Thursday, April 17, 2014

Isaac and the Weather

An almanac Isaac used
As a Kansas homesteader learning to farm in the sandy loam soil of the prairie with weather different from the Pennsylvania farms and weather of his youth, Isaac Werner depended on both almanacs and folklore to help predict the seasonal weather patterns.  In locating books that Isaac owned in his personal library, I was eager to include the specific almanacs Isaac owned and used frequently.  You can only imagine how excited I was to find a 1892 McLean's Almanac with the Storm Calendar and Weather Forecasts of Rev. Irl Hicks--an example of the very publication Isaac was almost certain to have owned!  I could hardly wait for it to arrive so I could read the forecasts Isaac would have relied upon, and when it came, it was in perfect condition, its cover pictured at right.

The joke was on me, however, for although that cover is in English, if you look carefully at the lower right-hand corner, you will see the word "GERMAN."  All of the pages inside the almanac are published in German!  Isaac was raised in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, and in the early pages of his journal, written in 1870-1871, he occasionally writes short passages in German, so it might be possible that Isaac owned a German language almanac.  However, I'm sure that the almanacs he picked up in St. John to pass around at the Farmers' Alliance meeting would have been in English.

Not everyone trusted the storm predictions of Rev. Hicks, but the almanacs also illustrated phases of the moon, predicted eclipses, and other information, and Isaac continued to rely on the weather predictions in his almanacs as one source to consider.

In April of 1889, he recorded in his journal that nine of his roosters had begun crowing the previous evening, which he interpreted as a sign of changing weather.  This is consistent with the folklore that "When a rooster crows at night there will be rain by morning."  Isaac also saw a good season for hatching toads as a prediction of a change in the weather, and he wrote in his journal about a trip to St. John with his early harvested potatoes loaded in his wagon, during which there were so many toads hopping in the wagon tracks ahead of his horses that he could not avoid crushing some of them.  He was perplexed as to why they chose the road for their exercise, but he did feel that the abundant crop of toads predicted a weather change.

However, during a droughty period he wrote that the usually dependable signs of rain, like frogs croaking in the evenings and gnats and mosquitoes being particularly bad, had not brought the rainfall that was needed.  Perhaps this quote from Alice Hoffman would have been better suited to Isaac on both accounts:  "When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure."

If you missed the blog about folklore weather predictions posted 4-3-2014, you may want to read it now. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Learning History from Books

From my first blog post I made it clear how important I believe it is for intelligent people, and especially decision makers, to have a well-informed awareness of history.  (See "I Love History," 1-3-2012 reposting in archives.)  I hope my subsequent posts have shared some historic wisdom with all of you who follow my blog.
Titles from Isaac Werner's Library

What is essential, obviously, is the accuracy of the sources from which we acquire our information.  My admiration for Isaac began early in reading his journal, as he described the books he acquired for his personal library.  The quality of his selections was apparent.  (See "Isaac's Library," 2-2-2012.)  Later in his life he engaged in a practice we all must avoid if we are to be fully informed.  He began to narrow his reading to those authors with whom he already agreed.  As I quoted pollster Frank Luntz in "Isaac & the Political Press," (archives 10-24-2012), "We [Americans] don't collect news to inform us.  We collect news to affirm us."  If we restrict ourselves to biased information, our opinions are inevitably biased.

I have always had an awareness of World War II, but most of what I had read was written from an American perspective.  Only recently have I happened to select books with a European perspective, and I thought I would share some of these books for your consideration.

My first recommndation is a book written by a German author, Hans Falada, called Every Man Dies Alone.  It was written in Germany just after W.W. II and was not available in an English translation until 2009, when I first learned of the book based on the true story of a German couple whose  drafted son died fighting a war of which he disapproved.  His death gave them the courage to begin their personal protest of the war.  The book opened my eyes wider to the universal potential of war to corrupt the citizenry through greed, jealousy, fear, ambition and other dangerous motives to turn on one another, as well as the personal courage of ordinary people to do small things that make a difference.

More recently I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, with a young girl living outside Munich as the central character.  Now having been made into a wonderful movie, the book is described as being for young adults, but it has ample interest and wisdom in its pages for adult readers.  I definitely recommend both the book and the movie (now on DVD).

Madeleine Albright
I just finished Prague Winter, A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.  Sec. Albright, born in Czechoslovakia, was not yet two years old when her homeland was invaded following an attempt by British and French leaders to appease Hitler by compromising away part of Czech lands.  She was still a toddler, living in England with her parents, when she was baptized into the Catholic Church, and she did not know of her Jewish heritage until a reporter disclosed that information through his own research when she was 59 years old, after both of her parents were dead.  With the news of her ancestral heritage came the discovery that more than 2-dozen of her close relatives had died in the Holocaust.  

Her father had been a diplomat and the head of broadcasting for the Czechoslovak government in exile in England during the war, so his records of the war play a significant role in the research for this book, but she had to look elsewhere for information about her family's Jewish roots.  The result is a very personal account, sharing her childhood memories, her father's documented role in the Czechoslovak pre- and post war activities and government in exile's activities during the war, as well as her search for information about her own discovered relatives and their suffering as Jews during that tragically inhuman persecution.  She brings not only the personal tragedy and the political insider's perspective of her father and his circle of acquaintances but also the wisdom and professionalism of her own training and experiences.  It is an amazing book, and I highly recommend it.

While this is a bit different from my typical blog, it is certainly consistent with my theme of using history to avoid mistakes of the past in our present decisions.  As I was reading Sec. Albright's book, Putin's soldiers were marching into Crimea, and a part of one nation's citizens were voting whether to secede from their own country.  America and other nations were watching and seeking ways to intervene appropriately.  I could not help but consider the similarities to events before W.W. II, when some ethnic Germans living inside Czechoslovakia welcomed a takeover by Germany of that part of Czech lands and European leaders sought to appease Hitler by doing nothing about his land grabbing.  Our own country has its own bloody example of one region deciding to secede from this nation.  

