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