Wednesday, August 26, 2020

A Writer Writes!

 Recently I completed my responsibilities in preparing "Prairie Bachelor:  The Story of a Kansas Homestead and the Populist Movement" for publication by the University Press of Kansas scheduled for release December 4, 2020 and available for pre-order now.  So, what does an author do when she hands her book over to the publisher for the last time?  One answer is obvious...she continues the weekly blog she began in 2011.  Thank you so much to all of you who have followed my blog for all those years.  I have many more stories to share.

Until this summer, I had never participated in a writing group.  The Willa Cather Conference in June was held virtually, and because I did not want to miss the conference, I was forced to enter the world of online virtual meetings.  After much trepidation, I signed up and had a wonderful time.  At the close of the conference I saw an invitation to join an online writing group, which would meet monthly via Zoom, using quotes from Willa Cather's books and short stories as prompts to inspire writing.  It sounded like fun.

I joined and have participated in three meetings with other writers from both coasts and the heartland.  The objective is to use a Cather quote to inspire the topic about which we will write.  Our compositions can be fiction, personal biography...whatever Cather's quote inspires.  After 20 minutes for writing, we take turns sharing and receiving comments from the other members of the group. The objective is not to complete a polished composition but rather just to exercise our imaginations and writing skills, and then share positive and supportive comments.   

Our group includes writers who have published books, papers, encyclopedia articles, and work related to professional lives, in one case as a professional dancer.  When I mentioned to the group that I had written fiction that I put away and never showed to anyone, my fellow writers encouraged me to get one of my stories out of its box and work on it.

That is how I came to retrieve a Legal Mystery Novel I had written years ago, even before I "met" Isaac Werner.  Obviously, I have not been idle, since I have posted a blog every week since October of 2011, during which time "Prairie Bachelor" was completed.  But with the group's encouragement, I found my Legal Mystery Novel.  I specifically remember crafting the opening passage as I walked from my car to Fresh Market when we were living in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I had completed a first draft, but when I discovered Isaac Werner's Journal, my Legal Mystery Novel was forgotten.

Actually, that novel had gone into a box when we moved from North Carolina to Texas, and was still in its box when we moved from Texas to the farm in Kansas.  All of our moving made it difficult, if not impossible, to find the manuscript.  With Isaac now handed over to the publisher, I found my long-ago fictional hero, criminal lawyer, Kent Shaffer.  My husband has put up with sharing my time with homesteader Isaac Werner, and just when he thought he was rid of his literary competition, here comes a a fictional lawyer to steal my attention.

As a lawyer, I chose to write books related to the law--a book about the constitutional protections of faith and respect for differing beliefs (Should the Children Pray? published by Baylor University Press); a book about the impact of laws on the new options for creating families (Private Choices, Public Consequences, published by Dutton, a Division of Penguin); and most recently, a book about the Populist Movement that created our nation's most successful third party (Prairie Bachelor:  The story of a Kansas Homestead and the Populist Movement).  Each of these books is related to my love for the law and our constitution.  Now I have returned to a manuscript with a fictional criminal lawyer as its hero.  

While my books are very different, all of them relate to my love and respect for the amazing legal system our nation has, whether constitutional law or civil and criminal law.  I don't know whether  my Legal Mystery Novel will ever be published, and I don't have any idea about how to market a novel, but I share this week's blog to answer the question:  What does a writer do when her book is finished?  The answer is "A writer writes!"

Images:  At top, things from my Baylor Law School years, and at bottom, my Baylor Law Diploma and the certificates for admission to the Bar in Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina, both images shared in this blog because of its subject:  my love for the law.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Brutal Price was Paid

Isaac Werner had kept a diary much of his life, and the journal incorporated into Lynda Beck Fenwick's history (published for release in coming months by the University Press of Kansas, "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Homesteader and the Populist Movement,") was labeled Vol. 5th.  That journal contained entries from 1870 and 1871, but was abandoned until 1884, when Isaac resumed writing daily entries.

It was in 1884 that the Medicine Lodge Bank was robbed by a surprising group of robbers at 9 a.m. during a heavy rainstorm.  Because of the early hour and the heavy rain, there were no patrons in the bank.  Only E. W. Payne, working at his desk, and the cashier, George Geppert, who was working on the monthly accounts, were present.  A description of the events was provided by Rev. Frieldly, who happened to be watching from across the street and who alerted the Medicine Lodge Marshall.

When the four robbers entered the bank and shouted to the two occupants 'put up your hands,' the bank president complied, but the cashier reached for a revolver.  Perhaps the four robbers had intended to steal the money without doing any physical harm, but outside the Marshall began firing, as well as the cashier's having reached for a gun, which resulted in gunfire that killed the cashier and wounded the bank president.

