Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bison on the Prairie

American Bison
When homesteaders like Isaac B. Werner arrived on the prairie, they found few trees.  They had not yet planted corn, the stalks and cobs of which they would in the coming years use for fuel (See "Corn Harvest, Then and Now," 9-18-2014 in the blog archives).  Lacking the traditional fuel sources, like wood and coal, these homesteaders found an unexpected source--the dried dung of the American bison, or buffalo as the bison were commonly known.  The dung, nicknamed 'prairie coal,' burned slowly and the odor was barely noticeable, according to contemporary accounts.

In the early years of settlement of the prairie, there were unimaginably vast herds of buffalo. Native Americans used the animal not only for food and hides but also found uses of other parts of the buffalo.  Because the buffalo was so important to Native Americans, religious rituals were often a part of the hunts.

A pile of American Bison skulls
As the plains were settled by people from other cultures, the animals seemed to be inexhaustible.  It was estimated that at least 25 million American bison roamed the United States and Canada, but by the late 1880s perhaps as few as 600 remained in the US!  They were often killed for their hides, the meat left on the prairie to rot, or they were killed simply for sport.  Sadly, they were also killed as a way to defeat the Indian populations, for slaughtering the buffalo meant less food and materials available for used by the Native American populations.  Cattlemen did not like grazing competition from the buffalo for their cattle's range.  However, it is also true that one method used by the Indians in their bison hunts was driving huge herds off cliffs to kill or wound them.

Fortunately, a few people recognized the importance of preserving this great prairie animal.  One of the earliest proponents of reintroducing the North American Bison to the region of its historic range was James "Scotty" Phillip of South Dakota.  He bought five calves roped during the Last Big Buffalo Hunt on the Grand River in 1881 and took them back to his ranch on the Cheyenne River.  When he died in 1911 he had a herd of over a thousand bison, from which other privately owned herds originated.

Painting by George Carlin
The Yellowstone Park Bison herd was formed from a few bison that survived the mindless slaughter of the 1800s, and the the Park's bison numbering over 4,000 are the descendants of those 23 hidden bison.

Today the US Department of Interior is seeking lands on which to move animals from the Yellowstone herd.  Because the bison migrate during winter, cattlemen outside the Park fear the spread of brucellosis to their cattle.  As a result, the government has allowed bison slaughters to avoid the risk of the disease spreading to surrounding cattle herds.

Some Yellowstone bison have been quarantined for years to make sure they are free from the disease, with the intention of moving them to appropriate areas outside Yellowstone.  Kansas is among the states with possible sites for these animals with the pure genetics of the original American bison.  The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was identified as potentially suitable for relocating these bison.

Small herds of buffalo can occasionally be seen in pastures in agricultural areas, but they are nearly always bison-cattle hybrids that lack the pure genetics of the Yellowstone herds.

Millions of acres of public lands have been leased to ranchers for grazing livestock, and the National Wildlife Federation has established a program to negotiate a fair market price with ranchers to retire their grazing leases and return these acres to the exclusive use of natural wildlife, including the bison.  Their program uses the catch line "Adopt a Wildlife Acre.  Give Bison Room to Roam."  

Perhaps there were a few American bison left on the prairie when Isaac Werner arrived in 1878, but for most settlers at that time the only resource left by the bison were their dried dung used for fuel and their bones, which could be collected and sold for use in fertilizer.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

More Historic Diaries

Leo Tolstoy
Continuing to share the history of diary keeping from Alexandra Johnson's book, A Brief History of Diaries>>From Pepys to Blogs, I was not surprised to see that writers and authors are often diary and journal keepers.  One example is, however, rather unique.

Sonya Tolstoy
From the beginning of Leo Tolstoy's courtship of his wife-to-be Sonya in 1862, until Tolstoy's death in 1910, Leo and Sonya kept diaries.  In her book, Johnson writes:  "A year into their marriage, Tolstoy decided they should share theirs.  For forty-two years, they read, wrote in and commented on the other's diaries."  Tolstoy's novel, War and Peace, grew from a seed planted by a story he read in his wife's diary!

Fanny Burney (1752-1828)
Frances d'Arblay, known as Fanny Bruney, was a member of the literary circle that included Boswell and Johnson in the 1700s.  In 1768, when she was only fifteen years old, the clever girl began her practice of diary keeping with these words:  "To Nobody then will I write my journal since to Nobody can I be wholly unreserved--to Nobody can I reveal every thought, every wish of my heart."

Dorothy Wordsworth
Like Sonya Tolstoy, another female diarist aided a famous relative.  In this case it was Dorothy Wordsworth who kept a diary to "give pleasure" to her brother, William Wordsworth.  She was twenty-six years old when she began in 1798, and William acknowledged that "She gave me eyes" through her journal entries.  The sketch of Dorothy is taken from her biography.

Alice James
Alice James, sister to novelist Henry and philosopher William, began her diary in 1889.  At her death in 1892, her brother Henry described her diary as "heroic in its individuality...Her style, her  power to write--are to me a delight."  Despite the praise of his sister's writing, he burned the diary!  We know what she wrote only because her companion had copies printed.

Anne Frank  (Fair Use)
War is often the inspiration for keeping a diary.  Perhaps the most famous war diary in the world is the one kept by Anne Frank.  Her second day's entry could not have been more wrong, for she wrote:  "Writing in a diary is really a strange experience for someone like me.  Not only because I've never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musing of a thirteen-year-old school girl."  Those musings, begun in June of 1942, ended August 1, 1944.  A noncombatant, young Anne Frank, kept one of the most read diaries about war that has ever been published.

Siegfried Sasson

World War I, with the horrendous loss of life as troops faced modern warfare in a way unlike past wars, produced a group of poet soldier diarists, among them Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Robert Graves.  In this 1916 diary entry, Sassoon wrote:  "As I sit in a nook among the sandbags and chalky debris, with shells flying overhead in the blue air, a lark sings...Heaven is furious with the smoke and flare and portent of shells, but bullets are a swarm of whizzng hornets, mad, winged and relentless.  There are still pools in the craters; they reflect the stars like any lovely water, but nothing grows near them."

