Wednesday, January 25, 2023

McWhorter's Last Fence

 My husband and I had the good fortune of careers that took us to many places, and we would not trade those experiences and the friends we made.  However, this blog is about Texas, and specifically, it is about a cowboy poet named Larry McWhorter.  If you want to know what a cowboy poet should look like, sound like, and represent the honorable character of a true cowboy, just google Larry McWhorter, cowboy poet.  He looked the part and had the voice for reading his poetry, and the authentic life to know what he was writing about when he wrote his poems.  Cancer cheated him, and those of us who knew him, out of the long life he deserved.  The last time we saw Larry was in the hospital.  Instead of flowers, I had the nerve to take him a poem I had written for him.  

We became friends not through his poetry but through his business building pipe and cable fences. We had bought some acreage in the country and wanted a fence to go all the way around it.  His business name was Fiddlestrings, and he was an outstanding craftsman with pipe and cable fencing.  We thought his bid was high, but it turned out that the limestone post holes, the curves and shifts in terrain, and his stubborn determination not to settle for anything less than perfection took months longer than he had anticipated.  Of course, some of that time included interruptions to jot down poems that came to him as he worked.

By the time he had finished our fence, his recognition as a cowboy poet had grown, and he had published a book of poems and had gained a reputation as an entertainer.  We hired him twice as an entertainer, and he was a hit both times.  But, his greatest gift was as a friend.  At his funeral the sanctuary and the church classrooms filled, with a crowd standing outside, and I am sure each person believed that he was a close friend.

The poem I wrote for him was titled "McWhorter's Last Fence / Apologies to Fiddlestrings. I will share the first two stanzas and the last two stanzas of my 10 stanza poem, as well as pictures of the fence he built for us.

        The job began in April

        with the pasture full of flowers.

        Grass was green and skies were blue.

        He didn't mind the hours.

        He worked long days on pipe and wire,

        and when each day was done,

        it hardly seemed he's moved ten feet

        from where he had begun.


        Yet, when the fence was finished

        and lay stretched across high plains,

        what he saw was strength and beauty. 

        He forgot about the pain.

        Stinging nettle, sun, and fire ants--

        all had put him to the test.

        But, he'd kept his word to do the job,

        and always done his best.

                Lyn Fenwick, (c)

                         March, 2003

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

So, you want to be an Artist.

From the time I was a little girl I wanted to learn to draw.  None of the schools I attended had an art program.  In the 3rd and 4th grade we cut out shapes for the season--pumpkins for Halloween, Trees for Christmas, Bunnies for Easter.  The windows in our classroom were divided, and each of our seasonal shapes filled one window.  

I never really gave up on the idea of learning to draw, and on my own I learned a little.  I also volunteered as a docent for an urban museum and learned a great deal from the training I received.  I joined art organizations and learned more.  I even took a few classes.  I bought books and visited museums.  I didn't give up. 

Portrait from a photograph:  Lyn Fenwick

How silly of me.  Recently I was watching television and learned about AI used to create art with Artificial Intelligence.  What does that mean?  It is the simulation of human intelligence using computers.   Computers can be trained to think and act in the same way humans can.

These computers can learn, and the more it learns the better the output it can produce.  If the computer has thousands of specific descriptions or images you have put into it, the more specific the result of what it can produce will be.  

So, if you tell the computer you want a "picture of a little girl at the zoo" that is one level of description, but it you tell the computer you want a "picture of a little girl about 8 years old with blue eyes, freckles, and red hair pulled back into a pony tail, leaning on the wooden railing of the elephant pen," you are going to get a portrait much closer to the little girl you wanted to create, assuming you have "taught" the computer by entering all the information it needs to complete your description of the girl.

Copyright:  Lyn Fenwick

The question remains, are you an artist?  Did you create the picture of the little girl?

Another question might be, does it make any difference how it was created if the end result is a satisfactory portrait of the little girl you set out to draw?

But, perhaps the next question should be will you experience the same satisfaction by creating the portrait with AI as you would have by using your own hands and shaping and coloring to complete the image?  Is there something missing in an AI portrait that can't be exactly explained but has failed to capture the indescribable spark that art requires?

Is going for a drive in the country the same if your hands are not on the wheel?   Is the pride of training and practicing and sacrificing to improve as rewarding if everyone who entered the race gets a trophy? 

We human beings should be asking these questions.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

A History of Difficult Solutions


My Great Grandparents shortly before immigrating to America.

    The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French to pay tribute to the United States for its   democracy.  The Statue honored the end of slavery and other tyrannies and represented the friendship between France and America.

    Today we associate the Statue with the sonnet by Emma Lazarus, the most famous part of the sonnet being "Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"    At the dedication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty, the emphasis was on the French who fought with Americans against Britain during the American Revolution and the commitment shared by France and the United States to liberty.  The famous poem by Lazarus was not added to the pedestal until 1903.

    Yet, for generations the words of that poem have represented the reality of immigration for millions of Americans whose families immigrated to America to escape all sorts of misery.  In the beginning there was little regulation of immigration and naturalization at a national level.  Rules and procedures for arriving immigrants were determined by local ports of entry or state laws.  Naturalization was handled by local county courts.  The shift to National authority gradually began in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The Immigration Act of 1891 led to the U.S. Bureau of Immigration.  The opening of Ellis Island as an inspection station occurred in 1892, 6 years after the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. However, it was the Constitution adopted in 1787 that gave the United States Congress the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.

    The Naturalization Act of 1790 enabled persons who had resided in the country for two years and had kept their current residence for a year to apply for citizenship, provided they were a free white person and of good moral character, and any court of record could perform naturalization.  Soon, the residency requirement was increased--in 1795 to 5 years residence and 3 years notice of intent to apply for citizenship.  Three years later, in 1798 it increased to 14 years residency and 5 years notice.  

