Wednesday, July 21, 2021

A Life-long Passion for Learning


Titles Isaac owned, Credit: Lyn Fenwick

Those of you who follow this blog are already aware of Isaac Werner's life-long passion for learning.  At the time of his death, I documented over 400 books in his library, and by that time he had given away many of his books.  It was a remarkable collection for that era, especially for a man who was far from wealthy.  The books in the photograph above are titles Isaac owned with publication dates near the dates Isaac would have been acquiring his library.

The life-long passion for learning continues for many people even today.  Next week I begin my virtual Osher Class through the Lifelong Learning Institute at Kansas University, a part of KU's Professional & Continuing Education.  KU and other universities across the nation offer a diverse collection of courses to participants age 50 and older, although all ages can join.  Those teaching the classes are chosen from having "the academic qualifications, a passion for the topic, and a love of teaching."  Most classes are a single meeting, but the classes may be three separate gatherings.  With Covid limitations, the current classes at KU are virtual.  I am pleased to have the opportunity to share the rise and fall of the People's Party in three classes, beginning next week.  My research for "Prairie Bachelor" included far more information than appears in the book, and I am excited to share that history.  Obviously, I meet the requirement for "a passion for the topic."

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes were begun by Bernard Osher, who envisioned noncredit courses with no assignments or grades for adults over the age of 50.  Grants from the Bernard Osher Foundation make his vision come true at over 120 universities and colleges throughout the nation.

The life-long passion for learning is recognized by other opportunities for seniors, and among those is the not-for-profit Road Scholar travel program.  Road Scholar offers, according to their web site, "5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and all 50 states, serving more than 100,000 participants per year."  This may not reflect their scheduled adventures during Covid, but their purpose is to provide opportunities to experience the world "by meeting new people, touching history where it happened and delving deep into the cultures and landscape we explore."

Education for seniors happens across the nation.  There are many Americans who choose to go back to school after they retire.  NBC news reported that students over the age of 35 made up 17% of all college and graduate students in 2009, with an expectation that the number would rise.  Certainly their survey was not confined to seniors, but retirees make the decision for many reasons, including those who failed to complete their degrees and do so in retirement.

Community and state colleges are also recognizing the desire for continuing learning, with tuition waivers for those over 60 at some schools, while others offer the opportunity to audit classes without paying, and although they gain no credit, they do gain knowledge.

Our own community has Club 62+ Senior Program for senior citizens in the service area of Pratt, Kiowa, Barber, Kingman, Harper, Comanche and Stafford counties.  Among the offerings at Pratt Community College are "casino trips, special speakers, and murder mysteries."  You need to check with the College regarding their current schedule.

Among the benefits of continued education are Social Connections, Cognitive Improvement, and Skill Enhancement.  Isaac Werner knew all of that.  Not only was he passionate about reading, he was also involved in his local community in various organizations, and he traveled to St. John, Pratt, and Stafford to attend lectures and other programs.  Life-long learning is nothing new!   

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Truth or Half-truth

 Recently I was on face book, looking at posts by my friends, when I came across the picture on the right above.  The caption beneath the photograph stated that at one time it was legal to mail children by attaching stamps to their clothing.  'Oh My Goodness!' I commented, but then I added, 'have you checked the accuracy of this image?'

My friend did not reply, and later I turned to Snopes to see if they knew the answer.  Like many things in life, I learned that the image is a little bit true, but not exactly. 
In 1913 the U.S. Post Office introduced Parcel Post, which for the first time provided the handling of mail that had been considered too heavy for normal letter mail handling.  As a result, it was legal to mail children, with stamps attached to their clothing.  In fact, that was done!

However, although a newspaper reported a family attaching the requisite 53 cents required by their daughter's weight to mail their little girl, the trip was only to her grandmother's home, most likely with the child having been entrusted to a mail carrier the family knew.  It is likely that the few examples of mailing children were jokes or arrangements for a short journey in the care of a trusted mail carrier.  Quickly a law was passed to make such events illegal.

With the help of Snopes, my question was answered, but I remembered my husband describing how, as a child, he would visit his mother, who worked at the local small town post office, and he remembered having seen chicks that were shipped to local farmers by mail.  That made me wonder whether live animals were still shipped by the U.S. Postal Service.

Thanks to the advertisement of 'Backyard Poultry' shown above, I learned that Baby Chicks can still be shipped by Mail.  In fact, as the Poultry ad explains, because newborn chicks are still digesting the yolk sacks from the eggs, they are especially well equipped to survive, if they are kept warm and arrive within three days at the most.

Sadly, in the fall of 2020, when requested funds were withheld from the Postal Service, there was a slowdown of mail delivery, and thousands of baby birds died.  This news was confirmed at

At the Postal site, I also discovered the requirements for shipping other live animals through the mail, such as Live Bees, Adult Birds, Live Scorpions, and Small, Harmless, Cold-Blooded Animals.

Who Knew!!!  The requirements are very specific, including general requirements that they must be able to make the trip without need for food, water, or attention while in transport, they must not create sanitary problems, and they must not create obnoxious odors.  If you are curious about more details, you may check the U.S. Postal Explorer.

As for the picture posted on face book by my friend, it may have truly depicted the mailing of a child, and that was briefly possible in 1913; however, the full reality of those cases would indicate that such mail delivery was not evidence of neglectful parents who took their child to the post office to be weighed and slapped the required stamps on their clothing and carelessly sent them on their way! 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Sandhill Plum Season Again!

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

 The 2019 sandhill plum season was terrific, and I can't remember how many jars of sandhill plums I made.  We shared them with friends across the United States.  

Unfortunately, 2020 there was a late frost and it killed the plum crop.  We had shared most of the jelly I canned, and we were down to our last jar this spring.  We had a light freeze this year, and I was afraid that there would be no plums again.  I watched carefully, and I was delighted to see that the freeze had not killed the plums.  I could hardly wait!

