Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Next Week we Vote

 Next week we vote.  Some of us already have.  A month later my book, Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Homesteader and the Populist Movement will finally be released.  A decade of research for this book, as well as much of my life as a law student, an attorney, an author, and incidentally as the granddaughter of a member of the Kansas House have obviously focused my attention on our nation and how we govern ourselves. 

Isaac Werner's 480 page journal

Much has changed since my great grandfather, a Union Soldier, took advantage of the benefit of a year's credit toward getting title to his claim for each year he served the Union, in his case, reducing the time it took from five years to prove up a claim to only two.  He was not alone.  Many Union soldiers returned to their former homes and found that opportunities had changed, so they decided to come to Kansas to start a new life.  Their loyalty to Abraham Lincoln, their commander, often influenced the choice of Union soldiers to vote republican, a decision that many, including my own family, passed down through the generations.  I doubt that Kansas remaining a dependable republican state would surprise my great grandfather, but a different political change certainly would--women getting the vote!

My research about the Populist Movement, and the People's Party they created--the most successful 3rd party this nation has ever seen--included many discoveries not only about Kansas but also about Texas, where the populist movement began.  Kansas was slower to the movement, but ultimately became its heart.  Women lacked the vote in both of those states, but they were active in the movement.

Not only have women gained the vote, but in this election, one of our national political parties has chosen a female running mate for it's Presidential nominee. Kansas has a female governor, and both Kansas and Texas have female candidates making a strong challenge to their male political opponent in seeking election as their state's senator in Washington.

Stained glass window, Dole Institute 

Because this is a Presidential election year, as I often do, I have looked to the past to learn what past presidents have said about the responsibilities of the one occupying the highest office Americans have to give.  The words of three of America's presidents follow below:

Lincoln:  "We the people are the rightful masters of both congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution."

Truman:  "When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things.  You have to remember it isn't for you.  It's for the Presidency."

Nixon:  "With all the power that a President has, the most important thing to bear in mind is this:  You must not give power to a man unless, above all else, he has character.  Character is the most important qualification the President of the United States can have." 

The responsibilities thrust upon those who are privileged to hold that office are great, but all of us have an important responsibility as well--to Vote! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Habits at Home during the Coronavirus

Admit it.  Is is sometimes noon before you finally bother to get out of your pajamas to get dressed?  Most people will admit that their usual habits have changed, but what is interesting is how similar our responses to the coronavirus can be.

For some reason, only a few days into the coronavirus interruption of our lives, I decided it would be a good idea to add yeast to the grocery list, so I could bake our own bread.  Guess what.  I was not the only one with that "unique" idea, and the grocery store shelves everywhere had empty spaces where the dry yeast should have been.

Then I decided the time spent at home was perfect for cleaning out closets and organizing shelves, and finding the courage to throw out or give away things we needed to admit we would never use again.  But on face book it seemed that many people had the same idea.

With no one stopping by for a visit it was easy to skip some of the things we might have otherwise done if drop-by guests might appear.  The 4th of July didn't bring any fire works and Labor Day was just another day.

 But now it is Halloween, and I love to decorate for Halloween.  And, so I did!  Here are my Halloween Decorations that I have put out just for you!  Well, really just for me, I suppose.  But my husband seems to enjoy them, and the cat definitely does, although he keeps getting into trouble because he thinks they are toys for him to bat off the table.  Whoever they are for, I hope you enjoy them.  Happy Halloween! 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Foot Dragging My Way to Zoom!

As the coronavirus arrived in America, I sewed a pair of masks for each of us, lined with interfacing to improve the filtering, and began my separation from the world.  The television, e-mails, and face book became my primary connections beyond our front yard.  A friend invited me to join a group meeting virtually for their regular Friday afternoon happy hour, but I was reluctant to use my laptop for socializing.

Our televisions connect us with the world.

However, when the Willa Cather Foundation decided to proceed with their annual Spring Conference virtually, I was challenged to give the virtual world a try.  It was wonderful!  I found myself reaching beyond the group of friends we always look forward to meeting each spring, connecting with them, but also connecting with strangers.  As a result, I joined a writing group established during the conference.  We meet virtually once a month to do flash writing inspired by quotes from Cather.  We select the quote and then each of us writes for 20 minutes, following which we read aloud what we have written, with comments then received from the others.  Our small group spans the nation, from coast to coast and in between.  We may not create any master pieces, but we have fun.

