Thursday, February 21, 2013

Women on the Prairie

City Hotel in St. John, Kansas
In searching for images to accompany this blog I observed that often the women photographed in everyday scenes were at the back of the picture, standing behind the men.  You will need to click on the image at the right to enlarge it enough to find the women at the rear door of the City Hotel in St. John, Kansas.  That is an appropriate allegory for how the role of women in homesteading the prairie is often seen--a wife surrounded by children standing behind her husband.  Certainly many of the women on the prairie were wives who came with their husbands to stake a claim, but it must be remembered that those wives, and the children as well, worked side-by-side with their husbands, not necessarily doing the same chores but doing other things that needed to be done if they were to survive and prosper.
The requirements for homesteading were that the claimant be the head of the household or be single and at least 21 years of age.  The claimant's gender was not specified.  As a result, many homesteaders were women--single, widowed, or divorced.  The ratio of men to women homesteaders varied from place to place and year to year, but estimates range from five to twenty percent of homesteaders being women.
Woman gathering buffalo chips for fuel
The women in my family who came to Isaac's community to build a new life on the prairie came with their husbands--Susan Beck, Theresa Hall, and Mary Wilson.  However, two of Isaac's nearest neighbors were women homesteaders.
Persis Vosburgh was an unmarried lady, born in New York state in about 1837.  She came to Kansas with her younger brother Jerome and his wife Ann.  After Ann's death, Persis helped raise her brother's children who were still at home--Fay, Leila, and Fannie.  Because of her close connection with her brother, (she was counted in his household in both the 1880 Federal Census and the 1885 Kansas Census), there were those who raised an objection to her claim as a homesteader, believing Persis had not maintained a residence on her claim.  At a vigilance meeting at the Naron School in the spring of 1885 to discuss what to do about claim jumpers, Isaac, William Campbell, and C. W. Shattuc supported Persis against those who said she did not meet the requirement of residing on her land.
In 1888 Persis Vosburgh died while on a visit to New York state to see family.  Isaac farmed her land following her death, growing corn and plowing fire guards to protect her trees from prairie fires.  Her heirs eventually conveyed it to G. G. John, the man who cared for Isaac during the final five months Isaac was able to remain in his own home.
Isaac's other unmarried neighbor was Isabel Ross, a divorced woman with children still at home.  When Mrs. Ross made the decision to claim her homestead just to the east of Isaac's timber claim, Isaac called on her to make out a lumber list for what would be necessary to build her soddy.  He wrote in his journal that she had so many architectural ideas that he was glad the job of contractor went to Tousley, another neighbor.  However, Isaac worked on the job from the time the soddy was staked until he dug her well after the structure was finished.
Although divorce was rather uncommon in those times, the court records on file explain why Isabel Ross filed against her husband.  She claimed he abused her and their children and he claimed she was an unfit mother, but she prevailed in the suit and was given custody of their children.  Over time, Isaac's initial opinion of her changed, and his journal records many kindnesses he showed her--taking corn husks and cobs to her for fuel in storms, helping tie down her stable roof in winds, papering inside her soddy roof to reduce drafts in the winter.  Despite these acts of thoughtfulness, Isaac continued calling her Mrs. Ross, avoiding the more personal use of her first name.
Susan Beck & daughter Anna Marie
My great grandmother Susan Beck is a good example of women who remained on the land with their children after misfortune.  Her husband, Aaron, suffered a stroke in about 1891, and Isaac's journal describes a sale at the Beck's about that time. During the 1890s, Susan taught in nearby Pratt County country schools.  Their older child, Royal, was a teenager, old enough to do work on the farm with direction, and by the time of Aaron's death in 1900, Royal and Susan had bought land and had begun building a house.  Daughter Anna Marie was already following her mother's footsteps as a teacher in Stafford County schools, and both mother and daughter spent a year teaching in Colorado before setting up their household in St. John.  Royal remained on the farm and brought his bride, Lillian Hall, to the home he and his mother had built.  Although Susan was not initially widowed, she did become the primary provider for her family as her husband's health failed, and she kept the family together in their prairie home.
The roles of women on homesteads, whether as the claimant or the wife, daughter, or unmarried sister or aunt of the male claimant, should not be overlooked or minimized in the settling of the prairie.  You might enjoy Staking Her Claim:  Homesteading the West, by Marcia Meridith Hensley,

 P.S.  The woman pictured gathering buffalo chips is Ada McColl, believed to be the first female photographer in Kansas.  She is known for documenting everyday life on the prairie, as well as for portraiture.  Her homestead was in Kearny County, and she began working as a photographer in the late 1800s in Garden City.  The image is taken from an old postcard.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Romance on the Prairie

