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.)



Thursday, March 5, 2015

Once there was a community...

Once there was a community called Livingston located in Richland Township southwest of St. John, KS.  Isaac Werner attended a Union Labor lecture at the school house there.  He met a couple by the last name of Cornett and stayed with them overnight, enjoying what he called 'some of the most interesting literary and political talk I had experienced in a while.' Now this community has nearly disappeared, except for old photographs and images in the memories of a few people.  
 In 2012 when my husband and I paused to take these photographs of the Livingston school house, all that remained were ruins.  The community that once had an active Farmer's Alliance has disappeared.  During the height of the progressive movement Isaac came to photograph the communities' group of wagons on their way to St. John to join other wagons from around Stafford County.  They met at the train depot to form a procession which paraded around the square in support of the progressive movement sweeping across Kansas.
 
 The country schools that were the center of their small communities have nearly all disappeared.  (See "Isaac Builds a School House," 10-11-12 in the Blog Archives.)  Most of them closed in the 1940s, a few remaining until the early 1950s.  People tried to preserve the schools as the center of their community for dances, reunions, and other social events.  For a time some of them were used as the voting place for their neighborhoods.
Eventually not enough people resided in the old communities to support these rarely used gathering places.  Some of the old schools were bulldozed.  Others were left empty to deteriorate, crumbling symbols of the communities established by the early settlers and the high value those settlers placed on educating their children.

A P.S.:  Diane Getty, who grew up in the Richland community, posted a comment that the Greensburg tornado was the cause of the severe damage to the Livingston School.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Staying Warm

Perhaps when you read the title of this blog and then saw the painting of a buffalo you expected a story about the warmth of buffalo rugs, blankets, or robes.  That would have been logical, for their hides were used for those things.  However, this blog is not about buffalo hides.  It is about another gift the buffalo gave to settlers.  No, not meat either.

This gift was known as prairie coal.  The brown disks of buffalo dung deposited on the prairie were known as prairie coal, for once it dried it was burnable.  Trees on the prairie, if they could be found, were too valuable to use as fire wood.  Instead, the earliest settlers gathered the dried buffalo dung to burn as fuel.  

By the time Isaac Werner arrived on the prairie the buffalo were gone and the prairie coal had been exhausted as a fuel source.  Settlers had begun planting corn, and the husks were tied for fuel, the stalks were chopped into shorter lengths to feed into stoves, and the cobs were saved to burn once the kernels were removed.  (See "Corn Harvest, Then and Now," 9-18-2014 in the blog archives.)  Eventually trees were available for fire wood, but for the earliest settlers, prairie coal kept them warm.

(These photographs were taken at the Celestial Seasonings plant in Boulder, Colorado.  Visitors are welcomed for free tours and may also see their gallery of art and tea pots, purchase tea-related gifts in their tea shop, and dine in the cafe which is decorated with delightful murals.  To read more visit www.celestialseasonings.com/tours. )  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Threats to Timber Claims

A fallen Cottonwood tree
It was not that trees could not grow on the prairie.  Rather, it was that the prairie fires that swept across the plains burned whatever seedlings managed to root in the prairie soil before they could mature.  Once settlers arrived, they protected the trees by plowing fire guards around their trees and crops, which reduced the risk.  When fire was seen on the horizon, neighbors rushed to help however they could.  If they had horses, they plowed fire breaks, and those neighbors without horses and implements battled the creep of fire in the matted prairie grass with blankets or the coats off their backs, if that was all they had to slow the fire. (See "Prairie Fires," 11-21-2013 in the blog archives.)

Cottonwood Leaf Beetle
However, it wasn't just prairie fires that were a threat to Isaac Werner's trees. Cottonwood trees attracted two particular pests.  Cottonwood Leaf Beetles cause damage two ways.  The adults eat the leaves, but they also lay their yellow, oval-shaped eggs on the undersides of the leaves, and when the larvae hatch they feed on the leaves.  The risk of these feeding beetles and their larvae is unlikely to kill the tree, but severe infestation can cause defoliation.  

