Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

George & Theresa Hall with Maria & Lillian
I love history, as I declared in my first post of this blog, and I have been an enthusiastic family genealogist for many years. Yet, Isaac Werner has opened my eyes to a great deal of history I might otherwise never have considered.  I hope this blog has shared some of that awareness with everyone who has followed the blog or reflected on my face book postings.  I am disappointed that my manuscript has not yet been published, but I continue to enjoy the adventure for which Isaac has been responsible.  (See "I Love History," 1-3-2012 in the blog archives.)

My Great-grandfather, George Hall, was one of Isaac Werner's best friends, and when Isaac became too ill to live alone, it was the Hall household that first took Isaac into their home.  I believe that is how Isaac's journal, which led to my discovery of the life of this amazing bachelor homesteader, came into the hands of my family.  (See "Finding Isaac's Journal," 10-23-2011.)

George brought his family to America in 1882, settling first in Marion County, Ohio where his son Thomas was born in 1885, and then moving to Edwards County, KS, where youngest daughter Abbey was born in 1888.  By the time of the Kansas Census in 1895 the family was living in Albano Township, Stafford County, KS on the Rattlesnake Creek near Isaac Werner's claims.  Both men were active in the Progressive movement, which probably deepened their friendship.

The baby on her mother's lap in the photograph above is my grandmother, Lillian Hall Beck, born in 1880 while the family still lived in England.  She and my grandfather, Royal Delbert Beck, raised their family (including my father) in the home where I was raised.  Now we are doing some construction on our Kansas home which involves disturbing the foundation of the house on one side.  I have collected several objects during the landscaping and construction, but the discovery by the Robert Smiley Concrete crew near the foundation of what was once the back porch of the house is the most wonderful object we have found! 

W.W. I Manoil Barclay lead soldier
A toy lead soldier about 3 1/2" in length was found buried in dirt where it must have lain for decades.  I guessed from the uniform and the popularity of toy 'tin' soldiers during that era that it represented a wounded World War I soldier, a relic of the Great War.

Immediately I imagined my father playing with the little soldier, and I was eager to do the research to document when these lead soldiers were made.  I learned that Manoil Manufacturing Company in Manhattan, NY, began toy soldier production in 1935-1936, which continued until 1942.  The soldiers are prized by collectors today because of such authentic sculpting of American combat soldiers.  The specific toy that workers found in the construction dirt at my family home is M53 30, Wounded Soldier (Lying).  Most of the figures have a concave base, but because the particular figure our workers found was designed to be lying down, it has no base.  The Barclay Manufacturing Company continued making antimonial lead toy soldiers until plastic toys finally took over the market.

Another example of the wounded soldier
Today there are many collectors of the Manoil Barclay toy soldiers, and examples for sale can be found online, where I found these two images of wounded toy soldiers.  There are soldiers marching, fighting, riding, as well as wounded with their care givers.

Because of the manufacturing dates of these soldiers, it seems less likely that my father or his brother Arthur played with the little soldier I found.  Rather, the soldier may have been part of a serious collection.  Realizing that, I began to think more seriously about how my English grandmother, brought to America when she was very young, and her parents, must have worried about family during the fighting.  George Hall made trips to England several times to visit his family, and he took his son Thomas on one trip and his daughter Dorothy on a later trip.  Family oral history taught me that my grandmother Lillian never got to go with him to England because she was always pregnant with one of her seven children at the time her father planned a trip.

The happenstance discovery of that toy soldier made me appreciate the worry my family must have felt during W.W. I and W.W. II, not only for American soldiers but also for their English family, civilians and those serving in the military.  More about this later...

(One of my favorite children's stories is "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," and there are some beautifully illustrated versions of that story available for young readers.  I naturally thought of that story when I was so respectfully handed the toy soldier by Juan, who understood my family roots in the soil where the little toy had rested for decades.)  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Corn Harvest, Then & Now

Combine & Grain Wagon, 2014
Last week farmers in our area began harvesting dry land corn.  With rain in the forecast, they pulled into the field adjacent to our farm home to begin cutting at dusk as dark clouds approached.

