Friday, December 28, 2012

Isaac's Dolly Varden

Isaac Werner arrived on the Kansas prairie without a horse.  While neighbors broke sod with horses, mules, and oxen, Isaac traded his labor in exchange for using his neighbor's stock and equipment.  Between his arrival in 1878 and 1886, he focused on planting and tending trees, doing the weeding by hand with a hoe.  Without a horse of his own, he broke little sod.  However, he also stayed out of debt, raising enough sod corn and garden produce to survive without much cash, but also missing the early years of the 1880s when grain prices were higher. 
Fig. 1, Alexander Kastler photo
At last, a neighbor by the name of Gullet, who had run up a stable bill in St. John that he could not pay, offered to sell his mare to Isaac to get the money to pay the bill, preferring to sell her to Isaac over having the stable take her for non-payment.  Isaac borrowed three hundred fifty dollars to buy the mare for one hundred fifteen dollars, needing the balance to buy implements, lumber, and seed now that he had a horse.  It was the beginning of his borrowing, but he believed that with a horse the money would soon be repaid from the crops he could now raise. 
He named her Dolly, and only one place in his journal did he leave a clue regarding his choice of name.  Throughout the rest of his journal he calls her Dolly, or Doll, but on that one occasion he uses her full name--Dolly Varden.  It was only natural that Isaac, who loved his books, should have chosen a literary name for the mare he had wanted to buy for so long.

Fig. 2, Frame Overo

Dolly Varden is a character known for her colorful wardrobe in the Dickens' novel Barnaby Rudge.  That character's costume has led to the use of her name for colorful objects and people.  For example, the Dolly Varden trout has greenish sides and a white belly, but there are also pink and yellow spots on its body and red spots on its lower sides.  It is believed the trout was named in reference to the Charles Dickens' character.  Likewise, I presume that Isaac named his mare for the same reason. 
There are no photographs of Isaac's Dolly, nor does he describe her appearance, so we are left to imagine what markings and coloration might have inspired Isaac in the choice of her name.  Horses have many coat colors and distinctive markings from which to choose, with a specialized vocabulary that has evolved to describe all of the variations.  In this blog I will share some of the more distinctive ones. 
Fig. 3, Anna photo
I will begin with the Gray.  While not as colorful as some of the other varieties, their characteristics are interesting, for they have black skin with white or mixed dark and white hairs, and they generally lighten as they age.  Further, they may be born any color, gradually lightening as they age.  The famous Lipizzaner horses are typically born bay or black, but they will be pure white by the time they are ten years old.  The Dapple Gray is a dark colored horse with lighter rings of graying hairs, called dapples, scattered throughout the coat.  A Flea Bitten Gray is an otherwise white horse with develops flecks of red hairs throughout the coat. The image (Fig. 1) created by Alexander Kastler of a champion Arabian mare with the classic "flea bitten" red speckles is a beautiful example.
The Pinto is a multi-colored horse with patches of brown and/or black on white, but there are many specific variations among the pinto horses.  An Overo has sharp, irregular markings, usually more dark than white, and often the eyes are blue.  The Image (Fig. 2) shown is an example of Frame Overo from  Another type of pinto is the Tovero, characterized by dark pigmentation around the ears (sometimes called "Mexican Hat" or "War Bonnet,") dark pigmentation around the mouth which may extend up the sides of the face and form spots, chest spots that may extend up the neck, as well as flank spots and spots at the base of the tail.  The image (Fig. 3) taken by Anna,, is of a blue Tovero.  Among other pinto horses are Paint horses with known Quarter Horse and/or Thoroughbred bloodlines, treated as a separate breed.     
Fig. 4, Francois Marchal photo
A Roan is a color pattern in which white hairs are evenly intermixed with the other color, and there are Red Roans, Bay Roans, and Blue Roans.  Unlike grays, the roans do not generally change color or lighten.  When Isaac bought a second mare in 1887 that he named Jule, he described his mare as a gray, and he referred to her colt as a "roan colt" without indicating the color.  The image, Fig. 4, taken by Francois Marchal, is of two Blue Roan mares. 
Figure 5, taken by Jean-Pol Grandmont, is of a Pinto on the left and an Appaloosa on the right.  Several breeds of horses are represented in a group of coat patterns called Leopard, caused by the leopard gene complex.  Among the leopard patterns are Blanket, so called because of white over the hip that may extend to the base of the neck; Varnish, which is a mix of body and white hairs, and the similar Frost, distinguished by the white hairs only on back, loins, and neck; Snowflake, which is white spots on a dark body; and Leopard, which is dark spots of varying sizes on a white body. 
Fig. 5, Grandmont photo
The Appaloosa is known for its leopard-spotted coat patterns, with great variety in body types revealing the history of multiple breeds in its bloodlines.  Of particular interest to me was the discovery that the Nez Perce developed the original American breed.  The tribe lost most of their horses after the Nez Perce War of 1877.  Could Isaac's Dolly Varden have carried some of the leopard spots from interbreeding with the Nez Perce horses?  Since Isaac provided no description of Dolly's coloration, we are left to our imaginations, but I think picturing Dolly as a beautiful Appaloosa mare is my choice.  
The lovely images at the beginning and conclusion of this post are of mares with their babies at Decker's Red Eagle Appaloosas stables located twelve miles west of Eugene, Oregon.  You may visit their website at where you will find more beautiful images of their horses.  For those of you interested in more than pretty pictures, you will enjoy reading about their careful blending of genetics, blood lines, and good old "horse sense" to produce champions.  If you are lucky enough to be near Alvadore, Oregon, the Deckers invite you to visit them.

 (Remember, click on the images to enlarge.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Trains & Boom Towns

Kay Williams sets up his model town
In 1871 when the trains came to Rossville, Illinois, Isaac was among the group of citizens that opposed the arrival of the railroad to their community.  (See my blog of Jan. 20, 2012) At that time he was a prosperous druggist, dreading the arrival of competing businesses and the riff-raff that the construction and eventual completion of rail lines would bring to his town.
In 1886 when the rail lines approached the Stafford County seat of St. John, Isaac's attitude had changed.  Now, he was a farmer with produce to ship, as well as a customer for the merchandise that would be available from the new businesses the railroad would bring to town.
Williams' coach & trailer
On April 19, 1886, Isaac's journal entry expressed his interest in the progress as the railroad lines moved westward:  "Noticed this morning on the streets in St. John a R.R. grading outfit of some 1/2 doz. Wagons, some 12 spans of horses & several 2 wheel scrapers, all loaded on road towards Larned or beyond to do R.R. grading all completely equipped with men, necessary shelter, tools, etc. quite a procession.  At Grading of Hutchinson branch just W. of St. John & on Eastward [sic].  Macksville to rush generally now seeming every body wanting to get to Macksville & Casody, nearly a hundred new buildings put up there now this spring in anticipation of new R.R. every body wild." 

