Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays Around the World!

Christmas 2014
I realize that the holiday season is not a happy time everywhere in the world this year.  Perhaps it rarely is happy everywhere.  

Yet, I want to use this post to send holiday greetings to the many followers of my blog around the world.  It has been a surprise and a delight to me that readers in other countries enjoy my blog.  I cannot discern which blogs appeal to particular nationalities, but the popularity among countries fluctuates.  It pleases me to see that at least some of my blogs have a universal appeal.

"Christmas Guests," 12-13-2012 in blog archives


 Buone Feste, sretni blagdani, Joyeuses Fetes, Frohe Feiertage, felices Fiestas, Boas festas, Sarbatori Fericite, Priecigus svetkus, bayraminiz kutlu olsun, Glad helg, Wesolych Swiat, Selamat Bercuti, Selamat Hari Raya, and Happy Holidays to all those for which my key board could not provide symbols (and my apologies for my poor script and for the lack of proper accent symbols for some of the greetings given.)  I appreciate your following my blogs!

As past blogs have indicated, remodeling has kept us from putting up a tree this year.  (See "Collections and Creations," 12-4-2014 to read about our Angels and Ancestors Tree at the Vernon Filley Art Museum during the 2014 holidays.)  

"Isaac & the Wizard of Oz," 12-15-2011 blog archives
Our decorating for the holidays this year has been confined to the poinsettia plant my husband gave me and one lonely black haired angel.  When I was a little girl, I noticed that most pictures of angels depicted them with golden hair, and my little friends with blond hair were more likely to be chosen as angels in school and church programs than I was.  So, if I have a choice, I enjoy adding brown and black haired angels to my collection.  I also enjoy seeing angels with different skin colors and eye shapes for sale today, because I remember my own feelings as a child to never see angels who looked like me.

Our red & gold tree in 2011
For our first four Christmases after we married, college expenses allowed no spare money for a tree, nor did our tiny living quarters offer any room.  My father went into the tree belt at the farm one year while we were home for Thanksgiving to cut a cedar tree branch, which my mother secured in a coffee can wrapped in tin foil, loaning us a few Christmas balls from their own decorations.  That was our only holiday "tree" while we were in college.  When we could finally afford a tree we chose a color scheme of red and gold.  We bought a box each of red and gold balls, two gold plastic angels and one red hobby horse.  Over the years afterward, at least one holiday ornament was purchased whenever we took a trip, and more ornaments were added from the various places we lived.  Each ornament was documented on the bottom or back with the place and year it was acquired.  Putting up the tree was an opportunity to recall fun vacations and former homes.
Our Wizard of Oz tree with dolls I made

After we began the collections for the Angels and Ancestors Tree, the gold and red ornaments were ignored for a few holidays.  In 2011, we decided to display our collection of red and gold ornaments and other decorations.  It was fun to remove each one from the box and revive the memories.  (You may visit my Christmas blog "Happy Holidays," at 12-12-13 in the archives, which shares images from Isaac's era.)

Last week's blog, "Flour Mills on the Prairie," 12-18-2014, shares my Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz dolls I made one Christmas.  Obviously we enjoy decorating and entertaining during the holidays, and the Wizard of Oz tree is always fun.

For us, the holidays are about family and friends.  We look forward to cards from those who live far away, and we love seeing friends and family nearby, especially sharing the food and spirits of the season.  To all of you who follow my blog, "Thank you!"  I hope you have become fond of the old Prairie Bachelor, Isaac B. Werner, and I also hope the New Year brings me time to turn my attention back to Isaac in order to find a publisher for the neglected manuscript.  Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Flour Mills on the Prairie

Grinder near the granary
Isaac Werner went to nearby mills to have his corn ground.  He generally went to the Webber Mill a few miles north, and after one visit he complained about how some neighbors failed to clean their corn properly before bringing it to be ground.  The result was that the dirt left on the grinding stone made his corn too gritty to feed to his chickens.  The foundation of that old mill can still be found by someone who knows where to look.  Isaac also took corn to be ground in Saratoga, where the mill was located on the Ninnescah River.  (See "Cemetery on the Hill," 2-7-13 in the blog archives.)

Site where old grinder was used
I was told that a concrete pad with a metal rod for the pivot located just south of the old family granary was where the grinder was set up for grinding grain periodically.  There was a crib in the southeast corner of the barn where I took a coffee can to dip out a measure of ground milo for the chickens every day, but I don't recall having seen my father grind the milo.  In the photograph above, taken in the early 1920s, a cone-shaped object can be seen.  It is located about where the concrete pad is located.  I was also told the metal rod was used to secure an apparatus used while butchering hogs in the early days, although I never saw my father butcher anything when I was growing up.

However, this blog is about mills, not butchering.  The mill I know about is the flour mill in Hudson, Ks.  It is a very old business, although not quite old enough for Isaac's time, as the business began in 1904 when Otto Sondregger, a German miller, built a small flour mill.  In 1913 the mill was expanded to a 300-barrel capacity, and further expansions have continued to this day.

