Thursday, December 19, 2013

Isaac's Penmanship Revisited

Isaac's penmanship
It came as a surprise to me that my blog "Isaac's Penmanship" has proved to be one of the most often visited, even months after it was first published.  (See 5-2-2012)  I suspect its popularity may have to do with people searching for reference material to use in teaching themselves or younger people the art of cursive, now that many schools are abandoning classroom instruction. 
At the time I wrote the original blog, I knew that a movement to make the teaching of cursive optional was underway, and the May 2, 2012 blog discusses that movement and the pros and cons of teaching cursive as part of the standard curriculum.  As with other fading traditions, the disappearance of cursive has been so gradual that many people did not realize what was happening.  In a recent article by Julie Carr Smyth for the Associated Press, she wrote that the new Common Core educational standards have dropped penmanship classes, citing the state leaders who developed those standards as stressing "the increasing need for children in a digital-heavy age to master computer keyboarding."  An assistant professor of K-12 policy at the University of Southern California was quoted as saying, "'s much more likely that keyboarding will help students succeed in careers and in school than it is that cursive will" 
According to Smyth's article, at least 7 states that have adopted Common Core have chosen to retain the teaching of cursive.  These advocates cite studies on brain science and the value to future scholars of knowing cursive to interpret a range of cultural materials, such as historical documents, ancestors' letters and journals, and handwritten notes by historical figures and scholars.  (See "Isaac's Penmanship" blog for additional discussion.)
Michael Sull

Consulting an old magazine article I had torn from the Nov/Dec 1996 issue of Country Home titled "Letter Perfect," I was reintroduced to a man known today as the leading authority on Spencerian script and as America's foremost living Spencerian penman.  In that article from nearly two decades ago, Michael Sull said of his decision to teach Spencerian script to others, "If I had taken this gift and decided to do nothing with it, I would have been falling down on some sort of moral responsibility.  I had a chance to preserve and extend part of our heritage. 
 Sull has indeed preserved and extended that heritage, as both the author of books and the calligrapher for Ronald Reagan after his Presidency.  The route Sull took to reach his esteemed position began with a degree in forestry from Syracuse University, followed by enlistment in the US Navy.  Only then did he pursue his interest in calligraphy, founding a calligraphy guild, working as a calligrapher and lettering artist at Hallmark, and starting his own ornamental penmanship company.  Like Isaac, Sull made his home in Kansas.  You can visit his face book page at Michael Sull or read more about him at where I found this recent photograph.
Of course, one of the reasons our ancestors polished their penmanship was to present themselves favorably in their letters, whether personal or business.  Author Simon Garfield, a British journalist, writes in his recent book, A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing, "A world without letters would surely be a world without oxygen," calling the distinction between an e-mail and a letter the difference between "a poke" and "a caress."  Yet, Garfield also predicts that the last letter will appear in our lifetimes.

Penmanship of beloved teacher Ralph Bisel

Recently, I bought several sheets of stamps, acknowledging to the postmistress that I had begun collecting as a way to share a common interest with my mother-in-law.  I admitted that with her passing, I should probably terminate my collecting, adding:  "I guess the stamps will always have the value of using them for postage."  The expression on the face of the much younger postmistress did not offer much assurance of the truth of my assumption. 

Penmanship of my parents from my grade card

Smyth's newspaper article cited USPS figures that 1st class mail fell in 2010 to its lowest level in a quarter-century, adding statistics that 95% of teens use the internet, with a rapidly growing number using their smart-phones to go online.  A 2012 Pew report found a rise among teenagers in text messaging from 50 a day in 2009 to 60 a day in 2011.   I would predict that the drift away from 1st class mail has only increased since those statistics were compiled.
Make your own generational handwriting comparisons, as I did with my parents and a special teacher, including the penmanship samples of yourself and your children.  What do you think you will find?  Will anyone write cursive as neatly as my teacher and parents did in the 1950s?
As you know from my earlier blog, Isaac continued to study Spencerian script as an adult, believing that proper penmanship was the sign of an educated man.  His neighbors respected Isaac's knowledge of contracts, grammar, and penmanship enough to turn to him frequently to write their agreements, and he was elected Secretary of most organizations he joined.  Has the time for such traditional skills passed?  Are we content with e-mails and text messages, or the occasional greeting card bearing only a signature? 

Here is a novel idea for your New Year's Resolution:  Consider digging to the bottom of that desk drawer for the old note cards you bought years ago or for the stationery someone gave you as a gift which you have never opened.  What a surprise for a close friend or special relative if you took the time to write a personal note wishing them a Happy New Year!  Or, could just forward them the link to this blog to say that you thought of them when you read my suggestion!   ;-)
New blogs will continue in 2014.  Until then, I hope the past year has brought you pleasures to savor and comfort for your sadness.  I hope you look forward to the New Year with eager anticipation, and may the coming months bring you joys you had not imagined!
Michael Sull's self-study penmanship workbook

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Happy Holidays!