Then, disaster struck!  Someone sprayed along both sides of our road, where I love to pick the plums.  If you remember an earlier blog, I photographed one particular area where the plums are particularly large.  That is one of those large plums hiding in the sprayed bushes.  Obviously, even if a few of the plums survived the spraying, we could not have risked eating them.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick  (More Sprayed bushes)
My heart was broken.  A few days later I crawled over the fence and went into the pasture to see if there were plums there.  Fortunately, there were, and although picking in the overgrown pasture is not as pleasant, at least I knew were would be plums.

Our pasture is unplowed prairie, and since we don't have cattle, the plum bushes have practically taken it over.  We keep planning to get rid of some of the bushes, but we keep putting it off.  The creatures love it, and both times I walked up to check on the ripening plums, I scared up a deer.  

For those of you hunters who read my blog, it is posted NO HUNTING.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
My husband kindly mowed around some of the bushes so I would not have to walk through the overgrown pasture, and when we checked on the progress of the ripening, he went with me to pick.  The plums on the right (more ripe) are from that first picking, and as you can see, they are smaller.  It took a great many of them to make only 5 1/2 small sized jars, and the taste is not as sweet.  That day's picking also resulted in a special surprise for me--two ticks!  Fortunately for me, I discovered both of them while they were wandering around on me looking for a juicy place to bite!  They have now gone to wherever ticks go when they die!

With only 5 1/2 small jars, and one of those definitely going to my sister-in-law, who had shared her cherries with me, my husband offered to go by himself to pick enough plums for an least another batch.  He was the one who discovered a bush in the pasture with the nice large plums like I usually pick along the fence--the ones I thought were lost forever!

The nice big plums needed some ripening, but in a couple days I was able to mix them with some of the smaller ones already picked, to make more jelly.  We should have enough jelly to get us through the winter...and maybe even another year if frost kills the 2022 crop!  The pasture has enough plums to share, for some of you local jelly makers, but cover up well and check for ticks as soon as you get home.  And, if you neighbors do decide to come picking, please check in at the house to let us know its you driving through our yard.  

(c) Lyn Fenwick, "State Fair Jelly

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Memories That Should Not Fade


I have a clear recollection of first reading "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" by Katherine Anne Porter.  My husband had retired and we were enjoying traveling.  As he drove, I often read, and I happened to be reading that short novel by Porter.  It is a tragic story, and although it is fiction, it is based on the flu epidemic of 1918.

That was the first time I had heard of that epidemic that killed so many people.  It struck during W.W. I and impacted soldiers in particular, as well as civilians.

Until the international tragedy of Covid in 2020, the so-called Spanish Flu was the severest epidemic of the modern era, although in earlier history there had been other devastating epidemics.  I was shocked that I had never registered the 1918 flu epidemic prior to reading the novel, and I wondered whether I had heard of it and paid too little attention.  Is it possible that a novel  caught my attention more strongly that an earlier historic account had?  I hope not, but sometimes reading history seems less personal than it should, and a story touches us more strongly. 

Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

The second example of my learning of a dreadful historic event was when I was a young lawyer in my thirties.  A fellow attorney in my office was from Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I cannot recall the context of his remarks, but he referenced the burning of homes of Black residents by White members of the community.  Perhaps other lawyers were present who seemed to be familiar with the brutal history of the event, and they did not choose to continue the conversation.  For whatever reason, the conversation changed course and I did not learn at that time just how horrible it was.

I had not realized the extent of the crimes, nor that lives were lost in the burning of the Black Community.  It was quite some time before I learned the full context of the violence.  Today I am aware that both Black and White citizens of Tulsa died, but it was the Black community that was destroyed, both businesses and homes, from fires intentionally started.      

There are many other examples of events that have happened that should not be allowed to fade.  We must not turn aside when we hear of such events nor dismiss what happened in the past as insignificant to the present.  Unless we learn from the past, we may fail to avoid the mistakes, cruelties, and wrongs in the future.  History can be our guide, both to avoid the mistakes of the past and to be reminded of the successes.  When we begin to forget that such things have happened, we will forget that they matter.

Americans can be kind and generous, but we must not become blind. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

An Author's Surprise

Some of my research notebooks, Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

As I have explained in book talks and other sources, one of the challenges I faced in finding a publisher was my determination to research as if I were writing a scholarly book but to write for general readers so that it would read like a story.  Academics already know about the Populist Movement, but most of us (including me when I began), know little about the era of our nation's most successful third party movement, the People's Party.  I wanted to write for people who might never read a scholarly book but who would love the story of a bachelor homesteader and his community.

The generation who lived during that time are gone, as are their children and many of their grandchildren.  But, many other descendants are alive, unaware of the courage and hardships of their ancestors.  I wanted my book to be of value to scholars, but it was particularly for those descendants, as well as for general readers who love history, that I wrote "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement."  Bravo to the University Press of Kansas, and particularly to a wonderful editor named Bethany who understood my intensions and fought for them! 

I spent 11 months transcribing Isaac Werner's 480-page journal, but I also did an search on every person mentioned in the journal, and particularly on the Werner family of which Isaac was a part.  The two books to the far left in the picture above, with the bright pink labels reading "Werner" and "Names" contain my Werner family records and the local friends and acquaintances mentioned in the journal.  The research documents on famous people mentioned in the journal are filed elsewhere.

