Thursday, February 23, 2017

Inspiration & Motivation

Isaac Beckley Werner's Journal
Searching for an old journal, kept by a man I had never heard of that allegedly contained references to my ancestors, resulted in my manuscript about Isaac Werner, his community, and the Populist Movement in Kansas.  As a by-product, it resulted in my weekly sharing of Kansas history through this blog.  We never know what may inspire us and motivate us to do something we might never otherwise have imagined!

For Ken Spurgeon, it was a collection of Civil War letters.  As a graduate student in history, he learned that if a Kansas settler were a non-combatant or claimed no allegiance in the free state vs pro-slavery bloody years when Kansans and Missourians fought, a sheet over their chimney would signal their lack of alliance to either side.  Among the letters that Spurgeon read was one written by a woman who explained that to leave a chimney bare, or "lone," was a declaration of who you were and what you stood for.

Memioral on side of Dr. Higley's cabin
In 2003, when Ken Spurgeon and Jonathon Goering formed their company to make their first documentary, "Touched by Fire:  Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861," Ken remembered that letter and it became the inspiration for naming their company Lone Chimney Films. Since then have come "Bloody Dawn:  The Lawrence Massacre," "The Road to Valhalla," and most recently "Home on the Range, The Story of America's Iconic Song."

Lone Chimney Films represents, for them, their commitment to historical accuracy. They place great importance in using academic scholars to advise them and serve on their board.  Their purpose is to share history in an accurate way with study guides and teacher aids to accompany their films.  Beyond the classroom, they reach out to communities, providing lecturers to civic organizations and for historic events.

Such random events, like my search for an old journal and Ken's encounter with the words of a stranger in an old letter, can inspire and motivate.  My memories of going to the Stafford County Courthouse with my father when I was a little girl may very well be at the root of my decision to study and practice law.  As parents, teachers, and adults in general, every day we have the opportunity to strike a spark of interest and enthusiasm, or sadly, to miss that opportunity or even discourage a dream.  Poets, writers, athletes, actors, dancers, musicians, and other famous people inspire and motivate us, but so do every day people, and that should be reason enough to make each of us smile.

A very special personal letter to me
Lone Chimney Films was founded in 2003, but in 2006 it became a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization.  Their films have been shown on Public Television stations beyond Kansas, and schools and public libraries have benefited from the use of their films.  Neither Isaac B. Werner nor the woman writing her letter in Kansas could have imagined the lives their actions have touched.

Dr. Higley did not sit down to pen "My Western Home" with the intention of writing the Kansas State Song.  Harper Lee's father did not leave for the courthouse to try cases with a plan to set an example for his daughter's influential novel "To Kill a Mockingbird."  Every day millions of people influence the lives of others, and that should inspire all of us to be the examples we hope to be.  Someone just might be watching...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Two Hundred Forty Acres

Sign marks the turn 
It is true that the Home on the Range Cabin is a bit in the middle of nowhere, but somewhere isn't far away.  From Smith Center, Kansas, where we had spent the weekend, it was only about a fifteen minute drive on well paved roads except for a very short drive on well-packed dirt.  Department of Tourism signs marked the way until we reached the last turn-off, and an impressive stone sign could be seen well in advance of the turn-off.

Even if there were no particular destination it would be a nice drive through the rolling hills and valleys of northermost Kansas.  A double row of dry corn stalks along both sides of a fence stood like sentries atop a hill as we entered the dirt road.  As we gradually dropped down toward the river valley through which West Beaver Creek wanders, we saw an old bridge, now useful for hikers crossing the creek but once used by vehicles on a now-abandoned county road.

Historic Bridge for pedestrians

One more curve and we pulled into the parking area for Higley's "Home on the Range" Cabin.  If you missed last week's blog post you may want to continue reading the blog post about the cabin which follows below.  The cabin sits above a meadow next to West Beaver Creek.  Mark McClain explained to us when he showed us the grounds that time had change the course of the creek, so it was not exactly where it might have been in Dr. Higley's day, but the feeling of his nearly hidden home along the creek remains.

This special place was saved for future generations by Pete and Ellen Rust, who farmed the land from 1936 until Pete's death in 1986.  After his death, Ellen made plans for preserving this important piece of Kansas history through a trust.  Funds were raise for the restoration of the cabin (See Dr. Higley's Cabin, 2-9-2017 below.), and after the restoration was complete, the property was conveyed to a nonprofit organization.  The cabin and its 240 acres are owned and managed according to the terms of the trust Ellen established.

Plans for bridges, hiking and biking trails, and a natural amphitheater just south of the cabin were underway before Mother Nature caused some interruptions with flooding.  The plans, developed with the guidance of a landscape architect, remain the same, including concerts and other events onsite, as well as activities for young people, such as boy scouts and 4-H groups.

Cabin with bridge
Unlike the Ellen Rust Living Trust initially  established, the transfer to the People's Heartland Foundation as a 501 (c) (3) charity can exist into perpetuity and can also accept tax-deductible contributions from future donors.  This allows planning to extent far into the future, and members of the community and groups wishing to utilize the property are encouraged to participate in the planning with their ideas.  Volunteers willing to help stay ahead of Mother Nature are also welcome.

4-Hers have already contributed to the hiking trail with their Native Grasses Project.