Having gained a little confidence in my Zoom skills, when I received an e-mail from Baylor University School of Law, inviting me to a Zoom 3-day conference, I signed up!  Speakers from across the nation spoke virtually, and it was a wonderful opportunity to update myself about changes in the law, since I am no longer practicing.  James A. Baker III was to have been the keynote speaker, but he had to cancel when both he and his wife contracted the coronavirus.  I was disappointed...until I learned who had stepped in to take his place.  Although the speaker pinch-hitting for Secretary Baker is a lawyer, John Grisham is now far better known as an author.  I was thrilled to be a virtual member of his audience.

John Grisham speaks virtually.

Secretary Baker and his wife both recovered from the coronavirus, and I recently attended, virtually, his wonderful interview, scribbling notes as I watched and listened.  When he was asked if his legal training and experience helped him in his political roles, he said that his training as a lawyer was especially beneficial in his role as Secretary of State, naming specifically in negotiations and in observing details.  He also recommended an old saying:  "Prior preparation prevents poor performance."

Some of you have even watched my own virtual interview, something I could not have imagined doing only a few months earlier.  It is now posted on my face book page.  I have changed my opinion about Zoom, and it occurred to me that perhaps some of you who follow this blog have been reluctant to try using Zoom.  I have never set up a zoom meeting, but I have been invited to zoom meetings set up by others.  A zoom account is not required if you are strictly joining a group that has been established by someone else.  As a participant, you simply wait for the person who set up the meeting to send you an e-mail with the link to the meeting. You click on that and it will take you to a screen where you watch for the host to invite you to join the meeting.  You click on the notice to enter, and you will then join your host and the other participants.  It is all that easy!

I realize that those of us staying at home because of the coronavirus are certainly not isolated in the same sense as my Prairie Bachelor, Isaac Werner.  He had neighbors living closer than any of our neighbors, and more neighbors in his community.  But in the decade and a half that he lived alone on the prairie, his twin brother was the only family member who visited, and he spent only two nights at Isaac's homestead.  There was rural mail delivery, I believe about twice a week.  There was a telegraph in town, but I don't know how the messages were delivered to homesteaders.

Perhaps all of us have had the opportunity during the past several months of gaining a better appreciation of what it might have been like to leave family and friends behind and move to the unbroken prairie to stake a claim.  Isaac Werner wrote letters and looked forward to the answers he awaited from his correspondents.  Surely he could never have imagined sitting before a computer screen in Kansas and having a live conversation with his twin brother back in Pennsylvania!

P.S.  Am I the only one who checks out the book shelves and the art hanging on the walls behind the people being interviewed from home during the virtual interviews being shown on television?  It is unusual to have a glimpse into the homes of reporters and interview guests.  I can't resist trying to read the book titles on the shelves in the background.  Plants and flowers are also popular for filling the background, and it is interesting to see what room in the house they choose for their interview!


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Precious Handkerchief

Like many little girls, I adored my father.  He was a farmer, and I loved trailing after him as he worked around the farm, and walking out to the field to ride the tractor with him.  But the story I am going to share involves playing beside him as he worked at his desk, the desk that had been his own father's and now is his lawyer grandson's desk.  He would spend time there paying bills or filling out farm reports or keeping the church records as church treasurer.  Sometimes he would need to get into his safe, where he kept important things, like insurance policies, deeds, abstracts, his school diploma, his favorite marble shooter, and the most precious thing of all--a special handkerchief.

Verna's initialed dresser set

My grandparents had seven children--first three girls, then my father's older brother and himself, and finally two younger daughters.  The oldest sister was Verna Pauline Beck, who became a school teacher, following in the tradition of her grandmother and her paternal aunt.  It was believed that Verna caught tuberculosis from one of her students.  TB, as it was often called, was a very dangerous disease in that time, and it sickened and killed the poor and the wealthy alike.  For a time Verna was treated in a sanatorium, but eventually she was sent home to be cared for by her family.  Doctors believed that fresh air was the best cure, and Verna was confined to the front screened porch.  From what we have learned with the coronavirus, her isolation may have been as much to protect her family from contracting TB as it was to help her get well.

Verna Pauline Beck, age 3

My father loved spending time on the porch with his beloved sister, Verna, a young adult and my father a pre-teen, twelve years separating the siblings.  The family believed Verna's health was improving, but on January 19, 1926, Verna died.  She was 23 years old.

Verna's Graduation Photograph

My father idolized his oldest sister and they had become especially close during those months together on the porch.  It was during that time that Verna embroidered the treasured handkerchief that my father kept in his safe.  I can still recall the tears glistening in his eyes as he carefully showed me the beautiful gift from his sister--his first initial "R" embroidered in a silk thread of a soft pumpkin color on a silk handkerchief of a muted brown, with a delicate thread border of turquoise and gold.