Mary Chestnut, age 13

Perhaps the most powerful diarist of the Civil War was a woman.  Mary Chestnut was the wife of a Senator, and when the War began, a Confederate soldier.  She had lived in Washington in the early years of Lincoln's presidency but returned to their home in the Confederate South when war came.  She was a sophisticated, well-educated woman raised in a slave-owning family, but as an adult the idea of slavery and the war being fought over that issue left her in anguish.  She socialized with men leading the South in the war that she questioned, and her diary became a place to express the feelings she could not speak.  On Spetember 20, 1863, upon seeing open railroad cars transporting sleeping Confederate soldiers, she wrote:  "...soldiers rolled in their blankets, lying in rows, heads all covered, fast asleep.  In their gray blankets, packed in regular order, they looked like swathed mummies."  Chestnut's diary was first published in 1905.  Historian C. Vann Woodward used her forty-eight copybooks, 25,000 pages that she had revised from the original diary, to restore and annotate what she had written.  His work was published as Mary Chestnut's Civil War and won the Nobel Prize.

Dame Ellen Terry
Alexandra Johnson ends her Brief History of Diaries with a chapter devoted to online diaries and blogs.  You may read my own blog on that subject at "Keeping a Journal," in the blog archives of 6-6-2013.  Johnson quotes Ellen Terry's definition of a diary:  "What is a diary as a rule?  A document useful to the person who keeps it, dull to the contemporary who reads it, invaluable to the student, centuries afterwards, who treasures it!"  Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928), pictured at right from a painting by her first husband, George Frederick Watts, was the leading Shakespearean actor in Britain, and her respect for the English language can be seen in her wise definition of diary keeping.

Isaac B. Werner found his journal useful as a personal reference to aid in his farming, as well as an occasional place to vent frustration.  There is no evidence that he shared his journal with any contemporary, but I, more than a century later, have become a student of the era and community about which Isaac wrote, and his journal is certainly a treasure to me!

If these brief samples of diary and journal keepers over the years have made you curious, you may read more in Alexandra Johnson's book, A Brief Histoy of Diaries>>From Pepys to Blogs.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Historic Diaries

Isaac Werner's Journal
When I was a young girl I kept a diary.  Two of my diaries survive, both with faux leather covers and a flap from back cover to front with a metal closure secured by a lock that could probably be picked with a hair pin.  They contain the typical adolescent secrets, and my attempt to read one of them after I was an adult ended in disappointment.  Frankly, it was boring, even to the author.
 
Reading Isaac B. Werner's journal was another matter entirely.  Each day's entry was fairly mundane, but as one day built on another, I was transported back into another time.  His day-to-day chores and encounters allowed me to experience the era of my great grandparents and other settlers who had claimed homesteads on the prairie.  Isaac was influenced by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, (See "Advice from Henry Ward Beecher, 12-7-2012 in the blog archives) and kept his entries free of most personal opinions and emotions, sticking to the weather and actual events during his days.

Queen Victoria
Isaac was not alone in keeping a diary in the 1800s.  England's Queen Victoria wrote almost daily for sixty-eight years, and her diaries constitute over one hundred volumes.  Isaac wrote daily from 1884 to 1891, filling 480 oversized pages, and the journal was labeled "Vol. 5th."  With the opening pages including entries from 1870-1871 and an unexplained gap of 13 years, it appears that four volumes were kept prior to 1870 when Isaac was in his mid-20s and volume five began.

Isaac's journal provoked a curiosity that led me to read a book title A Brief History of Diaries>>From Pepys to Blogs, written by Alexandra Johnson.  The author acknowledged the ancient keeping of journals and diaries, but it was her history of those kept in the 1800s and 1900s that I found most interesting.

Francis Kilvert
The words of an English country curate named Francis Kilvert writing in the 1870s particularly caught my eye because he was keeping a diary at the same time Isaac was keeping his.  Kilvert wrote:  "Why do I keep this voluminous journal?  I can hardly tell.  Partly because life appears to me such a curious and wonderful thing that it seems a pity that even such a humble and uneventful life as mine should pass altogether away without some such record...and partly too because I think the record may amuse and interest some who come after me."  I can't know whether Isaac shared Kilvert's anticipation that some future reader might enjoy his journal, but I certainly have enjoyed Isaac's record of his day-to-day life.

Charles Darwin


Alexandra Johnson also selected examples from travel and explorer journals and diaries.  One such example was Charles Darwin, whose notebooks and journals filled 2,070 pages and became the sources from which he formulated his theory of evolution and natural selection which led in 1859 to the publication of The Origin of Species.  


Cover art by Sophia Thoreau
Another explorer did not go far from home.  A reader of Darwin throughout his life and a friend of diarist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau's exploration was of Walden Pond, which was only a mile and a half from the center of Concord, Massachusetts where he and his circle of friends lived.  Yet, from July 4, 1845 to September 6, 1847 he recorded his observations of nature and Indian trails while living in his secluded tiny cottage beside Walden Pond.  Those observations became the material for A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854).  Thoreau explained his purpose for devoting himself to exploring and recording observations of Walden Pond and the surrounding environment, saying that he used his journals "to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."  The cover art for Walden was done by his sister Sophia.

Unlike Thoreau, Isaac documented not so much the native plants but rather his meticulously kept records of planting, nurturing, harvesting, and storing the crops he introduced to the prairie's sandy loam soil.  Yet, he too wrote about the weather, the native birds, and nature's spectacles, such as eclipses, mirages, and sun dogs.