Bags of Hudson Cream Flour
Recently I was surprised to see a headline in the newspaper reading "Stafford County Flour Mill going green."  It seems that the Hudson Cream flour mill has put up a wind-powered turbine.  According to the current mill president, Reuel Foote, the cost of electricity was one of their biggest expenses, so they began investigating a wind turbine in 2013.  On November 5, 2014 the rotor hub was lifted into place and the three large blades were attached.

Nearly 200 feet off the ground, the familiar Hudson Cream logo can be seen, installed before the hub was lifted into the air. St. John sign painter Brett Younie was glad his Signtec business was given the job of mounting the huge logos but said he had no desire to do the job that high off the ground!

Scarecrow from Oz with flour sack head
Several years ago we were in Montreal, Canada, and as we walked into an upscale bakery we spotted a huge display just inside the entrance, piled high with sacks of Hudson Cream Flour, advertising that they used the "best" flour in their baking.  We couldn't believe that the flour from a mill only a few miles from our farm was so highly regarded that it would be used to attract customers to that bakery.  The bakery is correct about its superior quality, however.  It is great flour and I don't buy anything else.

When I made Wizard of Oz dolls of the four main characters, I carefully read L. Frank Baum's description of the Scarecrow.  It said his head was made of an old flour sack.  Naturally, I had to use a Hudson Flour sack for my scarecrow.  Today, however, the sacks are made of paper, which would not do.  When the mill had a small gift shop in the office, I had purchased fabric with the logo imprinted on it, but nothing I had was small enough for my doll's head.  So, I drew the logo on some unbleached muslin.  I could not imagine a proper Kansas scarecrow with his head made of anything other than a Hudson Cream flour sack!

(To see all of my Wizard of Oz dolls you may visit "Isaac and the Wizard of Oz," 12-15-2011 in the blog archives.  Look closely in the first photograph to see not only the Dorothy doll I am holding but also the Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow on the floor beside my chair.  The Tin Man also appears in the photograph near the end of that blog.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Saving the old Opera Houses of the Prairie

Railroad in Waterville, KS
Travel to where Unicorn Road (also known as Highway 9) intersects Highway 77, and what the citizens of Waterville, Kansas have preserved is almost as fantastic as a unicorn trotting down the street.  The 2010 Census counted 680 citizens living in Waterville, yet they have preserved a collection of turn-of-the century buildings that larger cities would envy!
The eastern part of Kansas settled earlier than the central part of the state where Isaac Werner lived.  His sister Ettie and her family, including Isaac's widowed mother, lived in Abilene, Kansas, but Isaac never felt able to make that trip.  Therefore, it is unlikely that he ever traveled as far as Waterville, but I am sure that he would have loved its Opera House.

Plaque at relocated depot
When we visited in 2012 we started at the railroad tracks, pausing to read the plaque describing how the Atchison Pikes Peak Railroad started the line in 1865, which arrived two years later in November of 1867 as the Central Branch of the Union Pacific.  Intended to serve the eastern branch of the Chisholm Trail, the train's purpose ended because of increasing numbers of homesteaders and their barbed wire interfering with cattle drives, as well as the government's quarantine of Texas longhorn cattle that often carried ticks as they were driven north to cattle towns.  Interestingly, after the cattle drives ended, the trains were used to transport turkeys driven to market in Waterville.

The Weaver Hotel

The trains may no longer run, but the impressive Weaver Hotel has been refurbished.  Built in 1905 and originally called the Pride of the Central Line, its history includes not only passengers from the trains registering as guests but also those simply waiting in the front parlor, enjoying a meal in the dining room, or lounging on the hotel porch.  Railroad crews and "drummers" who traveled from town to town selling goods and taking orders were also regular guests.

The Opera House in Waterville, KS

Unlike other prairie towns whose opera houses have not survived, Waterville has saved its opera house.  (See "St. John (KS) Convention Hall & Opera House, 6-26-2014 and Stafford (KS) Opera House, 8-7-2014 in the blog archives.) Built in 1903 at a cost of $8,000, it has been beautifully restored and is used for community and school productions.

The day we visited, a performance was scheduled for the 4th of July weekend, and a small group was rehearsing under the direction of a professional with roots in Waterville.

Interior of the Opera House in Waterville, KS

The discovery of Waterville was a surprise to us, and my husband had parked at the edge of the street while I got out to take photographs.  A citizen riding by on her bicycle stopped to visit, the justifiable pride in her town obvious in her every word.  She told us that the restored Weaver Hotel had been booked full the weekend of class reunions in May, and she informed us of the upcoming performance being produced for the 4th of July in the Opera House.  You may check The Weaver Hotel website for the special events they have planned, like Christmas at the Weaver just held, and reservations can be made online.

The Opera House in Waterville, KS

Also to be seen in Waterville are the 1-room school house from the community of Game Fork which has been restored as a meeting place for Scouting activities, the 1907 Train Depot which houses a museum, the Powell home on Commercial Street, and the 200 block of East Hazelwood Street known as "Bankers' Row."