Perhaps if we look to the wisdom of history, the decisions made in the present will be better informed.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Folklore Forecasts of the Weather

Red sky at morning,  sailor take warning...
In an era when there was no NOWA to alert us to the approach of severe weather, no constant weather channel to share weather conditions across the nation, and no television weatherman (or woman) to artfully point to temperatures and predictions on a local weather map, people relied on almanacs and folklore to predict the weather.  Isaac Werner's journal contains his observations and predictions about the weather, and every daily entry included the temperature, moisture, and wind conditions.  

My father often mentioned weather sayings, paying particular attention to the evening sky to predict the coming weather.  I believe observing a ring around the moon as a prediction of bad weather was one of his comments.  There is some scientific basis for that bit of folklore, since the ring is caused by a refraction of reflected sunlight from the moon onto ice crystals in the upper atmosphere.  Thin cirrus clouds normally precede a warm front by 1 or 2 days, and a warm front is often associated with a storm.  Some people believe the number of stars inside the ring indicate the number of days until the bad weather.

Nearly all of us know the saying, "If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb."  Given the recent severe cold across the nation, surely most of us are hoping for the appearance of a lamb that doesn't disappear during the following days!  Another familiar quote to many of us is "Red sky at Morning, sailor take warning; red sky at night, a sailor's delight."  One prediction utilized by my father was "Rain before seven, fine before eleven," although I don't think he used the rhyme.  If you would enjoy reading more examples of weather folklore, you may want to visit  

...Red sky at night, a sailor's delight!
Having been raised in a farming community, I could certainly identify with what Kim Hubbard had to say:  "Don't knock the weather.  If it didn't change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn't start a conversation."  Farm families depend on suitable weather for their growing crops, and although merchants and service providers in agricultural communities should also realize the significance of weather conditions to their customers and clients, apparently not everyone does.  I was shocked by a woman dashing into Wal-Mart one day, complaining loudly to everyone within earshot about the rain spoiling her hair.  Those of us with crops desperate for rain after a lengthy dry spell weren't too sympathetic about her spoiled hair-do!  As Benjamin Franklin observed, "Some are weatherwise, some are otherwise."

A later blog will share Isaac Werner's methods for predicting the weather!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Isaac's Prairie Orchard

The importance to Isaac of his peach orchard is reflected in several entries in his journal, beginning when he mentions the fragrance of the blooms each spring and continuing through the harvest of peaches when they ripen.  Isaac did not can the fruit or convert it to jams and jellies.  Instead, he relished the pleasure of eating fresh peaches to his fill while they were available, as well as sharing his bounty with neighbors.  Like growers everywhere, even today, he dreaded the late frosts that meant there would be no peaches for that season.

The peach orchard was also the venue for some special events.  When his twin brother traveled from Pennsylvania to spend two nights with Isaac on his homestead, they spent the last evening of his visit together, hoeing around the peach trees.  They had not seen one another for a decade since Isaac had left Wernersville, PA to make a life in the West, and the two brothers would never see each other again after that visit.

The peach orchard was also where Isaac scattered corn for his flock of wild quail.  Isaac loved all of the wild birds on his homestead and timber claim, and he protected them from neighbors who trespassed to poach his game.  He fed them simply because he enjoyed having them on his land, not because he ever killed them to eat.  When his flock froze to death during a severe blizzard, he grieved for what he called his "pet flock of quails."

When a traveling salesman called on him one autumn selling apple trees, Isaac ordered 40 trees.  It may have been only a coincidence, but his decision to raise apples happened right after his mare Dolly delivered the colt he named Jimmy, and it is reasonable to imagine that Isaac considered not only how he would enjoy fresh apples but also how his two horses would appreciate the treat.  The trees arrived too late for fall planting, but he set them out in the spring.  Unfortunately, he struggled with hungry rabbits eating the bark during the following winter, and his 40 trees were reduced to only 4.  By the next season he was down to a single tree.  His dream of raising apples on the prairie had failed. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fruit Trees on the Prairie

Sand hill plum branch
Very few trees managed to survive the frequent prairie fires that raced unstopped across the open range, but the stubborn thickets of sand hill plums managed to survive and spread, living long enough before they were overtaken by a prairie fire to produce fruit.  When the early settlers arrived to claim homesteads, they were grateful for the hard little plums from which to make jellies and to savor the taste of fresh fruit in season, despite the small amount of pulp around the hard central seed.

Once they could plant a garden, melons were added to the seasonal fruits they enjoyed, but it took a while for fruit trees to be planted and grow to the size necessary to produce fruit.  Even with his fruit trees, Isaac Werner looked forward to the seasonal plums and melons.

When I was young, my father bought a quarter-section of land just west of our farm.  The sons of the family who had lived there when my father was a boy, the Kennedy family, had not returned to the farm, and they leased the land to be farmed by Glen DeGarmo.  When Glen died, they sold the land to my father and they sold the old house to someone who moved it to a new location about a mile north and a half mile west of Pratt, off Hwy 281.  Left behind were the old trees, and among them a trio of pear trees.  Every summer, my mother and I would go there to pick the pears for pear butter.  The trees were very old, and there were fewer pears on them each summer, but there were always enough for a few jars of pear butter.

Pear Varieties
Mother stopped taking the effort to make pear butter after my brother and I were no longer at home, but one summer I was home during pear picking season and we went over to gather some pears.  There were none.  We assumed the old trees were no longer able to bear fruit, although we did check occasionally for a few years if I happened to be at the farm during the right season.

One year I was visiting at the time Mother had a farm women's club meeting, and I went with her as her guest.  I happened to be seated next to a lady who had moved into the community after I left home, and she and her husband were my parents' nearest neighbors to the north.  As we were visiting, I was enjoying getting to know one of Mother's friends, and somehow the conversation drifted to jelly making, and I spoke of the sand hill plum jelly we always made.  She was so excited to tell me about her own jelly making since moving into the community,  and she began describing the three old pear trees she had discovered at a deserted homestead from which she had made wonderful pear butter. 