    This brief summary makes clear that settling on rules of naturalization have been complicated from our beginnings.  From white men to black men born in America to black men naturalized, to restrictions on Asian men, to voting rights for women, to the Page Act passed in 1875 to bar immigrants considered "undesirables," America has struggled with whom they wanted to admit and for what privileges.  We have also imposed voluntary repatriation to Europe and Mexico, as well as coerced repatriation.  The Chinese exclusion laws were not repealed until 1943.  We have excluded on the basis of literacy, disease carriers, and "postcard wives" who were brought to America by men who had selected them from photographs.

    In truth, nearly every one of us is the descendent of an immigrant.  Our immigration policies have almost always been messy.  This blog is not written as a suggestion of how it should be done nor as a criticism of how it has been done.  Rather, it is just a reminder that how to do it has never been easy.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The View from My Window

Iris I can see from my window

The view from the window above my desk is the same view from which I have observed the world since I was a child.  The row of lilac bushes I loved every spring is now a bed of iris, but the lilac bushes aren't far away, ...only a few steps to the west, where my mother transplanted them to form a patio created with concrete my father had salvaged from the adjacent farm he had bought.  The barn was torn down to raise crops instead of cows.  Over the years that salvaged concrete had served many needs, one of which was being piled into the frame for the front porch when my father replaced the wooden floor with a new concrete floor.  Did that stabilize the new concrete or just reduce the amount of new concrete needed?  We were a thrifty family, and we tried not to let anything go to waste.

Mother's thrift was primarily in the kitchen and at her sewing machine.  There was a canning jar in the refrigerator, and at the end of meals if there were leftover vegetables in the serving bowl, or even just a bit of juice, into that jar it went.  If somehow a piece of meat had been left on the platter, it went into the jar.  By the end of the week Mother would transform the odd collection of leftovers into soup or stew, although she might have needed to add a package of ground beef from the freezer.

She was a master at the sewing machine, and the prettiest prom dress I ever had was created from red taffeta lining from an old coat and curtain fabric for the kitchen windows that she had decided not to use.  I was mortified.  How could I go to a party dressed in curtains and coat lining!  It took old photographs to convince me that it really was the prettiest dress she ever made for me. 

Black swallow tail caterpillars devouring my garden 

But, back to the view from my window...  Today I see the foundation from the old hen house from my window, but once there truly was a hen house, and collecting the eggs and feeding the chickens was my job.  If I forgot to close the doors in the evening to keep varmints out at night, I had to go out after dark to close the doors.  Today it looks like a few steps, but when I was eight, in the darkness it looked like a mile.  The chicken house had been torn down when we came back to the farm, but I didn't want the old foundation removed.  Now that old foundation keeps the Bermuda grass out of the herb garden.  Consistent with my family training, I found a new purpose for something old.

At some time in my teen years, a daybed was put in the alcove of my window.  The wall to the right of the window was just wide enough for a peg board, and I faithfully arranged and rearranged photographs, invitations, cards and other odds and ends--things that had a special (if temporary) meaning to me.  I guess little has changed.  Today that wall holds my FHSU Alumni Achievement Award and the plaque recognizing my Georgia Author of the Year Award presented by the Council of Authors and Journalists.  I believe there is just the perfect place for the Notable Kansas Book Award for 'Prairie Bachelor.'  Old habits are hard to change.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Trouble with Truth

 As 2022 draws to a close, perhaps some of you are thinking about New Year's Resolutions   I have written about that in past New Year's blogs, and some of the replies that have been shared with me related more with failure to keep those resolutions than with the resolutions themselves.  In short, many people admit that even when they made the resolution they knew they wouldn't keep it.  They were just lying to themselves.  So, this year, rather than writing about New Year's Resolutions I am going to share some thoughts on telling the truth.

"In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

George Orwell, author

Several weeks ago, I was watching television and an author was talking about his book, titled, "The Post-Truth Era.  Ralph Keyes is not a  professor.  He lives in Ohio and writes articles for magazines such as Esquire and Good Housekeeping.  He has appeared on The Today Show and was on Oprah.  I did not anticipate a scholarly book when I ordered "Post Truth," nor is it one.  I was surprised when the book arrived to learn that it was published in 2004, now 2 decades ago.  His subtitle is "Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life," which reveals that the topic is not particularly new, as my next quote makes clear.

The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.

Laozi, ancient philosopher

When I began reading Ralph Keyes' book he soon explained the he was not going to write about "all lies and every liar."  What he was focusing on was "concern about casual lying, its effect on how we deal with each other, and on society as a whole."  In fact, he believed the casual lie was getting worse.  That led me to ask myself, is dishonesty getting worse?  It seems to me that it is, but one thing is certain, lying had been around for a long time, and our founding fathers have had something to say about it!

Half a truth is often a great lie.

Benjamin Franklin

Rearching for a more recent American philosopher, I turned to that great thinker--bless his cotton-picken-heart--Elvis Presley, who said:

Truth is like the sun.  You can shut it out for a time,

but it ain't goin' away.

The author of The Post-Truth Era was pretty hard on lawyers, suggesting that truth and lies in the courtroom do not mean the same thing as they do one the street.  When I was a practicing attorney, I prepared many people for testifying in court and in preparing for depositions, and I never told anyone to lie.  I did tell them, however, not to allow opposing counsel to put words in their mouths.  Answer yes or no if the question is clear and specific, but if he has tucked in extra details that aren't accurate, don't accept his question as appropriate for a yes or no answer.  "I don't know, I don't understand, and I don't remember" are perfectly appropriate answers,  if you really don't know, understand, or remember.  If you watch the news, you may know that an attorney has put himself in a difficult place by instructing his client to say "I don't remember," not because she did not remember but rather as a way to avoid answering the question.  Apparently she was told that she would be safe to avoid answering the question, because 'no one could know whether she remembered or not.'  Bad Advice!