From the County Capital
Touring a personal library is a lot like going through someone's family photo album.  Quote from "The Man Who Loved Books Too Much" by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Isaac B. Werner captured my heart when I discovered his passion for books.  Having spent nearly three years studying the lists of books in his journal and in the inventory from his probate records, and having acquired many of those books to read, I feel that I have toured Isaac's personal library and know a great deal about him. 
At Isaac's estate sale there were so many books to sell that not all of them could be auctioned individually, and some were boxed to be sold together.  Among the books sold was one titled "Marriage & Family," and knowing that, I am sure that Isaac never intended to spend his entire life as a bachelor.  Why else, when money was dear and he took such pains to select the books he could afford to buy, would his library have included a book about marriage?! 
With Valentine's Day at hand, I find myself thinking of the ladies in Isaac's life after he came to Kansas, trying to imagine someone to whom he might have wished to send a Valentine.  He did leave some clues, and one of the most intriguing involves a lady named Ellen.  His journal mentions receiving letters from Ellen or Elle Green, and he was obviously pleased to receive them and prompt to reply.  One day, however, there was a cryptic entry in his journal, "second refusal," and after that day there were no more mentions of Ellen.
Another possible candidate was neighbor Isabel Ross, to whom he referred in his journal as Mrs. Ross, using her given name only once.  Mrs. Ross had divorced her husband on the grounds that he was abusive to her and their four children, and following the divorce, she staked a homestead claim as a single woman on land adjacent to Isaac's timber claim.  Gradually, a friendship developed between them, and Isaac was especially kind to share corn husks for fuel and make sure her soddy was readied for cold weather.  If they came to care for each other romantically, Isaac never mentioned such feelings in his journal.
The most obvious infatuation he revealed was toward a young woman who came to St. John to deliver temperance lectures.  The first evening he heard her speak, he wrote in his journal:  "...heard Miss Hazelett deliver a first class prohibition speech with magic lantern views, a splendid political speech from a quite young lady probably 23 years of age a nice & good sensible talker."  A few days later he heard her speak again, this time a political speech when she ran as the Republican candidate for County Superintendent of Schools.  It may have been the only time he had something positive to say in his journal about a Republican candidate!  The following month he visited Dr. & Mrs. McCann, the couple with whom Miss Hazelett resided.  Isaac wrote:  "...paid a visit or made a call on Miss Blanche B. Hazelett at Dr. McCann's residence.  Some pleasant surroundings and agreeable company to talk to."  Unfortunately, Miss Hazelett lost the election and resumed traveling on the temperance lecture circuit, and a few weeks later the McCanns left St. John for a different city.
From the County Capital
Isaac was regarded as a "good catch" for the ladies.  After a visit to Isaac's farm, newspaper editor John Hilmes praised Isaac's farm as one of the finest in the area.  In that same issue of the paper, the local reporter described the abundant trees Isaac had cultivated and added:  "We think the rooster of the sand hills ought to take some fair damsel under his wings." 
The most outright teasing Isaac received followed his lecture at a Farmers' Alliance meeting about ideas from Edward Bellamy's book, "Looking Backward."  That book, still read today, was very popular with Populists who admired some of the social changes Bellamy described in his future world.  Perhaps Isaac mentioned one change--that it was socially proper in that future time for a woman to propose marriage to a man.  In the County Capital newspaper the week after Isaac's lecture, the local reporter teased that the eligible women of Isaac's community had discussed taking him up on that idea, and if he wasn't willing to agree to the propriety of a woman extending the marriage proposal to a man, they didn't want to hear any more talk from Isaac about Edward Bellamy and his future society!
Isaac lived and died a bachelor, never having need to use the information contained in his own copy of "Marriage & Family."  Yet, I believe he had not meant to live his life alone.  To read about Isaac's flirtations and marriage plans as a younger man, visit my Feb. 9, 2012 blog, "A Young Man's Fancy." 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cemetery on the Hill