As you can guess, she had found our three pear trees and had begun picking them clean every year before we got there to pick our share!  She was so embarrassed when I told her that my father owned that land and we too had enjoyed the pears.  

For many years my husband and I lived far away from the farm and were never back at the right time to pick the pears.  By the time we rescued the old farm house and I went across the section to find the old pear trees, they were dead.  Perhaps I should plant some pear trees this spring.  I believe that dear neighbor lady is still living in a nursing home, so until my own trees produce fruit, I really ought to go in search of a market that sells pear butter.  I'll bet she would enjoy it!

Next week's blog will share the story of Isaac's fruit trees. You might enjoy revisiting the following blogs from the archives:  "Isaac's Giant Melon," 9-20-2012; "Plum Harvest," 6-14-2012; and "Sand Hill Plums," 3-1-2012.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Isaac Claims a Homestead

"He could not breathe in a crowded place--
He wanted his air and his open space--
He watched while civilization neared on the path
through the wilderness..."
William B. Ruggles, "The Pioneer"

The pull westward for Isaac B. Werner had begun while he was still a teenager, and soon after his father died in 1865, Isaac left his father's rich Berks County, PA fields in the Lebanon Valley.  Leaving behind the picturesque Pennsylvania-Dutch community, Isaac and his older cousin Henry traveled first to Indiana, but the promise of the western frontier pulled Isaac onward to Illinois.  In Rossville, IL Isaac established a prosperous business as a druggist and later a milling partnership, but after a few years the gradual civilizing of Illinois reawakened a longing for "his air and his open space," and in 1878 he claimed his homestead and a timber claim on the Great Plains of Kansas.
Posters enticed settlers

Isaac was not some dandified small town druggist without calluses on his hands nor lacking farming experience in his background.  Experience in the milling business had added some agricultural knowledge to his youthful experience on his father's farm.  Yet, not even the Illinois prairie years had prepared Isaac for farming in Kansas.  Foremost was the limited rainfall, which caused crops that were lush and promising in the spring to wither and die in summer's heat and drought.  Next was the fierce wind, which propelled the blast-furnace heat into tender crops.  Fields of corn that had managed to receive the necessary rain and escape grasshoppers and chinch bugs often succumbed to the wind's gritty sand that shredded leaves and blew the essential pollen away before it could fertilize the waiting kernel, ruining the crop for both fodder and the development of the corn.  Add to that the sandy loam soil, and nature's trick of hiding patches of gumbo in unexpected places, and Isaac and other settlers faced unanticipated agricultural challenges.

Original 1933 Cover
 Isaac was not alone in his decision to leave the more settled parts of America and start fresh on the vast prairie lands which had previously been the domain of Native Americans and a few trappers and hunters.  Many American children have been introduced to the saga of Western expansionism through the "Little House" books of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In Little House on the Prairie, Laura's family built their log house near what is now Independence, KS, having moved into Indian Territory in anticipation of the land being opened for settlement in the near future.  In Little House in the Woods the family returned to Wisconsin to settle on a pre-emption claim.  In Little Town on the Prairie, the Ingalls family moved to South Dakota where Laura's father finally claimed a homestead and they remained, participating in the growth of the town of DeSmet.

Replica homestead
Each of the Wilder's attempts to claim land relied on a different means.  Briefly, these are the three situations.  The Homestead Act of 1862 was signed by Abraham Lincoln, but it did not open all of the Western land for homesteading.  Some eager settlers moved onto land that was not yet opened and attempted to fulfill the requirements for homesteading--building a structure in which to live, making improvements to their property, and physically remaining on the property the required amount of time to mature their claim as if it were homestead.  If that land were subsequently opened for homesteading, they had a head start on other claimants, usually having claimed the most desirable, more fertile land by pre-emption, and they could remain.  Pre-emption could also apply to buying a claim and finishing the requirements started by someone else.  In the case of Indian Territory, those settlers were not always rewarded by their early settlement, as the case of the Oklahoma Land Rush and the term "Sooners" shows.  When the government made a new agreement with the Indians in Oklahoma, and that land was opened for homesteading, early settlers were not allowed to prove up the land they had settled and improved.  Instead, they had to return to the boundary and participate in the Land Rush with everyone else.  Those who hid and pretended to have "rushed" for the land they staked were called Sooners, (whether they were new settlers or preemption settlers trying to secure the land they had developed), given that name because they jumped the starters' guns the morning of the rush, taking advantage of getting to their claim sooner than those who began the rush at the designated starting places and time.

Stafford Co. Map 1885
Isaac came to southernmost Stafford County to stake his homestead in 1878 on land officially open for homesteading.  He built his residence, initially a dugout, and began making improvements by planting trees and breaking sod, and he remained on the land for the requisite 5 years necessary to prove up his claim.  In order to secure his patent, he took two neighbors before a local judge to swear with him that he had lived on the land for the required time and had made improvements.

According to the US Department of the Interior statistics, more than 270 million acres of public land, or about 10% of the land that made up the 48 contiguous states, was transferred to private ownership under the Homestead Acts.  Isaac claimed 160 acres, the maximum allowed under the Homestead law, and received his patent from the government, signed by President Grover Cleveland.

(Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.) 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Isaac and my Grandmother

Ad from County Capital
Returning from a trip to St. John one day, Isaac Werner stopped at a neighbor's house to borrow a sewing machine.  He did not mention the purpose for which he used it, but I suspect it was for mending, as he never described buying fabric.  He did, however, make banners for the People's Party parades, so that might have required a little stitching.

Maude Hawk's Quilt
Prairie women were often busy at their sewing machines, often making clothing for their families.  Every scrap of fabric was saved for other uses, particularly for quilts.  Occasionally special fabric was purchased to use with the scraps to make a special design, and the family quilt top made by my Grandmother Maude Hawk as a gift to my mother was of the second type. 

