Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Natural Bridge

Near Sun City, Kansas
In the autumn of 1887, Isaac Werner made three trips to Sun City, Kansas to market potatoes.  The market for potatoes nearer his homestead was glutted, but the soil around Sun City did not encourage farmers to raise potatoes.  Of the rugged terrain, Isaac wrote "curious country around here."  To read more about Isaac's trips, visit "The Trip to Sun City" in the blog archives at 2-20-2014.

The photograph at right gives some idea of the rugged terrain; however, one parcel of land was so rocky and rough that people called it "Hell's Half Acre."  The Barber County Index published an interview on October 6, 1927 of an early settler from Kentucky who had come to Barber County to claim land.  During that interview, Green Adams explained why he had chosen such rugged land.  "The first of March 1873 I came to Barber County.  A great many people wonder why I came to Barber county when I passed over so much good land further east.  The reason was because there was plenty of timber and water in Barber County.  As I came from a heavily timbered country I didn't think I could get along without timber."

The land known as "Hell's Half Acre" remained in the Adams family until about 1958, when family member, Bruce Adams, sold the land near Sun City and moved into Pratt.  By that time, many people in the surrounding region knew about a natural bridge and some caves located on the land.  It was not unusual for families to travel there for picnics.  Schools even brought buses of children to visit the natural bridge.

I was one of those school children.  Most of us had never seen a natural bridge, and to our innocent eyes this was about as exciting as a visit to a National Park like Arches or the Grand Canyon.  The existence of this natural wonder spread as far as Lindsborg, Kansas, where artist Birger Sandzen learned of its existence.  He traveled to the site and used the bridge as the subject for his art.  Sandzen's painting is the centerpiece for the special exhibit, "Kansas Ties," currently at the Vernon Filley Art Museum through November 30, 2014.

Sandzen's oil painting  "The Bridge, Pratt, Ks," 1941
A recent visitor to the museum shared the website for the December 5, 1940 Johnson (Kansas) Pioneer, where on page 10 an interview with Birger Sandzen is reported.  Sandzen explained that he had been doing some sketching of the natural bridge, and he urged the importance of stabilizing the bridge to preserve its beauty.  He had observed that rains were weakening the rocks, endangering its collapse.  Sandzen praised the beauty of the area, saying it reminded him of the Grand Canyon.

At the Opening of the "Kansas Ties" exhibition at the Filley on Friday evening, August 22, 2014, many visitors described their own visits as children to the area, sharing clear memories of the wonderous natural bridge they had enjoyed.  Sadly, the bridge no longer arches across the creek bed below.  Although many of us clearly remember the bridge, no one recalled the amount of water depicted in Sandzen's painting.  In fact, several believed the bridge spanned a dry creek bed.

"Kansas Ties" is on loan from the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, Kansas, and along with Sandzen's work, the work of other artists with Kansas connections, as well as connections as friends, fellow artists, and students of Sandzen, are exhibited.  Perhaps best known among those artists is John Steuart Curry, famous  for his mural in the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka with its depiction of abolishinist John Brown.  Curry was included with Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton and Iowa artist Grant Wood as the three leading Regional Painters of the early 20th Century.

While you can no longer visit the natural bridge in Hell's Half Acre, you can visit the Vernon Filley Art Museum to see its depiction in an oil painting and to learn more about the role of Kansas artists during this period.  The "Kansas Ties" exhibition may be viewed through November 30th, and you may even want to join one of the 1st Saturday Docent tours conducted the first Saturday of every month for visitors who come to the Filley at 1:30 p.m..  Visit for more details.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Nearly Forgotten Country Cemetery

Martin Cemetery in Stafford County, KS
Most people driving by on Highway 50 do not notice the small cemetery with its few stones on the north side of the highway.  Busy Highway 281 is just a mile and a half to the east, and the town of St. John is about a mile to the north.

Those of you who visit my blog regularly know that I am fascinated with the history to be found in old country cemeteries.  (See "Finding Isaac's Grave," 1-13-2012; "Visit to Wernersville," 2-16-2012; Woodmen's Gravestones," 3-8-2012; "Naron--an early settler, a town, and a cemetery," 8-9-2012; and "Cemetery on the Hill," 2-7-2013; in the blog archives.)  It should come as no surprise that I asked my husband to stop to explore the Martin Cemetery.

I had learned that the Martin Cemetery was the burial place for early Black settlers in Stafford County.  Isaac's journal mentions a Black hired hand helping plant wheat on land he had rented to a neighbor, and he described a Black speaker at a People's Party rally in St. John.  (See "1st Black Female Lawyer," 3-27-2013 in the blog archives.)  I knew there were other Black families that had come to the area after the Civil War, and I was curious to visit this cemetery.

