Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Principles of our Ancestors

Iuka, Kansas stores
In these times which seem so unsettled, with so many traditions and customs abandoned, I thought it might be interesting to see what our ancestors believed to be important.  The Farmers' Alliance was an organization formed by farmers who came together in hard times to work toward a better life.  They shared ideas about farming methods and crops, and they were troubled by the growing disparity between working people like themselves and the wealthy and powerful few who exerted so much influence in our state and national capitals.  Initially, the Farmers' Alliance was not political, and they welcomed members from all political parties.  What was especially unusual was their inclusion of women, at a time when women did not have the vote.  Yet, women were active in the Farmers' Alliance.  Eventually, the Farmers' Alliance joined with other populist organizations to form a political party, in which women continued to play a part, although they still lacked he vote.

Dugouts and Sod Houses still existed in the late 1800s
What I thought you might enjoy is the Declaration of Principles those farm women and men of the Farmers' Alliance considered important in the late 1800s.

1.  To labor for the education of agricultural classes in the science of economical government, in a strictly nonpartisan spirit.

2.  To develop a better state mentally, morally, socially, and financially.

3.  To create a better understanding for sustaining civil officers maintaining law and order.

4.  Constantly to strive to secure entire harmony and good-will among all mankind and brotherly love among ourselves.

5.  To suppress personal, local, sectional, and national prejudices, all unhealthy rivalry, and all selfish ambition.

Horse Power meant real horses or mules
Later, they added the following:

To exercise charity toward offenders, to construe words and deeds in their most favorable light, granting honesty of purpose and good intensions to others; and to protect the principles of the Alliance unto death.  Its laws are reason and equity, its cardinal doctrines inspire purity of thought and life, and its intensions are "peace on earth and good will toward men."

In 1890, when the Alliance had attained its largest proportions, its voting membership was estimated at 2,500,000.

Although the Farmers' Alliance has disappeared, the wisdom of our ancestors, as expressed in this Declaration of Principles, seems deserving of reflection.  Even if, or maybe because, these Principles won't fit in a tweet, they seemed worth sharing.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine's Day Joke

Not your typical "love birds" you say?  Why not?  The bride is dressed in white, and the groom is wearing tails--well, tail feathers--in the ever popular gray.

Once again Valentine's Day has arrived, and for those of you who follow this blog regularly, you know that I write a blog yearly to recognize this special day for lovers.  If you have missed reading them, you can go to the inventory at right,  click on the year, and then scroll down to February to read those past blogs.

In doing my research for the manuscript, I found an article in the local populist newspaper of Isaac's time, the County Capital, in which the local reporter in his community praised Isaac's farm for its neat, prosperous appearance.  The reporter could not resist teasing Isaac a bit by concluding the article with this comment:  With such a nice farm, "we think the rooster of the prairie should take a young lady under his wing."

Isaac Werner's journal mentions his admiration for several young ladies, and a cryptic note refers to "a second refusal," which I assume was an unsuccessful marriage proposal to a lady with whom he was corresponding back in Illinois, after he had lived in Kansas for several years.  His journal also mentions a young lady who came to St. John as a Prohibition lecturer, on whom he made a social call one afternoon, but soon after, she left St. John and the romance never had the chance to begin.  Although I believe Isaac would have enjoyed a wife by his side during his years on the Kansas prairie, being a farmer's wife was a hard life in the late 1800s, and the well-educated city women he admired may not have been willing to assume the responsibilities expected of a farmer's wife.

So, on this Valentine's Day I have chosen the handsome couple pictured above to remember Isaac Beckley Werner, the Rooster of the Prairie, whose journal inspired my efforts to tell the story of those early settlers who came to Kansas in the late 1800s.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Women in White

If you watched the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, February 4, 2019, you must have noticed all of the women dressed in white.  The purpose was to remember those suffrage women of the past who struggled for decades to win the vote for women.

Although white is the color we most frequently associate with suffragettes, they also wore purple for loyalty and dignity; green for hope; and white for purity.

We tend to associate the Suffrage Movement with the early 1900s, perhaps because women did not gain the vote until that century.  The bill was passed in 1919; however, the final state to ratify and make the bill law was Tennessee in 1920.  Some states took a very long time to ratify, the last state being Mississippi in 1953.

Although we may remember those 20th century suffragettes in white, the movement began much earlier.  Probably the best known historic event is the Seneca Falls Convention held in 1848.  Among the five women calling that event was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who began working with Susan B. Anthony in 1851, both pictured above later in their lives.  

Kansas women were urging their rights even before Kansas had been admitted as a state.  In 1859 women sought equal rights at the Wyandotte constitutional convention, and although they were not allowed to speak, women's mere presence at the convention may have contributed to the passage of women's rights to acquire and own property and to retain equal custody of their children.  Traditional laws transferred a woman's property to her husband when she married, and in the event of divorce, men automatically gained custody of their children.   In 1861, the first state legislature granted women the right to vote in school elections, and a quarter of a century later, in 1887, Kansas women won the right to vote and to run for office in city elections.  Of course, it was men who were needed for passage of these rights, since women could only lobby and persuade from outside of the government.  

