers

One of Isaac's ideas was to establish a library in the County Seat of St. John, where farmers and populists could go to study.  His local Farmer's Alliance did establish a library in the Emerson School where they met.  Isaac built the book cupboard, and members, strapped for cash as they were, voted an assessment to purchase books.  Much of the library was gifted by Isaac from his own collection, however.

Today we are fortunate to have access to books, whether we are rich or poor.  Schools have libraries, and in Isaac's old community there are fine public libraries in St. John, Pratt, Stafford, and even the small town of Macksville.

"The Public Library is...at once an ode to the glory of our most democratic institutions and a culturally necessary prompt to defend them like we would defend our freedom to live, learn, and be--a freedom to which the library is our highest celebration."  --Maria Popova

Used book store in Philadelphia
Today we are also fortunate to have easy access to books through the internet, whether we are ordering books for our own libraries or reading e-books or excerpts available online.  What is less available online, however, is the guidance of librarians.  

"I see them as healers and magicians.  Librarians can tease out of inarticulate individuals enough information about what they are after to lead them onto the path of connection.  They are trail guides through the forest of shelves and aisles--you turn a person loose who has limited skills, and he'll be walloped by the branches.  But librarians match up readers with the right books."  --Anne Lamott

Statistics show that fewer people read books today, finding their entertainment and information elsewhere, and libraries are trying to adapt.  Not only are computers a part of modern libraries but also objects (like cake pans) may be checked out.  DVD rentals seemed to be an important part of one local library's service to the community during a recent visit that I made.

"The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community."  --Paula Poundstone

The ability to check out unconventional things at the local library may not seem to serve the ideals expressed in the foregoing quotes, but a library containing the most incredible books ever written serves no purpose unless people come to the library to read those books.  When Laura Bush said, "I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card," I doubt that she was referring to the ability to check out things other than books.  Yet, perhaps the visitor that comes for a cake pan will leave with an armload of cookbooks, or the child that checks out a movie will discover books about that historic period or movie theme--especially if the librarian is a good "trail guide" with time to direct the visitor to appealing books.

Take a book/Leave a book in Pratt, KS
For Norman Cousins, "A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life."  Sadly, no ideas will be born if the library does not attract readers.  Imagine the excitement of children attending the country schools of Isaac's community in the late 1800s if they entered any one of the public libraries today's residents enjoy.

Libba Bray expresses the potential that many of us have come to take for granted:  "The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and striving of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance..."

Isaac and his neighbors who settled the Kansas prairie knew that.

(P.S. for Pratt area residents:  After several months of renovations the Pratt Library is planning to reopen for adult and teen sections on October 24th.  The library will be closed Oct. 17-22 to move the book collection into the new locations. That will accomplish Phase I and II, with Phase III scheduled for the end of the year.) 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

May I Borrow Your Sewing Machine?

Ad from County Capital
The ad at right is from the County Capital published in St. John, KS.  Isaac B. Werner subscribed to that newspaper, and one day as he was returning home from St. John he stopped at a neighbor's home to borrow their sewing machine.  I do not know what kind of a machine he borrowed, but it is possible that whatever it was may have been purchased from Gray & Company in St. John, the local dealer.

Neither do I know why Isaac needed to borrow a sewing machine.  However, as a bachelor homesteader, Isaac would have needed to do his own mending.  I doubt that he made his own clothing, although he was so handy at doing anything he chose to do that he probably could have been a tailor.  More likely, he borrowed the sewing machine to patch his old clothing.  There wasn't much spare cash for buying anything new!

Quilt block & picture of quilt
You may recall that in my recent blog, "Waiting & Rejection" I said I would spend time learning to use my 'new' but untried sewing machine to take my mind off of waiting to hear from a publisher to whom I submitted a proposal.  Well, I kept my commitment, but after sitting unused for 2 1/2 years, the machine would not start.  Back to the store it went, and a new circuit board was installed.  My quilting project is now underway.  All the pieces are cut, and the first block is sewn.  The finished quilt alternates pieced blocks creating a cross shape and appliqued blocks of a bunch of flowers tied with a ribbon.  

Some of my quilting fabric
Apparently September has been designated Quilting Month for 2016, at least a website I visited made that claim.  That is a wonderful excuse for me to spend time at my "new" sewing machine and to take some classes to learn how to use it.

I like to make scrap quilts, using leftover fabrics that would otherwise have no purpose.  Since I no longer make garments, my collection of scraps is stagnant; however, I doubt that I will ever use all of the scraps I have inherited from my mother, my husband's mother and grandmother, as well as from others!  

State Fair Quilt
Some of my friends make lovely quilts with perfect corners.  My quilts will never win a prize for their perfection, but they are wonderful to sleep under.  I enjoy using my imagination to find uses for my collection of scraps, and when the quilt is finished I enjoy recalling the original purpose for which the fabric was purchased or the person who shared the scrap.  I believe my sister-in-law shared the green fabric used in the block pictured above.  Even when a pattern inspires my quilt I don't follow the pattern completely.  My flowers in the quilt use yo-yos as the blossoms, with antique buttons for their centers.  I also plan to change the border.

Pat Knochel at Pratt Area Quilt Guild
I like to think of myself as following the tradition of the early prairie quilters, who made their quilts from scraps because they were thrifty and did not have the money to buy new fabric to cut up for quilt pieces.  They used their imaginations to make beautiful, one-of-a-kind quilts, as well as crazy quilts with oddly shaped pieces of fabric.  Some of their one-of-a-kind quilts were so beautiful that they were copied and became traditional patterns.  For me, using my imagination is a big part of the fun of quilting!

