Thursday, May 29, 2014

Recording History with Photographs

Carol Long discusses future plans for Studio
On June 29, 1871, Isaac B. Werner wrote in his journal:  "During last few weeks I been reading considerable on photography...When we record our present views with Nature's pencil, how satisfactory to compare notes by and by, for better or worse."

Today smart phones are replacing cameras as the way to capture the moment and share it with friends.  Digital cameras turn amateurs into fairly proficient photographers, and computers can be used to alter images with a few simple clicks.  Most of us have countless photographs from which we can "compare notes by and by, for better or worse" of how children grew, loved ones aged, and landscapes and buildings changed.

However, early cameras were not so easy to use, and a trip to a photographer's studio for a formal portrait was not an everyday occasion.  (See "Isaac as Photographer" in the blog archives at 6-27-2012.)  The process was complicated and the equipment was cumbersome.  Photographs were especially treasured because they were few.

Entry from gallery to skylight studio (with salvaged materials)
For all of those reasons, it is rare that a community would have a treasure trove of images taken by a single studio; yet, Stafford County, Kansas, has such a rare treasure.  The Glass Negative Collection of the St. John Gray Studio gifted to the Stafford County Historical Society, with an estimated 32,700 negatives, is believed to be the largest glass plate collection of one community photographed by a single studio.  Sometimes we fail to appreciate the treasures in our own communities because we do not realize their significance, but our region should be very proud of this rare collection.  (See "Small town museums--Stafford County Historical Society," posted 1-6-2012, and  "...And may I Add," posted 3-24-2012, in the blog archives.)

Just in the nick of time, before the ravages of nature caused too much deterioration for the Gray Studio building to be rescued, local pottery artist Carol Long stepped forward to raise funds to preserve this valuable historic building.  Rescuing the studio building will insure that not only the glass negatives are preserved but also the W.R. Gray Studio will be restored and given a new life far into the future.  (See or you may visit Carol at her face book page.)

Visitor signs register & leaves donation
During the 2014 Jubilee in St. John during Memorial Weekend, the Gray Studio was open for the community to view the progress and the work ahead.  We spoke with Carol Long and learned of a grant available to continue the restoration if $10,000 can be raised by June 30th of 2014!  Otherwise, the opportunity for the grant will expire.  (To send a donation or inquire about further information contact Golden Belt Community Foundation, 307 Williams Street, Great Bend, KS 67530, or call 620/792-3000.)

W. R. Gray came to St. John to establish his studio in 1905.  The family's home was also in the building.  Of his five children, it was daughter Jessie who took over the studio after her father's death in 1947.  She retired from the business in 1981 and donated the glass plate negatives to the Stafford County Museum in 1986.  (Watch a wonderful video about the collection at  Since the video was made, the collection is housed in a bank vault under more secure conditions.) 

Plans for the restoration of the building involve an apartment for a resident artist, the skylight studio area for classrooms and artist work space, and a gallery for exhibitions and sales of art.

Some printed negatives on display
W. R. Gray arrived in St. John a decade after Isaac's death, and although Isaac never fulfilled his dream of full-time photography, this region is fortunate to have the work of more than eight decades of negatives taken by the Gray family which preserve the history of Isaac's community.  It is certain that Isaac would have valued this amazing collection very highly, for he wrote that he disliked "see[ing] those beautiful views, nice refreshing perfect landscapes, pass by, without being recorded and be ready for [the] future."  The Gray Glass Negative Collection has preserved 'beautiful views' and portraits for future generations!

To enjoy images from the Gray Studio Glass Negative Collection  you may go to and follow the link to Fort Hays State University where the cleaned negatives are available for viewing on the internet.  

My husband & I enjoy a photo opportunity!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

School & Community, Then & Now

Stafford County, KS 8th Grade Graduates abt 1916
Isaac B. Werner was a bachelor without children, but he believed in the importance of education for the benefit of not only the students but also for the future of the nation.  My blog "Isaac Builds a School House," posted 10-11-2012 can be found in the archives, and if you missed reading it, I recommend a visit to learn about the emphasis early settlers placed on educating their children.

At the recent Commencement in my hometown, several graduating seniors were recognized for being the fifth generation in their families to have graduated from Macksville High School, and other graduates were the fourth generation of their families to receive a MHS diploma.  I was privileged to give the Commencement Address to the graduating class of 2014, and this week's blog post shares what I said to those seniors.