While these voting rights may seem minimal, given the fact that women were excluded from voting in state and federal elections, Kansas was seen as quite progressive for those times. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Pinocchio (Photo by M. Minderhoud)
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire--Remember that old chant from the playground?  What is today's equivalent?  Maybe in our busy world, symbols on computer screens have replaced chants, and our equivalent is the Pinocchio symbol.  This week's blog is about an event involving Isaac Werner in which two people told the same untruth.  Were they both lying?

To complete the requirements for a homestead claim it was necessary that the claimant live on and make improvements for five years to the property he or she claimed.  When that was accomplished, it was still necessary for the claimant to appear before a judge with two witnesses to vouch for having met those requirements and to swear that he or she had not sold nor have intensions to sell the property.  The government wanted to populate the land with homesteaders.  They did not want speculators going through the paperwork, then hiring someone to build some kind of structure and take steps to improve the land so that when the five years had passed, the speculator could step forward to claim the land.  The 'speculator' might even be a settler who wanted to claim more than his or her quarter-section, not just some absentee  investor.  The point was that the homestead laws were intended to populate the land.

One of Isaac's neighbors asked Isaac to be a witness for him, and they went to the county seat and swore before the judge that the requirements had been met.  Isaac's neighbor had staked his claim and worked the land for the required five years.  Unknown to Isaac, however, his neighbor had entered into an agreement with a horse dealer to swap his claim for some horses.  Some time after the appearance before the judge, a federal officer arrived in the community to arrest Isaac's neighbor for giving false testimony. The dealer had informed against him, apparently having changed his mind about their horse deal for some reason.  Both Isaac and his neighbor had sworn under oath that the requirements were met.  Were they both liars? 

It was common in those harsh years for struggling homesteaders to prove up their claims and not long afterward sell them.  Many of Isaac's neighbors were enduring the hardships just long enough to mature their claims, with the intention to leave Kansas as soon as they had proved up their claims.  Quick sales were not uncommon.  Is that relevant to the facts of Isaac's neighbor's case?

"A lie is a statement that is known or intended by its source to be misleading, inaccurate, or false.  The practice of communicating lies is called lying, and a person who communicates a lie may be termed a liar.  Lies may be employed to serve a variety of instrumental, interpersonal, or psychological functions for the individuals who use them."

Does this help you answer my question?

Unless Isaac knew that his neighbor had entered into the contract to swap his land for horses, his  answer was not a lie.  His neighbor had done everything necessary to prove up his claim legally, but he got the horse before the cart--or more accurately, the horse deal before the title to the land--and swore to something he knew to be false.  The fact that others were only holding on long enough to prove up title, with intensions to sell and move on as quickly as possible once they had title, is not a defense for Isaac's friend.

Hard times make men desperate.  This particular neighbor had been a respected man in Isaac's community, but the drought and dropping prices for crops had put him, and many others, in severe financial need.  My manuscript shares more stories about this man as he makes repeated bad judgements as economic conditions for farmers worsen.  The late 1800s were a test of character for many families struggling to survive.

"Tell a lie once and all your truths become questionable."  Source Unknown

Walt Disney's Pinocchio from his 1940 film

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Military on the Prairie

A Building at Historic Fort Hays
The common conception of soldiers being sent to the prairie to protect settlers is not entirely accurate.  The motivation had a more commercial aspect.  Historic Fort Hays is a good example.  The Fort was established in 1867 to protect construction workers that were building the Union Pacific Railroad.  The Government saw the importance of railroads to link the large territory which the fledgling nation was seeking to populate. The Native Americans saw the encroaching railroads as a threat to their way of life.  They sought to interfere by tearing up the tracks and attacking those constructing the tracks.  The government sent the soldiers to protect workers and property.

Of course, the investors paying for the railroads were counting on settlers traveling West on their trains and shipping produce on those trains back to the East.  However, those settlers followed the arrival of the trains, arriving well after the soldiers came.

Silhouettes mark Sites
By the time settlers were arriving, the soldiers at the forts were already being deployed elsewhere, and when Isaac Werner arrived at Larned in 1878, most of the soldiers at the nearby fort were gone or soon would be.  The quadrangle at Fort Larned was converted to civilian use for a time, but it is now a historic site well worth visiting, along with the Santa Fe trail historic site nearby.

Returning to exploring Historic Fort Hays, there is a great deal to see.  The grounds document pioneer and military history with placards and exhibits along the walkways.

In addition, at nearby Victoria nine miles to the east of Hays on Highway 40, at the south edge of Victoria may be seen the Victoria Railroad Cemetery, with the graves of Union Pacific railroad workers killed by the Cheyenne Indians in 1867.  Of course, this also evidences why soldiers were posted at Fort Hays to protect those workers against further attacks by the Native Americans combatting the threat to their way of life.

Plaques share information
By the time a train carried Isaac to Kansas in 1878, the railroads were serving the purposes for which they were built--to bring settlers to the Prairie and to ship what those settlers produced to cities in the East.