One of the amazing things for me since beginning this blog has been the huge number of international visitors.  Whatever your nationality or however you celebrate the holiday season, Happy Holidays!
The image at the right is from the County Capital  newspaper to which Isaac subscribed, although  Isaac would not have seen this Christmas image from 1896, for his death occurred in 1895.  As a bachelor, living alone on the prairie far from family, Isaac celebrated Christmas Day alone each year.  Sometimes, however, he did attend holiday parties at the homes of neighbors, and one year he was the chairman of the Farmers' Alliance party at the Emerson school house on Christmas Eve.
For those of you planning your Christmas Dinner Menu, I thought you might glean a few suggestions from this menu that appeared in the County Capital.  In the late 1800s, small newspapers would often carry local news on the front and back pages but would purchase the inner sheet containing international and national news, as well as stories and scandalous news articles about the rich and famous or the poor and desperate.  This menu came from such an inner sheet, for it is beyond unlikely that any of the early settlers on the plains of Kansas could have either afforded or located the ingredients for the dishes described on this menu! 
Whatever menu you choose, I hope your holiday celebration is festive, shared with family or friends or in solitary satisfaction.  Have a Happy Holiday!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Publishing Dilemma

Reading the County Capital
Recently, visiting the online newsletter Biographile, Discover the World Through Biography and Memoir, I spotted an intriguing article titled, "No Such Thing as Objective History."  As you know from reading my earlier blog, "What is History, An Update on my Manuscript," posted 5/23/13, one of the issues I have faced in writing my manuscript about Isaac Werner has been--"When documentary material is inadequate to supply every detail, can an author write legitimate history or biography?"  Writers of history and biography who are researching famous people often have a great deal of documentary material available.  With Isaac, I was fortunate to have his journal, his newspaper articles, and his probate documents, but I did not have personal letters, interviews, news reports, speeches, and other documentary material of the sort someone writing about Thomas Jefferson or Marilyn Monroe might have.

Visiting Rossville, IL
I have not read Reza Aslan's best-selling book about the "life and times of Jesus," but the Biographile article questioning "Objective History" was based on an interview of that author, who discussed his approach to writing about the life of Jesus.  Aslan's method for writing about more than the Biblical account was, "[to] rely on the world in which Jesus lived, a world that--thanks to the Romans--we know a great deal about.  By placing Jesus firmly within his time and place, we can fill in the holes of his life and create a picture of him..."  What I found so relevant from the interview of Aslan was how he used the information that was available from that historic period in his book.

Transcribing & Annotating Isaac's Journal
My  manuscript about Isaac Werner also uses what Aslan called research about my subject's "time and place" to "fill in the holes of his life and create a picture" of him.  In addition, I benefitted from getting to know Isaac from the emotions and opinions expressed in his journal.  (Thank goodness he did not always follow the advice of Henry Ward Beecher to keep personal feelings out of his journal.  Blog of 12-7-2012.)

Marketing my manuscript, I am asked to define it.  Biography?...history?...narrative nonfiction?...historic fiction?  That definition is difficult, and it has created a publishing dilemma for me.  Am I prohibited from imagining dialogue if I know from Isaac's journal when, where, and with whom Isaac had a conversation and the likely subjects they discussed?  Does it make a difference that I document in a footnote what I have done, distinguishing the sourced information from the imagined?

Reading books Isaac read
In his interview, Aslan insists, "There's no such thing as objective history:  a scholar cannot help but bring his own impressions and perceptions into his study, no matter how hard he tries."  Aslan argues that his approach in describing Jesus by "immers[ing] readers in the social, political, and religious context of the first century" allows a reader to "figure out for yourself the larger implication of what he [Jesus] was saying or doing."

Here is what I have done:  I have studied Isaac from his daily journal, (Blog of 10-23-11), his published writings, newspaper and other accounts of events he attended and organizations he joined (Blog of 4-12-12 & 4-17-12).  I have traveled to the town his father founded where Isaac was born and raised, (Blog of 2-16-12 & 2-23-12), visited the town where he was a young druggist, (Blog of 1-20-12 & 1-27-12), walked the land he homesteaded (Blog of 5-16-13), and found his forgotten grave (Blog of 1-13-12).  I have read specific books he read, as well as books by speakers and performers he saw in person and with whom he corresponded (Blog of 2-2-12, 5-30-13, & 4-11-13).  I have done genealogy research of his ancestry and descendants of his siblings, as well as searching the ancestry of each of his neighbors, also learning from interviews with descendants and public documents as much about Isaac's neighbors as I could.  I have immersed myself in the history of the period, reading original documents and scholarly books (Blogs of 8-30-12, 9-13-12, & 10-18-12).  I often felt I knew those people and their lives better than I know the people living in Isaac's community today.

Researching Isaac's Neighbors (Doc Dix)
What is important to me is not writing another scholarly book but rather bringing Isaac, his community, and the Populist movement of the Gilded Age alive to readers, whether they are reading for pleasure or for academic information.  Isaac's journal and the other research I have done is valuable to scholars, but it is also incredibly interesting for general readers.  Is there not some way I can present Isaac's story that is accessible to both?

