Thursday, January 31, 2019

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Pinocchio (Photo by M. Minderhoud)
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire--Remember that old chant from the playground?  What is today's equivalent?  Maybe in our busy world, symbols on computer screens have replaced chants, and our equivalent is the Pinocchio symbol.  This week's blog is about an event involving Isaac Werner in which two people told the same untruth.  Were they both lying?

To complete the requirements for a homestead claim it was necessary that the claimant live on and make improvements for five years to the property he or she claimed.  When that was accomplished, it was still necessary for the claimant to appear before a judge with two witnesses to vouch for having met those requirements and to swear that he or she had not sold nor have intensions to sell the property.  The government wanted to populate the land with homesteaders.  They did not want speculators going through the paperwork, then hiring someone to build some kind of structure and take steps to improve the land so that when the five years had passed, the speculator could step forward to claim the land.  The 'speculator' might even be a settler who wanted to claim more than his or her quarter-section, not just some absentee  investor.  The point was that the homestead laws were intended to populate the land.

One of Isaac's neighbors asked Isaac to be a witness for him, and they went to the county seat and swore before the judge that the requirements had been met.  Isaac's neighbor had staked his claim and worked the land for the required five years.  Unknown to Isaac, however, his neighbor had entered into an agreement with a horse dealer to swap his claim for some horses.  Some time after the appearance before the judge, a federal officer arrived in the community to arrest Isaac's neighbor for giving false testimony. The dealer had informed against him, apparently having changed his mind about their horse deal for some reason.  Both Isaac and his neighbor had sworn under oath that the requirements were met.  Were they both liars? 

It was common in those harsh years for struggling homesteaders to prove up their claims and not long afterward sell them.  Many of Isaac's neighbors were enduring the hardships just long enough to mature their claims, with the intention to leave Kansas as soon as they had proved up their claims.  Quick sales were not uncommon.  Is that relevant to the facts of Isaac's neighbor's case?

"A lie is a statement that is known or intended by its source to be misleading, inaccurate, or false.  The practice of communicating lies is called lying, and a person who communicates a lie may be termed a liar.  Lies may be employed to serve a variety of instrumental, interpersonal, or psychological functions for the individuals who use them."

Does this help you answer my question?

Unless Isaac knew that his neighbor had entered into the contract to swap his land for horses, his  answer was not a lie.  His neighbor had done everything necessary to prove up his claim legally, but he got the horse before the cart--or more accurately, the horse deal before the title to the land--and swore to something he knew to be false.  The fact that others were only holding on long enough to prove up title, with intensions to sell and move on as quickly as possible once they had title, is not a defense for Isaac's friend.

Hard times make men desperate.  This particular neighbor had been a respected man in Isaac's community, but the drought and dropping prices for crops had put him, and many others, in severe financial need.  My manuscript shares more stories about this man as he makes repeated bad judgements as economic conditions for farmers worsen.  The late 1800s were a test of character for many families struggling to survive.

"Tell a lie once and all your truths become questionable."  Source Unknown

Walt Disney's Pinocchio from his 1940 film

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Military on the Prairie

A Building at Historic Fort Hays
The common conception of soldiers being sent to the prairie to protect settlers is not entirely accurate.  The motivation had a more commercial aspect.  Historic Fort Hays is a good example.  The Fort was established in 1867 to protect construction workers that were building the Union Pacific Railroad.  The Government saw the importance of railroads to link the large territory which the fledgling nation was seeking to populate. The Native Americans saw the encroaching railroads as a threat to their way of life.  They sought to interfere by tearing up the tracks and attacking those constructing the tracks.  The government sent the soldiers to protect workers and property.

Of course, the investors paying for the railroads were counting on settlers traveling West on their trains and shipping produce on those trains back to the East.  However, those settlers followed the arrival of the trains, arriving well after the soldiers came.

Silhouettes mark Sites
By the time settlers were arriving, the soldiers at the forts were already being deployed elsewhere, and when Isaac Werner arrived at Larned in 1878, most of the soldiers at the nearby fort were gone or soon would be.  The quadrangle at Fort Larned was converted to civilian use for a time, but it is now a historic site well worth visiting, along with the Santa Fe trail historic site nearby.

Returning to exploring Historic Fort Hays, there is a great deal to see.  The grounds document pioneer and military history with placards and exhibits along the walkways.

