Thursday, March 23, 2017

Freedom of Speech and Accurate News


Imagine living in a time and place before internet, before television, even before radio.  Then, imagine you were living on a homestead claim far from the nearest town.  How did news spread?  In Isaac's community it spread by word of mouth and by newspaper.  In the rural community where Isaac lived he had many neighbors within a few minute's walk, and the 'grape-vine' was quite effective.  In addition, there was a rural mail carrier to deliver letters and newspapers, as well as the farming journals to which Isaac subscribed.  Freedom of speech and the press were alive and well!


Yet, because of such Constitutional protection, the accuracy of what was published was subject to little or no regulation.  Newspapers, not to mention Isaac's local neighbors, had their own bias which colored their news.  On the other hand, the close proximity of neighbors provided not only the rapid disbursement of gossip and rumor but also the opportunity for what is sometimes called "a marketplace of ideas," the result of many diverse opinions allowing a collective consensus to be reached, the theory being that neighborhood conversations will begin to form a generally accepted point of view, wise or foolish as it may be.  In most communities, including Isaac's own, respected leaders emerge, and their comments carry more weight, sometimes so much weight that no opposing opinions gain any traction.  Yet, then as now, freedom of speech allows anyone with an opposing point of view to express it, if he dares.

When the progressive movement reached Isaac's community, the strongly Republican neighborhood split, about half adhering to their Republican opinions but the other half (drawn from both old parties but particularly former Democrats) giving Populism a try.  In one 7th district state election two popular men ran against each other, and the People's Party candidate won locally by a single vote, neighbors almost equally divided.  There was extensive back-and-forth between the St. John News and the County Capital during the campaigning!

The written press of Isaac's time did not worry too much about balanced reporting, and their bias was clear.  However, there were many newspapers, and if one got its facts wrong there was probably another one who would call them out.  The government stayed out of it!

Edward R. Murrow
With the arrival of radio and television, it was necessary for stations to acquire broadcasting licenses, and the airways did not allow for the same proliferation of stations that news print had allowed.  The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) decided that it was important that stations given broadcasting licenses be honest, equitable, and balanced in their reporting.  In 1949 they imposed the Fairness Doctrine.  Broadcast license holders were required to present controversial issues of public importance to accommodate an informed public and those issues had to be presented accurately, fairly, and in a balanced manner.  The information could be presented through news, editorials, or shows, and opposing views did not have to receive equal time, (the equal time requirement relates to political candidates), but the purpose was to give the public a diversity of information.  Although the United States Supreme Court had ruled favorably on the Constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine, in 1987 the FCC abolished the doctrine.  It is widely believed that Ronald Reagan instigated the revocation, and three of the four sitting FCC commissioners at the time of revocation had been named by President Reagan, the fourth having been named by Richard Nixon.

Subsequent efforts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine have all failed, one effort in 2007 having been opposed in the House by the current Vice-President, Mike Pence; however, President Obama also opposed the revival of the Doctrine during his time in office, and it was during Obama's presidency  that the language that implemented the old Fairness Doctrine was removed during a broader editing of the Federal Register.  The abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine has not been decided by which party occupied the White House.

It is widely agreed that the demise of the Fairness Doctrine seems associated with the political polarization in the United States, if not a contributing factor.  Is this conclusion reasonable?  In Isaac's time there was no Fairness Doctrine, and even when the Fairness Doctrine existed, it did not apply to newspapers.  Was the doctrine really all that important?

Journalism is a profession, and reputable journalists strive for accuracy in delivering the news.  In modern times, the traditional thinking has been that people want to know the truth, and careless or one-sided coverage of the news would result in loss of viewership and subscribers.  That economic reality was assumed to keep reporters honest, even if their sense of professional ethics did not.

Recently, however, the question has become whether it is truth or affirmation of viewers' bias which determines economic success for the news media.  The importance of a free and independent press capable of delivering accurate news to Americans has been considered so important that the press is sometimes called the "Fourth Branch" of our government.  Presidents of both parties have had their quarrels with the news but have also used the media to their advantage at times.  Presidents have always understood the important role of the press in our government, but perhaps that role has never been more debated than it is today.

Next week's blog will take a look at just how complicated changing technologies are making things.




Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Founding Fathers & Freedom of the Press

It may be remembered from last week's post that George Washington considered Freedom of Speech so important that without it, he feared Americans would be rendered "dumb and silent."  I'm not sure whether he used the term "dumb" to mean 'without speech' or 'stupid.'  Either way, it was clear that Washington regarded freedom of speech very highly.