Next week's blog will continue sharing other examples of journal and diary keepers described in Alexandra Johnson's History of Diaries.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cemetery Iris

Isaac's stone in Neelands
The day that I first found Isaac Werner's grave in Neeland's Cemetery there were iris planted at the base of the stone.  Sometime later the iris tubers were removed.  (See "Finding Isaac's Grave," 1-13-2012 in the blog archives.)  We had a monument company correct the sinking and aligning of the stone and its separate levels, so the tubers may have been removed in that process.  Also, the cemetery board did a wonderful job of installing new fencing and grooming the grounds, and the old tubers may have been removed during that renovation.  I do wish I had been present when the tubers were removed, for I would have rescued the old iris roots and planted them at the farm as a remembrance of Isaac.

Photo by Lyn Fenwick
Iris were a popular flower to plant around grave stones in old cemeteries, primarily because they survive without watering and send up their delicate blooms each spring without any gardener's attention.  The primary threat to the continued blooming of iris is blowing dirt, which gradually covers the tubers.  Blowing sandy loam soil is an ever-present condition in the area where Isaac claimed his homestead!  The tubers are not killed, however, and removing the soil or digging up the tuber and replanting it with the roots and bottom half of the tuber placed in the soil and the top of the tuber exposed will nearly always bring the iris back to bloom.

Photo by Lyn Fenwick
I am a lazy gardener, so these undemanding flowers suit my personality perfectly.  Parts of the country, where winter arrives later and spring arrives earlier, allow re-blooming iris to produce flowers in both spring and fall.  That is when I fell in love with iris.  My mother loved her iris, but their short blooming period did not satisfy me.  Enjoying their flowers in both spring and fall won me over, and I began my collection.  Unfortunately, the tubers I dug from my collection to plant at the farm bloom only in the spring, although they are re-blooming varieties and have thrived with only the opportunity to bloom once a year.  I love them anyway.  Perhaps spring seems to arrive move quickly the older I get.  I am sharing photographs of some of my iris currently in bloom.

Photo by Lyn Fenwick
I wonder what color the iris on Isaac's grave were.  Most of all, I wonder who planted the iris around the base of his stone.  My great grandparents, George and Theresa Hall, were friends, and they were caregivers of him in their home for a short period during his final illness.  Perhaps Theresa and her daughters planted the iris.  Or, perhaps it was his neighbor, Isabel Ross, whom he always called Mrs. Ross, a divorced lady who claimed her homestead as a single woman.  His journal gave no hint of a romance, but his many kindnesses to her and her children may have caused her to feel a fondness for her bachelor neighbor.  Maybe the ladies who were members of the Farmers' Alliance, in which Isaac played such an active role, planted the iris, or mothers of the school children who appreciated Isaac's constant efforts to keep the school house in good repair.  Whoever planted the iris, it makes me feel glad that someone cared enough to decorate Isaac's grave.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sand hill Plums Again

Webs on Sand Hill Plums
The popularity of my past sand hill plum blog posts has verified my feeling that sand hill plum jelly is as popular as it was in Isaac Werner's day!  (See "Plum Harvest," 6-14-2912; "Sand Hill Plums," 3-1-2012 in the Blog Archives.) Last year a frost damaged the sand hill plum blooms, but this year the blooms were abundant and beautiful.  I intended to take some photographs at the peak of the blooming season, but they had already begun to fade when I stopped to photograph what I spied from my car...web worms!  At least, that is what I thought they were.

I was fascinated by the webs, but I was on my way to a program in town, so I snapped several pictures and hurried along.  However, I was curious to research what the webs contained.

I found a post in the Back to the Past Archives written by Lois Guffy in 2004.  She wrote:  "We also had to fight the webworms that came early and formed a web on the branches waiting until the plums were large enough to enter."  She added:  "How sad it was, to see a thicket loaded with luscious plums and find them full of wormholes.  The worms were usually found embedded inside of the seed."

Since my photographs on this page were taken April 11, 2015 and it would be several weeks before there were plums, I wondered if Lois Guffy could be talking about the same webs I had seem.  I continued my research.

Caterpillars beginning to emerge
According to the Kansas State University website, it is the Eastern Tent Caterpillar that likes the native sandhill plum and choke-cherry.  They only produce one generation a year, depositing egg masses on the host plant to spend the winter.  The larvae emerge from the eggs in mid- to late-March and build their own 'nests', from which they emerge to eat the tender new leaves of the host plant.  Eventually they become moths that spend months laying the eggs on twigs and branches for the next spring's larvae.  While they may defoliate the bushes, they are not the culprits responsible for laying eggs in the fruit.

On April 2, 1889, Isaac Werner wrote in his journal:  "Catepillars webbing and hatching out with the advent of plum leaves ready to devour as fast as growing.  I went over my plum bushes about yard and cleaned them off."  Whether Isaac simply wanted to keep his plum bushes attractive or he, like Lois Guffy, also blamed them for damaging the fruit, he definitely didn't want them on his plants!

Life stages of the Plum curculio
The pest more likely to have spoiled Lois Guffy's plums is the Plum curculio.  The females are partial to plums, peaches, apples, pears, and other pome and stone fruits as hosts for their eggs.  They are a weevil native to Kansas and other regions east of the Rocky Mountains.  With their ugly snout and the ridges on their wings, they are a creature hard to love, and the fact that they are as wicked about destroying fruits as their appearance suggests makes it easy to find them despicable.

As long as the Tent Caterpillars only eat a few leaves, which should stop by mid-May in time for the foliage to return and keep the bushes healthy, I believe I will ignore the silky webs and hope the birds and wasps keep the caterpillars under control.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Poetry of the Prairie

William Cullen Bryant
It has been my habit during April Poetry Month to devote a blog to poetry.  You may visit the blog archives for past years in April to read those posts.  This year I will share poetry of the Prairie, beginning with the opening of William Cullen Bryant's long poem, "The Prairie."