Last year I intended to photograph the corn harvest on Isaac's land, but they cut it at night, and all I was able to photograph were the strong headlights of the combine as it moved through the darkness.  I had photographed the corn a few days earlier, so this post will include images of "Isaac's" 2013 corn, as well as images taken last week in our field.

Isaac had no horse of his own to help him break sod for several years (See "Isaac's Dolly Varden," 12-28-2012 in the blog archives about acquiring his first horse.)  He had to swap his labor in exchange for a neighbor's labor +  horse + equipment to break his sod, and it took a great deal of his own labor as a field hand or carpenter to balance the trade.  With little plowed ground to plant, he planted sod corn right in the unplowed prairie, resulting in poor returns for his efforts.  Eventually he had Dolly, and then more horses, to break sod and to plant his corn in plowed fields.

 2013 Corn on Isaac's old Homestead land
The equipment Isaac used for planting and harvesting his corn was quite primitive and small, especially compared to today's farm equipment.  Interestingly, one thing Isaac and today's farmers have in common is the need for a good banker when it is time to purchase new equipment!  Generations of farmers have needed to borrow the money for new equipment.  The first time Isaac went into debt was when he purchased Dolly and borrowed enough extra to begin buying equipment that could be pulled by a horse.  Prior to that time, all of his equipment was man-powered, and even after he had a horse, he struggled to find equipment that worked well in his sandy loam soil.  (See "Isaac's Farm Implements," 6-21-2012 for a photograph of a Hand Corn Planter.)  When he purchased a corn drill to try, with the option of returning it if he didn't like the way it worked, he found that it dropped too many kernels some of the time and dropped none some of the time.  He returned the drill and continued hand planting.

Cut stalks, cobs, and missed ears, 2014

Today's combines move through a field, cutting stalks, removing the ears from the stalks and the kernel from the cobs before filling the bin with the clean, golden corn.  When the combine bin is full, the corn is augured into the grain wagon on-the-go, so that the combine can continue harvesting the standing corn in the field.  The corn is then transferred from the grain wagon into the larger grain truck waiting in the road to take the corn to market or to store in the farmer's huge grain bins.  (See "What Do I Do With My Crop?--Parts I and II," 1-2-2014 and 1-9-2014.)  For the early homesteaders like Isaac, preparing their corn for market was far more human-labor intensive.

Growing corn on Isaac's former homestead in 2013
Just as the Indians are said to have used every part of the buffalo that they killed, not just the meat and hide, the homesteaders used every part of the corn plant they harvested.  They may have chosen to remove the ears of corn in the field, but most farmers, like Isaac, cut the stalks near the ground and stacked them in  teepee-like corn shocks of bound or unbound bundled stalks for curing or drying.  Before the 1890s, few farmers had a corn binder to cut and bundle the corn into sheaves, and the job was done by hand, one stalk at a time.  Whether the ears were removed from the standing corn in the field or from the corn shocks later, much work remained to be done.

Isaac former homestead planted in a circle of corn in 2013

The corn shuck or husk around the corn had to be removed, a chore called shucking. That exposed the corn, but it remained on the husk until it was shelled, a job that may have been done by hand or with a crude machine.  The farmer would have set aside his best ears from which to save the kernels for planting the next year's crop.  The rest of the shelled corn might have been marketed or it may have been ground to feed his livestock.

Because there were no trees in the early years, the dry corn stalks were cut into lengths to burn as fuel for their stoves.  The husks were tied in knots to slow their rate of burning, and were also used as fuel, as were the corn cobs.  Homesteaders took advantage of every part of the harvested plant in their struggle to survive on the prairie.

