Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A Science Lesson from Mother Nature

Part of the elm tree row planted by my parents
A few years ago a visiting friend watched me carrying water to maple and red bud volunteer seedlings I had transplanted and commented, "You are quite an optimist planting seedlings at your age."  Well, I am still planting seedlings!  My husband and I are enjoying the tree rows my parents planted before I was born, which my brother had the responsibility of watering--a coffee can filled with water for each tree--at the age of seven.  He described pulling his wagon with a large container of water and dipping the coffee can into the container to water each tree as he went down the tree rows.  Those trees are getting old, and I fill in the spaces where trees have died with my seedlings so that someone in the future will have a tree row to enjoy as the old elms die.

I am probably less optimistic than I was when my friend made his comment, but in the heat of summer I fill my sprinkling can with water from the faucet on the front of the house and make two trips back and forth to the tree row to give each seedling a drink.  Between the squirrels digging the seedlings up, the moles nipping off the roots, and the deer eating the leaves, it is a challenge.

However, it is an excuse to be outside in the cool of the morning, enjoying the birds and the breeze.  This particular morning Mother Nature had another surprise for me.  Dangling from a strip of siding just above the water hydrant was was an odd looking, translucent 'thing.'  Quickly my eye caught another movement, and I saw a bright green walking stick a few strips of house siding higher than the odd 'thing' I had first observed.  Strangely, the translucent 'thing' bore a resemblance to the walking stick.

Of course, I had to take photographs on my phone, and when I finished watering and returned to the house I went on line to investigate what I had seen.

As a curious nature lover, I had seen walking sticks before, although they are nearly invisible in grass and litter, but what I had never before seen was the molting of a walking stick.  What I learned from my research is that the nymphs resemble adult walking sticks but are smaller, and sometimes different in color.  As they grow, they shed their outer skins.  By chance, I had apparently happened upon a walking stick soon after it had shed its outer skin.  Normally the walking stick eats the leftover skin it sheds, but my arrival must have interrupted the walking stick's breakfast.

The nymphs molt on average from 4 to 8 times before reaching maturity.  In addition to their trick of shedding their skin, they can also shed limbs to escape predators and then regenerate the missing limb.  I have always been fascinated by nature, and today's discovery has shown me that we are "never too old to learn."  Apparently, I am also not too old to keep transplanting volunteer seedlings!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A Pratt Banker's Fortunate Escape

Home of Thaddeus C. Carver
Knowing of my interest in local history, a friend shared two news articles with me, both dealing with the the attempted shooting of a Pratt, Kansas banker in 1912!  The intended victim was Thaddeus C. Carver, President of the People's Bank at the time of the shootings.

Thaddeus C. Carver, known as Thad, was a prominent citizen, not only in Pratt but also throughout the state, having been elected and served four years in the Kansas State Senate.  His District served Reno, Kingman, and Pratt Counties, and he was Chairman of the Committee on charitable institutions and a member of the committees on Banks and Banking, as well as the Penal Institutions.

He had come to Pratt in September of 1884, working first in a general store, then the following year joining the Farmers and Merchants Bank as a bookkeeper and advancing to assistant cashier for three years.  In 1889 he accepted the position of bookkeeper at the People's State Bank, advancing as a cashier, and being named President of the bank in 1898.  He held that office on the night he was shot!

Julius Wayland, Publisher of 'Appeal to Reason'
According to the May 17, 1912 Wichita Daily Eagle newspaper, Carver was at home reading when he answered a knock at the door at 10:30.  As he opened the door, he saw "a man behind a pillar on the porch."  The man began firing, one shot entering the jamb of the door and the other striking Carver, although he didn't realize he had been hit at the time.

Apparently the man fled after firing the shots, and Carver walked to the telephone to call the sheriff, realizing only then that he had been shot.  Fortunately, the wound was not considered serious.  The newspaper concluded the report by saying:  "There are many Socialists in Pratt.  A paper similar to the 'Appeal to Reason' is published here and it is believed that a crank fired at the banker."

The Kansas Historical Society's collection of socialist newspapers from that period contains 29 different papers, but none is listed in their collection as having been published in Pratt.  'Appeal to Reason,' specifically mentioned in the newspaper article, was a national newspaper published in Kansas.  The University Press of Kansas published a book, "Talkin' Socialism: J.A. Wayland and the Role of the Press in American Radicalism, 1890-1912" in 1988.

Apparently having suffered no severe injury from the shooting, Thaddeus C. Carver was in Chicago when a second intrusion at his home occurred three weeks after the shooting.  The intruder broke the screen door, entered, and while walking about the house in the dark fell and "broke a plate glass window in the parlor."  A neighbor, L. D. Farmer, heard the falling glass and crossed the street to investigate.  He recognized tracks in the wet ground around the house which he thought resembled the tracks seen the night of the shooting.

The next morning, police arrested Earl Swingle, 30 years old, as he was attempting to board a train leaving Pratt.  The news article in the June 7, 1912 Wichita Daily Eagle stated that Swingle "is said to be insane."  The year of 1912 was the height of the Socialist movement, which had gained membership after the decline of the Populist Movement.  There was a small resurgence during the Great Depression, but never again did it reach the success of 1912.  Hard times had led to the appeal of socialism, which included the idea of social ownership of production by workers, with the capacity for self-management, supported by social political systems.

Upton Sinclair, Bain Collection, Lib. of Congress
Julius Wayland's 'Appeal to Reason' was read by many people whose names are familiar, and well known writers published in the paper.  Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" was first published serially in 'Appeal to Reason,' (February 1905-November 1905).  Sinclair's photograph appears at left. The comics published in 'Appeal to Reason' are said to have contributed to Walt Disney's interest in art when he was young.  Socialist ideas were not all radical, nor were readers of 'Appeal to Reason' all Socialists nor extremists.

I was unable to find any information about Earl Swingle, neither in newspapers nor on, although I did discover a surprising number of men about his age with the same name.  If, as the newspaper reported, Earl Swingle suffered from a mental illness, it would have been easy for him to become lost in the records.

