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

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