This photograph shows some of the books I used in my research.  Because I researched and wrote over a period of ten years, there were many books, not including the travel, interviews, cemetery visits, and other conventional and unconventional sources I sought.  Blogs over the years have described many of those.  In the 1970s and 1980s several surrounding towns published Centennial books, which were very important to my research.  I also read many books written by the famous and once famous men and women of the Populist era.  Because Isaac Werner wrote in his journal about the books in his own library,  I read those, such as Caesar's Column by Ignatius Donnelly, Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, William J. Bryan's memoir, The First Battle, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, and The Great Revolt and It's Leaders written by the son of the populist newspaper editor in Medicine Lodge.  As well as academic books, I read Shakespeare (whom Isaac loved), the business records of Andrew Carnegie's lawyer that were kept during the Homestead Strike, the records kept during the march to Washington by what came to be called "Coxy's Army," and so very many more reference sources that allowed me to better understand the era about which I was writing.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Among those books was one titled Belpre, Kansas, The Story  of a Small Town, written by David M. Kearney, and published in 1978.  That particular book had belonged to my mother-in-law, along with several of the Centennial books I used.  For some reason I overlooked an author's note stating Kearney's age.  I assumed the book had been written by an old timer.

What a pleasant surprise when someone who attended one of my book talks recently informed me that Mr. Kearney is a living author.  I managed to locate him and we had a wonderful phone visit.  He was pleased to learn that he and his book are referenced in the Bibliography of  Prairie Bachelor, and  footnoted as well.

Here is what I hope:  I hope that someday children not yet born will discover Prairie Bachelor and will pick it up and begin reading.  Maybe they will discover an ancestor's name, or they might recognize the name of a place where ancestors homesteaded.  Maybe they will pick up the book and notice it was signed and wonder why their family had a signed book about a homesteader and the Populist Movement.  

Many living people today are descendants of homesteaders, and many more yet to be born will continue the line of descendants of homesteaders.  I hope they read my book and are proud of the heritage they discover.  Isaac Werner passed the heart of the story to me in his journal, and I hope I can pass the story to a few more generations.  As David Kearney can confirm, an author never can tell who might find his or her book and read it!


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Importance of Small Town Museums

 The title of this blog should be "The Importance of Small Town Museums and Libraries," for our region is particularly fortunate in both regards.  In an earlier blog I featured some of the libraries in our region, so in this blog I will focus more on our local museums.

Recently, I was invited to speak at the Stafford County History Museum, where I did so much research for my book, "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement."  I chose for the theme of my talk, 'The importance of Small Town Museums.'   Michael Hathaway and the board members arranged a wonderful afternoon, displaying some of the reference sources at their museum that I used in my research.  Particularly important was having access to the actual populist newspapers from that era.  Part of that was seeing the political cartoons, and I shared one of my favorites, which is among the images included in my book.  It is called The Plutocrat And His Toy, illustrating the Populist opinion that the large newspapers slanted the news to favor the wealthy.  I surprised everyone by bringing one of my own childhood toys--an example of the toy used in the cartoon.

Of course, without the Lucille M. Hall Museum in St. John, I would never have found Isaac Werner's Journal or have written "Prairie Bachelor."

Another local history museum important to my research is the Pratt County History Museum, where I spent an afternoon searching through a box of unlabeled photographs from Pratt's early years, hoping to find a photograph of Isaac (who mentioned having his photograph taken in Pratt by a local studio) or photographs of some of his friends.  The box was filled with interesting vintage photographs, but I did not find any images of people mentioned in my book.  However, much later I received an e-mail from the museum director at that time, Marsha Brown, who amazed me by remembering that one of the names I had mentioned was Dr. Isaac Dix, who was one of Isaac Werner's best friends.  A box of old photographs had been recently donated to the museum, and Marsha remembered Doc Dix as one of Isaac's neighbors.  His image is now in my book.

Not only was I. H. Dix an important figure in Isaac's community, he moved to Pratt after he had matured his homestead and timber claim and resumed his medical practice there.  He became a significant member of the Pratt community, and as you can see, in 1909 when the engraved plaque at the Courthouse was installed, his is among the names of the County Officers.

This past month I am so very fortunate to have been invited to speak by the joint library and Filley Museum, the Larned Trail Center, the Ida Long Goodman Library in St. John, and the Stafford History Museum.  Plans to speak at other local museums and libraries have been discussed for future dates.  I have so many reasons to be grateful for such community support, but I must add how all of us in this region have so many reasons to be grateful for our wonderful resources.

Bravo to all of the wonderful directors, staff, board members, and volunteers who make our access to such resources possible.  And, don't forget the many people in the past who also contributed to creating and sustaining those resources.

I have only one more local program scheduled, which will be at the Nora Larabee Library in Stafford at 7 p.m. this coming Friday evening, June 18, 2021.  I am especially pleased that some of you have chosen to attend more than one of my book talks.  Each one is different, and at the Larabee Library I will  include a power point presentation, with some new images and highlights from the book.

I am so grateful for all of the community support--encouraging me for years to complete the book, and now reading it and supporting me with your kind comments, and in many cases, your participation in the wonderful arrangements for the book talks. 

Thank you also to The St. John News for the article about Prairie Bachelor being selected as a Kansas Notable Book by the State Library, and to the online Pratt Tribune for the recognition of the Award. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Nurses in the Civil War

Clara Barton

Probably the name most remembered as a nurse during the Civil War is that of Clara Barton.  Her fame resulted in many locations and  structures being named after her.  Barton County, Kansas is named after Clara Barton, although she had no specific connection with Kansas.  However, many Civil War Veterans homesteaded in Kansas, and it may have been such a soldier who suggested her name for the county.  

At the time of the outbreak of the Civil War, much doctoring was done in homes by family members.  There were only about 150 hospitals in the entire nation at the time the War began.

Dorothea Dix
Another significant woman is Dorothea Dix, who recruited nurses but demanded very specific qualifications:  at least 30 years old, plain looking, dressed in brown or black, and free of curls, jewelry, or hoops.  Her nurses were paid 40 cents a day, plus rations, housing, and transportation.  (Male nurses received $20.50 a month, plus other benefits.)