Model town in foreground; Buckhorn entry in background
Recently, I experienced my own eager anticipation as rail lines were laid and a town began to sprout along the tracks.  For the past seven or eight years a gentleman named Kay Williams has arrived at Buckhorn RV Resort in his motor coach, towing a trailer painted to match the coach, filled with the materials for a railroad boom town of his own.  He needs no scrapers or grading equipment, for he lays his tracks on the lawn beneath a magnificent live oak tree.  Like those early railroaders laying tracks across the plains who brought their own tools, Mr. Williams brings his tools in his fancy trailer, and after setting up his motor coach for his stay in the park, he becomes a 1-man railroad crew. 
Mr. Williams' boom town
I didn't ask him when he got his first model train set, but because many little boys ask Santa to bring them their first model train, I thought sharing Kay Williams's Christmas display on my blog would be an appropriate Christmas post.  This was our third opportunity to see his display, and each year he has added more buildings to his town.  He patiently answers questions and welcomes photographs of his model railroad town as fellow RVers stroll past his site.
This year his town was on display for about a week, but he was eager to start back home.  He was restoring a 1948 Ford automobile for a lady who wanted it done by Christmas as a gift to her husband--the restoration of their courtship car from back when they were young.  As Mr. Williams shared the story of restoring an object of romantic memory to a couple now in their golden years, he had such a twinkle in his eyes, obviously taking delight in the pleasure his craft would bring to them.  Standing there before me, with the model trains and town behind him, I could almost imagine Santa in his work denims putting the final touches on the model trains he would deliver to children on Christmas Eve.  Perhaps Kay Williams isn't really Santa, but he certainly knows how to bring joy and laughter to many people during the holiday season.   

(Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on each picture.)

P.S.  If you missed last week's post about my Victorian "angels and ancestors" Christmas tree, be sure to continuing scrolling down to read about this special tree.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Guests

Angels & Ancestors Tree
Every holiday season I invite our relatives for a visit to the Beck family ancestral home that my husband and I have restored.  They all arrived last week, both of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  Because so many elderly unmarried aunts are forgotten at the holidays, we invite them too, as well as some of our young nieces and nephews.  With all of our pets scattered among them, it is quite a crowd.  I've never actually counted, but there must be fifty or more. 
In case you haven't guessed, our holiday guests arrive as photographs, and rather than finding beds for everyone, I find the perfect place on our Christmas tree.  When we restored the Victorian farm house built in 1899 by my great-grandmother Susan and her son Royal, I decided it needed a Victorian Christmas tree.  I was lucky to find some Victorian picture frame ornaments perfect for what I had in mind, and that was the beginning of our "Angels & Ancestors Tree."  The Victorian theme was enhanced by candle lights and cut-glass globes, and I planned a color scheme of crystle, gold and silver.  Then I began collecting beautiful angel ornaments. 
Aaron & Susan Beck w/ daughter Anna at upper left

The tree goes up as soon after Thanksgiving as I can convince my husband to help me assemble it, and it remains well into the New Year.  Every ancestor from six generations of whom I have a photograph is on the tree, along with other special relatives and all of our past pets.  Our young nieces and nephews are among the relatives on the tree, in hopes that discovering their pictures will encourage them to ask questions about their own ancestors. 
Royal & Lillian Beck w/ Geo. & Theresa Hall upper left
 Although he is not a relative, I wish I had a picture of Isaac to add to the tree.  I would hang his ornament near my Beck and Hall great-grandparents so these old friends would be nearby.  Someplace not too far away I would hang the pictures of my paternal grandparents, both of whom Isaac knew.  In his journal, Isaac wrote about how efficiently young Royal Beck handled a transaction at the post office when his father, the postmaster, was away the afternoon that  Isaac needed to mail important documents.  The only family to whom Isaac mentions having loaned some of his precious books and stereoscope views was the Aaron Beck family.  Isaac was also close friends with the George Hall family.  In his final illness, Isaac stayed with the Halls for a time and would perhaps have been cared for by my 15-year-old paternal grandmother, Lillian Hall.

Larry & Lyn Fenwick
The farm house is filled with memories--not only my own memories but also the memories shared with me by my parents, my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  My genealogy research sometimes makes it seem as if I knew ancestors who died long before I was born.  Even Isaac added to that store of memories in his journal entries about my ancestors. 
I don't really believe in ghosts, but I do like to imagine that the family and friends who shared important events at our farm over the years, both happy and sad, might somehow know that we have rescued the old farm house in which dinners, parties, wakes, holidays, announcements, romances, loud laughter, and shared secrets occurred.  There may not be ghosts in the old farm house, but at Christmas every year, their spirits are remembered. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Advice from Henry Ward Beecher

Every young man would do well to remember that all successful business stands on the foundation of morality.  Henry Ward Beecher
Inside Isaac's journal was a lengthy newspaper clipping which described how to keep a journal.  The author of the article was Henry Ward Beecher, a Congregationalist minister, social reformer, and abolitionist.  Today his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, is probably better known, for she is the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, whom Abraham Lincoln addressed as 'the lady who started this war,' when they met.  However, during his life, Harriet's brother Henry was also widely known.
Henry had his own encounter with Lincoln, who heard him preach.  Beecher advanced the Union cause on a speaking tour through England during the Civil War, and when the flag was again raised over Fort Sumter near the end of the Civil War, he was the primary speaker.  Beecher lived in a time when eloquent preachers could become celebrities, drawing crowds to their services and becoming acquainted with other well known people.  After hearing Rev. Beecher preach, Mark Twain described his performance as "sawing his arms in the air, howling sarcasms this way and that, discharging rockets of poetry and exploding mines of eloquence, halting now and then to stamp his foot three times in succession to emphasize a point."  Even if Twain was guilty of his well-known exaggerations, Beecher must have been a forceful speaker.  Using his celebrity to speak out for causes, Beecher supported women's suffrage, temperance, and Darwin's theory of evolution.
The pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in faraway Brooklyn, New York had a significant role in early Kansas.  Before the Civil War, Beecher raised money for the early settlers in Kansas and Nebraska who were willing to oppose slavery, using the money he raised to buy them rifles.  Consequently, the guns acquired the nickname of "Beecher's Bibles."
Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you.  Never excuse yourself.  Henry Ward Beecher
Even the scandal involving accusations of improprieties with a female member of his church, the wife of his friend, did not extinguish Beecher's celebrity.  The Plymouth Church Board of Inquiry exonerated Beecher but excommunicated the woman's husband, and a second Board of Inquiry two years later excommunicated the woman as well.
Whether Isaac was aware of the scandal is unknown, but he respected Beecher's opinion well enough to have clipped an article written by Beecher from the newspaper to save in his journal.  Beecher counseled against filling a personal journal with feelings and opinions, recommending that a journal should be a record of specific events--of weather, people seen that day, and how time was spent.  The clipping in Isaac's journal is undated, but Beecher's advice would indicate that the opinions and emotions of a young man shared in Isaac's journal entries of 1870-71 were before he read Beecher's newspaper column, and the entries of 1884-1891 when the journal resumed were influenced by Beecher's advice to stick to facts.
Journaling may have been a Werner family tradition.  His twin brother Henry Beckley Werner also kept a diary, which was donated to Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania by Henry's son, Charles Hain Werner.  The diary entries may be read at  It was very interesting for me to compare entries from 1871 from both twin brothers' journals, particularly the entries about brother Henry Werner's travels to Virginia.
Even after Henry Ward Beecher's death in 1887, his advice was available to people, as can be seen from the advertisement taken from the County Capital newspaper to which Isaac subscribed.  Posthumously, Beecher was still dispensing advice on "courtship, early marriages, church work, choir music, women and housekeeping."  Frankly, I wonder what Rev. Beecher had to say about housekeeping!  The very thought of Henry Ward Beecher delivering his opinion to women readers of the Ladies Home Journal on the subject of housekeeping calls to mind Rev. Beecher's own words. 
A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs.  It's jolted by every pebble on the road.  Henry Ward Beecher