Ralph Beck's precious handkerchief from Verna

My father was devoted to his family and to service to his community.  He had no hobbies other than the games our family played.  He did not play golf or tennis, nor did he hunt or fish.  The cribbage board my father and brother enjoyed, the ping-pong table, the board games, and other family games had already been acquired.  When Fathers' Day and Christmas and his birthday rolled around, it was always difficult to select a gift for him, and I am sad to admit that too often I settled for a nice cotton handkerchief set with the machine embroidered initial "B" as his gift.  He was always gracious in thanking me for my predictable gift.

When my father died and I was helping my mother go through his things, I found in  the top drawer of his chest a collection of unopened gift handkerchief boxes.  I am sure that he carried a nice handkerchief whenever he wore a suit, but as a farmer he had more need for a red bandana to take to the field with him than all of the monogramed handkerchiefs I had bought for him over the years.

Ralph G. Beck, about age 3

All that I can hope is that my unnecessary gifts reminded him of the hours spent on the front porch with Verna, watching her doing her beautiful needlework.  If my gifts served to cause him to recall those precious days with Verna, then perhaps it didn't matter that he already had a drawer full of unopened handkerchiefs. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Fashion Influence of Men

Who can forget those handsome actors from the 1940s and the 1950s, some of them continuing their popularity even longer--Cary Grant, Humphry Bogart, Gregory Peck, James Stewart to name a few of my favorites, still charming a new generation in black & white movies shown on television.  They were fashion trend setters, and rarely did you see them in a suit or sport coat without a pocket square.  Until researching this blog, I would have said "handkerchief," but that would have been a fashion mistake.

A pocket square is a decorative handkerchief that is worn with a suit or jacket, usually a square 10" to 17", made from silk, linen, or cotton.  Popularized by these trendsetters of an earlier era, the pocket square remains fashionable today.

Men contributed to another popular trend during both WWI and WWII, when hankies were printed with various patriotic symbols for service men to give to wives and girlfriends.

In the 1930s, the depression limited money for ladies to spend on their wardrobes, and often the only option for changing her outfit was to change her handkerchief.  During WWII women served the war effort by giving up silk stockings and silk handkerchiefs so the material could be used for parachutes.  This was the era of improved color-fast dyes, and rather than the fancy needlework and expensive fabric, women began buying colorful printed hankies.  These became part of ladies' wardrobes, tucking them into pockets of suits and dresses, tucking them into belts, or tying them at their throat.

These printed hankies could change with the seasons or have a holiday theme.  From Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, to Valentines Day, or even a hint to remind friends of a lady's traveling to special places, the decorations on hankies were nearly endless. 
Some of them were folded with ribbons for gift giving, and some even had their own gift cards.  My mother-in-law loved receiving cards and letters, and she saved them in empty shoe boxes.  An entire wall in her sewing room had shelves on which were saved row after row of her treasured cards and letters.  Of course, when she moved to assisted living, her cards could not go with her, and it nearly broke her heart.  

We put some of her cards into storage for her, and after her death, I found a birthday card with a pretty hankie inside.  Perhaps she had overlooked the hankie inside when she tucked the envelop into a shoe box before putting it on the shelf.  Or, perhaps she thought it was just too pretty or too filled with loving memories to use.


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Handkerchiefs to show a lady's talents


Once there was a generation of ladies who knew the talents of needlework, and those talents were often displayed in their handkerchiefs.  In my collection  are examples of crochet, both on borders and open work on corners.

The time and effort, as well as the skill, meant that many of these handkerchiefs never came near a nose.  There was an old saying:  "One for show and one for blow."  The clever ladies in Japan sometimes had pockets in their kimono--the left sleeve for a less expensive, plain hankie and the right sleeve for the fashionable, elegant one intended only for show.

In the era of the coronavirus, we can identify with the mothers of the 1800s when teachers, placing more emphasis on hygiene, began inspecting the handkerchiefs children brought to school each day, requiring one that was fresh and clean.  Mothers respected the idea of enforcing better hygiene, but sending their children to school each day with a fresh white hankie was challenging.  Their solution--a clean white hankie for the teacher's inspection but another one in their pocket made from colored calico or other scraps of fabric less expensive and easier to wash.

Surprisingly, printed handkerchiefs date back to the early years of our nation.  It is said that Martha Washington created a handkerchief to promote her husband.  One collector has a handkerchief from England that is printed with King Edward's abdication speech.