Next week's blog will share more about what one man's dream can become when I blog about Lone Chimney Films, producer of "Home on the Range, The Story of America's Iconic Song."

Cabin at top in photo, creek, meadows, & trees below

Remember, the images can be enlarged by clicking on them!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Visit to Dr. Higley's Cabin

At the west end of the restored cabin of Dr. Brewster Higley is a commemorative plaque of "My Western Home," the original title of the poem and the song we now know as "Home on the Range."  I begin with this image because it is clearly not part of the attempt to restore the cabin as it would have appeared during Dr. Higley's occupancy.  Rather, it commerates the events that have made the cabin famous as the birthplace of "Home on the Range."  My blog of that name, posted 1-29-2015 describes the way in which Dr. Higley's poem was put to music and the investigation to prove that "My Western Home" and the music performed by the Harlan Orchestra truly were the original version of "Home on the Range.  You may wish to read my 2015 blog to acquaint yourself with that wonderful Kansas story!

Mark McClain gives us a tour
Last week's post described the home town preview of Ken Spurgeon's "Home on the Range, The Story of America's Iconic Song," and if you missed reading that you may continue reading at the botton of this week's post.  We attended Saturday's showing, and Sunday morning we visited the cabin with Mark McClain and his family.

If our stay at the Ingleboro Mansion B&B in Smith Center gave us a hint of how a wealthy man in earlier times might have lived, the visit to Dr. Higley's cabin, not terribly far away in distance but very far away in character, showed us how a man whose life had been disappointing might have chosen to make a fresh start by going West to stake a claim.  Dr. Higley found a beautiful site near the West Beaver Creek and built his cabin from logs and stone that he found at the site. Most of this blog will consist of the photographs taken while we were there, with a bit of information about Dr. Higley and his relatives among the photographs.
Renovation display inside the cabin
Detail of stones and logs

Dr. Higley came to Kansas from Indiana, and his homestead claim was filed in 1871.  His attempts at marriage back in Indiana had been unhappy, but in 1875 he married Sara Clemens, and they lived in the cabin until 1886, moving first to Arkansas and then to Shawnee, OK where they lived until both of their deaths, his death only four months after hers.  Family oral history recounts Dr. Higley's saying that living in their Oklahoma home after her death was like "living in a tomb."  

By 1936 the property had passed to Ellen and Pete Rust, and they farmed it until Pete's death in 1986.  His widow Ellen died in 2008, but prior to her death she established a Trust to manage the farm and preserve the cabin.  How fortunate for generations to come that Ellen Rust recognized the importance of the cabin where "Home on the Range" originated.

More about the 240-acre land she saved in next week's blog, but for now, the story of the cabin continues.

The property had been a working farm, beginning with the homestead claim of Dr. Higley, and once the cabin was no longer used as a residence, it was put to utilitarian use on the farm.  Many local people remember its use as a chicken house.  In April of 2011 a campaign was begun to raise funds for the restoration of the cabin and grounds.  The goal was $100,000.

Western singer, Michael Martin Murphy did a benefit concert and nearly a quarter of the funds were raised in that first month, thanks to the benefit.

The pair of pictures above show a display of the careful renovation, including a picture of its use as a chicken house prior to the renovation.  The logs and stones were carefully marked and catalogued as the cabin was disassembled in preparation for the repairs necessary before reassembling the cabin.  As far as possible, the original materials were used to rebuild the cabin, but some rotted logs had to be replaced with vintage logs from other demolished structures of that period.

The reassembled cabin has a loft accessed by stairs.  There are no vertical walls in the loft, just the angled pitch of the roof.  In the small alcove beside and beneath the stairs a single bed is fitted.  The rope springs reminded me of the old saying, "sleep tight," a reference to keeping the ropes taught so the mattress would not sag.  The other part of that old saying is "...and don't let the bed bugs bite."    Entries in Isaac B. Werner's journal make it plain just how hard it was to keep bed bugs out of his bed!  It is likely that Dr. Higley experienced the same challenges.

In October of 2016, when the cabin renovation had been completed, two of Dr. Higley's relatives came to spend the night, Distant nephews of Dr. Higley, brothers Greg and Mike Higley traveled from Texas and Oklahoma to experience something of what their uncle might have felt.  Mike told reporter Ivan Schoone, "So peaceful, experiencing the beauty of the morning with the sun shining through the cabin window, the sounds of birds singing, coyotes howling in the night and the quietness of this place."  The brothers said it was hard to describe their feelings, but they also mentioned wondering what it would have been like as a homesteader when Native Americans were still living in what was a frontier.

Much of the filming of "Home on the Range, The Story of America's Iconic Song" was done in the cabin and the surrounding property.  Ken Spurgeon's wife, Amy, a CPA who  normally serves as Production Accountant for Lone Chimney Films,  remembers a very different role while they were filming during the hottest months of summer.  "It was really important that I kept everyone well hydrated in that heat!" she told me, remembering how she made sure everyone had water and that they remembered to drink it.