Thad Carver apparently suffered no serious consequences from the failed attack.  He and his wife Minnie Ann Starr had three children--two daughters and one son, all of whom are now deceased.  His wife Minnie predeceased him (1863-1929) and he remained in Pratt until his death three years after his wife (August 1, 1865-December 1, 1932).  He is buried in Pratt.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Isaac & the Populist Movement Coming Soon!

In September of 2011 I began this blog.  I had found Isaac's journal in February of 2010 and had spent nearly a year transcribing it, as well as continuing with genealogy searches for every person mentioned in the journal and beginning the research that would continue for a decade.  My first two books, published by Baylor University Press and Dutton, a division of Penguin, had been published fairly quickly, and I assumed the same for my third book.  I continued doing research--traveling to the places where Isaac had lived, interviewing descendants of Isaac's neighbors, walking through cemeteries where people Isaac knew were buried, searching records at the courthouse, reading books Isaac had read, spending days turning the fragile, yellowed pages of the County Capital newspaper available at the Stafford County Historical Museum, reading biographies and autobiographies of famous people of Isaac's era, as well as reading other books of all kinds--academic, local histories and centennial editions, and government documents among others.  I even walked the route between Isaac's claim and Doc Dix's claim where the local post office was located.

Instructions for easier reading once you reach the University Press of Kansas at bottom of this blog.
My research was traditionally academic but also a personal immersion into the place and era when Isaac Werner staked his homestead and timber claims and when his community became involved in the Populist Movement of the late 1800s.  I wanted my book to be academically sound but I also wanted it to tell the story of Isaac and his neighbors in a nearly forgotten but extremely important time in American history.  I was raised in Isaac's community and my husband and I returned to the community in retirement, but I knew little about the importance of the Populist Movement and the People's Party that grew out of the movement.  Yet, the People's Party is the most successful 3rd party in American history, and many of their goals were adopted by our present political parties.  I wanted to share that story with ordinary readers, not just scholars.  Isaac had the personal library of a scholar but he was an ordinary man who valued the importance of reading.  I wanted to write for people like Isaac, living today.

In doing the depth of research I have done to immerse myself in Isaac's time, I have discovered many things that informed me but do not appear directly in the book.  I began the blog to share those things.  My interest in exploring the era and places relevant to that time provided much of the content I have shared with followers of this blog over the years.  I will continue the blog and already have some wonderful blogs about surrounding communities to share week by week.  Thank you for your continued interest and support!  I never expected for it to take so long to produce the published book.  There were periods when I laid the manuscript aside, but many of you encouraged me not to give up on finding the right publisher for Isaac.

And I have!  Right now I am doing the final proof reading and the indexing for the book.  It is being published by the University Press of Kansas.  They have supported my goal of writing in a narrative style that makes it enjoyable for general readers to immerse themselves in Isaac's story and be taken back into the years when Kansas and other states like Texas and other western and midwestern states, and post Civil War Southern states challenged the two established political parties, marched for Prohibition and Women's Rights, confronted the power of wealth during the so-called Golden Age, and played their role in transforming the nation during a period of a growing middle class.

Soon, I will finish the proofing and indexing and will be like the rest of you, awaiting the arrival of the published book.  Thank you again.  The image I have attached is from the University Press of Kansas Fall Catalogue.  Most of you who follow this blog will recognize the journal that appears on the cover of the book.  I think Isaac would be pleased.

To see the page above for easier reading, go to and in the search box top left of the page enter Lynda Beck Fenwick.  That will take you to the page shown above with lettering much easier to read.  At the bottom line following the first two reviews, (rather hard to see), you can click to read the reviews by two more reviewers.  I am very honored by the four reviewers and by their comments.  I especially like how each reviewer brought out different perspectives about the book.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

St. John's New Mural, #6

John P. St. John
In 1877, as the Mormons began building their church, merchants also began building in the community, and one correspondent writing to those in Pennsylvania reported, "people are coming here from all states of the Union and are astonished to find such a lovely place as this is."  Although the relations between the Mormons and the non-Mormons were friendly and cooperative, it meant that the population was not simply a Mormon community.  The desire to form a Town Company included both groups, and anticipating a future county seat competition among other towns forming in the county, they decided to honor Kansas Governor John P. St. John by renaming the Zion Valley Town Company after him.  Their organization and the community became St. John. 

When a group met to formally establish the town of St. John in May of 1878, it was the official end of the independent Mormon settlement of Zion Valley.  A week earlier the town company had sent its nominees for county offices to the governor, requesting his confirmation of their temporary appointment.  The majority on their list represented the non-Mormon population.  While there seemed to be a congenial relationship throughout the community, regardless of religion, the secularization of the town had removed control from the Mormons, and they had, in fact, become a minority of the population.

At the beginning of July, when Governor St. John organized Stafford County, he appointed 4 non-Mormons as the first county commissioners.  Perhaps the flattery of naming the town St. John, after the governor, had worked, for the governor designated the town as the temporary county seat.  Later, a county wide election confirmed that choice.

Photo taken May 2020
For Bickerton, the church and its mission had 
always been his primary concern.  The political
developments did not seem important to him.  His followers had achieved the development of a successful community, and the Church of Jesus Christ and its members were stable and prosperous.  Some Mormons may have felt that by working with non-Mormons materialistic matters had been given too much consideration, but what Bickerton saw was a successful community with his church at its heart.

The challenges of weather, betrayal, and financial disappointment, as well as challenges to his leadership, might have been enough to defeat some men, but Bickerton had adhered to his belief that God had told him that this place was where a community was to be built, and he had done that.  He would probably not be surprised that his legacy endures in St. John, Kansas a century and a half later.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #5

Detail from St. John, KS mural
William Bickerton was a coal miner, not a farmer, and although he was confident that "Stafford County was the place the Lord wanted me," he realized that he lacked the farming experience needed to select the best land for his colony.  For this purpose, in 1874 he went to the Kansas town of Parsons, where Mormons with farming backgrounds joined Bickerton to help with the selection of the best land for the colony.  Together, they chose the site, and a stake was driven into the ground to mark what became Zion Valley.