These are the gardens of the Desert, these/ The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,/ For which the speech of England has no name--/The Prairies.  I behold them for the first,/ And my heart swells, while the dilated sight/ Takes in the encircling vastness.  Lo! they stretch,/ In airy undulations, far away,/ As if the ocean, in his gentlest swell,/ Stood still, with all his rounded billows fixed,/ And motionless forever. --Motionless?--/ No--they are all unchained again.  The clouds/ Sweep over with their shadows, and, beneath,/ The surface rolls and fluctuates to the eye;/ Dark hollows seem to glide along and chase/ The sunny ridges.  Breezes of the South!/ Who toss the golden and the flame-like flowers,/ And pass the prairie-hawk that, poised on high,/ Flaps his broad wings, yet moves not--ye have played/ Among the palms of Mexico and vines/ Of Texas, and have crisped the limpid brooks/ That from the fountains of Sonora glide/ Into the calm Pacific--have ye fanned/ A nobler or a lovelier scene than this? 

Photo by Lyn Fenwick
The style of this poem by Bryant, although rather archaic, captures the imagery of the prairie so beautifully that you may wish to read the full poem online.  It was written in 1832, as a result of his first visit to the prairies.  In a letter to his wife Bryant wrote:  "What I have thought and felt amid these boundless wastes and awful solitudes I shall reserve for the only form of expression in which it can be properly uttered."

Laurie Ricou opens her essay, Prairie Poetry And Metaphors of Plain/S Space with a quote from Stephen Scobie's McAlmon's Chinese Opera:  "Gertrude Stein says/ you have to have flown across the Mid-West/ seeing the patterns of the fields/ to understand modern painting./  What I say is/ you have to have walked that land/ a whole Dakota afternoon/ to understand modern writing."

Photo by Lyn Fenwick at Homestead Monument
Ricou's interesting essay examining the prairie influence and imagery can be read online, but I will share one more example.  I was particularly taken by Garry Raddysh's description of the wind, so familiar to all of us who live on or have visited the prairie:  "...the wind/ in agony/ as it struggles/ not to take root/ in the prairie."  I love the way he flips my normal way of thinking about the wind--as the thing that threatens to rip everything from its moorings on the ground--into something struggling against the power of the prairie.

It is the traditional power of wind that Myrae Roe depicts in her poem Udall, Kansas, May 25, 1955, about a powerful tornado.  "...homicidal winds bent on fostering hell./  Dawn covered the awful result with pale light./  Silence wandered like a ghost/ amid uprooted trees planted a hundred years ago... Reporters and cameramen hastened into the town/ to find their story.  Amid the ruins/ one of them wrote, 'The little town of Udall/ died in its sleep last night.'"    

Roe's poem was published at the poetry blog "Kansas Time + Place."  You can subscribe online to receive poems weekly by Kansas poets currently writing and publishing their poetry

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Your Favorite Childhood Books, Part 4

Some books read in the innocence of childhood raise complex issues today.  Helen Bortz remembers:  "There was a series of stories that appeared in issues of 'Good Housekeeping' magazine.  Little Brown Koko [was] authored by Blanche Seale Hunt and illustrated by Dorothy Wagstaff..."  The 'Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists,' compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at the University of Kansas, includes Dorothy Wagstaff Arens among Kansas artists active before 1945.  Using the professional name of Dorothy Wagstaff, she specilized in illustrating children's books, and the image at left from "Wee Wisdom" magazine is an example of her work.  She studied at Washburn College and taught at the Topeka School of Art.

She is best known, perhaps, for her illustrations for Little Brown Koko, and the image of a dust jacket cover of the book by that title appears below.

The online seller of the pictured book described the author, born in 1912 in Florida, as an author, teacher, and postmistress.  There were six Little Brown Koko books, which together sold 600,000 copies.

Obviously this was a popular book in its time, and children who loved it, as well as parents who bought the book for their children, almost certainly did not think of themselves as racists.  Nor do those who continue to remember the book from their childhoods fondly.

However, writer Stephanie Beecroft Moore, wife of a Black man and mother of two bi-racial children, points out the unintentional hurt these books and images can cause.  She acknowledges that her husband does not share her degree of sensitivity to what she describes in her essay, "The Accidental Racist."  While she believes "that most people are good, that they believe in equality and justice," she regards the oppression of people of color as "so deeply-embedded in our culture, it is impossible to remain uninfected."  As one example of unintentional hurt, she cites finding Little Brown Koko at her children's school book sale.

First Edition Cover
Rodney Smith remembers reading The Story of Little Black Sambo, written in 1899 by English author Helen Bannenman.  I believe my own family had that children's book, as I am sure many families did.  The book was a favorite well into the mid-20th century.  Today many people find the book offensive, and Sambo is regarded as a racial slur.

Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan is home to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, "using objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice."  Curator David Pilgrim has written about the fact that for many White Americans, stories like Little Brown Koko, Little Black Sambo, and Epaminondas and His Auntie are just 'cute stories.'  Pilgrim writes:  "I am ambivalent about removing books like Epaminondas and His Auntie from public libraries.  I find the book offensive.  ...However, I do not support top-down censorship.  I do see the value of having racially offensive objects in the public so the objects can be used as tools to facilitate healthy, sometimes painful, dialogue."

Although there was a community of Exodusters, former Southern slaves who had come to Kansas, living not far from Isaac, his journal mentions only a Black laborer who worked for a neighbor and a Black speaker from Topeka who spoke in St. John.  His journal entries about both men were as straight forward as any other comments about people he encountered, revealing no bias.  Yet, he did note their color in the journal entries. 

Perhaps the issue of racism is more apparent in these books from decades ago, but if we pause to reflect on other childhood books that we remember fondly--the depictions of Native Americans, roles for young girls, the 'perfect' mother or father, and stereotypes about other nationalities as examples--we would surely find offensive depictions.  Our continued affection for the books we read and loved in a different time does not necessarily reflect our attitudes today.

Unlike the limited number of comments about Blacks in Isaac's journal, there were several references to deaths of children.  Life on the prairie seemed particularly hard on very young children and women, whose deaths were often related to childbirth.  The early settlers of Isaac's time were not unfamiliar with the loss of family members.  Because death is a part of life, should it be a subject for children's literature?   

