Wednesday, July 1, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #4

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #2

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 4, 2020

St. John's New Mural, Series #1

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Traditional Memorial Day Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Celebration for Isaac!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more about the book visit

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Isaac's Embarrassment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

When Spam has Nothing to do with the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Webber's Mill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Thoughts on Covid - 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Defining Courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detail.  Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

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

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Tonia's Bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Piano Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Travels of a Book

Last week's blog shared Isaac's connection with Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad, but this week's blog shares a personal story involving  the book.   To gain a better sense of who Isaac Werner was through acquainting myself with what Isaac read, I ordered several books that were in his library, and one of those was The Innocents Abroad.   In selecting the books I ordered, I chose editions published as near the time Isaac would have bought them as possible.  Some of the books date back to the late 1800s, but books published that long ago were not always available.  I had to settle for a copy of The Innocents Abroad from the early 1900s.

Warren R. Austin
It is a beautiful book with a red linen cover and a lovely gold crest of ears of corn encircling the initials "MT."  Some of the books I bought show rough treatment and poor storage, but my copy of The Innocents Abroad is almost like new.  However, its condition was not the only surprise that the book had for me.  On the inside fly leaf was written in pencil:  "Bought in the Mark Twain Country.  Read on "The Alton" St. Louis to Chicago, 12:05 noon October 9, 1932.  On Campaign itinery for Hoover & Curtis, I spoke last night at Hannibal, MO, Mark Twain's town.  There is a memorial group erected there to Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn, the first ever erected to literary characters.  Warren R. Austin."

Cabinet:  President Hoover & Vice President Curtis in center
It will probably not surprise you to learn that my curiosity led me to research who Warren R. Austin was.  Born November 12, 1877, he was an American politician and statesman, a lawyer appointed State's attorney of Franklin County at the age of 25, followed by numerous political roles:  Chairman of the Vermont Republican State Convention in 1908, Mayor of St. Albans in 1909, a member of the United States Court for China in 1917, while also serving as a commissioner for the Second Circuit from 1907 to 1915.  After other prominent positions, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1931 following the death of the prior senator, but was re-elected twice more, in 1934 and 1940.  He resigned from the Senate in 1946 to accept appointment as America's 2nd U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a position he held until January of 1953.  He died December 25, 1962.

How Warren R. Austin's copy of The Innocents Abroad came to be available through an online book seller I suppose I will never know, but it is an interesting addition to my library.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

When Travel is Curtailed

Mark Twain in a Fort Worth, TX Park
One of the books in Isaac Werner's library was The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims' Progress, Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City's Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land  by Mark Twain.  It purports to be an ordinary travel book, but with Mark Twain as the author, it is certainly not.  In fact, one of the examples from the book is Twain's contrasting of what he experiences from what travelogue authors had mislead him to expect.  He also pointed out the profiteering and the inaccurate presentation of history at locations they visit.

While it might be expected from reading The Innocents Abroad that Twain had little regard for foreign travel, that is not the case.  In fact, in his Autobiography of Mark Twain he wrote:  "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindness."

At this historic moment when the Coronavirus has resulted in travel bans around the world, it is a good time to reflect on Twain's words.  Does travel open our eyes and minds to people and places different from ourselves and the places from which we come?

Certainly travel is greatly changed from1869 when Mark Twain's book was published.  Isaac Werner was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and he traveled west to Illinois shortly before or just after Twain's book was published.  There, Isaac was a druggist, and later a partner in a milling operation.  In the later 1870s,  he was attracted by the offer of free land in Kansas to travel further west to claim a homestead and a timber claim.  Yet, his longing to see more of the world was apparent from the travel books he bought and the stereoscope image cards he purchased.  His journal makes clear, however, that he never travelled more than a days journey from his claims once he settled in Kansas.

Yet, Isaac traveled through the books in his library, protecting his mind from "prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindness" through reading, with books to learn foreign languages, books about art and history, and books authored by foreign writers.

As we are warned against travel and encouraged to remain at home as much as possible to avoid exposure to the Coronavirus, perhaps it is a good time to read some of those books we have put off reading!  If your book shelves offer nothing tempting, today we have the option of reading books online.  What would Isaac have thought of that! 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Truth vs. Interpretation

Cicero: Credit, Liam Clarkson-Holborn
For a decade, I have been doing research for my manuscript about the Populist Movement of the late 1800s.  I was fascinated to learn that such a significant event that began with the Farmer's Alliance in Texas and reached its peak with the People's Party in Kansas, (spreading to other states primarily in the South and the Central states), was so quickly forgotten.  The People's Party is the most successful 3rd Party movement in our nation's history; yet, many...perhaps most Americans (except those of you who have followed this blog) are not aware of its importance. Nor, are many Americans aware that their ancestors were participants in this movement.

