Wednesday, April 24, 2019

History and the Power of the Wealthy

Many of the People's Party members were immigrants, and English was their second language.  Political cartoons were then, as they remain today, effective ways to communicate political issues.  These immigrants could often understand political cartoons even with their limited ability to read English.  However, all populists could grasp the messages of political cartoons without reading lengthy editorials, just as we do today. 

This political cartoon from the early 1890s appeared in the County Capital, the populist newspaper in St. John, Kansas, Isaac B. Werner's county seat.  Isaac subscribed to and submitted articles to the County Capital.  

The cartoon speaks for itself, with the sub-title "I know no law, except that which I buy," but because the labels on the barrels are rather small and difficult to read, I will type them, starting from the barrel on the left and continuing to the right.  Remember, you can click on the image to enlarge it.

From left, labels on the barrels into which the wealthy man is pouring coins:  To corner the necessities of life; To buy the votes of starving workmen; To buy Legislation in my own interest; To buy gold-bearing bonds; To Quash Legislation Beneficial to the People; To perpetuate the way I bank; To buy the people's papers; To elect a president to suit myself; To control transportation and transmission of news; To buy Supreme Court decisions; To kill little ranchers in Wyoming; To secure cut-throat mortgages; To hog government lands; To keep the saloon in politics; and To buy the souls of stranded girls.

Notice that the wealthy man suffers from gout, a disease caused by dining on rich foods.  The wealthy of that era indulged in lengthy dinners of many courses, fine wines served with each different course, and rich desserts and cigars to complete the 2 or 3 hour dinners.

The reference to killing ranchers in Wyoming refers to the Johnson County War, in which wealthy ranchers hired out-of-state gunmen to hunt down and eliminate small ranchers that the wealthy men regarded as cattle thieves.  The primary issue arose because of the free range grazing, followed by the spring roundups.  Calves born on the open range during winter and early spring were not yet branded, and the dispute was over claims to those calves.  Movies and books have portrayed this range war.

The European Anarchist pictured in the framed portrait on the wall is depicted as a bomb-throwing armed villain, but the American Anarchist is depicted as a powerful wealthy man who controls or influences everything, as the message on his vault says:  THE PEOPLE'S LAWS BE D....D!!!

This political cartoon shows many of the issues that the Populist Movement sought to confront through the formation of their own political party, The Peoples' Party.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Poem of My Own

Isaac's Niece Gertrude
Although I do not have a photograph of Isaac Beckley Werner, I do have pictures of his younger sister's family, and the image at left is his niece as a young girl.

This week I will close the series of poems for National Poetry Month with a poem of my own, written a few years ago as I began saying farewell to family members including, as Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's taught the nation, the long farewell of saying good-by to someone with Alzheimer's.

My poem is very personal, but I believe many of you will recognize your own experiences and emotions in my words.  Home movies may have disappeared, but people still use their phones to record special events with the same slap-dash scans that reduce the images to a blur, so perhaps some of you have your own blurred history, recorded by someone who moved the camera too fast.   

Thank you to the descendent of Isaac's sister Ettie for the two photographs of Isaac's niece as a young girl and a mature woman.


A little girl,
Her image fading
like the brittle celluloid
of home movies
taken by an uncle
whose camera moved too fast.
Aunts, uncles, parents--
no longer keepers
of the memories of her childhood,
their eyes forever closed.
Her brother's eyes are open,
but the camera
of his memory has no film,
an empty whirring of the reels
from which all images are lost.
Abandoned by preservers
of the child she used to be,
the woman can no longer see
the little girl reflected in their eyes.
Her only image now
reflected in the mirror,
an older stranger
who resembles more
the mother of the child
Isaac's Niece Gertrude as a mature woman
that lingers in her heart.
Abandoned by the ones
who loved her once.
       Lyn Fenwick (c)

Thank you for your support of Poetry Month.  I have been so pleased by the number of readers each week as I posted poetry.  Thank you also for the comments many of you shared.  Next week's blog will return to history.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

April 2019 Poetry Month--Number 3

Years ago I heard Maxine Kumin at a poetry reading at Baylor University.  When the program ended, I hurried out to the foyer where the poets had books for sale.  Although I quickly made my choice, Kuman was already gone when I returned to the auditorium.  I did not get her autograph, but I did get her book of poetry to remind me of the afternoon.

Maxine Kumin (1925-2014) is not a poet of pretty things.  She wrote about life as her keen eyes observed it, as the wife of an engineering consultant, the mother of 3 children, and a breeder of Arabian and quarter horses on their New Hampshire farm the last 39 years of her life.  Nature is both beautiful and brutal, and she saw both sides. This week I share both a poem written for children and a poem for adults that I think many of you will appreciate, so keep scrolling after you read the children's poem.