Bickerton returned to Pennsylvania, and on January 2, 1875, a conference was held to describe the place selected and gain the endorsement for his settlement.  Having accomplished that, the Zion Colonization Society was organized, funds were pledged, and those who wished to join the colony were invited, including those who lacked church affiliation.  Those who owned property in Pennsylvania were least interested in leaving, but those who stayed behind agreed to provide financial support for those who chose to go, especially needed until the farms on the prairie began producing revenue.

Unfortunately, the promised financial support proved as undependable as the Kansas weather.  That future could not have been known when the first group of settlers arrived in five wagons on April 3, 1875.  Bickerton described the unwelcoming conditions of their arrival as "very rough weather and snowing.  Many of the Brethren came from the East, and we lived in tent houses."  Despite the harsh conditions, they staked their claims and filed them in Larned.  Only 2 or 3 women had arrived with the men, as husbands had wanted to construct better dwellings before bringing their wives.  

The details of the treatment from those who had stayed in Pennsylvania to offer financial support while the colony got established is not a proud story.  Particularly damaging was one returned member who reported exaggerated negative conditions and prospects.  When supplies and financial support stopped, Bickerton returned to Pennsylvania to sort out the problem, taking with him a display of the crops they had raised.  Unfortunately, the intentional deceptions continued, resulting in severe privations for the settlers.

Detail from St. John, KS Mural
Despite that, in 1876 a few more settlers arrived, and the Zion Valley Colony showed promising signs.  The settlement had grown to almost 200 people by 1877, including Mormons and non-Mormons.  There was neighborliness among them, regardless of matters of faith, and putting the mistreatment by those in Pennsylvania behind him, Bickerton believed  the venture had achieved enough success to begin the process of making Zion Valley the headquarters from which missionaries could be sent to Indian Territory.  To move forward with that process, Bickerton filed a charter with the Kansas secretary of state to reincorporate the Church of Jesus Christ in Zion Valley according to Kansas state law.

The St. John mural appears to depict arrivals of later colonist, as the early arrivals were in winter snows, and few women were among them.  Those original men needed oxen rather than cattle to open the prairie sod for fields.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #4

Detail, Mural in St. John Kansas
Those who had not chosen to follow Rigdon to Greencastle in 1847 had gradually begun to look to William Bickerton for leadership, and by 1849 he had been accepted as their leader.  They flirted with the idea of  joining another group of Mormons, but in 1852 Bickerton was the recognized leader of  The Church of Christ.  By 1857 he had nearly 100 followers.  During this time Bickerton's belief in having been called to minister to the Native Americans, whom he called Lamanites, only grew.  He explained:  "No man could receive greater Authority than I had received, it was from God Himself, and that Angels nor men could give anymore; Therefore go forward and accomplish that which I have commanded and I will be with you always to the end."  Bickerton felt that Kansas was a good location for his mission, and while studying a Kansas map with his brother he "felt [moved] by the power of God when I touched the map that Stafford county was the place the Lord wanted me."

(For those interested in reading more about Bickerton and the experiences surrounding his mission in Kansas, two published articles available online by Gary R. Entz, "Zion Valley, The Mormon Origins of St. John, Kansas," and "The Bickertonities: Schism and Reunion in a Restoration Church, 1880-1905" can be consulted.)

Lewis Downing, principal chief, Cherokee Nation
In 1868 Bickerton had left Pennsylvania for the Cherokee Nation with the specific goal of meeting the newly elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Lewis Downing.  Downing had his hands full trying to reunite divided tribal factions, and he had little interest in Bickerton or his mission.  However, he did allow Bickerton and his fellow Mormon, William Cadman Sr., to preach among the Cherokees.  Although the success of his mission was questionable, Bickerton later wrote that he "had never spent a better day in the work of the Lord."

He proceeded with his plans to create a colony in Kansas, from which he and his followers could fulfill his dream of ministering to the Lamanites.  Of course, the financing of their mission and the recruiting of families willing to assume the hardships of creating a new life on the Kansas prairie had to be done before his dream could become a reality.  Even once they had arrived the first necessity would be conquering the challenges of carving farms and pastures out of the prairie to become self-sustaining before their mission work could begin.  All of that proved to be more difficult than Bickerton had anticipated.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #3

Wm Bickerton:  See photo credit below
The Mormon group that settled Zion Valley Colony was led by William Bickerton, leader of the denomination called The Church of Jesus Christ.  The death of Joseph Smith had resulted in the splintering of his church.  As in many situations in which a strong leader dies, more than one would-be leader steps forward to assume the vacant role, and the issue of plural marriage, or polygamy, had also presented a crisis of faith for many.

After Smith's death the largest group followed Brigham Young, settling in Utah Territory.  The second largest group followed Joseph Smith III, eldest son of Joseph Smith.  A third group followed Sidney Rigdon, who settled with his group of followers in Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.  Another splintering occurred when Rigdon decided to relocate to Greencastle, PA, a decision that proved unsuccessful.  

William Bickerton, who had been baptized in England as a Methodist at the age of one, had immigrated to the United States, settling in Pennsylvania as a coal miner.  In 1845, at the age of 30, he set aside the Methodist faith when he was baptized by Sidney Rigdon at the church near Pittsburgh.  The decision by Rigdon to relocate had splintered his followers, and Bickerton was among those who chose not to follow Rigdon to Greencastle.  He found himself among those members near Pittsburgh without their leader.  Bickerton had refused to accept plural marriage, so joining Mormon denominations practicing plural marriage was out of the question for him.  However, he did not feel he could return to Methodism.  When The Church of Jesus Christ formed in 1862 and Bickerton was chosen for leadership, he accepted.  He felt called to spend the rest of his life in missionary work, and he focused on bringing his faith to Native Americans.