Isaac wrote in his journal that something was eating the leaves of his cottonwood trees, and it worried him.  However, he made no later mention of severe damage to the trees.  Today there are chemical controls available; however, natural enemies of the beetles may be the best protection, and chemicals could kill these predators.  Stink bugs, assassin bugs, ants, wasps, spiders, lacewings, lady bugs, and parasitic tachinid flies are natural enemies of the cottonwood leaf beetle.
Cottonwood Borer

Another cottonwood pest is the Cottonwood Borer, which also uses the cottonwood tree as its host both as an adult and as larvae.  The adults chew the leaves, stems, and new twigs, but unlike the beetles, the borers chew small pits near the base of the trees in which to lay their eggs.  The larvae burrow into the tree, first feeding on the roots and then burrowing through the heartwood near ground level.  As adults, perhaps 2 years later, they chew their way out of the tree and then dig up to ground level.  If the larvae are numerous they can weaken a young tree and cause it to fall in high winds.  As for the adults, their chewing on tender twigs can cause malformation of new branches.  The harm to more mature trees is unlikely to be significant, but since Isaac was growing young cottonwoods from rooting cuttings, his trees may have suffered some damage.  (See "Isaac Plants Cottonwood Trees," 12-2-2011 in the blog archives.)

Cottonwood rotted in the center
However, it was neither the beetle nor the borer that felled the old cottonwood tree pictured at the top of this blog.  Rather, it was rot.  Common rot which starts at the base of the tree and gradually rots the inner core of the tree is perhaps the most common cause of mature trees falling.  The photograph at left is the same tree pictured at the beginning of this blog, and you can see how rot has eaten the center of the tree away.

One day last summer we watched a raccoon climb quickly up an old silver maple tree in our front yard and disappear.  As we continued to watch, the raccoon popped its head out of what from the ground had appeared to be the flat base where a large limb had been sawn off.  Only when the raccoon peeked out of the cavity did we realize that the removal of the large limb had cause the trunk below to rot.  It made a nice nest for the raccoon, but the trunk has been weakened and we do not know how deeply the cavity extends downward.  Our mature row of silver maples may suffer the same fate as the rotted cottonwood. 

(Photo credits to to Whitney Cranshaw for the beetle and Jim Mason for the borer.)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Isaac's Marriage Proposal

Ad from the local County Capital 
When the copy of Edward Bellamy's book, Looking Backward, arrived, Isaac Werner entered in his journal his enjoyment of reading about the main character, Julian West, who awakens in the year 2000, after having been put into a deep sleep in 1887 by a hypnotist.  When the fictional West makes his way up the cellar stairs of his former townhouse, he discovers a greatly changed world.  Isaac writes in his journal that he had to laugh out loud as West encountered baffling social changes, including the fact that women, rather than men, were the ones that extended marriage proposals in the year 2000.

The picture at right taken from the local paper to which Isaac subscribed (and in which his articles were frequently published), shows what a well-attired bride of Isaac's time might have chosen for her wedding.

What impressed Isaac about Bellamy's novel, however, were the descriptions of the amazing new world, with inventions such as credit cards, shopping malls, and electronic broadcasting imagined by Bellamy when the novel was published in 1888 and incorporated into his futuristic world of 2000.

Edward Bellamy at time of  Looking Backward
Bellamy's novel was first published in Jan. 1888 by Ticknor and Company, but Houghton, Mifflin and Company bought Ticknor, and Bellamy had the opportunity to make revisions for their 2nd edition published that same year.  Most modern editions use the second version.

The novel was issued during the Gilded Age, when great disparity existed between the wealthy and the workers like Isaac, whether farmers, factory workers, miners, or other laborers.  (See "Isaac and the Plutocrats," blog archives at 4-5-2012.)  The society of 2000 that Bellamy envisioned was a nation with full employment, material abundance, and a social structure described as "Nationalism," in which all citizens enjoyed benefits on a more equal basis.  Bellamy treated women as equals to men, sharing the nation's work and being paid equally.

Several places in Isaac's journal his belief in women's equality is expressed, so it was to be expected that he would have approved of Bellamy's gender equality society.  He would also have approved of Bellamy's ideas for reducing the social extremes between abundance and want, with opportunity unlimited for those with ambition.  Isaac was not alone in his appreciation for Bellamy's theories.  Across the nation people were forming Nationalist Clubs, the first one having been formed in Boston late in 1888.  Eventually there were more than 160 clubs established for the purpose of implementing Bellamy's political ideas from Looking Backward as a national reality.