Next week's blog will share pictures of the creek, trees, and meadows on the 240-acre Trust lands.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Home on the Range Film Festival

Fans leave 1st showing as others await 2nd showing
As I was doing my research for my manuscript about Isaac B. Werner, I came across Kansas historian and Wichita State University professor Craig Minor's books, particularly his book "West of Wichita."  I immediately became a fan and hoped to arrange an opportunity to meet him.  Sadly, when I reached out to contact him, I learned of his untimely death only two months earlier.  I still regret that  missed opportunity.  In preparing this blog about the new docudrama, "Home on the Range, The Story of America's Iconic Song," I discovered a comment about Craig Minor made by the director of that new film, Ken Spurgeon.  Ken recalled how Craig Minor's encouragement to tell the wonderful stories about the history of Kansas had motivated him to pursue his goals of telling those stories, continuing with the story of "Home on the Range."  I am sad that I never had the opportunity to meet Kansas historian Craig Minor, but Ken's Spurgeon's recollection made me feel that my blogs  about Kansas history, posted weekly since 2011, would have pleased him.  Those of you who follow my blog regularly may remember the January 29, 2015 blog post, "Home on the Range." .

Ken Spurgeon introduces the film
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Ken Spurgeon this past weekend when we traveled to Smith Center to attend the home town premier of Spurgeon's movie "Home on the Range."  His movie about Kansas history, "Road to Valhalla, received the Best Documentary at the Cowboy Hall of Fame on April 18, 2015, as part of the Western Heritage Awards, and I hope his current film is as successful.

Showings were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday in Smith Center, and when both scheduled performances sold out, second showings were quickly scheduled for both days so that all the people who had come to see the movie could be accommodated.

Buck Taylor & Rance Howard
The film tells the story about how Dr. Higley's poem became the lyrics for "Home on the Range" and of the legal investigation that proved Higley's poem and the music written for it were indeed the original version.  Because those details are contained in my blog, "Home on the Range," posted 1-29-2015, I will not repeat that information here.  You may go to the blog archives, click on 2015, then on May to scroll down to read the blog titled "Home on the Range."  

Stone of Clarence Harlan
The film also includes the story of the Harlan brothers and their brother-in-law, Daniel E. Kelley, who wrote and performed the music.  Rance Howard, father of child star and director Ron Howard, plays the part of Clarence Harlan.  It was Clarence Harlan's testimony regarding how and when their band put Dr. Higley's poem to music and performed it at dances from 1878-1885 that established the true originators of "Home on the Range."  While we were in Smith Center we visited the grave site of Clarence Harlan.

Also appearing in "Home on the Range" are Buck Taylor, Mark Mannette, and Michael Martin Murphy, both as an actor and a singer.  You can read more about the film by going to Lone Chimney Films website or Ken Spurgeon's face book page.

Greatgranddaughter with Ken
Among the special performers and other guests was the great-granddaughter of Clarence Harlan, appearing in the photo with director Ken Spurgeon.  Another very special member of the audience Saturday was El Dean Holthus, brought from the hospital (probably against his doctor's orders?) to be seated in the back row to attend the film with which he had so much to do.  I was so sorry I did not get to speak with him, to thank him for his support of my 2015 blog and his invitation to my husband and me to return for a personal tour of the Home on the Range cabin and surrounding grounds.  We did finally get a wonderful tour from Mark McClain  while we were there for the preview, but we will be glad to take a rain check for a personal tour from El Dean when he is once again healthy!  

While we were in Smith Center we stayed at Ingleboro Mansion Bed & Breakfast, a Victorian home, which cetainly put us in the mood for going back in history.

Ingleboro Mansion B&B
It was definitely a special day, and next week's blog will share our visit to Dr. Higley's cabin where much of the movie was filmed.  Be sure to watch for the movie "Home on the Range, The Story of America's Iconic Song" if it appears near you, and perhaps it will appear on a local PBS station in the future.

The film will be shown February 18th at the Brown Grand Theater in Concordia, Ks at 3 p.m. and February 24th at the Murdock Theater in Wichita, Ks at 7 p.m. as part of a scholarship fundraiser.  More showings are currently being scheduled. 

Craig Minor was right--there are countless great stories about Kansas left to tell!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Kansas Ice Storm

Our Red Bud Tree
The weekend of January 13-14 we had a wonderful trip planned to see the showing of Home on the Range, a newly released docudrama about our Kansas treasure near Smith Center--the cabin where the lyrics to our state song were written.  Instead, the Smith Center Premier was postponed one week by the ice storm that hit Western Kansas.  We did attend the premier the following weekend, and next week's blog will share that wonderful weekend, but this week is devoted to our epic Kansas ice storm and reflections on nature's hardships for our early settlers.

At the front corner of our home is a red bud tree that has been there as long as I can remember.  As is their nature, this red bud has continuously recreated itself by sending up new trunks as its elders die.  It survived through more than a quarter century when the old house was vacant.  But, the ice storm was a fierce opponent in comparison to drought and neglect.  We may try to shape up what is left of the tree, but it really suffered.  (See "Emulating Isaac," 8-14-2014 in the blog archives, about transplanting seedlings, including a red bed seedling.)

Our ancient cottonwood
The blog I posted about cottonwood trees has been one of readers' favorites, many of you sending comments admitting how you love these old trees.  Isaac B. Werner wrote in his journal exactly how he started his cottonwood trees from 15" cuttings, which from his arrival in 1878 to 1885 had resulted in 3,400 trees on his 320 acres, with plans that year to add 2,000 more cuttings.  (See "Cottonwood Trees, posted 12-2-2011, to read my original post.)  Since publishing that post, many of the giant cottonwoods in our area have died, their silver trunks lying on the ground like fallen soldiers, and many more are likely to have fallen victim to the recent ice storm.

