Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Path to Reconciliation of Two Brothers

Kentucky Flag, adopted 1918, standardized 1963
This blog is about two brothers who faced the same decision during the Civil War and made opposing choices.  In fact, they were not unique.  Many families have ancestors from the same family who chose opposing sides in the Civil War, brothers fighting against brothers, cousins against cousins.  What this blog is about is how two particular brothers eventually reconciled their divided loyalties.  (This blog has mentioned the conflicted feelings about the War that Isaac Werner, who was from a Union state but did not serve, had.)

Recently, in a Missouri cemetery I noticed a large gray granite equestrian statue.  I was curious, so I took several photographs, with plans to research its history.  The story behind the monument was unexpected.  

My research quickly revealed that family members fighting on opposite sides during the Civil War was far from unique.  Various explanations for why such situations occurred may be found, among them social pressure from friends and family, love of place, influence of a spouse, economic concerns, coercion, even interpretations of the Bible used by people from both the North and the South.  It would be impossible to list every reason nor is that what this blog is about.  Instead it is a story of reconciliation and family.

At the start of the Civil War Kentucky declared it's neutrality.  However, Confederate General Leonidas Polk's failed attempt to take Kentucky for the Confederacy lead the Kentucky  legislature to petition the Union Army for assistance.  Establishing its neutrality was difficult not only because of the divided loyalties of its citizens but also because of its strategic location.  At times during the War both the Union and the Confederate flags flew over different parts of the state.  History records the raids and battles, as well as internal violence and guerrilla warfare
Marker of David Dennis
fought on Kentucky soil.  The message on the state flag adopted in 1918 expresses the desire to heal those wounds and unify Kentucky after the Civil War:  "United We Stand, Divided We Fall."  This highly abbreviated summary of Kentucky's history helps explain the conflicted loyalties of brothers Davis Pergram Dennis, the older brother, and John Austin Dennis, the younger brother.  Although their markers contain their given first names, the older brother actually used the name of "David" rather than his given name of Davis, and the younger brother used his middle name of Austin.

Their parents had seven children, these two sons and five daughters.  According to a newspaper article published January 10, 1907 in The Owingsville Outlook, (Ky) their father, John Yokum Dennis, was a "strong Union man and was prominent locally in support of the North."  Both parents and all seven children were born in Kentucky.   

In the 1860 Federal Census, Austin was a boy of 16, still living at home, but David was 25, a farmhand living in the home of a different family--presumably the household of his employer.  Two years later, both brothers enlisted, but on opposing sides.

David joined the 2nd Battalion, KY, Mounted Rifles, which concluded its organization in late fall of 1862 to fight for the Confederacy.  Austin's Union military records show that he enlisted on August 10, 1862, joining Co. B, KY 10th Cavalry Regiment, and after serving slightly more than a year Austin was mustered out on September 17, 1863.  The duration of David's service is less certain, but it is known that he was a Prisoner of War and that he entered the war as a Private and left with the same rank.  The 2nd Battalion, Mounted Rifles which David joined was disbanded in early 1865, so the maximum time he could have served with them was 2 years and a few months, but the length of his imprisonment by the Union is unknown.

This blog is not intended, however, to be about the brutality of war but rather about the capacity to heal.  According to the Owingsville Newspaper article, the family's Kentucky farm suffered during the War and they had been reduced to wretched poverty.  The family decided to stay together and move to Missouri to make a fresh start.  The importance of having made that move together seems to have been significant enough that it is recorded on the brothers' stones.  In the 1870 census both Davis and Austin were living with their parents in Missouri, along with three of their sisters.

Marker of Austin Dennis

Both parents died between 1879-1880, as did their sister Emily.  Their oldest sister Mary had died in 1875, leaving her husband to raise their six children.  These brothers, once so divided by the Civil War, had within two years lost their Kentucky farm, their parents, and two of their five sisters.  The important part of their story is how they and the rest of their family chose to face these hardships together.

The Owingsville newspaper story states that it was the deaths of their parents that made the brothers begin thinking about an appropriate family burial site.  However, my research did not resolve the confusion about the burial places of their parents.  As near as I could determine, the parents were first buried in the Napton, MO cemetery near their home; however, their eldest daughter Mary had been buried in Kentucky and it appears her parents were dis-intured to be buried with her rather than being re-interred in a crypt beneath the equestrian statue as originally planned.  The following description is taken from the 1907 newspaper article:  "The monument cost $3,000, [and] is a fine equestrian statue, made of gray granite, and represents a Confederate cavalryman.  Upon it are suitable inscriptions to their parents, and here will also be written the epitaphs of the two Missourians, who having fought on opposite sides in the strife between the States, have, since Appomattox, worked side by side and will lie down to rest together."

Marker of Rachel Dennis, buried near her brothers
It should be noted that the state to which they relocated had its own complicated history during this time.  During the Civil War nearly 110,000 Missourians had worn the Union blue, but at least 30,000 had joined the Confederate Army, with unnumbered other Missouri "bushwhackers" acting independently.  It was in this environment of lingering resentments and animosities that David and Austin put the past behind them and worked together to build a successful farming operation.