This week has been a busy quilting week for me.  On Monday I took Lesson 1 from my wonderful teacher Michelle Nichols and gained a lot of confidence about using my new machine.  Tuesday we attended the Kansas State Fair and, as always, I enjoyed seeing all of the beautiful quilts.  One of my favorites was the crazy quilt pieces in circles placed on a black background.  We returned home in time for me to be a guest at the Pratt Area Quilt Guild's meeting at which Pat Knochel, sister of Eleanor Burns of Quilt in a Day fame, presented a demonstration and shared many beautiful quilts with hints about how to make them.  Thank you Quilt Guild for welcoming guests!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Why celebrate July 4th?

Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1900
Ask people to quote the opening words of America's Constitution, and at least some of them will begin, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal..."  Those are important words, but they do not come from the Constitution.  They open the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.  We celebrate July 4, 1776 because 56 men were brave enough to sign The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.  Doing so made them traitors to the British Crown.  Today we know that their quest succeeded, but at the time they affixed their signatures the likelihood of success was shaky, to say the least.

Their Declaration began, "When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another...they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation."  These quoted sections are familiar to many Americans, and the date of the Declaration is known to nearly everyone, but many of us have forgotten or never read the detailed reasons given by the signers.  We sought our independence because of what those signers believed were "...a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.  To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World."

The U.S. Declaration of Independence
The key phase to this Declaration, in my view, is "let Facts be submitted."  It is the linchpin to our democracy.  These founding fathers did not simply say, 'Great Britain is a long way off and we are of an independent nature, so let's establish our own nation.'  Rather, they provided specific facts in support of their actions.  Neither did they stop by simply alleging "repeated Injuries and Usurpations."  They listed what they found injurious and wrongful appropriations.

When they concluded their Declaration by "mutually pledge[ing] to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor" they understood the consequences should their cause fail.  It was facts that they set before the world and facts which made ordinary men in the militia of the separate states take up arms.

In 1776 ordinary Americans needed to rely on the honor of their leaders' word.  Today we have Fact Checkers!

Political cartoon from County Capital
The drift toward name calling and distortion of facts was already well established by the time workers confronted wealth and power with the progressive movement.  Initially, Isaac joined with others in his county in a local Farmers' Alliance, and their goals included:  "To develop a better state mentally, morally, socially, and financially;" and "Constantly to strive to secure entire harmony and good-will among all mankind and brotherly love among ourselves."  The Alliance was the organization upon which Isaac and many other Kansas farmers placed such hope for educating and improving farmers lives and the methods which would allow them to succeed. However, ultimately workers came together politically, and the ideals of the Alliance were overwhelmed by political language.  Political speakers and political cartoons villainized those with opposing views and exaggerated and distorted facts to support their opinions and belittle the opinions of their opposition.

Were there exaggerations among the facts given in support of declaring independence from Great Britain.  Probably.  But causes are more likely to succeed when facts form the motivation for actions.  The People's Party failed when they set aside their original goals and followed the call of a candidate whose oratory drifted away from facts and appealed to emotions."...[W]e shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns.  You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold," cried William Jennings Bryan, and the People's Party left behind their own goals to join the Democrats in nominating the young Nebraska orator for President.  The power of strong language stirs voters now, as Bryan's oratory did in Isaac's time, but the Founding Fathers' example of basing decisions on facts remains a model for every generation.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Creating a "More Perfect Union"

Once "We the People" had declared our intention to "form a more perfect union," the Constitution needed to describe how that was to be done.  It is the details contained in the following 7 Articles of the Constitution that have both allowed the United States of America to succeed as a democracy and have often proven difficult to implement.  In very brief summary, provided primarily to inspire readers of this blog to review the full text of the Constitution for themselves, here are the 7 Articles.

United States Capitol, west front
Article I:  Section 1 reads, "All legislative Power herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."  Sec. 2 describes the makeup and powers of the House, and Sec. 3 does the same for the Senate.  Sec. 4 assigns the role of each State in selecting their Senators and Representatives.  Sec. 5 deals with the manner of conducting the business of each house, and Sec. 6 describes compensation, as well as certain privileges from arrest.  Sec. 7 assigns raising Revenue to the House and gives the Senate the power to propose or concur with amendments, and describes the process for passage of bills.  Sec. 8 defines specific powers given Congress, and Sec. 9 lists specific powers excluded.  Sec. 10 specifically limits the powers of States.  

White House, north & south exposures
Article II:  Section 1 deals with the manner of election of the President; Sec. 2 describes the President's powers; and Sec. 3 deals with the President's responsibility to inform and recommend to Congress, receive Ambassadors and Public Ministers, take care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and Commission all the Officers of the United States.  Section 4 addresses grounds for impeachment of not only the President and Vice President but also all civil Officers of the U.S.  

Dole Center, Lawrence, KS
Article III:  Section 1 describes not only the Supreme Court but also lower federal courts, and describes judges' tenures as limited only by lack of good behavior; further it deals with compensation of judges.  Sec. 2 describes the nature of cases to be heard, and Sec. 3 deals with Treason.  

Article IV:  As our nation has grown, the number of stars on our flag has increased, and Article IV deals with the relationship of the federal government with the states and their citizens.

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick

Article V:  It was anticipated even as the Constitution was being drafted that there would be the need for Amendments, and Article V provides for that.  The image of me seated beside a granite text of the First Amendment was taken in Philadelphia with Constitution Hall in the background.  

Article VI:  While Article VI consists of 3 paragraphs, they are not enumerated as separate sections.  The first paragraph deals with debts incurred during the Revolutionary period.  The second paragraph imposes on the states recognition of the Constitution, laws, and treaties as the supreme Law of the Land, such that states cannot ignore or amend them.  Finally, Officials of the U.S. and the States shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, and no religious Test shall ever be required.  

Memorial to Soldiers in Philidelphia
Article VII:  Twelve states--NH, MA, CT, NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, VA, NC, SC, and GA--were represented among the signers of the Constitution, but Article VII provides that ratification by nine states shall be sufficient for the Establishment of the Constitution.