Gentleman Don
My older brother was given the book Gentleman Don: The life story of a good dog, and when I was old enough to read it, that book became a favorite.  When our childhood possessions were divided as adults, Gentleman Don naturally went to my brother.  I never forgot it, and a few years ago I found a copy online for my own book collection.  When I read it as an adult, I wondered why it had held such appeal for me.  Published in 1910, the book is very Victorian and deals with death, loss, and abuse in ways I did not remember.  Yet, I had loved it.

I thought of that recently when I visited one of my favorite websites, "brainpickings.org" and found an article by Maria Popova titled "Consolation for Life's Darkest Hours:  7 Unusual and Wonderful Books that Help Children Grieve and Make Sense of Death." She began by quoting Neil Gaiman:  "If you are protected from dark things, then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up."

Among the "unusual and wonderful books" described in the article is one titled The Flat Rabbit, in which a dog and a rat discover the flattened remains of their friend, a rabbit, which has been run over by a car.  The two friends develop what they see as a fitting memorial for their friend, and in the process reflect on life and death.

Another one of the books is We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy by Maurice Sendak, who is known for his unorthodox stories for children.  This story deals with poverty, sickness, homelessness, and kidnapping--obviously frightening subjects for children.
Not every parent might want to have their child reading books dealing so directly with difficult subjects, but if you are interested in reading more, you may visit www.brainpickings.com, a weekly blog that offers interesting reviews of books for adults, and occasionally for children, dealing with a wide range of topics. 

I'm not sure whether my parents knew the contents of Gentleman Don.  Many parents today make an effort to be aware of what their children are reading.  Fairy tales were a popular choice among those who shared their favorite childhood books for this blog, and when you reflect on the kidnapping, imprisoning, injuries, poisonings, and other events in fairy tales and nursery rhymes, they are pretty gruesome.  Death may seem like an inappropriate subject for children's books; yet, not everyone would agree.  From the favorites mentioned by followers of my blog, they were not traumatized by the childhood books they mentioned, although their choices sometimes dealt with mature topics.

I appreciate all of the comments and e-mails I received, and I think each one was valuable and of interest to those who have been following my blog series of favorite childhood books.  Several books were favorites of many, while other books were uniquely important to only one person who responded  The books were of wide variety, with a variety of themes.  Thanks to each of you who shared your favorite books and the stories about your childhood reading.  It has been a wonderful opportunity to reflect and remember!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Your Favorite Children's Books, Part 3

For all my love of books, I regret that I ignored a wonderful set available on the bookshelves of my home when I was a child.  My grandparents had the 1909 edition of Journeys Through Bookland, a collection in ten volumes of children's literature, poetry, and fables with black and white illustrated plates and pen and ink illustrations.  I believe I opened the books once or twice but was disappointed by the absence of color illustrations.  What a shame to have ignored these wonderful books.

Comments from readers of this blog continued to mention fairy tales.  Lynn Suiter wrote:  "Strangely, the Norwegian fairy tale, "Three Billy Goats Gruff" comes to mind as an early memory.  All I can remember is the goats need to cross a bridge to get to grass for eating.  Under the bridge is a mean troll who eats anyone passing.  I can't remember being scared of this plot but that it was so far fetched."  I, too, remember this tale.  It is one of the fairy tales collected by Asbjornsen and Moe.  The plot is similar to other fairy tales involving "eat-me-when-I'm-fatter," such as Hansel and Gretel.

Jill Bowden provided a special surprise by posting pictures of the covers of some of her childhood favorites--"Jack & Jill magazine, Nancy Drew, My Big Story Book, Read with Dick & Jane" and the cover pictured to the left, "The Red Fairy Book."  She added, "I also read Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott."  We certainly would not want to forget learning to read with the "Dick and Jane" books.

Linda Koebrich spotted the image of "365 Bedtime stories" and wrote, "Loved that book."  Nancy Moore, who shared her favorites last week, added her children and grandchildren's favorites, admitting that it was "hard to get all the way through because we kept laughing so hard!"  Those books are "Berenstiens B Book," in which almost every word starts with B, and "Because a Little Bug Went Ca-Choo," in which one action creates a long list of reactions!"  Genile Allton Rawson chose "The Trixie Belden mystery series [which she] started reading at age 10 and couldn't put them down."

One of the first replies to my call for followers to share their favorites came from Wes Fisk, who even provided biographical information about his favorite author, Dr. Thomas Clark Hinkle.  Hinkle was born in Illinois but came to Kansas with his parents in a covered wagon when he was two.  First ordained as a minister, he then became a doctor.  However, he found time to write more than 24 books for children about horses and dogs.  Wes said, "I loved his books."

Allan Hingston included books about dogs among his favorites, but he regretted the disappearance of some old favorites.  "Books I don't see anymore are ones like [The Adventures of] Ol Mistah Buzzard."  Its author, Thornton W. Burgess was a naturalist and conservationist who wrote more than 100 books, as well as countless short stories. His books were filled with characters like Little Joe Otter, Grandfather Frog, and Buster Bear.  Fortunately, new editions are still available on Amazon.

Along with book titles, people shared wonderful stories.  Linda Nathan wrote:  "When I was a young child my family lived two blocks from the library in San Bernardino, California.  The children/young adults' library was located below street level with a separate street entrance down steps from the sidewalk.  It was a much safer time and at age five my parents began to allow me to make the two block walk by myself.  ...It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with books and reading."  She admitted that some days she checked out the 3 book limit in the morning and returned those for 3 more in the afternoon.

After reading the stories in last week's blog, Linda added "They bring back many good memories--reading Zane Grey westerns aloud to my younger sister, hiding a book in the bathroom, and making my dad angry when the dishwater got cold while I was happily reading away.  Little Golden Books, Nancy Drew, Little House Books, Little Women.  Oh my!"