In the interview with Biographile, Aslan addresses this issue:  "The biggest criticism I have of my [academic] colleagues is that they spend all their time talking to each other, that they rarely bother to synthesize their ideas and their research to make it accessible and appealing to a wider audience.  ... There is a culture in academia that tends to look down on those who try to reach a wider audience--we're immediately tagged as not serious."

Interviewing Isaac's cousin in Wernersville
I have successfully published two non-fiction books, Should the Children Pray?  A Historical, Political, and Judicial Examination of School Prayer, published by Baylor University Press, and Private Choices, Public Consequences, Reproductive Technology and the New Ethics of Conception, Pregnancy, and Family, published by Dutton, a division of Penguin.  You can learn more about those books at my author's website,  I sought with both of those books to bridge the gap between writing for general readers and academics, or as Aslan said, to reach a wider audience, although both books were carefully researched and documented.  I was chosen the Georgia Non-fiction Author of the Year for Should the Children Pray?

Visit to town founded by his father
In telling Isaac's story, with a bachelor homesteader at the center of the Populist Movement in his community and events throughout the nation impacting Isaac and other laborers, I am again seeking to bridge the gap between general readers and academics.  By footnoting imagined conversations and describing events based on research and newspaper accounts, I feel that general readers will find the story more involving and accessible while academics will be warned to consult the references provided in the footnote without assuming that the conversation or description is an accurate account of that particular conversation or that the description of the event was exactly as Isaac experienced it, although Isaac's journal does reference the meeting or event.  I may not have an easy label for what I have chosen to do, but as Katherine Hepburn said, "If you obey all of the rules, you miss all of the fun."  I believe trying to fit my manuscript into either an academic mold or reducing it to historical fiction would make it less than what it is as I have written it.  The challenge is to find a publisher that agrees!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

One Thanksgiving morning during the years of drought and low prices for crops, Isaac wrote in his journal that he didn't see many signs of celebration in his community, adding that 'people didn't have much to be thankful for' in those hard times.  As negative as that comment sounds, Isaac never lost his belief that conditions would improve, and he continued to work politically and agriculturally with his neighbors to make things better.  Despite his severe medical problems the last years of his life, by the time of his death he had managed to pay off his debts.  Things had improved for Isaac and his neighbors.
As I type this blog, I am sitting in a house built by one of the neighbors who went through those hard times with Isaac.  My great grandparents, Aaron and Susan Beck, raised their two children in this community.  Susan built this house with her son, Royal, who brought his bride, Lillian Hall, to this house when they married.  Six of their seven children were born in this house, including my father.  (Only their last child was born in a hospital.)  After my grandfather's stroke, my parents returned to spend the rest of their married life together in this house, where my brother and I were raised. 
When I began transcribing Isaac Werner's journal, I had no idea that he had known three sets of my great grandparents.  Because of the renaming of this township, I had mistakenly thought Isaac's claims were located in the present Clear Creek Township to the west of my ancestral home.  My interest in Isaac was strictly historical.  Only later did I learn of the personal links I share with Isaac.  However, I am especially thankful that Isaac has led me to discover so much about the history of my community and the significant role Kansas played in American history during the late 1800s.
It must be obvious to those of you who have followed my blog that I am a great believer in the importance of history and traditions in our culture, teaching each new generation respect for those who came before them and sharing the wisdom gained from the past.  I believe when modern generations are unaware of history and traditions there is not only educational ignorance but also character deficiency.  James Fennimore Cooper said:  "The man who has no other existence than that which he partakes in common with all around him, will never have any other than an existence of mediocrity."  Likewise, I would say that a society that ignores its past history and traditions through neglect or arrogance cheats itself of the benefits of its rich heritage.
I am particularly thankful for my roots in this community and for my awareness of people who struggled to build the world into which I was born.  Living in this ancestral house has made me sentimental about not only its history but also the flotsam of everyday things left behind by former residents.  (See "Isaac's Efforts...", 11/14/13; "Susan's Album," 3/21/13; "Disappearing Traces of the Past," 12/23/11).  I must constantly work to clear away, bit-by-bit, some of that memorabilia they have left behind.  This week's images are from a card and program saved by my mother-in-law, Irene.  She would be surprised to know that these images are being passed along for others to enjoy so many years later!
I want to close by thanking those who have followed my blog and who have supported and encouraged me throughout the researching and writing of my manuscript.  I am grateful for your interest and enthusiasm.  May you have a Happy Thanksgiving and a joyous holiday season in the coming weeks!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Prairie Fires