Isaac spoke at one of the Farmer's Alliance meetings, sharing some of Bellamy's ideas.  Apparently some of the ladies in attendance decided to tease Isaac about his enthusiasm for Bellamy by challenging him to allow the single ladies of the neighborhood the opportunity of changing Isaac's marital status from bachelor to husband.  Their teasing was published in the County Capital, but Isaac made no mention in his journal of any proposals from his female neighbors!

NPS Photo of Belleamy's house in Chicopee, MA
A few years ago when we were in New England, I hoped to visit Bellamy's house, operated by the National Park Service, but hours were limited and I could not arrange a visit.  Many people alive today have never heard of Edward Bellamy.  Some of his ideas were absorbed into the People's Party, of which Isaac was a member, (See "Politics and Wealth in Isaac's Day," 10-18-2012 in the blog archives), and some of those were adopted by the Democrats, especially FDR's New Deal.  In his own time, Bellamy was widely known, and at the end of the 19th century, only Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin had sold more copies.  Although Bellamy is not widely known today, reviewer Cecelia Tichi believes that "A century after its publication, Looking Backward holds its own as a work of contemporary relevance."  She concludes her review this way:  "His novel engages the continuously vexed relation in American culture between abundance and want, between work and leisure, between ambition and opportunity, and between occupation and identity.  The novel also remains compelling because, in a sense, it speaks to the alchemist in us.  For Americans have never abandoned the mission to transform a gilded nation into an exemplary golden one." (From her Introduction to the 1986 Penguin Classics edition.)

(Each year near Valentine's Day I post a blog having to do with Isaac Werner's flirtations.  If you are curious about Isaac and the ladies in his life, you may go to the archives to read my annual Valentine's blogs.)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Barbed wire, Barb wire, or Bob wire?

Barbed wire against an Osage Orange post
Isaac Werner homesteaded in 1878, when many settlers still regarded the prairie as a land of open grazing.   Farmers needed to fence livestock out rather than fencing their own livestock in.  As more crops were planted, it became the responsibility of the stock owner to build fences to hold his cattle, hogs, and other livestock.  However, during the period of drought in the late 1880s, stock raisers had too little to feed their stock and they became negligent about keeping their starving livestock penned, instead ignoring the trespass of their animals onto neighbors' land in search of forage.

Isaac had particular trouble with Goodwin's hogs.  After spending a day fencing his haystacks, he found his neighbor's hogs back eating his hay.  Isaac wrote in his journal that it might have been better to have gone over to repair Goodwin's fences than to have spent the day building fences around his own hay!

Close-up view of the barbs on a roll of wire
Isaac's only livestock consisted of his horses, occasional pigs, and chickens, and he never mentions barbed wire in his journal.  He built board fences for his hog pens and he would never have used barbs on fencing to keep horses penned, so chances are that his journal references to wire described smooth wire.

Osage orange wood made excellent fence posts, and some people used closely planted Osage orange trees as pasture and pen enclosures, the thorns on the tree limbs making an effective barrier.  (See "Planting Osage Orange Trees," 3-15-2012 in the blog archives.)

Patent drawing for Glidden's wire
The first patent for barbed wire was issued in 1867, with a later patent in 1874 being issued for a modified version more like modern barbed wire.  The history of its introduction is part of the plains narrative of cattlemen vs. farmers.  Barbed wire was the first fencing that could effectively fence cattle in pastures or out of fields of crops.  On the open range, cattle had roamed freely, moving with the seasons to avoid prairie blizzards and to find grass when grazing areas became depleted.  Cowboys were needed to drive the cattle and to round them up.  Fencing ended open ranges in most places, although some western regions still have large areas of open range.  Fences also ended the need for significant numbers of cowboys, bringing an end to the mythology that grew up around the cattle drives.

Another sad use of barbed wire is in war, and the horrors of battlefield barbed wire were especially tragic in W.W. I when soldiers charging out of trenches toward enemy lines became entangled in the barbed wire and were mowed down by machine guns in massive numbers.  Tanks were specifically developed to combat the effectiveness of barbed wire in trench warfare.  In addition to agricultural use, barbed wire can still be seen atop security fences and on prison fences. 