In my earlier blog about children's books I said I did not know what Isaac B. Werner read as a child.  I still do not know, but given his love of Shakespeare, I think it is reasonable to suggest that he may have begun reading Shakespeare when he was quite young.  While young people today may find Shakespeare heavy going, that was not necessarily true in the 1800s, and Isaac was certainly a great fan when he was in his twenties, already familiar with Shakespeare's plays.  I suspect he began reading Shakespeare very early.

Thank you to everyone who has shared their favorite childhood books and stories about their early love of reading.  Next week I will conclude this series on children's books with a special look at two specific types of books.


 
 




Thursday, April 2, 2015

Your Favorite Children's Books, Part 2

What fun I am having!  Last week when I posted the blog about Bill Martin, Jr.'s children's books, I had no idea so many people would respond.  As I began receiving comments, I invited everyone to send me their favorite titles and stories, and the response has been terrific.  I think you will enjoy reading what people have shared.

Serendipitously, I discovered that April 2, 2015 is International Children's Book Day, an annual observance sponsored by IBBY since 1967, with the date selected on or around Hans Christian Andersen's birthday.  You may read more at www.ibby.org.  Reading the comments sent to me by followers of my blog and face book page is a great way to celebrate books!

Janis Moore wrote:  "I was also taken to Pratt each week for piano lessons, and I always went to the library.  The first book I remember reading for myself over and over again was The Boxcar Children.  I was in the second grade when I found that book.  A little later I read all the Nancy Drew books and many, many others.  My Mom did not like for me to read in the car (hard on the eyes, she said).  I tried to sit right behind her in the back seat coming home from Pratt, so she could not see I was reading."  Janis added:  "I read to my children from day one.  One of the great memories they tell me is of sitting in the living room before bedtime (away from the TV) reading all the Little House books."

The first 19 stories in the Boxcar series were written by a 1st grade teacher named Gertrude Chandler Warner. Publication began in 1924 and has continued with well over 100 books.  Four orphan children made a home in an abandoned boxcar in the forest, and when they are found by their grandfather, he moves their boxcar to his backyard to remain as a playhouse for the children.  In a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the original book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children."

On face book, Janis's daughter Kim Moore Fritzemeier wrote:  "As an elementary student, I loved the Encyclopedia Brown series.  And I still love mysteries today!  My mom read the Little House books to us, and I read them several more times myself."

The Little House series was loved by many blog followers.  Eileen Loomis wrote:  "I loved soooo many books and still do.  My favorite series was the Little House books.  I would read and reread them, and of course, I still love watching it on tv.  One of [my son] Kyle's first books that we received when he was a baby was Peek-A-Boo!  I See You!  Bruce and I read that one to him so many times we both have it memorized!  I have enjoyed reading it to our grandson, Lincoln."

The Little House series was originally published between 1932 - 1943 based on the memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood.  Her daughter Rose helped edit the books, and the series has remained in print to the present.  Most people remember the edition illustrated by Garth Williams, but the cover at right is from the first edition.

Face book followers often replied with the titles of their favorites.  Ellie Penka Doran named Maurice Sendack's Where the Wild Things Are.  Leslie Edwards Helwig, a teacher, chose "any and all Little Golden Books, as well as Pickle Books and books by Judy Blume.  Another teacher, Jana Salmon Lamb, chose The Mitten, by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Yarolava, and Tikki Tikki Tembo, by Arlene Mosel, illustrated by Blair Lent.  Referencing Brown Bear, Brown Bear mentioned in last week's blog, Brenda Minnis wrote "...a favorite that my kids knew cover to cover."  Ruth Ritchey remembered The Bobbsey Twins series.

The first of the 72 books in the Bobbsey Twins series was published in 1904 (the cover of which is pictured at left) and the last in 1979, although a separate series was published from 1987 to 1992.  The main characters are two sets of fraternal twins in the Bobbsey family, 12-year-olds Bert and Nan, and 6-year-olds Flossie and Freddie.

Nancy Moore included several children's classics among her favorite books.  "I loved the Little Women series, Brother Grimes Fairy Tales, Heide, Tom Sawyer, Huck Fin, My Bookhouse Books...and almost every book I read that I just don't remember now!  I discovered the bookmobile the summer I was 11 and rode my bike to it faithfully all summer.  Fifty-six years later I can still close my eyes and see it and smell it.  My family would get after me for taking my books and reading them at outdoor picnics instead of playing ball or whatever other activity.  I can remember family visits to my Great Aunt & Uncle's farm in Indiana and sitting under the huge lilac bush and reading.  Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on those golden times." 

 Little Women, pictured at right in a 2-volume printing from the early 1870s, is one of those classic children's books I did not read until a few years ago.  How I wish I had known the fictional Jo March when I was a girl!  Written by Louisa May Alcott, the story of the four March sisters--Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy--was first published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869.  It was loosely based on the author's own sisters.

Sometimes an author's success comes from sharing a family member's story more directly.  Steve Shively suggested I might find much in common with a Nebraska writer who told her father's life story in Old Jules.  Mari Sandoz had a difficult relationship with her father and was shocked to hear his dying request that she tell his story.  It was this true life story of a pioneer that reminded my friend of my efforts to publish the story of Isaac Werner.

Alice McMillian Lockridge chose 365 Bedtime Stories by Nan Gilbert as her favorite.  The image at left depicts "...Mrs. Apricot sitting on her front porch with the children of What-A-Jolly Street."  When I saw the cover image and title, I recognized the book as one in a box of books my mother-in-law saved from my husband's childhood, although his edition has a slightly different cover. 

Fairy tales were often mentioned as favorites.  Lillian Kateman wrote that "...my favorite books as a child  were Fairy Tales--especially The Dancing Princesses."   She added, "Truthfully, I did not like to read, but liked being read to.  I cannot imagine that now...My sister is five years older, so she read to me at times.  In Seventh grade I discovered mystery books.  Then, I enjoyed reading."  She also mentioned Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar as a favorite.