I will never forget the night my husband and I were driving back to my parents' farm from an evening in Macksville when we noticed a strange orange glow on the southern horizon.  My father knew at once what it was.  "Someone's place is on fire," he said, as he headed the car in the direction of the orange glow.  Although he drove as fast as possible on the dirt roads, by the time we arrived, others were there ahead of us.  Some were stretching hoses toward the burning barn of Leroy and Dutch, while others filled every container they could find with water from stock tanks and hydrants, slopping half of it out as they ran toward the blaze to throw what was left on the fire before running back for more.  It was quickly obvious that garden hoses and pails of water could not put out the roaring fire that had summoned everyone with flames reaching into the night sky.  Attention was turned to stopping the spread of the fire to other outbuildings and the house, and neighbors succeeded in doing that.  As I recall, the owners were away from home on vacation, and had neighbors not arrived to fight the fire, far more could have been lost.
Prairie Fire East of Isaac Werner's Land! 
The idea of neighbors joining together to fight a fire on someone else's property is as old as the settlement of the prairie.  Isaac wrote in his journal:  "Green & I helped fight fire on old George Henn's 1/4 section, got it finally subdued.  Some 18 men out and several teams, fire originating somewhere from new school house site, through some carelessness."  On the prairie there was no fire department to call.  Instead, neighbors depended on each other.  "Another reckless fire hot to drift down from N. of creek through Vosburghs pasture & burning over Persis two claims.  We--Harry [Bentley], F. Curtis, W. Goodwin & Gus [Gereke] over there plowing and back firing on W. side of Persis timber strip & finally got things safe."
Burned field in Background 
Isaac seemed to feel that both of those fires were the result of human carelessness.  In the early years, migrating settlers passing through and leaving embers from their campfires were a particular problem.  Occasionally the cause was a household source, as Isaac described of a close neighbor's fire:  "Yesterday [Jesse] Green's stable yard & roof of stable burned up, caught from stove pipe during noon."  Isaac was particularly critical of those who burned off pastures when conditions were too dry, or who thought a single rainfall had soaked dry grass adequately to allow safe burning nearby.  The arrival of railroads on the prairie was another source of fires caused by man, as sparks from the engines often ignited dry grass along the tracks.
Tracks through the Burned Field
However, prairie fires had occurred before the land was settled.  Lightning was the natural cause of those fires, and the population of the plains did not decrease that possibility, especially with so much unbroken prairie sod providing dry grass to ignite.  The reason there were no trees on the prairie when the settlers arrived was not because the land would not support the growth of trees, but rather because of fires that raced across the prairie, burning every sprouting tree whose seed had germinated in the prairie soil.   
Today there are local fire stations in rural communities and small towns to help put out fires, if they arrive in time and if the strong prairie winds aren't driving the flames along too rapidly to control.  Many farmers now burn stubble intentionally, a practice that frightens me just as the prairie fires frightened Isaac.  Most of the time the farmers only burn when the air is calm and equipment is standing by to control the spread of the flames, and the real danger often occurs when the fire appears to be out but hidden embers come alive later as winds pick up speed.  Fields left idle for conservation are also burned to minimize weeds and encourage new growth.
One evening my husband and I were returning home just after sunset, and a controlled burn lit the nearby horizon, a row of trees between us and the flames.  The dark silhouette of the trees in front of the orange and purple flames twisting and dancing skyward became the image for my manuscript's description of the real prairie fire Isaac watched as it traveled just to the west of my great grandfather Aaron Beck's homestead and timber claim

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Isaac's Efforts to Extend a Helping Hand