The photograph above shows the types of litter that a modern combine may leave on the ground. Often, the harvested fields are fenced for cattle to fatten on the corn that escaped the combine's paddle.  The roots of the corn plant will help hold the sandy loam soil against the onslaught of the strong prairie winds until the soil is cultivated for the next season's crop.

Beyond our new landscaping, a field of green corn, summer 2014
Isaac was a very progressive farmer, and he even invented a 4-horse cultivator to allow one farmer to cover more ground quickly.  There were a few steam-powered combines operating in the fields before Isaac's death, and he approved of the mechanical advances to allow a farmer to farm more acres.  Each generation has increased the number of acres owned or rented on their family farms, so that the number of farming residents in Isaac's old community has sharply decreased as one farmer cultivates more land.  The myth of "Wide Open Spaces on the Lonesome Prairie" that people imagine during the Homesteading Years is actually a better description of living in Isaac's old community today.        

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Isaac's Bad Luck with Hogs

Isaac B. Werner was not lucky when it came to raising hogs.  For several years he had no livestock on his claims.  Eventually he bought a horse, the mare's purchase price and some extra for implements being his first indebtedness.  (See "Isaac's Dolly Varden," 2-28-2012 in the blog archives.)  He also began keeping chickens, (See "Isaac Builds an Incubator," 8-22-2013, and "Isaac Raises Chicks with a Broody Hen," 8-29-2013), and at last he traded some of the grain he raised with neighbors for hogs.  It was the beginning of his bad luck with hogs. 

On April 2, 1888, he wrote in his journal:  "Dix sow died from pigging.  Fed [her] since 12th of December about 6 bushels of corn.  'Yellow Jersey' about same amount of corn & still lean.  Vosburg brood sow now about a year on hand.  Eat about 17 bushels of corn.  Time to be pigging (112 days [according to] Garvin), about up & no signs."

Not only did his own hogs give him trouble but his neighbors hogs got out and ate his crops.  A few days later he wrote in his journal:  "H. Bentley helped me stretch 5 wire around & by eve W. Goodwin hogs inside eating corn again."  Isaac became so annoyed by how often his neighbors' livestock got out and ate his crops that he suggested it might be more efficient if he stopped trying to fence the livestock out of his fields and instead just went to his neighbors' farms and repaired their pen and pasture fences!

By the 11th of April he had given up on the sow he traded grain for with Vosburgh, and he asked Will Goodwin to help him butcher the sow.  He was concerned that the weather was getting too warm for butchering, and he had never killed a hog before.  Will loaned him a barrel and helped him butcher the sow, and they found no signs of piglets inside her.  He asked his neighbor, Mrs. Ross, to render the lard for him while he "cut up the swine and salted same in cellar."

Hedrick's Racing Pigs leave the gate!
Although he continued feeding the 'Jersey' hog, by August it was still lean and he decided to butcher it, despite the warm weather.  Again, he asked Mrs. Ross the try out the lard, but he decided to salt the pickled meat himself.  Unfortunately, the packed meat started going bad, although he "dipped out brine, cut bones out of those hams & salted into a jar by themselves, other meat back into barrel with heated pickle repacked & salted." The hams had to be discarded and the fermented, repacked meat had to be rendered for lard to get any use from it.

An article in the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of "Capper's" with the subtitle "Revisit the virtues of your grandmother's secret ingredient and get cooking,"  included directions for "Dry Rendering" lard and praised the benefits of fats from both animal and vegetable sources.  Citing lard, tallow, duck and goose fat, as well as vegetable fats from olives, coconut and flax, the article claimed the fatty acids "keep our bones healthy (adding calcium absorption), and they enhance the immune system," contrasting the absence of these benefits in engineered fats.
Pig 3 takes the lead at the corner, cheered by the crowd!

The article acknowledged that "The amount of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids varies in lard according to what the pigs have eaten, making fat from pastured or grass fed hogs the best choice."  Of course, it was all the corn that Isaac had fed his hogs that made him most resentful of their failure to thrive and produce neither meat nor piglets!