Graduates prepare to enter under championship banners
I began by emulating Baylor President Abner McCall's remarks to my law school class by reminding the graduates that while they were being honored for their achievement, it was important for them to recognize all of the people who had supported them in reaching this milepost in their lives.  That included not only family, teachers, and friends but also strangers who had bought tickets and cheered for them at school events, donated cakes and quilts to raffle, and held pancake breakfasts to raise money for scholarships, among the many other ways support had been given.  I suggested they stand and give their supporters a round of applause, and they obliged enthusiastically, something one of my friends called the best part of my speech, since remembering to say 'thank you' is an important lesson for all of us to learn!

I continued with this advice:  I am honored to have been asked to speak to you today, and I have given a great deal of thought to what I wanted to say.  I even went online to read some of the many examples of what others have said to graduating classes.  Honestly, I don't remember who delivered our Commencement Address, nor do I remember what advice was given to us.  I decided I would speak from my heart and share just three things that might be remembered to offer future guidance.

MHS Choir performs "Rhythm of Life"
First, Give Your Best.  In a world where too many people believe 'Close enough is close enough,' and are content doing just enough to get by, someone who is willing to do his or her best stands out.  That applies to jobs, friendships, family, and school.  You don't have to be a genius, but if you always give your best, you will be admired and respected.  Whatever you choose to do, you will succeed.

My second advice comes from a line in a movie.  It's just six simple words that I have never forgotten:  Character is the gift you give yourself.  There are variations of that same advice, such as 'Good Character is what you do when no one is looking' or 'Character is what lets you look at your face in the mirror every morning and feel good about yourself.'  

 You are about to start on a new life very different from what you have known.  Your family loves you and is proud of you, but they must be just a little concerned about how you will handle a life without their daily guidance.  You will truly have many opportunities to decide the right thing to do when no one is looking!  The choices you make will determine not only your future reputation but also how you ultimately feel about yourself.  Regardless of whether anyone else knows what you have done, character is the gift you give yourself.

The new friends you make as your high school friends scatter in different directions will have a lot to do with your choices.  Author Somerset Maugham offered some excellent advice:  "When you choose your friends, don't be shortchanged by choosing personality over character." 

Lyn Fenwick addresses 2014 MHS Graduates
My third and final advice is Know Yourself.  Whether you leave high school to start a new job or to continue your education, you will face so many new opportunities to grow and perhaps as many temptations to do just the reverse.  Most of us know the difference between doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing.  Where we get into trouble is when we think 'doing the wrong thing just this once' won't hurt anybody.

Here's what I ask myself when I am tempted to do something I know isn't quite right.  'If I tried it and didn't like it, what would have been the point?  If I tried it and did like it, I might make a problem for myself that I could have avoided.'

When I tell you to 'Know Yourself,' I don't mean that you should never change, because you should.  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.  But if you are true to yourself and are trying to become the person you truly want to be, you are far more likely to turn your back on the wrong things and grow as you experience right choices.

Class President addresses the class
You will make mistakes.  All of us do.  George Bernard Shaw said, "Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time." 

I'm going to take just a couple of minutes to tell you about my Macksville High School graduating class.  There were 19 of us.  One was a corporate executive who frequently attended meetings in the World Trade Center in New York City during the years before 9/11; One was an Air Force pilot who received one of our nation's highest honors, the Distinguished Flying Cross; One appeared before the United States Supreme Court; One became a doctor and was elected by his peers to head the Kansas Medical Association; One made his living as a barber who loved rodeo and won some prizes and awards competing in rodeos; One designed luxury interiors for expensive private airplanes; One was a court reporter.  Several served their country in the military; Several were teachers.  We worked in agriculture, offices, courtrooms and classrooms, businesses and hospitals.  We married, raised children, and most are now proud grandparents.

I share this with you because I want you to know what 19 kids sitting where you are now chose to do with their lives.  I hope their example will show that whatever you want to do is possible!

However, never forget that a successful life is more than your career, more than your immediate family--as important as those things are.  Everything that I have said applies equally to your service and generosity to your community, your country, and your respect for others in all areas of your life.  A life lived selfishly is rarely happy.