Political Cartoon from the County Capital


The hardships of the late 1800s in agricultural regions are difficult for today's Americans to imagine.  Farmers were grinding up the grain they had put aside for the next planting season's seed, mixing it with water to feed their starving children.  Isaac Werner wrote to the presidents of the surrounding Farmers' Alliances, urging that funds be collected from members to provide assistance to their most desperate neighbors, but nearly everyone was struggling just to care for their own families and to survive long enough to raise the next year's crops.  There were few places to turn for help, although counties did have limited funds for the most desperate.  (Click on cartoon to enlarge.)
Groups of these desperate men organized marches, headed for Washington, D.C. to ask for help, but many of these marches failed because the participants were too weak to walk the distance and too lacking in funds to provide food for the walkers.  A wealthy man named Jacob Coxey subsidized a march, which he called the Army of the Commonweal in Christ but which newspapers generally referred to as Coxey's Army.  Because of his financial ability to provide food and organization, Coxey and a portion of his men reached the nation's capital to ask for jobs.  They were desperately poor, not lazy beggars asking for a handout.  However, they were barred from entering the capital and Coxey and another man were arrested for walking on the grass, their pleas for work essentially ignored.
Shovel handle
Today, most Americans take for granted the social safety nets funded by the government.  We cannot imagine a time when a young married couple would have committed suicide as she was in labor with their first child, slashing their own throats because they were starving and felt they had no place to turn.  Yet, this story was reported in the County Capital to which Isaac subscribed.  Many of our current social programs now offering the assistance this young couple did not have are rooted in the political goals of the People's Party of the 1890s.
During another economic period of unemployment and widespread hardship in America, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an order which led to the creation of the Works Progress Administration, later called the Works Projects Administration.  He entrusted its specific shaping to his close adviser, Harry Hopkins, and it is considered the most ambitious undertaking of the New Deal.
Old WPA shovel
Recently my husband and I were cleaning out our garage, and I took the responsibility of going through my father's old tools, cleaning them and oiling the dry wooden handles and rusty metal blades.  As I applied oil to one especially dry shovel handle, I noticed something carved into the wood.  My father often marked his tools, so as not to get them mixed up when he was working with  neighbors.  I assumed that the initials were his, until I realized that the letters were actually WPA.  When I finished with the handle and began working on the metal part of the shovel, I discovered WPA engraved into the corner of the blade. 
Between 1935 and 1943 the WPA provided employment for millions, paying wages consistent with the region in which the jobs were offered.  Hours were limited, and workers did not get rich--but they survived.  In addition, things like roads, government buildings, conservation projects, and public health projects benefitted citizens.  In the arts, musicians, actors, artists, and writers found work through the WPA.
Bottom right corner of blade see WPA
It was the approach of W.W. II and the need for employees in the war effort that diminished the need for the WPA, and Congress ended the Administration in 1943.  While it helped many Americans, it was subjected to some of the same criticisms heard today regarding our present forms of government assistance.  False and exaggerated reports were circulated about the excessive waste, and one congressman called the WPA a "seedbed for communists."  Complaints were made about politics having more to do with the distribution of projects and funding allotments than the needs of citizens in those regions.  And, just as today, needy workers were often viewed as being in their situation because they were lazy.  Even Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird reflects that sort of criticism when a local loafer is described as "the only person fired from the WPA for laziness."
Close-up of engraved WPA
I do not know how the WPA shovel came to be among my father's tools.  In 1935 my father would have been twenty years old, and I do know that tree belts to control wind erosion of the loose sandy loam soil were planted in our area, including one just north of my family's hereditary home.  Could that have been a WPA project?  Whether my father or anyone else in his family worked for the WPA or whether the shovel I discovered ended up in his possession in some other way, I do not know.
What I do know is that farmers of Isaac's time who couldn't feed their families wanted work, not handouts, and the political goals of the People's Party included government work programs in their political platforms.  Many progressive programs that have been implemented over the years have their inceptions in these People's Party ideas.  Recently, jobs to improve America's aging infrastructure were suggested to help climb out of the recession at the close of the Bush administration and to improve the current economy.  What I also know is that most living Americans cannot imagine the degree of desperation that past generations suffered, without any place to turn for help.
Holding that old WPA shovel in my hands reminded me of all of that!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Songs for Farmers' Gatherings

In an era lacking radio, television, CDs and internet, people still enjoyed music.  Many towns formed bands  (See "Music on the Prairie, 1/24/13), and apparently the St. John Town Band was regarded as one of the best in the area.  At least two of Isaac Werner's neighbors gave singing lessons during the winter when people were not busy in their fields.  Isaac described in his journal how much he enjoyed evenings spent with friends who played musical instruments or gatherings that included singing.
It was only natural that when farmers came together in organizations like the Farmers' Alliance, which Isaac joined as an active member, music was a part of their meetings.  Recently I discovered a song book from one of these organizations, specifically "The Farmers' Union Hymnal, A Collection of Songs for Farmers' Union Gatherings, Picnics, Social Entertainments, Etc., Etc." with songs written by a man from Sunset, Texas, with publishers in Dalton, Georgia and Dallas, Texas.  The "Union Hymn" opens the book, declaring "In council there is wisdom, In union there is strength..." and the second verse describes the conditions that have given rise to the need for farmers to unite.  "Now this is our condition, Tho' shameful tale to tell; The speculator prices the things we have to sell, And when we want to purchase, our purchases come high, For speculation prices the things we have to buy."
Many farmers, like Isaac Werner, had borrowed money to buy implements for working their claims and horses, mules, or oxen to pull the implements.  When the prices for the crops they had counted on to repay the loans fell, they were barely able to make payments of interest, without reducing the principle, month after month--even year after year.  It is not surprising that the second song in the book includes the farmer's hope to "make enough to pay the mortgage off," looking forward to the day "whey that mortgage all is paid" and he can dress his wife "like a queen."
These farmers' organizations were formed to improve farming methods, confront the power of speculators and monopolists, and help each other through hard times.  As tough as times were, farmers still joined in singing "I like to live upon the farm, and breathe the country air; Far from the city's dust and harm, life seems more sweet and fair.  Around me shines the glowing sun, the rains come down in time, and every day there's something done to earn an honest dime."  (Lyrics from "Farm Life")  Unfortunately, in addition to the hardship of debts, farmers also faced drought, when rains did not come down in time. 
In the late 1800s there were many different farmers' organizations that came together to form the People's Party.  The two predecessors in Isaac's community were the Farmers' Alliance and Union Labor, but in the South a similar organization had been called the Wheel.  Perhaps this had been in the composer's and lyricist's mind when he wrote "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel."
Many of the farmers' rallies were held out of doors.  In Isaac's community, Neelands Grove was a popular place, and families would arrive with blankets to spread on the ground for picnic lunches, where speakers would deliver inspirational, instructive, or political speeches.  Often there were foot races, wooden dance floors, and sometimes amusement rides of that period--primarily swings.  And usually there was singing, with lyrics of encouragement.  "It is well to work and 'tis well to play when our round of toil is done; then with strength renewed we to tasks return, and life's pleasures are won."  (Lyrics from "Picnic Song")
These farmers were confident that their strength lay in their superior numbers, especially when their organizations became politically active.  They could barely feed their families and were lucky if they could avoid foreclosure on their land, produce, livestock, and equipment.  They certainly lacked the financial resources to confront the wealth and power of men of the Gilded Age.  On the other hand, they greatly outnumbered these steel and railroad tycoons, Wall Street speculators, and monopolists.  Farmers, miners, and laborers believed they could succeed through their votes, if only they worked together.  The lyrics from "Help!" in the image below represent a summary of the abuses they perceived and their method for overcoming them.  (You can click on the image to enlarge for reading.) 
Their plan could only succeed if great numbers of men joined their movement, and the songs often reflect their effort to recruit members.  "The horny handed sons of toil their greeting would extend; We welcome you, dear friends, today, in song our voices blend...Let the music ring!  We, the Farmer's Union, bid you welcome here..."  (Lyrics from "Welcome")  Their optimistic conviction that their movement would prevail is expressed in the final song in the book.  "On the records of our country there shall shine a glowing page; It will be the Farmers' Union of this grand, progressive age.  Come and join the Farmers' Union and its many merits plead; Come and join the Farmers' Union, Union gives the strength we need."  (Lyrics from "Join the Union")
The People's Party had some political success in the 1890s, and members were pulled from both the major political parties, although primarily from the Democrats in Isaac's community.  Although the People's Party faded, many of their progressive goals were gradually adopted by the mainstream politicians and remain entrenched in present-day laws.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Victorian Details