Both of these women provided significant leadership in establishing the needed organization to the care of Civil War Soldiers.  Dix was eager to employ her organizational skills, but her exacting standards annoyed hospital administrators and nurses, and Sec. of War Stanton removed Dix from that role to avoid the friction she caused. 

Mary Ann Bickerdyke
Mary Ann Bickerdyke was especially skilled as a nurse, having been trained in botanic and homeopathis medicine, as well as having been a private-duty nurse.  She was 45 at the start of the war and gained the respect of the high-ranking officers, acquiring the nickname of the "Cyclone in Calico" somewhere along the way.

Other women, whose names were well known at the time, in addition to thousands of women whose names are long forgotten, simply showed up to serve.  The three women described in this blog are among those particularly recognized for providing the much needed organization for care for wounded soldiers.  However, while the soldiers' wounds needed that care, it was sickness that created the greatest danger to Civil War soldiers.

The thousands of women who came to tend the sick and wounded allowed many of those soldiers to recover and return to civilian life following the War.

The Farmington Cemetery in Macksville, Kansas has 49 Civil War Graves--48 men and one woman.  These are the fortunate who survived the war and came to Kansas at some time later in their lives.  Most Civil War soldiers were between the ages of 18 and 29, and if they survived the disease and injury of the war, they had years ahead of them.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Mary C. Hill, the lone women that is buried in Farmington Cemetery in Macksville, Kansas, after having served in the Civil War, was also young.  She was an Army nurse from 1861 to 1865, beginning her military service at the age of 17.  According to the 1900 census, she married Paul H. Hill in 1862.  Whether they met during the war, fell in love, and married, or they were sweethearts and she became a nurse in order to be near him during the fighting, I do not know.  It was not unusual for women to become nurses in order to be near their family members.

Louisa May Alcott

Many of you will remember that in "Little Women," a telegraph arrived, which read:  "Mrs. March:  Your husband is very ill.  Come at once."  Mrs. March does not hesitate.

She says, "...I must go prepared for nursing.  Hospital stores are not always good.  Beth, go and ask Mr. Laurence for a couple of bottles of old wine:  I'm not too proud to beg for father; he shall have the best of everything."  Those of you who are fans of "Little Women" will probably remember Jo's sacrifice for her father's care.  After having sold her beautiful hair for $25, she tells her mother, "That's my contribution towards making father comfortable and bringing him home."  

"Little Women" shares in fiction the lack of government provisions for the sick and wounded Union soldiers, and the response of wives and family to step forward to provide what was needed.  In real life, Louisa May Alcott was one of those women who became briefly a Civil War nurse.


Thursday, June 3, 2021

Honoring Those Who Served


Cemetery in Macksville, Kansas
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

Since we returned to the farm, my husband has marched with the VFW on Memorial Day.  Over the years the veterans marching have changed, with the W.W. II veterans gradually disappearing from the group.  This year the marchers were reduced in number by the death of a Viet Nam Veteran normally a part of their group, who passed away recently.  It was a challenge to assemble marchers, at a time when fewer local men and women choose to join the military, but as it turned out, the largest group in quite a while arrived on a damp morning, assembling in the mist and drizzle in hopes that by 10 o'clock the weather would clear.

In past years I had dropped my husband off and driven to the cemetery to visit the graves of my many ancestors buried there.  This year I waited to take him to the cemetery, and it gave me the opportunity to watch the men and one woman prepare for the ceremony.  I had not realized the effort taken to polish up a group of veterans who haven't drilled in decades, except for the occasional participation on Memorial Day.

To be honest, they looked a little ragged.  The variety in height ranged from short to tall, and the belts tightened around their waists would have been several inches shorter when they were on active duty, but as they stood there in the damp chill doing their best to drill as they had years before, I thought they looked like heroes.

Last year it poured rain on Memorial Day, and the ceremony was delayed until the following Saturday.  Despite the drizzle, this year they were determined to march, crossing their fingers that the weather would clear.  It didn't.  They drove to the cemetery and began to assemble, surprised by the crowd waiting in the rain to watch the ceremony.  Instead of clearing, the drizzle had increased.

Reluctantly, they decided to cancel the ceremony.  The sound system had been prepared, and there was worry about the danger of combining electricity with drizzle and electrical cords on wet grass.  The minister, under the tent where the electrical equipment was assembled out of the rain, delivered a prayer after the decision not to carry out the program was announced.  People began to head toward their cars.

The veterans were disappointed.  The honor guard had failed to march only twice before, and one of those times was the previous year when they did march on Saturday.  It is a duty taken seriously, a community tradition that is expected.  Two hours later, the weather had cleared enough that they could have marched.  However, the town had planned a nice lunch and interfering with that would have been a different disappointment. 

Those who had come to the cemetery expecting the traditional ceremony may have been disappointed, after waiting in the drizzle themselves.  It certainly seemed unfair to everyone that Mother Nature had spoiled the tradition two years in a row.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Santa Fe Trail Days

Photo Credit:  Larry D. Fenwick

What is it about human nature that sometimes causes us to be excited about distant places, while local sites and events inspire little more than a yawn?  I suspect all of us are sometimes guilty of that attitude.  I know that I am, and that is a shame.

Photo Credit: Lyn Fenwick

One of the things I have tried to do with this blog is to share the sights and history of Kansas, from the towering rock formations of northwestern Kansas to the nearly forgotten Beecher church.  I have urged readers not to hurry past road signs directing travelers to local features, intending to visit another time, if not ignoring them completely.

Some of these Kansas treasures are natural wonders, like Castle Rock, pictured at left.  Others are rich in history, like the Beecher church, that reminds us of the New Englanders that left their home to come to Kansas so that they could join other settlers in voting for Kansas to join the Union as a Free State.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

This weekend, from Thursday, May 27th, to Sunday, May 30th, the Larned, Kansas Area Chamber is hosting its 29th Annual Santa Fe Trail Days.  From Horse Drawn Carriage rides on Thursday to a Community Worship Service on Sunday, with an amazing range of events throughout those 4 days, the event calendar is crowded with activities.  You can go to MORE  INFORMATION @ WWW.SANTAFETRAILDAYS.ORG to discover more activities.