If you visit Historic Fort Hays, located on US 183 Alternate just four miles south of Interstate 70, you can see the original blockhouse, guardhouse, and officers quarters. 

You may click on the images to enlarge them, and you may learn more about Historic Fort Hays at 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Do Ethics Matter?

In Isaac Werner's community, neighbors often shared work.  Sometimes it was for cash.  Other times, one person would help a neighbor do a particular job, and in turn, that neighbor would help him with a different job.  Or, neighbors might work together because equipment each lacked was possessed by the other person.

Isaac described in his journal one situation that did not turn out as expected.  He had shared jobs in the past with two neighbors, so when he arranged to share labor with a younger brother and his friend, Isaac assumed the same terms that the older brother had agreed would apply.  They worked together for three days, and when it was time to settle up, there was no disagreement about the agreed price per day for labor.  When the price for the equipment the younger brother had supplied was calculated, the young man insisted the prevailing rate was $1.50 per day rather than the $1 a day his brother had agreed in the past, and Isaac reluctantly accepted the increase.  Then it was time to calculate the fee for Isaac's horse and equipment, but the young men insisted there should be no charge for them.  Because no discussion had occurred before the work began, Isaac finally settled up with the young men, but the entry in his journal that evening made it clear that he felt that he had been treated unfairly and had been made a fool.

Bertrand Russell, 1954
Bertrand Russell, a British mathematician and philosopher living from 1872 to 1970 wrote:  "Without civic morality Communities perish; without personal morality their survival has no value."

Reflecting on Russell's words, and applying them to Isaac's situation, should we place the blame on Isaac for having assumed the arrangement that had been customary when working with the older brother would apply, or should we place the blame on the younger men for having proceeded with the job without alerting Isaac that they expected a different arrangement from what had been customary in the past?

Times change.  Customs change.  Do the underlying ethics and moral conventions change, or as Bertrand Russell suggested, without personal morality does our survival lose all value?  We are seeing changes in the civic morality of our world every day, and it will probably not surprise you that I have turned to history to reflect on those changes.

James Fenimore Cooper in a Midshipman's uniform
For example, a member of the House of Representatives, Rashida Tlaib, recently called the president an obscenity.  She did not apologize, explaining instead that she was simply a very passionate person.  Looking to history, I found a quote from James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Deer Slayer.  He wrote:  "Mendacity and vulgarity can only permanently affect those who resort to their use."  Is he right that the harm done was to Representative Tlaid herself, or did her vulgar term harm the president, or does such language harm the entire  community, as Russell suggested?

A newly elected member of the House, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, carelessly exaggerated the potential savings possible if only tighter controls were imposed on Pentagon budgets. It took me only a few minutes to look up the total Pentagon budget, and even if the entire budget were reduced to zero, her alleged savings could not be achieved longer than I can keep up with all the zeros to the compute the years!  Should that matter?  Albert Einstein thought so, for he wrote, "Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters."

Sometimes words are not needed to reveal changes in civic morality, as in the President's imitating the physical difficulties of reporter, Serge Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, (which impacts the function and range of motion of joints).  Vice president Hubert Humphrey had an answer for that:  "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

Mark Twain, Bronze in Fort Worth
Reconsidering Isaac's anger about the resolution of the expenses for the shared labor, perhaps we should ask a question I did not raise.  Had the customs in his community changed so that what the younger men expected was appropriate and did they simply assume Isaac would have been aware of those changes so that they did not recognize any need to discuss the compensation in advance.  Is it reasonable to accept that civic morality changes from generation to generation and communities must adapt?  Or, are there certain standards we should expect from those in our own community and the greater national community of which we are a part?

Is all of this a generational thing?  Here's what Mark Twain had to say about the subject:  "The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after that, he knows too little."

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Money and Politics

I just finished reading Moyers on America, A Journalist and His Times, published in 2004. (I often buy books that I overlooked when they were originally released, and sometimes I am even slow to read books I buy new.  So, before you dismiss this as a blog about recent politics--although 2004 isn't really very recent--I am actually going to blog about the mid-1890s.)

Those of you who are regular followers of the blog are already familiar with the election of 1896, when the Populists joined the Democrats to nominate William J. Bryan, although they split the vote over the Vice-Presidential nominee.  You may want to scroll down to "A Documentary Treasure," posted 11-8-18 to see the local ballots from that election and to "A Peek Into the Voting Booth in 1986" to consider the political environment of that era.

However, the quote from Moyers that inspired this blog is from the wealthy businessman, Mark Hanna, who raised money for the Republican William McKinley.  Hanna said,, "There are two things that are important in politics.  The first is money, and I can't remember what the second is."  Quoting from Moyers, Hanna was "the first modern political fund-raiser, and money was all that mattered to him.  He tapped the banks, the insurance companies, the railroads, and the other great industrial trusts of the late 1800s for contributions of some $6-7 million to the campaign of presidential candidate William McKinley:  big bucks back then."  Bryan raise only 1/10th of that amount.