Students tour the quilt show
As I remember what my mother told me, Grandmother Hawk was working on two different quilts and gave Mother the choice between them.  Mother was young, and she liked the bright pink flowers of the one she chose.  The other quilt was a wedding ring pattern, and Mother came to realize later that it was a more intricate pattern, but she had made her choice, and I believe the wedding ring pattern quilt went to her younger brother, Junior.

Money was very tight in those times, and Grandmother Hawk had not purchased quite enough pink fabric to complete the quilt.  Later, when she bought more, the dye lot was slightly different, but over the years the pinks have come together in color.

Wedding ring & Dresden Plate

When Mother was in her 60s, Grandmother finally brought the quilt top to her, saying, "Pauline, I guess I'm never going to get this finished for you."  It was fortunate that the gift had been presented when it was, for Grandmother fell and suffered a severe injury that necessitated her entering the Clifton nursing home near Junior.  I suppose that was how Mother learned that the ladies at the Clifton Church did quilting, and she hired them to finish the quilt.  Before Mother's death, she passed it on to me.
Macksville Centennial Quilt

My mother-in-law Irene was also a quilter, often making baby quilts for children of strangers she had read about in the newspaper who were going through some personal loss or injury, but she also made many quilts for babies in her community.  She made several blocks of a fundraiser quilt made for the Macksville Centennial, and she wanted to win it back in the raffle so badly that we gifted her enough to buy 100 tickets.  She didn't win, but 25 years later, after her death, we toured the quilt show where that Centennial Quilt was again on display and enjoyed seeing the blocks she had done.  The photographs with this blog were taken at that show, a lovely display of both antique and modern quilts.

(Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Isaac's Potatoes

In the earliest years on his homestead and timber claim, Isaac B. Werner did not have a horse, mules, or oxen with which to break sod.  He had to trade his labor in payment for using neighbors' animals and plows to break sod for planting, and that allowed him only limited acreage for row crops.  Instead, he focused on planting trees.  (See "Isaac Plants Cottonwood Trees," 12-2-2011 in blog archives.)

Gradually he was able to open more land for planting, and eventually he acquired a horse of his own.  (See "Isaac's Dolly Varden," 12-28-2012 in blog archives.)  His two main crops were corn and potatoes, and he gained a reputation for raising particularly fine potatoes.

Harvesting potatoes
 When our nephew came for a visit, we arranged the opportunity for him to see the farm operation of a family that raises potatoes.  Naturally, I could not help but contrast the commercial operation of today's farming with the methods used by Isaac.

Potatoes arrive from the fields
When Isaac determined that his potatoes were ready for harvesting, he had two options--he could plow them out of the ground using his horse Dolly and a plow, followed by hand picking the potatoes turned up by the plow, or he could manually hook the potatoes from the ground without plowing.  It was a very labor-intensive job either way, and Isaac was often frustrated by the inability to find neighbors available to help at the time they were needed.  Contrast Isaac's method with the image of the machinery at work in the field today.

As Isaac by himself or with the help of neighbors dug the potatoes, they were generally transported to his house by wheel barrow.  The number of potatoes that could be dug in one day were a matter of a few bushels, in contrast to the far larger numbers dug by machinery, and Isaac had no need for machinery to convey the potatoes for cleaning and sorting, although transporting them by wheelbarrow was a back-breaking job.

Sorting the potatoes
Isaac stored his potatoes in the basement of his house.  He built bins to hold them until he had time to sort them by quality and size.  Occasionally he had help sorting them, but it was generally a job he did himself.

In order to transport his potatoes for sale in town, Isaac had to build rectangular, bushel boxes from wood.  He did this in the winter, when he was not busy outdoors, and the boxes were not sold with the potatoes.  Building the boxes was time-consuming and the wood used in their construction was expensive, so he recycled their use.  

Huge bags of potatoes inside semi-trucks
He transported the boxes of potatoes in his wagon, pulled by horses.  It was a heavy load, if the wagon was full, so in the early years when Dolly was his only horse, he borrowed a horse or mule from a neighbor to help pull the load to market.  Today, potatoes are loaded by machinery into huge bags and are transported by trucks.

Isaac experimented with many varieties, getting his seed potatoes from growers in other places to test in the Kansas sandy loam of his fields.  The names were often almost poetic--Rosy Moon, Rocky Mountain Rose, Early Maine, Monmouth Prolific, Strawberry Red, Chicago Market.

In 1885 he wrote in his journal:  "...had my barrel of Irish Seed Potatoes 2 3/4 bushels unloaded, the following kinds and quanties..." (after which he listed several varieties), concluding with these words:  "11 kinds total".  Like Isaac, modern growers continue to plant test fields to determine the best varieties to grow.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Trip to Sun City

Downtown Sun City
 When a friend read about a fun bar and restaurant called Buster's in Sun City, Kansas, she suggested that my husband and I join her and her husband for dinner on Halloween week-end.  She had heard that patrons were encouraged to costume for the occasion, but we settled for boots and jeans.  We fit in perfectly with the other ranchers and farmers, although there were a few people in costume.

Opposite side of the downtown street
We accepted the invitation not only because we looked forward to an evening with our friends, but also because I was eager to see Sun City.  First, I remembered school bus trips to see the caves and natural bridge nearby.  Second, I wanted to see the old town where Isaac had traveled by wagon to sell potatoes.  Unfortunately, we were delayed in starting the drive (because my friend had hit a deer on their way to our house with her brand new pickup).  By the time we reached Sun City it was too dark to see very much except the well-lighted restaurant and a group of people gathered around a fire nearby to keep warm on the chilly evening.

A few days later, my husband and I happened to be nearby and detoured to see Sun City in the daylight.  The photographs accompanying this blog were taken that day.

Terrain near Sun City
As Isaac's reputation for raising quality potatoes spread, and awareness that he kept part of his crop in his cellar to use as seed potatoes became known, he developed a market in his neighborhood.  He realized that selling seed potatoes in the spring might provide competitors for his own potatoes when they were harvested later, but the cash received in the spring was needed.  As he had anticipated, at harvest the neighbors had their own potato plots and did not buy his potatoes.  Even the markets in towns were glutted.  Consequently, he had to load his potatoes into his wagon and travel to areas where potatoes were not grown.  That was how Sun City became a marketing destination.