Early settlers like Isaac Werner brought their desire for culture with them to the prairie, and even in hard times they invested in the future of their communities with the construction of opera houses, where music, lectures, plays, and community social and political gatherings were held.  Times changed, and other forms of entertainment displaced what was once enjoyed.  The opera houses were converted to other uses or were allowed to deteriorate, but Waterville saved this rare example of the striving for culture among the early settlers of the prairie.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Collections & Creations

Isaac B. Werner was both a collector and a creator, for at the time of his estate sale there were several framed etchings among his collections, and his journal is lined with margin sketches of his inventions.  He would have enjoyed the current holiday exhibition at the Filley Art Museum in Pratt, KS, where collections from local supporters of the museum are shared with the community, along with  many local artists' creations of a wide-ranging variety.  Visitors will be amazed by the taste and talents of those who have loaned objects to the museum, as well as by their generosity of loaning holiday objects that would normally be part of  displays in their own homes during the winter season.

My own ancestors, including those who were friends and acquaintances of Isaac, are having quite an adventure this December, for our Angels and Ancestors Tree is among the holiday collections on display at the museum.  (See "Christmas Guests" at 12-13-2012 in the blog archives.)  You can see our tree in the background of the photo at right.

As you might expect, there are many Santas on display, as well as several nativity figures.  Several of these nativity groups represent the work of artists from foreign countries, and one nativity has a historical appeal for Pratt residents, having been purchased from the old Duckwall's store on Main Street in the late 1940s or early 1950s.  

There are also fiber artists whose work is on display, the work including quilts, cross-stitch, clothing for the Santa's, needlepoint and ornaments, as examples.

There are ceramic pieces, such as the beautiful example at right, as well as 2-dimensional objects on the walls of the museum.  The pastel painting in the image at right is my work, which was used as our Christmas greeting in 1989.  There are two beautiful photographs by Pratt's own Stan Reimer, and an unique example of paper cutwork, among many other wonderful things.  

An example of living art in the form of a Magnolia Topiary by Lou Lynne Moss centers a table of figures.  In the background of the image below you can see a beautiful carousel horse, hand carved and painted by Jon Hartman, who has carved enough full-sized figures of different animals to fill a carousel!  Some of the needle work can also be seen in the distance.

These images represent only a tease of all the wonderful things to be seen in this exhibition!  I cannot credit all of the artists and collectors, but when you come to the exhibition you will find carefully prepared information accompanying each object
The exhibition extends only through December.  The opening reception for members is Saturday evening, Dec. 5th at 7:00  p.m.  The exhibition opens for the public at 1 p.m. Dec. 6th, and because that is the First Saturday of the Month, there will be a Docent Tour starting at 1:30.  No reservations are necessary for the 1st Saturday Tours, and we hope people in the region are getting accustomed to those regular docent tours held each month.  I will be the Docent doing the tour Dec. 6th, so I hope to see some of you who follow this blog at the tour!

Do you know what a Tomtegubben is?  If you come to see the special holiday exhibition at the Filley Art Museum you can find out, and for those who come to the 1st Saturday Tour, remind me to show you a tomtegubben!    

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Antique Wallpaper

Salvage showing "Union Made" wallpaper
Did Isaac Werner have wallpaper on any walls in his house?  I don't know, but wallpaper has existed for centuries.  The Chinese are known to have glued rice paper to the walls of their homes by 200 B.C.  In 1481, we know that King Louis XI of France had wallpaper painted for him by Jean Bourdichon.  A guild of paperhangers was established in France in 1599, and a fragment of wallpaper dating from 1509 was found in Cambridge, England.

The arrival of wallpaper in America is dated to 1739 when Plunket Fleeson began printing wallpaper in Philadelphia.  Toward the end of the 18th century, scenic wallpaper became popular, on which panoramic scenes were depicted.

In the homes of early settlers on the prairie, some families pasted newspaper sheets on their walls to minimize the cold air entering through the cracks.  The old joke about this practice was that the newspaper on their walls gave them something to read!

Undisturbed wallpaper under sheet rock
During the recent remodeling of our home built around the turn of the last century, some walls were stripped down to the studs, removing lath and plaster.  In that process, one wall that had been covered over the plaster with sheet rock revealed old wallpaper I had never seen.  Perhaps the wallpaper was the choice of my grandmother, but more likely it was chosen by my mother when they moved to the farm about 1944 after my grandfather's stroke resulted in my grandparents moving to town.