One of those activities, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 29th, is a power point talk and book signing by me, particularly including references to Larned that appear in  "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement."   

I will be speaking in several local communities in the following weeks, and for each location, I will include different information from "Prairie Bachelor," including various images in the power point presentation and readings related to the community in which I am speaking.  If you should choose to attend more than one, there will be new material in each book talk.

Photo Credit:  Larry D. Fenwick
Some of you may read this blog too late for the 2021 Trail Days events, but it will not be too late to take advantage of visiting the Santa Fe Trail Center or Fort Larned, both wonderful places to enjoy and to share with family and visitors, especially when you are hosting guests from other places.  It is a great opportunity to show off our home state.

Maybe I will see some of you at the Santa Fe Trail Center on May 29, 2021, or maybe I will see you at a different book signing, but don't forget that Kansas has many wonderful places to visit.  Thank you to everyone who is being so supportive of my book, not only local readers but readers across America and internationally.  Isaac Werner may have been a forgotten man for many decades, but he isn't forgotten now! 

Monday, May 24, 2021

A Kansas Notable Book!

 Exciting news!  I was just notified today that "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader  and the Populist Movement" has been selected as a 2021 Kansas Notable Book.  To be eligible for consideration, the book must be written by a Kansas author or be about a Kansas-related topic.  The selection is done by the State Librarian.

More details later, but I wanted to share the news!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Reflections on Integrity as Memorial Day Nears


 Remember the game of telephone (sometimes called Gossip) from when you were a child?  The players sat in a large circle or line, and the game started by the leader whispering a sentence into the first player's ear.  The sentence had to be long enough to transmit a significant amount of information but not so long as to be difficult to remember.  The player would then turn to the player next to him and whisper what they thought they had heard.  There could be no repeating.  The message would circulate around the circle or along the line until it reached the last player, who had to state the message aloud.  

The purpose of the game was to see if the message had changed as it went from person to person.  Sometimes the sentence would go around the room fairly accurately, but often it would have changed as it was repeated from person to person.  I often think of that childhood game when I hear someone repeat news they have heard, especially when I have already heard the news directly.  Too often, the details do not match.

Last week's blog included "truthiness," and how words come into our language.  This week's blog focuses more on how misinformation evolves.

    Truth:  the body of real things, events, and facts; Verity:  the quality of a thing that is exactly what it purports to be or is in complete accord with the facts.

When I was a little girl, just beginning to learn how to cook, my mother was teaching me how to prepare a cake mix.  As I added the eggs she told me that I needed to be very careful as I put the eggs into the mix, because (she said) egg shells are like glass, and if a shell got into the cake it could do serious harm (even death) to the person who swallowed it.  Whether my mother told me that just to make me be careful, or she meant it as a tease, I cannot say, but I took it seriously for many years.  Only when our beloved little dog didn't die after eating the Easter Eggs I had decorated did I realize that egg shells weren't killers.

    Honesty:  Adherence to the facts; a refusal to lie, steal, or deceive in any way.

Sometimes memory can shift in the process of telling something over and over, until the distinct memory of the event or information loses its original clarity.  In legal cases that last for months, and even years, with multiple occasions to relate events, it may be hard to retain the original clarity.  Yet, witnesses under oath are expected to be accurate.

    Oath:  a solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one's words.

In past times, when communities were smaller and local reputations for honesty were well known, people were aware that there were neighbors with whom they could do business on a handshake, and others with whom you had better get things in writing.  Sadly, today's world seems to place less value on honesty.  In fact, some would regard a person who would do business on a handshake a fool, and conversely, some see slick dishonesty as smart dealing.  To this perspective I offer one final definition:


     Good Character:  That which reflects notable or conspicuous traits of moral excellence.

With Memorial Day coming soon, my thoughts turn to service, integrity, courage, honor, and truthfulness.  Unlike the game I used as my first example, trying to get facts straight is not a game.  I cannot guess my mother's motive for her egg shell story.  As a lawyer, I place particular importance resolving the accuracy of testimony.  I believe that a lie is far more likely to trip a witness up than the truth.  As for an oath, I regard that very seriously, and from the looks on the faces of the young soldiers pictured above, it appears they do too.

This photograph is one of my favorites.  The veteran seated in the chair had marched on Memorial Day at our local cemetery for many years, and that year, although he could not carry a riffle, he managed to march in with the other veterans.  It was a windy day, as the photograph shows, and his unsteady marching had worn him out, but he took his place between the flag bearers for as long as he could.  Unfortunately, the minister delivering the program that morning had quite a lot to say.  When the older gentleman was asked by a fellow veteran if he was getting tired, he nodded, and pointed into the crowd to a chair, which was brought out to him.  While he did sit down for the rest of the ceremony, that old soldier did not leave his post.  I believe that Memorial Day was his last. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Sadness of Disrespect

Newspaper Rock
 A few years ago, we traveled to Utah, and high on my list of places I wanted to visit was Newspaper Rock.  It is no surprise to those of you who follow this blog that I am fascinated with words--with selecting the right word to express my meaning, with arranging words beautifully, with learning new words, with watching children learn to express themselves, with respecting words enough to care about grammar.  My professions reflect that appreciation, as an English teacher, as a lawyer drafting documents, and as a writer.  Seeing the early Native American petroglyphs was, for me, like the awe I feel entering a wonderful library.  (I don't remember a fence when we were there.)