The site where Spring Vale was located
Isaac had never traveled to that region of the country, and he described the terrain in his journal:  "Curious country around here, once a flat country but gullies started & washed by ages & frosts crumbling projecting rock flattened bluff sides down to gentle sloping & now green grass covered."  His first trip started at 3 a.m. when he arose to grease his wagon and then went to Eggleston's place to borrow a mule to hitch up with Dolly.  He spent the night at Judge Purdy's place "22 miles south of Cullison" and continued to Sun City the next morning.  He reached his destination by 11 a.m. and sold his potatoes by noon for $1 to $1.25 a bushel.  He started home, traveling through Spring Vale and Turkey Creek Mills, and spending the night in Cullison.  

Turkey Creek
In October, Isaac made another trip to Sun City, stopping this time for an overnight stay at J.P. Chinn's ranch.  The weather was colder than his first trip, and despite covering his potatoes, a few were frost bitten.  He lingered to visit with the Chinns the next morning, finding them "a clever family," but he reached Sun City by 11, disappointed to find the potato market "somewhat so scarce, finally I sold 5 bushels at Hotel & 16 1/2 to dry goods store (Douglas) all at 1.00 for bushel = $21.50"  

Isaac made his last potato trip to Sun City in early November, selling his entire load of 25 bushels to "one store W. of the Post Office, at 95 cents."  

During our visit I asked about the old hotel and was told it had been torn down when the fire station was built.  I didn't see any building that I could identify as dating back to 1887 when Isaac made his marketing trips, but I did photograph some interesting old buildings.  We went out of our way to drive through Spring Vale, where Isaac had stopped for the night on his October return home, staying overnight in the feed stable.  He stabled Dolly and the mule there, paying 35 cents, including hay, and he spent the night in the stable with them.  There are no longer any buildings.
One of the curving, unpaved roads we traveled

We had passed by Turkey Creek Mills along the way.  It is now a private club.

Although we left paving to explore the country through which Isaac traveled by wagon, we always had the benefit of graded roads.  We found it hard to imagine Isaac's trips with a mare and a mule pulling a wooden wagon loaded with 25 bushels of potatoes through the irregular terrain.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Prairie Bachelor Reflects on Marriage

In his mid-20s, we know from Isaac's journal not only what he felt about the responsibilities of marriage but also what his future marital plans were.  He wrote:  "According to brother Henry's late letter, the Home boys [in Wernersville, PA] still continue pretty fast-tampering with the cup of Sorrow--till ending in wedlock.  Then simmer down--like a final anchor and enjoy the ups and downs of married life and the animated fruits of their toiling.  While I a thousand miles away, like a Hermit delighting mostly in my ever so dear and trustfull, best companions, Books, and intend continuing so at least for coming 5 or 10 years--no telling though how circumstances unexpected might interfere."

"Circumstances unexpected" do interfere in all of our lives, and in most instances it is how we react to those circumstances that determines the course we take as much or more than the circumstances themselves.  We cannot know all of the romantic opportunities that Isaac allowed to pass by without pursuit, nor can we know of all the romantic ventures he attempted unsuccessfully.  His journal offers clues that have been shared in prior Valentine blogs. (See "A Young Man's Fancy," 2-9-2012 and "Romance on the Prairie, 2-12-2013 in the blog archives.)  He certainly admired some of the young ladies in Rossville, whom he referred to as "Juliets" and "Venuses," but except for some fumbling attempts at flirtation, Isaac seemed not to have had much romance in his life during those years.

Suffragettes Marching in 1912
On the Kansas prairie, he was a thoughtful neighbor to the divorced Mrs. Isabelle Ross, but whether his intentions were romantic or merely neighborly is uncertain.  He called upon the much younger prohibition Lecturerer Miss Blanche Hazelett at the home of Dr. McCann where she lodged, an evening Isaac enjoyed very much but about which we cannot know Miss Hazelett's feelings.  And, he left a cryptic note in his journal, "2nd refusal," which perhaps had a romantic explanation but isn't clarified.

In short, we do not know whether Isaac turned his back on romance or Cupid failed Isaac.  What we can be certain of from entries in his journal is that Isaac was very supportive of Women's Rights, even going so far as to consider becoming a Lecturer in that cause.  The idea of advancing the rights of women was already an active cause when Isaac was born.  Many of the early champions of the women's movement were also opposed to slavery, and when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 because they were females, they held a Women's Convention in the United States.  The first Women's Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, and in 1850 the first National Women's Rights Convention was held in Worcester, MA.  At that meeting, attended by Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Sojourner Truth, a strong alliance was formed between Women's Rights and the Abolitionist Movement.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony
In 1868 Kansas Senator S.C. Pomeroy introduced a federal women's suffrage amendment in Congress, but it was the 14th Amendment with citizens and voters defined exclusively as male that was ratified.  When the 15th Amendment gave the vote to Black men in 1870, leaders of the women's suffrage movement felt betrayed by their male Abolitionist colleagues having failed to press for women's right to vote as well.

Disappointed but not defeated, Victoria Woodhull addressed the House Judiciary Committee in 1871 to argue that the 14th Amendment should apply to women, and Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth both appeared at different polling places in the 1872 elections seeking to vote.  Fifteen other women were arrested for illegally voting that year.

Many men opposed women's suffrage because they feared women would use their votes to prohibit the sale of liquor.  When Frances Willard became the head of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1876, two years after its founding, she was an out-spoken proponent for women's suffrage.  (See "Before Carrie Nation--Prohibition in Kansas," 9-13-2012 blog archives.)  States began putting women's suffrage on their ballots, with mixed results; however, it was not until 1919 that women finally got the vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920.  Isaac, who died in 1895, did not live to see this achievement, nor did most of the early supports of women's rights.