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Rattlesnake Creek

Wild Violets
The Rattlesnake Creek about two miles from Isaac Werner's homestead takes its name from the curving, serpentine course of the creek bed, although I'm making no promises about whether there are snakes along its banks.  In Isaac's time, homesteaders valued the prairie grass that grew in what they called the Rattlesnake Valley.  A Prattsburg community subscriber to the County Capital newspaper praised the benefits of owning land along the Rattlesnake, predicting that in the future others would covet that land.  He urged discouraged settlers to stay where they were, on their farms along the Rattlesnake, without being tempted to leave for Colorado or Washington during the hard times.
But this post is not about the Rattlesnake Creek in Isaac's times.  It is the story of a little girl whose mother said to her one day, "Let's go have a picnic at the Creek."  Off they went, their picnic being a pint of ice cream back in the days when ice cream was sold in a small rectangular box.  The mother had brought the ice cream, a sharp knife to cut the box in half, and two spoons.  It was a wonderful picnic.  However, given the warm day and the tendency for ice cream to melt, their picnic was consumed rather quickly and they were left to find other entertainment along the creek bank.
"Come see what I have found," the mother called to the little girl.  They carefully bent over a tiny plant nearly hidden among the larger foliage.  Its rich green leaves were shaped like small Valentines, and a delicate purple flower danced on its stem.  Looking around, the mother and daughter saw more of the plants.  "They're wild violets," the mother explained.  "Let's take some home to plant in our yard."
The spoons brought to eat the ice cream became little shovels, and a pair of violets were selected, one for each half of the ice cream carton.  Mother and daughter returned to their farm home with their beautiful flowers.  Father did not appreciate their treasures as they had expected.  "If you plant those here they will take over the lawn," he complained.  Mother planted them anyway.
Of course, the little girl was me, and the violets did spread.  After my father's death the house stood empty, except for a couple of tenants who seemed to pay little attention to maintaining the yard.  When my husband and I began to restore the house, mowing the weed covered yard and watering in hopes of bringing the Bermuda grass underneath back to life, I wasn't thinking much about the little violets.  It seemed unlikely that any would have survived the neglected years without any watering except by Mother Nature.
This summer we decided to attempt growing Bermuda on the north side of the house, an area that had never had much of a lawn.  As I was hoeing weeds in preparation to scatter Bermuda seed, guess what I found.  You know, of course.  A few of the wild violets had somehow survived after all the years of neglect.  Just as my mother and I once had done, I carefully dug them and moved them to a protected place where they wouldn't be bothered by mower blades.
I think the wild violets will be happy where I put them, and my father was probably right.  They are sure to spread into the lawn, but I don't care.  I love those little survivors and the memory of my picnic with Mother beside the Rattlesnake Creek.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shared Thanksgiving Memories and Traditions