If you are a serious blog supporter you may even recognize Hanna's name, for he appeared in a political cartoon that I have previously posted, still engaged in financial political matters.  This time, according to the cartoonist and  Nebraska Senator Allen, whose words inspired the cartoon, Hanna was engaged in a little payback for the wealthy McKinley supporters.

To explain the cartoon, President McKinley called for volunteers in 1898 for the Spanish-American War and proposed bonds to pay for the war.  Sen. Allen objected:  "...the people desire to pay as they go.  ...They do not want this government at the end of the war indebted more than it is at the present time."  Allen believed speculators were trying "to foist upon the people a perpetual national debt.  ...There is not one of that power, sir, who would not see this government sunk to the bottom of the ocean if he could make a fortune by it."

You may remember that the sinking of the Maine had been erroneously blamed on the Spanish.  The cartoon caption reads:  "Hanna--"I don't see anything down there that money won't pay for." He is depicted as a diver amassing bars of gold as a result of the war.  To refresh your memory about the Spanish-American War, you may want to visit "Remember the Maine," posted 8-11-2016.

The vast amounts of money spent on elections today may dwarf Hanna's efforts in 1896, but election fund raising and the benefits those contributions have for our elected officials (and the influence gained by contributors) make Hanna's quote as understandable today as it was in 1896--"There are [still] two things that are important in politics.  The first is money, and I can't remember what the second one is."

(You can click on the images to enlarge them.)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Curious Mind

Geologist at work
Isaac Beckley Werner had such a curious mind.  Not only was he observant about things around him, he exercised his curiosity by recording what he saw in his daily journal so that he could document events or compare changes in the seasons and his crops from year to year.  His love for learning is also apparent from his many books and the wide variety of topics his library contained.

One particularly interesting entry in his journal involved his first trip to Sun City to market potatoes.  The soil in that area was too rocky and shallow to raise potatoes, so those living there were good customers, and he generally received a better price for his potatoes in that community.  The long, hard trips were worth it.

On one of those trips, he paid close attention to the terrain and recorded in his journal how he believed the valleys and gullies were formed over centuries.  He wrote like a geologist, evidencing his reading on soil erosion and the impact of freezing and water and the sculpting of the surface of the land over eons.

Really a realistic sculpture
This brings me to the subject of this week's blog, the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas.  How Isaac would have loved wandering through the 10,000 square foot walk-through diorama depicting what the region of Kansas was like at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.  The depiction of creatures of that era, drawn on the walls and presented in full scale animated models, stimulate visitors' imaginations to almost feel as if they have been transported back in time to experience what it must have been like.  Isaac would surely have loved the fossils, including the famous "fish-within-a-fish" in the permanent display.

Famous 'Fish-Within-a Fish Fossil
Isaac Werner was definitely the sort of person whose mind was eager to learn about a broad spectrum of subjects, and it was his nature to enjoy sharing what he learned.  That desire is clear in the fact that he was a popular lecturer at local meetings of farmers seeking new ways to survive on their claims.  It was also apparent in his writing for populist newspapers and  journals, as well as sharing his farming experiments utilizing different seed varieties and altering planting depths and distances between rows to see what worked best.  He was eager to share descriptions of tools he invented or modified to be more suited to local soils.  His mind was a sponge,  soaking up information from his reading, his observations of neighbors' methods (both their successful and failing efforts), and his own experiments.  How he would have loved visiting the Sternberg Museum.


Sternberg Mural & Animated Model

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them, and you can read more about the museum at or call for their hours at 785/628-4286.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Nearly New Year's Eve

(c) Lyn Fenwick drawing from 2015
There are still a few days until 2018 tumbles to a disquieting close, and the notion of New Year's Resolutions may seem like a relic from the past.  Or, maybe not.  Perhaps it is up to each of us to reflect on what resolutions we each might contribute to make 2019 less disquieting.

I am a collector of quotes--odds and ends from many sources, including this one I found on a cereal box, with which I will begin.  Unfortunately, the cereal box did not provide the author.  "Fame is fleeting, money evaporates, and all we have left is character."  New Year's Eve is a pretty good time for a character check.

Younger readers may not recognize the name of John Wooden, but those of us with some gray in our hair will remember this incredible coach and what was for a while his unbeatable University of California team!  This is what he called His Creed:  "Be true to yourself.  Make each day a masterpiece.  Help others.  Drink deeply from good books.  Make friendship a fine art.  Build a shelter against a rainy day."  You don't have to play basketball to find some good advice in Wooden's creed, and any or all of those commitments would make great resolutions.

Words attributed to Wm Shakespeare on the internet but probably a prank to see if people believed that attribution, nevertheless made their way onto my quote collection because they challenged me to consider how seriously I honor the things that I say matter to me.  I share this not to suggest you adopt the particular things mentioned but rather to challenge you, as it did me, to consider whether you truly honor by your actions the things you say you value.  "You say you love the rain, but you open your umbrella.  You say you love the sun, but you find a shady spot.  You say you love the wind, but you close your windows.  This is why I am afraid, you say you love me too." 

The advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson has inspired many generations, and I found this in my quote file:  "The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."   Some would say, I believe, that doing those things will bring you happiness.