My request for people to share favorite books brought a very special message on face book.  When I was practicing law in Dallas, TX, I had a fabulous secretary.  She had been the firm's receptionist and had asked to interview as a secretary, although she had no experience.  I agreed to train her, and that decision was very lucky for me!  She was wonderful.  She loved her job, and I think only one thing would have caused her to leave her demanding job with its long hours--a new baby girl.  I was delighted to receive her face book comment:  "Speaking of childhood books, we were helping our daughter and son-in-law move last week and I came across a book of nursery rhymes that you gave her on her first birthday.  She is now 27."  (I'll refrain from sharing all the kind things we had to say about each other after all these years.)

Others shared favorites that spanned generations.  Katie Roenbaugh Schwalb wrote:  "I had no idea that Bill Martin, Jr. was from Kansas...Our family has Brown Bear, Brown Bear Memorized."  She added:  "Did you ever read Socks for Supper, by Jack Kent?  I loved that book as a kid.  I also loved I am a Bunny, by Ole Risom and illustrated by Richard Scarry.  Michah's Dad (Fred) and Micah [her husband] both loved Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.  William [their son] loves it now too--he laughs every time we read it.  Isaiah [their older son] didn't like it much, and I agree with him.  It doesn't resonate with me, but I still love reading it to William because he loves it and I like the idea of Fred and Micah also enjoying it!"

If you have noticed the regular comments at the end of many of my blogs by someone who calls himself  "Blog Fodder," you may have noticed he left a comment last week identifying King and Princess as his favorite childhood book.  However, many months ago he shared a different title with me, and on his recommendation, I bought it and read it.  Farley Mowat, was a Canadian author and environmentalist, whose book Never Cry Wolf was made into a movie with the same name, released in 1983.  He is best known for writing about the Canadian north, but his delightful book about an unmanageable, beloved, climbing dog is the one Blog Fodder recommended to me!

I am not finished sharing stories and book titles, but the rest will be shared next week.  I'll end by saying that I too had many Golden Books, among which my favorite was The Color Kittens.  Walter Farley's books about horses, including The Black Stallion, were my favorite books by a single author.

I have more to share next week, and if you hurry, I'll try to make room for your favorites too!



Thursday, March 26, 2015

Your Favorite Children's Book?

Every generation of children has its favorite books.  My childhood reading was very eclectic.  On Saturdays when we went to town to shop, a trip to the library was always included, and I think I was left alone to wander the book shelves and select whatever caught my eye.  The method employed by my parents taught me to be a life-long reader.  On the other hand, I missed many childhood classics that a little guidance might have helped me find.

One book I do remember is The Little Squeegy Bug, which was owned by my family.  It was published in 1945 and is the first book by Bill Martin, Jr., with the delightful illustrations by his brother, William Ivan Martin.

Although this book, and its wonderful illustrations, are lodged firmly in my memory, I was unaware of the importance of its author until recently.  Bill Martin, Jr. taught in St. John, after having been raised in Hiawatha, KS and educated at the Kansas State Teacher's College in Emporia.    

Bill Martin, Jr.  (1916-2004)
He served in the Army Air Corps during W.W. II as a newspaper editor, and it was during that time that he published The Little Squeegy Bug (1945).  The simple little book I remember from childhood was actually a popular success, selling more than a million copies and getting praise from Eleanor Roosevelt in her syndicated newspaper column, "My Day."

While that alone is impressive, it was only the beginning. During his lifetime he wrote more than 300 books for children.  Younger readers would probably remember him for Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? which was illustrated by his friend, famous children's illustrator Eric Carle.

 The last decade of his life he lived in Commerce, Texas, and this native-born and educated Kansan is memorialized in Texas.  The library on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce is named in his honor and contains a collection of all of his books and many artifacts connected with Martin. 

However, Kansas remembers him in a wonderful way too.  The Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award was established in 1996 by the Kansas Reading Association for the purpose of promoting quality literature for young people.  Teachers, parents, communities, and librarians can nominate titles, from which a committee of KRA members compiles a list voted upon by KRA members who determine the year's award winner based on the book receiving the most votes.  You may go to http://www.kansasread.org/bmjaward.html to read more.

It is unlikely that Isaac B. Werner had much opportunity to read books published specifically for children when he was young.  Until the mid-1800s, most children's books were intended to teach religion or manners, with hardly the slightest intention of being entertaining.  There was a far earlier oral history of myths and fairy tales shared by children and adults, but the book generally regarded as the first modern children's book is A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, written and published by John Newbery in 1744.
An interior page of Squeegy

In the early 19th Century traditional oral fairy tales were collected and written down  in several countries, including those collected by Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen, the German Brothers Grimm, and Norwegian Folktales collected by Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe.  

Recently, the British Library has facilitated the opportunity for everyone to access images from books published in the 17th-19th centuries which are contained in their library.  If you are curious, you can see what children's books looked like in the 1800s at http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary.

I don't know what Isaac B. Werner read as a child nor why he developed such a passion for books.  I can only be certain that his library was impressive and that he believed reading was essential throughout a person's life.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Changing Landscape

Isaac's Pinnacle Hill
There was high ground on Isaac's homestead claim that he called "pinnacle hill."  Several years on the 4th of July, Isaac climbed his pinnacle hill to view the fireworks from towns as far away as Macksville, St. John, Iuka, and Stafford.

The photograph at right was taken of me standing on what I believe to be what is left of Isaac's pinnacle hill.  According to the current land owner, this was once the highest point on that quarter section of land, but over the years its elevation has been reduced, perhaps by as much as 40 feet.

It cannot be assumed that just because the land someone owned in the 1880s is still under cultivation, and has not been covered by buildings or roads, that it is still the same as it was more than a century ago.  The photograph at left shows the southeast corner of Isaac's homestead.  An older elevation can still be seen, but dirt removal has cut away around that elevation.  I avoid describing the higher elevation in the photograph as "original," since it is adjacent to the road and power line posts have been set, both of which might have altered the original terrain.