In the fall of 1874 he made a trip to Kansas to visit the area to which be believed he had been called, and that area was near what became St. John, Kansas.  He returned to Pennsylvania to collect those who wished to follow him on his mission, and it is the arrival of William Bickerton with his followers that is depicted in the new mural in St. John, Kansas.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick, 2020
The photograph above of William Bickerton was taken in 1905, just prior to his death in February of that year.  He is buried in the St. John, Kansas cemetery.  The headstone reads:  BICKERTON, DIED FEB. 17, 1905, AGED 90 YRS. 1 M. 20 D.???  On the flat portion of his stone is carved "Dear father rest in peace."

Photo Credit:  The image of William Bickerton at the top of the page is from the FHSU Forsyth Library Collection, W. R. Gray Studio.  The glass plate negative from which the image was produced is part of the collection of the Stafford County Museum in Stafford, Kansas, and the restored Gray Studio is in St. John, Kansas.  It appears that the photograph of William Bickerton was a studio photograph, taken in Gray's studio, which is now restored and preserves another important part of St. John's history and the history of the entire region.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #2

The initiation of having a mural in St. John, Kansas to depict the settling of the region came from  local resident, David Robinson.  As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ in St. John, he had reason to be particularly familiar with the early settlement of the region.  

There were a few non-Mormon settlers already in the region in 1875, but their claims were widely scattered.  It was the idea of Mormon Leader William Bickerton to bring a group of fellow Mormons to create a colony.  Rather than scattering their claims at a distance from one another, they created what they named Zion Valley Colony.  With promised support from members of their former community back in Pennsylvania, as well as some in West Virginia, they quickly went to work clearing fields and planting crops so that they could support themselves as quickly as possible.  Many of these settlers had been miners, not farmers, but they did surprisingly well.  The biggest problems for them were weather and broken promises by those they had depended on for help until they got the colony to a point of self-sufficiency.

In case your eyes are challenged in reading the plaque that currently appears in from of the Church of Jesus Christ in St. John, here is the transcription:  "On April 12, 1875, an ox-drawn wagon train consisting of 35 families arrived at this place having journeyed from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  It required three weeks for them to travel from the Eastern Borders of Kansas to their uninhabited destination.  At a point of rendezvous a few families of Saints from Wilson County, Kansas, had joined them.  The Leader of the Colony, William Bickerton, who was also President of the Church of Jesus Christ, had been moved upon by the Lord to establish this Church Colony, visiting the site the previous fall.  He named it Zion Valley."  

More of St. John's history to follow as the Series continues.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #1

The county seat of St. John, Kansas has a new mural.  This week's blog is the first in a series about that mural.  Most people in the area have a general idea about the founding of what became St. John, but over the years, details have faded.  This series is intended to refresh our knowledge about the community's beginnings.
The idea of a mural began with St. John resident David Robinson, but he quickly involved others in making his idea happen, particularly in finding financial supporters for the project.  With surprising speed, from Robinson's initial efforts in October 2019 to the first paint applied to the wall in late March of 2020, financing had been arranged, the brick wall had been prepared for the mural with an application of mortar, and scaffolding had been acquired.

Inga Ojala was selected to paint the mural.  She wanted to include not only the Mormon settlers but also the wildlife the new settlers would have encountered upon their arrival.  More about the Mormon settlers in subsequent blogs.  
Ojala included the date of the Mormon settler's arrival, her signature as the muralist, and an Indian waving to the settlers.  The choice of an Indian was particularly relevant because the motivation of the Mormon settlers' decision to come to Kansas was the desire to bring their faith to the Native American Indians, whom they called Lamanites.

As is apparent in the first photograph, landscaping is planned to enhance the mural.  More history of St. John's founding will follow in upcoming blogs.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Traditional Memorial Day Post

Speaker Larry Fenwick, 5-30-2020
I believe I have posted a Memorial Day blog each year since beginning this blog.  If you are interested in reading earlier blogs, go to the listing of years to the right of this blog and click on the year you would like to visit.  When that year comes up, click on May and then select the week with the last Monday in May.   Since 1968 the last Monday in May has been the date for celebrating Memorial Day.  

In the past, Memorial Day was generally celebrated on May 30th, whatever day of the week that fell. Some places, however, had different days on which they honored the fallen heroes of our military.  Historians have found at least 25 different claimants for originating Memorial Day, also called Decoration Day, but the fact is that many cultures throughout history have had a tradition of decorating graves.

For most of us, our tradition includes placing flowers at the graves of loved ones, whether family or friends.  However, Memorial Day is especially a day for honoring members of the military.  This year, in the midst of efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus, traditional observances were curtailed.  

Yet, as I sat in our vehicle this past Monday, I watched as men of the Vietnam era and later arrived in their VFW uniforms on a rainy day, prepared to show their respect for their fellow veterans while respecting the social distancing and limitation on crowds. Monday's rain did not pause, and although no ceremony was conducted, people in their cars and pickups drove through the cemetery, each vehicle undoubtedly carrying those with their own memories and reasons for having come.

As I waited in our vehicle, I looked out across the cemetery at all of the flags marking the graves of soldiers from The Civil War (after which many Union Soldiers came to our local community to claim homesteads), the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.  If you look closely at the photograph above you can see the American flags marking soldiers' graves into the distance.  (You can click on the photographs to enlarge.)

Because this year the last W.W. II veteran who participated in the local Memorial Day ceremony had passed away, and in addition, the 75th Anniversary of the end of W.W. II is this year, there were particular reasons for the observance of the occasion. 

The veterans who had gathered on Monday decided, because it was a particularly significant year for remembrances, to return on Saturday to honor those men and women who served their country over the decades.

On May 30th, the date that was in the past the day set aside for the day of remembrance, the VFW veterans returned at 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning, to conduct the services they had intended.  Larry Fenwick delivered an address to recognize all of the 212 veterans buried in Farmington Cemetery, but particularly the 92 who served in W.W. II.  Of those, 11 young men gave their lives for their country, and Fenwick remembered each of them with specific tributes.