Most of us will tolerate hard truths from Mark Twain because he's clever...or perhaps because we think he is poking fun at others rather than at us. This is one of my favorites:  "It is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled."

I will close with a movie quote taken from a conversation when a young man, discouraged by what he sees around him, turns to his uncle for advice.  The movie is Secondhand Lions and the actor speaking the quoted lines is the great Robert Duvall.  "Sometimes, the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most:  that people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power, mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love, true love, never dies.  You remember that, boy.  Doesn't matter if they are true or not.  A man should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in."   

Selecting these quotes to share has given me hope for 2019, and I hope they have given you some ideas for your own New Year's Resolutions.  Admit it.  You know you probably will not stick to a diet or adhere to an exercise program for more than a few weeks.  And if you are a smoker, the odds are against really quitting because of a New Year's Resolution.  Maybe, however, something I shared might be worth the effort...  Have a safe and happy New Years Eve!

(You can click to enlarge the drawing.  Please pay particular attention to the words around the clock face.)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Happy Holidays 2018

(c) Lyn Fenwick, "Not a Creature Was Stirring"

Many of my friends read "T'was the Night Before Christmas" aloud to their families on Christmas Eve, a beautiful tradition that dates back to 1823.  When I was deciding what to contribute to the Vernon Filley annual Holiday Festival, I decided it would be fun to do my own illustration for that beloved poem.

Over the decades, many illustrators have created their own versions of this poem, and I love their illustrations.  However, I chose my own setting to depict the lines, "Not a creature was stirring."  One thing I learned is that doing portraits of children with their eyes closed is a challenge, since so much personality comes from a person's eyes, especially children.

Like so many things, it seems, there is a controversy behind this poem.  The author is generally believed to be Clement Clarke Moore, a writer and Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature, as well as Divinity and Biblical Learning.  It is believed that he wrote the poem for his children, and a friend submitted it to the Troy, New York Sentinel, in which newspaper it was published anonymously on December 23, 1823.  Moore was reluctant to claim authorship, believing it was inconsistent with his scholarly reputation, but several sources had already identified him as the author when he finally included it in an anthology of his work in 1844.

The controversy about authorship did not come from the other alleged author, but rather from that man's family.  Major Henry Livingston, Jr., a New Yorker of Dutch and Scottish ancestry, and a remote relative of Moore's wife, is believed by his family and at least one document dealer, to be the true author, although Major Livingston never made that claim during his life.  Surely a professor of the Bible would not have falsely claimed authorship, would he?  Perhaps the verse had an oral history that Moore refined, making it his own.  After all these years, who knows?

I added the "Elf on the Shelf" to my pastel, a more modern story, which dates to the publication in 2005 of a book by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, illustrated by Coe Steinwart.  The plot describes an elf that gets his magic when a child names and loves him, and with that magic he is able to fly to the North Pole during the night to advise Santa about whether his child has been good or bad that day.  He returns before the family awakens and hides in a new spot.  Frankly, it seems to me a little ungrateful that the Elf who gets his magic from the child who loves him becomes a spy, don't you think?

Of course, children without an Elf on the Shelf know from the familiar song that they "better watch out, they better not pout" because Santa already "knows if you've been good or bad, so be good for goodness sake."  Atlantic columnist Kate Tuttle believes that the Elf teaches a bad lesson to children, teaching them "that good behavior equals gifts."  Another writer, Professor Laura Pinto, suggests the toy conditions the next generation to be more accepting of government surveillance, having learned as a child to accept being monitored by the Elf.   Who knew holiday poems and toys could be so controversial?!

All that I know for sure is that my mother had felt elves that she used to decorate our home in the 1960s, well before the publication of the elf on the shelf.  I don't believe, however, that Mother's elves were spies!  What I do believe is that families create their own stories and traditions, and I hope your holidays are filled with joy.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Heirloom quilts from Blog Readers

Mother's Wool Throw
Although my mother was a wonderful seamstress and the 4-H sewing leader when I was young, she was not a quilter.  However, she did make me a wool throw with square pieces sewn together with crochet stitches.  Several of the blocks are embroidered or appliqued with symbols of my young experiences.  Unfortunately, over the years moths got into the wool.  I have sealed it well and treated it to avoid the moths escaping to work on other things, but I can't bring myself to destroy her gift to me.

Drunkard's Path Pattern
The remainder of this blog is a real treat, with photographs and stories received from readers.  Jim Clopton asked, "What do you do with empty walls in a hallway?" and provided the answer with a quilt pattern called Drunkard's Path.  I guess Jim assumed that even a drunk could find his way down a hall!  

Some of the quilts shared in photographs and stories are imperfect, with stains and tears and fading, but they remain precious heirlooms from the grandmothers and great-grandmothers who made them.  Others were lovingly cared for and were passed to loved ones in like-new condition.  Janis Moore wrote to me:  "My mother made several beautiful quilts.  She gave each of my kids one of her quilts for a wedding gift."  Janis' mother was my Sunday School Teacher when I was a little girl, and she was a lovely lady.