Isaac has given me a wonderful gift, a gift I attempt to pass along each week to those of you who follow my blog.  It is because of Isaac that I pause to see the things I have taken for granted or completely ignored most of my life, until Isaac made them important to me.  It is because of the loyal followers of my blog that I am constantly on the lookout for things they, you, might find interesting.
During our visit to Concordia, KS for the Orphan Train Celebration, (See "Orphan Trains," 1/31/13; "Shared Orphan Stories," 2/2/13; and "More Orphan Train Stories, 6/12/13) we did a little sight-seeing.  One building caught our eyes.  It now houses an antique shop, and we took a few minutes to enjoy the treasures inside.  However, it was as I was leaving the building that a particular architectural feature seized my attention.  The building had several sets of stairs, and the risers were particularly beautiful.  I paused to photograph one set on which the name of the foundry appeared.  Recently, I decided to research what might be found about Sweet & Crider.
Charles Edwin Sweet was born a few years after Isaac, in 1884, but he died the same year of Isaac's death, in 1895.  He attended  only a few months of school before going to work to help with his family's finances, driving a team when he was only seven on the canal in New York state where they lived.  He arrived in Kansas with his family ahead of Isaac, settling in Greenleaf, Washington County, KS in 1872.  Sweet began carrying mail, then bought a stage line that he operated until 1878 when the railroad arrived.  By the time Isaac settled in Stafford County to stake his claims in 1878, Sweet had become financially successful enough to form a business partnership, selling hardware and implements in Concordia.  He was a self-made, successful man in businesses and real estate, although he also suffered some financial failure through poor investments and speculations when hard times swept the country.  Among those disappointments were a bank in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, a flour & grist mill, and the firm of Sweet & Crider foundry. 
Interestingly, Charles Sweet and Isaac B. Werner have certain things in common.  After selling his drug store in Rossville, IL, Isaac invested in land with his brother in Minnesota, (just as Sweet invested there), and between his time as a druggist in Rossville and leaving to stake his claims on the Kansas prairie, Isaac entered into a partnership operating a mill in Rossville (just as Sweet invested in a flour and grist mill).  It seems that Isaac's decision to leave his successful drugstore business and the milling operation to become a farmer was not as successful financially as Charles Sweet's decision to prosper as a businessman, making his land investments in city lots rather than farm land.  However, the hard times during the late 1800s seem to have challenged both men.
(Remember, you can enlarge the photographs by clicking on them, and be sure to notice all the stairs  with the intricate iron work on the building.)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ladies at the Fair