My focus on a political movement from our past has made me especially aware of how people can receive the same information and interpret it differently.  That makes reasonable political discord challenging.  As satirist  Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) wrote in Gulliver's Travels, it might do a politician some good to "...have half his brain swapped with half the brain of a member of the opposing party."

The Populist Movement and the creation of the People's Party arose very quickly, and it fractured and faded just as quickly, less the result of opposition tactics of the Republicans and Democrats but more from divisions and disagreements within the People's Party itself.  The two old parties succeeded in a sense by implementing some of the Populist ideas, so that the need for a third party to get those things done disappeared.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I collect quotes I find particularly thought provoking.  Too often, I jot these quotes down on scraps of paper or whatever writing surface is at hand when I discover the quotes.  Eventually, I copy them into a file on my laptop.  Sometimes, before I get them copied into that file, I end up with quotes from unrelated authors and eras that give particular reason for reflection.  When I found the three that I am sharing today in the back of my desk drawer, they challenged me in exactly that way.

Friedrich Nietzsche - 1861
Two of my great grandfathers were friends of Isaac Werner, whose journal has inspired my manuscript over the past decade.  (A third great grandfather was also an acquaintance but lived outside Isaac's immediate community.)  One of those neighboring great grandfathers was a Union Soldier in the Civil War, and like so many of those soldiers, he came to Kansas and staked his claim with the advantage of crediting his 3 years of military service to reduce the 5 years otherwise required to mature a homestead claim, resulting in only 2 years needed for him.  And, like most Union Soldiers, he voted Republican, the party of Lincoln.  My other great grandfather in Isaac's neighborhood emigrated from England, and at that time had only his wife and two young daughters, the youngest being my grandmother.  A son and another daughter were later added to the family.  He became active in the Populist Movement and supported the People's Party.  One a staunch Republican and the other an active Populist, these two men brought differing political perspectives to their voting during the Populist Movement.  Did those differing perspectives impact their political decisions, and how might they have aligned themselves with the two quotes that follow?  

"What is morally wrong can never be advantageous, even when it enables you to make some gain that you believe to be to your advantage.  The mere fact of believing that some wrongful course of action constitutes an advantage is pernicious."  Marcus Tullius Cicero, (106-43 BCE)

"All things are subject to interpretation, whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth."  Friedrich Nietzsche.  

As the quotes of Swift, Cicero, and Nietzsche have shown,--men whose lives span several centuries,--the distinction between how we define "Truth" and "Morality" has been and always will be complex when mixed with politics.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

You owe how much!?

Reading from the County Captal newspapers
In explaining Kansas farming debt, their Senator wrote:  "crop prices had gone down while labor was costing the same and purchased items were costing more."  Continuing, he said, "if a farmer had given a mortgage for $1,000...he could have paid for it with 1,050 bushels of corn.  Ten to seventeen years later it would have taken, without interest, 2,702 bushels to have paid it."

That quote comes from a book by Walter T.K. Nugent, quoting populist Senator Peffer.  The senator was describing a theoretical mortgage given in 1870, with rising interest rates during the 1880s and 1890s. These rising interest rates, falling crop prices, and the costs of rail road shipping were front and center during the years of the Populist Movement of which Isaac Werner was a part.  Farmers had mortgaged their farms when crop prices were high and interest rates were low, but the mortgages were short term and were renewed at increasingly higher interest rates.  Kansas led the nation in the number of mortgaged acres.

Means of harvesting in Isaac's time
Does any of that sound familiar?  As I read a recent article in USA Today, I could not help thinking of Isaac.  He had double-dipped in mortgaging his farm, he had mortgages on his horses, and he owed notes to merchants.  Yet, he had avoided going into debt for about a decade, until he finally realized he needed a horse to break more sod for fields if he were ever to make his farm a success.

His debts to merchants were secured by notes.  More people today put their debts on credit cards.  

According to the USA Today article I read, the average American consumer has $6,194 in credit card debt, up from the previous year.  The average credit card interest is 14.87%, and that is actually a low figure because it does not account for interest-free loans.  If they are excluded, the assessed interest rate averages 16.88%.

When that rate is applied to Americans' average credit card debt, the average consumer is paying $1,045.55 annually.

Hand Planting
What has been so interesting to me in doing research for my manuscript about Isaac Werner and the Populist Movement, and in transcribing Isaac's 480-page journal, are the similarities of the issues in Isaac's time with the ongoing issues of today.  The anger aroused about the influence of wealthy and powerful persons on our government in Isaac's time is equally argued today.

I will close with a quote from the County Capital  in St. John to which Isaac subscribed.  In writing about the influence of wealthy railroad tycoons on politicians in Washington and state capitals, a subscriber's comment was published on March 25, 1892.  The subscriber declared:  "We would just as soon be robbed by a thief as a politician."