Reading about the recent vandalization of the wonderful Birthing Rock, containing markings made by various Native American groups over the past 2,500 years sickened me.  Sadly, the disrespectful destruction of such cultural heritage sites is too common.  From the simple ignorance of just wanting to add their name to the carvings without understanding the cultural significance of the ancient place, to intentional destruction and vulgarity, these damages are happening too often.

Goblin Valley State Park

In late March of 2021, a Colorado rock climber proudly posted pictures of the drilling bolts with which he had defaced the sacred petroglyphs of "Sunshine Wall" in Moab.  When other rock climbers exposed the damage he had done to the carvings, he acknowledged the severity of his thoughtlessness.  "It's just poor education on my part, and I do take full responsibility," he admitted in a magazine article.  Although his thoughtless act is a bell that cannot truly be un-rung, he did meet with BLM authorities and filled the bolt holes he had made.

Whether on Indian Lands or in National and State Parks, many of our national treasures, whether created by man or by nature, are in remote locations, difficult to constantly protect.  A few years ago, a Scout Leader, with a group of men that included one with a video camera, entered Goblin Valley and managed to destroy an ancient rock formation by toppling the goblin off the rock on which it had balanced.  He posed proudly for the videographer as he was cheered for his strength by the other men  The photographer documented this video with these thoughtless words: "A New Goblin Valley exists with this boulder down here on the bottom."

Roosevelt & Muir
Whether it is disrespect, criminal intent, ignorance, or racial hatred, irreplaceable Sacred sites and  Nature's treasures are being damaged and destroyed.  Because many of these places are found in State and National Parks, it is natural to think of two men to whom we owe a great debt for the preservation of such treasures.

Speaking in Osawatome, Kansas on August 31, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt said, "There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.  The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value."  (Yes, it is true that Roosevelt did not always adhere to his own advice.)

The second man who devoted his life to preserving nature is John Muir, who believed, "In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks."  In speaking about our National Parks, he said, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity."

Unfortunately, so many of us have realized Muir's necessity that in seeking the experience of nature we threaten the very wilderness we seek.  We take with us the exhaust from our vehicles, the trash from our picnics, the diapers from our babies, and the other remnants of man that our good intentions leave behind.  

In 1903, when Roosevelt spoke at the Grand Canyon, he said, "I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is.  I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon.  Leave it as it is.  You cannot improve on it.  The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.  What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see."  

Grand Canyon Skywalk
It seems that Roosevelt's wish that every American should travel to see the Grand Canyon is the one wish that has come true.  Roosevelt could not imagine today's number of visitors, nor all of the facilities necessary to accommodate the Canyon's guests.  Surely he would not have anticipated a permit given a tight rope artist to walk across the Canyon, nor the intention to reduce its size to accommodate drilling, nor a transparent horse-shoe shaped walkway to safely experience the sensation the tightrope walker must have felt, without the danger of falling.  The Grand Canyon Skywalk, with its glass walkway, now provides that very sensation of walking on air.

Muir's description that "Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn" seems not exciting enough to too many of us in our rush to be thrilled by disrupting the flow of Nature's peace with our dune buggies, carvings, hang gliders, wall climbing, and our sheer numbers.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Being Mindful

 Have you ever noticed how words that you have never noticed sometimes suddenly seen to appear everywhere?  Recently, in a zoom group I attended, one of the other attendees said at the close of our meeting, "I guess we all need to be more mindful about that."  Suddenly, I realized just how frequently mindfulness had appeared in conversations and interviews on programs I was watching.  'Is that a new term?' I wondered.  I reached for my trusty "Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary" that resides on a shelf arms length away from my desk, with its publication date of 1965.  

There it was!  " 1.  Mindful, bearing in mind; AWARE  2. inclined to be aware--mindfully / adverb --mindfulness / noun. "  What a great word; yet, it had not been part of my vocabulary.  Its meaning is clear enough, but I simply had not integrated it into my own use.

I consulted the internet dictionaries and found 'aware' as the predominate synonym, but 'attentive' joined the definition, as well as an examination of its current importance.  The idea of mindfulness has roots in Buddhist and Hindu thought, and includes 'acceptance' as well as 'awareness' in its meaning.

I learned that mindful and mindfulness were not new words, but the social movement of being more mindful, combined with the idea of gaining understanding, and through understanding, acceptance, is a current cultural phenomenon. 

On the other hand, new words are blossoming all around us!  Since I had used my old Webster's Dictionary to check the meaning of mindful, I chose to check the current Merriam-Webster Dictionary,  not for the meaning of existing words but rather for the addition of new words to the dictionary.  I discovered that for April 2020, 535 new words were added.  Not surprisingly, Covid related words topped the list.  These words included:  Self-isolation, Physical distancing, Contactless, WFH (working from home), PPE (personal protective equipment), Forehead thermometer, and Intensivist (physician who specializes in intensive care treatment).

Obviously, I am not going to include all of the 535 words added to the dictionary, but a few words did attract my attention.  Among them:  Deepfake:  an image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said; Slow-walk:  to delay or prevent the progress of (something) by acting in a deliberately slow manner; and Stovepipe:  to transmit information to a higher level in an organization through an isolated and narrow channel of communication.

I noticed the number of new words that were somehow related to trickery or intentionally misleading your listener.  The word "Truthiness" was introduced by Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report  as satire, but it was quickly adopted as a way to describe how the very idea of "truth" is under attack.  The English language needed a word to describe the intentional manipulation of truth--a word for the kind of unprovable discourse that "doesn't measure up to the standards of evidence and research that are required for consensus and understanding."  In other words, intentionally misleading others has become so common that we need a word for the false truth being used.

On the May 2nd  CBS "Good Morning America" show a segment introduced a brother and sister who grew up with a father who taught them the joy of words, in one case having invented a word to describe the experience of getting squirted in the eye with juice while eating grapefruit.  His word is "orbisculate," incorporating the orb of the eye in his imaginary word.  They added his word to their vocabularies and discovered  that the word doesn't exist only when, as young adults, they could not find orbisculate in the dictionary.  To honor their father, and his gift of passing to them a love for words, they are trying to get the word into a dictionary.   