My favorites are the white-on-white hankies, with the decorative changes in texture and subtle designs in various white threads.  One in my inherited collection was even turned into a doll for gifting.

If you missed last week's blog, you may want to scroll back to it to see the elegant needlework of my grandmother, Maude Wilson Hawk.

You can click on images to enlarge.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Early Handkerchief History

 I find odd sources of inspiration for my blog posts, and with autumn here, my inspiration came from adding tissues to our shopping list, knowing pollen season was approaching.  Who knew that sneezing would inspire a blog?  I was surprised by how interesting the history of handkerchiefs is.

I have inherited quite a collection of handkerchiefs from my mother and mother-in-law, as well as some from their mothers.  The detail at left and the full image below are images of the handiwork of my grandmother, Maude Wilson Hawk.

The history of handkerchiefs dates back to China, when kerchiefs were used to shield heads from the sun.  Interestingly, the British also were known in modern times to tie the corners of a handkerchief and wear it on their head at the beach.  The name change from kerchief to handkerchief was intended to distinguish between a square cloth as a head covering and a square cloth meant to carry.

The romantic use of a handkerchief dates to the Middle ages, when a knight would tie a lady's handkerchief on the back of his helmet for luck.  Handkerchiefs became a symbol of wealth and status, so valuable that they were listed in dowries and bequeathed in wills.  Persians reserved handkerchiefs for the nobility, and in other cultures aristocrats emphasized their status by including elegant handkerchiefs in their portraits.

A tradition passed down to our own time, connected with both romance and status, is the beautiful handkerchief for brides.  In America, the bride's handkerchief probably originated in the South, and in some families the bridal handkerchief is passed through generations.  Using silk and linen for handkerchiefs was part of the display of status.  The Handkerchief  Shop online displays beautiful bridal handkerchiefs embroidered with special inscriptions.  My favorite is a gift to be given by the bride to her  father. Brides also use family handkerchiefs as the "something old" to carry. 

Queen Elizabeth I, whose handkerchiefs were embroidered with gold and silver threads, took the romance of handkerchiefs to higher levels, creating a whole vocabulary of handkerchief gestures.

Next week's blog will bring handkerchief history into the 1900s.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Agrarianism--What is It?

 There is an odd thing about time.  When we look at a clock, time seems to be a very definite thing.  Yet, I remember when I was a child and was told something I eagerly looked forward to would happen in an hour, it took forever!  If it was a special occasion several days away, I thought it would never arrive!!  Yet, today when I recall a special event in the past, it seems like only yesterday, and days on my calendar fly by.

Time has the same impact on words.  Agrarianism in its time referred to a philosophy or political philosophy that placed a superior value on rural society and the independent farmer as a way of living, than was placed on urban society and paid workers.  The imagined simplicity of a rural life was romanticized as more ideal than the complexities of city living.  In America, Thomas Jefferson idealized farmers as "the most valuable citizens," and in Europe John Locke and others reinforced the idea of the Romantic Era depicted in the bucolic paintings of that time.  China also had a philosophy of a utopian society of farmers.   

In Isaac Werner's time immigrants fled crowded European cities and places where their lowly station in life seemed inescapable, to seek a new life in America, as uncertain as that life may actually have been.  Once here, many of them  were confronted by the same urban, crowded tenements and wages reduced by the availability of desperate men willing to work for even less.

The opportunity to travel West and stake a claim had great appeal, but society was changing, spurred on by the industrial changes during and after the Civil War.  It was this era in flux during which Isaac Werner came to Kansas to stake a homestead and a timber claim.  The image of the "landed gentry" may have motivated many families to stake their claims in anticipation of building a farming dynasty for their children.  Instead, it  became a struggle for survival.  America had transformed into three classes--the Wealthy, whose lifestyles gave us the term "The Golden Age," the new Middle Class in towns and cities who lived comfortably 'in the middle' between great wealth and a struggle for survival, and the Working Classes of farmers, miners, small ranchers, and laborers.

As a result of that economic shift, "Agrarianism" took on the meaning of political theories involving land redistribution.  Some governments around the world seized land from the rich and distributed it to the working poor.  In America during Isaac's time a popular author, Henry George, advocated abolishing land ownership altogether and instead having land rent.  Land could not be bought and held as an investment, but it could be rented, and improvements to the land and what was produced on the land would not be taxed, with the land rent replacing taxes.

Today agrarianism is a word with a small "a," used primarily as a way to describe farm life in a positive, somewhat idealized way.  It tends more toward a philosophical or literary theme, with a hint of political thought from the past.