So, ladies, this Valentine's Day as you remember the gentlemen in your lives, pause for a moment to remember the Prairie Bachelor who wanted to see women get the vote, who criticized husbands who treated wives with disrespect, who admired women who assumed roles typically reserved for men, and who never let his support for the social and professional advancement of women cause him to ignore a pretty face!

To read more about the efforts for Women's Suffrage, see the National Women's History Museum Timeline (1840-1920) at

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Macksville Methodist Church

Isaac B. Werner's relationship with organized religion was complicated.  During his childhood in Pennsylvania, community life centered around St. John's (Hain's) Church (See "Isaac's Childhood Church," in the blog archives at 2-23-2012), and his personal library contained books evidencing his religious study.  He admired Rev. Henry Ward Beecher (See "Advice from Henry Ward Beecher," 12-7-2012 and "Keeping a Journal," 6-6-2013), one of the most famous ministers of that period, and a newspaper column written by Rev. Beecher was glued in the front of Isaac's journal.

Isaac was critical of anyone who, in his opinion, practiced their profession or craft in a careless way, whether the person was a farmer, a newspaper man, or a politician.  If Isaac felt that a minister was a second-rate preacher, he did not hesitate to criticize even a man of the cloth in his journal entries.  He seemed particularly critical of a minister because of such a man's ability to influence others.

In Isaac's community, religious services were held in the school house, conducted by lay pastors from other communities.  For example, Rev. Hoddle was a farmer-preacher from the Garfield community who came to preach at Emerson school.  Neighbors also held morning prayer services in their homes, especially during the difficult times when rainfall and money were both scarce.  When Isaac saw wagons parked at a neighbor's home for these morning prayer meetings, he reflected in his journal that studying better farming methods for the prairie soil might do their families more good than praying about their misfortune.

 Although Isaac's immediate community did not have a church, the town of Macksville about thirteen miles away organized the Methodist Episcopal Church even before the community officially became a city.  The church's charter was granted on November 13, 1885, and in March of 1886 Rev. B.F. Rhoads was appointed as the first pastor and the first church was built.  George Mack, after whom the town was named, donated land for the construction of the church, and for a time the structure was called Mack's Chapel.  Lumber and other building materials had to be brought by team and wagon from Larned, and it is likely that members from the community served as the carpenters.

The belfry, bell and steeple were added in 1888, and the original bell that called the early settlers to worship now occupies a place of honor outside the present church building, which was constructed in 1951-1952.

Among the names of those early members of the Macksville church appears George Hall, Isaac's friend and my great grandfather.  It was the Hall family that first took Isaac into their home when his health deteriorated to the point that he could no longer live alone, and it was George Hall's granddaughter, Lucille, who preserved Isaac's journal and bequeathed the journal to the Lucille M. Hall Museum in St. John, KS.  (See "Finding Isaac's Journal," 10-23-2011, "Small Town Museums," 10-29-2011, and "2011 Victorian Tea," 11-8-2011.)  I cannot help but wonder if Isaac and my great grandfather ever discussed the Bible during their evenings together.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Isaac's Inventive Imagination and the Tricycle

Lady Florence Norman, 1916 London
When a friend shared a photograph of Lady Florence Norman riding to work in London in 1916 on her motor scooter, I thought immediately of Isaac.  Although he was not alive when this suffragette received the scooter as a birthday present from her husband, the journalist and Liberal politician, Sir Henry Norman, Isaac was alive during what is considered the Golden Age of bicycling, or the era of the Bicycle Craze. 

Ad from the County Capital
Because bicycles have existed as long as the memories of most living people, we may tend to assume they were invented much earlier than they, in fact, were.  Unverified history may suggest bicycle-like inventions much earlier, but the first practical 2-wheeled bicycles resembling today's bikes date back only to the 1800s.  Therefore, they were a fairly new invention in Isaac Werner's time.  In their early years bicycles were regarded as more of a toy for adventuresome young men, too dangerous for practical use.  As paving of roads and sidewalks increased and bicycle safety improved, bicycles became more popular.

When Isaac Werner read in the newspaper about a respectable lady riding a tricycle in New York's Central Park, he began to consider the design for a tricycle suitable
Cartoon from Punch
for the prairie.  He recorded in his journal his design, altering the wheels and using knuckle joints in the manufacture.  He not only described the details of his invention in his journal, he also described the image he pictured of ladies riding their prairie bicycles to visit their neighbors, sparing them from the effort of hitching horses to wagons or buggies each time they needed to go for a visit.

[Caption for cartoon reads:  Gertrude:  "My dear Jessie, What on earth is that bicycle suit for!"  Jessie:  "Why, to wear, of course."  Gertrude:  "But you haven't got a bicycle!"  Jessie:  "No, but I've got a sewing machine!"]  Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

Isaac's invention never went further than his imagination and the notes in his journal, but bicycles did become popular with the ladies.  Susan B. Anthony said, "I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."  WCTU president, Frances Willard learned to ride late in life and praised the benefits of cycling, giving her own bicycle the name "Gladys."  (See "Before Carrie Nation--Prohibition in Kansas," blog archives of 9-13-2012.)

Not everyone appreciated the sight of women astride bicycles.  The story is told of male undergraduates at Cambridge University showing their displeasure about women being admitted to the university by hanging a woman in effigy in the town square.  To express further disgust with the behavior of modern women of 1897, the female effigy was astride a bicycle!

The fact that Isaac approved of women riding bicycles is no surprise.  His journal often expresses his approval and encouragement of the liberation and advancement of women.

[Welcome to all of you now visiting my blog through the link in The Pratt Tribune each week.]

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Art in Isaac's Life & Today

Photo card with album
For Isaac, an appreciation of fine art was essential for anyone purporting to be an educated person.  One of my favorite passages from his journal is a lengthy conversation he recorded between himself and a young lady.

