Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Shared Love for Books

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick
On a recent trip to Fort Worth my husband encountered this sculpture of Mark Twain, and knowing how much I would enjoy seeing it, he paused for some photographs.

Among the many books in Isaac Werner's library was Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad.  On February 24, 1871 he recorded in his journal:  "Wrote and ordered again a copy of Innocents Abroad...,"  but it was clearly not the first copy of Twain that he owned, for on March 2, 1871 he wrote in his journal, "During eve boys standing round store reading Mark Twain and general fun."  The copy that he had ordered arrived March 10, 1871:  "I received for express a copy of Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad."  Isaac's last entry about the book was made on March 18, 1871:  "During day I read Mark Twain's description of Cathedral at Milan, just feeling interested to read up about that building."

Early edition
Innocents Abroad was published in 1869 and is an account of Twain's traveling with a group of Americans in 1867 aboard a chartered vessel called the Quaker City.  The book was the best selling of all of Twain's books during his lifetime, and it remains one of the all-time most popular travel books.

Stone plaque
Near the statue of Twain was this plaque, which reads:  Given to the Families of Fort Worth for the Joys of Reading Together.  The donor was identified as "Red Oak Books."  Of course, my curiosity lead me to research the donor, and I learned that in 1991 Jon and Rebecca Brumley established the Red Oak Foundation intended to encourage reading to young children.  As part of their mission Red Oaks Books gives over 37,000 new, hardcover books to disadvantaged families each year.

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick
One of the first things that attracted me to Isaac Werner was our shared love for books.  Not only do we both love books, but we both value the importance of building a personal library.

Clearly Jon and Rebecca Brumley share that love for books and realize not only the importance of reading to children but also the importance of each child having books of his or her own.

Someday I just may join Mark Twain on his bench, and if no one is nearby to laugh at the silly lady talking to a statue, I might even tell Twain about the homesteader on the Kansas prairie who loved books and who read Innocents Abroad with his friends. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Consequences of Hard Times

Las Animas Courthouse
Isaac's closest neighbors in 1888 were the Bentleys, whose claim was directly east of his own homestead. Harry Bentley and his son-in-law, Fred Weeks, often exchanged work with Isaac. His close relationship with the family is apparent from his journal entries of February 6-11 of 1888 when Isaac developed a serious health problem with the swelling and festering of one finger which spread to his hand.  When poulticing and wearing the hand in a sling did not resolve the problem, he began staying with the Bentley's, the only time mentioned in his journal that he sought the care of a neighbor prior to his final illness.  With such a close relationship with the Bentleys, Isaac was particularly distressed when a financial crisis in their family occurred.

Times were getting harder and most settlers had mortgages they were struggling to pay, most of the time only able to pay the interest and renew the original notes.  Their debts worsened as interest rates rose, and for many of them the interest they had paid significantly exceeded the original principal of their loans.

Las Animas Railway Station 
On March 26, 1888, the month following Isaac's stay with the family, son-in-law Fred Weeks was arrested for having disposed of mortgaged property.  After being released from custody for what was supposed to be the opportunity to secure bail, Fred "skipped," according to Isaac journal entry.

In those hard times it was not unusual for lenders to require someone to co-sign notes, in case the borrower was unable to pay.  Unfortunately for the Bentleys, they apparently had co-signed or they assumed their son-in-law's obligation.  Isaac's journal entry of April 4, 1888 read, "Fred Weeks came sneaking home to Bentley's from his skeedadle trip and arrested."  The journal entry of the following day explained the impact on his friends:  "The Weeks financial difficulties somewhat compromised with his creditors over at Carnahan's, with the Bentley family mostly divested of their property--save what trusted in their hands by creditors."  Whether they had co-signed or agreed to assume their son-in-law's debts after his arrest, the financial impact on the Bentleys was devastating.  (Carnahan was the community's Justice of the Peace, and apparently this legal matter was handled locally rather than in St. John.)