There are few reasons for telling the truth, but for lying, the number is infinite.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon, novelist

While it might be possible that someone could get away with pretending not to remember, the truth is that once discovered the pretense is grounds for prosecution because the person had lied under oath. 

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters

cannot be trusted with important matters.

Albert Einstein

Ralph Keyes concludes his book by saying that 10% are ethical by nature, that a different 10% have no ethical inclination at all, but 80% move back and forth, depending on circumstances.  It seemed to me when I grew up in a small community, honesty was admired and generally practiced by most people.  Perhaps that was because dishonest people were known and those doing business with them knew better than to do business on a handshake. 

Maybe lying to ourselves with a resolution to stick to a diet which only lasts until the first bowl of ice cream tempts us is not important, but I am still idealistic enough to believe that our "Post-Truth" era is a threat.  As S. Somerset Maugham said, "The fact that a great many people believe something is no guarantee of its truth." 



Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Happy Holidays to Everyone!

 I love decorating for Christmas.  I have collected Christmas decorations for many years now...and I have too many to find places for all of them.  This year I had a tree on the porch, and when the wind started getting stronger, I went out to get the Santa that I had sitting by the tree, because it is breakable, and I thought I should bring it inside.  I was barely inside the house with Santa when I heard the wind  come blasting out of the west, and before I could even begin to think about how to protect the tree, down it came.  The next morning I retrieved all of the tiny ornaments that had  fallen off the tree and brought the tree into the house to take off the rest.  Only four ornaments were broken, and Elmer and I patched them up, ready for next year and a better securing of the tree.  Elmer's Glue is a good friend to have handy at Christmas!

Part of the fun of decorating the trees is remembering where we found all of the ornaments.  When we traveled, Christmas ornaments were our favorite souvenirs. Year by year the ornaments added up.  When we retired to the farm we wanted a tree decorated with framed ornaments holding pictures of our ancestors.  We call it our Angels and Ancestors tree, since it has the small framed photographs, lots of angel ornaments, and other ornaments that look antique.  It is always fun to have family with you on Christmas, isn't it?  And these Christmas guests don't require special diets or extra bedding!  What is especially fun about them is that we can remember many of them from our childhoods...although we miss the aunts in the kitchen and the uncles napping after the Christmas feast, and the cousins to play with all of our new toys.   They aren't here, but the memories are.  

However you decorate for the holidays, or even if you don't decorate at all,  Happy Holidays to Everyone!

Christmas stockings from the past

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Christmas at Grandmother's House

Like a page from an old scrapbook, many of us have Christmas memories of holidays at Grandmother's house, with all of the table leaves stretching the table to hold the adults, and maybe a children's table in the kitchen.  Traditional meals were the same year after year, and when the meal was done the women gathered in the kitchen, washing the dishes and putting them away as they dried them in places where Grandmother would need weeks to find everything.

The men would find comfortable chairs to settle into and tell yarns and catch naps, while the children would play with the toys Santa had brought.  If it was the tradition not to open packages until after the meal, they would sneak packages from under the tree to shake and squeeze in hopes of guessing the contents. 

The day was orchestrated carefully, rarely changing much.  If someone failed to bring a favorite dish, there was likely to be grumbling, and if someone dared to alter a recipe, it would be noticed.

Yet, if you watch television today, you would assume that those old traditions have passed...that everyone today is flying to some beach resort or traveling to the mountains to ski. 

Out of curiosity, I went online to see if family Christmas dinners are out of fashion.  The results of my research are inconsistent.  I found that between December 23rd and January 2nd 112.7  million will travel 50 miles or more for the holidays.  Another site said 113 million would be away from home.  Another said one in three would travel for Christmas.

However, a survey of 2,000 people found that 73% spent time together, and that was true of Christmas more than any other time of the year.  Another survey found that 82% try to be together every year.

My conclusion...spending the Christmas holiday is not out of fashion, but what people consider spending it together is not necessarily like their Grandmother's Christmas.  It may not be on December 25th, it may be at a resort, it may be virtual, and it may be a bit of fibbing if asked by an interviewer.   But, apparently most families do have traditions that are significant to them, even if their family group is a family because they choose to be, not because they share the same mother or father.

I love Christmas traditions, but because we often lived far away from family at Christmas, many of our Christmas memories are of time spent with friends.  I love decorating for holidays, and this year when I got out some of our Christmas decorations, I discovered some that I had not seen for quite a while.  If you look very closely at the stockings, you may remember the people whose names are on those stockings.  Maybe those two people will be with us this year for Christmas!


Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Risky Business of Marriage!

   Sometimes I buy a book only to discover it is not at all what I thought it was.  When I was younger, if I started a book, I finished it.  At some point I realized there are too many wonderful books in the world to waste time on disappointing choices.  (I must admit before I go further that some of the books I stuck with before I allowed myself to abandon a disappointing book turned out to be wonderful reads.)  However, even today I do try to give each book a chance, even if it is no more that a skimming rather than truly diving into it.  Recently, I chose one of those books that disappointed me, but I did discover a few good quotes, and one of them inspired this blog.