In conclusion, the risk of offering such a brief summary is that confusion or misimpression may result.  Our Constitution is the treasure at the heart of our nation.  Some of us studied it in school, but full appreciation is difficult for the young.  I hope this blog makes many of you curious to read or re-read our Constitution.  Even in the midst of our busy lives, it is worth setting aside the time.  And, the truth is that such an amazing document is actually very short.

The people's voices are heard through elections, and Isaac B. Werner voted in elections in which the voices of Kansas farmers came together to express the power of the common man.  As the strength of political parties wax and wane, it is the Constitution that holds the nation together.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fifty-two Words

Constitution of the United States
Because I am writing a manuscript about a homesteader and his community actively involved in a political movement, and because this is a Presidential election year, it seemed important that I take a look at the American Constitution.

As an attorney and as the author of two books dealing with Constitutional issues, I am probably more familiar with the Constitution than most Americans, but an occasional review of the document that forms the basis for our government is important for all of us.

After the Civil War (during the years of the late 1800s when the populist movement was evolving), the two major American political parties showed the influence of the war.  In the North, the Republican Party of Lincoln predominated, and Black voters in the South also tended to vote Republican.  Most land-owning Southern White voters were Democrats.

In Isaac Werner's community many settlers had taken advantage of the benefit given Union Soldiers, crediting a year toward their homestead claim's 5-year residency requirement for each year of military service for the Union.  That resulted in a strong Republican membership among Kansas settlers throughout the state, which continues to the present time.

Then, as now, there was a gulf between the wealthy and the working classes, and the populist movement sought to establish a third party that represented farmers, ranchers, factory workers, and other members of the working classes.  There were many attempts to organize, but the most successful was the People's Party.  Workers believed that both Republican and Democratic candidates for political office forgot the promises made to workers during their campaigns and were more influenced by the wealthy and powerful once they were in office.  The People's Party sought to elect candidates that worked toward goals of the working people of the nation once they were elected.

Signing of the Constitution
The men who came together to draft our Constitution expressly intended to "promote the general welfare" when they signed their names to the document dated September 17, 1787.  A century later, it seemed to the working classes that politicians were more influenced by promoting the welfare of powerful and wealthy men than in acting on behalf of all Americans.

Workers also questioned the even-handedness of Justice, with such examples of the power of the wealthy in hiring private mercenaries like the Pinkertons and in using political influence to call out government forces against peaceful strikers.

Among the books inventoried for Isaac's estate was the "History of the United States."  I do not know if Isaac had a copy of the Constitution, but he had so many books that many were sold at his estate sale by the box rather than individual titles.  In addition, prior to his death he donated nearly one hundred of his books to the community library of the Farmers' Alliance during the populist movement, and many of those books were of a political nature.  It is almost certain that Isaac was very familiar with the Constitution.

When the Constitution was written, providing for the common defense involved reliance on the militia of the separate states, a reliance reflected in the 2nd Amendment.

An important role of the government and those elected to serve the people is often overlooked.  That duty is "to insure domestic Tranquility," a responsibility some political rhetoric seems to disregard during election campaigns--in Isaac's time and today!

The opening fifty-two words of the Constitution are:  We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Waiting & Rejection

From my Calla Book Collection
Brevity is one of the writing blogs I occasionally follow, and a post titled "Turning the Tables:  The Art of Waiting" caught my attention. Sandra A. Miller and Marc Zegans shared their feelings about waiting to hear from a publisher after submitting a proposal, beginning with the basic truth:  "Waiting sucks!"  It was Marc who offered the best solution:  "The key is to not wait."

I probably think he offered the best advice because that is my approach as well.  Of course, what makes waiting so difficult is the fear of rejection, and Marc has a suggestion to confront that fear:  "...we can simply admit it, tell a friend, decide what we'll do if things don't turn out as hoped, and then plunge back into life."  So, here I am telling my blog friends that I am awaiting a reply from a publisher to whom I have submitted a proposal for Bachelor Homesteader.  

From my Children's Books Collection
I am way ahead of his advice about plunging back into life.  One way I do that is by reading.  I even found a study reported by Nicholas Bakalar in which researchers using data from 3,635 people over the age of 50 (who were participating in a larger health study) divided the sample into three groups:  non-book readers, readers up to 3 1/2 hours a week, and readers more than 3 1/2 hours a week.  They found that book readers lived, on average, almost 2 1/2 years longer than non-book readers, with the 3 1/2 hours or less 17% less likely to die over the 12 years of follow-up and those reading more 23% less likely to die over that period.  Even reading half an hour each day had a significant survival advantage.  For newspaper and periodical readers there were significant but weaker survival advantages.  Wow!  Just another reason to read books!!

With all the focus on construction projects recently, there are things besides reading books that I enjoy but have neglected.  One of those things is spending time at my drawing board, and the pencil drawing of Father Time for my New Year's post was my last time in my studio.  But, at last I sat down to draw a portrait I have wanted to do since my subjects were about 2-year-olds, and now they are young scholars.  I also did a drawing of our cat.  Children and pets are my favorite subjects.

Quilt in progress with old machine
Another thing I enjoy is quilting, and my husband bought me a wonderful new sewing machine over two and a half years ago that hasn't sewn a stitch since we brought it home.  I have completed the task of straightening up my sewing room so I can get to my machine, which is at least a start.  I started once before, trying to discipline myself by beginning step-by-step, reading the instructions page-by-page before actually plugging in the machine.  I didn't get beyond the pages identifying all the parts!  My current approach is just to plug in the machine and go for it!  Even if I break my promise to finally do some sewing, at least the sewing room is neat as a pin...an apt cliche'.  

Marc's advice recommended doing a mini-project, suggesting "Pick[ing] something small that will take your mind off things then reward yourself for doing it."  Maybe confronting all the challenges of my fancy sewing machine is too much.  But, then again, I am typing this on my new computer with Windows 10, so how much harder can the sewing machine be?