Many relatives of the veterans being remembered were present among those attending the service.  A special tribute was provided by Steve and Brenda Gross, flying their T-6 Texan, the last trainer a young pilot would have flown at the conclusion of his flight training in W.W. II.  Today the plane is used by Gross Flying Services, but it provided an emotional and thrilling tribute as it made its two passes over the cemetery and ended its last pass with the Missing Man symbolic departure.
(Updated 5-30-2020)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Celebration for Isaac!

Happy Birthday, Isaac Werner!  Born on May 23rd 177 years ago, Isaac is not forgotten.  I don't know what a birthday cake in the 1800s might have looked like, and Isaac wasn't a baker so a neighbor lady would have had to bake it for him, but here is a cake for Isaac, with a great big slice already cut in celebration of the birth of Isaac Beckley Werner, along with the birth of his twin brother Henry, born May 23, 1844!

But, I have an even better birthday present for Isaac.  The University Press of Kansas is publishing my book, Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement.  I will begin to keep you advised of the progress of publication in the months ahead, but as of today the copyeditor has received my manuscript and the responsibility forward is in the hands of the publisher.  Unfortunately, the release date is several months away, but I will keep you advised.  Thank you to all of you who have supported me in this decade-long process of finding and transcribing the 480 page journal, doing years of research, and writing and rewriting the manuscript!  Some of you who read this blog have shared images that will be in the book. Many of you who work in Museums, Libraries, and Courthouses have taken time from your regular responsibilities to help me.  Others who are descendants of people Isaac knew have shared stories and family history with me.  So many of you have encouraged me during the years I've labored to tell Isaac's story.  Thank you so much everyone!

In coming months I will continue to share history from the Populist era and progress on getting Isaac's story on book store shelves.  But this week's blog will celebrate Isaac's birthday by sharing some history of what was happening in 1844 when Isaac and his twin brother were born.  

Starting on a tragic note, the year of Isaac's birth was the year the Great Auk became extinct.  It was not related to the birds we know as penguins today, but it was in the genus Pinguinus.  It was 30 to 33 inches tall and weighed about 11 lbs, and with such short wings--less than six inches--it was flightless.  It bred on isolated islands in the North Atlantic but the rest of the year could be found along coastlines from Northern Spain to Canada, Greenland, and Great Britain.  Perhaps popularity of its soft down was the final cause of its extinction, although scientists had recognized the danger and had tried to protect the remaining Great Auks with early environmental laws.

An early connection with a movement that expanded during Isaac's life was the founding of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in Lancashire, England in 1844.  The Industrial Revolution was forcing skilled workers into poverty, and a group of mostly weavers opened their own cooperative store in order to buy necessities, especially food, without the markups in commercial stores.  During the populist era of Isaac's time cooperatives were also tried, especially as a way to market their own crops.

USS Princeton, Nathaniel Currier
This Lithograph by Currier depicts a United States Navy screw steam warship, launched the autumn before Isaac's birth but better known for a disaster on February 28, 1844.  A pleasure cruise on the Potomac River was arranged for dignitaries, including President John Tyler.  Tragically, one of the warship's guns exploded, killing more top U.S. government officials than any other tragedy in American history.  Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur and Secretary of Navy Thomas Walker Gilmer were among them, but the President was below decks at the time of the explosion and was not harmed.  The Princeton was meant to be the pride of the Navy and the powerful gun that exploded was named "Peacemaker."  After the tragedy, the USS Princeton never recovered its reputation and she was broken up in the autumn of 1849.

James K. Polk
1844 was also an election year, and President Tyler had jeopardized his re-election by threatening war with Mexico in his urging of the annexation of Texas.  Two former presidents--Martin Van Buren and Andrew Jackson--were possible candidates, but it was the former Governor of Tennessee and U.S. House Speaker, James K. Polk who became the nominee against the popular Whig Henry Clay.  The election itself was an exciting time, with several prominent men vying for office.  However, Polk was elected and the USS Princeton disaster is linked to that American President.

Polk and Secretary of Navy Gilmer were friends, and Polk knew Gilmer's young daughter well.  Polk had lost his wife in 1842, and the two friends had discussed the idea of a marriage between Polk and Gilmer's daughter, Julia.  With 30 years separating their ages, the first proposal to Julia was rejected, but later she consented to wed Polk but set no date.  She was present when the gun on the Princeton exploded and killed her father, as was Polk, both below deck and unharmed.  She is quoted as saying, "After I lost my father I felt differently toward the President.  He seemed to fill the place and to be more agreeable in every way than any younger man ever was or could be."  They married on June 26, 1844, just months after her father's death, in a very small, private ceremony.  Tyler died in 1862, and Julia never remarried, raising their seven children as a widow.

As for Isaac and his brother Henry, they lived in the stone house their father had built for his own younger wife, were christened in the Hains Church, and would in time be joined by three sisters.  Isaac grew up and began keeping journals, the 480 page journal I found having been labeled by Isaac as Vol. 5th.  Happy Birthday May 23, 1844, Isaac!

To read more about the book visit

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Isaac's Embarrassment

In order to acquire title to a homestead, it was necessary for the homesteader, after staking a claim, living on the land, and making the required improvements, to go before a judge and swear that he or she had lived on the claim and fulfilled the requirements for the mandated period of time.  In addition, he or she had to swear that their intention was to remain on their claim.  The objective of offering free land was to populate the vast open territory in the West, and the requirements were intended to prohibit speculators from claiming land they never intended to occupy, and discouraging those who only claimed a homestead in order to sell it.  Not only were the homesteaders themselves required to swear to these requirements but also they were to bring witnesses.

Isaac Werner was asked by several neighbors to go with them to appear before the judge, under oath, and swear that he had knowledge that the homesteader had fulfilled the requirements.  One of the neighbors for whom Isaac appeared had met all of the requirements of living on and improving his claim for the required time, but he had also made a deal to dispose of the land in a horse swap before having proved up his claim.  Isaac knew nothing about the horse deal when he agreed to appear as a witness for his friend.  When a U.S. Marshal arrested Isaac's friend for lying under oath about having not sold the land before proving it up, Isaac felt, rightfully so, that he had been taken advantage of by a friend.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
American laws and traditions place great emphasis on the importance of oaths.  In the case of Isaac and his friend, both men raised their hands and swore to tell the truth and the whole truth.  One lied and the other supported that lie because his oath was based on his honest belief that his friend had met the homestead requirements.  Isaac did not know about the horse deal, and he swore to the truth as he knew it.