Those years after the war reflect the healing family unity David and Austin achieved.  David married very briefly in 1871, the marriage ending in divorce.  By the 1880 Federal Census, David had become the head of the Dennis household, and it was quite a household!  Living with David were not only his brother Austin but also two of his unmarried sisters, Rachel age 34 and Sarah Catherine age 30, but in addition were six of his oldest sister's children.  Mary Dennis Igo had died in 1875, followed by her husband a few months after, and their children John 18, Charles 17, Laura 13, Catherine 10, Samuel 9, and Anna 5 were now in the Dennis household.  Austin married in 1890 and had his own family, but in the 1900 Federal Census, David remained the head of a household that continued to include his sister Rachel and four of his Igo nieces and nephews--Charles 35, Laura 32, Samuel 29, and Annie 25.  By 1910 only Rachel remained in David's home.  Rachel's stone is the one pictured with her brother's stones above.  David Dennis was 83 at the time of his death in 1918; his brother Austin followed him at the age of 77 in 1921, having met a tragic death.

The equestrian statue that marks their graves was completed at least by 1907 when the newspaper article appeared, and both brothers were living at that time.  It is unclear why they chose a Confederate cavalryman  atop the horse, as both brothers served in mounted units.  A website featuring the monument includes this message:  Parted in life only by individual thinking and opinions, the brothers are united through the ages by a common tomb."  

Whatever may have been the brothers' intentions at the time the equestrian memorial was commissioned in the early 1900s, there is no inscription for their parents, where only the family surname appears.  Nor is the story of their opposing allegiances during the Civil War inscribed on the memorial, although the newspaper article from 1907 would indicate that was their intention.  However, their lives do tell the story of a nation and a family once divided but reconciled and reunited after the War.

I believe in the importance of remembering our history.  That was the subject of the first blog I posted and the theme of many blogs since.  Our history has lessons to teach, and those lessons should not be forgotten, whether they reflect good or bad decisions our leaders and 'we the people' made.  Our public memorials must be the ones we aspire to emulate, and while the symbols of mistaken judgments should be preserved to document  our imperfect past, the purpose for their display must never glorify the mistakes they record.

I believe that, once, the intention of the brothers had been known in their community, for a member of our family who was with us when we saw the statue said it represented a Union soldier on one side and a Confederate soldier on the other side.  As we walked around the statue we observed that the oral history he remembered was in error.  However, it seems likely that, once, the community had known the story of the brothers' reconciliation and the message the statue was intended to convey.  The oral history about the memorial that our relative remembered  aligns with the newspaper account of the monument's purpose.  For some reason, the inscriptions the brothers planned were never recorded on the monument.

It is the story of the healing of this family, the coming together to build successful farms and care for family members without regard for past loyalties during the Civil War that is the truly heroic story of these two brothers.  It should not be the part of their story that is forgotten.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Note to Myself

I cannot guess how many times I passed the old country school house and said to myself, "Next time we drive by we must stop to take a picture."  At first, the walls were still standing, although the glass in the windows was gone.  Each time we passed, the wood was a bit more gray and the trees around it were dying, more broken branches hanging from the solitary trunks.  Yet, I continued to promise myself that I would pause for photographs--next time.  We were in too much of a hurry, or the sunlight was wrong for a decent photograph, or I had on the wrong shoes to walk into the field for a decent shot.

Last weekend as we hurried home from an out-of-town trip, the angle of the sun caught the lonely wall holding the old school house bell tower perfectly, and I remembered my advice from last week's post.  'Don't wait too long,' I had urged.  'Take the time to appreciate old sites and pause to listen to the memories of elderly friends and family.'  Note to myself:  Take Your Own Advice!  So my patient husband pulled to the side of the road and waited as I took the photographs shown in this blog of the last stand of an old country school in Pawnee County.  If he had not chosen to take a different route home (which I had fussed at him about, since I was eager to get home), we would never have passed by the old school.  Perhaps the next time we would have gone that way it would have been too late.  I'm glad I took my own advice instead of being in a hurry once again.

My blog contains many posts about country schools, and the old photographs of country schools posted in those blogs are among readers' favorite images.  If you are curious you can browse through past posts to find them.  The Kansas Historical Society has an entry about "Country Schools" that shares an interesting summary, including this trio of names attached to country schools--Prairie Flower, Buzzard Roost, and Good Intent.  If you are curious to do more research, you may go to for a listing of books and articles about rural Kansas schools.

My purpose for this blog, however, was simply to share the photographs of that disappearing country school and to let you know that I took my own advice.  You too might want to make a 'Note to Self' the next time you are in a hurry and don't think you have time to spare a few minutes to enjoy something that may be gone before you have another chance to pause.

P.S.  This old structure could have been a church with a bell tower rather than a school.  It is located a few miles east of Larned, and if anyone recognizes it and has information to share, please do so.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Visit Before They Disappear

I found Isaac B. Werner's journal in February of 2010 and began this blog in September of 2011.  One of my favorite posts is "Disappearing Traces of the Past" published 12-23-2011.  Since starting this blog I have written about many subjects that reflect the disappearance of places and people that gave us a glimpse of the past.  This week is a reminder of how rapidly historic icons are slipping away, leaving future generations less able to picture the past with anything other than old photographs and printed texts.  Not all relics can be saved, but perhaps we should be reminded to take a long look before they disappear completely, and maybe even set aside an afternoon to tour our communities  with our children and grandchildren, sharing stories of some of those relics before they are gone.  