Las Animas Jail on Courthouse Square
On April 27, 1888, Isaac's journal records Mrs. Bentley's decision to rent their place to "old Hacker." Isaac talked with the Bentleys about renting their land, and he stored their share of the crop, as well as keeping an eye on Hacker for them.  The Bentleys had not been able to take all of their belongings, and Isaac was watchful of the furniture and other possessions stored in the upstairs of their home.

The Bentleys settled in the town of Las Animas, Colorado, the county seat of Bent County.  This is not the same place as the County of Las Animas, whose county seat is Trinidad.  (See "Isaac's Neighbors Leave Their Homestead" at 4-4-2013 in the Blog Archives.)

Las Animas Courthouse, Bent County, Colorado
On August 21, 1888 Isaac recorded in his journal that "Mrs. Ross and old Hacker packing the Bentley goods to ship to Las Animas" and on August 24, 1888 Isaac recorded having taken those goods to the St. John depot for shipment.  As a post script to the Bentley's story, they hoped to return to their claim, and Harry returned for several days the following year, with the intention to re-establish their home there.  Instead, the land was sold and the family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Because the Bentley story was such a part of Isaac's life in 1888, I was eager to see Las Animas, Colorado when we passed through recently.  All of the photographs included in this blog were taken there.  I attempted to research the Bentley family further, but I could not learn what their livelihood became after selling their homestead nor whether Salt Lake City became their permanent home.  All I know is that Mrs. Bentley came one more time to get the last of their things, and although Isaac enjoyed friendships with subsequent occupants of the Bentley homestead, he regretted having lost the Bentley's as his neighbors.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

School Days & English Texts

Studying English
I have saved my husband's and my own high school and college English texts, believing they might have a use to me as a writer.  I'm sure I have looked at them a few times over the years, but not that many times, and as our bookcases fill and more boxes of books remain, I decided to reconsider the usefulness of the old textbooks.

I picked up my husband's high school senior year English text first, and on the flyleaf, neatly written in his school boy penmanship, was the following quote:  "Do half of everything you don't want to do and you'll gain twice as much knowledge as if you would have done something you liked."  I was impressed by my 16-year-old husband-to-be choosing to write that advice in his book.  I continued to flip through the pages and was surprised to find much more than grammar exercises.  The text book is titled English in Action, and its contents live up to the title. 

For example, Chapter 9, "Thinking for Yourself" begins by saying, "much depends upon people who have learned to think for themselves, to make decisions, and to act upon them.  The very basis of our democracy is thinking citizens."  It continues by warning "don't accept too quickly what you see, hear, and read," and continues by pointing out the distinction between objective writing, which "tends to rely principally upon reporting observable facts [and] subjective writing [which] tends to describe or convey opinions, emotions, and judgments."  Wow!  I had no recollection that my senior year English text book went so far in explaining the power of words--both the power to inform and the power to mislead and subtly influence readers' and listeners' thinking.

Name Calling
Beyond the power of words we use and words we read and hear, the text book continued with a lesson teaching students the danger of misleading themselves.  "Because we like to think of ourselves as reasonable beings, we sometimes invent reasons for doing what we want to do."  What followed was a simple but very informative summarization of logic and reasoning, beginning with ways in which emotional responses can mislead--Pride that blinds us to seeing our own failings; Fear of things new or different; Prejudice or prejudging; and allowing Daydreaming to persuade us something is reasonable or likely.

Band Wagon
Next came an explanation of Fallacies--Hasty Generalization; Mistaking the Cause; False Analogy; Ignoring the Question; Begging the Question; Attacking the Person, not the Argument; and Misusing Statistics.  A single paragraph explaining each of these was given, and in simple terms the fallacy was described so clearly that each could be understood.