I confess.  I have very little patience with or respect for a liar.  Yet, nailing down the "truth" is sometimes not quite a simple thing.  The best simple definition I found for truth is 'that which is in accordance with fact or reality.' 

However, a more serious search for a definition leads to Philosophers' definitions and Religious definitions, as well as many specific theories.  Correspondence theories emphasize truth as corresponding to the actual state of affairs.  Coherence theories require fitting the elements within a whole system.  Pragmatic theory holds that truth is verified and confirmed by the results of putting concepts into practice.  Consensus relies on a definition of truth as that which is agreed upon by a group.

As those who follow this blog already know, I often turn to Mark Twain for common sense definitions, and he seems to have addressed lies more frequently than truth, but here are two of his tongue-in-cheek observations.  Truth is the most valuable thing we have.  Let us economize it, Twain suggested.  Elaborating a bit on that theme, he wrote, Familiarity breeds contempt.  How accurate that is.  The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it.  Sometimes his humor takes a second to catch his point! 

Recent news has involved the decision by the Justice Department to drop the criminal case against Michael Flynn despite his having admitted twice in court that he had lied under oath.  When an interviewer asked Attorney General Barr, who signed off on the decision to drop the criminal case, "When history looks back on this decision, how do you think it will be written?" Barr replied, "Well, history is written by the winner.  So, it largely depends on whose writing the history..."

Credit:  Portrait Artist Susan B. Durkee
I have written before in this blog about that particular saying, and it is certainly true that those in authority do present history to a present audience in a way favorable to them.  The fact that future authorities may present history in a light favorable to them does not determine how those in the present should evaluate truth vs. lies.

Again, I turn to Mark Twain for guidance, and he has clearly addressed the point. Anybody can tell lies: there is no merit in a mere lie, it must possess art, it must exhibit a splendid & plausible & convincing probability; that is to say, it must be powerfully calculated to deceive.  

Isaac Werner lived in a time when everyone knew their neighbors, yet he managed to be embarrassed by a friend, who put him in the position to support that friend's proof of claim by concealing from Isaac the horse trade.  Today we have so many more resources to evaluate truth; yet, we seem to find it more and more difficult for everyone to agree what truth is.  In closing, I will suggest that sometimes we make things too complicated when the truth is as simple as the definition with which I began--"that which is in accordance with fact or reality."  

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

When Spam has Nothing to do with the Internet

Look what Larry brought home!
This week my husband saw a news story about how Spam is flying off grocery store shelves during the coronavirus restrictions.  He commented, "Maybe you can make a blog out of this."  My reply was that Spam had nothing to do with Isaac Werner.  The meats he mentioned in his journal were chicken and pork, and Spam was not yet a grocery store product.

Yet, those of you who have followed this blog for so many postings know that sometimes I wander quite a ways from Isaac with my topics, and I decided that I would share my own story about Spam.  As I often do, I made a quick check of the internet to see what was to be found on the topic of Spam, and what came up was mostly about the internet kind of Spam.  Isaac Werner certainly had nothing to do with that kind of Spam.

My story goes back to my teenage years growing up on the family farm in Kansas.  We always had a large garden in the summer, and Mother did a lot of canning.  I became the family cook during the summer.  Most of our meals were centered around the beef we raised.  Our freezer was always filled with steaks, roasts, and hamburger.  Even with our own beef available, Mother nearly always had a can of Spam in the cupboard, and one evening I decided to fix it with peas.  Mother had taught me how to put the "loaf" of Spam in the center of a Pyrex dish, pour a can of peas around the Spam, and put it in the oven to heat.

That evening I must have been in some kind of teen-age-daydream, because I put the Spam and peas in the oven and turned on the gas but forgot to light the oven.  Lighting the gas was not automatic.  There was a small hole in the floor of the oven, toward the front, and you had to stick a lighted match into that hole to light the oven.  When I soon realized that I had forgotten to light the gas, I immediately turned the gas off and opened the oven door to release the gas, waving a towel in front of the door to get rid of it more quickly.

My father and brother were cleaning up after a day in the field, and I knew they would soon be in the kitchen, hungry for supper.  I decided that all my towel waving had surely made it safe to light the oven, so I turned the gas back on and stuck a lighted match into the hole.  There was a boom, and the next thing I knew I as sitting on the floor against the opposite wall from the oven where the blast had blown me.

My father was shaving in the bathroom on the opposite side of the wall where the oven sat, and the wall heater in the bathroom was on that wall.  The blast blew it off.  My father came running out, one side of his face shaved and the other side of his face still lathered.  My brother, taking a shower in another part of the house, heard the blast and thought the bathroom heater might somehow have exploded, and he grabbed his jeans and got only one leg in before reaching the doorway leading to both the bathroom and the kitchen--just as my Mother came from some other room in the house.

They found me sitting on the floor, laughing.  My father, seeing me laughing, became as angry as I ever saw him, and as he headed toward me, Mother shouted, "She's hysterical, Ralph!" and I guess I was.

My brother got both legs into his jeans, my father managed to get the stove back together and the wall heater in the bathroom back into the wall, and my mother must have doctored my burns, although I don't really remember.  For some lucky reason, in the heat of summer I had been wearing jeans rather than my usual shorts, so my only burns were on the top of my bare feet and a bit of my lower ankles.  Everything was safe, and the story of my cooking explosion became a family tale, told over and over.

That is my Spam Story, now told once again.  Too all of you who read my blog, stay safe and healthy.