So many old barns have disappeared in the past decade since I began this blog, and "Disappearing Old Barns" was the subject of my 1-15-2015 blog.  The grand old barn that had stood on a small rise just north of the Kansas Forestry, Fish & Game headquarters east of Pratt was featured in that blog, and now it is gone.  With few farms keeping a family milk cow, the need for the grand old wooden barns has disappeared, replaced by the practical but less picturesque metal sheds that house equipment.

Original St. John Opera House

The Repurposed Opera House as the City Hall
My series of blogs about early opera houses was deferred so long that when I finally posted "Stafford (KS) Opera House" on 8-7-2014 I learned that the Weide Opera House had been demolished between the time I took photographs and finally posted the blog.  The "St. John (KS) Convention Hall & Opera House" 6-26-2014 blog shares an example of old buildings being saved by repurposing.  However, unless young people living today are told about the building's history, they may never know its original use.

Emerson Shields with  me
Keepers of our history are also people, and my blog "Interviewing Relatives of Isaac's Neighbors," 6-16-2016 shared my conversation with Milton John, which I am grateful to have had before his death soon after.  One of Stafford County's best known history keepers of W.W. II made an appearance in my blog "Veterans Then and Now" 11-22-16.  Although Emerson Shields did not speak at the Macksville High School ceremony on Veteran's Day 2016 he was there at age 92 in uniform, and an overflow crowd at the Stafford auditorium that day may have been the last group to have benefited from hearing Emerson's firsthand account as a W.W. II pilot, for he passed away only a short time later.

Still Standing
Sometimes these reminders of the past disappear almost before our eyes.  Because I am always on the lookout for historical subjects for this blog, we paused along Highway 281 to photograph an old homestead a few months ago.  The photograph at right shows what is no more, for a strong windstorm collapsed the aging house with all of its memories.  We paused again to photograph its collapse.

After the collapse
So in this New Year, look around you.  Observe the century old cottonwoods that are rapidly falling.  Pause to remember the empty churches that will soon be demolished.  Share stories of Saturday nights when soldiers from the Pratt Airbase crowded into the Barron Theater which has been repurposed as a youth center.  Find your own places to visit before they disappear, and make time to talk with a living history keeper.  And if you can, take someone younger along with you to carry this disappearing history into another generation.

You may click on images to enlarge them, and by using the Blog Archive top right on this page you can access by year and date all of the past blogs mentioned in this week's blog.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A New Year and Forgotten Pasts

Glen Campbell in his prime

Last week my post was about New Year's Eve Resolutions for the coming year.  However, a part of the Old Year tradition is also remembering those who passed away during the closing year.  Among them are movie and television stars that have not been active in several years but who have not only fans who remember them in their prime but also young fans who have seen their performances on channels that show old movies and television shows.  Jerry Lewis may be familiar from his MS telethons as well as from his old movies.  Mary Tyler Moore's two popular series--The Dick Vandyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show--have continued to win younger viewers.  Glen Campbell won new fans with the courage shown during his final tour as he faced Alzheimer's disease.  Sometimes he forgot the once familiar words, but he could still play his guitar like a master.  James Bond fans would surely remember Roger Moore's portrayal of Bond from 1973 to 1985.  All of these entertainers passed away in 2017.
Eugene Cernon

Less widely known but no less important are those like Isabelle Papin, the child neurologist who devoted her professional life to autistic children, and Julius Youngner, who helped develop the polio vaccine.  The last man alive to have walked on the moon, Eugene Cernan, left us this year, as did Robert Pirsig, author of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," which used a father-son trip as a means to explore life's great questions.  The character of Dick Tracy became more famous than his creator, Dick Locher.  We lost all of these people in 2017.

We memorialize celebrities and notable people, and yet, how quickly their names are forgotten by most of us.  A few give their names to posterity, like Houdini and Darwin.  Some literary giants endure, like Shakespeare or  Lord Byron, or children's book author of the Oz series, L. Frank Baum.  For most, however, "fame is fleeting."

(c) Lyn Fenwick graphite on paper
So every year on New Year's Eve when television programs memoralize important people that died during the year, I pause to note their passing and wish them farewell.  I shed a few tears, especially if their performances or achievements touched my life in some way.

This blog has often been used to remind those who follow it of moments in history, once important places that have disappeared, and people who played significant roles in the past for which neither they nor their achievements are remembered.  In the more than six years since beginning this blog, I have seen many familiar sites in the old community where Isaac Werner claimed his homestead disappear--houses collapse, barns torn down, businesses close, and elderly people that I interviewed about their memories of earlier years pass away.  This blog has preserved pictures of some of those things and stories that were shared with me.  I hope that 2018 is the year that "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Homesteader and the Populist Movement" can be published to share the important but largely forgotten stories of these people, places, and events.