So why did I choose grain elevators from four different eras to illustrate this blog?  My point is, time is relative.  Some of you who follow my blog remember the small grain bens or wooden granaries at every farm.  Later, successful farmers with more land might have their own grain elevator and towns had small elevators like the one in the second image.  By the mid-century the huge concrete elevators towered over the plains, glowing in the sunlight in pristine white.  What had once seemed irreplaceable was not, and the concrete elevators are graying and cracking as huge metal bins replace them, both commercially and on farms whose own production requires massive storage.

Things that once seemed eternal disappear and often, as it happens, we hardly notice.  Time moves on, and to the young it moves more slowly than it moves for the elderly.  Perhaps that is because the young have less to remember and more years ahead to expect. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Western Frontier

I have written blogs about "the wide open  spaces" celebrated in poems, music, and stories, and it is true that when homesteaders like Isaac Werner arrived there were almost no trees and it seemed they could see forever.  Yet, what could be more "wide open" than the flat farm land of today, with far fewer farm homes to interrupt the horizon than existed in Isaac's day.  Each homesteader could claim one quarter section of land, which meant that each square mile could have four different homesteads claimed by four different families.  The typical township was 6 miles wide and six miles long, with 36 square miles or 144 quarter-sections of land that could be homesteaded.  Of course, not every quarter-section was good for farming, and there were some timber claims among the homesteads, on which the primary crop was timber.  Not every acre of a claim was plowed, like the pasture south of our home which remained unplowed prairie.

The point is that the image of the "frontier" that many of us have is more related to western movies than to the reality of the mid- to late 1800s when Isaac Werner staked his homestead and timber claim.

In 1893, the year of the Chicago World's Fair, Frederick Jackson Turner published a book titled The Significance of the Frontier in American History.  His theory was that as the line Americans thought of as "frontier" moved West, it  created a particular American identity.  The land was different from where people had lived before, and they had to adapt to its differences in order to survive.

Whether it was clearing trees to make fields or cutting sod to remove the thick roots before crops could be planted, it required strength and courage and determination.  The land seemed wild, and the traditions and rules of places from which they and their ancestors had come did not seem to apply in this new land.

  They were compelled to live in crude structures, especially where there were no trees nor stone to use for building their homes.  Some felt it necessary to carry a weapon, whether for defense from animals or from lawless men.  Emergencies, such as  prairie fires and illnesses, had to be fought on their own.  Doctors and lawmen were often too far away to call, and fires too immediately threatening to seek help beyond their own community.

Turner's Thesis was, and perhaps still is, that the American character became more democratic, more intolerant of hierarchy, more individualistic, and more violent.  However, he also theorized that Americans were less artistic and less scientific.

His last two conclusions were ironic, since Turner presented his thesis to the American Historical Association at the Chicago World's Fair, which was intended to display the inventiveness and creativity of the young nation to the rest of the world.  The fairgrounds themselves, the displays of fine art, the inventions--including electric lights, were on display to show the world that Americans  were not less artistic nor less scientific.  Rather, the people of this nation were equal to or even ahead of other nations of the world.

However, Turner's Thesis is interesting to consider.  Did the challenges that our ancestors faced change the nature and character of the American people in ways that linger even today? 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

A Writer Writes!

 Recently I completed my responsibilities in preparing "Prairie Bachelor:  The Story of a Kansas Homestead and the Populist Movement" for publication by the University Press of Kansas scheduled for release December 4, 2020 and available for pre-order now.  So, what does an author do when she hands her book over to the publisher for the last time?  One answer is obvious...she continues the weekly blog she began in 2011.  Thank you so much to all of you who have followed my blog for all those years.  I have many more stories to share.

Until this summer, I had never participated in a writing group.  The Willa Cather Conference in June was held virtually, and because I did not want to miss the conference, I was forced to enter the world of online virtual meetings.  After much trepidation, I signed up and had a wonderful time.  At the close of the conference I saw an invitation to join an online writing group, which would meet monthly via Zoom, using quotes from Willa Cather's books and short stories as prompts to inspire writing.  It sounded like fun.

I joined and have participated in three meetings with other writers from both coasts and the heartland.  The objective is to use a Cather quote to inspire the topic about which we will write.  Our compositions can be fiction, personal biography...whatever Cather's quote inspires.  After 20 minutes for writing, we take turns sharing and receiving comments from the other members of the group. The objective is not to complete a polished composition but rather just to exercise our imaginations and writing skills, and then share positive and supportive comments.   