A posse quickly formed and rode in pursuit, soon joined by reinforcements.  Surrounded  by the well armed posse, the bank robbers surrendered, and the identities of the robbers was as shocking as the morning bank robbery itself.  The gang members were not only men they knew but men respected in their community.  The leader was Henry Newton Brown, the Marshal of the town of  Caldwell, and the other three robbers were Ben Wheeler, Assistant Marshall of Caldwell; William Smith, a well known cowboy who worked for the T5 Ranch, and John Wesley, another well known cowboy working for Redwell and Clark.  Marshall Brown had an early outlaw past; however, he had changed his ways to serve as a Marshal in Texas before becoming the Caldwell lawman, where he had an excellent reputation.

Ben Wheeler, the Assistant Caldwell Marshall, had a particularly good reputation, but he was believed to be the one who had killed George Geppert, and his past popular reputation made him only the more hated for what he had done.  Many among the posse wanted to hang the four men immediately, but the Sheriff refused.

They escaped the hangman's noose for only a few hours, for at the signal of 3 shots fired into the air that night, a crowd of armed men demanded the bank robbers overpowered the sheriff, and took the men.  Marshal Brown momentarily broke free and ran, but shots from many guns struck his body.  Assistant Marshal Wheeler was badly wounded before being caught, but he and the other two men were taken to a tree and hanged.  

Cashier George Geppert had died at the scene.  The bank president, E. W. Payne died the following day, at the age of 38, leaving his wife Susan and nine children.  In addition to being the bank president, he was also the owner of the local newspaper.

There were robberies and attempted robberies in Isaac Werner's community as well, which he recorded in his journal, but no one was killed in the course of those robberies.  Most of us have the impression of those early years being filled with gunfire, and the assumption that every settler had a gun.  Some men did, but the evidence from Isaac Werner's journal and his estate sale records seems to establish that he did not own a gun.

The peculiar role that guns played in that era is well shown in the Medicine Lodge Bank Robbery.  First, men who gained a reputation as killers were often hired as lawmen, believing they were well prepared to fight the lawless and to discourage those who might have otherwise attempted breaking the law.  But, what made the irony of the circumstances in the Medicine Lodge failed bank robbery is Marshal Brown's letter to his new wife during the hours the bank robbers were in jail.  "April 30, 1884.  Darling Wife:  I am in jail here.  Four of us tried to rob the bank here...I want you to come and see me as soon as you can. ...This is hard for me to write this letter, but it was all for you, my sweet wife, and for the love I have for you. ...If a mob does not kill us we will come out all right after while.  Maude, I did not shoot anyone, and did not want the others to kill anyone, but they did, and that is all there is about it.  Now, good-bye, my darling wife.  H.N. Brown." 

His letter asked her to visit him and to have her picture taken for him, and he authorized her to sell everything except his Winchester rifle, asking her to be sure to get it when she came to visit him.  He was very proud of that rifle, as it had been given to him with the following engraving:  "Presented to City Marshall (sic) H.N. Brown for valuable services rendered on behalf of the Citizens of Caldwell, Kas."  He had been right to assume someone might steal it, for someone did.  It was later found in a collection in Texas, but today it is owned by the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka, Kansas.

Although Brown knew that the cashier had been killed and that the banker had been wounded, he had believed that although he might serve some time he would eventually be released and reunited with his wife.  Instead, he never reached his 28th birthday.  Men in Isaac's community who went to prison for their crimes were also well known, respected men.  These misguided escapades by seemingly law abiding men make sad and perplexing stories for present readers.   

Thank you to the 2006 Peace Treaty Special Edition newspaper for the published information collected from old newspapers and Peace Treaty editions, and brochures from First Bank of Medicine Lodge for the information included in this blog.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Prohibition in Isaac's Time

John St. John
The Stafford County seat of St. John, Kansas was named after John St. John.  When the citizens of the new town sought their charter, they anticipated the future quest for the county seat, and with the idea of using the governor's name for their town as a way to gain an advantage over other contenders for the seat, St. John was chosen as the town's name.  There were contenders, but the town of Stafford was the strongest challenger.  Whether the name of St. John proved decisive or the fact of the town's central location was significant to voters, St. John became the county seat.

Stronger than having a county seat named after him was John St. John's reputation for opposing liquor.  His political rallies sometimes seemed a bit like revivals, with all the quoted scripture and prohibition rants.  Motivated by Governor John St. John's leadership, Kansas voters adopted a constitutional amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages.  There were exceptions for medical, scientific, and industrial uses.  Many Kansans found alcohol to be good medicine!  Isaac Werner's journal contains several references to prohibition rallies, but also to public drunkenness.  Ladies who spurned drinking nevertheless utilized various health "remedies" containing alcohol for their ailments.

Carrie Nation, Credit: White Studio
John St. John is not the only Kansan known for opposition to alcohol.  In fact, Carry Nation is probably among the best know opponents.  Unlike the women who worked through the Women's Christian Temperance Union, who were also famous in their day for blaming alcohol as the cause of poverty, unemployment, and other social issues, their efforts are less well known today than the more dramatic exploits of Carry Nation.  Some WCTU ladies joined in Carry's less extreme demonstrations.