Cross your fingers for me that this publisher will like my proposal.  And invite all your friends to my blog and my author's face book page so I can show a publisher a devoted following.  I spent much of the late spring and early summer editing and tightening the manuscript, and I confess that having laid it aside for such a long time made me  more brutally objective in my editing.  I believe the manuscript is stronger, and I hope the editor reading the sample chapters that accompanied my proposal agrees.  In the meantime, I may just start a quilt!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Remember the Maine!

Political cartoon from the County Capital
On August 12, 1898 representatives of the United States signed a peace protocol with Spanish representatives in Washington, D.C. ending the short-lived Spanish-American War.  Although Isaac B. Werner died in 1895, his estate remained open until 1898, and my manuscript continues his story and the story of the Populist Movement until the closing of his estate.

The arc of Isaac's life on the Kansas prairie and the arc of the Populist Movement during the 1880s and 1890s ran a similar path, and I use that parallel arc in structuring the manuscript.

The Spanish-American War may be little known by most Americans; yet, it played an important part in the international role America has played and continues to play today. 

Political cartoon from the County Capital
Isaac's community certainly knew about events leading up to the War, for both cartoons in this blog came from their populist newspaper, the County Capital.  In addition, articles from the newspapers published by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were re-published locally.  These reports emphasized Spanish atrocities committed against the Cubans, reports that drove the call for war.

The explosion sinking the U.S. battleship Maine was what ultimately led to the War, first having been identified as resulting from a mine and only later explained as an explosion of a boiler on the ship.  The atrocities and the explosion stirred the sympathies and anger of Americans to support a declaration of war, but the philosophy of America's "Manifest Destiny" to expand also played a role.  By 1898 expansion had reached the west coast of the continental United States, and many believed it was time to look beyond our continental boundaries.  That was not, however, what stirred the common people.

Charge of the Rough Riders
There was also a split over how to pay for the war.  The populists generally favored a pay-as-you-go approach through taxes, but the wealthier class favored bonds.  The cartoon above-left expresses that disagreement.  Its caption reads:  "Hanna:  I don't see anything down there that money won't pay for."  This is a reference to a speech given by Nebraska Senator Allen opposing the issuance of bonds:  "There is not one of that power, sir, who would not see this government sunk to the bottom of the ocean if he could make a fortune by it.  There is not an impulse of patriotism, not a feeling of affection for the government among them.  The government is to them simply a carcass upon which they can feed and fatten."  President McKinley's advisor, Hanna, is depicted as the diver whispering into Uncle Sam's ear to go to war.

The Spanish-American War lasted only about 3 months, and many of its soldiers were drawn from the unemployed.  The cartoon above-right illustrates the post-war reality for these men.  In the years leading up to the war, many jobless men were living on hand-outs, traveling in search of work.  These "tramps" may have found temporary employment as soldiers, but when the war ended there remained no jobs for them.

Cuba obtained their freedom from Spain, although the U.S. army occupied Cuba until 1902 and it remained under U.S. supervision until 1934.  Puerto Rico and Guam became U.S. territories, and the Philippines did not gain independence from the U.S. until 1946. 

John Hay signs Treaty of Paris ending Spanish-American War
For many Americans today, their primary acquaintance with the Spanish-American War is of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders; however, battles fought on water were probably more important to the defeat of the Spanish.  The Battle of San Juan Hill fought by Roosevelt and the Rough Riders was the main land battle, but the sea battles and the siege at Santiago de Cuba, which led the Spanish Commander for that city to surrender on July 17, 1898 are regarded as the pivotal battles.

About 350 Americans died in fighting for the Cubans, but far more died of disease contracted during the war.  For the Spanish, the war signaled the collapse of the mighty Spanish Empire.  For America, it introduced the U.S. as a major world player.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

One Community's Country School

District 70 School, Stafford County, KS
Because early settlers valued the importance of education, providing schools for their children was a high priority.  I have written several blogs about early schools which can be found in the blog archives.  "Early Kansas Schools," 12-17-2015; "Isaac Builds a School House," 10-11-2012; "One Room Schoolhouse Surprise," 7-12-2012; "Once There was a Community," 3-5-2015; and "Back to School," 9-24-2015.

However, I had the opportunity to examine the records of one Stafford County country school--records that dated from 1885 to 1940--and they provided an interesting glimpse of a specific community.  Naturally, I was particularly interested in the early records which covered the time period during which Isaac Werner helped build District 33, Emerson School in Stafford Co., KS and attended various community meetings in the school.

The records I examined were of School District 57, in Stafford County, Kansas, Township 24, Range 15, sections 19, 20, 30, 29, half of 28, 31, 32, half of 33, 6, 5, and half of 4.  School District 57 was located just a few miles southwest of Macksville.
Today's students travel miles to reach school, but before there were buses and cars that could cover long distances quickly, schools were located nearby the families they served.  District 57 served 8 full sections and 3 half sections, drawing its students from 9 1/2 square miles.  
The Clerk's Record for District 57 states that the school district was formed May 9, 1885, notices having been posted April 28, 1885.  At the first district meeting on May 9, 1885 the following officers were elected:  R. T. Anderson, Director; J. L. Carter, Treasurer; and C. E. Seibert, Clerk.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs describing early country schools, children were needed to help with the farm during busy planting, hoeing, watering, and harvesting seasons, so school was conducted during a Fall Term after harvest and a Spring Term prior to planting.  Unfortunately, the school terms occurred during months of more severe weather, which may account for some of the absences I observed in the attendance records.

Eight family surnames were represented among the 1887 Fall Term and 1888 Spring Term at District 57.  Among the 16 students, ages ranged from 5 to 15.  The teacher's method of keeping attendance was confusing, with classes in September, October, and November, but possibly December as well, as there appeared to have been a total of 95 days of instruction.  The same students are listed for the Spring Term, although one 14-year-old boy who did not attend in the fall attended spring classes and entries were made for an unnamed student.  Classes ended May 11, 1888, with a total of 60 days of instruction.  Twelve children had perfect attendance, but 4 boys missed more than 20 days, perhaps at the end of the term when they were needed to work in the fields.