Self editing
The next section dealt with Propaganda, introducing first three propaganda tricks:  Twisting and Distortion, Selective Omission, and Incomplete Quotation.  That was followed with what the text book described as "devices often harmless in themselves...that encourage unthinking acceptance."  Eight examples followed:  Testimonial, in which a well-known person promotes someone or something about which they have no special qualification to testify; Band Wagon, in which it is implied that "everybody" believes or does something; Plain Folks, in which the appeal is based on being a friendly, humble, salt-of-the-earth person just like you; Snob Appeal, which uses the opposite approach to make others feel more discriminating or exclusive; Glittering Generalities, in which words with generally positive appeal are used, like patriotic, forward looking, or other terms popular at any given time; Name Calling, which pins negative labels on those with whom the speaker disagrees, like "radical, reactionary, dictator, isolationist, or appeaser," and Transfer, in which symbols most people admire are used in order to transfer that appeal to the person using them, such as the political use of the flag.

A final example that was given in the text book was Scientific Slant, which the authors explained: "In most people science inspires awe and faith, which can easily be transferred to the product [or concept]."  I'm not sure the use of Scientific Slant necessarily has the same influence on people today, at a time in which scientific evidence is often distrusted or ignored.

Diagramming Sentences
I was surprised and impressed to find training in logic and reasoning included in an English text book published in 1960.  As a teacher, lawyer, and author, I am well aware of the importance and power of language.  I knew that grammar was emphasized when I was in school, more so in my region than in the region of the country in which I taught high school English, where the reading of great books received more emphasis. 

Isaac Werner was respected in his community because of his superior language skills.  Neighbors came to him to put their agreements into the proper words and write their contracts.  He was asked to be a speaker at the meetings where farmers gathered to find ways to educate themselves about farming, marketing, and increasing their political power.  People of Isaac's time respected the importance of education, and the building of schools was one of the earliest things settlers did.

Understanding the impression we make
My high school English text book included many pages diagramming sentences, a skill which I understand is no longer taught, and which I believe should be!  In fact, as a lawyer, I am certain many contract disputes would never happen if the lawyer drafting the contract were schooled in diagramming sentences.  My husband's old English book contains all the topics I would expect to find in a traditional English text, such as parts of speech, punctuation, grammar, and style, and that information is essential.  However, the unexpected discovery of the chapters meant to help students implement language effectively in their daily lives convinced me that as crowded as my book cases are, this book deserves a place!

(All of the images are taken from the 1960 English text book.)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mowing on the Prairie

Recently I purchased a reproduction of the Asher & Adams Pictorial Album of American Industry, published originally in 1876 and reproduced in 1976.  Since Isaac B. Werner came to Kansas to stake his claims in 1878, the illustrations of "American Industry" in this book represent the state of equipment near the time of his arrival.

Two differences seem apparent to me.  First, the images in this book show state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line equipment.  Second, the publisher in 1876 was a New York state business, and the images depict buildings, equipment, and decorations more common in the settled eastern parts of America.

Isaac B. Werner was in no financial position to buy state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line equipment.  In fact, the images of mowers shown in this blog were far different from what Isaac used in 1878 when he began mowing the tough prairie hay.  He did not own a horse for eight years, and a 2-horse mower would have been quite a luxury.  He did his mowing by hand with a sythe.

Mowing was very important in those early years of settlement, not only for harvesting crops but also for defending against prairie fires.  Plowing fire breaks was very difficult because of the deep, stubborn roots, so instead, settlers mowed the prairie grass to reduce the risk of fire racing across the land, fueled by the tall, dry grass.

Until Isaac acquired his horse, Dolly Varden, he was dependent on neighbors keeping the grass mowed along the boundary of his claims.  The importance of having his own horse to mow for greater safety was as significant to Isaac as having a horse to use in his fields.  Raising crops was dependent on protecting them from fire just as it was on the weather, and while Isaac could do little about the weather, he could mow to minimize the risk of fires.

He wrote in his journal about mowing a path from his homestead to the Emerson school to avoid wet feet and legs when walking to the school through the grass to attend meetings.  He was not the only settler to do this, as a friend, Bob Moore, told me that his family oral history includes the story of his ancestor, who was a contemporary of Isaac, mowing from his claim all the way to Iuka to clear a path for more pleasant walking.

Let me know if you enjoy these images, and I will share more in the future.