In addition, at nearby Victoria nine miles to the east of Hays on Highway 40, at the south edge of Victoria may be seen the Victoria Railroad Cemetery, with the graves of Union Pacific railroad workers killed by the Cheyenne Indians in 1867.  Of course, this also evidences why soldiers were posted at Fort Hays to protect those workers against further attacks by the Native Americans combatting the threat to their way of life.

Plaques share information
By the time a train carried Isaac to Kansas in 1878, the railroads were serving the purposes for which they were built--to bring settlers to the Prairie and to ship what those settlers produced to cities in the East.

If you visit Historic Fort Hays, located on US 183 Alternate just four miles south of Interstate 70, you can see the original blockhouse, guardhouse, and officers quarters. 

You may click on the images to enlarge them, and you may learn more about Historic Fort Hays at 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Do Ethics Matter?

In Isaac Werner's community, neighbors often shared work.  Sometimes it was for cash.  Other times, one person would help a neighbor do a particular job, and in turn, that neighbor would help him with a different job.  Or, neighbors might work together because equipment each lacked was possessed by the other person.

Isaac described in his journal one situation that did not turn out as expected.  He had shared jobs in the past with two neighbors, so when he arranged to share labor with a younger brother and his friend, Isaac assumed the same terms that the older brother had agreed would apply.  They worked together for three days, and when it was time to settle up, there was no disagreement about the agreed price per day for labor.  When the price for the equipment the younger brother had supplied was calculated, the young man insisted the prevailing rate was $1.50 per day rather than the $1 a day his brother had agreed in the past, and Isaac reluctantly accepted the increase.  Then it was time to calculate the fee for Isaac's horse and equipment, but the young men insisted there should be no charge for them.  Because no discussion had occurred before the work began, Isaac finally settled up with the young men, but the entry in his journal that evening made it clear that he felt that he had been treated unfairly and had been made a fool.

Bertrand Russell, 1954
Bertrand Russell, a British mathematician and philosopher living from 1872 to 1970 wrote:  "Without civic morality Communities perish; without personal morality their survival has no value."

Reflecting on Russell's words, and applying them to Isaac's situation, should we place the blame on Isaac for having assumed the arrangement that had been customary when working with the older brother would apply, or should we place the blame on the younger men for having proceeded with the job without alerting Isaac that they expected a different arrangement from what had been customary in the past?

Times change.  Customs change.  Do the underlying ethics and moral conventions change, or as Bertrand Russell suggested, without personal morality does our survival lose all value?  We are seeing changes in the civic morality of our world every day, and it will probably not surprise you that I have turned to history to reflect on those changes.

James Fenimore Cooper in a Midshipman's uniform
For example, a member of the House of Representatives, Rashida Tlaib, recently called the president an obscenity.  She did not apologize, explaining instead that she was simply a very passionate person.  Looking to history, I found a quote from James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Deer Slayer.  He wrote:  "Mendacity and vulgarity can only permanently affect those who resort to their use."  Is he right that the harm done was to Representative Tlaid herself, or did her vulgar term harm the president, or does such language harm the entire  community, as Russell suggested?

A newly elected member of the House, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, carelessly exaggerated the potential savings possible if only tighter controls were imposed on Pentagon budgets. It took me only a few minutes to look up the total Pentagon budget, and even if the entire budget were reduced to zero, her alleged savings could not be achieved longer than I can keep up with all the zeros to the compute the years!  Should that matter?  Albert Einstein thought so, for he wrote, "Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters."

Sometimes words are not needed to reveal changes in civic morality, as in the President's imitating the physical difficulties of reporter, Serge Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, (which impacts the function and range of motion of joints).  Vice president Hubert Humphrey had an answer for that:  "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

Mark Twain, Bronze in Fort Worth
Reconsidering Isaac's anger about the resolution of the expenses for the shared labor, perhaps we should ask a question I did not raise.  Had the customs in his community changed so that what the younger men expected was appropriate and did they simply assume Isaac would have been aware of those changes so that they did not recognize any need to discuss the compensation in advance.  Is it reasonable to accept that civic morality changes from generation to generation and communities must adapt?  Or, are there certain standards we should expect from those in our own community and the greater national community of which we are a part?

Is all of this a generational thing?  Here's what Mark Twain had to say about the subject:  "The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after that, he knows too little."

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Money and Politics

I just finished reading Moyers on America, A Journalist and His Times, published in 2004. (I often buy books that I overlooked when they were originally released, and sometimes I am even slow to read books I buy new.  So, before you dismiss this as a blog about recent politics--although 2004 isn't really very recent--I am actually going to blog about the mid-1890s.)