Connie Watts' Grandmother's
Connie Watts wrote that she has several of her great grandmother's quilts, describing--"hand embroidered, bonnet girl (which I call Sunbonnet Sue), and a baby quilt she left in my hope chest when I was a little girl.  Each child and grandchild had three quilts that she made special.  The most special thing about a quilt is the weight and the feel of the fabric.  ...Grandmother used mainly flower sacks."  I had to share the picture with the amazing points.  We quilters know how difficult it is to get those sharp points!  

Rodney Smith shared:  "My grandmother and great aunts were quilt makers; however, my mother was also a dressmaker.  She even made a cashmere sport coat for me when I was in college."  I made my husband a tuxedo long ago that he wore to several important corporate events.  What I remember most about making that tuxedo was the eye strain of sewing on black!

Marcy Johnson's Grandma's
How pleased I was to receive a picture and note from Marcy Johnson, who wrote, "My mother's family was from Rossville [IL] and Manns Chapel is my favorite place on earth, next to my home."  She added, "Loving your journey!" referring to my manuscript about Isaac Werner, who was a druggist in Rossville in the 1870s.  Her picture is of a quilt for her Grandparents' 50th Anniversary, with signature blocks from friends and family.

Terry Navarro wrote:  "My mom was a wonderful seamstress--made my wedding dress, flower girl and maid of honor.  She could do anything.  Back in the day, the neighbor ladies would get together and tack a quilt-Grandma, LaLa, Grandma Rojas, Mrs Rosa.  It sure was fun to watch." 
Her comments led to several other comments from others about the dresses their mothers made for them when they were girls--including Maxine Howard and Marsha Thompson.  Those were the days when patterns were less than a dollar and fabric could be found in many stores, I'll bet!  Today, most fabric is to be found in quilt shops.

My mother-in-law, with a heart as generous as could be, made many coverlets for strangers.  She didn't piece the quilts, but she would buy the fabric panels with appealing scenes for children to fill with batting to tie as miniature comforters.  If she read in the newspaper about a sick or injured child, or a family that had lost everything in a house fire, she would find their address somehow (before internet searches) and send one of her little quilts for the children.  In so many ways, quilts are special, and the love that goes into the making is somehow passed along to the recipient--even for generations.

Thank you to everyone who shared stories and pictures, of which I received more than I had room to share but loved all of them.  I'll close with a comment sent by Phyllis McCart in response to last week's post about the sewing machines on which some of the pictured quilts may have been made.  Phyllis wrote:  "These vintage sewing machines are making a comeback!  I am a quilter (33 years) and these machines are being used.  The are sturdy, all metal parts.  Parts are available for repairs and replacements.  Quilters are loving them."  Mary Vandenburg added, "My mother made all my dresses on a sewing machine like this one (referring to last week's blog).  Oh, how I wish I still had it, even though I don't sew!"

As Alice McMillan Lockridge said in her note, these quilts are "a reminder of the life our foremothers lived.  They made work into art and their machines were beautiful too."

(You may click on the images to enlarge them, and you may scroll down to read the earlier blogs about quilts and the beautiful vintage machines.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sewing Machines from the Past

Advertisement from County Capital
In the Stafford County (Kansas) Museum permanent Quilt Exhibit, there are both hand sewn and machine sewn quilts, and part of the collection is a display of sewing machines. I was thrilled when I discovered a New Home machine--actually, two of them--in the exhibit!

From Isaac's journal, I know that he borrowed a sewing machine from friends to do some sewing for himself, but I do not know specifically what sewing he did.  Nor do I know what brand of machine he borrowed.  However, I do know from the County Capital newspaper ad shown at left that Gray & Co. in St. John sold New Home machines.

I had not realized from the newspaper advertisement what beautiful machines these were, but the ad is detailed enough to identify it as being the same model as the two in the exhibit.  They are lovely, with the beautiful trim on the wooden drawers, the name "New Home" in the metalwork of the pedal and both sides, and the intricate painting of the machine itself.

New Home Sewing Machine

There is also a Singer machine in the collection, ornamented with particularly beautiful and colorful painted designs.  

Because of the style and popular light wood of the 1950s and 1960s, another machine in the exhibit appears to me to come from the mid-1900s.  I am sure it was regarded as very modern and tasteful in its time, but the ornate older machines seemed to me to be the 'stars of the show' in the exhibit!

It is a wonderful collection to honor the many women through the years who salvaged scraps of fabric to transform into beautiful quilts, or bought fabrics to make a specific design as a family heirloom, some sewing their quilts by hand and others using machines like the ones on exhibit.  Many of the quilts in the collection were made by women who gathered with friends to quilt as a fundraising effort, raising money for various causes and beautifying the homes of whoever was fortunate enough to go home with the quilt.  The exhibit is worth the visit!

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge.