Emerson School House Isaac Werner helped build
Through 1888 the teachers' salaries were $30 a month, except for the last teacher, who received $32.50.  In 1889 the salary reverted to $30, but 1891-1894 the salary was $35 a month.  The Annual Statistical Report posted in another part of the Record indicates that there was no difference between salaries of female and male teachers over those years reported. 

Lumber for the school house was $198 + 30; freight on the school furniture was $27.88; digging the well was $12.50 and the pump was $8.50; the stove and fixtures were $19.10; and plastering the school walls was $49.50.  Charges for coal were $5.50 a half ton.  One expense that stood out as a significant measure of the community's respect for the children's education was $12.50 for a Dictionary!  While these amounts may seem small today, this was a huge expenditure for so few families to share in such hard times.

It was fun browsing through the records of one community's commitment to the future of their children.  I hope you enjoyed looking back about a century and a quarter with me.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pot Luck Suppers

When we first came back to the farm as part-time residents, we celebrated with a pot luck dinner on the lawn.  I didn't think it was anything unusual, for when I was a child such occasions were frequent.  Of course, air conditioning was not common in every household, so summer evenings on the lawn were more pleasant than being indoors after a hot afternoon had baked the interior, which wasn't likely to cool off until bedtime or later.  Watermelons cooled in the tank or homemade ice cream the women made inside and brought out for the men to crank were frequent deserts.

For our return-to-the-farm dinner on the lawn, we had guests from distant cities and guest from farms not far away.  We provided the meat and something else that I no longer remember, and our guests brought vegetable dishes and deserts, as I recall.  It was not until the guests from the neighborhood began talking about what fun it was to dine on the lawn--something they hadn't done in years--that I realized that the scene I had recreated from my childhood was no longer common practice.

Isaac mentioned pot luck suppers several places in his journal.  He was the chairman for a Christmas supper at the school house for neighbors that belonged to the Farmer's Alliance.  The People's Party held a pot luck lunch in St. John for a political rally, although they would have called the noon meal dinner.

Pot luck meals have not disappeared--they are just held indoors in air conditioned comfort today.   Sometimes they are family events, like the Memorial Day noon meal where the photographs in the blog were taken.  Sometimes they are school events, like the annual pot luck supper on awards night at the local high school.  When Mother was living in the nursing home, families were occasionally invited to a pot luck supper so that residents could introduce that families.

The food is as good as the cooks who bring it, and that is often very good!  With so many women working, many things on the long tables may come from the grocery store rather than their kitchens, which would not have been the case a generation or two ago.

My favorite pot luck supper story involved the monthly Sunday evening pot luck suppers at our church.  One lady brought a baked ham that was so outstandingly good that all the other ladies asked for her recipe.  She stalled with one excuse after another, until the other ladies finally assumed she was unwilling to share her special recipe and allow every other cook in the community to bake a ham as delicious as hers.

As it turned out, she wasn't being selfish about sharing her recipe.  It was just that her ham had a special ingredient that she knew most of the women asking for her recipe would not approve.  That wonderful flavor they all admired came from her having baked the ham in beer!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Isaac Kills a Skunk!

When we first returned to the farm, we were told that since skunks are nocturnal animals, seeing a skunk in the daytime is an indication that it could be sick, and further, that rabid skunks are commonly found in the area.  Since then, a skunk in our yard in the daytime is about to be a dead skunk.

In general, I enjoy sharing our farm with wildlife, with the exception of moles and gophers! I'm not happy when deer eat our young trees or when mice seem to prefer houses and barns for their winter lodging, and coming upon a snake unexpectedly makes me jump.  Barn swallows are messy, but they eat a lot of mosquitoes, and it breaks my heart to see a coyote chasing a fawn.  Yet, in most cases we tolerate the other residents of our farm in exchange for the delight they give us.

Perhaps I saw Bambi  too many times and fell in love with Blossom, or maybe it was the charming Pepe' Le Pew in Looney Tunes that gave me such a soft spot in my heart for skunks.  I actually think they are beautiful.  Unfortunately, their odor isn't, nor is the risk of rabies.

Isaac Werner had no soft spot for skunks.  They were a danger to his chickens, and in one instance when a skunk managed to get inside his hen house he killed it with a hammer.  (Isaac never mentioned owning a gun in his 480 page journal, nor was a gun mentioned in the extensive inventory of his estate, although the details did include his toothbrushes!  Apparently he did not own a gun.)

One evening, when he had worked late helping a neighbor put the roof on his dugout, he returned home to find a "family" of skunks in his house.  He wrote that he disposed of them quickly, but he didn't mention what he used to do that, and I can only imagine how his house smelled when he finished!

Whatever Isaac used, he must have been close enough to have risked a bite by the skunks.  I don't know if rabies were a problem for the settlers, but I do know that a skunk that showed up at Isaac's farm was about to be a dead skunk too!   

Thursday, July 14, 2016


It is a dark, damp, windy morning at the farm, but I had a fabulous post ready to send.  I clicked "publish" as I always do, and then clicked "View Blog" to see the post.  It is gone!  So this morning I am afraid to send another completed blog out into the stormy weather where Mother Nature seems to have intercepted my earlier post.

Maybe she will read it and send it along to you later this morning when she is in a better mood...I'm still hopeful I can retrieve it...somehow.

If not, I'll see you later...with a new post...

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Please help me search!