View of cemetery from road
I was certain we were on the right road, having been told that the old Saratoga Cemetery, also known as Summit Hill Cemetery, was just south of the Kansas Forestry Fish & Game campus, but after the road curved off to the east we were confused.  We could not believe we had missed it, but we turned around for a last attempt to find the old cemetery.  At last, I saw something in a vast grassy field and asked my husband to stop so I could go check it out, but even then my husband wasn't convinced by the lone stone marker I had seen.  "I don't know what it is, but it doesn't look like a cemetery to me," he said. 
Marker of Edward R. Gillmore
In fact, what I had seen was the grave marker of Edward R. Gillmore, partially buried in dirt and grass that had filled in around its base over the years so that only part of the stone extended out of the ground.  Edward's parents, George and Elisabeth, originally from Kentucky and Tennessee, had lived in Missouri when Edward and his younger siblings, William and Rosa, were born.  They had paused in Miami County, Kansas for a time before arriving in Saratoga.  Young Edward lacked 14 days of reaching his 16th birthday.
It is no wonder that we missed seeing the cemetery as we drove by the first time.  In 1976 Russell Miracle recorded information from the grave stones and collected what information the sexton had.  (  At that time he accounted for 30 graves, but our visit did not reveal nearly that many, and those that remain show signs of wear and vandalism.  People my age who lived in the area confessed that the old cemetery had been a favorite parking spot for Pratt couples when they were teenages, and others admitted tipping over stones when they were kids.
Marker of Fletcher twins
Several of the existing stones now lie flat on the ground, while others are broken.  Even Edward's, which is in better condition than most, appears to have lost a finial from the top of his stone.  The marker for the Fletcher twin girls, who lived only seven days, is so badly broken that identification was possible only because of the records Mr. Miracle saved in 1976.  The unnamed twins were later joined by a tiny sister, Winnie, but no other family members are buried at Summit Hill.
The dates of death chiseled on the stones are from the 1880s and 1890s, during years the town of Saratoga vied with Iuka and Pratt Center for the county seat.  (See blog post "How Investors Created Pratt, posted Sept. 27, 2012, to read more about the battle for the Pratt County Seat and the gradual demise of Saratoga.)  Isaac Werner hauled grain to Saratoga to sell or to be ground, and he was impressed with the bustling town built around a square.  The 1887 Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture recorded two newspapers in Saratoga:  "The Saratoga Sun," a republican paper published by Albaugh & Hupp, and "The Pratt County Democrat," J.M. Gore and E.D. Fry, editors and publishers.  There were also two banks--Wilson, Weaver & Co. and the Bank of Saratoga headed by George A. Lewis & Co., both banks reporting paid up capital of $25,000.
Distant Pratt viewed from cemetery
At that time, Pratt Center was already the larger town, wih a combined population in town and the township of 1156 residents, but Saratoga had 419 town residents and 147 more in the township.  Iuka had only 68 town residents, although in the township there were 685 more residents.  When Pratt Center finally won the county seat, Saratoga held on for a while but eventually disappeared.  Today, standing atop Summit Hill Cemetery (Saratoga Cemetery) and looking across the broken grave stones of those former Saratoga residents, Pratt can be seen in the distance.
Broken stone of Della Thornton
Stone of M.O. Nichelson
Those buried on Summit Hill nearly all sleep in eternal peace alone, spouses and parents having moved on as the town of Saratoga disappeared.  Young Della C. Thornton, only twenty years old at her death, left her husband Frank to raise their son alone, and today none of her descendants remains in the community to repair the broken stone lying half-hidden in the blowing grass.
Old cemeteries leave behind many clues but also unsolved mysteries.  Miles O. Nichelson died September 28, 1887, only 21 years old.  The records from 1976 omit any mention of Miles but do include the death of Miles's mother, Parthenia, on Sept. 15, 1887.   Did both Mr. Miracle and I overlook the faint inscription of a second family member's death inscribed on the same stone?  And, what might have caused the deaths within days of each other?  It is reasonable to guess that an illness might be the explanation.  The whereabouts of John Nichelson, father and husband, and of Cora, Miles's thirteen year old sister at the time of his death, could not be traced.
Knowing the history of Saratoga, I understand why Summit Hill Cemetery has so few graves and why there are few signs of visitors.  When the town faded into history, some of its residents moved into Pratt, but others scattered across the growing nation.  The occupants of the graves did not live to see the death of their town, and today their neglected stones are the only evidence of a once thriving community.
(Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.  If anyone knows more about the families mentioned in this post. or about the old Saratoga cemetery, please leave a comment.) 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Shared Orphan Train Stories

Sculptures at Orphan Train Museum
People are sharing Orphan Train Stories directly with me by e-mail and on facebook, so I thought I would share a few to add to this week's post below.

Shirley Jorns Fast wrote:  My grandparents, John and Dovie Jorns, wrote a letter to the Kansas Foundling Society saying they were interested in possible placement of a little girl age 2 to 4, as they had a natural daughter age 8.  They never received a reply, but two months later, much to their surprise, early one morning the Depot Agent delivered my father to them with a note saying, 'we know you requested a girl but we hope this little boy will fulfill your needs.'  My grandmother always said, "And fit our needs he did!"  Apparently the train arrived in Preston [KS] shortly after midnight, and as the depot was closed, they just left him on the bench outside with a note that said to deliver him to the John Jorns farm.  The agent found him at 6 a.m. and delivered him.
Wendy Sloan of Norton, KS wrote:  I actually knew a gentleman that made his home here in Norton that was on the orphan train.  He was born in Arkansas and traveled on the train here and was adopted.  He had some interesting stories.
Lillian Kateman wrote:  Christine Murphy was a lady in the Slater [MO] Christian Church.  She and her husband were school teachers and moved back to the Slater area after retirement...  He was a former "Orphan Train Kid, and while he was alive they attended "Orphan Train Reunions."  Christine attended the reunions after his death as long as she could before her death.
Others have written to share movie titles that include stories of the Orphan Trains, and Alice McMillan Lockridge shared a wonderful link for those of you who would like to read more at  I hope you enjoy these stories received from visitors to the blog, and don't miss the story and photographs below.