P.S.  Without knowing the subject of my blog, guess what my husband surprised me with this evening?  A twin package of Spam!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Webber's Mill

In his journal, Isaac Werner describes going to Webber's Mill to have corn ground.  The Webber to whom he referred was Ezra Webber (sometimes Weber), who came to Stafford County about 1874, probably a few years earlier than Isaac's arrival.  In the St. John, Kansas Centennial collection of stories and newspaper articles, 1879-1979, a descendant, Erma Abbot-Evans described her Grandfather Ezra's mill.  "[My grandfather] ...located on the Rattlesnake creek southwest of St. John, near the Neeland Ranch.  Shortly, he built a grist mill using stone burrs.  This was located near a large spring which produced enough water to make the power for the mill.  Many pioneers came miles and miles to have corn ground into cornmeal.  Often, Mr. Webber kept a small portion of the grain for his pay as money was very scarce in those days."

When Isaac wrote in his journal about the Webber Mill on the Rattlesnake Creek, I struggled to imagine how that creek on the flat prairie could power a grist mill.  The image in my mind of old mills pictures rugged terrain with fast flowing water tumbling down rocky falls to turn the water wheel, more like the image above.  I do not know how Ezra Webber used the "large spring" to power his mill, but he apparently engineered some method.

Isaac mentioned his annoyance with careless neighbors who took dirty grain to be ground, leaving behind so much dirt and grit on the grinding stones that Isaac was unable to use what he had ground for feeding his chickens.

Some of you may be familiar with the term "That is grist for the mill."  For example, if you and a friend were discussing an idea, and your friend mentioned something you had not considered until your friend shared the idea, you might answer "That is certainly grist for the mill."  The saying utilizes the idea of grist, or something like flour or meal produced by the grinding of the mill.  In other words, your friend's suggestion has produced something worth considering.

Definitions online suggest "something that can be used to advantage," "something useful for a particular purpose," or "something that helps support someone's point of view."  The grist or product from milling is being used as an analogy for producing a new idea or perspective.

It is an old saying, and many of us have forgotten the meaning of grist and may have no knowledge of mills and grinding stones.  But, it is a good saying.  A willingness to see things from someone else's perspective or a willingness to consider new ideas is often productive.  Beware, however, as Isaac warned, of accepting grist from a milling stone that has been adulterated by those with careless thinking.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Thoughts on Covid - 19

Like most of you, my actions have been limited by the coronavirus, and my husband and I have stayed home.  Certainly, I have enough unread books to keep me busy for quite a while.  Research for my blogs also occupies significant time, and somehow I came across the story of Saint Roselia.    

Saint Roselia lived from 1130-1166, and the story of her life has variations, as might be expected from the oral traditions of that time.  What is fairly consistent is that she was born to a noble family and was devoutly religious.  She chose to live as a hermit in a cave on Mount Pellegrino, where she died alone in 1166.  

In 1624, nearly five centuries after her death, a plague struck the city of Palermo, the first reported case on July 1st.  Descriptions of how Saint Roselia became connected with protection of the sick or ending of the plague vary.  One source says that she appeared to a sick woman, and then to a hunter, whom she directed to her remains and ordered him to have her bones carried in procession through the city.

Another account says that the Franciscans uncovered her remains and brought them from her cave to  be carried around the city.  After the plague ceased, Saint Roselia was venerated thereafter as the patron saint of Palermo.

Her bones had lain in the cave for a very long time, and it may be that the only identifiable remains were her skull.  It is often included in depictions of Saint Roselia, and pink roses are also included in many paintings, in honor of her name.

The Flemish painter, Anthony van Dyck was in the city to paint a portrait, but the quarantine trapped him there and it is his five paintings of Saint Roselia that established the iconography associated with her.  She remains the patron saint of Palermo in Italy and is honored in other places as well.

The painting at the beginning of this blog was painted by Anthony van Dyke and is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wein, Bilddatenbank.  It represents the coronation of Roselia as a Saint, and some of the iconography associated with Roselia can be seen in the painting, specifically, the skull on the steps and the pink rose held by a cherub in the upper right corner of the painting. Because  van Dyck depicted her with blond hair, she is traditionally shown that way. 

Continue Scrolling Down to Last Week's Blog, "DEFINING COURAGE", to Read the Tribute to Front Line Care Givers and Essential Workers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Defining Courage

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick, artist
As Covid-19 sweeps around the globe, ignoring national boundaries, I do my part by doing nothing but staying at home.  Weeks ago I sat at my sewing machine to make masks for my husband and  me.  It takes no courage to simply do my part in avoiding confront this stealthy killer by hiding from him in my home.  Yet, for most of us that is the simple responsibility we are asked to assume.  Stop the spread by avoiding becoming a transmitter of the virus to others.

For many others, they lack the luxury of retreat.  They are on the front lines in this war.  They are the ones whose courage deserves our eternal respect.  They are the ones who are daily reminders of what courage is.

Credit: Lyn Fenwick, artist; Larry Fenwick, photograph
Courage is:  "...the quality shown by someone who decides to do something difficult or dangerous even though they be afraid."  Collins English Dictionary  They possess the "quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain...the state or condition of being a hero."  The Free Dictionary

While most of us only need respect the importance of staying home and exercising the distancing required when we go out, the caregivers walk into the lions' dens every day across the nation.  I wanted to do something to honor them, and my private memorial is what I share in this post.  The days I spent at my drawing board were my way of thinking of them and their courage as they worked in hospitals
and other care facilities.

The fact that my portraits are only of medical personnel is not intended to ignore the many others who leave their homes to keep services available to the rest of us.  Courage is also "the ability to do something that frightens one."  Showing up to stock grocery shelves, to keep electrical power working, to deliver the mail, and to do the countless other things that keep needed services working are also heroic.

Detail. Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
But, there is something about the daily strength of medical personal to "withstand danger, fear, and difficulty" (Merriam-Webster), day after day, that seems beyond understanding for many of us.  Examples deserving of being shared involve two nurses from Olathe, KS who volunteered to leave their families and go to New York City to help. Both work in an orthopedic surgery facility, and because orthopedic surgery is elective, the clinic closed temporarily and they contracted to work in NYC.