(If you missed the 2 blogs preceding this week's blog, you may want to scroll down to enjoy the pictures of the beautiful quilts and the interesting stories about the quilts' creations.  Next week I will post the final blog in this quilting series, so if you have a story to share or a picture of an heirloom  family quilt be sure to send it to me soon.)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

More History Sewn Into Quilts

One of my favorite quilt designs is called Wild Geese, which is still popular today.  A handmade quilt by Mary Melissa Groves Ratcliffe (1854-1939) uses the Wild Geese pattern.  One of the special things about quilting is discovering that many of the patterns go back generations.

In addition to the repetition of quilt patterns, many quilters pass fabric down to younger generations.  My own mother was not a quilter, but she was a dressmaker, and I have some of her fabrics.  My mother-in-law, however, was a quilter, and I have many of her fabrics, among which are fabrics from her mother and from an older friend of hers who made dresses for other ladies in the community.  Consequently, I have quite a few treasured fabrics from several decades in the past.  

This log cabin quilt top was fun for me to study, because I thought I saw some fabrics from the same era as my inherited fabric collections.  This quilt top was made by Sarah Adeline McCandless Soice (1863-1936).  It was lined but never quilted, and because it was never completed for use on a bed, the colors remain fresh and bright.  The log cabin pattern remains a popular pattern, modified into many different designs.  It is especially useful for smaller scraps.

The next pair of quilts are interesting to compare because both were made by church ladies and both used the circle pattern to display names.  The quilt above was made by the Methodist Ladies and purchased at a fund raiser by Mrs. J.B.C. (Nancy) Cook, who died at the age of 93 in 1940.  

The Methodist Ladies used a white background with deep red rails and embroidery, but the ladies of the First Christian Church chose only the white background in 1954, omitting the bars, or rails, as they are also called.  However, they too chose a deep red for the embroidery.  Their group was called the Mizpah Class, which is Hebrew for "watchtower."

One of the especially striking quilts on display uses the fan pattern, bright colors on a black background.  Many years ago I made a pair of twin quilts using men's ties my husband no longer wore to create the wedge shapes required for the fan pattern.  I used old suits for the background behind the fans and navy blue solid rails between the fan blocks.  They are a very striking pair of quilts, but because of the wool in the background and rails, they are only suitable during winter months.  I realized while drafting this blog that I packed them away quite some time ago, and this winter I need to get them out and use them again.

There are more beautiful quilts to admire at the museum, and I recommend a visit.  If you missed last week's blog sharing more of the quilts from this collection, you may wish to scroll down to read that blog.  Next week's blog will feature the antique sewing machines that are also exhibited at the Stafford County Museum Quilt Exhibit.  Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.

P.S.  Thank you to Jim Clopton, who shared photographs of two lovely quilts at my face book post blog reminder, and to Mary Callaway Vandenberg who also shared a photograph of a beautiful family quilt dating back to 1865!  I have downloaded all three photographs and might do a future blog sharing those images if more of you post family quilts!


Thursday, November 22, 2018

History Sewn into Quilts

We had not been in the Stafford County Museum exhibit of quilts more than a minute when my husband insisted that I walk away from the quilt I was looking at and come join him.  No wonder.  When I walked to the back of the exhibit to see what he had found, there was my great grandmother's name stitched into one of the rectangles of the quilt.  Michael Hathaway, Executive Director, said we were the first people to have visited the exhibit and have found an ancestor's name on a quilt.  (Of course, some of the quilts were gifted by family members, and Michael was referring to visitors who had simply come to see the exhibit.)

It was a very special quilt.  People in the community were asked to pay $1 to have their name embroidered into the quilt to raise money for the Red Cross during W.W. I.  Four hundred eight people paid the dollar, but more money was raised when the quilt was auctioned.  As people were the highest bidders, they immediately handed it back to be auctioned again, and in that way more and more money was raised.  The funds were used to purchase yarn and other materials to make items for soldiers.  Some women embroidered their own block, and my great grandmother's appeared to have been such a block.

Susan L. Beck's daughter-in-law, my grandmother, was born in England but came to America as a toddler.  Her father, my great grandfather, had family in the village where he was raised, and that village sent many young men to the war, including some family.  In my blogs "The Steadfast Tin Soilder" posted 9-25-2014 and "The Steadfast Tin Soldier, a Sequel" posted 10-2-2014,  about the discovery of a W.W. I toy soldier, I write about that village and its service to the war effort.  It was a particular thrill to see my paternal great-grandmother Susan's name on that quilt.

Many of the quilts on display were made by a group of ladies, rather than a single seamstress, and the signatures of those working on the quilt were often sewn into the pattern.  Perhaps that contributed to the survival of the quilt, since the owner may have cherished the quilt too much to use it on a bed where it would receive every-day wear and tear.  The quilt above was purchased at an estate sale in 1981 and was made by ladies in the Taylorville community, with a reference that suggests a regular quilting group that called themselves the "Merrymakers."