Neelands and Spensers on front porch
I know that I have procrastinated so long that many of you may have thought I would never really get back to my manuscript to make revisions.  Well, I have!  While I was going through the manuscript, page by page, editing and tightening, I collected references to photographs taken at Isaac's farm.  This week's blog shares those references in hopes that someone might identify a photograph in their collection of old family pictures as fitting the description.  (The photo at right is one a blog follower shared with me of the Neelands, who are mentioned in Isaac's journal.)
Isaac met amateur photographer Seth Blake at a political rally in Pratt, KS in July of 1890 and was delighted to learn that Seth lived only 7 miles south of Isaac's homestead.  A quick friendship formed, and the following day the two men worked together at Isaac's farm building a dark tent.  Later that day they exposed 2 dry plate experimental views of Isaac's well curb and stable.  
Occasionally Seth would leave a camera with Isaac to use, but most of the time he came on Sundays to take the photographs himself.  Isaac took photographs of the Co-operative Potato Patch and of his horses.  When Seth came the following Sunday, he photographed the Millers, the Campbells, the Fracks, and the Fergusons at Isaac's farm, as well as a group of 9 women who posed under the trees and by Isaac's well curb.
Arthur, Hazel, Verna & Helen
One Sunday was particularly busy, beginning with appointments with Bonsals and Mayes at their homes, and continuing back at Isaac's farm of Graff and Penrose in their buggy, the Carr team and wagon, boys on horses, girls posed sweetly, Sadie and her children, and Mrs. Henn and her family.
The neighborhood made coming to Isaac's place a regular Sunday destination, whether to pose or merely to enjoy watching others being photographed.  One Sunday Seth Blake photographed one group of youngsters in the lovers' promenade and the McHenry team and his boys on horseback.  However, the center of attention that day had been Miss Anna Carr and Miss Balser.
Seth Blake failed to get photographs back to people promptly, and the enthusiasm for posing waned, but Isaac was still picking up photographs at Miss Shira's gallery for Blake the day before the 1890 November election.  That same trip, Isaac mailed views of his farm to Harry Bentley in Salt Lake City, and to his siblings.
On a later trip he complained about the quality of Miss Shira's work in processing the glass plate negatives, believing too much having been done by an apprentice rather than by Miss Shira herself.
As you can see, a great many of Isaac's neighbors had their photographs taken by Seth Blake, and most of those pictures were processed by Miss Shira's studio.  If you recognize any of the family names I hope you will take a moment to remember whether there are any old pictures in your collections that might match the underlined descriptions.  Most of these pictures were taken at Isaac's homestead, so it would be wonderful if an image of Isaac's farm could be found, and equally wonderful if images of people he mentioned in his journal could be located!
(Neither of the two photographs above was taken by Seth Blake, but they are intended to be representative of the types of pictures described.  The children on the horse are my aunts and uncle. ) 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Isaac's Neighbors and Acquaintances

George Tousley
Last week's blog identified the early settlers in Isaac Werner's township.  This week I will share more acquaintances mentioned in Isaac's journal.  As those of you who regularly follow the blog know, Isaac wrote in his journal every day from 1884-1891, and the journal was 480 pages in an oversized legal ledger. If you do the math to compute how many days of entries his journal contains, you have some idea of the number of people he mentioned.

I indexed all of the surnames mentioned in the journal, and my index has a column of eight pages, single spaced, listing each surname.  I have not indexed each page on which the surname is mentioned; however, I have noted each year that surname is mentioned.  The indexing does not include 1870-1871 when Isaac was in Illinois.

Dr. Isaac Dix
Several readers of the blog have expressed interest in knowing some of the names.  This blog will not include every name, but what I will do is include names mentioned in the journal during four years or more.  The surnames are alphabetized, so you can search quickly for names in which you are interested.  If you do not find the surname you had hoped to find, you can send me an e-mail at txfen@msn.com with the name(s) in which you are interested and I will reply to you.

Neelands & Spencers on porch of their house
There are a great many names mentioned during periods of 3 years or less, which are not included in this blog listing.  The number of years that a particular surname is mentioned does not necessarily indicate how often the name appeared in a given year.  Some names that appear in fewer years may have been mentioned more frequently during a specific time than names that are included in this blog.  Because early settlers moved on, while others arrived later, some acquaintances did not know Isaac for longer periods.  

The following names are given alphabetically, with the number of years in which that surname appears in the journal given in parenthesis:

Baker (4), Beck (7), Bentley (7), Blake (7), Blanch (6), Briggs (4), Brown (4), Capbell (8), Carnahan (6), Church (5), Clouse (6), Curtis (8), Davidson/Davison (4), Dix (8), Eggleston (8), Farwell (6), Ferguson (5), Frack (8), Garvin (6), Gereke (8), Gillmore (4), Gloyd (5), Goodman (4), Goodwin (7), Green (7), Gullet (5), Hacker (5), Hall (4), Harrison (4), Hart (4), Henn (8), Hicks (4), Hilmes (4), Holbrook (4), John (5), Jones (4), Lewis (6), Marten/Martin (4), Mayes/Maize (5), Moore (4), Naron (4), Neeland (6), Pelton (4), Ross, Mrs. (7), Rowe (4), Searls (4), Seeley (6), Shaler (6), Shattuc/Shattuck (8), Shoop (5), Smith (7), Stimatze (7), Stringfield (6), Swartz (4), Tanner (4), Thompson (4), Toland (6), Tousley (6), Vosburg (7), Webber (8), Wilson (4) 

As I explained, the above-listed names are only a small portion of the surnames mentioned in the journal.  I researched every name mentioned, using records at the courthouse, ancestry.com, gravestones, newspapers, and interviews.  If your ancestor lived in St. John, or claimed a homestead south of St. John or on the northern boundary of Pratt County, or was a merchant in St. John or Pratt, or was active in Farmers' organizations or the Stafford County People's Party, there is a strong chance that Isaac mentioned them in his journal.