The article warned that "Most of the lard you find stocked on the grocery store shelves has been harvested from 'factory farmed' animals; it's been hydrogenated, bleached and deodorized, and emulsifiers and other chemicals have been added.  Stay away from it!" the article declared.

A new leader in the straight-away excites cheers!
The year of 1888 was not the last time Isaac tried to raise hogs, but he was never very successful.  He was not much of a pig farmer, and he had to admit that he would have been better off hiring out his labor and selling his corn than getting into the hog business!

The photographs accompanying this blog were taken at the 2014 Kansas State Fair.  You may wish to visit blogs posted during Sept. & Oct. 2013 featuring the exhibits at the Kansas State Fair that year.  A special thank you to the Hedrick Exotic Animal Farm (and Bed & Breakfast) located near Nickerson, Kansas for the photographs of the pig races.  The announcer, her helper, the 'volunteers' drafted from the crowd as cheerleaders, and especially the clever little pigs made for great entertainment!
We have a winner and a triumphant cheerleader!

As you can tell if you look more closely, there were actually three races, so the apparent lead changes were really different little pigs among the twelve racers.  The final group slipped through the gate as they were being assembled before their race, and perhaps the fact that they had already had a taste of the trophy plate filled with piggy treats made them slow down a little in the straight-away.

The fair continues through this weekend, so you could still catch the Hedrick's Racing Pigs at the 2014 Kansas State Fair if you check for starting times!  Maybe Isaac's pigs that refused to fatten for butchering really saw themselves as Racing Pigs and were 'staying in shape!'

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Natural Bridge, Part II

Natural Bridge near Sun City, Kansas
Last week's blog, "The Natural Bridge,"   (archives, 8-28-2014), about artist, Birger Sandzen's paintings and prints drew many visitors to the blog.  Some of those visitors left comments, a few at the blog, but many more on face book.  One of those comments was left by Janice Smith Urban with a link to a wonderful website containing many photographs.  The photographs used in this blog are from the Collection of Brenda McLain, courtesy of Kim Fowles, with post card images collected by Kim Fowles, together with images from the Kansas Geological Survey.  I recommend a visit to that website, where specific photo credits are shown and additional photographs may be viewed.  My thanks to Janice, who led me to the site, and to the many others who left comments.

Taken by Stan Roth in 1961, KsGeoSurvey
The face book comments described visits by many people when they were children, and the wonderful old photographs document visits far earlier, judging from the clothing and an old automobile in one image.  Look closely at the photo above to see the three young women in their long, white summer dresses which would have been the fashion from the early 1900s.

The photograph at left was taken in 1961, showing very different dress of the men in the picture.  Compare the condition of the rocks in the two photographs, and notice how the cracks have become more apparent.  The bridge collapsed shortly after the 1961 photograph was taken.

Last week's post included excerpts from an interview published Dec. 5, 1940, in which Sandzen expressed his concern about the stability of the bridge.  He urged the importance of immediate preservation efforts, and, in fact, there were efforts taken for the state to acquire the property as a historical site.  An article in the Barber County Index, dated Feb. 20, 1942, describes passage by the Kansas House, which was sent to the Senate as a joint resolution, directing the Kansas Fish and Game Commission to acquire the Natural Bridge to be supervised and promoted by the state.  Unfortunately, the resolution required acquiring the area described at no cost, and the property remained in private hands.

From Fowles Collection
A detailed description of the bridge by Prof. F. W. Cragin appeared in the 1912 Kansas:  a cyclopedia of state history, Vol. II, p. 336, a copy of which is in the collection of the Pratt Historical Museum.  "The bridge spans the canyon of the creek, here about 55 feet from wall to wall.  The height of the bridge above the bed of the creek is at the highest point 47 feet, at lowest 31, and at middle 38.  The width of the bridge at the middle is 35 feet.  The upper surface of the bridge declines toward the downstream side, but not so much that a wagon drawn by a steady team could not be driven across it."