The ribbon cutting of the Stafford County Museum's permanent quilt collection was held May 18, 2018.  The exhibit contains 39 quilts, many of them friendship quilts and fund raiser quilts filled with names of former residents from Stafford and surrounding communities.  The quilts are beautifully displayed on professional quilt hangers that are hinged to be opened like the pages of a book for easy viewing

Not all of the bed coverings in the exhibit are quilts, and fortunately, one lovely example was labeled by a subsequent owner to document the history of the spread.  It reads in part:  "This bedspread was made by Ann Eliza Riddell.  She spun the yarn and wove it into strips.  The strips were then sewn together to make the spread.  Ann Eliza Riddell born March 21, 1843, died April 24, 1914.  John Richardson born Sept. 28, 1839, died Oct. 5, 1915.  They were wed June 28, 1877, Ann being his second wife.  They lived in Estell County, Kentucky, near Irvine, Ky.  They came to Stafford County, Kansas in 1888 and homesteaded 7 miles northwest of Stafford."  (Remember to click on the images to enlarge.)

I have a particular affection for crazy quilts because they represent for me how precious even the tiniest scraps of special fabrics were to these ladies. Velvets and silks and other expensive fabrics of such small pieces that seamstresses today would deposit them into the trash without guilt were carefully saved by their ancestors and turned into something beautiful by patching the small pieces together and ornamenting the seams with their fancy stitching.  To create even more beauty, the patches themselves were decorated with embroidery.  This round crazy quilt, displayed on the wall of the museum exhibit, is a particularly beautiful example.

Next week I will share a few more quilts from the exhibit.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Peek into the Voting Booth in 1896

In 1896 Mary Elizabeth Lease delivered her famous speech at Cooper Union Hall in New York City.  It was a time of great anomosity between the wealthy and the working people.  The Democrats and the People's Party had nominated the same Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, and his campaign was focused on replacing the Gold Standard with bimetallism, a monetary standard supported with gold and silver.  If you did not read last week's blog about the 1896 election, you may want to scroll down to "A Documentary Treasure," posted 11-8-2018, to read what has been one of the most popular blogs I have posted.  This week I provide a peek into what some of your farming and other laboring ancestors may have been thinking when they marked their ballots. 

Mary Elizabeth Lease was a Kansan and one of the most popular speakers of that time.  Although women did not have the vote, she appeared before cheering crowds to hold them spellbound for 2 or 3 hours, or more.  On August 11, 1896, according to the New York World newspaper, the crowd was "charmed by the seductive oratory of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Lease."  Among the targets of her criticism were "the name of Whitney and Cleveland, of Vanderbilt and Rothschild" which were "hailed with hisses and cat-calls" from the crowd.  She declared, " in this country we find in place of an aristocracy of royalty an aristocracy of wealth."

It was a time when farmers in Kansas like Isaac Werner had gone into debt to buy horses and oxen (the tractors of their time) and equipment when the prices for their crops were high and the interest on their loans was low, only to be crushed by debt when crop prices fell and interest rates soared.  Added to that were the rising fares Railroads imposed to ship farmers' crops to Eastern markets.  To the farmers, Wall Street, Speculators, and Railroad Tycoons were the villains. Populists wanted (1) government regulations to control the power of the wealthy and (2) bimetallism to curtail the hoarding of gold by the wealthy at the expense of the government and the American people.  As Mary Elizabeth Lease said, "They say this question is so deep that the common people are not fit to decide it.  They say 'leave it to the financiers.'  We have left it to them too long, and while we have been sinking into bankruptcy our financiers have been growing millionaires."

Some of these American milliionaires had grown so wealthy they sought to connect their families to royalty by marrying their daughters to royalty in Europe, paying a considerable 'dowery' to secure the match.  Lease didn't think much of that, describing the shame of " American to pay $10,000,000 for the cast-off, disreputable rags of old world royalty, for the scion of a house that boasts the blood of a Jeffreys and a Marlborough."  Winston Churchill's mother was an example, and Downton Abbey fans know that Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, is a fictional example.

Hanna was the president's advisor, looking for gold from war bonds.
Mary Elizabeth Lease also railed against the profits made by the wealthy when the government issued bonds to fight the Civil War, as they did for the later Spanish-American War.  "...we have arrived at a point when there is not enough money to carry on the business of the country. ...When the war broke out the Government was compelled to beg for men and money.  You [the American workers] responded nobly to that cry, but the men who had been crying, 'on to Richmond!' refused to answer.  They locked up their gold or sent it to Europe.  They held their gold more sacred than your lives, your liberty, your wives and children, while the Government was compelled to mortgage itself to get that sneaking cowardly yellow metal.  And if war was to break out again to-morrow gold would disappear as suddenly again."

It is always enlightening to look back at history in reflecting on today's issues.  The year Mary Elizabeth Lease was making this speech in 1896 was the same year some of your ancestors were voting on a ballot similar to the ballot that was the subject of last week's blog.  Those voters, called populists, were farmers and other laborers angry with the influence and special treatment of the wealthy in this country.  A few days ago, many Americans voted, and while voters from varying backgrounds and economic groups could be found in both the Republican and the Democratic parties, it is interesting that those voters today identified as Populists and Progressives tend to vote with the Republicans.  What would Mary Elizabeth Lease think?!

I thought this would be an interesting bit of history to follow last week's blog about the 1896 election.  I hope you enjoyed both of them.

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.