Let me hear from you!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Surnames of early settlers

Last week's blog shared the importance of preserving information descendants have about their ancestors so that future generations will not forget their past ancestry.  Often in writing my manuscript about Isaac B. Werner and his community, I have asked readers to look for old photographs.  This week I am urging readers of the blog to review the surnames I am sharing to see if family names appear.

Homesteads and Timber Claims, Albano, Stafford Co., KS

This map was copied by me from  Stafford County History, 1870-1990 and I do not know who to credit with making the original map.  It identifies those settlers who originally claimed homesteads and timber claims in Albano Township.  I copied it while doing research in order to enlarge it, and this copy is of my enlargement, which is still difficult to read because of labeling each of the 36 square mile sections in the township, all of which are subdivided.  The sections are numbered 1-36, beginning in the upper right and continuing in horizontal rows until concluding with #36 in the lower right corner.  Some of the divisions differ, with a larger or smaller claim.  The identification "TC" indicates a timber claim.

You will recognize some of the names from earlier blogs, for example Isaac H. "Doc" Dix has both a homestead and a timber claim in the north half of Section 31.  Isaac's two claims are in Section 33, his homestead in the lower-left corner and the timber claim that was assigned to his brother Henry in the upper-left corner.

Claims were limited to 160 acres, but you will notice that not all claims were in the corners of the sections.  For example, California Smith claimed 160 acres in the center of Section 21 and Mattie M. Beck and Peter A.N. Beck (no known relation) claimed rectangular properties in Section 18.  In addition, not all the claims were a full 160 acres.

To help you read the surnames, I will list them by section number:  #1 Pelton, Hunt, Frack, Wenzel; #2 Eddingfield, Long, Toland; #3 Smith, Williams, Webber; #4 Wasson, Neelands, Dunlap; #5 Neil, Bowling, Weeks, Clark; #6 McKibben, Mainline, Lynch; #7 Curtis, Smith, Goodwin, Markham, Martin; #8 Stambaugh, Shilt, Osgood, Curtis, Rex; #9 Neelands; #10 Cubbage, Neelands, Loftiss; #11 Frack, Pixley, Bowker, Bair; #12 Wenzel, Moody, Moore; #13 Cubbage, Davidson; #14 Tanner, Kackelman, Newton; #15 Toland, Loomis, Bedenhamer, Dilley, Stimatze; #16 Neelands, #17 Grunder, Hart, Frazee, Toland; #18 Beck, Rea, Hainline, James; #19 Smith, Skinner, Fox, Tousley; #20 Hall, Furman, Fitch, Rice; #21 Blanch, Rice, Smith, Stimatze; #22 Tobias, Frack, Carnahan; #23 Tanner, Davison, McHenry; #24 Davison, Hazelton, Goodman, Tompkins, Gibbs; #25 Bushell, Goodman; #26 Davison, Tobias, Cullison; #27 Stimatze, Campbell, Graff; #28 Shattuck, Frack, Henn; #29 Holbrook, Wasson, Vosburgh; #30 Webber, Rearick, Smith; #31 Dix, Fountain, Rogers; #32 Barker, Vosburgh, Rowe; #33 Werner, Ross, Bentley; #34 Mayes, Bonsall, Gareke, Shoop; #35 Young, Cullison, Smith, Tompkins, Dumen; #36 Reynolds, Jacobs.

You will notice as you read the surnames that I did not repeat the surname if the property extended into another section nor if more than one person with that surname made a claim.  You will also notice that many of the claimants were women.   For example, in Sections 24 and 25 you will see the surname of Gibbs, which indicates a claim by two unmarried sisters who occasionally visited Isaac to admire his trees or buy seed potatoes. Sometimes when families arrived they would each build separate residences, whether dugouts, soddies, or shanties, so that each member of the family could claim 160 acres.  This was especially true of siblings.  For example, Jerome M. Vosburgh and his wife claimed the southeast quarter of Section 29 and his unmarried sister Persis Vosburgh claimed the adjacent northeast quarter of Section 32.  Single women were entitled to claim their own homestead; however, when Jerome's wife died and Aunt Persis assisted her brother in caring for his children, some neighbors attempted to claim Persis' quarter, saying that she no longer maintained her own home on the land.  Isaac Werner and other neighbors supported the right of Persis to claim the property as a single woman and supported her contention that she did maintain her own home there.

I hope some of you with ancestors in this region will take time to study this drawing of Albano, Stafford Co., KS and consider whether you have stories or images to share with me.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Interviewing Relatives of Isaac's Neighbors

Isaac's "Dream Home" glued in his journal
I found Isaac Werner's journal in 2010 because I stayed in Kansas after my Mother's death to handle her estate.  To fill the days while waiting for estate matters needing my attention, I did some research about my family, and in that way I stumbled upon the journal.

Immediately I recognized the historic value of Isaac's journal, and I laid my family research aside to begin what has consumed--off and on--six years of research.  I realized that a few "old timers" remained in Stafford County who might help me collect information about early settlers, and I also realized that many with family connections going back that far were already gone or had memories less clear than they once were.

Now, six years later, I wish I had been more successful in reaching out to some of those people.  However, one gentleman that I did interview was Milton Mason John, Jr.  I was particularly delighted to talk with him because of his connection to Isaac's neighbor, G.G. John.  According to the probate records of Isaac's estate, G. G. John checked on Isaac daily for five months until it became necessary for Isaac to leave his home to obtain round-the-clock nursing care.  G.G. made Isaac an invalid chair and ran occasional errands in town for Isaac.  The request he made against Isaac's estate for his services was minimal, unlike another neighbor who bled Isaac's estate for an outrageous amount, given the wages being paid in the community at that time.

Southern home from 1800s
I came to admire G.G. John for his barely compensated attention to his declining neighbor, and I was eager to learn whatever Milton could share.