Unfortunately, few stones remain in Martin Cemetery.  In 2006 Linda Brower and Renee Wright walked through the cemetery and documented the stones they could read, and those were the only stones I found as well.  (See

The newest and most legible stone belongs to married couple George & Dora Hilton.  According to the 1900 Federal Census for Clear Creek Township in Stafford County, they had been married for 2 years.  George was born in Tennessee, as were both of his parents.  Dora was born in Missouri, but her parents were born in Kentucky.  Twenty-five years later, the Kansas census for Clear Creek shows not only their daughter, May L. Hilton, age 16, living with the couple, but also a 5-year-old niece named Sarah M. Martin.  In the 1940 Federal Census, the couple was living in Naron Township, just across the county line in Pratt County, and 20-year-old Sarah was still with them, identified as their "adopted daughter."  Because Sarah was identified as a "niece" in the 1925 state census, I cannot help but wonder if Dora's maiden name might have been Martin.

F.C.H. inscribed stone
Nearby is a small stone bearing only the initials "F. C. H" without any dates.  Since the last initial is "H" it suggests the possibility that a member of the Hilton family is buried there, perhaps an infant that lived only briefly.  However, that is only supposition.

Because the cemetery is known as the "Martin" cemetery, and because the only other stone is of the Martin family, I was curious to see what I might learn about them.

The 1900 Federal Census for Clear Creek Township showed, in addition to Dora and George, four other Black residents.  Lewis Martin, born Sept. 1872 in Illinois, his wife Maud, born 1877 in Kansas, and their 4-month old son Joseph, born in Kansas comprised one household.  The only other Black township resident was William Martin, a single man born January 1877 in the household of John Hart, for whom he was working as a farm laborer.

Family Stone of Joseph & Sarah Martin
However, in Rose Valley Township in 1900, the Federal Census record shows the family of Joseph Martin, born 1827 in Kentucky, his wife Sarah J., born in Kentucky, Son Wilson J., born 1879 in Kansas.  Also in that household were daughter Ella M. Bowen, born 1881 in Kansas, and her daughter Mary A., born 1888.  In the next residence listed on the census was Joanna Gardner, born 1866 in Illinois, her son and two daughters, James L., born 1884, Bessie A., born 1888, and Estella, born 1891, all three in Kansas.  A boarder named William H. Glass was also living in the house.

Tracing Joseph and Sarah Martin's family back to the 1880 Federal Census, I found them living in St. John Township with six children:  Johanna 15; Charles 10; Lewis 7 (See 1900 Fed. Census for Clear Creek Township referenced above); William 4; Missouri 2; and Isaac 3 months.  Only Isaac was born in Kansas, while 2-year-old Missouri had been born in the state after which she was named, indicating that the family had come to Kansas within the past two years.  Also in their household was Mellissa Armstend, described as "mother," age 70 and born in Kentucky.

Stafford County 8th Grade Graduates about 1926
The family stone of Joseph & Sarah Martin is difficult to read (even printed in black & white to enhance the engraving somewhat), but the Martin names recorded from the stone by Linda Brower are as follows:  Joseph, 1828-1920; Sarah, 1831-1906; Wilson I., 1880-1907; Ella, 1881 (only date); and Perkins, 1922 (only date).  

Ella M. Bowen was living at the time of the 1900 census, so the date on the family stone would appear to be her birthdate, with the intention of adding her death date later.  The identity of Perkins does not appear in the census records consulted for this blog.

The arrival of Joseph and Sarah Martin sometime between 1878 and 1880 corresponds with the arrival of many settlers to Stafford County.  The Stafford County 8th Grade Graduation photograph shows Black students among the graduates.  The role these settlers played in Stafford County's history is too infrequently mentioned, and although my brief research of those buried in the Martin Cemetery leaves many unresolved clues, perhaps this blog will encourage others to investigate the history of the community of Black Americans in Stafford County.  

When my husband and I visited the cemetery, there were flowers at each stone, making it apparent that those buried in Martin Cemetery are still remembered.  I hope anyone with information about the Martin Cemetery and those buried there who reads this blog will share their comments.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Emulating Isaac

A man doesn't plant a tree for himself.  He plants it for posterity.  Alexander Smith  

Isaac Werner planted many trees on his homestead and timber claim, using cuttings, seeds, and plants bought from growers.  (See "Isaac Plants Cottonwood Trees," 12-2-2011 in the blog archives.) He also sold some of the small trees he had grown.  This summer I emulated Isaac by transplanting some volunteer seedlings that had grown where they were not wanted.

My transplanted redbud tree
For two seasons I had watched small silver maples growing in my vegetable garden, hiding alongside veggies that I did not want to disturb by digging up the little trees.  There were also two volunteer maples and a redbud tree in an ivy bed next to the house.  Because they were a foot or two tall, my husband suggested that he should probably be the one to dig them up. At that time, neither of us knew that maples are surface feeders with shallow roots.  Redbuds, however, are a different matter.