We have very few left on our home place, and this old beauty lost most of her limbs, what remains looking more like a giant slingshot than the arching shade tree that it was before the storm.!

In 1944, my parents returned to the farm following my grandfather's stroke, and they planted three rows of elm trees south of the house to block the hot, south winds.  They probably chose elms because they are fast growing, but they are also susceptible to broken branches in Kansas winds, and very susceptible to ice damage.

My parents planted the elm tree rows too close together and they tended to reach for the sky in an ongoing competition with their neighbors for canopy space.  The result was tall, naked trunks and crowded crowns.  The ice collected on the upper branches and the weight brought them down, leaving trees that look more like poles than shade trees.
Limbs litter the ground

Elm trees are trashy by nature, and a stroll across the yard nearly always involves picking up fallen branches along the way.  However, the litter on the ground after the ice storm was monumental.  I dragged branches into piles that my husband could pick up with the front-end loader of the tractor, trip after trip (both for me dragging the limbs and for him carrying them away.)  We had hired professional tree trimmers last summer to help clean up our trees, and we were so pleased with how they looked.  Not so much right now!

Limbs covering the garden

Some of you will remember my blog about our vegetable garden in the old chicken house foundation.  Since posting that blog, we have moved the vegetable garden to a sunnier location, but the foundation continues to hold my herb and flower garden.  In the photograph at right you can see part of the foundation, as well as the orange water hydrant, and somewhere beneath that litter are my herbs and perennials.  It was one of the first areas I cleared.

As I worked, I thought of the early settlers, using manpower and horses, mules, and oxen to remove the dense prairie sod to clear fields.  I recalled Isaac's pride as he watched his cottonwood cuttings take root and grow, representing countless hours bent over sticking the cuttings in the ground, followed by constant weeding sand burrs and stickers, as well as sunflowers competing for the water he hand carried to the young trees.  I remembered his labor hand picking potato bugs off his plants and his joy when his carefully tended peaches were in season.

Elm trees stripped of limbs
Perhaps thinking of Isaac and my ancestors as they worked this prairie soil is some explanation for why I grieved for the loss of favorite trees that we had loved, but I also felt a kinship with the land.  I know that many of these trees will never be beautiful, but they will struggle to survive.  They will send out new branches in the spring, and already branches bent by the weight of the ice have arched upward determinedly, looking better than I had dared to hope they would.  Many of them can't be saved, but next spring the seeds they released in the summer will sprout.

Mother Nature gave us an ice storm, but she followed it with calm, sunny days and milder temperatures than are usual for January.  It was actually pleasant when I was working.  It's looking better now--but I was very grateful to see David Wood and his crew arrive to help us pick up the debris we hadn't reached.  Thank you so much, guys!  We are on the waiting list for the crew that worked at the farm this summer with their tall-armed buckets, this visit needed to reach the limbs hanging overhead dangerously.  Mother Nature will surely send winds to bring down some of them, but we are among the lucky ones who suffered no damage to buildings from falling limbs--thanks to the tree trimming last summer.

Next week I will begin sharing our wonderful visit to Smith Center for the premier of a movie you will want to see and more about the history of our state song!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inaugural Day 2017

A cold windy day on Isaac's old homestead
As I reflected on a blog for Inaugural Day 2017, I happened upon a poem by Kansas poet, Christopher Todd Anderson titled "On Being Asked for a Political Poem.  His poem begins, "My eyes drift across Kansas, its drab winter fields/ and bird-churned skies, its highways like frozen/ gray rivers, its oak trees clutching brown shawls/ of dead unfallen leaves, a rough threadbare comfort."  Anderson is an Associate Professor of English at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, and I related immediately to his imagery of my home state.  However, the title of the poem suggested a purpose other than images of the Kansas landscape, and as anticipated the tone changed, expressing the rancor of the past political season.  The emotions expressed by the poet in the last stanza may reflect what many of us are feeling about the past political season as the Inauguration draws near. "Tomorrow trees will still march through / poems like buckskin priests praising the sun, and gods / will roost on power lines, then glory in flight.  But now / every word is on fire, every blackbird and maple leaf is / a red ember.  Sing your children to sleep, sing, for worlds / are burning as we stir anger like sour milk into our coffee.

I was drawn to the words spoken by past presidents in Inaugural Day to see how they sought to sooth the rancor of emotions enflamed during political campaigns.  On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson began with humility, expressing his gratitude for being entrusted with the office of president, "...declar[ing] a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire."  Having begun with humility, he continued with respect not only for those of the majority which elected him but also respect for the minority, whose rights he was also charged by the Constitution to protect.  "...[T]hat though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.  Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind.  Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things."  