The Era of Flat-Tops and Back-Combing

    My husband and I married right out of high school.  The odds for success were risky.  Even before our marriage, divorce rates had begun to rise.  By 1965 rates reached for individual couples divorcing to 2.5%, jumping to 3.2 by 1969.  Between 1950 and 1999 the divorce rate doubled from the likely hood of 11 to 23 divorces per 1,000 married women between the ages of 1 and 64.  For two kids ages 17 and 18, it might have seemed that we had stepped into a rapidly ascending elevator going up in the wrong direction.

    Statistics vary from study to study, but there is a degree of consistency about the particular years during which divorces are most likely to occur.  The most common years are 1-2 and 5-8, and within those groups, 2 years stand out...the years 7 and 8.

    My husband and I have long since passed those early danger years and will soon be celebrating another  wedding anniversary ending with a zero.  Where have those years gone?  Which brings me back to the quote that inspired this blog.  When I found the quote, I slipped a book mark in that page.  Later I told my husband, "I have something I want you to read."  I didn't tell him what it was, and he didn't know what the book I was reading contained.  I just handed over the book with the book mark in place and pointed to the quote.  It reads"

 Successful marriage

is leading innovative lives together,

being open, non-programed.

It's a free fall:  how you handle 

each new thing as it comes along.   

    He read it and then said to me, "That's about what we did, isn't it?"  And it was.  He enjoys joking that he married a girl with a cosmetology license who was supposed to work in a beauty shop and put him through college and instead he ended up putting me through Law School.  I counter that his career moves took me to two New England states, Texas, New York City, back to Texas and then two Southern states and then back to Texas.  He counters that rebuttal by reminding me that he brought me home to Kansas in retirement to the 4th generation family farm where I was raised.  (By the way, I never got a job in a beauty shop, but Larry had received a lot of "free" haircuts!)  The quote above ends with these words:

As a drop of oil on the sea,

you must float,

using intellect and compassion

to ride the waves.

    Before all of this starts sounding too romantic and personal, I must quote what the book author shared  immediately before this.  He wrote, "Marriage is not a love affair, it's an ordeal."  I did not show that quote to my husband!

   Today, in 2022, about 50% of married couples eventually divorce, and 60% of second marriages end in divorce.  For third marriages it is 58%.  America has the 5th highest divorce rate in the world.  As for Kansas, we rank 9th among the states at 9.2 %.  The statistics in this paragraph are from World Population Review Website.  The other statistics are from a variety of sources.

    The history of divorce is interesting.  The 1st divorce is believed to date back to 1706 B.C. in Babylon.  The name comes from the Latin term "divortere," meaning to turn differet ways.  The first known divorce in the American Colonies was when Anne Clarke was granted a divorce from her absent and adulterous husband by the Quarter Court of Boston, Massachusetts.  Kansas was more generous that many state courts, for unlike the states where the husband could basically take the children away from their mother in a divorce, Kansas recognized the woman's right to her children as well. 

    In thinking about the challenges of marriage, I should not overlook the shy efforts of our Prairie Bachelor, Isaac Werner, whose courtship efforts never quite got far enough for marriage. 

    Perhaps I should have saved this blog for Valentine's day, but then again, there are many engagements at Christmas!  So, I will close with a final quote from the book:  

When seeking your partner,

if your intuition is a virtuous one,

you will find him or her.  If not,

you'll keep finding the wrong person.

    I am far from the right person to give advice on marriage, and that is not what I have intended to do.  Blame the quote that I stumbled on!  I have no advice to give, but I have told a few couples that our marriage succeeded because there never came a time when both of us at the same time thought a divorce was what we needed.  Sometimes that's all that it takes--one of you who thinks it is worth trying harder to save something worth saving.   Maybe there is something to that old song:  "You've got to give a little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little--that's the story of, that's the glory of love!"



Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Benefits of a Land Acknowledgment


Last week's blog explained what a Land Acknowledgement is and offered some reasons why a person might consider preparing a Land Acknowledgement himself, whether for a public reading or simply for exploring certain issues.  This week I will share some things I learned by taking the challenge of how drafting a personal Land Acknowledgement might be beneficial to me.

I begin with this map showing the reservations in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri.  I was unaware of the number of reservations and of the tribes involved.  Some reservations were negotiated by treaty while others were imposed.  I had no idea of the numbers of reservations in Eastern Kansas.

As well as learning a bit about reservations in Kansas, I also learned that Kansas has a Native American Affairs Office opened in the summer of 2011 to serve as the Liaison for the Governor.  It is intended to ensure that Native American concerns and needs are addresses in state policy making decisions.  I was not aware of that, so it is another thing I learned in my research.

Do you know that Haskell opened as the United States Indian Industrial Training School, with the purpose of educating American Indians and Alaska Natives, focused on elementary grades, but soon expanding through high school, and by 1970 adding a junior college curriculum?  Today it is known as "Haskell Indian Nations University" with an average enrollment of over 1,000 culturally diverse students each semester.  In conjunction with the University of Kansas, Haskel students may complete M.A. degrees, joint M.A./J.D. degrees with KU Law, as well as other provisions for undergraduate minors, non-degree courses, and other admission opportunities. 

Not only KU, but also Kansas State University has a program in cooperation with the Kansas Association for Native American Education (KANAE) to provide guidance for teachers who might not otherwise be sensitive to actions hurtful or embarassing to Native American students. I enumerated some of those things in last week's blog.  Another program, through the college of Veterinarian Medicine at K-State, encourages Native, Indigenous, Tribal, and rural Kansas students to consider Veterinary medicine as a field of study.

Caw Indian Group

These are all things about which I became better informed because of my interest in what Land Acknowledgments might accomplish.  One of the things Land Acknowledgments are intended to do is share information with others, and through my blogs, perhaps I have done that.  Now, if you attend a meeting and the moderator begins the event with a Land Acknowledgment you will understand its purpose.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

What is a Land Acknowledgement?