Newspaper image from the 1890s
The invitation to my blog visitors to share Thanksgiving memories and traditions has resulted in a wonderful collection of stories.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who follow my blog as you enjoy what your fellow blog visitors have shared.
How a family expression was born! 
"Fifty-five years ago we lived in Lubbock, Texas, where Pat was in pilot training.  It was my first Thanksgiving dinner to prepare and Pat wanted to invite two bachelors who were not going home for the holiday.  We were at the table, serving our plates and I noticed the rolls were extra small and commented that maybe it was the altitude that caused them not to rise--Lubbock is over 3000 feet!  Later that evening I decided to check the package of remaining frozen rolls and discovered that I had broken them apart and was supposed to have kept them in three pieces, making a clover roll.  This incident still brings a laugh and I always have the remark, "it must be the altitude" to cover any cooking problem in the kitchen."Ann
Untraditional Traditions
"I grew up in St. John, Kansas, in a little family of 3 girls and my parents.  We always had a beautifully browned turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and canned cranberry sauce.  The serving dishes were from my mother's grandmother, and we finished the meal with pumpkin pie with a flaky crust and a dollop of Dream Whip on top.  There wasn't much football watching at our house, but there were leaves to rake and play in.  Our meal included the one 'exotic' thing my dear, sweet mother cooked...the stuffing.  It had both sausage and oysters in it!  Nothing else in our 1950s-style meals, made by our depression-surviving parents, contained such extravagance!
As adults in Washington state, living far from family, we started our own tradition of going to sunny Pacific Coast Mexico for Thanksgiving.  We fly to LA and stop for a traditional celebration with my husband's extended family and then get up early to fly across the border and down the coast to the cozy escape in Ixtapa for a week!  We return to Seattle rested and ready for a wonderful holiday season all the way through New Year's Day--this year will be our 25th wedding anniversary!  New or old holiday traditions are meant to adapt to your life as you make it work!  Happy Holidays from a fan of Isaac and Lyn!"  Alice (McMillan) Lockridge, a 4th generation Kansan
Bittersweet Memories
"Thanksgiving has always been about family for us.  We went to our parents' homes until our daughter Kimberly went to college and asked for 'home time' during her school break, and our parents began coming to our house.  After our own kids began to marry, we alternated Christmas and Thanksgiving with in-laws.
Meals always included turkey (sometimes smoked), honey baked ham, cornbread dressing and oyster dressing (Rodney's favorite), garlic mashed potatoes, Grandma Howald's wonderful homemade rolls, green beans, and fruit salad.  My kids do not like pies, so I also make red velvet cake along with some traditional pies.  Sometimes there are cookies for the kids too.  Around the table, we tell how God has blessed each of us either during our lifetimes or the last year--things we are thankful for.
Our last Thanksgiving with Mom was the day before she had her now Thanksgiving is a time we remember as our last one with Mom.  It makes the time bittersweet."  Nancy
A German War Bride's Daughter
"My Grandpa, Mike Green, hosted Thanksgiving dinner at his home for many years.  Grandma died in 1948 before I was born, so aunts, daughters, and daughters-in-law actually did most of the cooking.  My mother was a 'German War Bride' and unfamiliar with American customs.  To their credit, all the Green family tried very hard to make her feel welcome and needed.  Mom became the 'designated' turkey gravy maker.  She always asked Grandpa to taste it from a teaspoon.  He would always declare that it was 'just right and nary a lump in the whole pan!'
Children were basically allowed to run 'wild.'  Coats were piled in a corner and when someone had enough of us chasing around the house, they would send us all outside.  When told to go, we were supposed to put on the first coat that came to hand and go!  If you were slow, you likely got a coat that didn't fit!  Oh, well...
'Euchre' was another important part of the day.  The Green brothers (6) and their various cousins would play this card game most of the day.  Men rotated in and out of the chairs at the card tables and laughed and yelled at each other.  They were all very hard working men and it was a rare chance for them to get together and 'let off steam!'
Finally, the women would tell Grandpa that dinner was ready!  He would clap his hands for everyone to come together and then he would say a 'Blessing' over the mountains of food.  In later years, this would get to be a long and emotional prayer for him, as he would remember those who were no longer among us.  Basically, Thanksgiving at the Green's was very loud, very long, and very, very loving."  Margie Green Uzarski
Newspaper image from the 1890s
Memories of Special Food
Mother was a maker of pies every Sunday and holiday, made with lard in the crust.  Thanksgiving called for pumpkin pie.  Another favorite was her dressing--crammin'in as Dad teased.  In time, along side the regular dressing oysters were added to a separate labeled bowl of dressing.  In 1985, a foreign exchange student from Finland was our guest for the meal.  She had never seen a bowl of dressing and decided that she was not brave enough to try it."  Lillian
Recipes Handed Down through Generations
I joined the McMahan family exactly 45 years ago this month.  What a treat I had in store for me!  Curt's mother, Mildred, always went all out for the holidays.  She would cook all day and as we ate, it never failed that she would comment about how long it took to prepare and how quickly it was 'inhaled.'
We always had the traditional Thanksgiving Day feast, with roasted turkey, dressing or stuffing if you prefer, oyster dressing for Curt's dad and regular for everyone else.  There was a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, squash casserole (daughter Christa's favorite), and, most important, baked pineapple.  This was no ordinary baked pineapple!  It was a treat handed down from Mother Mac, Curt's grandmother.  There was NO recipe.  It had to be learned by watching the matriarch make it.  It consists of day old bread cut into cubes and layered into a buttered baking dish.  After that, crushed pineapple is added, then sugar, sugar, and more sugar, followed by dollops of butter, NOT margarine!  Finally, pineapple juice is poured over the top and baked in a very, very slow oven for hours until the edges are 'candied.'  There you have it!  My sister-in-law and I make it faithfully every year and compare our results.  It never turns out the same, but oh! how the family loves it served as a condiment with the meat.  Of course, all of that was topped off with pumpkin pie and pecan pie topped with Blue Bell Ice Cream.  After we have eaten our fill, we'll watch football, chat, and plan our Christmas menu."  Charlotte M
A Senior Lady's New Tradition
"Thanksgivings have evolved through the years, but always included roast turkey and all of the trimmings.  My mother would always make pumpkin pie--AND a lemon meringue pie for me.  I continued the same traditions for the next generation.  After becoming a widow and moving to Pratt, my latest practice is to attend the community Thanksgiving Dinner--which is marvelous!"  Jane T
Changing Tastes
"As a child with 3 siblings, we always argued over who would get to open the can of Cranberry sauce, slice it, and fan it out in the plate for a lovely presentation!  Fast forward to our grown up Thanksgiving.  For years we have made multiple recipes of fresh cranberry sauces.  Some are cooked, some fresh, all delicious.  We also only cook Heritage Turkeys--no more Butterballs."  Cheryl Livingston Watkins
The 'Fishes & Loaves' Thanksgiving Dinner
"While many of our Thanksgiving traditions included sharing the feast with family, perhaps one of our most memorable dinners involved the then newly formed Community Thanksgiving Dinner, sponsored by the Ministerial Association, involving all local churches.  The first year, in support of this needed ministry, we donated a turkey for the meal but made plans to travel to a family dinner an hour away.  With one of our kids just recovering from severe bronchitis, we were concerned about being around smokers, as well as concern about the weather forecast for a heavy snow, but we forged ahead with our travel plans, preparing side dishes and desserts to take to the family meal.  We woke to a major snow storm over a heavy layer of ice, and travel warnings discouraging driving.  It was then we opted to attend the Community dinner, furnishing our side dishes and desserts for the meal.  We all loaded up in the 4-wheel-drive pickup and arrived early to help with preparations.  Delivery to shut-ins boomed into delivery to others who couldn't get out of their drives, some of whom used the delivery pickups for transportation to the dinner.
The atmosphere was festive.  Many who would never have considered attending such an event were very glad it was there for them.  Food was plentiful, despite all of the home deliveries and unexpected guests, with leftovers to share.  A large amount was delivered to the local halfway house that more than fed their hungry residents that evening.  It was a 'fishes and loaves' type of meal.  We were glad we opted to be a part of it."  Marilyn & family
The incredible Terminal Market in Philadelphia