      In morning dark-eyed 'Belle A' called in and returned loaned book 'Cave on Coloring.'  I  inquired, "Why, have you read it through already?"
     "Well, could you understand it?"
     "No, not all."
        "How do you like it?"
        "Oh, I don't like such reading."
        "Ah, you must not expect to learn all at once.  Here, I have another small book--'Roebling, Sketching from Nature.'  Maybe this will benefit you more to read.  You must not get discouraged but go on like you had ten years time to learn in.  What other books have you to read?"
       "Well, just you keep on slowly reading and form a taste for the Fine Arts.  You will never regret it."  I handed book to her, and she started then for Seminary.  (Isaac's Journal, February 28, 1871)
Stereoscope with viewing cards

At the time this conversation occurred, Isaac was in his mid-20s, a successful young businessman in Rossville, IL, taking notice of attractive females that visited his drugstore but determined to postpone marriage until he was better situated in the manner he had planned for himself.  The conversation seems to show that while it was clear he wished to find an accomplished young lady familiar with the arts and literature, he was still very clumsy in the area of romance.

Isaac collected all kinds of books, and among them were books of art.  His desire to educate himself in the fine arts is reflected in a journal quote from early 1871:  "Received also 'Wonders of Italian Art,' which I wish I could have had long ago, would have assisted my fine Art progress very much.  Consider it a dear little book, as being the cream of Italian Art."

Museum Slab Party Guest
Among his personal art collection were many framed engravings, as well as photographs of artists kept in his card album of artists and authors.  His stereoscope collection included views of famous works of art, and his library had art books such as 'Murrary's Handbooks of Painting,' including Italian, German, Flemish, and Dutch volumes.  I was fortunate to locate a modern facsimile of one of his art books, 'Cuba with Pen & Pencil,' which I purchased for my collection of some other books that had been in Isaac's library, selecting the oldest editions I could find.  On July 3, 1871, he wrote in his journal:  "Received some 1 doz Stereos from Anthony & Co, also some card photos of Sarony & Co, and other mail matter, mostly Photography."

Because Isaac loved art so much and had few, if any, opportunities to see original paintings and drawings, I know that Isaac Werner would have supported having an art museum near enough for him to visit frequently. How I wish I could share with him the news of the new art museum opening in Pratt, KS, this spring! 

Some Board Members at Party

I am fortunate to have been asked to serve on the Museum Board, and the past few months have been busy ones.  The initial art collection, as well as a generous donation that has allowed the new museum to be built without debt, came primarily from Dr. and Mrs. Vernon Filley.  Mrs. Filley, or "Mimi" as she is well known, became interested in art during an elementary school field trip, and that young interest continued after she married.  Dr. Filley established his medical practice as a surgeon in Pratt, KS, and with a second residence in Santa Fe, NM, Mimi became acquainted with artists and gallery owners there.  She began to fulfill her dream of collecting art to donate to a museum for others to enjoy.

Discussing the floor plans 
The Vernon Filley Art Museum is the culmination of her dream.  The photographs in this blog were taken at the museum's "Slab Party," where supporters had the opportunity to see the progress being made on the construction.  Plastic "hard hats" were given to those who came to see the architectural drawings, the list of services and programs the museum will offer, and ask questions of the board members and the architect who were present.

The museum is scheduled to open this spring, and our Founder Campaign, through which donors can contribute at specified levels to be recognized as early supporters on a permanent plaque that will hang in the museum.  Founder donations and pledges may be made until February 15, 2014, when the campaign closes.  Our membership drive will then begin, and plans for the Grand Opening activities are underway!

Discussing future plans! 
It was impressive how early settlers, some still living in sod houses and dugouts, formed Literary Societies and attended Lyceum programs, eager to enjoy opportunities to see trained musicians, actors, and elocutionists, as well as to discuss books, art, and ideas, and to take singing lessons during the winter months when they were not so busy in the fields.  Isaac would certainly have been eager to visit an art museum on his visits to Pratt, and judging from the support shown the Founder Campaign, the volunteers already involved, the curiosity during construction, the interest in art classes and special museum events, and the inquiries about museum memberships, it appears that the current residents of Pratt and the surrounding region are as excited about the museum as he would have been!

I invite everyone to visit and "like" our page, or on Twitter @FilleyArt Museum.

To read more about the museum you may visit our website at

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Wisdom for the New Year from Isaac and Others

My early connection with Isaac B. Werner grew from our mutual passion for reading and our common belief in the benefits to each generation from reading the wisdom of their forefathers that can be found in books.  (See "Isaac's Library," Blog Archives 2-2-2012.)

On the last day of 1870 Isaac recorded in his journal recent purchases of books, including legal maxims, history, poetry, and art, expressing his wish for the financial resources to have purchased more.  He wrote:  "But there is nothing like patience to conquer great many things & undertakings.  Whether I really increased the value of my real estate & chattles [sic] during this last year or not, I confidently feel that I enriched my mind, satisfactory to my desire--beyond my any expectations--and in my eye that looks a fortune worth possessing--'O learn thou young man...'"

At FDR's Museum and Library
When my husband and I visited Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Museum and Library, we paused to read the words he had spoken at the dedication: "...the dedication of a library is in itself an act of faith.  To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things.  It must believe in the past.  It must believe in the future.  It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future."

As a reader and a writer, I am always saving quotes about books and writing.  For many years, Salmon Rushdie lived in hiding, constantly guarded by a police team devoted to protecting him from the fatwa issued against him because of words he had written.  Rushdie was required to give himself a new name to protect his identity, and even the policemen guarding him in the privacy of his various hiding places called him by that name, training themselves never to call out his real name in a moment of carelessness.  He chose as his pseudonym a combination of the names of two of his favorite authors--Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov.  His recent book, Joseph Anton, A Memoir, describes those years of isolation, when he questioned whether his words were worthy of the sacrifices it cost not only him but also his friends and family.  For a time, he questioned whether he should have censored himself, whether he should have written fiction about a subject some found offensive, whether the writing he believed truly important actually made a difference in the greater world.  For a time he thought he had lost the ability to write anything, so crippled was he by the isolation and emotional stress.  Eventually, he found his answers and wrote these words:  "This is what literature knew, had always known.  Literature tried to open the universe, to increase, even if only slightly, the sum total of what it was possible for human beings to perceive, understand, and so, finally, to be.  Great literature went to the edges of the known and pushed against the boundaries of language, form, and possibility, to make the world feel larger, wider, than before."  Rushdie could not stop writing about things he believed to be important, nor could he apologize for what he had written because his story offended some--not ever, and especially, not now, in "an age in which men and women were being pushed toward ever narrower definitions of themselves."         