Barbed wire around a pasture
There are barbed wire collectors who collect the various types of barbs.  My father believed he fell victim to an over-eager collector one day as he took down the barbed wire with which he had temporarily fenced a field.   When he finished he put the roll of barbed wire in the ditch beside the field, well concealed by the tall grasses.  He went back to the house for the pickup to collect the roll of wire, but when he returned, the roll was gone.  Only one pickup had driven past as he was working, and because he was only gone a few minutes he always suspected that the man who saw him putting the roll in the ditch had returned for the wire.  He knew the person and also knew he was not a farmer nor did he keep cattle, so he wondered if he had been the victim of a barbed wire collector.  Today few farmers bother using barbed wire for temporary fencing, using electric fences instead.  

Whether you call it Barbed wire, Barb wire, or Bob wire, or as some people in the southeast say, Bobbed wire, this fencing played an important role in taming the Wild West. 

Home on the Range

Photo credit:  Ammodramus
The recent death of Russell Bomhoff, a well-known name to the aviation world and especially in Wichita, KS, brought to the attention of his family his charitable contributions to certain historical projects, among them the saving of the cabin of Dr. Brewster Higley VI.  Higley built the cabin in 1875, but it had fallen into extreme disrepair until a group organized to rescue this important Kansas historical site.  Why are Dr. Higley and his cabin important?  Because Higley was the author of the poem that we know as lyrics for the Kansas State Song, "Home on the Range."

Dr. Brewster Higley VI

Dr. Higley came to Smith County, KS in 1871 to claim a Homestead, first living in a dugout before building his cabin alongside West Beaver Creek.  He was so charmed by his beautiful claim that he wrote a 6-verse poem that he titled "My Western Home," describing the land and its plants and animals.  In 1874 his poem was published in the Smith County Pioneer, the Kansas Farmer in Topeka, and the Kirwin Chief.  These publications leave no room for doubt concerning the authorship of the poem used as lyrics for "Home on the Range."  

Among Dr. Higley's friends was Daniel E. Kelley, a Civil War veteran who came to Smith County in 1872.  Daniel and his wife Lulu, together with the Harlan brothers (Lulu's siblings), formed the Harlan Orchestra, which frequently performed in the area between 1878 through 1885.  Daniel set Higley's poem to music, and "My Western Home" became a popular dance tune.


Photo credit:  How do you turn this on
  Enter David W. Guion, born Dec. 15, 1892, in Ballinger, TX, son of Judge John I. Guion (1854-1920), a former President of the Texas A&M Board of Directors.  David grew up on his father's ranch where he admired the cowboy life, as well as being introduced to African-American music when he attended church with a family servant.  As a boy he was sent to San Antonio by train for piano lessons, and the influence of both the music of the cowboys and the Negro church services came to play a large role in Guion's fame as a composer.  Unfortunately, Guion was not always careful to credit the sources of his musical adaptations.  Innocently or otherwise, he claimed to have first heard "My Western Home" from cowboys, and in 1925 when the song was published as sheet music in San Antonio, TX, Guion revised the song in 1930 for a Broadway show, retitled "Home on the Range.  FDR claimed "Home on the Range" as a favorite!  Both the sheet music and Guion's Broadway show tune claimed that no composer or author was known.  

The credit due Higley and Kelley might have been lost but for the greed of William and Mary Goodwin who, in 1934 filed a $500,000 lawsuit claiming copyright infringement on their own "My Arizona Home," copyrighted in 1905.  The search was on to determine the rightful ownship of the song.  The Museum Publishers Protective Association discovered that a Texas University professor named John Lomax who collected folk songs had published a collection in 1910.  The professor had recorded a soloonkeeper singing "Home on the Range" in 1908, and that man had once driven cattle on the Chisholm Trail to Kansas.  A Colorado mining song was similar, and early Dodge City cowboys had also sung a version.  The final proof linking the song to Higley and Kelley came from an 86-year-old resident of Smith County named Clarence B. 'Cal' Harlan who had sung the song 60 years earlier with the Harlan Orchestra.

The effort to designate a state song began with Kansas Governor Arthur Capper in 1915, but it took over three decades before the Kansas Legislature finally adopted "Home on the Range" as the official state song in 1947.  The Kansas State Song is recognized internationally, and Higley and Kelley finally have received the credit they are due. 

The Home on the Range Cabin was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the cabin site including 240 acres of range and cultivated land is owned by Peoples Heartland Foundation. With the help of volunteers and generous donors, the cabin was restored in 2013 to its 1870s appearance. 

Story Board Cartoon now housed in the Baylor University David W. Guion Collection