On the selvage of one strip of wallpaper a series of letters and the words "Union Made" appeared.  With a little research, I learned that in 1883 the Wall Paper Machine Printers Union was founded in NYC, with a charter from the Knights of Labor in 1885.  My family home was built in the late 1890s (See "A Solid Foundation, 10-23-2014 in the blog archives), but the addition doubling its size was constructed in 1907.  In 1883 the Wall Paper Machine Printers Union was founded, chartered by the Knights of Labor in 1885.  (The Knights of Labor were part of the progressive movement, which included factory workers, miners, and farmers like Isaac.)  In 1902 the union became the National Association of Wall Paper Machine Printers and Color Mixers, with a charter from the American Federation of Labor.  The National Print Cutters' Association merged with them in 1923 to become the United Wall Paper Craftsmen and Workers of North America.  That bit of history seemed to resolve the mystery of the initials in the selvage of wallpaper we found.
Older border

Looking at samples of wallpapers found online, the old wallpaper we discovered appears to be the style of the 1940s.  Perhaps all that my mother could initially afford was a wallpaper border, for a different border was found under the border that seemed to match the full papered wall.  (If you look closely you can see at the bottom of the image where the newer pattern appears overlapping the older border.)  Both patterns featured red, a color Mother would have chosen.

Perhaps since the first printer of wallpaper in America began in Philadelphia, it is Pennsylvania State University Libraries that house the archives of the Wallpaper Craftsmen and Workers.  To read more about the information I have shared, you may visit and

Border on top of older border
Judging from Isaac's indebtedness incurred first to buy a horse and worsened to buy equipment, it seems unlikely that he had sufficient funds to wallpaper his house.  I do know that he sometimes stored his grains and other produce in barrels and bags in his kitchen, another reason that fancy wallpaper seems unlikely.  He was also hired to strip and apply new paint to a buggy, and he brought that buggy into his kitchen to do some of the work, another indication that his kitchen wasn't too fancy.  Yet, I believe he would have imagined wallpaper for the future Victorian home whose newpaper image was glued in the cover of his journal.  (See "A Solid Foundation" image titled Isaac's Dream House, 10-23-2014.)  Sadly, his health did not allow him to build that dream house.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Farming experiments

Corn grown in glass bottle to study roots
Isaac Werner regarded farming as a profession, deserving of serious study, experimentation, and record keeping.  His journal entries each day began with the weather, including temperature, moisture, and wind.  He used the almanacs of two different forecasters.  He subscribed to farming journals and submitted letters and articles to them.  He read bulletins from Kansas State College, the land grant agricultural college, and he corresponded with Professor Shelton, head of the college experimental farm. 
Testing see germination

For his own farm he acquired seed varieties from other regions, experimenting with what did best in his sandy loam soil and prairie weather.  He tried different planting depths and spacing of seeds.  He modified the equipment he bought, improving it for his soil type.

For his community, he initiated the founding of the Stafford County Agricultural Society and was a member and lecturer of the Farmers' Alliance.  He shared work and ideas with his fellow farmers and formed a small group of the more progressive farmers in his community which met to consider untried crops and methods.  He studied cooperative farming and formed a group of neighbors to plant a potato patch on his land.  He was definitely a professional farmer.

Testing moisture absorption in different soils

Like  many  farm daughters, I  loved  to trail  along  after my father, watching him work and asking him questions. I still remember one evening when he explained the seed germination test he was conducting.  As I recall, he used damp cloth or paper towels between two panes of glass, with seeds between the moistened material to see how many would sprout.

When a friend gave me a textbook first published in 1911 titled "Productive Farming," some of the illustrations reminded me of the experiments Isaac and my father had conducted.  The Preface describes "This book is intended to suit the needs of rural schools of all kinds, and graded village and city schools chiefly below high-school rank."  As I flipped through the pages, I thought about the many children today who know so little of farming and the rural landscape.  For them, corn and peas come from cans on the shelves of their local grocery store.  Only a few would have seen their mothers make bread from flour, and even those would lack real understanding of how flour is produced.  Perhaps these children would benefit from trying some of the experiments reproduced in this blog from the old 1911 textbook. 

Plan for school farm
While many people think the school garden is a new concept, the 1911 farming book included a plan for a 10-acre school farm, as well as a diagram for a less ambitious garden, with vegetables planted in the corners and along the sides of the school play ground.  The image at left shows the 10-acre plan, but picture the lower-right play ground and school rectangle with the perimeter and corners used for gardening rather than trees and you can imagine the suggested school garden.

It is significant that the century-old book emphasized the importance of preserving the play area with enough room for physical activity without allowing the gardens to inhibit the children's exercise.  Diet and exercise were important ideas to teach.

Once again I was reminded by this 1911 book how much we can learn from history, and how the ideas we regard as uniquely modern are often merely a rediscovery of the wisdom from the past.

With the holidays approaching and children home from school, perhaps there are some ideas in this blog for activities to do with children and grandchildren, or for teachers to incorporate into their (already busy) curriculum.  Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them for reading the directions for the experiments.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Isaac, the Autodidact

Autodidacts - people who have been partially or wholly self-taught.  Auto didacticism is self-education or self-directed learning.

Anton's Classical Dictionary 
In my Commencement Address to the MHS class of 2014, I told the graduating students, "Learning doesn't stop when you leave school, and if each of us isn't learning something new every day, we just aren't trying."  (See "School & Community Then & Now," 5-21-2014 in the blog archives.)