Thanksgiving Bird Hunting
"Many of my earliest Thanksgiving memories revolve around bird hunting.  My uncle & cousins from Wyoming would come to Kansas, and we would walk for hours on end through grassy pastures & plum thickets in search of coveys of quail and cackling rooster pheasants.  I was the only girl in the crew, but with my trusty 410 bolt action shotgun, I could keep up with the rest of them.  We would arrive at Grandma & Granddad's old farmhouse with pink cheeks & tired legs--ready to eat!  We would 'circle up' (almost 50 of us at times) holding hands as Granddad delivered the blessing, and even now I can envision (and almost taste) the turkey, bread dressing, potatoes & gravy, green beans, salads, pies, and oh-so-amazing Festive Rhubarb Cake with Butter Sauce...Afterwards, we might rest or play cards & board games, but eventually, we headed out burn more calories & enjoy each other's comaraderie in search of often elusive birds.  Thanksgiving has always been more than a meal for me--it is about enjoying FAMILY and giving THANKS!"  J. Suiter
Snow Storm Thanksgiving
"Thanksgiving as a child was filled with great food and fun with relatives.  We usually went to my aunt and uncle's home in Byers, KS.  There we enjoyed food prepared by my aunt, my mother, and my grandmother.  The afternoon was spent playing cards or dominos with the adults, quite a treat.  One very memorable Thanksgiving we were snowed in at home.  Drifts were much too deep even for our truck to get through.  Dad broke ice to reattach phone lines to a few neighbors.  One neighbor asked us to join them for Thanksgiving dinner, as their family from far away could not get to their home.  My dad, never one to pass up a social occasion, hitched an open trailer to the farm tractor.  Dressed warmly with blankets and our food contributions, we plowed two miles through the snow and had a wonderful time."  Anne Beck Current
Defining Thanksgiving with Family, not Food
"While our Christmas traditions are more entrenched, our Thanksgiving plans vary from year to year.  Last year, we traveled to South Carolina to visit our son, who was working on his master's at the University of South Carolina at the time.  Our Thanksgiving meal included shrimp purchased from a dockside fish market, along with cheese grits.  I had to find recipes on the internet to prepare them in his tiny apartment kitchen.  It was deliciously different.
Since my husband's parents' deaths, we often celebrate Thanksgiving a day late with his sister and family.  Instead of having traditional fare, we may meet at a restaurant halfway between our homes....In my own family, turkey has always been the centerpiece for the meal.  My mom's dressing made with sausage is simply the best, as is my Grandma Leonard's pumpkin pie recipe, which we still make today.  We also make a coconut pie that is more like a pecan pie.  I don't know where the recipe came from, but I've never seen one made by anyone outside our family...
The important part isn't the meal that's being served.  It's not even whether it happens on Thanksgiving Day itself.  It's gathering with loved ones and being thankful for the opportunity to do so.  It's also about remembering to count our blessings every day, not just once a year."  Kim Fritzemeier, fellow blogger, who can be followed at 
Daily Gratitude
"I love the idea of giving thanks, and I try to daily express my gratitude for all the wonderful and special people and things in my life..."  Karen L
Friends Like Family
"Since we've chosen to live so far from family we have found ourselves more often than not surrounded by friends.  I've heard it said that 'family' is not defined so much by relation as by 'those who you love who love you back' and I can certainly attest to that--although it would be wonderful to be able to spend each and every Thanksgiving holiday in the company of our own relatives we love so much.
I do enjoy cooking a Thanksgiving meal.  It's one I tend to overdo a bit each year--too much food (but isn't that the point--all those leftovers?!), and all those fattening pies and desserts I can't seem to turn down.  I will admit that I look forward to the roast turkey and trimmings and pumpkin pie each and every year.  This year it will be just the three of us gathered around the table..We'll keep it simple and small, sounds good.
Our son Brian is coming over tomorrow so he'll be here to help me with some of the shopping.  But again, it'll be a small shopping list, so no worries.  I'll just be grateful for the opportunity to spend time together under one roof."  Tonia
Dinner at just one of the many fabulous Philly restuarants
An Open Heart and Home
"There is a rule in my family.  'Everyone comes home for Thanksgiving.'  We now celebrate Thanksgiving at my sister's because she has the biggest house.  We often invite students from the community college where I teach to join us if they are not able to go home for Thanksgiving, or friends that do not have family around the area.  Needless to say, our table is full with anywhere from 14 to 20 family and friends.  Our meal is traditional with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry jelly, and creamed corn.  Dessert includes pumpkin pie and cheese cake."  Teresa from Kansas
A Closing Message from Lyn
Thanks to all of you who not only shared your Thanksgiving traditions and memories but also to those of you who have come to form my weekly blog community.  Your encouragement and interest in Isaac, his community, and the early settlers who struggled to survive and preserve the dreams of our nation in difficult times have fueled my commitment to share that valuable and too-little-known history of America's past.  The first two images in this post are from the County Capital in the 1890s, from which other images in my blog have been shared.  The two photographs were taken during our recent trip to Philadelphia, an adventure that has topped my bucket list for over a decade.  Since all of you who read the blog know my love of history, and many of you also know my love of art and fine food, you will understand why my husband gave me the best birthday gift I could have imagined with our trip to Philadelphia, driving to enjoy sites along the way.  Our last day, we spent all morning at the Philly Terminal Market, an amazing source of fresh produce, meats and fishes, baked goods and candy, specialty items like the fabulous balsamic vinegars at The Tubby Olive, and prepared dishes, and the first photograph depicts just one of the wonderful businesses. Our meals were all memorable, whether formal or streetside, especially the tapas at Amada's (pictured), my perfect Chinese-fusion birthday dinner at Buddahkan, the incredible flavors at Capogiro Gelata, the sidewalk pecan tarts at Tartes,  breakfasts in the formal dining room of our bed and breakfast, Hammanasett, near Chadd's Ford, and too many other meals to mention!  Now I am looking forward to our RVers community Thanksgiving feast at Buckhorn RV Resort, and I wish everyone the happiest of Thankgivings! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thanksgiving on the Prairie

The wonderful images in this post appeared in the County Capital newspaper to which Isaac subscribed.  While the images depict a traditional bounteous Thanksgiving, on November 25, 1890 Isaac wrote in his journal:  "Not much observation of Thanksgiving as I noticed, too little to thank for from a rotten and corrupt administration."  The contrast between the newspaper images and Isaac's words illustrate perfectly the economic circumstances of the Gilded Age.  As farmers on the prairie were literally starving, wealthy industralists and monopolists in cities like New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh were enjoying Thanksgiving feasts in their mansion dining rooms, with servants presenting the Thanksgiving turkey on silver trays that reflected the candle light from crystal chandeliers.
Populist newspaper editor of the County Capital, John Hilmes, who like most other small newspaper editors published local news on the front and back pages of his paper and purchased center sheets with the national and international news from a larger city paper, ignored the irony of delivering to his starving subscribers a menu including Fricassee of Oysters, both Roast Turkey and Roast Duck, and five different deserts, not including the fruit and nuts!
A few days before the holiday, Isaac angrily described in his journal how a neighbor was poaching quail from his property.  Isaac loved wild birds.  In the spring he recorded the dates when song birds returned, and he used the migration flights of ducks and geese to predict weather changes.  Especially important to him were the wild quail, such favorites that in lean times he scattered his precious corn as feed for them.  Although he raised chickens and describes boiling the roosters to eat, he never mentions killing game birds for food.  He posted his property to prohibit hunting on his 360 acres by others.  When that "Scroundal Stambaugh" rode his buggy along the side of Isaac's homestead and timber claim shooting the quail on Isaac's land, he walked toward the sound of the shooting, making himself seen to stop his neighbor's poaching.
Isaac did not mention what he ate for Thanksgiving dinner in 1890, but it is certain that he had neither roast duck or quail!