The late 1800s, during which Isaac B. Werner was politically active, were rancorous times, when the common man felt that wealth and power were exerting too great an influence on government.  On March 4, 1885, Grover Cleveland gave his first Inaugural Address.  He, too, began with humility and a reminder that the responsibility of a President to govern for all the people differs from the political necessities of a campaign.  Isaac would certainly have read Cleveland's  Inaugural Address.  "This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of responsibility with which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the people of the land.  ...[T]he best results in the operation of a government wherein every citizen has a share largely depend upon a proper limitation of purely partisan zeal and effort and a correct appreciation of the time when the heat of the partisan should be merged in the patriotism of the citizen."  The severity of political hostilities during Cleveland's campaign is apparent through his appeal to set that all aside:  "At this hour the animosities of political strife, the bitterness of partisan defeat, and the exultation of partisan triumph should be supplanted by an ungrudging acquiescence in the popular will and a sober, conscientious concern for the general weal."  He reminds his audience of the need to "renew the pledge of our devotion to the Constitution," saying that citizens are best served "...if in the halls of national legislation that spirit of amity and mutual concession shall prevail in which the Constitution had its birth."  It is worth noting that influence from other nations was also a part of Cleveland's Inaugural Address, for he warned of the importance of "...rejecting any share in foreign broils and ambitions upon other continents and repelling their intrusion here."

And so, on January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will join those past Presidents who have presented to the American people their ideas for governing this nation under our Constitution.  May all of us, like the poet Christopher Todd Anderson, calm the "red embers" that have burned our spirits in the past months to let our eyes drift across our respective landscapes, trusting that our politicians will follow Cleveland's advice to 'pledge their devotion to the Constitution' and as Jefferson urged, 'restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection' our liberty requires.'  Such wisdom is not confined to Presidents and ordinary citizens but perhaps especially to those elected to represent us in the Federal House and Senate, and in State Houses and Governors' offices across the nation, without regard to party!  

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Beavers in Kansas

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Look closely.  Slightly above center and to the left you will see a beaver dam.  That lovely setting was photographed in Kansas and gave me the subject for this week's blog.  

Isaac B. Werner never mentioned beavers in his journal, and it is likely that there were no beavers on the Rattle Snake Creek near Isaac's claims.  Beavers are vegetarians, and while they feed on aquatic vegetation, such as cattails, waterlilies, sedges and rushes, they also like twigs, stems, and bark from trees.  When the early settlers like Isaac arrived to stake their claims, prairie fires had kept trees from getting established, so beavers would have found no wood to nibble nor with which to build their lodges.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Of course, as trees were planted and prairie fires were controlled by the settlers, trees could be found, and beavers began to build their dams in creeks and rivers.  While beavers will chew any tree, among their favorites are cottonwood and maple, both varieties that Isaac and his neighbors planted.

Beavers build two types of lodges--a conical lodge surrounded by water to protect them from predators and a bank lodge excavated in the bank of a stream, river, or lake where the water is either too deep or too fast moving for them to build the more common conical lodge.
Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Their lodges are made from sticks, mud, and rocks, with at least two water-filled tunnels to access the interior chamber where they sleep, eat, groom each other, and raise the baby kits born each spring.  The peak of the lodge is not covered with mud in order to provide a ventilation shaft.

The beavers build dams where the water is not deep enough to protect them from predators, and by backing up the water they create the depth to fill their entrance tunnels with water so predators cannot enter the interior chamber.  In slow moving water they build straight dams, like the one I photographed, but in fast-moving water the dams are more likely to be curved. 

Beaver teeth are well adapted to their life-long chewing.  The teeth never stop growing so they cannot be worn away, and the orange enamel on the front side is harder than the softer dentin on the back side of the tooth, which allows the back side to wear away as they chew, creating a chisel-like edge.  The flat tail, which makes them so unique and so recognizable, serves as a rudder when they swim, a prop then they sit or stand upright, and a storehouse of fat during the winter.

Photo credit:  Larry  D. Fenwick
Less obvious are other amazing adaptations, like webbed hind feet for swimming but hand-like front paws to assist in building and harvesting.  Hearing and smell are excellent, and although their eyesight is poor, a transparent membrane covers their eyes to protect them while swimming.  Flaps close over their nostrils and ears to protect them while swimming, and they have inner lips that keep water out of their mouths while swimming with sticks in their mouths.  Even their fur is adapted for their aquatic life, consisting of short fine hairs for warmth and longer hairs for waterproofing, with castor glands on the underside of their belly used in the grooming of their fur and to mark their territory.

While it is true that they are North America's largest rodent (typically weighing 45 to 60 pounds) and their dams do sometimes cause flooding, they are a remarkable animal.  Native Americans respected them so highly that they called them "Little People." 

It was my husband whose sharp eyes first spotted this beaver dam and snapped a photograph that he sent to me without any information.  I wrongly assumed it was a photo he had taken off the web from an out-of-state location.  Later, he took me to the location of the dam so I could see it for myself and take more photographs.  I love the beauty of this Kansas setting!   

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Prairie Political Rallies of 1800s

On October 31, 1890, Isaac B. Werner joined two other men to travel to Pratt, Kansas, with plans to photograph the People's Party rally and parade the following day.  The cameras they would use belonged to Seth Blake, a farmer who lived seven miles south of Isaac, and the third man of their trio of photographers was named Petefist.

When they reached Pratt, crowds had already begun to gather, and the three men lingered among those preparing the B-B-Q for the next day's dinner.  Isaac had not had his photograph taken in 15 years, so he headed to Logan's Studio for a portrait.

The People's Party Convention had been held July 15, 1890, and there was great enthusiasm for the slate of men chosen.  While Isaac was in town on the 17th, following the convention, he had met amateur photographer Seth Blake, and they had quickly developed a friendship.  Isaac helped Seth build a dark tent out of layers of calico, and they decided to photograph People's Party rallies, documenting what they believed was an important time in American history.