Carry used prayer--not quietly doing her praying at home or in church but rather on her knees in front of saloons, alternating prayer with singing and curses at the saloon keepers.  She had her supporters, and saloon keepers often left town rather than confronting not only Carry's antics but also the threat of prayer meetings held in front of their establishments.  Her reputation for violent action is not fiction.  She once borrowed a sledge hammer from a blacksmith and smashed a druggist's keg, rolling it into the street to pour the contents in the gutter and set the alcohol ablaze.  On another occasion she loaded her buggy with stones and attacked the bars in a neighboring town with her rocky projectiles.   

Carry Nation Home, Medicine Lodge. Credit Ammodramus
In Wichita she concealed a rod and cane, along with some large stones, beneath her cape to attack the fancy saloon in the Hotel Carey.  That assault resulted in her arrest and lodging in jail.

However, the weapon for which she is most famous is a hatchet.  When she accused a county attorney of taking bribes from saloon keepers, he sued her for slander and won the case.  Her fine was only $1, but the judgment against her for costs of the suit were $113.65, a significant amount in those times.  She paid the costs by selling souvenir hatchets.

In 1976 the Carry Nation Home in Medicine Lodge, Kansas was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, where the public can tour her house and see items she used during her career battling alcohol. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Byers Ablaze

Clark Beck, Byers, Class of 1954
In Isaac Werner's time there was no Byers, which came about a decade later.  In Isaac's time the neighboring town just about a mile south of his homestead was Naron.  Naron was never very big, but there was a general store, a school, a church, and some small businesses--possibly located in the homes of the few residents of Naron.  On a hill outside of the town was a cemetery maintained by the Woodmen of the World, an organization about which I have written in a previous blog. The town of Naron is gone, but the cemetery remains, and occasionally there is still a burial.

What put an end to Naron was the railroad.  When the tracks were laid about a mile south of Naron,  the old town died and a new town by the railroad tracks was born.  Many of the Naron businesses and residents simply moved to the new location, but the name did not go with them.  Instead, the new town was christened Byers, named after the president of the Anthony and Northern Railway, O. P. Byers.

Byers 1st & 2nd Graders in 1950
Probably the first business built was the grain elevator on the east side of Main Street, as farmers were eager to have a place for selling and storing their crops, and with the train for shipping it seemed like a worthy business.  The State Bank of Byers was promptly incorporated, and the post office opened for business on May 6, 1915.  Plans for a new school building were quickly made, and the dedication of the school was held September 9, 1916.  The town continued to grow and reached its population peak in 1924, with 227 residents.

By 1933 the Byers State Bank closed, and many families suffered.  The railroad ceased operation in 1940.  The demand from farmers for machine shops kept those going, in fact to the present day, and the school and a few businesses were surviving into the 1960s.

History of Byers, KS, Wilma Carr Beck
I had married and my husband and I were in college, both of us with jobs that kept us from coming home very often.  However, we were at the farm visiting my parents when my father suggested that we go into Byers for a little entertainment one evening.  I could not imagine what he had in mind.  My Aunt Wilma operated the post office in the little grocery store that had once been the bank, but she was closed in the evening, and about the only other business other than machine shops was Walt Fisk's barber shop.  I was very surprised when my father pulled up in front of the local beer hall!  I had never been inside that business and was shocked that it was our evening's destination.

My father bought the four of us our drinks--Cokes probably--and probably paid for our dominoes.  Of course, we could have played dominoes at home, but he made a little adventure for us that night.  Apparently, what I had known as "the beer hall" was being operated as a restaurant at that time, and we may have had hamburgers.  I don't remember.  

Byers, KS train depot and elevator
Not long after our evening at the Byers Pool Hall, located under the Odd Fellows Lodge on the second floor, the east side of Byers Main Street burned.  According to an old clipping on which someone has written "March 23, 1966," with the headline "Blaze Levels Byers Block," the fire began in the ceiling of Roberts Restaurant at 4:45, and the restaurant, the IOOF Hall above, Walt Fisk's barber shop, and the old city hall burned to the ground in a little over an hour.

The Volunteer Fire Department came from Iuka but could do little but put out grass fires started from sparks.  Everyone counted the town lucky that when the blazing second floor collapsed on a propane tank below, the safety pop-up valve worked, avoiding a huge explosion.  In addition, someone had thought to rescue the records from the old city hall before the fire made that impossible.

Soon after the fire, the school was consolidated with other small schools and relocated, the post office was eventually closed, and even the Methodist Church was no longer used for services.  Surely all of those things would soon have happened anyway, but the fire seemed a dramatic ending to the brief life of a once thriving community, now diminished to primarily the L&W Repair shop, a hunter's lodge in the old bank, a fire station built since the fire, and a few family homes.