Children wading under the Natural Bridge
Former Pratt resident Chuck Renner described in a face book comment the creek as being about 4' wide and 2' deep when he was a boy and his father allowed Chuck and his siblings to swim in the water.  Others remembered a dry creek bed, or no more than a trickle of water.

Prof. Cragin's description reads:  "The relief of the vicinity seems to indicate that at a geologically recent time Bear creek here flowed to the east of its present course, and that its waters, becoming partially diverted by an incipient cave, enlarged the latter, and finally were entirely stolen by it, the cave at length collapsing, save at the portion now constituting the natural bridge."  Since present memories of the amount of water in Bear Creek when they visited as children vary, perhaps the amount of rainfall explains the differences.  However, there was certainly water in Bear Creek when the children in the photograph above visited.  (Clothing would indicate the early 1900s.)

Entrance to Havard's Cave
Filley Docent Gary Curtis, upon seeing the Sandzen painting of The Bridge in the "Kansas Ties" exhibition at the Filley Art Museum, described being encouraged by my older brother Clark to enter a cave where Gary became stuck in a narrow passage.  In a 2005 exchange of e-mails between Kim Fowles and David Massey, he described high school boys entering Havard's Cave.  "The tough part was the entrance as you had to lower yourself down into a sink-hole, finally get yourself flat on your stomach and wiggle yourself in for several feet, then it would open up and finally you could stand up.  It was fairly spacious and [I] don't remember how big it was now, but I'm sure it was a lot less than I remember it.  The first fellow that entered it had to have had nerves of steel as there is very little wiggle room at the beginning and its not easy to wiggle backwards if you met something that did not welcome you."  Massey's description sounds as if Gary might have remembered that tight passage into Havard's Cave.  (The photo of Havard's Cave is from the collection of Elizabeth Covington Hoagland, via Kim Hoagland Fowles.)

As for the 'something that did not welcome you,' Chuck Renner may have offered a clue about what that could have been.  His face book comment described a family visit when his sister jumped from the car ahead of the rest of the family and nearly stumbled into a pit with at least twenty rattlesnakes in it!  Chuck had never seen so many rattlesnakes at one time, and he has never forgotten what he saw that day.  Lee Massey, in the 2005 exchange of e-mails, described a cave that ran from one side of the bridge to the other.  "It was exciting to go thru," she wrote. "I was always afraid of Rattlesnakes.  It was always cool.  There was a ledge along one wall and I was afraid snakes would like it."

Collapsed Natural Bridge, KsGeoSurvey
I have saved the saddest photograph for the close of this blog.  The danger of a collapse from natural causes had long been known.  Perhaps that is what occurred.  However, it is suggested by others that the bridge was dynamited because of the liability it presented.  What is obvious from this photograph is that the place remembered fondly by many people living in this area is gone.  There is no question that trespassing was frequent and risks were taken.  The photograph taken in 1961 shows how the cracks had enlarged from what appeared in earlier photographs.  Liability concerns were reasonable, however tragic the destruction of a beautiful natural wonder loved by so many people and worthy of designation as a State Historical Site may have been if, in fact, it was dynamited.  

Jerry Ferrin may have been one of the last to visit the bridge and to crawl through a small tunnel under the bridge, a tunnel Nancy Smith has early home movies of her father and her grandparents with others "coming out of it, shaking the dirt off, laughing and having a good time!"  In the 2005 exchange of e-mails, Jerry wrote, "Dad had heard the natural bridge was to be destroyed, and took us to see it soon before that was done."  

Sadly, those of us who can remember visiting the bridge now have gray in our hair, and family visits can no longer wade under the bridge and crawl through the caves.  However, all of us can visit the Vernon Filley Art Museum now through November 30, 2014 to see Birger Sandzen's painting of The Bridge, on loan from the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, KS.  Visit last week's blog for more information.

(Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.  Be sure to add comments to this blog if you have memories to share.)