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.

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