Caw Family Portrait

Some of you reading this may have attended a meeting during which someone read a Land Acknowledgement.  Others of you may not be familiar with the term.  Some of you may have been confused by hearing a recitation without understanding its purpose.  This blog will attempt to explain.

The origin of Land Acknowledgements may be traced to Australia and Canada, although more recently the practice has come to the United States.  A simple description of a Land Acknowledgement is 'acknowledgement in a formal statement that an event is taking place on land originally inhabited by indigenous peoples.'  The acknowledgements are supported by some and criticized by others who see them as an excess of political correctness or just empty gestures.

My husband often accuses me of having sandy loam running through my veins.  In retirement we  returned to the farm where I was raised, and we rescued a house that was in serious disrepair from having been vacant for many years.  I have written in this blog about picking sandhill plums to make jelly, following the traditions of my grandmother, mother, and now of myself.  I have written about the old cottonwood trees that I have tried to continue at the farm by planting seedlings.  In fact, many blogs have been about history and traditions.  Now I have published a book about the early homesteaders--Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement.  There is little doubt about my own feeling of connection to the land and its history.

However, there were a different people who felt a connection to the land before my ancestors arrived.  I certainly understood the words of Mary Lyons of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, who wrote:  "When we talk about land, land is part of who we are.  It's a mixture of our blood, our past, our current, and our future.  We carry our ancestors in us, and they're around us.  As you all do."  Her words touched me, because I feel that connection to the land and my own ancestors, a connection that I fear is waning among many young people.

But, why would someone like me have any reason to write a Land Acknowledgement?  I certainly do not feel personal guilt for the fact that my great-grandfather took advantage of President Lincoln's effort to settle the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase by allowing Union Soldiers a year's credit for each year of military service in the Civil War toward the five years necessary to secure a homestead.  Might I have any reason to compose a Land Acknowledgment?  While I am not proud of the horrible abuses of indigenous people as they were driven from their land and too often killed for the land they claimed, I did not personally do any of that.  Where is my responsibility? 

Here are some explanations for a Land Acknowledgement that I found online:

To learn the history of the land my ancestors settled, the specific indigenous people that were displaced, and the manner of their displacement.

To understand the emotional reality of the manner of displacement of specific indigenous people, such as treaties (both honored and ignored) and removal of children from their families to attend 'Indian Schools,'

To be more sensitive to offensive things like dressing up for Halloween as an Indian, school mascots, pretending to do Indian dances, using the 'tomahawk chop' at sports events, and teaching historic events inaccurately. 

To become aware of indigenous people in your area and what they are doing to perpetuate the history of their traditions to future generations.  

To learn about organizations in your area that are trying to help their people in a variety of ways and consider whether you might want to help.

Next week I will share some things I learned by following the suggestions I found. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Thanksgiving Wishes

What if today,
we were just grateful for everything.
Charlie Brown

  Wishing all of you a Thanksgiving filled with gratitude and joy!

Wishing all of you a Thanksgiving filled with miracles and gratitude.


Wednesday, November 9, 2022

What is Poetry?

Walt Whitman at desk

Recently, the editor of our local newspaper mentionedthat, "It would be fun to publish locally-written poetry in our paper...I would gladly publish such items, if mailed to me."  As an example from the Pratt Tribune of 1997, she shared Elm Trees, by Reva Obrecht McAnarney, a clever little verse referring back to the well-known poem "Trees," by Joyce Kilmer.  However, in McAnarney's poem it is not the beauty of trees that is described but rather "...A plant as stubborn as a tree.  The elm tree is the tree I mean, It often makes me want to scream..."  When I think of poetry, what comes to mind is the use of language in a beautiful way, often rhymed.  However, it was apparent that McAnarney was intentionally humorous.  If our newspaper editor was actually inviting poetry for publication in the newspaper, what is poetry?

The first definition that I found was "Prose = words in the best order; Poetry = the best words in the best order."  I didn't disagree with that, but it was a disappointing finition.  What I discovered was that the definition of Poetry is complicated.

The next thing I found was the suggestion that "the greatest poetry in the world is in the King James Bible."  However, according to there are 450 different translations of the Bible in English today.  Wikipedia suggests a list of ten, identifying the New Revised Standard Version as being broadly used, but with the English Standard Version emerging as a primary text.  The intention to make the text of the Bible more understandable for modern readers is understandable, but the beauty of the King James Bible is difficult to match and the reference to it as the world's greatest poetry is difficult to refute.

Edgar AIlan Poe

However, there are many examples of beautiful poetry, so I continued searching for a definition.  In a letter written in 1818, John Keats said, "I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess, and not by Singularity--it should strike the Reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Rembrance."  I like that explanation, but that seems to exclude many types of poems, so I kept looking.

I hated turning to poets long dead for a definition, but modern poets seem to have largely abandoned specific rules, leaving me to turn once more to the past.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge was taught that Poetry "had a logic of its own, as severe as that of science, and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more, and more fugitive causes.  In the truly great poets, he would say, there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word."

One author, in trying to express the difference between prose and poetry, searched for two definitions of old age, one taken from the book "The Biological Time Bomb," and the other quoted from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.  It was a great example of the differences but omitted a specific explanation. 

Mary Oliver
I never found exactly what I was looking for, but poet Mary Oliver came the closest. "Everyone knows that Poets are born and not made in school.  This is true also of painters, sculptors, and musicians.  Something that is essential can't be taught; it can only be given or earned, or formulated in a manner too mysterious to be picked apart and redesigned for the next person."  She explains with this:  "The poem is an attitude, and a prayer; it sings on the page and it sings itself off the page; it lives through genius and  technique."  And in her closing words, "For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry." 