Isaac was an autodidact.  Although he was still attending school at the age of 17, a rather long period of schooling in the mid-1800s, he continued to study independently for the rest of his life.  His library was extensive and wide ranging.  (See "Isaac's Library," 2-2-2012 in the blog archives.)  Occasionally he read fiction, but the primary focus of his book collection was educational.  As I explained in earlier blogs, I purchased several of the titles in his library, choosing older editions near the publication dates of books he would have purchased.  (See "Bibliomaniac or Collector?" 7-17-2014 in the blog archives.)  

Sample pages from Anthon's Classical Dictionary 
I thought it would be interesting to share some of the books he chose to purchase.  The ones I will include in this blog were not light reading, but they do explain why his neighbors on the prairie came to Isaac to have him draft contracts and other documents and also trusted his ideas shared in various community and county organizations of which he was a member.  He was a genuine scholar on the prairie.

The book pictured above, by Charles Anthon, is an example of the reading Isaac chose for himself.  Its title, the Classical Dictionary, containing an account of The Principal Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors and intended to elucidate all the important points connected with the geography, history, biology, mythology, and fine arts of the Greek and Romans, together with An Account of Coins, Weights, and Measures, With Tabular Values of the Same, is enough to indicate the serious content of this 3" thick, 1,451 page reference.  The author was professor of Greek & Latin languages at Columbia College in New York when the book was published in 1847.  The text is closely printed in small font--not a book for the casual reader!

Sample pages from Fiske's Classical Antiquities 
Isaac's interest in classical literature is also apparent from his purchase of Classical Antiquities by N. W. Fiske, a professor at Amherst College.  This book includes classical geography and topography, classical chronology, Greek & Roman Mythology, Greek Antiquities, and Roman Antiquities.  Included are 32 plates, such as the illustration from the pages shown at right, which include maps, landscapes, ships, helmets, and tools, among other images.  First published in 1843, the book I bought is the 4th edition, published in 1869, an edition which Isaac might have owned.

Cooper's Justinian
Further proof of Isaac's self-education about the ancients is the presence of a scholarly volume of ancient Roman law, The Institutes of Justinian, with notes, by Thomas Cooper, professor of chemistry at Carlisle College, published in 1852.  The book I purchased is an original printing from 1852, bound in leather.  The text includes the original Latin alongside the English translation.

Not only history but also languages were of interest to Isaac, and his journal records books he bought to teach himself modern languages.

Missouri's Columbia College professor, Ahoo Tabatabai, born in Iran, explained that in Farsi their are two words for "student."  The translation for the word used to identify students K-12 is "knowledge learner;" however, once an individual enters college, the word for student becomes "knowledge seeker."  What a wonderful distinction between our youth, when we must acquire information to enable us to understand our world, and our later maturity, when we must begin using that information to reason and expand our knowledge. It is clear that Isaac Werner was a knowledge seeker long after his formal education ended--a serious autodidact!

(Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.) 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Isaac's Crockery

Crockery Butter Churn with Lid
When the Administrator of Isaac Werner's Estate retained three neighborhood men to inventory and appraise Isaac's personal property, they recorded the following:  3 pieces of Crockery, 25 cents, and Crockery Ware No. 6, 90 cents.

My Grandmother Beck had a ten-gallon crock that was passed to my mother.  Every summer Mother would fill it practically to the brim with sliced cucumbers to make 3-day Lime Pickles, placing a lid on it to contain the contents.  The finished jars of 3-day lime pickles stood in rows on the shelves in the basement that my mother filled every summer with canned vegetables and plum jelly.  She tinted the pickles with food coloring a bright green, and my father loved them.  My favorite pickles were the dill spears she also canned.

I don't recall the crockery butter churn pictured at left, and I believe my mother may have bought it in a yard sale after I was grown and no longer at home.  I don't recall ever churning  butter, but it is probable that Grandmother Beck used a butter churn for her large family of seven children, so perhaps this churn was at the farm when I was a child, collecting dust and cobwebs in storage somewhere.

Isaac Werner never had a cow, but he did record in his journal that he sometimes traded the potatoes he raised for butter churned by neighbors who lived in Livingston.  How he used the crockery that the appraisers of his estate inventoried is unknown, but crockery was a part of most settlers' households.

Small sampling of broken crockery discovered at farm
Pottery manufacture began early in the settling of America, potters' clays of different types available in many regions.  Red-burning clays were easily found near the surface and required simple kilns and equipment.  Buff-burning clays with a finer texture came later, and by the 1800s factory wares were available.  Studying the names of early towns provide indications of pottery making, with names like Potter's Creek and Jugtown.

In 1895 when the appraisers inventoried Isaac's property, they referred to "crockery;" however, that term was not being widely used in the 19th century, according to the source I consulted, when pottery was the preferred term.  Today the predominant houseware of the 19th century is generally called American Stoneware or stoneware pottery.