Could the photograph above have been taken on November 1, 1890?

West Side Main Street, looking South, Pratt, KS

It may be impossible to determine exactly when that parade was held or the purpose for the parade, but there are possible clues.  Several current and past Pratt residents have collected the old photographs and post cards appearing in this blog.  I am hopeful that many sharp-eyed readers will see this blog and contribute comments to help solve the riddle of the patriotic parade pictured at the top of this blog.

Briggs House, built 1887 on the SW corner south of the current Barron Theater

Look at the two pictures above.  The Briggs House appears to be the structure that the band has just passed, and it is on the proper corner that a parade headed to the south would have passed.  This photograph was collected by Judge Renner and shared by his son Chuck, who also provided its date of construction as 1887.  Our knowledgeable local historian, Marsha Brown, has indicated that the building was located on the corner just south of the historic Barron Theater.  Therefore, the People's Party parade could have passed by that building in 1890.

Business built in 1887

According to another Pratt historian, Rodney Smith, who provided the picture of the building  at left, it was also built in 1887, and if you look closely at the photograph of the left side of Main Street, you can see the pediment holding a lightning rod atop that building.

This business building later became the 1st National Bank.  Isaac wrote in his journal about the 1st National Bank, but I am not certain of its location in 1890, prior to occupying this building.

If you return to the top of the page to look at the picture of the parade, you can see a band behind the lone rider.  St. John, Kansas had a brass band, and they frequently were mentioned in newspapers as participating in People's Party parades and rallies.

Isaac B. Werner wrote in his journal that the parade passed by him headed south on Main Street, that it was a mile long and took 3/4th of an hour to pass by him, and that he estimated a crowd of 8,000 to 9,000 people.  Werner, Blake, and Petefist took 30 exposures on three different cameras.  The Pratt County Register estimated the number of people in the procession at 5,000 with 800 vehicles.

There are clues to support the possibility that the image at the top of the blog could have been taken on November 1, 1890 of the People's Party parade that Isaac Werner attended.  The American Flag and the word "Victory" might indicate a political parade, or perhaps a 4th of July celebration. If you look closely, however, there are vehicles in the picture.  Are they buggies or early motor cars?  They may offer the best solution in determining the date of the photograph.

I hope to hear from some of you sharp-eyed historians with help in deciphering when the photograph of the parade might have been taken.  Although it may not be a photograph of the 1890 People's Party parade, it certainly gives a hint of what Isaac would have seen.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Writing for Children

Isaac B. Werner believed in educating children as the best hope for their own improvement and for the nation.  He helped build the country school and often made repairs on his own, just to keep the school, its grounds, and the out buildings in good condition.  He also shipped some of his own books to his young nephew back in Pennsylvania.  Although he never had children of his own, he cared about young people.

Among the list of responsibilities suggested by Neil Gaiman were two suggestions for writers of books for children; however, I think both suggestions are good advice to teachers and parents.

First, he urged that writers recognize " obligation to our write true things...not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages...not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers' throats like adult birds feeding babies."

Collection of Fairy Tales from several countries
That advice should be heeded by those of us buying books for children.  I love to give nursery rhymes as baby gifts, and I love fairy tales.  Have you really paid attention to these rhymes and stories?  They are tough stuff!  What did the old lady who lived in the shoe with too many children  do?  "She gave them some Broth without any bread; She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed."  And poor Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel!  Frog in "Wind in the Willows" is always getting into trouble.  Charlotte the spider dies.  Yet, children read these traditional tales and identify without being traumatized.  They recognize the hardships of Black Beauty and cry, and as Gaiman says, they learn empathy and finish reading slightly changed.  Classic stories for children include the realities of life, without sugar-coating or slamming children with it, and through literature they become better equipped to deal with life's challenges.

Too many modern books for children are heavy handed in delivering these messages, or they don't give children enough credit for figuring out the lessons without preaching or explaining the lessons for them.  Not everyone loves nursery rhymes and fairy tales as I do, but there are also modern classics whose authors have avoided preaching, lecturing, and moralizing.  It is our responsibility as teachers, parents, librarians, and friends to find the modern classics that kids will enjoy and cherish.

Scott Gustafson, Robert Ingpen, & Kinuko Y. Craft
Second, " understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we've lessened our own future and diminished theirs."  The same advice applies to those of us who buy books for children, or who make trips to the library a regular part of their lives and who fill our homes with books.  (See last week's blog, "Responsibilities Toward Building Literacy," 12-22-2016" and "Literacy Then and Now," at 12-8-2016 for more of Neil Gaiman's wisdom.)

Although Gaiman does not address the importance of children's book illustrators, I believe illustrators are equally important in developing a taste for the arts.  Three of my favorite illustrators are Scott Gustafson, Robert Ingpen, and Kinuko Y. Craft; however, there are so many incredible illustrators that I could name, working in a variety of styles.  Recently, the style of children's book illustrations has shifted away from the fine artists I admire toward more cartoonish drawings.  In my opinion, children see enough flashy, cartoon-like pictures on TV and in advertisements without having that sort of imagery in their books, especially when there are fine artists illustrating books for children.  I would paraphrase Gaiman by saying we should 'understand and acknowledge that as illustrators for children these artists are doing important work.'  (The books pictured above are Gustafson's "Classic Fairy Tales," Ingpen's "The Wind in the Willows," and Craft's "Beauty and the Beast.")