 So much for finding a definition.  All that I have found for certain is that there are many kinds, from Free Verse, rhymed and unrhymed, humorous, Epic, Ballad, Sonnet, Haiku, Cinquain, Accrostic, and many more.  If our local newspaaper editor was serious about publishing local poets, there just may be a closet poet, who has been quietly waiting for an invitation.  I'll be watching.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Forgotten People & Things

 Those of you who follow this blog are well acquainted with Isaac Werner, a once forgotten man whom many of you now know well, whether through reading "Prairie Bachelor" or by following this blog or by attending one of my book talks.  Except as a name on a genealogy chart, until I began my research, even his family had forgotten Isaac.  Perhaps his life would have remained unknown had he not kept a journal, and but for my curiosity about my own family, would anyone else have picked up his 480 page journal and discovered its priceless content?

I am intrigued by history.  As a new bride, I began the genealogy quest for both my own and my husband's family that has grown into three long shelves of research.  Now the question is, what to do with all of that research!  Last April we were in Wichita and my husband spotted a newspaper rack with a Sunday New York Times for sale.  He bought it for me, knowing it would keep me busy reading for several days.  He was wrong.  I am still reading some of the articles I clipped out of it, and one of those articles inspired this blog.

The book of an author named Maud Newton, "Ancestor Trouble, A Reckoning and a Reconciliation" was reviewed in the Times.  Her book was inspired by her own family, but, she admits it is only partially true.  Is it also true sometimes that as we prepare our own genealogy charts, what we put on paper is not always fully accurate.  Do the family secrets get into the genealogy chart, and should they?

I once gave a now long-deceased elderly person a blank book with the instruction, "Please write whatever memories you want to share."  The memories that person chose to share were angry, critical stories about other people.  Only a few pages were written, and nothing was about that person's life, although I'm sure a history that reached back into the 1800s could have provided a wealth of interesting information. For a long time I left that book on the shelf, unsure what to do with it.  After all, I had gifted the blank book with the instruction to share whatever history that person chose to share.    Eventually, I carefully tore those hateful pages out of the book.  Maybe some things ought to be forgotten.  

Sometimes it is objects that provide family history.  In my case, it was my Aunt Helen who gifted me a teacup and saucer that started my collection, perhaps because she had no idea what a girl too old for dolls and not old enough for anything a preteen might want I was transformed into a collector of teacups, continuing my collecting for decades.  I put notes in the cups to describe where I bought them or who gave them to me.  What would that collection reveal about me?  Since I don't really know why I continued this collection, why would anyone else know?

Author Maud Newton suggested that there is much to discover from the 'deeper the connections, deeper questions' of material objects once held close by her ancestors," but as my examples of family objects described in this blog show, sometimes those forgotten people and things leave behind more questions than answers.  Maud Newton used the term "ancestor hunger" to describe that quest.  The popularity of genealogy research is proof that many of us share that curiosity. 

I will close with a picture of one object that does connect me with the memory of my father's oldest sister.  Verna died at the age of 22, but the picture of her dresser set is dear to me.  She was a young teacher who died from consumption, probably contracted from one of her students.  If my only connection with her had been knowledge of her early death, my memory would be sadness.  Instead, her dresser set makes me think of a pretty young woman who must have sat at her dresser many times getting dressed for a party or some other happy occasion.  

Verna's Dresser Set

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A Forgotten Vice President

Do you recognize the bust of this handsome man?  Hint:  He was a Vice President of the United States.  You still don't recognize him?  He was from Kansas.  Do you still need more clues?  He was a Republican and served as Senate Majority Leader from 1924 to 1929, resigning that position to serve as Vice President.

Are you still having trouble?  He was elected to the U.S. Senate by the Kansas Legislature in 1906 (before Senators were elected directly) and then by popular vote one 6-year term from 1907-1913, and then most of 3 terms from 1915-1929 when he resigned to serve as Vice President to Herbert Hoover.

Surprisingly, many Americans today would be unable to identify this man, despite his successful political career.  Until President Biden chose Kamala Harris, he was the first & only Indian American Vice President.  Although he is a man of many achievements, few Americans know much about him.  During the celebrations of Vice-President Harris' election, I actually heard newspersons describing her as the first Native American Vice President.  No, that would be our own Kansan, Charles Curtis!

Not only is he little known Nationally, even many Kansans know little about him, and that is a shame, for he had a rich life.  From his mother he was 3/8th Native American--Kaw, Osage, and Potawatomi. His mother died when he was three years old, and from her he had learned to speak French and Kanza.  After her death, his father married briefly but then joined the Union Army and was captured and imprisoned.  

The influence of both sets of Native American Ancestors played a role in his development, both encouraging him not to remain on the reservation but rather to attend school in Topeka.  He studied for and was admitted to the bar in 1881 and served as Shawnee County Prosecuting Attorney in 1885.

Recognizing that the importance of this Native American Kansas Office Holder had been neglected, when Bob Dole became Senate Majority Leader he remembered his fellow Senate House Majority Leader by hanging a portrait of Curtis in his office.  In a speech in honor of the occasion, Senator Dole said, "Since he (Curtis) was the last majority leader from the state of Kansas, we thought it would be appropriate to hang his portrait in my office."  Adding, "I was elected majority leader on 60 years to the day after Charles Curtis got the job."  The artist of the 48" by 36" painting was identified as Elie Cristo Loveman, and the painting had been borrowed by Sen. Dole from the Kansas Historical Society, who had been given the painting by the estate of Curtis' sister.

