Thursday, April 20, 2017

Messages from History

Rock formations guided early settlers
I am fascinated by history.  It helps me evaluate the significance of current events and balance seeing those events as too impressive or too frightening.  As children we see the world as brand new, with each day seeming to have been born with us.  Life seems full of magic and monsters under our beds, because our personal history is only as long as our own tender lives.

With maturity, we lose some of the wonder but we gain greater knowledge of the world.  Part of that is simply experience.  The longer we live the more experiences we have to make us aware, and part of it is vicarious experience from education, reading, watching television, and picking up information helter-skelter--some of it valuable and some of it worthless or worse.  The formal teaching of history in schools is difficult and too often ineffective.  As adults most of us can still remember how ancient events only a decade or two in the past seemed.

Kansan John Brown's role in Civil War
As much as I appreciate an awareness of history now, I can't quite recall when it became important to me.  As a child I don't recall that I read much history, although I do remember seeing movies set in the past that intrigued me.

The thing that first intrigued me about Isaac Werner's journal was how many similarities I found in the late 1800s with current events.  When I first began working on the manuscript I was anxious to finish it and find a publisher as quickly as possible, because I thought it was so relevant to current events.  Yes, I do wish I had found that publisher more promptly, but what I have realized is that history doesn't go out of style.  Perhaps the things I initially found so relevant have subsided, but other current events have arisen that share common issues with the late 1800s when Isaac lived.

Another thing I have recognized is that in my youth I paid more attention to things that happened elsewhere than exploring the history of my own region.  I suspect that people fall into extremes, either overlooking the importance of things that happened in their own region or being too provincial in ignoring what happened elsewhere.  History gives us a broader view that helps us put things into perspective.

Beecher Bibles came to Kansas
I try with the blog to share overlooked sites and events of historical importance in Kansas.  I have certainly learned a great deal about my home state in the process of doing research, and I have  learned to be more observant.  Now, if we see a road sign pointing to some attraction a few miles off the highway, my husband and I are much more likely to take the time to explore.  How many times had we driven Interstate 70 without taking the time to visit the amazing rock formations nearby?  Why had we not discovered the church connected with Beecher Bibles.  Would we ever have bothered to see Dr. Higley's cabin?  I have shared those three experiences in this blog, as well as many others, and as one blog follower told me, "You have given me many new places to visit."

But what I also have tried to do is share ideas from the past that have relevance to today's events.  They are part of our heritage.  How many Kansans know that a significant reason that Kansas is a "red state" today is because so many Union soldiers staked homestead claims here after the Civil War.  They were soldiers from Lincoln's Army, they voted Republican, and many of their descendants still do.

We are losing voices from the past
My great-grandfather was one of those Union soldiers, but I had no idea his military history influenced the political conversations around the dinner table when I was growing up until I began during the research for my manuscript.  Soldiers were given a year's credit for each year they served as a Union soldier to apply toward satisfying the five years required to live on and improve their claim in order to acquire title.  Confederate soldiers received no such benefit.  Many of Isaac Werner's neighbors were former Union soldiers. I suspect there are historical explanations of all kinds lurking unknown in most families' histories.

I think it is interesting to discover those things.  The current popularity of genealogy research would seem to indicate that others agree. and other genealogy sites include ways to not only discover who your ancestors are but also what was happening in the times in which they lived.  I hope those of you who follow my blog find the the grab-bag of historical information I have shared on the blog to be of relevance and interest to you and your children.

Our community recently lost one of those people who could share first-hand accounts of World War II.  Emerson Shields spoke at the Veterans' ceremony at the Stafford School this past Veterans' Day, but now he is gone.  Isaac B. Werner left his daily journal, whose pages inspired me to write a manuscript about the struggles of the working class of farmers, miners, and factory workers in the late 1800s--a struggle that led to the creation of the People's Party that many people living today know little or nothing about.  Yet, many of the goals of those struggling workers are accepted realities today.  Our current lives are filled with whispered message from the past that we should pause to hear.

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