The balance between turning children on to reading and turning them away from reading isn't easy, but the three blogs in which I have shared Neil Gaiman's suggestions are a good place to start.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Responsibilities Toward Building Literacy

More "T'was the Night Before Christmas"
Although Isaac B. Werner was involved in the populist political movements of his time, he believed most of all in the importance of education.  He encouraged his local Farmers' Alliance group to buy books to educate themselves, and he donated dozens of his own books to that cause.

Isaac's efforts were in keeping with Neil Gaiman's belief that each of us has "responsibilities to the future."  Two weeks ago, I shared Gaiman's thinking about the importance of encouraging children to read fiction and of having libraries in their communities.  This week I will share the responsibilities Gaiman believes that each of us has to help create a literate and numerate future population.

Reading at Macksville Grade School
Although most of this blog will be about reading, I will add an example about what electronic aids have done to hinder a numerate future population.  My husband was flying with an exceptionally bright young man one day, and the need to calculate when to start their decent arose.  My husband did the calculation in his head, using current altitude, reasonable feet of descent per minute, and distance from the airport to determine when to begin their descent.  He had the answer in the time it took the young man to reach for his phone to do the math.  The young man exclaimed, "How did you do that?"  My husband explained the system of rounding off numbers to get a close approximation that those of us who attended school long before calculators and fancy phones could be carried in our pockets had been taught--a bit of 'magic' to this young man's intelligent but less numerate mind.

Reading at the Macksville Library Summer Reading Program
That is just one example of how instant answers from electronic aids are making young people less literate and numerate.  However, Gaiman's lecture focused on our adult responsibilities for helping children become more literate, so what follows are some of the responsibilities Neil Gaiman urges adults to practice:

" read for pleasure, in private and in public places.  If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations.  [AND] We show others that reading is a good thing."

" support libraries.  ...If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom.  You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future."

Reading Baum's Wizard of Oz
" find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean."

[To practice] " obligation to daydream.  We have an obligation to imagine.  ...individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different."

" clean up after ourselves, and not to leave our children with a world we've shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled."

" vote against [public policies] and politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy.  This is not a matter of party politics.  This is a matter of common humanity."  

Gaiman closed his lecture to the British Reading Society with a quote I have used in this blog before--one of my favorites.  Albert Einstein believed:  "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

Reading to grandnieces
Among the responsibilities Gaiman defined, I will close with one of the most important for parents, grandparents, and everyone else with the privilege of having children to whom they can read.  Gaiman reminds us " read aloud to our children.  To read to them things they enjoy.  To read to them stories we are already tired of.  To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves.  We have an obligation to use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside."

For many families, reading 'Twas the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve is  family tradition.  Neil Gaiman would approve.  If that is not yet your family tradition, it is never to late to start a new tradition for your family!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

How Does it Work?

Alexander Hamilton
On December 19, 2016, the electoral college will assemble in their respective states to cast their votes for President of the United States.  I am interrupting my series on reading and books with this blog in order to be relevant to the current news.  The promised blog about encouraging reading in our children will continue next week.  

Most Americans have a vague notion of the electoral college but don't understand why it was created nor exactly how it works. Since historically the popular vote has aligned with the vote of the electoral college most of the time, many voters tend to think that their ballots decide who our President will be.  Only four times in our history has the popular vote and the electoral college vote differed, but two of those times have happened in recent years--when George W. Bush was chosen over Al Gore, and the current likelihood that Donald Trump will be chosen over Hillary Clinton.

I was curious to better understand why the Founders created our system of elections, and the best answer can be found in Essay #68 of the Federalist Papers.  Considered by many to be the third most important document in American history, after the Declaration of Independence  and The Constitution, The Federalist is not widely read by most Americans.  Yet, it is perhaps the best source for what the Founding Fathers were trying to achieve.

The collected essays were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, `and John Jay to gain support for ratification of the Constitution.  Essay #68 was written by Hamilton in an effort to explain why the popular vote was not the best means for selecting our President, but rather having citizens select wiser men "...capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements that were proper to govern their choice.  A small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation."

That, in a nutshell, explains the objective of our two-tiered election process.  Most of the time Americans pay little attention to that process; however, when the popular vote exceeds the designated electors from each state, calls are made for reforming the system, or pleas are sent to the individual electors to support the popular vote.

In Isaac B. Werner's old home state of Kansas, a Republican political stronghold, the current election garnered 57%  for the Republican slate of electors.  Each state has the number of electors that represents the combined total of US Representatives and US Senators which, in the case of Kansas, is 6 of the total 538 electors.  Under Kansas law, the electors are not bound to vote for the candidate of the party for which they were chosen.  Some other states, however, impose penalties if their electors deviate from the party's slate of electors for whom they were elected.

The Hutchinson News reported that Kansas electors are receiving e-mails, phone calls, and other communications pleading with electors either to abstain from voting for Donald Trump or to vote for another Presidential candidate or even another Republican that was not on the ticket. The Kansas Republican Party Executive Director is one of the electors, and his opinion is that "The party selects as its slate of electors only people who are 100% reliable to vote for the winner of the state's popular vote."  Another elector, out-going State Representative Mark Kahrs indicated that he would vote for Trump, "Absolutely, unequivocally, without question." 