My husband forgot his offer to dig up the seedlings, and the following spring, I decided I would dig them up myself and find a place to transplant them.  The maples were surprisingly easy, but I had no idea when I began digging that redbud roots are so deep.  The little volunteer was only about 16" tall, but its root was longer than my arm, more like a pig tail than a typical root. I was determined not to cut the main root, and I stubbornly dug for most of the morning.  After a break to eat lunch while water soaked into the hard soil at the bottom of the hole I had dug, I returned to dig some more in the muddy bottom of the hole until I finally reached the end of the root!  In the photograph above, notice that the root begins at about elbow height and the end lays out slightly on the ground by my foot.

A red bud branch covered with seed pods
I know that redbuds thrive in the shade of taller trees, yet I foolishly planted my little tree in a place shaded during the morning but in the hot afternoon sun.  Its leaves turned brown and became as crisp as potato chips before falling off, leaving nothing but naked branches.  

Much to the amusement of my husband and his friends, I refused to give up on the naked redbud, continuing to water it.  I trusted in the long root to save the tree, but after many days of seeing what appeared to be a dead tree, I was about ready to concede defeat.  Just in time, I spotted a tiny speck of green--too small to be identified as a sprouting leaf, but worth continuing to water for a few more days.  Eventually I could determine that it was a leaf, and soon a few more green specks appeared.  It was then that I clipped a white towel to the west side of the wire cage around the little tree, providing it with afternoon shade.  It rewarded me with more leaves.

The row of silver maples in their new cages
I am told that it is uncommon for the seeds from a redbud tree in a cultivated landscape to root naturally, but apparently one little seed found a perfect spot in the moist shade of our ivy bed on the north side of the house.  I have never paid much attention to the redbud seed pods, but they are forming now, and I think I may try planting some of them.  I will choose the planting location more carefully, providing the shade of taller trees to protect the seedlings from the hot afternoon sun, and maybe I can grow more redbuds to join the brave little transplant that I planted in the sun.

Isaac could not have been more proud of his sprouting cottonwood cuttings than I am of my little redbud tree and the five transplanted silver maples.  Because deer rubbed the cottonwoods my husband transplanted last year to death, we put tomato cages with mesh around the little trees to protect them, and this week my husband made proper cages for the growing maples.  My little redbud is still in its tomato cage, but we think all six of the transplanted trees are thriving and will mature along with the new bald cypress trees we bought from the nursery.

Bald Cypress with Hedge Apple tree row
My great grandmother and her son, my grandfather Beck, planted cottonwoods and hedge apples; my parents planted elms.  Their trees are aging, and even the self-seeded elms growing all around the farm are getting old.  We have enjoyed the shade of trees planted two generations ago, so now my husband and I are planting trees for others to enjoy after we are gone.

As long as people plant trees, there is hope for the future in their hearts.  As Albert Schweitzer believed:  Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore.  There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stafford (KS) Opera House

Weide Opera House, Stafford, Kansas
On November 5, 1888, Isaac B. Werner wrote in his journal:  "While eating my breakfast I decided should occasionally enjoy a holiday at least, so got ready & soon took off for Stafford City.  Got there by noon when they were forming the procession for Union Labor rally.  Looked hastily over the town which had improved a little surprisingly since my last trip through there some 7 years ago.  Had some speaking in a hall...  Close to 500 people attending, some 200 women and an enthusiastic audience it was too."

Although Stafford had vied with St. John for the Stafford County seat, it was St. John that won the battle at the ballot box.  (See "Isaac's Victorian Courthouse," 3-29-2012 in the blog archives.)  Consequently, Isaac traveled to the county seat in St. John more often than to Stafford.  Even so, it seems surprising to those of us today who think little of traveling  25 or 30 miles, that Isaac would not have returned to Stafford City for 7 years!

Eventually, Stafford got a new Opera House, but that structure had not been built when Isaac attended the Union Labor rally.  His only description was "some speaking in a hall," so I am uncertain of the building that might have hosted the speakers.  As always, Isaac was encouraged by seeing women taking part in political matters, although they did not yet have the vote.

Interior, Weide Opera House, Stafford, Kansas
The post card images in this blog, including The Weide Opera House, Stafford, Kas. at the beginning of this blog are part of the Yost/Leak Collection and should be credited as such.  The post card image of the interior of the Weide Opera House bears on the reverse side a postal cancellation with the date "1911, Sep 18," although the "Stafford County History, 1870-1990" indicates the building date as 1912.  (The postal cancellation would seem to establish that the construction was completed by the earlier date.) It was clearly an impressive building for public performances.

Unfortunately it fell on hard times and was demolished in 2013.  We are left to imagine what wonderful social evenings the residents of Stafford must have enjoyed in their Opera House in its prime!

(If you missed the blog about the Opera House in St. John, KS, you may visit it in the blog archives at "St. John (KS) Convention Hall & Opera House," 6-26-2014.)