The photograph at right was taken from Isaac's pinnacle hill looking toward the north, and what is now an open field was in the late 1800s Isaac's timber claim.  His journal records how he planted thousands of trees from cuttings and seeds, growing not only cottonwoods but also catalpa, Osage orange, and maple trees.  (See "Isaac's Catalpa Trees," 5-30-2012; "Planting Osage orange Trees," 3-15-2012; and "Isaac Plants Cottonwood Trees," 12-2-2011, in the Blog Archives.

Generations come and go, and not even the land remains the same.  Very little undisturbed prairie remains in the community where Isaac homesteaded, and many acres are under circle irrigation.  The flat prairie land has been leveled even further, and the trees planted by homesteaders, and more planted in the "Dirty 30s" to reduce soil erosion, have died or been removed to enlarge the acreage devoted to crops.

Once Isaac knew the land so well that he could set out across the prairie on foot to walk to St. John.  Many of the landmarks he must have relied upon to find his way have changed.  I wonder if he would recognize his own claims today.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Wonderful Discovery

The enjoyment of a book is a wonderful thing in itself.  Beyond that, however, are the paths that lead away from every book you read.  If it is a book of fiction, it may lead to more books by that author or books from the same literary period or novels dealing with the same subject.  Fiction often leads me to nonfiction, exploring the setting or the event depicted in the novel.  Nonfiction often mentions other titles on the same subject.  The paths are endless, which explains why I can never catch up with all of the books I want to read!

Cruden's Concordance at Stafford Museum
Reading Isaac's journal also took me on many paths, researching people, places, and historic events.  Because Isaac was a reader and a book collector, he introduced me to many books and authors.  One of those books was Cruden's Concordance.  Isaac's penmanship was quite neat, ( See "Isaac's Penmanship," 5-2-2012 in blog archives), but because he was writing more for himself than for a stranger reading his journal more than a century later, not every word was legible.  Names especially gave me trouble, and I did not transcribe Cruden's Concordance accurately.  I did learn that the definition of "concordance" is "an alphabetical index of the principle words in a book," but I did not identify Cruden's name correctly.  From the context of the journal I understood that the book had something to do with the Bible, but it took me some time to appreciate what an incredible book Isaac had in his library.

Isaac was an autodidact (See "Isaac, the Autodidact," 11-13-2014 in blog archives), and he collected books from many fields of study.  (See "Isaac's Library," 2-2-2012 in blog archives.)  He wanted to do his own research rather than relying on the representations of those who might not be reliable scholars.  It is not surprising, then, that Cruden's Concordance to the Bible was one of the books in his library.
Cruden's Title Page


Some of the comments Isaac wrote in his journal about ministers and preachers were very critical and might be misunderstood as criticisms of religion; however, his own study of the Bible would indicate otherwise.  Isaac had little respect for anyone who did not study to become informed before speaking on a subject or whose elocution lacked the substance and style to keep listeners interested, and he made no exception for men of God in those regards.  It was to be expected that Isaac would have studied Cruden's Concordance and would have kept it close at hand as he read his Bible.

Without Isaac I might never have known about the Concordance and its author, Alexander Cruden. The Authorized King James Version of the Bible has about 774,746 words.  Cruden's Concordance has about 2,370,000 words!  Cruden not only indexes each word in the Bible but also provides some definitions.

Index for Anger
In 2004 author Julia Keay published a sort of mystery/biography of Alexander Cruden (1699-1770).  Relying on documents and the smallest of clues, she pieced together both the tragic and the triumphant life of the author of the Concordance.  Imagine Cruden's achievement, in a time before copy machines and computers, not only searching the Bible for words to index but also writing his findings down and organizing them.  Some suggest he used note cards; others believe he used long pieces of paper.  Whatever he did, it must have required painstaking research and countless copying again and again to complete the indexes.
Flyleaf  of copy in Stafford Museum

"[N]ouns such as honey (for which there are thirty-five references and an explanation of what honey is and where it comes from) or wine (for which there are ninety-four direct references, separate entries for wine-bibber, wine-bottle, wine-cellars, wine-fat, wine-press, wine-presses, and wines, as well as a long discussion on the origins, properties and Biblical significance of the useful and agreeable liquor offer examples of Cruden's monumental achievement."  (Quoted from Alexander the Corrector, The Tormented Genius Whose Cruden's Concordance Unwrote the Bible, by Julia Keay, Overlook Press, 2004)  Anyone seriously interested in Bible study would have wanted to own Cruden's index, and in the more than 250 years since its first publication there have been "Useful, Popular, Handy, Portable, Compact, Students, and Cleartype editions," as well as Complete editions, but it has never during that time been out of print!

Julia Keay's book
Therefore, perhaps I should not have been surprised to learn that the Stafford County Historical Museum has an early edition of  Cruden's Concordance in their library collection!  The flyleaf from the copy in the Stafford  Museum indicates purchase in Philadelphia in 1887.  Isaac's copy would have been an even older edition, for he documented the date of purchase in his journal on January 2, 1871 with a letter of reply from Schribner's:  "We can supply Youngman's Cruden's Concordance, 1 Vol. for $3.75 or by mail for $4.12." 
Visiting the museum to examine and photograph their volume, I mentioned what I was doing to a friend at the museum.  She replied, "I have my mother's father's copy of that book."  It would be interesting to learn if there are other copies of this book owned by followers of my blog.  If you have a copy, please leave a comment sharing the edition you own and how the book came into your hands.  It will make an interesting survey if followers of the blog share their stories.  Someone might even discover the signature of Isaac B. Werner on the flyleaf of their copy, if their ancestor bought it at Isaac's estate sale!

(By the way, the method for proving you are not a computer when you leave a comment has been changed, so for those of you who gave up on leaving comments because you could not decipher the 'mutilated' letters, please try again.  I believe you will find the new method easier to do.)