Milton's Areopagitica
In reaching his answer, Rushdie found a quote from Milton's Areopagitica that reaffirmed his decision.  "He who destroys a good book, kills reason itself...Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."

Thomas Jefferson is famous for his love of books, having said, "I cannot live without books."  In fact, he loved books so much that he nearly bankrupted himself buying them!  After the British burned the Capitol in the War of 1812, it was the purchase of books from Thomas Jefferson's library that formed the core of our Library of Congress.  Jefferson's belief in the necessity for American citizens to read and study in order for the nation to prosper is expressed in these words:  "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." 

Katherine Hepburn, never one to waste words in her pithy comments stated it more simply.  "What in the world would we do without our libraries?" 

Thomas Jefferson
As Isaac Werner regarded with satisfaction the books he had studied during the previous months, he reflected on the months ahead.  "These last hours of 1870, who may see the last of 1871, only 365 days, but what changes may take place in that very short time to come.  How many a now warm beating pulse may rest motionless till then, and what [future] Shakespeare may take his life in the meantime to shine some future day, an ornament to the period.  Very nearly can I say that I enter the New Year--at least--without pressing debts, about $40.00 near at hand to liquidate, while I have also just the cost in pocket to meet same, any amount square.  While that would leave me about square and strapped--but how many would feel rich at that..."  Isaac continued by enumerating books on painting, Shakespeare, history, the Bible, Don Quixote, and Gibbon's Roman Empire that he wished to buy, including in the enumeration their prices.  He concluded by admitting that "I can't hardly spare so much money at once...but will have to take it cooly and get them by degrees."  He prioritized his wish list, writing, "The following works I long to possess, but not quite as much in a hurry as some above named, but I expect in due course of time to possess them all, and arranged in my library." 

Isaac concluded his New Year's Eve ruminations with this maxim:  "God hath provided wisdom the reward of study," words reflected a century later in FDR's belief that Americans must "learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future."

With 2014 just begun, the words of these wise people, reminding us of the importance of reading, seem particularly important!


Thursday, January 9, 2014

What do I do with my crop? (Storing Grain, Part II)

If you missed last week's blog, you may want to go to Part I of this story about grain storage on the prairie.  Otherwise, it may seem as if I am starting in the middle of the story!

This week I will continue with later structures for storing grains, starting with the wooden granaries sheathed in metal, like the structure pictured at the right.  Like my family granary pictured at the start of last week's blog, these old granaries usually had a cupola atop the ridge beam of the main structure to provide venting of the stored grain.  Heat can build up in the grain and ignite the dust and powdery chaff, and fires can start without proper venting.  Some of the larger cupolas, more like little houses, may contain lifts and a means to view the grain bins below.

In response to last week's blog, Jim Coburn posted a comment on face book, an excerpt from which he has given me permission to share on my blog.  He wrote, "I was working for the Preston [KS] Co-op at this time, and the wheat harvest was complete.  Steve Lewis instructed me to go to the...old tin elevator located between Highway 61 and the Rock Island railroad tracks.  I was to check the transfer of wheat from one bin to another.  This required my use of the weighted lift to get to the top.  Steve gave me an explicit warning to be sure and latch the lift before exiting at the bottom."

"...I momentarily forgot to set the latch on the lift.  That moment was just long enough that when I turned back to set the latch, the lift was just beginning its disastrous accent.  It gained speed as it hurtled toward the top.  And, of course, the offsetting weights were gaining speed as they hurtled toward the bottom.  The final outcome was a spectacle to behold.  The weights went crashing through the flooring into the basement compartment, leaving a gaping hole in the floor.  The lift hit the top, broke many things and then, it too came plunging down, leaving another even larger hole in the floor."

"The only thing that prevented Steve from killing me was relief that I hadn't ended up in the basement of the elevator with the lift and the weights.  ...  Actually, Steve Lewis was relieved that I was not injured."

Thank you, Jim, for sharing that exciting account of your dangerous misadventure.

There are still a few of these old metal-clad elevators left, and these two photographs are among my favorites.

More familiar are the mammoth concrete elevators with their white-painted surfaces visible for miles across the flat Kansas landscape.  The movie "Picnic," starring Kim Novak and William Holden, was filmed in Hutchinson, the location of the elevator pictured above right. 
In the mid-1900s the co-operatives that operated most of these elevators kept them sparkling white, usually with the name of the town written near the top of the elevator and often with a wheat or corn decoration painted on the side.  From a distance these sentinel towers loomed above the rooftops of small towns and larger cities, dominating the horizons.

Today, the white paint is graying and the images of grain decorating the sides of the elevators are fading.  The concrete monoliths are being replaced by more industrial-looking metal elevators--stocky silver turrets reflecting the sun.  At many Co-ops, the old and the new stand side-by-side.  As farms have grown larger, many farmers have built their own metal bins to avoid transporting grain to the elevators during the busy harvest season and to avoid paying rent for storage as they hold the grain awaiting a favorable market for their crops. 

In prosperous years, the abundance of grain harvested may exceed the storage capacity of the elevators and bins.  In that case, it becomes necessary to store the grain on the ground.
According to his estate inventory, at the time of Isaac Werner's death in 1895 he had 245 bushels of wheat stored in the wooden granary at his farm, which the administrator of Isaac's estate sold for $124.63, less the fee paid a neighbor to haul the grain to town.  In comparison, a grain truck today might easily carry 48,000 pounds or 900 bushels in one load.  Isaac would be impressed!