In my first blog of the state fair series, "Time for the Fair," posted 9/4/2013, I shared the history of state fairs and how they had grown from farmers' agricultural societies.  While the early participants had been primarily men, the women soon began exhibiting their own skills.  The Kansas State Fair has a building dedicated to the Domestic Arts, and it can be seen in the background of the photograph of the John Deere tractor in the blog "A Day at the Fair," posted 9/11/2013.  This year a display of dolls and stuffed toys greeted visitors as they entered the Domestic Arts building.
Today most quilters are not making bed coverings from scraps because fabric is too precious to waste, although in Isaac Werner's time that was a primary motivation.  Especially when women had scrapes of expensive fabrics, like satin, lace, and velvet, they wanted to save even the tiny pieces.  The use of these irregularly shaped and sized pieces of luxurious fabrics resulted in what are called "Crazy Quilts."  Unlike quilts where fabric is cut in specific patterns, these quilts attempted to use whatever bits of fabric could be saved, and they pieced the bits together randomly, producing a "crazy" pattern.  Once pieced together, the fabrics were enhanced with rich embroidery and often trimmed with bits of lace or beads.  Generally, these quilts were not subjected to everyday use, and many have been passed down through the generations, admired for their luxurious fabrics and trims, as well as for the hours of piecing together the oddly shaped fabrics and stitching the elaborate embroidery designs.  These lovely quilts are still being made today, although the price of fabric is not so dear. 
There were many types of textile exhibits entered for judging besides dolls and quilts--clothing, wall hangings, rugs, pillows, tatting, bobbin lace, beading, samplers, needlepoint, knitting, and crochet among the many exhibits.  According to the entry book, the total prizes offered by the Fair and Sponsors for the "Clothing and Textiles" entries was $7,045, a nice recognition of quality work but only a few dollars for any individual piece when divided among the many exhibits.  Obviously, these women (and some men) did not spend the countless hours creating their entries for the prize money! 

The Domestic Arts Building contains cooking entries as well as textiles, and as I reached that section of the building they were judging apricot jam.  As a regular maker of sand hill plum jelly (See "Sandhill Plums," posted 3/1/2012, and "Plum Harvest," posted 6/14/2012), I enjoyed watching the judging and seeing the jewel-like sparkle of jars of jams, jellies, and preserves lining the shelves of the exhibit. 

At a time when Smucker's jellies and jams can be bought for less than the jars, lids, sugar and fruits to make your own, when dress patterns sell for several dollars and few towns have fabric shops, and when busy career mothers and busy at-home mothers assume more volunteering responsibilities--in such times, are many of the skills celebrated in the Domestic Arts Building at the state fair disappearing?
I hope that there are still young people learning how to make jellies and jams, although I did see many empty shelves in that exhibit area.  I hope grandmothers are passing the skills of tatting, knitting, and crochet to their grandchildren.  And, I hope children are still arriving home from school to the smell of cookies fresh from the oven, although the smell of freshly baked bread is more likely to come from a handy bread machine than from  hours of mixing, rising, kneading, forming into loaves, and baking in the oven!  For now, at least, there are still those who exhibit their "domestic arts" at the fair, and with Halloween so near, I could not resist sharing this wonderful, prize-winning Halloween quilt with you!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Isaac's Antiques

You might not be surprised to find a building at the Kansas State Fair called "The Oz Gallery," but what sort of exhibits would you expect it to contain?  The word "gallery" might be a clue, and if you guessed drawings, paintings, sculpture, jewelry, and photography, you would be right.  However, the original art is not to be photographed, so I cannot share images of those exhibits, although we spent a great deal of time enjoying all of those things.
The Oz building is an interesting building to explore because of all the things you might not expect to see.  For example, have you ever seen a Wheel Ring Sizer?  If you answered "no," look to the picture above.  The person who entered the wheel ring sizer in the antique category was kind enough to include a sign explaining its use, describing how the steel rings around a wooden wheel would be heated in a forge before locking it into the sizer to make it smaller.
Of course, when I see antiques from the homesteading era, I always wonder if Isaac might have owned or used that particular object. 
Have you ever seen ox yokes carved from wood?  In 1884 Isaac Werner's neighbor, Gus Gereke, paid $175 for a pair of oxen, and many early settlers used oxen to plow through the thick prairie sod.  Perhaps Gereke's oxen wore yokes like these.
Here is a quiz for you.  Can you identify what this wooden, barrel-like contraption is?  Your grandmother or great-grandmother would have known, and she would probably have had a specific day of the week for using it.  (The answer is at the bottom of this blog.)
There were many different kinds of exhibits in the Oz building.  It was the location of Leonard the Bull, featured in last week's blog, and there was a display of chainsaw carved sculptures available for purchase.  However, one display brought tears to many eyes as they walked around all the sides, studying the faces of those who had given their lives or bodies in service.  Decorated in red, white, and blue, the display honored yet another generation of patriots who have fought for their country.
Were you surprised by the variety of things to be found in the Oz Gallery?  Beautiful art, antiques from our past, photographs of our heroes.  As Dorothy told us, "There's no place like home," and the Oz building shared many things from the hearts and homes of Kansans this year.
(Answer to the quiz:  It is an antique wooden washtub for laundry day.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cattle at the Fair

Isaac B. Werner never kept cattle, although one day in 1886 when the drought was drying up the prairie grass and times were too hard to afford to buy feed, he had two different neighbors in the same day call on him, offering to sell him one or more cows.  One of those neighbors owed Isaac money for carpentry work and offered a cow in settlement of his debt, but Isaac declined.  At various times he tried hogs (unsuccessfully), and he kept chickens eventually, and after going into debt to buy his first horse, he always had horses until his death.  But never cattle!

Cattle are definitely pampered creatures at the Kansas State Fair!  While the poultry had panted in their barn, (See Poultry Barn at the Fair, 10-3-2013.) the cattle seemed quite comfortable beneath the fans stirring the air in their well-lighted, clean barn.  The little cowgirl pictured at right was checking their family's contented cows as we entered the barn. 