Our group includes writers who have published books, papers, encyclopedia articles, and work related to professional lives, in one case as a professional dancer.  When I mentioned to the group that I had written fiction that I put away and never showed to anyone, my fellow writers encouraged me to get one of my stories out of its box and work on it.

That is how I came to retrieve a Legal Mystery Novel I had written years ago, even before I "met" Isaac Werner.  Obviously, I have not been idle, since I have posted a blog every week since October of 2011, during which time "Prairie Bachelor" was completed.  But with the group's encouragement, I found my Legal Mystery Novel.  I specifically remember crafting the opening passage as I walked from my car to Fresh Market when we were living in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I had completed a first draft, but when I discovered Isaac Werner's Journal, my Legal Mystery Novel was forgotten.

Actually, that novel had gone into a box when we moved from North Carolina to Texas, and was still in its box when we moved from Texas to the farm in Kansas.  All of our moving made it difficult, if not impossible, to find the manuscript.  With Isaac now handed over to the publisher, I found my long-ago fictional hero, criminal lawyer, Kent Shaffer.  My husband has put up with sharing my time with homesteader Isaac Werner, and just when he thought he was rid of his literary competition, here comes a a fictional lawyer to steal my attention.

As a lawyer, I chose to write books related to the law--a book about the constitutional protections of faith and respect for differing beliefs (Should the Children Pray? published by Baylor University Press); a book about the impact of laws on the new options for creating families (Private Choices, Public Consequences, published by Dutton, a Division of Penguin); and most recently, a book about the Populist Movement that created our nation's most successful third party (Prairie Bachelor:  The story of a Kansas Homestead and the Populist Movement).  Each of these books is related to my love for the law and our constitution.  Now I have returned to a manuscript with a fictional criminal lawyer as its hero.  

While my books are very different, all of them relate to my love and respect for the amazing legal system our nation has, whether constitutional law or civil and criminal law.  I don't know whether  my Legal Mystery Novel will ever be published, and I don't have any idea about how to market a novel, but I share this week's blog to answer the question:  What does a writer do when her book is finished?  The answer is "A writer writes!"

Images:  At top, things from my Baylor Law School years, and at bottom, my Baylor Law Diploma and the certificates for admission to the Bar in Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina, both images shared in this blog because of its subject:  my love for the law.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Brutal Price was Paid

Isaac Werner had kept a diary much of his life, and the journal incorporated into Lynda Beck Fenwick's history (published for release in coming months by the University Press of Kansas, "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Homesteader and the Populist Movement,") was labeled Vol. 5th.  That journal contained entries from 1870 and 1871, but was abandoned until 1884, when Isaac resumed writing daily entries.

It was in 1884 that the Medicine Lodge Bank was robbed by a surprising group of robbers at 9 a.m. during a heavy rainstorm.  Because of the early hour and the heavy rain, there were no patrons in the bank.  Only E. W. Payne, working at his desk, and the cashier, George Geppert, who was working on the monthly accounts, were present.  A description of the events was provided by Rev. Frieldly, who happened to be watching from across the street and who alerted the Medicine Lodge Marshall.

When the four robbers entered the bank and shouted to the two occupants 'put up your hands,' the bank president complied, but the cashier reached for a revolver.  Perhaps the four robbers had intended to steal the money without doing any physical harm, but outside the Marshall began firing, as well as the cashier's having reached for a gun, which resulted in gunfire that killed the cashier and wounded the bank president.

A posse quickly formed and rode in pursuit, soon joined by reinforcements.  Surrounded  by the well armed posse, the bank robbers surrendered, and the identities of the robbers was as shocking as the morning bank robbery itself.  The gang members were not only men they knew but men respected in their community.  The leader was Henry Newton Brown, the Marshal of the town of  Caldwell, and the other three robbers were Ben Wheeler, Assistant Marshall of Caldwell; William Smith, a well known cowboy who worked for the T5 Ranch, and John Wesley, another well known cowboy working for Redwell and Clark.  Marshall Brown had an early outlaw past; however, he had changed his ways to serve as a Marshal in Texas before becoming the Caldwell lawman, where he had an excellent reputation.

Ben Wheeler, the Assistant Caldwell Marshall, had a particularly good reputation, but he was believed to be the one who had killed George Geppert, and his past popular reputation made him only the more hated for what he had done.  Many among the posse wanted to hang the four men immediately, but the Sheriff refused.