G.G. John was a brother to Milton's grandfather, and all of the boys in that family were given double initial first and middle names--Eleazer E., Milton Mason, Olin Olo, George G., and even John J. John.  G.G. John lived just to the west of Isaac Werner's timber claim, and Milton remembered G.G.'s home as quite large, with porches nearly all the way around.  Perhaps because the Johns had come from Virginia, G.G.'s house was built in the Southern style.  It no longer exists.  The information Milton gave me allowed my research on ancestry.com to provide more details that I might not otherwise have learned.

The image at the top of this blog was a clipping Isaac had glued in his journal--perhaps Isaac's dream home he hoped to build one day.  Milton described G.G.'s home as having been built in the "Southern style," so perhaps the photograph above might be similar, or perhaps the clipping Isaac saved with its porches might have resembled what G.G. built.

Milton Mason John, Jr. died this past March 27, 2016.  As a past St. John Postmaster (1955-1959), followed by his service as a rural mail carrier until his retirement in 1989, Milton was known and loved by many people.  I am sorry that he did not get to see my book about Isaac Werner published, but I am so grateful that I had a lovely interview with him that has become part of my research for the manuscript.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

2016 Cather Conference

W.W. I inspired painting

Detail of the above painting
Since my blog post of March 17, 2016 titled "Occupying My Time" (which you can find in the blog archives) shared that my  proposal for a paper had been accepted, I thought you might enjoy a follow up blog about the conference.  This year's Cather Conference in Red Cloud, NE focused on Cather's Pulitzer Prize winning novel One of Ours, in which the main character struggles with finding a purposeful life until he becomes a soldier in W.W. I.  My paper, titled "The Road Not Taken:  Comparing Cather's One of Ours with W.W. I Poetry," began with the Robert Frost poem by that name, a well-known poem which is rarely recognized as being related to W.W. I.  Twenty-one different poets were referenced in my paper, many of whom were soldier poets.  Did you notice that the cloud behind the farmer in the above painting was created from images of soldiers?  Farmers were considered very important to the war effort, as were the frugal cooking efforts of women and the plot gardens growing food for families so commodities needed for the soldiers were not consumed. 

American poet Alan Seeger
Perhaps the poem that best describes struggles most similar to what Cather's hero Claude Wheeler faced is "Sonnet 10" by Alan Seeger.  Seeger lived a bohemian life in Greenwich Village and the Latin Quarter of Paris before enlisting in the French Foreign Legion in 1914, well before his own country entered the war.  The sonnet begins, "I have sought Happiness, but it has been a lovely rainbow, baffling all pursuit..." and concludes "...Amid the clash of arms I was at peace."  Seeger is best known for his poem I Have a Rendezvous with Death, but it is Sonnet 10 that expresses the purposefulness of fighting for a cause in which you believe, which Seeger shared with the fictional Claude.  Seeger was killed in action on July 4, 1916, before the American troops arrived.

Der Tag from the exhibition
My paper was well received and I was pleased when several of the friends we have made at earlier conferences came to hear me read.  I had great fun preparing the paper, and I actually enjoyed presenting it.  I'm not sure whether I will ever have the opportunity to read it anywhere again nor whether I will publish it, but the days I spent exploring the wealth of W.W. I poetry, writing the paper, and preparing the slide presentation that accompanied my reading (with the power-point training from my nephew Darin Beck and my 'presentation assistant' Larry Fenwick), was time well spent for all of the things I learned.
On display in the Opera House was a wonderful exhibit curated by Tracy Tucker.  The painting at the top of this blog is from the collection of the Herbert Hoover Museum, one of six paintings loaned to the Cather Foundation for the conference.  It was the first time the Hoover Museum had allowed the paintings to travel--quite a privilege for the Cather Foundation.  Also on display was a W.W. I uniform, as well as many other interesting objects, including a copy of Der Tag from the collection of Cather's youngest brother. 
The cast of Der Tag
Der Tag is a 1-act play written by Sir J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) as part of an effort by England to utilize the talents of its famous writers to create propaganda.  Barrie's concept was to show the political and military pressure imposed on the Kaiser to declare war through the characters of Chancellor and Officer, who exit the scene to allow the Kaiser time to reflect on what he is about to do.  He dreams, and The Spirit of Culture enters to urge against war, and the Kaiser (called Emperor in the play) tears up the declaration of war in front of Chancellor and Officer.  Again, he falls asleep and Culture reappears, wearing a bloody wound.  The Kaiser awakens believing his earlier dream had been real and war had been avoided, only to be told by Culture that he had brought the war upon his now devastated people.  The play was performed with high expectations in England and America but was not successfully received, perhaps because the Kaiser was depicted too sympathetically. 
Culture offers the Kaiser a dagger to end his regret 

Because of the illness of the woman intended to portray Culture, I was asked to assume the role.  To my surprise, I had a great time!  The play was performed twice in the lovely Red Cloud Episcopal Chapel to a nearly full house both times, and apparently we received more cheers than the actors did in the W.W. I productions of 1915!  (Notice my bleeding wound, a red scarf.)

Learning W.W. I dance steps
As always, we had a great time in Red Cloud enjoying speakers, the papers that were read, author Karen Gettert Shoemaker reading from her book The Meaning of Names, the singing and playing of popular W.W. I music by Kansans Dr. Sarah Young and Judy Chadwick, and learning a few dance steps from the era.  That's my partner stand-in-male-dancer Nancy and me just to the right of the support beam.  We were short of men eager to dance but certainly not short of eager dancers!
It is no surprise to any of you who follow my blog that I am a great fan of Willa Cather.  She is not only a great American author but also is among the few great authors to depict the central region of America, and many would say that she is the greatest among them.  You may want to revisit "What If Isaac had met Alexandra Bergson?," 5-2-2013, and "My Steadfast Tin Soldier," 9-25-2014, and the sequel 10-2-2014 for more W.W. I history.  I hope my love of Cather makes at least some of you curious to read her novels and short stories, and perhaps even to visit Red Cloud, NE!