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." 


The Blog Fodder said...

People should not have to live and die alone unless it is their own choice. The popularity of computer dating services and related gives you an idea how hard it is today to meet someone. I wonder if it was actually easier in Isaac's time but there was just a shortage of eligible females in the area?? The paper talked about them but how many were there and what was the competition? Dirt farming was not likely any more attractive then than now.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

I fear that part of Isaac's problem in finding a wife was the shortage of unmarried women. Several much younger women did marry young men during the time Isaac wrote in his journal, but only those I wrote about seemed possibilities for him. I think the ladies who attended his talk about "Looking Backward" challenged Isaac to live up to his talking, but among the members nearly all were married. Isabel Ross was a member. I think it was more of a joke than a real "competition." The information came from the newspaper article, and Isaac never mentioned it in his journal.