Remember last week's invitation to share thoughts about Thanksgiving!  I have received several wonderful e-mails sharing Thanksgiving traditions and memories, but before I begin putting those stories together for next week's blog post, I want to remind those of you who have been meaning to send an e-mail to me at with your contribution to the Thanksgiving blog that it is not too late.  Please send them to me ASAP so I have time to include them in the post!  Thank you to everyone who has sent stories--they are great! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Call for Thanksgiving Sharing

Place setting at Buckhorn
Isaac B. Werner was a bachelor homesteader, and unlike other neighbors, he had no family living in the community.  He never mentions being invited to share Thanksgiving with a neighbor, and his journal makes it clear that he spent his Thanksgivings alone.  During the hard years of the last half of the 1880s and the 1890s when Isaac was writing in his journal, settlers had little to share, and many of them made no special Thanksgiving dinner for themselves.  It was Abraham Lincoln who designated Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, so by the 1880s and 1890s it was an established tradition, but homesteaders with barely enought to eat certainly lacked the resources to prepare a holiday feast.
Because Thanksgiving is a time to pause and be thankful, I have an idea for my Thanksgiving Day post that I know will be great fun for me, and I hope it will be fun for all of you.  Foremost, I want to say thank you to all of my supporters who have followed this blog week by week, getting to know Isaac.  For me, you have become an online community, and my idea for Thanksgiving day will provide a venue for you to get to know each other.  I'll explain how I hope all of us can share Thanksgiving later, but for now, I'll go first!
Thanksgivings of my childhood were family occasions.  My parents put all the leaves in the dining room table, and even then there was barely room for everyone.  Mother's menu was always the same, and turkey was the centerpiece of the meal.  After I married, my husband and I were occasionally able to join our families for big holiday celebrations, but often we were invited to share dinners with friends in the different places that we lived over the years.  In New England, we learned to enjoy mashed rutabaga as a traditional vegetable; in the South we learned to appreciate dressing made with corn bread; and in Texas one Thanksgiving we discovered how delicious brussel sprouts could be, although the dish was prepared by our hostess's visiting mother from out-of-state and may not be traditional for Texas. 
Guest holiday display at Buckhorn RV Resort
Recently we have occasionally enjoyed a different tradition.  With our parents no longer living and most of our friends now celebrating with their children and grandchildren, we have discovered a wonderful tradition at the Buckhorn RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas.  RVers staying there are invited to a dinner of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy prepared by the RV hosts.  Guests may participate the evening before in the preparation of pies by bringing their favorite fillings for pie shells provided by the park hosts.  For the dinner, guests are asked to bring a dish--vegetables, salads, and deserts to add to what the park provides.  Guests may also supply their own place settings for the tables, although the park has centerpieces.  The opening photograph shows our rather humble decorations from last year.  Some of the tables are quite elaborate!  Because many RVers make Buckhorn their traditional Thanksgiving destination, it is a chance to see old friends.
The park also welcomes the coming Christmas season that weekend with seasonal decorations, and there are prizes for the guests who display their own decorations.  The photograph of part of one guest's impressive display shows a prize winner transported in a trailer behind the guest's motor coach for the annual Thanksgiving weekend display.  It is always the stopping place for strollers.
Enjoying the holiday decorations with an after-dinner stroll
Now that I have shared some of my Thanksgiving traditions with you, here is your invitation to share yours in return.  I hope most of you will share a sentence or two about your Thanksgiving traditions--food, guests, games, places, childhood memories or other special traditions.  They do not have to be lengthy, as I hope many of you accept the invitation.  On Thanksgiving Day I will post the things you share.  Many of you who follow my blog are international visitors, and you may not celebrate Thanksgiving; however, other cultures have Harvest Festivals and other Autumn Celebrations whose traditions you  might share.
Send your e-mails to me at and please get them to me as soon as possible, as I hope I will receive e-mails from many of you that I will need to organize and prepare to post.  Please indicate if you wish to include your initials, first name, full name, or pen name with what you send, and also whether you wish to include the name of your state or country.  I am so excited looking forward to see what everyone will send, but I obviously need followers willing to take a moment to participate.  Thank you again for all of your support during the past year, and I hope this little idea of mine proves to be fun for everyone!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween in the Southern Colonies

The American tradition of Halloween did not arrive in New England with the Puritans, whose more rigid religious beliefs rejected the Celtic customs.  It is believed that the origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain as practiced in Ireland and Northern France.  Pronounced "sow-in," the festival was intended to frighten away the ghosts of the dead who returned on the night of October 31st to damage crops and cause trouble.  The Celts wore costumes and built huge bonfires, using embers from the sacred bonfire to relight their extinguished hearth fires, a ritual intended to protect them during the coming winter.
The tradition of Halloween in America's earliest years was first practiced in Maryland and other Southern Colonies, where customs of different European ethnic groups merged with Native Americans' customs to create what has become Halloween in the United States.

Birthplace of Woodrow Wilson in Stauton, VA
On Saturday, October 27th, we were in Staunton, Virginia, to visit the birthplace and museum of Woodrow Wilson.  As we reached his birthplace and prepared to buy our tickets, we were invited to join a tour of the lovely town by historical society members Jane and Richard Hicks.  Jane's personal focus on her tours is architecture, although other guides may select their own emphasis, but architecture interested us, and off we went.

So, what does our visit to Woodrow Wilson's birthplace and an architectural tour of  Staunton have to do with Halloween?  Every year the merchants of Staunton, Virginia, carry on the traditions of early southern colonists, perhaps modified for modern times but with their origins in colonial time all the same, and costumed children fill the town's streets going from shop to shop to trick or treat.

I confess, Jane's tour was excellent, but the costumed children were a delightful distraction for me, and I paused many times to photograph the adorable kids in their wonderful costumes!  The name Halloween comes from the Christian holy day of All Saints' Day, which is also known as All Hallows.  Two Christian customs may have also contributed to present-day Halloween traditions.

The custom of baking and sharing soul cakes on All Saints' Day may have evolved into the tradition of trick or treat.  In countries from which colonists immigrated, soul cakes were often given to poor children who went door to door asking for them.  Rather than asking for cake, this darling little elf has her eye on a window filled with tiny candy ducks in a confectioner's window.  

Because it was believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints' Day, it came to be believed that All Saints' Eve was the last opportunity for the wandering dead to take revenge on their enemies.  To avoid the vengeance of enemies that had died during the previous year, people wore masks or costumes to disguise their identities.  That custom provides a possible explanation for Halloween costuming.  This young boy's transformation into a tractor is quite an effective disguise!
Isaac Werner had no children, and he does not mention whether the Kansas community where he homesteaded celebrated Halloween.  Neither do I know whether little Tommy Wilson (as Thomas Woodrow Wilson was known in childhood) costumed for Halloween, and perhaps his father, a Presbyterian minister, might not have encouraged that tradition.  However, the present citizens of Wilson's birthplace have a wonderful tradition for the children of Staunton!  Thank you to all the costumed children and their mothers who have allowed me to share their wonderful celebration with my blog visitors.  We fell in love with their beautiful city, set in the Appalachian foothills, with a charming and vital downtown, beautiful architecture, and the birthplace, museum, and gift shop of Woodrow Wilson.
It will surprise none of you that the souvenirs I selected in the gift shop were books.  We passed much of the time during our continuing journey reading about the 28th President of the United States, who knew when he was quite young that he had "a very earnest political creed and very pronounced political ambitions" and who vowed with a college friend to "drill ourselves in all the arts of persuasion but especially in oratory...that we might have facility in leading others into our ways of thinking and enlisting them in our purposes."  (Quoted from a letter written by the young Woodrow Wilson)  His path to the Presidency was unusual, achieved not through a succession of political offices but rather through teaching, writing, and becoming the president of Princeton, from which he was recruited to become governor of New Jersey, and then was nominated and elected to two terms as President of the United States.  He served from 1913 to 1921, including throughout the years of our involvement in World War I. 
Woodrow Wilson retired from the presidency to a home in Washington, D.C., but I suspect had I been in his place, I might have returned to the beautiful Virginia hometown of his birth.  