Charles Curtis' home was once in an elite Topeka  neighborhood, although today the neighborhood has gone through various changes.  The house itself has also gone through various uses, including housing an insurance agency, a rooming house, and a historic home for touring.

Charles Curtis is a significant Kansan in his own right, but the role he played as a Native American reaching the next-to-the-highest office in the nation, just a heartbeat away from the presidency, should make us respect preserving and protecting his home in Topeka.

f.n.  Senator Dole stated at the hanging ceremony that little was known about the artist who painted the Curtis portrait.  In my research for this blog, I could find nothing more about the artist.  However, I did find an artist with a very similar name.  Elie Cristo-Loveanu, a Romanian by birth, who was an artist and teacher in New York City at the time of his death.  He lived  from July 27, 1893 to April 28, 1964.  Because of the close similarity of names and the lack of information about the painter, I am curious whether there might have been a confusion concerning the spelling of the name on the painting.  This deserves more research!


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Grand Army of the Republic


If your male ancestor came to Kansas in the late 19th Century, he was likely a Union Veteran.  Over half of the 30,000 eligible men in the young state of Kansas volunteered for the Union Army, one of the highest volunteer rates in the nation.  After the war, many from other states took advantage of the Homestead Act, which gave Union Veterans one year's credit toward the required five years necessary to prove up a homestead claim for each year of Union service.

Many of those Union Veterans joined the GAR, the Grand Army of the Republic.  Founded in 1866, it was a nation-wide fraternal organization with over 500 posts registered in Kansas by the turn of the century, the combined number of members in Kansas totaling more than 20,000.

They promoted parades, patriotic education, and lobbied for veterans' pensions.  In our local communities we can see many GAR markers on the cemetery graves on Memorial Day.  As years passed, membership in the GAR declined, and the last Kansas GAR post disbanded in 1943.

Perhaps because the Civil War was fought in the South, the tradition of remembering the Civil War has remained stronger there.  Movies, like "Gone With the Wind," have depicted heroic soldiers in Gray.  The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War in 2011 was far more celebrated in the South, with remembrances of all kinds, than in the North.

Yet, it was the North and the Union Army that preserved the United States of America.  Soldiers serve at the command of their officers, and in response to decisions made by the leaders who took them into war.  It is only natural that families honor their own soldiers for the role they were required by others to play.  But, it is important that we remember that Lincoln's Army saved the Union.

P.S.  I am teaching an Osher class on November 1st.  The title of my class is "Three Powerful Women of the Populist Movement," and the class is virtual, from 10 o'clock to 11:30.  I know that some of you have taken my classes in the past, and I hope to see some familiar and some new faces for this class.  With the background of  all the things that were happening in the late 1800s, I focus on three important women!  You can visit University of Kansas Osher classes to learn more.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Making Reading a Habit


This is one of my favorite pastel portraits, done many years ago of two children who now have children of their own.  When I do children's portraits, I like to ask them to select a favorite toy, or in this case, a favorite book.

I thought of this portrait when I saw a recent headline in the newspaper:  Reading Scores Fell Sharply!  The reference was to scores during the pandemic which, acording to this article, found reading scores at their largest decrease in 30 years.  The article described students in 2022 as performing at a level last seen two decades ago.

We happen to live in a rural area in Kansas which is fortunate to have several wonderful libraries.  Respect for public libraries goes back several years in which successful families donated the money for public libraries that have continued to thrive.  I have written in this blog about several of those libraries, and right now, one of those small town libraries is building an addition!

How can that be, I thought?  I have seen the photographs of proud children in our community in the newspaper and on face book, holding a favorite book above a caption reading "1000 Books Before Kindergarten."  With so many libraries available, why wouldn't children staying at home during covid find the perfect opportunity to do lots of reading.

Of course, the 1000 Books includes books read to them.  Although 1000 books is a lot, early books for children do not take long to read.  A book a night means 365 a year, and at that rate more than 1000 can be read in three years.  I have gifted enough books to young children to know that they love getting a book.

Maybe with so many wonderful libraries with great Librarians and communities that support those libraries, I have taken them for granted.  In Macksville, Director Jody Suiter raised funds for 11 years for an addition to the city library and the community responded.  Brinda Ortiz, President of the Library Board, saw on a local TV channel, KAKE News, the opportunity to apply for a $500 grant awarded during the 10 o'clock news by a Law Firm in Wichita.  She sent in her nomination for the Macksville City Library.  What a thrill when they received the grant.

The Macksville Library was established in 1935, but the current library was donated by Irma Smith in 1958.  Her decision to purchase and donate the U.B. Church & School and relocate it in Macksville on a lot donated by  A.G. English provided not only a permanent home for the City Library but also the preservation of a historic building in the community.  The success of her gift is shown in the simple fact that it was outgrown. The new addition will provide new programing space, a restroom/storm shelter, a new children's area, and a meeting place for other activities in the communty.

I have personally benefitted from wonderful libraries in our community and have spoken at most of them in various programs.  A special "Bravo!" to not only Macksville, but also St. John, Pratt, and Stafford in particular, as well as other nearly public libraries.  I know that they found ways to continue making books available during covid.  I hope that helped local families avoid the drop in reading skills that some other places experienced.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Beast with English Roots

The Fearsome Gerry-mander
In the 18th Century, English politicians had devised the practice of manipulating voting districts to create what they called "rotten boroughs," containing only a few eligible voters.  The objective was to have few enough eligible voters to effectively pay off how they would vote, creating a  "buy/win" seat in Parliament.