There was a great debate among our Founding Fathers regarding the need for a Bill of Rights.  Some felt there was no need, since what wasn't expressly given away by citizens to the government was a freedom they retained.  Others felt that a Bill of Rights was essential to protect particular freedoms by enumerating them.  Still others questioned how it would be possible to name every possible freedom meant to be retained by citizens.  Some arguments were a matter of political practicality--opposition to adding a Bill of Rights was motivated by the goal of getting the Constitution ratified as promptly as possible, without getting tangled up in debates over a Bill of Rights. Obviously, the Constitution was ratified and a Bill of Rights was added, which courts have construed to protect our freedoms.

Representative Journals of the United States, 1885; Newspapers and their editors shown:  1st Row:  The Union and Adviser, Wm Purcell; The omaha Daily Bee, Edward Rosewater; The Boston Daily Globe, Chs. H. Taylor; Boston Morning Journal, Wm Warland Clapp; The Kansas City Times, Morrison Mumford; The Pittsburg Diispatch, Eugene M. O'Neill.  2nd Row:  Albany Evening Journal, John A. Sleicher; The Milwaukee Sentinel, Horace Rublee; The Philadelphia Record, Wm M. Singerly; The New York Times, Geo. Jones; The Philadelphia Press, Chs. Emory Smith; The Daily Inter Ocean, Wm Penn Nixon; The news & Courier, Francis Warington Dawson.  3rd Row:  Buffalo Express, James Newson Smith; The Daily Pioneer Press, Jos. A. Wheelock; The Atlanta Constitution, Henry W. Grady and Evan Howell; San Francisco Chronicle, Michael H. de Young; The Washington Post, Stilson Hitchins.  (Enlarge by clicking on the image.)
Freedom of the Press was one of those freedoms about which concerns were raised as ratification of the Constitution was debated.  Some states had already included freedom of the press in their state constitutions.  In #84 of The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton addressed concerns about the need for expressly protecting freedom of the press.  He did not disagree with the importance of a free press but rather based his argument on the impractically of drafting such protection.  "What is the liberty of the press?" he asked.  "Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion?"  Hamilton continued, "...whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution respecting it, must altogether depend on public opinion, and on the general opinion of the people and of the government."

Yet, ultimately it was decided that a Bill of Rights should be added, and the First Amendment to the Constitution states "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..."

Coverage of the Sinking of the Maine
That freedom is not completely without limit.  For example, courts have ruled that a man cannot stand up in a theater and shout "Fire!" when there is none, to cause a panic that would likely cause injury to those attempting to flee a nonexistent danger.  Pornography is another example of limited speech, as is slandar.  In addition to legal limits, social customs have also limited speech in such ways as disapproving vulgarity, expecting the courtesy of quiet during religious observances and cultural performances, and observing traditions of sportsmanship during athletic competitions.  Each generation has shaped those customs.

From a political perspective, free speech and a free press allow issues to be debated and policies to be shaped.  In the case of Whitney v. California, decided in 1927, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote:  "...freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth."  In the 1880s and 1890s of Isaac Werner's time, publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer exerted huge influence across the nation, Hearst with the San Francisco Examiner, published in San Francisco, and Pulitizer with The World, published in New York. But, as described in last week's blog, countless small newspapers in towns across the nation also exerted their influence.

Coverage of the Sinking of the Maine
The images of front page coverage of the sinking of the Maine in Cuba illustrate the power of newspapers to inflame national support for declaring war against Spain, the New York Journal describing the explosion as "the work of an enemy" and The World declaring "caused by bomb or torpedo.  The advance toward war was already underway when investigation led to the conclusion that explosion of a boiler on the ship was the likely cause.

Today, many once powerful newspapers have ceased to exist, and the newspapers still being published in small towns have shrunk to a few pages which are no longer published daily.  Americans are more likely to get their news on television and the internet than from a daily newspaper, and concern is growing about altnews and 'alternativefacts.'

However, questions about truth and accuracy in the press are nothing new.  In doing the research for my manuscript, I found one interesting example.  Homesteaders in Kansas and elsewhere had gone deeply in debt when prices for their crops were high, and they had mortgaged their farms to pay for livestock, implements, fencing, and improvements such as buildings and windmills.  When crop prices fell and interest rates for the renewal of their loans soared, they were at risk of foreclosure.  A fear spread that English investors would buy up the mortgages and American farmers would fall victim to a serfdom like tenant farmers in Ireland.  Political parties added prohibitions against foreign ownership of land to their platforms--not just the populists but also the two mainstream parties, and states passed laws prohibiting foreign ownership of land.  Yet, while there were examples in Kansas and other states of communities in which settlers from other nations came as a group to settle, I struggled to find examples of foreign investors attempting to replicate the Irish system of tenant farmers in America, although many newspapers warned of that threat.