Family & Friends gather outside to offer congratulations
So, in conclusion, Congratulations!  The possibility for a great future is within your power.  No one succeeds without support from others along the way, and as you leave Macksville High School, never forget to express your appreciation and gratitude to those who help you reach your goals.  I sincerely believe that no one has to bend the rules or compromise their conscience to succeed--

Do Your Best,
Do it Because you Know it's the Right Thing to Do,
and Have Confidence in Who You Are!

Good Luck!

(Photo credits go to Larry Fenwick, to whom I have many reasons to say "thank you.")

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Isaac's Neighbor Joseph

Stone in Neelands Cemetery of Harriet Tousley
 Sometimes the adventure of documenting facts while researching Isaac B. Werner and his neighbors is a story in itself!  The serendipity of a discovery may seem too implausible to be believed, but here is one of those stories.

During some recent construction, my husband and I were at Lowe's for supplies.  As Larry was loading our purchases in the bed of our pickup, a gentleman noticed our Stafford County tag and struck up a conversation.  Since the man's interest dealt with history, my husband suggested that he speak with me, where I was waiting inside the store out of the cold.  We had a brief conversation and exchanged business cards, and I promised to check my list of surnames mentioned in Isaac's journal to see if his family surname might be among them.

It wasn't, and after e-mailing him that information I expected nothing further.  He did, however, forward my blog address to his cousin in Idaho because he thought she might find my blog about the suffragettes interesting.

Four days later he received a reply from his cousin, reminding him that a common ancestor named Tousley had lived in Stafford County.  She asked him to relay her interest in Stafford County history to me and to inquire whether I could add her name to my weekly reminder list.  He forwarded her request to me, along with her comment about their ancestral link to the Tousley settlers in Stafford County.  I immediate recognized the names she mentioned as familiar from Isaac's journal.

Harriet Gerst Tousley
Many surnames appear in Isaac's journal, with neighbors arriving in the community and struggling to survive on the prairie for a year or so before giving up their claims and moving on.  Joseph Tousley's name first appeared in the journal in 1885, and although there was no mention the following year, the Tousley name appeared frequently from 1887 through 1891 when the journal ends.

One name stood out for me because during my search for Isaac's grave (See "Finding Isaac's Grave, at 1-13-2012 in the blog archives) I had noticed a stone nearly identical to Isaac's gravestone, with the following engraving:  "Harriet G. Tousley, wife of J.C. Tousley, Died April 17, 1883, Aged 38 Years."

The 1880 Federal Census identified Joseph G. Tousley, his wife Harriet, and their three children, George (age 11), Carl (age 7), and Alice (age 4), and I knew from the gravestone that those young children had lost their mother only three years later.  Eager to learn what the descendant in Idaho might share with me about her ancestors (just as she was eager to learn what I knew about them), I began corresponding with her, and now I have a photograph of Harriet, believed to have been taken near the time of her marriage to Joseph.

Joseph Tousley
Joseph Tousley and Isaac were friends through their involvement in the Populist Movement, and they shared a curiosity about the co-operative farming colony in Sineola, Topolobampo, Mexico.  I had found a Passenger Manifest for Joseph Tousley from 1907 showing his arrival in Tampico, Mexico, and the 1900 Federal Census showed George and Carl, by then in their mid-twenties, living in Oklahoma.  Since I knew the family had left Kansas, I wondered if Joseph had finally visited the farming colony in Mexico that he and Isaac had discussed so many times.  I had also discovered that by 1893 Alice had married in Lawton, OK.

Some of the information I had gleaned from these records was confirmed by my Idaho correspondent, who shared what she knew from family records and oral history.  Joseph and his family did go to Oklahoma, where he had a newspaper for a while and continued his activity in politics.  I learned that Alice and her husband raised a family, and my correspondent was a descendant of the little girl I had worried about being raised in a male household after her mother's death.  My correspondent confirmed that Joseph had gone to Mexico, her understanding being that he had some sort of contract to sell government horses there.  I had found a Joseph Tousley living in a Soldiers' Home in Idaho in the 1910 Federal Census, and she confirmed that in the early 1900s he was in Idaho, very active in the GAR as an Ohio veteran of the Civil War.