Those of you who are regular followers of the blog are already familiar with the election of 1896, when the Populists joined the Democrats to nominate William J. Bryan, although they split the vote over the Vice-Presidential nominee.  You may want to scroll down to "A Documentary Treasure," posted 11-8-18 to see the local ballots from that election and to "A Peek Into the Voting Booth in 1986" to consider the political environment of that era.

However, the quote from Moyers that inspired this blog is from the wealthy businessman, Mark Hanna, who raised money for the Republican William McKinley.  Hanna said,, "There are two things that are important in politics.  The first is money, and I can't remember what the second is."  Quoting from Moyers, Hanna was "the first modern political fund-raiser, and money was all that mattered to him.  He tapped the banks, the insurance companies, the railroads, and the other great industrial trusts of the late 1800s for contributions of some $6-7 million to the campaign of presidential candidate William McKinley:  big bucks back then."  Bryan raise only 1/10th of that amount.

If you are a serious blog supporter you may even recognize Hanna's name, for he appeared in a political cartoon that I have previously posted, still engaged in financial political matters.  This time, according to the cartoonist and  Nebraska Senator Allen, whose words inspired the cartoon, Hanna was engaged in a little payback for the wealthy McKinley supporters.

To explain the cartoon, President McKinley called for volunteers in 1898 for the Spanish-American War and proposed bonds to pay for the war.  Sen. Allen objected:  "...the people desire to pay as they go.  ...They do not want this government at the end of the war indebted more than it is at the present time."  Allen believed speculators were trying "to foist upon the people a perpetual national debt.  ...There is not one of that power, sir, who would not see this government sunk to the bottom of the ocean if he could make a fortune by it."

You may remember that the sinking of the Maine had been erroneously blamed on the Spanish.  The cartoon caption reads:  "Hanna--"I don't see anything down there that money won't pay for." He is depicted as a diver amassing bars of gold as a result of the war.  To refresh your memory about the Spanish-American War, you may want to visit "Remember the Maine," posted 8-11-2016.

The vast amounts of money spent on elections today may dwarf Hanna's efforts in 1896, but election fund raising and the benefits those contributions have for our elected officials (and the influence gained by contributors) make Hanna's quote as understandable today as it was in 1896--"There are [still] two things that are important in politics.  The first is money, and I can't remember what the second one is."

(You can click on the images to enlarge them.)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Curious Mind

Geologist at work
Isaac Beckley Werner had such a curious mind.  Not only was he observant about things around him, he exercised his curiosity by recording what he saw in his daily journal so that he could document events or compare changes in the seasons and his crops from year to year.  His love for learning is also apparent from his many books and the wide variety of topics his library contained.

One particularly interesting entry in his journal involved his first trip to Sun City to market potatoes.  The soil in that area was too rocky and shallow to raise potatoes, so those living there were good customers, and he generally received a better price for his potatoes in that community.  The long, hard trips were worth it.

On one of those trips, he paid close attention to the terrain and recorded in his journal how he believed the valleys and gullies were formed over centuries.  He wrote like a geologist, evidencing his reading on soil erosion and the impact of freezing and water and the sculpting of the surface of the land over eons.

Really a realistic sculpture
This brings me to the subject of this week's blog, the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas.  How Isaac would have loved wandering through the 10,000 square foot walk-through diorama depicting what the region of Kansas was like at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.  The depiction of creatures of that era, drawn on the walls and presented in full scale animated models, stimulate visitors' imaginations to almost feel as if they have been transported back in time to experience what it must have been like.  Isaac would surely have loved the fossils, including the famous "fish-within-a-fish" in the permanent display.

Famous 'Fish-Within-a Fish Fossil
Isaac Werner was definitely the sort of person whose mind was eager to learn about a broad spectrum of subjects, and it was his nature to enjoy sharing what he learned.  That desire is clear in the fact that he was a popular lecturer at local meetings of farmers seeking new ways to survive on their claims.  It was also apparent in his writing for populist newspapers and  journals, as well as sharing his farming experiments utilizing different seed varieties and altering planting depths and distances between rows to see what worked best.  He was eager to share descriptions of tools he invented or modified to be more suited to local soils.  His mind was a sponge,  soaking up information from his reading, his observations of neighbors' methods (both their successful and failing efforts), and his own experiments.  How he would have loved visiting the Sternberg Museum.


Sternberg Mural & Animated Model

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them, and you can read more about the museum at or call for their hours at 785/628-4286.