When I was digging weeds and digging and planting Bermuda grass this summer, I found many pieces of crockery that had been discarded by my family, a few of which are shown in the photograph above.  Salt-glazing is typical on American Stoneware, but Albany Slip made from a clay peculiar to the Upper Hudson Region of New York produces a dark brown glaze.  My great grandmother, Susan Cummings Beck was born in New York State, and although I have no clues from which to identify the manufacturer of the pieces of crockery I saved, I do have examples of dark brown glaze on some of the pottery shards.

Both the 10-gallon pickle crock and the butter churn pictured in this blog have the Western Stoneware maple logo.  The Monmouth Pottery Company in Monmouth, IL operated from 1894 to 1905, and by 1902 they were using the maple leaf design with the company and town names on their wares.  In 1906 Monmouth Pottery sold to the Western Stoneware Company of Monmouth, IL, merging with seven different stoneware and pottery companies that used the logo of Western Stoneware and the maple leaf, differentiating among the seven plants by using the plant number on the stoneware produced in each individual plant.  Obviously the crock pictured in this blog was produced in Plant 5.  Eventually there were plants in ten different locations:  one each in NY, NJ, and MD, three in VA, and four in PA.

To read more you may want to consult and   There are also many photographs on the internet of pottery currently offered for sale to collectors.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What's Old is Always New Again

Charles Darwin
After enduring years of debt and struggle, Isaac Werner finally had put that behind.  Unfortunately his financial achievements were eclipsed by his failing health, and he never fully enjoyed the successful farm he had created.  His struggles during the Gilded Age bear much in common with today.  In his time, the disparity between the post-Civil War wealthy men like Jay Rockefeller in comparison to factory laborers, miners, and farmers like Isaac was a new social disparity for Americans, our early history having been primarily a population of working people of similar means producing materials sent to England for manufacture.  It was during the Civil War that the steel mills, factories, railroads, and manufacturing began to change the social landscape of Americans markedly.

Ward McAllister
Charles Darwin's Evolution of the Species was distorted by some to justify a social view never intended by Darwin.  John D. Rockefeller's words reveal this attitude:  "The growth of a large business is merely survival of the fittest.  The American beauty rose can be produced in the splendor and fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it.  This is not an evil tendency in business.  It is merely the working out of a law of nature and a law of God..."  Like-minded men of the Gilded Age had little pity for the squalor of immigrant families enticed to America for cheap labor in factories, miners facing daily danger, and farmers struggling to raise crops for which railroads charged unregulated shipping fees to get the farmers' produce to markets.
Jacob Riis

During this time, journalist Ward McAllister wrote about the extravagant lifestyles of wealthy families, describing the centerpiece for one obscenely opulent dinner in the ballroom of Delmonico's at 14th Street in New York City in 1890 as a:  "...long extended oval table, and every inch of it was covered with flowers, excepting a space in the center, left for a lake...thirty feet in length, enclosed by a delicate golden wire network reaching from table to ceiling, making the whole one grand cage; four superb swans, brought from Prospect Park, swam in it, surrounded by high bands of flowers of every species and variety...[and] above the entire table, hung little golden cages with fine songsters..."  The only thing Isaac had in common with the wealthy guests at this dinner was their mutual pleasure in the music of songbirds!
Political cartoon from 1890s

At the same time McAllister was writing about the wealthy, journalist Jacob Riis was exposing the misery, starvation, crowding, graft and political corruption of NYC's tenement district.  His book, How the Other Half Lives, was published in 1891, including photographs of the desperate conditions of working class families.

Then, as now, the wealthy used their riches not just for mansions and extravagant lifestyles but also to influence politics, and the People's Party, of which Isaac Werner was a member, included laborers, miners, and farmers in a political movement to confront the wealthy at the ballot box.

An interesting article, "Who Rules America:  Wealth, Income, and Power," which can be read at, defines wealth as what is owned minus what is owed, and points to the advantage of great wealth with financial resources available to spend on more than is needed for a comfortable life--those additional resources giving them power.  The article describes the United States as a "Power Pyramid," with the " 10% having 85 to 90% of the nation's stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity...It's tough for the bottom 80%--maybe even the bottom 90% to get organized and exercise much power."

Political cartoon from 1890s
The article supports this relationship between wealth and power with four examples.  First, they are in a better position to make "...donations to political parties, payment to lobbyists, and grants to experts who are employed to think up new policies beneficial to the wealthy."  Second, "...stock ownership can be used to control corporations, which of course have a major impact on how the society functions."  Third, that power can also lead to more wealth through political influence at local, state, and national levels.  And, fourth, the opportunity to do the things that money can buy--whether access to better health, safer jobs, more travel and leisure, among other privileges--becomes a power indicator in itself. 