Next week's blog will explore the continuing role of the press in America, both in the past and the present.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

The County Capital & The St. John News

Ad from the County Capital
For those of you who follow this blog, you have frequently seen references to The County Capital.  It was the newspaper to which Isaac Werner subscribed and for which he occasionally wrote.  It was the newspaper of the progressive movement, and it unabashedly supported populist ideas.

The St. John News was the Republican newspaper.  Its bias was equally obvious, for which they made no apologies.  That was the practice of that era, and people subscribed to the paper with which they agreed.

The community of Stafford had the Stafford Democrat, which declared its perspective in its name, so it appears that if you lived in Stafford County in the 1880s, you were able to subscribe to a newspaper that printed the news with the bias that allowed you to read the news from the perspective you wanted to read.  

Just as I have often quoted from one of President Bush's advisors, "People read to be affirmed, not to be informed," and that was true in Isaac's time, just as it is today.  While it might be thought that the internet, which makes access to information so easily available, would make people more broadly informed, that has not appeared to be the case.

Political cartoon re wealthy control of the press
Freedom of the press is one of our most valued promises, alongside freedom of speech.  They are really just two sides of the same coin, for one is a form of speech published widely and the other is speech which may or may not be more limited.  Our first President, George Washington, said:  "If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."  But what if that freedom is used to protect misinformation and propaganda as well as factual information?

Americans are generous in protecting these freedoms.  As lawyer Alan Dershowitz has said:  "Freedom of speech means freedom for those who you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views.  It also means that the government cannot pick and choose which expressions to authorize and which to prevent. 

Clearly, in Isaac's time the use of newspapers for political purposes was commonplace.  Political parties even endorsed specific newspapers as their official organ.  The St. John News made a joke of having lost subscribers due to the popularity of the populist movement in their area, saying 'now our former subscribers have to borrow a copy to read the News.'

The importance of free speech is not just an American ideal, however. French novelist, Marcel Proust, who lived from 1871 to 1922, wrote:  "As long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost and science can never regress."

Ad from the County Capital
Even earlier, French lawyer and member of the Committee of Public Safety, Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) wrote:  "The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant."  That enlightened quote must be considered, however, with awareness that he is perhaps best known for his role in the French Revolution's Reign of Terror and his support for political killings.

In researching the populist movement that swept the nation in the 1880s and 1890s, and which found such acceptance in Kansas, newspapers were a valuable source for my research.  Even small towns had multiple newspapers.  Without radio, television or the internet, people got their news from the newspapers and from orators that traveled the country to speak at large mass rallies.  It was an exciting time in Kansas.  Next week I will share more history about balancing freedom of speech and the press with the delivery of information for an informed public.

The ads and the political cartoon are from the County Capital newspaper during the late 1880s and early 1890s.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Chief Justice John Marshall

Chief Justice John Marshall
Isaac B. Werner's Journal in Kansas was resumed in 1884 and continued daily through 1891.  During that time, only four United States Supreme Court nominations were presented to the Senate by the President.  Since the issue of selecting a replacement for Justice Scalia has been in the news now for nearly a year, I thought it would be interesting to see what had happened during the time Isaac was writing in his journal.

During that time the selection of Justices for the Kansas Supreme Court was highly significant, but Isaac's journal contains no reference to the four US Supreme Court appointments between 1884 and 1891.

During 1884-1891 while Isaac was writing in his journal, President Cleveland nominated two men during his first term, both of whom were confirmed by the Senate--Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar in 1887 and Melville Fuller in 1888.  Cleveland's first and second terms were interrupted by the election of President Harrison, who nominated David Josiah Brewer in 1889 and Henry Billings Brown in 1890, both of whom were confirmed.  (After Isaac's journal ended but prior to Isaac's death, Harrison nominated 2 other justices who were confirmed, and during Cleveland's second term he nominated 4 men, 2 of whom were rejected, the nomination of 1 was not acted upon, and 1 was confirmed by voice vote shortly before Isaac's death.)

John Marshall, whose image appears at the beginning of this blog, served on the court for 34 years, from 1801-1835.  The son of Thomas Marshall and Mary Isham Keith, Marshall fit the stereotype for America's early leaders, having been born in a log cabin and raised in a rural community so far from a school that he was largely home schooled.  Yet, despite his humble beginnings, he is regarded as perhaps our greatest Chief Justice for the reason that he set many precedents that now define the American legal system.  Therefore, although Marshall served before Isaac Werner's lifetime, the Supreme Court that Isaac knew, as well as the Supreme Court those of us living now know, was shaped by this man.