I had already written this blog, but since it had not yet been published, I decided to join their effort by using orbisculate in my blog.  Here it is.  Try not to orbisculate when eating grapefruit because the juice can sting.      

In conclusion, if you are eating breakfast as you read this blog, be careful not to orbisculate, and remember, we all need to be more mindful that "truthiness" is intended to deceive us, and truth is essential to everyone if reason and good judgment are to prevail.  Words matter!



Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The History of May Day


Most of us think we know the traditions and history of May Day.  Perhaps we imagine children dressed in spring colors, dancing around the maypole, a tradition we often associate with England.  The maypole is traditional in many countries, however, including occasionally in America.  

For me, May Day means devising some kind of container, whether it is a basket purchased at a store or  a jelly jar wrapped with ribbon or some other container adequate to hold flowers.  Ideally, it means finding flowers of some kind to be picked.  Today, I look out my window and see lilacs in bloom, my early deep purple iris just beginning, and the blooming redbud trees.  Not every year is so generous with available flowers, but silk flowers or weeds from a ditch will do just as well for the fun of May Day.

The best part for me, as a child, was always the delivery--hanging the basket on the front door, ringing the doorbell or knocking loudly, (since we didn't have a bell), and then running to hide somewhere that I could see the 'surprise' on my mother's face when the flowers were discovered.

While I did not make a May Day basket this year, I did fill the house with lilacs and a few early iris.

For many years, I knew nothing of another type of May Day celebration.  In many countries, May 1st is a celebration for the labor movement.  In those  countries, the first of May is a national public holiday called "International Worker's Day" or some similar name.

Our present Labor Day is in September, but the history of our celebration can be traced to Chicago on May 4, 1886 when workers gathered in Haymarket Square to demonstrate for an 8-hour workday and safer working conditions.  According to the Mayor who was in attendance that day, the demonstration was peaceful, but as the speaking ended and the police moved in to breakup the gathering, violence erupted. Tragically, deaths and miscarriages of justice followed.   

The late 1800s were not only the era of the Populist Movement described in my book, Prairie Bachelor,  but also a time of clashes between workers and their employers, including several famous strikes.  Among them were both the Johnson County War in Wyoming, in which small farmer/ranchers confronted the illegally hired private army of the wealthy ranchers of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, and the Homestead Lockout in which union workers confronted Pinkerton Detectives hired by Andrew Carnegie.  

Another famous strike involved George Pullman.  The Panic of 1893 caused a downturn in his railroad manufacturing plant, famous for its model town, with homes, parks, shops, and a library for his workers.  Pullman responded to the economic downturn by cutting workers' wages; however, he did not reduced the rent workers paid for their houses in the model town.  When a workers' committee went to Pullman to request a rent adjustment consistent with their pay cuts, he refused, and to make matters worse, he fired three of the committee members who had come to make the appeal for the workers.  A strike followed.

Pullman was a powerful man with powerful friends, and using those connections resulted in the President sending Federal troops to break up the strike, despite the Governor's request that the troops be withdrawn.  Without describing the events in detail, the sad result was that the decision to send in federal troops was the first time soldiers fired on and killed American citizens against the wishes of the executive of the state.

May Day in Helsinki, Finland
The Federal Government had not declared a special Workers' Day at that time, although states had begun to declare a Labor Day for workers.  Oregon was first, in 1887, and by 1894 thirty states had declared an official Labor Day.  In a way that must have seemed disrespectful to some, six days after the Pullman Strike ended, President Cleveland and Congress rushed through legislation to establish Labor Day.    However, that law only applied to a holiday for federal workers.  Gradually, Labor Day as we know it was made a statutory holiday.

Returning to the history of May Day, the memory of the original labor effort has not been entirely forgotten.  In addition to other nations recognizing May 1st as their labor celebrations, a few American cities celebrate Loyalty Day, and some bar associations hold Law Day events to celebrate the rule of law.  

Bar Associations declare Law Day
In addition, groups have sometimes referenced May Day's original connection with workers.  May 1, 2012, Occupy Wall Street and labor unions held protests together.  There was also a movement in 2020, during a time when workers felt that management was was not providing basic protection to workers during  Covid-19, workers from such companies as Amazon, Whole Foods, Walmart, FedEx and Target threatened to walk out on their jobs on May Day.

I believe most of us think of Maypoles and baskets of flowers when May 1st arrives, but I hope you have enjoyed reading about other history related to that date. 


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Poetry and Earth Month in April

Petrified Forest near Holbrook, AZ; Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

It has been my practice to honor April as Poetry Month at this blog, and I did so again this year.  However, April is also Earth Month.  This week, before April passes by, I am going to combine both Poetry and Earth Month with a reflection on the importance of our responsibility to respect not only the nurturing of our own spirit but also nurturing our planet Earth, ending the blog with a poem by a man who salutes trees.

Our planet is an Oblate Spheroid, or in plain words, a Bulging Sphere.  At the equator, Earth is 24,901 miles around.  It takes 365 1/4 days for earth to make a trip around the Sun, which explains our use of  leap year every 4 years to account for the quarter of a day needed to travel around the sun each year.

Canyon Wall: Photo credit: Lyn Fenwick
Seventy-one percent of the Earth is covered in water, but less than 3% of that water is fresh water.  Add to the limited amount of fresh water the limited acreage on Earth available for crop production of about 11%, with about another twenty percent considered mountainous, having almost no agricultural use and only limited use for grazing.

The oceans that cover so much of our planet influence the land through currents that affect temperatures, precipitation, and various ecosystems.  