Somehow, the dishonest voting practitioners must have slipped onto boats headed to the United States, because what we now know as gerrymandering began almost immediately in America.  The staff of The Boston Gazette created what they named The Gerry-mander to describe what began in Massachusetts.  Voting districts were manipulated into exaggerated shapes by the political party in power to all but insure an advantage of likely voters for that party's candidates in major districts.

The use of gerrymandering, as we now spell it, waxed and waned in various areas and at particular times, but it has never gone away.  After the Civil War, when Black men gained the right to vote, the practice became particularly dominant in the South.  In 1874 a southern state not only drew ridiculous shapes, but went even further to create the first non-contiguous voting district.  The extravagant  shapes had not been enough to rouse the attention of the U.S. House, but a non-contiguous voting district got their attention and they refused to seat any more members elected using that voting district pattern.  A few years later, the state tried again, with one winding district called a "boa constrictor" district. 

Tricks such as these discontinued but were replaced by threats of violence, poll taxes, and other voting suppression.  Once these states established districts that accomplished the voting patterns they wanted, they often maintained those voting districts for years.

Feeding a Beast may cause it to Turn on You--Beware!

Then, in the 1960s, along came the Earl Warren Supreme Court, which ruled that all state voting districts were required to have roughly the same populations.  In addition, after every 10-year census was taken, states had to adjust their districts so that each of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives represented close to the same number of people.

During the ups and downs of those years the Gerry-mander, was pronounced like Gary.  However, the pronunciation of his name gradually changed to Jerry, although he spelled it Gerrymander.  More significant than the change in the pronunciation of the name was an even more aggressive change in the Gerrymander's personality with the arrival of computer technology!  With the help of computers it became much easier to strategically draw maps to give particular advantages to individual parties.  As one political expert has said, "In some ways it's politicians picking their voters as opposed to voters picking their politicians."

But that isn't fair, you may be thinking.  Isn't there some control to keep the majority party from controlling election outcomes entirely.  You will be relieved to learn that there are some remedies.  Using the 2022 redistricting map for Kansas, three different maps were proposed--one by the Republicans, one by the Democrats, and one by a voter advocacy group.  The initial Legislature's recommended maps were vetoed by the Governor, and law suits were filed.  

This blog isn't about what redistricting maps were ultimately chosen or who did or didn't get the maps they wanted.  What it is about is that who we send to our state houses to take care of our particular state's business is important.  It is about who we elect to the benches of our courts.  It is about the importance of the work done by citizens and organizations willing to donate their time to pay attention to what is going on in state and national capitals and show up to peacefully bring their ideas and criticisms to produce something better. 

The Gerrymander beast is very seductive to those in power, but he has no particular loyalty to any one party forever.  History teaches that majorities can shift, and the power of the Gerrymander shifts with it.  Gerrymandering is not utilized by any one party.  It s an election strategy employed by both parties.  Neither is it limited to particular states.  Gerrymandering was challenged in Kansas last spring.  I did research for the blog about that time, but I delayed posting because I did not want it to appear I was stating a personal opinion.  

Ironically, by putting off posting, I am right in the middle of a Supreme Court case involving Alabama.  It is not my intention to focus on the Alabama case; however, you will likely be hearing news about that case in weeks to come.  The Alabama case is less about political parties and more about racial quotas.  Even so, it is that old Gerrymander Beast confronting the U.S. Supreme Court, and further threatening the Voting Rights Act. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Fun at the Kansas Book Festival

 The only bad thing about the Kansas Book Festival is that you can't be everywhere!  While books are the main reason for the festival, music and activities are also part of the fun.  Last year I was honored to be one of the recipients of a Kansas Notable Book award at the Festival.  This year I was invited back to the Festival as a speaker.

Our panel was moderated by well-known author and journalist, Max McCoy, who selected wonderful questions that allowed us to share important topics from our books.

My co-speaker was Steve Cox, from Pittsburg State University.  His book, When Sunflowers Bloomed Red, deals with socialism in Kansas during the late 1800s and early 1900s, so while Prairie Bachelor deals with populism, there were issues that overlapped to discuss.  A special surprise was the arrival of Steve's co-author, R. Alton Lee, although he preferred not to participate on our panel.  

What a wonderful audience we had.  There are at least four different program choices for each hour-long session, and attendees are free to go to whichever programs they wish, so you do not know until people begin arriving how many will be in attendance.  We had a full house, as you can see...about seventy people in the audience, which was exciting.  They were attentive, laughed at my jokes, and even asking a few questions.

Most were strangers to me, but I had a few special guests...people from FHSU, special life-long friends from Kansas City, a relative of Isaac Werner, and my wonderful husband.  (I never give the same talk twice, so at least he does not have to sit through the same thing over and over!)  

I also had one very special surprise.  It is the tradition at the Festival for the spouse of the Kansas Governor to present the Notable Book Awards, and last year First Gentleman of Kansas, Dr. Ted Daughety, presented me with my award.  I was very pleased that this year he made the effort to attend our session and even to drop by after the session ended to say "Hello."

Releasing a new book during Covid has been rather challenging, but I have so many people to thank for hosting and attending virtual talks, book club signings, and book talks.  At least two people have attended 3 or 4 talks, telling me that since I never repeat a talk they have enjoyed attending more than one.

My next book signing is at Watermark Books in Wichita, a wonderful independent book store.  It is located at 4701 E. Douglas in Wichita and my talk will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 13th.  The public is welcome, so if you live in Wichita or are nearby, I hope you might come.

Thank you for so many of you who have supported my talks, have bought my book, or have enjoyed reading it from your local library.  Now, people from coast to coast know who Isaac Werner is and what a significant role Kansas played in the late 1800s, championing things that our two primary political parties implemented, things we take for granted today that were ideas from the People's Party.