It is ironic that one precedent that his nomination set was ignored in the hub-bub of the recent election year.

John Adams
John Marshall was nominated by John Adams on January 20, 1801.  He was confirmed by voice vote 7 days later.  What was unusual about that was that John Adams had already been defeated by Thomas Jefferson when he nominated Marshall and was a lame duck president with only days left to serve in that office when he nominated a justice with open hostility toward the new President-elect.  Yet, the Senate did not hesitate to confirm the nominee, which was acknowledged even at that time as having been done by Adams for political reasons.

It was, in one sense, a sort of pay back, since President Washington had nominated Oliver Elsworth in 1796 in the last days of his presidency to thwart John Adam's ability to fill the vacancy.  

Therefore, the precedent that lame duck presidents have the authority to nominate someone for the Supreme Court with the expectation that the Senate will consider the nominee in a timely way was set by our first two Presidents.

In 2016, with ten months of his second term in office remaining, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the seat formerly occupied by Justice Scalia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to bring Garland's nomination to the floor for consideration. McConnell stated his belief that the American people should have a say in who was chosen to fill the seat.  In fact, the American people had "their say" when they elected Senator McConnell and every other sitting Senator whose duty as Senators was to "advise and consent," just as the American people had "their say" when they elected President Obama to a second term of four years with the responsibility to fill any vacancy on the Court during his term of office.  There are six options available to the Senate when a President names his nominee.

Once nominations are formally sent by the President to the Senate for their "advice and consent," the Senate (or in some cases, the nominee) may take one of the following actions:
1.  "take no action," in which the Senate session ends without the nomination being brought to the floor for consideration;
2.  "postpone," in which it is brought to the floor but a vote is taken to defer consideration;
3.  "reject," in which the nominee fails to receive confirmation;
4.  "confirm," in which the nominee is confirmed and he/she accepts the confirmation;
5.  "decline," in which the nominee declines the nomination; and
6.  "withdraw," in which the nominee accepts but subsequently withdraws before confirmation.

Obviously, politics have played a role in every appointment and confirmation, with Presidents making their choices based on men and women who share their political views regarding the Constitution.  Likewise, Senators cast their votes for or against these nominees not only on the basis of the qualifications of the nominee but also with regard to political differences about Constitutional issues.

From most all reasonable accounts, two honorable men have been nominated to fill the vacancy left by Justice Scalia's death--Merrick Garland by President Obama and Neil Gorsuch by Trump.  Had Garland been confirmed, politics would have played a role in the Senate's responsibility to advise and consent, just as politics will play a role if Gorsuch is considered...as politics played a role when the late nominations of Oliver Elsworth and John Marshall were confirmed two centuries ago.

Clearly, one of the actions possible for the Senate to take is "take no action," which is what was done in the case of Merrick Garland's nomination.

United States Supreme Court
However, it is important that Americans understand that the implication that a President lacks the power to nominate his choice for the court during a presidential election year is incorrect.  The nominations of justices by our first two Presidents were far later in their terms; yet, the Senate fulfilled their Constitutional duty to advise and consent and both nominees were confirmed. Of course, midnight appointments have always been closely scrutinized, but in comparison to the acts of Washington and Adams, disposing of a nominee made ten months prior to the end of the President's term through "no action" was neither a questionable midnight appointment nor without precedent.

There were, until 2016, only four examples of  "no action" taken on a Supreme Court nominee. President Tyler struggled to fill two seats on the court during his presidency, and he succeeded in filling only one.  The other seat on the court remained empty until President Polk filled it.  President Fillmore also struggled to fill the seat of one justice, "no action" taken on his first nominee, the second nominee "withdrawn," a third "declined," and "no action" taken on his fourth attempt, a very late nomination in February just prior to President Pierce's inauguration on March 4th.  President Hays attempted a late nomination which was not acted upon; however, President Garfield then renominated the same man when he was inaugurated.

Although there are many examples of politics, rather that the merits of the nominee, defeating a President's choice for the Court, Americans should not be confused by recent events to believe that our Presidents lack such authority in the final year of their Presidency.  Were that so, we would never have had one of our greatest Chief Justices, John Marshall.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Inspiration & Motivation


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Two Hundred Forty Acres

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

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

Historic Bridge for pedestrians

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Visit to Dr. Higley's Cabin

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

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

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
















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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Home on the Range Film Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Kansas Ice Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limbs covering the garden







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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inaugural Day 2017



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

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



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

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


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Beavers in Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Prairie Political Rallies of 1800s




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

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

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

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

West Side Main Street, looking South, Pratt, KS




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


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





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

Business built in 1887




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

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

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

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

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

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