I chose this particular Kumin poem for children because Isaac Werner loved birds.  He kept track of the seasons by their arrivals and departures, and he fed prairie chickens and quail with no intention of ever hunting them.  In the hard times of the late 1800s he was very angry when a neighbor drove around his claims shooting his half-tame birds, and he posted "No Hunting" signs around the two claims.  In the years just prior to Isaac's death, the Kansas legislature passed laws against hunting certain birds, but some had already been hunted to near extinction.

In her poem, notice how Kumin delivers her lesson without lecturing!

Photo credit:  Pookie Fugglestein

The Quarrel
by Maxine Kumin

Said a lightening bug to a firefly,
"Look at the lightening bugs fly by!"
"Silly dunce!" said the fly. "What bug ever flew?"
Those are fireflies.  And so are you."

"Bug!" cried the bug.  "Fly!" cried the fly.
"Wait!" said a glowworm happening by.
"I'm a worm," squirmed the worm.  "I glimmer all night."
You are worms, both of you.  I know I'm right."

"Fly!" cried the fly. "Worm!" cried the worm.
"Bug!" cried the bug.  "I'm standing firm."
Back and forth through the dark each shouted his word
Till their quarrel awakened the early bird.

"You three noisy things, you are all related,"
She said to the worm, and promptly ate it.
With a snap of her bill she finished the fly,
And the lightening bug was the last to die.

All glowers and glimmerers, there's a MORAL:
Shine if you must, but do not quarrel.

On face book, many people post remembrances of the anniversary of the passing of those they love, and because I have noticed this tradition, I have chosen Maxim's poem The Envelope to share.  Isaac, too, posted notices of the death of his sister and his uncle in his journal, sharing with no one his personal loss but documenting it in his own private way.

Original Matryoshka set of Stacking Dolls, 1892
 The Envelope
by Maxine Kumin

...I fear to cease, even knowing that at the hour
of my death my daughters will absorb me, even
knowing they will carry me about forever
inside them, an arrested fetus, even as I carry
the ghost of my mother under my navel, a nervy
little androgynous person, a miracle
folded in lotus position.  

Like those old pear-shaped Russian dolls that open
at the middle to reveal another and another, down 
to the pea-sized irreducible minimum,
may we carry our mothers forth in our bellies.
May we, borne onward by our daughters, ride
in the Envelope of Almost-Infinity,
that chain letter good for the next twenty-five
thousand days of their lives.

When we travelled to Russia decades ago, we brought home our own set of stacking dolls, as most visitors to Russia did at that time.  Perhaps because I am a daughter who so much resembles her mother, I was struck by the imagery chosen by Kumin to describe how not only the genetic appearance but also the habits, beliefs, and traditions of mothers pass through generations--some good and some not so good.  Their memories, from their own mothers and generations before, pass to us, and while the more common imagery refers to our hearts and minds, Kumin's imagery of the stacking dolls, each retaining what came before her, seems apt, more beautiful than the genetic charts we moderns use to trace ancestry.

To those of you who replied to my call from an earlier blog to share your own inherited habits of a leftover-jar in the refrigerator for later stews and soups, and of saving plastic containers because they are too good to throw away (although you already have too many to ever use all of them), I loved hearing from each of you.  Maybe it's that "little androgynous person" we carry inside us like a stacking doll that makes it impossible to break those habits learned from our mothers!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

More Poetry for Children, Number 2

Tumbling Tumble Weeds on the Prairie
Time for the second week recognizing poetry, so here is another poem for April's Poetry Month.  It is a more traditional poem, and many of you may already be familiar with it.  Even if you do not know the poem, you probably know the poet, A. A. Milne, of Winnie the Pooh fame.

While Kansas may not have had many trees on the prairie when Isaac arrived, one thing it had in abundance was WIND.  Most of the settlers with homes made of wood did not insulate them well.  The strong winds drove dirt in summer and snow in winter right into the houses, and even if there was no snow in winter, the wind drove the severe cold into the houses.

Isaac wrote in his journal about newcomers to the prairie failing to prepare well for winter and complaining of frost bitten toes and feet even before the worst of winter arrived.  Although the dugouts had other problems--like snakes and bugs--they were snugger shelters during winter and cooler in the hot months.

Kansas children should enjoy this poem by A. A. Milne, called Wind On The Hill,   
and they can certainly relate to the subject.

Wind On The Hill
by A. A. Milne

No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.

It's flying from somewhere
As fast as it can,
I couldn't keep up with it,
Not if I ran.

But if I stopped holding
The string of my kite,
It would blow with the wind
For a day and a night.

And then when I found it,
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been going there too.

So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes...
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.*

*(In case you read this to a child who argues the conclusion of the poem--and children today accustomed to evening weather reports and ongoing coverage during hurricanes may very well--here is a more technical explanation. Wind is caused by differences in the atmospheric pressure.  Air moves from the higher to the lower pressure area, creating movement and wind.)