They escaped the hangman's noose for only a few hours, for at the signal of 3 shots fired into the air that night, a crowd of armed men demanded the bank robbers overpowered the sheriff, and took the men.  Marshal Brown momentarily broke free and ran, but shots from many guns struck his body.  Assistant Marshal Wheeler was badly wounded before being caught, but he and the other two men were taken to a tree and hanged.  

Cashier George Geppert had died at the scene.  The bank president, E. W. Payne died the following day, at the age of 38, leaving his wife Susan and nine children.  In addition to being the bank president, he was also the owner of the local newspaper.

There were robberies and attempted robberies in Isaac Werner's community as well, which he recorded in his journal, but no one was killed in the course of those robberies.  Most of us have the impression of those early years being filled with gunfire, and the assumption that every settler had a gun.  Some men did, but the evidence from Isaac Werner's journal and his estate sale records seems to establish that he did not own a gun.

The peculiar role that guns played in that era is well shown in the Medicine Lodge Bank Robbery.  First, men who gained a reputation as killers were often hired as lawmen, believing they were well prepared to fight the lawless and to discourage those who might have otherwise attempted breaking the law.  But, what made the irony of the circumstances in the Medicine Lodge failed bank robbery is Marshal Brown's letter to his new wife during the hours the bank robbers were in jail.  "April 30, 1884.  Darling Wife:  I am in jail here.  Four of us tried to rob the bank here...I want you to come and see me as soon as you can. ...This is hard for me to write this letter, but it was all for you, my sweet wife, and for the love I have for you. ...If a mob does not kill us we will come out all right after while.  Maude, I did not shoot anyone, and did not want the others to kill anyone, but they did, and that is all there is about it.  Now, good-bye, my darling wife.  H.N. Brown." 

His letter asked her to visit him and to have her picture taken for him, and he authorized her to sell everything except his Winchester rifle, asking her to be sure to get it when she came to visit him.  He was very proud of that rifle, as it had been given to him with the following engraving:  "Presented to City Marshall (sic) H.N. Brown for valuable services rendered on behalf of the Citizens of Caldwell, Kas."  He had been right to assume someone might steal it, for someone did.  It was later found in a collection in Texas, but today it is owned by the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka, Kansas.

Although Brown knew that the cashier had been killed and that the banker had been wounded, he had believed that although he might serve some time he would eventually be released and reunited with his wife.  Instead, he never reached his 28th birthday.  Men in Isaac's community who went to prison for their crimes were also well known, respected men.  These misguided escapades by seemingly law abiding men make sad and perplexing stories for present readers.   

Thank you to the 2006 Peace Treaty Special Edition newspaper for the published information collected from old newspapers and Peace Treaty editions, and brochures from First Bank of Medicine Lodge for the information included in this blog.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Prohibition in Isaac's Time

John St. John
The Stafford County seat of St. John, Kansas was named after John St. John.  When the citizens of the new town sought their charter, they anticipated the future quest for the county seat, and with the idea of using the governor's name for their town as a way to gain an advantage over other contenders for the seat, St. John was chosen as the town's name.  There were contenders, but the town of Stafford was the strongest challenger.  Whether the name of St. John proved decisive or the fact of the town's central location was significant to voters, St. John became the county seat.

Stronger than having a county seat named after him was John St. John's reputation for opposing liquor.  His political rallies sometimes seemed a bit like revivals, with all the quoted scripture and prohibition rants.  Motivated by Governor John St. John's leadership, Kansas voters adopted a constitutional amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages.  There were exceptions for medical, scientific, and industrial uses.  Many Kansans found alcohol to be good medicine!  Isaac Werner's journal contains several references to prohibition rallies, but also to public drunkenness.  Ladies who spurned drinking nevertheless utilized various health "remedies" containing alcohol for their ailments.

Carrie Nation, Credit: White Studio
John St. John is not the only Kansan known for opposition to alcohol.  In fact, Carry Nation is probably among the best know opponents.  Unlike the women who worked through the Women's Christian Temperance Union, who were also famous in their day for blaming alcohol as the cause of poverty, unemployment, and other social issues, their efforts are less well known today than the more dramatic exploits of Carry Nation.  Some WCTU ladies joined in Carry's less extreme demonstrations.

Carry used prayer--not quietly doing her praying at home or in church but rather on her knees in front of saloons, alternating prayer with singing and curses at the saloon keepers.  She had her supporters, and saloon keepers often left town rather than confronting not only Carry's antics but also the threat of prayer meetings held in front of their establishments.  Her reputation for violent action is not fiction.  She once borrowed a sledge hammer from a blacksmith and smashed a druggist's keg, rolling it into the street to pour the contents in the gutter and set the alcohol ablaze.  On another occasion she loaded her buggy with stones and attacked the bars in a neighboring town with her rocky projectiles.   