George Tousley
I was particularly curious about the older son, George Tousley, since he had worked as a hired hand for Isaac in his late teens.  Now, because of a chance conversation with a stranger in a Lowe's parking lot, I have photographs of Isaac's close friend, the woman whose grave I had visited, and the young man who worked on Isaac's farm, planted a small plot of ground there to raise his own crop, and borrowed Isaac's horses not only to hire out as a laborer but also to travel to social engagements.

As I have mentioned in other blogs, (See "Isaac as Photographer" at 6-27-2012 in the blog archives) I know that neighbors came to Isaac's prosperous farm to have their pictures taken when their own farms were too impoverished to use as a background.  I know that pictures of Isaac's neighbors working their cooperative potato field on his land were taken.  I believe many photographs of early settlers who lived near Isaac Werner in Stafford County, KS and northern Pratt County near the Byers community must exist--if only their descendants knew how much I would love to locate those photographs!

I cannot give up hope that if a stranger in a different city managed by happenstance to lead me to these images of the Tousley family, perhaps others will appear to provide a path to more neighbors' stories and photographs!

(Please go to "Did Your Ancestor Know Isaac?" at 4-26-2012 in the blog archives if you had an ancestor living in the south part of Stafford County or the north part of Pratt County.  That blog contains a partial list of Isaac's neighbors.  If you find a family surname or know that your ancestor lived in the area during the late 1800s, and you have a photograph or story to share with me, contact me at or leave a comment at the end of this blog.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Iuka--a Marketing Town for Isaac

An early store in Iuka, Kansas
Iuka...the name itself tells a great deal of history.  Union soldiers who fought to preserve the nation during the Civil War were given credit for their years of service toward meeting the five years required to mature a homestead claim, one year subtracted for each year served.  As a result, many Union veterans came to Kansas to stake their claims.  When the town of Iuka was formed, a former soldier who had fought in the Battle of Iuka suggested the name, which came from a Chickasaw Indian Chief.

Isaac B. Werner mentioned traveling to Iuka regularly, both to purchase supplies and to market his potatoes.  He also had friends in the town, specifically the Eggleston brothers.  Bob Eggleston ran a stable and Arthur Eggleston had a real estate business.

Pratt County was organized in 1878, and more than a few people have suggested that anything that walked--on two legs or four--must have been counted to meet the minimum population of 600 required to establish a county, most probably being of the 4-legged variety!  Two towns vied for the county seat, Iuka and Saratoga, and continuing the chicanery involved in organizing the county, citizens of both towns employed all sorts of rascality to gain the advantage.  (See "Cemetery on the Hill," 2-7-2013 in the blog archives.)

The story is told that when the governor came to investigate the legitimacy of the county, Iuka showed him such a good time that he never made it to Saratoga.  Instead, he named Iuka the temporary county seat while improprieties in the county's organization were investigated.  Having the temporary designation proved to be a great advantage, for each time there were voting and petitioning irregularities in the selection of the permanent county seat, Iuka retained the status quo.  As the roguery continued, another town joined the contest.

Early Iuka Methodist Church
Part of Iuka's advantage rested upon its claim to be the center of the county, but during the contest for the county seat, the boundaries of the county changed.  Seizing upon that change, the new town called itself Pratt Center and claimed the central location.  The investors living elsewhere who organized Pratt Center dressed their trickery in a more sophisticated veneer than the chicanery that had been employed by Iuka and Saratoga, but none of the three contenders could claim entirely 'clean hands' in the battle for the county seat.  (See "How Investor's Created Pratt," 9-27-2013 in the blog archives.)  The advantages of being by the Ninnescah River and especially the first rail lines passing through the other towns, ultimately resulted in Pratt gaining the prize from Iuka.

A few businesses and residences were moved into Pratt Center, but Iuka did not disappear, as many Kansas prairie towns did.  Instead, they built their reputation on service to the rural communities surrounding the town, especially as the place where farmers brought their grain for shipment.

It is an interesting conclusion to this bit of Iuka's history that in the 1940s the town named after a Civil War battle gained as a close neighbor the Army Air Base, which is now the Pratt Municipal Airport.  A stroll through the cemetery on the north side of Iuka is the best way to remember some of the early settlers who established this town on the prairie.

(Photo credits go to, where many interesting vintage postcards can be viewed.  Thank you, Eric Larson.)