Popular vote, Political Parties, or Constitution
Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold pointed out that the current movement urging electors to abstain or vote for Republicans not on the ballot, like 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, or cast their vote for the winner of the popular vote, seems a wasted effort to him, since Republicans have the majority in the US House of Representatives where the decision would go if no single  Presidential candidate received a majority of the electoral votes.  Of course, if the candidate with the popular majority were to receive a majority of electoral votes, that being Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, it would not need to go to the House.

In Essay #68, Hamilton writes:  "This process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of president will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.  Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honours of a single state; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole union, or of so considerable a portion of it, as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States." 

It is rare, even in states where electors are free to make an independent judgment about the qualifications and character of the candidates when they cast their vote as an elector, that electors would choose to vote for someone other than the person their slate of electors was chosen to support; however, it has been done and in this election some electors have indicated a willingness to do so.  For many electors, they feel a duty to support the slate upon which they were elected, without regard to popular vote or their personal view of the fitness of the candidate.  However, that position ignores the purpose stated by Alexander Hamilton in Essay #68 of The Federalist in which the role of the electors is described as a responsibility to independently analyze the fitness of the person for the highest office our nation can bestow.  That responsibility is not merely symbolic, and the duty of electors is likely to be argued each time a Presidential election is close or the popular vote exceeds the electoral college vote.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Literacy Then & Now

Journeys Through Bookland
Isaac Beckley Werner loved his books.  One of the most popular blog post series that I have done is the request for readers of the blog to share their favorite childhood books.  Recently I finished a book by British writer, Neil Gaiman titled "The View from the Cheap Seats."  This week's blog post has grown out of a lecture Gaiman gave to a British organization created to encourage literacy in children.  The lecture is titled, "Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming," and I hope the many of you who shared your favorite books and who have told me that the blogs about books and libraries are among your favorites will particularly enjoy this post and will share it with teachers, librarians, and readers who might also enjoy the wisdom of Neil Gaiman.

I have often regretted that I was not guided to some of the children's classics when I was growing up, nor encouraged to explore the stories inside the covers of "Journeys Through Bookland" on the family bookcase.  However, Gaiman would not have agreed with me about the need for guidance.  "They [children] can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories," he believes.  "Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading:  stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like,  ...You'll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant."

Gentleman Don
One of the books that I found for myself belonged to my older brother, a gift to him from our Great Aunt Anna Marie that was already seriously old-fashioned when he received it.  Yet, I loved it so much that long after I was grown I inquired to see if my brother still had the copy I had read.  Apparently he no longer knew its whereabouts, so I found a copy online and bought it.  When I reread it as an adult, it had lost its magic, but I still love the memory of reading that special book.  Gaiman would understand my feelings, for he writes:  "A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn't hackneyed and worn out to someone encountering it for the first time.  You don't discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing.  Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer them to read."  Certainly I would not hand Gentleman Don to a young girl today, expecting her to fall in love with it as I did, but perhaps it was a "gateway" for me to tackle other 'grown-up' books with thick pages about other times in history.

There is a huge difference between imposing what a child should read and guiding children to things they might otherwise miss, and Gaiman emphasizes the importance of librarians in today's world of overwhelming information.  "For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something.  ...Information was a valuable thing..."  Today, however, "we've moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut."  The role of librarians has become increasingly important, as is the support for libraries.

Neil Gaiman, photo credit: 
Gaiman writes:  "Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and e-mail, a world of written information.  We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood."  Gaiman sees libraries as "the gates to the future."  

Relying on media and technology to produce these global citizens of tomorrow is not going to work.  Gaiman distinguishes the experience of watching TV or film with reading prose fiction.  "When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people."  In contrast, when you read prose fiction ", and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and people it and look out through other eyes.  You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know.  You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well.  You're being someone else, and when you return to our own world, you're going to be slightly changed."

Because our children have mastered hooking up satellite TV, texting, tweeting, navigating Windows 10, googling, and all the other things adults struggle to learn, we tend to see them as smarter than older folks.  Yet, by knowing how to find answers our children are not learning how to reason through ideas to discover answers for themselves.  Gaimin writes, "...our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are.  They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems.  They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable."  It is primarily for this reason that Gaimin sees the need for libraries and reading.

"Books are the way that the dead communicate with us.  The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, the way that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over."

Lyn searching through County Capital newspapers
Using my own experience as an example, I recall the hours I spent in the Stafford County History & Genealogy Museum turning the brittle, yellowed pages of old newspapers, thinking I was looking for some specific information but finding instead many other things that enriched my understanding of the period.  I did not just learn the single specific thing which had brought me to the museum.  I learned many things I didn't realize that I needed to know.

Using a key word to access information from a phone or a computer is handy, but it does not enrich our understanding, deepen our empathy, develop our reasoning skills in the same way that reading does.  

I will conclude this post by hinting about next week's blog, still inspired by Neil Gaiman's book, The View From the Cheap Seats.  He writes:  "[W]e have responsibilities to the future.  Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting."  Next week's blog will share some of those responsibilities he suggests!

(If you enjoyed this post, you may want to go back through the archives to read other posts about books and reading.)