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Isaac and the Political Press

The Plutocrat and His Toy (the press)
From the time John Hilmes established the County Capital newspaper in St. John in 1888, the paper took a progressive stance on political matters.  The St. John News was the Republican paper.  Isaac not only subscribed to the County Capital but also had his articles published in that paper regularly.  Neither of these St. John newspapers made any pretense of objectivity with regard to political bias.  That was typical of newspapers of that era.

The question today is whether media bias is any less so.  Television and the internet have more influence than newspapers in today's media market, and with the speed of information now minute-by-minute rather than being published in a morning and an evening edition, policing the accuracy of what is published is nearly impossible.  The ability to manipulate voter opinions is as great as it ever has been.

Freedom of speech is one of our most cherished freedoms, and each of us can exercise that right.  However, the dissemination of each individual's speech is vastly unequal.  Several hundred people will visit my blog each week, but several hundred thousand may see a single political advertisement on television.  Facebook is a place where people can express their opinions to their friends, and many people use that opportunity to express political views.  I assume it will not offend my facebook friends to share that some asked me on facebook to commit my vote to the Republican presidential candidate months before a candidate was ever nominated.  My Democratic friends had more fun posting videos of every gaff Romney made, and they were especially fond of sharing Jon Steward and Stephen Colbert's clips.  Frankly, none of those facebook postings was particularly informative in shaping my political views, although I preferred the ones that made me laugh versus the hateful ones.
The founding fathers knew that accurate and relevant information is critical to the democratic process, and citizens can exercise their right to vote wisely only if that information is available, a significant purpose for insuring freedom of speech and a free press.  Unfortunately, the quality of what we hear and read is not always deserving of the precious protection it is given, yet consorship is worse.
The dilemma raised by the level of misinformation and outright lies during political campaigns led Time Magazine to feature "The Fact Wars" as their cover story of the October 3, 2012 issue.  The sad conclusion of their article was that although fact checking is being increasingly done, it seems to be making little difference.  As Neil Newhouse, Romney's pollster infamously said, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers."  Researchers have found that voters tend to choose media that support opinions they already hold, and if, by chance, they learn of a misrepresentation by their candidate, they are likely to excuse it.  The article quotes pollster Frank Luntz who said about Americans, "We don't collect news to inform us.  We collect news to affirm us."
The Time article also reported on research that identified "belief echoes," information that sticks in our brains even after a falsehood is corrected.  For that reason, I particularly dislike one political commentator who uses the excuse that he is an entertainer to disclaim any responsibility for the falsehoods he presents as factual during his rants.  His lie, lodged in a listener's brain, may remain longer than the memory of the source, leaving an erroneous "belief echo" planted by a bigoted blowhard.
Michael Scherer's article in Time is a thought-provoking examination of an important issue, and I recommend it.  Another interesting problem was examined at NPR's digital blog concerning whether TV stations should refuse to air political ads that contain verifiable lies.  To protect against censorship, federal law requires candidate ads to be broadcast, so the TV stations have little choice.  However, third-party and super PAC ads are not protected under that law.  Yet, these ads containing verifiable falsehoods blanket viewers.  The comments following this NPR blog are also interesting as people argue the importance of quality information for voters vs. the dangers of censorship.
One of my pet peeves is the pretense of balance by network programing when they put a pair of talking heads side-by-side on the television screen to discuss a topic.  One of the talking heads is well-informed, experienced, and shares a point of view generally held by other individuals in that field of expertise.  The other talking head is a crackpot, ill-informed, with no experience and spouting opinions based on nonsense.  However, the program host is careful to give both talking heads equal time and proper respect, misleading viewers to think that the opinions of both deserve serious consideration.  There are times when reasonable and intelligent people can hold opposing views, but there are also times when two talking heads are one too many!
I like to read all the opinions on the editorial page.  I like to share discussions with people of differing views.  But I also adhere to the old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."  Following that adage, there are networks I do not watch and commentators I will run the length of the house to turn off before they plant a false "belief echo" in my brain.
The 1890 political cartoon at the beginning of this post is one of my favorites.  Most of us realize the bias of our favorite newspapers and television shows, and we know that journalistic ethics have changed since Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings delivered the nightly news.  Campaign strategists have now made a profession of fooling the public with statistics from "independent" studies that are no such thing.  Polls and focus groups allow these strategists to know exactly what version of their "facts" will be most persuasive.  And, to be honest, facts seem less and less capable of simple black and white truth or lie, colored into varying shades of grey by complications and contradicting evidence.  Yet, we voters must not be tricked by the wink of the eye and the strategist manipulating the news like a toy monkey.  Elections influenced by sound bites, ads paid for by wealthy special interest groups, and other such tainted information will elect exactly the kind of failed candidates we deserve if we fall for them.  What was true in Isaac's time is true today.  That will never change.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Politics and Wealth in Isaac's Day

What That "Wave of Prosperity" Is Doing

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."  Louis D. Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (b. 1856 - d. 1941)