Detail.  Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Heather Smith says that she knew what she was going to face would be bad, but "the difference between 'knowing' and 'seeing' how bad it is are completely different things."  In an interview, she said she wants people to know "This is real.  It is not some hoax, and it can be deadly."  Paige Clinton Walters said upon her departure, "I can't wait to go help and save some lives!  But even more I can't wait to get back home safe and healthy."

This is the courage I honor in my drawing of Covid-19 Heroes.  It is a poor tribute to all the brave people risking their own health and lives for others, but it is sincerely offered.   

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Tonia's Bread

It is interesting how those of us remaining in our homes in respect for limiting the spread of the  coronavirus are coping.  From face book I realize that many of us are using the time to go through stored things and decide what is worth keeping.  Just as many of us are staying in touch with friends through face book.  My blog last week about childhood piano lessons generated not only many visitors to the blog but also more comments on face book than any other blog I have posted.  Obviously, I was not the only one to take piano lessons from a teacher who used the Thompson's Piano teaching series of which I posted a picture!  I loved the comments, and I hope everyone enjoyed last weeks' blog.

A photograph from a very special niece and her husband inspired this weeks' blog, especially since the text sent with the picture included the fact that the bread was made with their last package of yeast.  (For privacy reasons, I have cropped the picture, but our niece is lovely!)  Here is my slightly modified reply to her and her husband:

What is it about the idea of homemade bread that sent so many people to the store for yeast during this coronavirus threat?  Bread has not run toilet paper...but yeast has.  There must be people who haven't baked bread for years who remembered the comforting aroma of baking bread and wanted to fill their homes with that comfort in a discomforting time.

A few months ago,, I decided to get out the bread machine (remember when those were so popular?) that was gathering dust in storage.  We bought dry yeast and I tried a few new recipies, but when the yeast ran out, we didn't buy more.  Yet, in the early days of our nation's recognition that the coronavirus had reached America, when my husband went to do our shopping, I added yeast to the list.  I was too late.  Already local shoppers had emptied the stock of yeast from the shelves.  Was it shoppers who were experienced bread makers, or did some unknown "expert" suggest stocking up on breadmaking ingredients?

We have frozen bread, so we are not close to running out.  My husband likes sandwiches for lunch, but I only eat a slice or two from most packages.  What was it that made me add yeast to the list?  Why am I slightly discomforted that, even with our frozen loaves, we can't buy yeast?

I think it is really the comforting aroma of baking bread that I want more than the bread.

But it is also the comforting memory of past times and the feeling of family that is part of that aroma.  When I received the photograph of Tonia and her baking, it was almost like a visit.  I could practically smell the aroma from their kitchen.

I hope this blog awakens memories of the mix of aromas from family kitchens of all of you who follow this blog--followers that come from countries around the world.  What a delicious mix of fragrances that would be if all the cooking from all the countries of readers of my blog could only reach my kitchen.  I can almost smell the loaves being baked, the pots being stirred, the fish being fried, the spices used for seasoning...  Stay safe and healthy, wherever you are.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Piano Lessons

Can you imagine life without access to music?  Although I prefer quiet much of the time, it would be sad if I could not have music at the click of a knob whenever I wanted it.

For Isaac Werner and others on the prairie, music was very important.  Certain neighbors were known to have fine voices, and Isaac mentioned programs arranged just to hear them sing.  One neighbor gave singing lessons in the winter when people weren't busy in their fields.  Isaac also mentioned an evening of music when he stopped by one evening to visit a friend.  Today, we forget how much we enjoy music on our command--at home, in the car, piped onto some streets, in restaurants and stores.

Although piano lessons may be less common today than they once were, boys and girls still do take piano lessons.  My first piano teacher was Mrs. Fisk in Byers.  Once a week, after school, I would crawl through a fence to cut across a lot on my walk to her house.  I worked my way through "JohnThompson's Modern Course for the Piano," supplemented by songs from the Methodist hymnal.

When I went to Macksville to attend high school, my mother decided I should change piano teachers, and she enrolled me with a lady in St. John named Melba Budge.  I had never been fond of practicing, and once I was in high school, trying to fit the appropriate hours of practice into my many activities became nearly impossible.  More than once, I am ashamed to admit, the first time I played my assigned music was in front of my teacher at the following week's lesson.  My teacher thought I was dreadful, but had she known, she might have been impressed by how well I sight-read when playing a piece for the very first time!  I don't know if Mrs. Budge asked my mother to end my lessons, but I did not take lessons from her very long.  I do remember being given a very simple piece to play for the annual recital of her students.  I believe she thought I was unable to play anything more difficult, having only seen me play pieces I had made no effort to practice.  It was very embarrassing to be a high school girl playing a piece beginners could play.  Maybe she thought a good embarrassment was exactly what I deserved!

In reading through one of the local centennial books I acquired to use as a research source for writing Isaac's story, I found a brief biography of Malba Cornwell Budge.  I learned that her college years were spent at a Conservatory of Music in Nashville, Tennessee and the Institute of Applied Music in New York City.  While there she was a scholarship pupil of a famous piano teacher who was also the head of piano at Vassar.

Melba's husband was a businessman in St. John, Raymond LeClaire Budge, or Doc Budge as I knew him.  I do remember him visiting the farm when I was in grade school, at the time my special pet cat was ill.  My family did not take pets to a veterinarian if they became ill, but I worked up the courage to ask Doc Budge if he could help my cat.  I don't know how "Doc" got his nickname, but my father laughingly explained that Doc Budge couldn't help my cat.

The article in the centennial book describes Melba's professional positions and certifications as a Piano teacher and her role as a judge in piano competitions throughout America.  It described Doc's responsible positions in the community and his outstanding art collection.  The article made me blush as I read it, remembering how my disinterested lack of effort as a piano student showed such inexcusable disrespect for my gifted teacher.  

As lazy as I was in learning how to play the piano, my poor skill has provided me much pleasure all of my life, and I thank Mrs. Fisk and Mrs. Budge for teaching me as much as the did.