There were cattle of all colors and breeds, with the entry catalogue listing Angus, Charolais, Gelbvieh, Herefords, Limousin, Shorthorn, Simmental, and Watusi, and all of them were groomed to look their best.  I watched one rancher using a blower that his wife described to me as being like a giant hair dryer to blow bits of straw off the ebony coat of one of his entries.  She explained that when the cattle lie down they pick up pieces of straw, and even though judging was not taking place, her husband wanted to keep his cattle looking their best.

Ironically, the bull drawing the biggest crowd was not at the cattle barn!  His name was Leonard, and he was attracting all the attention at the Oz Building.  Constructed of every sort of object that a welder's torch could affix to his frame, Leonard was intriguing to examine.  There were nuts, bolts, springs, tools, gears--even an old stove door to access Leonard's interior.  Click on the photographs to enlarge the images and have fun identifying all the clever parts welded to form Leonard!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Poultry Barn at the Fair

Breed:  Chinese Brown
As we entered the Poultry Barn at the Kansas State Fair, we were greeted with a cacophony of crowing, which seemed to be an ongoing competition among all the roosters in the barn, punctuated regularly with the honking of geese.  Once inside the barn, my husband's autumn allergies were immediately aggravated, so he found a chair outside, anticipating (erroneously) that my interest in the poultry would be brief.  When he called my cell phone to see if I wasn't about ready to end my visit, the noise in the barn was louder than the ringing of my phone, so I enjoyed a long, guilt-free exploration of the exhibits.   

Figure 1

The official greeter at the door was a beautiful goose, separated from his like on the other side of the barn.  I wasn't sure whether he was flattered to be displayed independently or disappointed by having none of his own kind nearby to impress.  (Figure 1)
A rooster caught my attention with his crowing, and I stood there with my camera, waiting to catch a picture of his cock-a-doodle-doing.  At last I gave up, but I back-tracked as I left the barn, in hopes I might catch him crowing again.  This photograph was the result.  (Figure 2)  I am particularly fond of this breed and wish I had carried pad and paper with me to write down the names of the breeds I admired.  Unfortunately, I had my hands full with purse and camera.  So, I am numbering the pictures I post, and if you know any of the breeds pictured, please supply them in a comment identified with the image number(s).
Figure 2 
The lovely couple below (Figure 3) was my favorite pair.  I took one shot of them, but they seemed disappointed by my failure to give them the opportunity to pose properly.  They took it upon themselves to arrange this far superior composition.  Someday, I may have to get out my pastels to draw this pair, but I will use my imagination to place them in a happier setting than a cage!  The second couple (Figure 4) is equally beautiful, but they were less obliging about positioning themselves artistically. 
Figure 4 
Figure 3
Figure 5
When I downloaded the photographs from the Poultry Barn, my bias toward black and white feather combinations was apparent, but this "cock-of-the-walk" was too colorful to ignore.  (Figure 5)
Nearby was another beautiful but less colorful feather combination.  I hope you take the time to click on this photograph to enlarge the image and enjoy the intricate patterns of this subtle beauty.  (Figure 6) 
Figure 6
Chickens ruled the Poultry Barn, but this goose won my heart.  (Figure 7)  Because I still love Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales, I naturally thought of these lines, with a slight alteration:  "Goosey, goosey gander, Whither shall I wander, Down a dozen aisles or two, 'Till at last I spotted you."  My apologies to Mother Goose!

Figure 7
Beside the goose by the entrance, this lonely turkey was also displayed.  (Figure 8)  One of my favorite authors is Barbara Kingsolver, and among her wonderful books is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which she describes spending a year attempting to feed her family only with food they had grown themselves or that they had purchased locally.  I recommend the book, but the passage I recalled while photographing this turkey, whom only another turkey could think handsome, was Kingsolver's description of breeding her own flock.  Apparently there was no old turkey in her flock for the young Tom turkeys to observe and learn what the hens expected from them, and Kingsolver's description of handling that teaching experience had me laughing out loud!  Not many writers could turn turkey breeding into a multi-page comedy. 

Figure 8

As those of you who follow my blog regularly know, Isaac Werner raised chickens.  (See "Isaac Builds an Incubator," 8-22-2013 and "Isaac Raises Chicks with a Broody Hen," 8-29-2013.)  Doing research to determine which breed of chicken he might have been most likely to raise, I decided that the Barred Plymouth Rock was most likely.  I love the look of this breed, developed in New England in the 19th Century and very popular for small farms because it is cold tolerant and is both a good producer of eggs and meat.  It comes in several colors, but the barred black and white is the most popular, and this is the breed I assumed that Isaac would have had running around his farm. 
Barred Black & White
Don't forget to add a comment if you wish to help me identify the various breeds pictured in this blog, and if you are curious to learn more about the amazing variety among chicken breeds, there are many wonderful websites you might want to visit.  I posted the images small because I used so many, so you may want to click on the photographs to enlarge the images to see them better.