Ask most people about the Gilded Age and they will perhaps mention the mansions along 5th Avenue in NYC or the elaborate summer homes in Newport, Rhode Island, or they may recall names like Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and Gould.  What they are unlikely to mention are the factory workers, miners, steel workers, and farmers struggling to survive during an era better known for its extravagant displays of wealth.  This is the era during which Isaac Werner wrote in his journal about farmers who signed mortgages when rain did seem to follow the plow and prices for crops were high, only to face foreclosure and starvation when drought, low prices, and higher interest rates defeated hope and hard work. 
Early America, when industry meant local craftsmen--like blacksmiths, barrel makers, tanners, tinsmiths, and millers, or crafts such as candle making, spinning, weaving, and butchering done at home--changed around the time of the Civil War to a nation of steel mills, factories, and corporations.  The United States male population described by Alexis de Toqueville in 1835 as having "...greater equality in point of fortune and intellect, or, in other words, more equal in their strength, than in any other country of the world..." had been replaced in only a few decades by a nation of great economic inequality among men.  Vast wealth brought disproportionate power and political influence.
The Gilded Age was the time during which the populist movement was born.  Farmers like Isaac joined laborers to confront the political influence of the wealthy few with the greater voting strength of the many.  Disproportionate wealth distribution during the Gilded Age is similar to current economic statistics referred to as the 1% vs. the 99%.  However, in Isaac's time government social programs to assist the aged, the disabled, and the unemployed were not available, and people literally starved.  Although the People's Party of Isaac's time failed in its attempt to establish itself as an enduring third party, many of the issues championed by the People's Party were subsequently implemented, including social programs and government regulations upon which Americans now rely. 
If you can afford to buy an election you can afford to pay higher taxes!
Today, the political debate about the disappearing middle class and economic inequity sounds very similar to issues debated during the Gilded Age.  The money pouring in to political ads since the Citizens United case was decided by the US Supreme Court has only made the significance of one citizen's vote more doubtful for some Americans, regardless of party affiliation.  (The  sidewalk graffiti posted on facebook garnered "likes" from friends of all political attitudes.)
One presidential candidate has declared that "Corporations are people too," although the definition in Black's Legal Dictionary states that a corporation is "an artificial person or legal entity created by or under the authority of the laws of a state or nation."  Since the creation of people still requires egg and sperm, an artificial person created under the authority of laws doesn't really have what it takes to be a person!  When our nation was founded the distrust of corporations in England was brought to the new land, and early laws reflected that distrust.  Gradually the laws changed, but current distrust of wealth and corporate influence shares much in common with early attitudes, making many voters feel insignificant within the political process, just as the working classes felt after the Civil War when corporations, trusts and monopolies gained power.
In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt wrote:  "Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.  To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day."  In Isaac's time the enemies of the working classes were Monopolists, Trusts, Wall Street, and Speculators, who were resented not only because of their disproportionate wealth but also because they used their wealth politically to gain advantages.
Letting the Little Fellow Think He's Driving--When He Isn't
Maintaining the economic balance to keep the United States a land of opportunity for all of its citizens has been a challenge since its inception, and particularly so after manufacturing and industry expanded beyond small, local producers.  The global marketplace is not new either, although it has certainly changed.  Franklin Roosevelt left a definition for what he believed necessary to a strong and healthy political and economic system:  Equality of opportunity for youth and others; Jobs for those who can work; Security for those who need it; The ending of the special privileges for the few; The preservation of civil liberties for all; and The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living."  FDR was a Democrat, but the goals he enumerated would seem to meet with the approval of most Americans. 
Isaac's generation confronted how to accomplish those goals during the Gilded Age; the often-described Greatest Generation confronted meeting those goals while fighting a world war during the Depression and World War II; and the present generation confronts those same goals today.  The two political cartoons from 1890 seem especially applicable as election day 2012 nears.  Is the "Wave of Prosperity" lifting only some of America's citizens while drowning others, and are some Americans being hoodwinked by the wealthy and powerful to believe they are driving political decisions when they are not?  Are these questions as relevant today as they were in Isaac's time? 

Reading Isaac's journal and researching the era about which he was writing intrigued me with political similiarities to our own.  Then as now, each person's vote mattered.  Political views continue to differ, but everyone still has the same precious right to cast a ballot!
Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.    

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Isaac Builds a School House

Emerson School House, Dist. 33, Stafford County, Kansas

The earliest school in Isaac's community was a soddy, but on New Year's Eve at the close of 1884, neighbors met prior to the bond election to discuss the style and dimensions of a new wooden school house.  On January 3, 1885, Isaac recorded in his journal:  "Great election day voting $500. Bonds district 33 Stafford Co., Kansas for School bonds."  Although women would not have the vote in general elections for many years to come, the Kansas state constitution had given women the right to vote in school elections, and apparently they exercised that right enthusiastically in support of the new Emerson school.
The school board retained contractor David Carnahan to construct the building, and he hired Will Goodwin and Isaac Werner to help him, but it was not until October 13th that Isaac wrote:  "...came round by new school house, Carnahan foundation nearly bricked up, & few loads of lumber on ground, soon all to be got this week & house to go up next week."  During the following days, Isaac recorded his labor at the school house, and on the last day of October, he wrote:  "[E]ve up with wagon to school house got tool chest...," taking some of the leftover building materials in partial payment from Carnahan.  Two weeks later he wrote, "...settled with Carnahan being very near square," and on December 6, 1885, he wrote with satisfaction:  "Yesterday school house building accepted by directors of Carnahan pleased with the job etc.  school to commence to-morrow."  During the remaining years of Isaac's life he attended many community meetings in that building, and he often went there alone to make needed repairs, or as he said, keep it "tidy."  The above picture of the school house Isaac helped build was taken in the early 1900s several years after Isaac's death, showing a neglect of repairs to the siding of which Isaac would have surely disapproved!
The stucco-finished Emerson School House, Dist. 33, Stafford, Co. 

A few years after that picture was taken, the wooden structure that Isaac helped build was replaced by a larger, stucco-finished school with a basement.  My father's older siblings may have attended the wooden school, but my father began school in the newer building.  He is the little boy sitting next to the steps with his chin resting on his hands.  The girl sitting next to him is his cousin, Lucille M. Hall, who bequeathed Isaac's journal to the museum bearing her name, and both she and my father are descendants of George Hall, Isaac's friend.  (My father and Lucille were born only a few days apart, and they were great buddies during childhood and remained close as adults.)
Public school education was a high priority for early settlers, and when farmers began to organize during the hard years of the 1880s and 1890s, education remained a core issue of the populist movement.  One of the books Isaac read during this time was written by Ignatius L. Donnally, a U.S. Congressman from Minnesota and a leader in the populist movement.  Caesar's Column is a novel set in the future, which depicts class warfare between the extremely wealthy and the workers they have reduced to inhuman conditions.  Donnally's book imagines what could happen if the trends of the Gilded Age, with a growing economic gap between the wealthy capitalists, bankers, and industralists and the factory workers, miners, and farmers of the working classes, were allowed to continue. 
In his book, Donnelly depicts the disadvantages of educating the nation's children in separate schools, with children of the wealthy, professional, and managerial classes abandoning public schools.  In the novel, a group of educated survivors escape the cataclysmic class war and establish a utopian community dedicated to avoiding the old world's mistakes.  One of the fictional founders of that utopia describes their education system with these words:
"We abolish all private schools, except the higher institutions and colleges.  We believe it to be essential to the peace and safety of the commonwealth that the children of all the people, rich and poor, should, during the period of growth, associate together.  In this way, race, sectarian and caste prejudices are obliterated, and the whole community grow up together as brethren.  Otherwise, in a generation or two, we shall have the people split up into hostile factions, fenced in by doctrinal bigotries, suspicious of one another, and antogonizing one another in politics, business and everything else." 
Caesar's Column was published in 1890.
Ralph center front right, Lucille behind, & Arthur Beck behind her

 Although Isaac was a bachelor without children of his own, be believed in the importance of supporting education.  Even after the school was built, if Isaac noticed something in need of repair, he fixed it.  For Isaac, public school tax dollars were an investment in our nation's future, unrelated to having children in school.  His efforts built a school for many children who attended Emerson District 33 School, including my own father and the ancestors of countless others.  He did not expect reimbursement for his volunteer repair jobs or the books from his own collection that he donated.  He acted from the belief that communities are better served by educated citizens, and he supported the school with his taxes, his private acts of repair, and his donated books.

Remember:  You can enlarge the images by clicking on them.