Carry Nation Home, Medicine Lodge. Credit Ammodramus
In Wichita she concealed a rod and cane, along with some large stones, beneath her cape to attack the fancy saloon in the Hotel Carey.  That assault resulted in her arrest and lodging in jail.

However, the weapon for which she is most famous is a hatchet.  When she accused a county attorney of taking bribes from saloon keepers, he sued her for slander and won the case.  Her fine was only $1, but the judgment against her for costs of the suit were $113.65, a significant amount in those times.  She paid the costs by selling souvenir hatchets.

In 1976 the Carry Nation Home in Medicine Lodge, Kansas was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, where the public can tour her house and see items she used during her career battling alcohol. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Byers Ablaze

Clark Beck, Byers, Class of 1954
In Isaac Werner's time there was no Byers, which came about a decade later.  In Isaac's time the neighboring town just about a mile south of his homestead was Naron.  Naron was never very big, but there was a general store, a school, a church, and some small businesses--possibly located in the homes of the few residents of Naron.  On a hill outside of the town was a cemetery maintained by the Woodmen of the World, an organization about which I have written in a previous blog. The town of Naron is gone, but the cemetery remains, and occasionally there is still a burial.

What put an end to Naron was the railroad.  When the tracks were laid about a mile south of Naron,  the old town died and a new town by the railroad tracks was born.  Many of the Naron businesses and residents simply moved to the new location, but the name did not go with them.  Instead, the new town was christened Byers, named after the president of the Anthony and Northern Railway, O. P. Byers.

Byers 1st & 2nd Graders in 1950
Probably the first business built was the grain elevator on the east side of Main Street, as farmers were eager to have a place for selling and storing their crops, and with the train for shipping it seemed like a worthy business.  The State Bank of Byers was promptly incorporated, and the post office opened for business on May 6, 1915.  Plans for a new school building were quickly made, and the dedication of the school was held September 9, 1916.  The town continued to grow and reached its population peak in 1924, with 227 residents.

By 1933 the Byers State Bank closed, and many families suffered.  The railroad ceased operation in 1940.  The demand from farmers for machine shops kept those going, in fact to the present day, and the school and a few businesses were surviving into the 1960s.

History of Byers, KS, Wilma Carr Beck
I had married and my husband and I were in college, both of us with jobs that kept us from coming home very often.  However, we were at the farm visiting my parents when my father suggested that we go into Byers for a little entertainment one evening.  I could not imagine what he had in mind.  My Aunt Wilma operated the post office in the little grocery store that had once been the bank, but she was closed in the evening, and about the only other business other than machine shops was Walt Fisk's barber shop.  I was very surprised when my father pulled up in front of the local beer hall!  I had never been inside that business and was shocked that it was our evening's destination.

My father bought the four of us our drinks--Cokes probably--and probably paid for our dominoes.  Of course, we could have played dominoes at home, but he made a little adventure for us that night.  Apparently, what I had known as "the beer hall" was being operated as a restaurant at that time, and we may have had hamburgers.  I don't remember.  

Byers, KS train depot and elevator
Not long after our evening at the Byers Pool Hall, located under the Odd Fellows Lodge on the second floor, the east side of Byers Main Street burned.  According to an old clipping on which someone has written "March 23, 1966," with the headline "Blaze Levels Byers Block," the fire began in the ceiling of Roberts Restaurant at 4:45, and the restaurant, the IOOF Hall above, Walt Fisk's barber shop, and the old city hall burned to the ground in a little over an hour.

The Volunteer Fire Department came from Iuka but could do little but put out grass fires started from sparks.  Everyone counted the town lucky that when the blazing second floor collapsed on a propane tank below, the safety pop-up valve worked, avoiding a huge explosion.  In addition, someone had thought to rescue the records from the old city hall before the fire made that impossible.

Soon after the fire, the school was consolidated with other small schools and relocated, the post office was eventually closed, and even the Methodist Church was no longer used for services.  Surely all of those things would soon have happened anyway, but the fire seemed a dramatic ending to the brief life of a once thriving community, now diminished to primarily the L&W Repair shop, a hunter's lodge in the old bank, a fire station built since the fire, and a few family homes. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A Science Lesson from Mother Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A Pratt Banker's Fortunate Escape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Isaac & the Populist Movement Coming Soon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 9, 2020

St. John's New Mural, #6

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #5

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

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

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

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

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

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