Past and present-day Man impacts both water and land.  Arable land is lost each year through desertification and erosion caused by humans on both large and small scale.  Our ancestors contributed to the "Dust Bowl" of the Great Depression, and today the slash-and-burn deforestation of the fertile tropical rainforests  for temporary cultivation are resulting in infertile desert land.

Less dramatic than the massive burning of the Rain Forests but also a danger to our fresh water supply is something known as "freshwater salinization."  How is this happening?  Simple things that we take for granted may silently do harm.  As winter approaches, those responsible for keeping our roads safe acquire a supply of salt to use on the roads to melt ice and make travel safer during winter.  Most of us overlook the fact that the nearly 20 million tons of salt spread on our roads gradually end up in streams, rivers, lakes, and other sources of freshwater around the world.

Farmers are becoming more mindful of not only protecting their soil from harmful chemicals, as well as crops that deplete the soils, as once happened in the South from exclusively growing cotton.  Today's farmers are learning to respect science in protecting the soil in their fields.

Fossils from Texas

The evidence that our planet has not always been what we see out our windows today is all around us, although easy to ignore.  Some years ago, my husband and I toured the petrified forest, and the photographs I took of trees turned to stone, including the image at the top of this blog, are tangible evidence of those changes.  When we lived in Texas, I collected evidence that our back yard had once been the floor of an ocean.  Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Today, we realize that our precious Earth has been entrusted to us to preserve for future generations.  I do my silly part by transplanting the volunteer seedlings that pop up every year, planting then for future generations to enjoy their shade.  In an early blog, I shared the story of my unearthing the long root of a volunteer red bud from our English ivy bed.  The root was very long, and the hole I dug to plant that root had to be deep.  The rescued seedling, once planted, promptly dropped its leaves.  My husband and the carpenters who were doing construction at our farm teased me about my devoted watering of a dead tree.  As you can see from the photograph below, the transplanted seedling survived and bloomed beautifully this spring.

The memory of my tender care of the little red bud tree may explain my appreciation for the poem, "My beautiful Flowering Trees," by Asha Menon.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

My Beautiful Flowering Trees

One day I shall buy some land
Plant countless seeds
And watch them grow
Into beautiful flowering trees

A cool breeze
Will bring me
Sweet fragrances
From a thousand flowering trees

I shall listen
To the songs
From birds perched
In the tall flowering trees

I shall play
With my children and theirs
In the vast expanse of green
Amongst beautiful flowering trees

One day I shall rest
Passing into oblivion
My ashes scattered
Amidst the beautiful flowering trees

By Asha Menon, Writer and Reviewer of Malayalam literature

Another source for poems reflecting on trees is The Afterlife of Trees, by Kansas poet, Wyatt Townley.  Townley was recognized as our Kansas Poet Laureate, 2009-2013, during which time she traveled the state doing readings of her poems.  I had the pleasure of attending three of those readings locally, in Kinsley, Pratt, and Cunningham.  Her books are available online.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Disappearing Traces of the Past Explored in 2021


Photo credit:  L. Fenwick

Photo credit: L. Fenwick
In 2011, one of my earliest posts was called "Disappearing Traces of the Past".  You can read it at .  I shared photographs of a house I remembered from my own childhood, and I still remembered stopping at the driveway for children to run out to meet the school bus.  Although the house was already deteriorating in 2011, there were still clothes hanging in the closet and a collapsed bed with covers still on it visible through a broken window.  The image above is of that house today.

Each decade brings more abandoned houses that were occupied during my lifetime.  Farms still exist, but it is much different from the farming of my youth.  Hugh equipment can move through a field in just a few hours, doing what would have taken my father a full day or more to cover the same ground.  Consequently, farms are larger, and the number of farmers are fewer.

Photo credit: L. Fenwick
Some of the family farms of my youth still exist, but they are few.  Descendants of those farmers chose different careers away from the land, or gradually they chose to sell the land rather than divide it up among many descendants remaining.  Sometimes the family line came to an end, and the estate was liquidated. 
My husband and I moved back to my old family home in our retirement, but we do not farm the land.  Instead, our land is farmed by another farming family.  My brother had already sold the acreage he inherited before his death.

Once the houses pictured in this blog had families living in them, and it is more than likely that the generation that built the houses assumed that their heirs would be farming their land and living in the ancestral home for many generations.  

The house first pictured is in Pratt County, although it is the closest of those pictured to our home.  All of the rest are in Stafford County.  We get our mail in town, and all of the images were taken on our way to get our mail, although we did go out of our way two miles to the east to photograph two of them.  Even so, within just a few miles of our house, all of these family homes have been abandoned.

Photo credit: L. Fenwick
In 1880, about the time Homesteader Isaac Werner staked his claim, the population of Stafford County, where he lived, was 4,755.  Ten years later it had grown to 7,520, and by the turn of the century it was 9,829.  In another ten years it had grown to 12,510.  That year, 1910, was the peak year for Stafford County population.  For three more decades, although the population declined, it remained in the 5 figures.

1950 was the first big drop of 15.9% to 8,816 population, followed in 1960 by the record drop of 20.2% to 5,943.  While the percentage drops were smaller, the decline continued, until the 10.7% drop of 2000 brought the population to 4,437.  The population has continued to decline to the most recent number of 4,178 estimate recorded for 2018.

There are other vacant houses close to our own that I did not photograph, homes that remain quite livable, but to find jobs, residents would probably need to commute to one of the surrounding small towns.  Sometimes people with an urban background who may have dreamed of someday living on a farm buy country places.  While there are successful transitions, there are also disappointments. 
Photo credit: L. Fenwick

That is not new.  In Isaac Werner's time there were families drawn to the prairie by the free land and the idea of owning their own farms.  Many did not stay long enough to mature their claims.  Others stayed only long enough to mature their claim before they sold it and moved away. 

Each generation leaves behind their own traces of the past.