Both major political parties in America today reflect the influence of power by the wealthy.  Yet, the recent effort by the Senate to act legislatively to change the decision of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case shows a definite split between the parties.  That case, which allows massive spending and influence by corporations and unions through Political Action Committees, has magnified the need for campaign finance reform, something about which most Americans agree, regardless of political affiliation.  The Senate vote attempting to overturn the effect of Citizens United received a majority vote but failed to reach the 2/3rds majority needed when not one single Republican voted in support, despite strong support for overturning Citizens United among Republican voters.

Political cartoon from the 1890s
The impact of Citizens United is nowhere more apparent than in Kansas, Isaac's old political grounds.  According to an article published in The Huffington Post on October 25, 2014, since Senator Pat Roberts's failure to break a 50% majority in the Kansas primary, "Spending by super PACs and dark money nonprofits has exploded by at least 560 percent since then, fueling what will end up being the most expensive Senate race in Kansas history.

Aggravated by the bombardment of political ads on television, I became curious about who was funding them, and my informal observation was consistent with the Huffington Post reporting.  "The biggest spender in the race is Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC founded by the Koch brothers, which has paid out nearly $2 million attacking Orman.  Koch Industries, the private company owned by the brothers, is based in Wichita, Kansas, and has long backed Roberts.  Its employees and political action committee are the leading funders of the senator's political career."  A review of Sen. Roberts's voting record shows that he has been a "forceful opponent of campaign finance reform" and a leading opponent of disclosure of donors contributing to nonprofits.

When I began reading Isaac Werner's journal, I was naturally interested in what he wrote about farming and the social life of early settlers on the prairie.  However, what intrigued me were the many political similarities of his time with our own.  (See "Isaac and the Plutocrats," blog archives April 5, 2012.)  Isaac and other farmers and laborers came together to confront the wealth and power of Wall Street and corporations (which had become even more powerful then through trusts and monopolies).  It seems that the impact of wealth and power vs. the one-man-one-vote ideal of the American democracy is an ongoing political issue! 

Remember, to enlarge the cartoons to enable reading the labels and captions, click on the images.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Solid Foundation

Isaac Werner's Dream Home
Glued inside the cover of Isaac B. Werner's 480-page, leather-bound journal was the picture of an elaborate Victorian house, the image at right.  When he came to the Kansas prairie in 1878, his first two homes were earthen dugouts.  Most early settlers lived in dugouts, cave-like homes tunneled into the ground or the side of a hill; sod homes built of blocks of tough prairie sod stacked like stone or bricks; or shanties, crude structures built of wood.

By the time Isaac's journal began in 1884 he was living in a house built of wood.  He referred to both a basement and a cellar, although it isn't clear whether those references were to a single thing or two different parts of his home.  He also referred to an upstairs, indicating a 2-story home.  However, none of his references indicate anything so grand as the home pictured in the clipping he had glued inside the cover of his journal. 

House and Barn about 1903
Renovating my ancestral home has taught me about early construction methods.  The barn, (top picture at left), built around 1903, had a concrete foundation.  The house, however, was begin earlier.  The bottom photograph at left shows the original house, the part built in the late 1890s.  Typical of many early prairie homes, it consisted of two rooms on the main level, with two rooms above, and a kitchen left unpainted on a simple, open foundation.  Kitchen fires were common, so kitchens were often separated from the rest of the house and built on a simple foundation to facilitate dragging it away from the rest of the house to save the main residence if there were a kitchen fire.  I first learned about this construction practice when we lived in the South, something fairly common there.

I had always understood that the 1890s house had a stone foundation, but I had no idea of the type of stone used.  A recent small addition that uncovered a partial section of the foundation revealed the stone, and  I was surprised to see limestone blocks carefully laid to support the original house.  Perhaps that limestone block foundation explains why the original part of the structure has experienced less settling than the later 1907 construction with a foundation made of the softer concrete of that time.

Stone foundation with a later concrete buttress
An interesting website sponsored by the Bluestem Quarry and Stoneworks near Lucas, Kansas (with information from "Land of the Post Rock" by Grace Muilenburg and Ada Swineford, published by University Press of Kansas, 1975) describes how stone was quarried in North Central Kansas by early settlers.  The rock bed there is near the surface at a fairly uniform thickness of 8 to 12 inches, and when freshly quarried it was soft enough to shape.  As it was exposed to the air it hardened and became more difficult to shape. A typical 5 to 6 foot block, such as those used as fence posts in that region of Kansas where trees were scarce, weighed 350 to 400 lbs.  I do not know where my grandfather and his mother purchased the stone for the house foundation, nor how the stone was transported to the farm, but I was quite impressed to see the old foundation that had been covered by the gradual accretion of soil, hidden from view for a century!

As the fourth generation to live in my ancestral home, I was moved by this quote from John Ruskin (1819-1900), an English writer from the Victorian period whose interests included art, geology, and architecture, and who is currently respected for his ideas concerning environmentalism, sustainability, and craft.  He wrote:  When we build let us think that we build forever.  Let it not be for present delight nor present use alone.  Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, 'See!  This our father did for us.'  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Politics Hardly Seem to Change, the Sequel

Political cartoon from late 1800s, "How Foolish Men Vote"
With the inundation of political commercials on television, few Americans could be unaware of the approaching elections.  On November 24, 2011, soon after I began this blog, I compared the political issues of Isaac Werner's times in the late 1800s with current issues, posting several political cartoons from that era. People continue to visit that blog, making it one of my most popular posts.  I thought it might be worthwhile to take a fresh look at whether conditions have changed.

The political cartoon at right is also from the newpaper to which Isaac Werner subscribed.  Its subtitle reads:  "The Farmer, Mechanic or Workman Who Votes for Either of the Old Parties is Voting Bread, Meat, Clothes and Money Out of Reach of His Wife and Children."  Many of the political cartoons posted in my earlier blog also address the issue of political influence exerted by wealthy and powerful men, at the expense of other Americans.  Obviously, that issue continues to play a significant role in politics today.  (You can enlarge by clicking in the image.)

I recently saw a chart (See below left) posted on face book, comparing the ratio of CEO pay to regular workers' pay.  Not only is the 354 to 1 ratio between CEO and Worker pay in the U.S. noteworthy, but also the U.S. ratio to what exists in other countries stands out.  While it is true that we are living in a global economy today, the ratio is  uniquely extreme in the U.S.  (The sources used by Maclean's appear at the bottom of the chart.) 

Of course, what struck me, just as it did in my earlier blog, is the similarity of economic disparity during the Gilded Age of Isaac Werner's time with today.  A recent news article about a house under construction in Hillsboro Beach, Florida described its 60,000 square feet built on 4 acres along 465'  of beachfront (with a 492' private dock for a yacht), having 11 bedrooms, 17 baths, a private IMAX theater with seating for 18, a putting green, a 30-car underground garage, and a 139-million-dollar price tag!  Even the millionares' mansions along 5th Avenue in NYC during the Gilded Age and the Summer Homes in Newport are eclipsed by this extreme display of wealth.

Compiled by Maclean's from various source statistics
An article posted on titled "America's 10 richest people" reported that entry into the Forbes 400 List of wealthiest Americans in 2013 required $1.3 billion to be included.  This year's list required $1.55 billion, and 113 billionaires were excluded from the list.

Within days of reading that article I read that because of the wages paid by Wal-Mart, nearly half of the children of that company's 'associates,' qualify for Medicare Benefits or go uninsured, their family situation being cited as an example of America's working poor.

A recent vote in the U.S. Senate intended to take action against the Citizens United case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court failed, cited by many as an example of money and power defeating the voice of individual Americans.  The barrage of political ads on television right now nearly all have a tiny caption at the bottom disclosing some political action group that paid for the advertising.  The power of money exerted a huge influence in American politics in Isaac Werner's times, and it still does.

Perhaps these kinds of news reports explain why my 2011 blog about similarities our own age shares with the Gilded Age explain why that blog continues to attract visitors.  Many of the Progressive ideas from the People's Party were implemented in the early years of the past century and contributed to the growth of America's Middle Class.  Today's shrinking Middle Class and the economic disparity between America's richest and poorest citizens may have more in common with the Gilded Age than the post-W.W. II years many Americans remember proudly.

I hope you visit "Politics Hardly Seem to Change" in the archives at Nov. 24, 2011.  I think you will find the cartoons and the political comparisons thought provoking, regardless of your own political positions.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Prickly Poppies

Prickly Poppy
Isaac Werner loved the wild flowers that covered the prairie with color every spring.  As for the prickly poppy, which blooms from June through September, he made no mention of it in his journal.

The delicate, ruffled petals of the prickly poppy, and the silvery green of their prickly leaves are rather pretty, but having them in a pasture is a nuisance.  Cattle will not eat them, and they will crowd out other desirable plants.

The plants can grow from 1 to 5 feet tall and are a common plant on the prairie, growing most abundantly in sandy soil.  The presence of these poppies in pastures is often indicative of overgrazing.  They may also be found in flood plains and in locations where the soil has been disturbed.

My father hated prickly poppies.  In the summers, when I was not in school, he would find jobs for me to do around the farm.  To show just how much he wanted to rid the pastures and field edges of these plants, one summer he proposed paying me twenty-five cents for every prickly poppy I pulled, a more generous payment than I received for other tasks.  However, to collect my bounty I had to show the roots dangling from the plant in order to prove that I had pulled the entire poppy so that it would not grow back from roots left in the soil.  That was difficult and uncomfortable work, and I don't remember collecting much money that summer.  

Two undesirable pasture plants
My father nearly eradicated the plants, for he would pause to pull them up by the roots whenever his path crossed one of the poppies.

Native Americans, however, valued the bright yellow sap as a dye for arrow shafts and as a wart removal.  They crushed the seeds to treat burns, cuts, and sores, and they also boiled the plant and used the liquid to treat sunburn.

To learn more about Kansas Wildflowers & Grasses, you may visit the Kansas State University Library at maintained by Mike Haddock, who is credited for some of the information in this blog.