Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Memories That Should Not Fade


I have a clear recollection of first reading "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" by Katherine Anne Porter.  My husband had retired and we were enjoying traveling.  As he drove, I often read, and I happened to be reading that short novel by Porter.  It is a tragic story, and although it is fiction, it is based on the flu epidemic of 1918.

That was the first time I had heard of that epidemic that killed so many people.  It struck during W.W. I and impacted soldiers in particular, as well as civilians.

Until the international tragedy of Covid in 2020, the so-called Spanish Flu was the severest epidemic of the modern era, although in earlier history there had been other devastating epidemics.  I was shocked that I had never registered the 1918 flu epidemic prior to reading the novel, and I wondered whether I had heard of it and paid too little attention.  Is it possible that a novel  caught my attention more strongly that an earlier historic account had?  I hope not, but sometimes reading history seems less personal than it should, and a story touches us more strongly. 

Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

The second example of my learning of a dreadful historic event was when I was a young lawyer in my thirties.  A fellow attorney in my office was from Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I cannot recall the context of his remarks, but he referenced the burning of homes of Black residents by White members of the community.  Perhaps other lawyers were present who seemed to be familiar with the brutal history of the event, and they did not choose to continue the conversation.  For whatever reason, the conversation changed course and I did not learn at that time just how horrible it was.

I had not realized the extent of the crimes, nor that lives were lost in the burning of the Black Community.  It was quite some time before I learned the full context of the violence.  Today I am aware that both Black and White citizens of Tulsa died, but it was the Black community that was destroyed, both businesses and homes, from fires intentionally started.      

There are many other examples of events that have happened that should not be allowed to fade.  We must not turn aside when we hear of such events nor dismiss what happened in the past as insignificant to the present.  Unless we learn from the past, we may fail to avoid the mistakes, cruelties, and wrongs in the future.  History can be our guide, both to avoid the mistakes of the past and to be reminded of the successes.  When we begin to forget that such things have happened, we will forget that they matter.

Americans can be kind and generous, but we must not become blind. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

An Author's Surprise

Some of my research notebooks, Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

As I have explained in book talks and other sources, one of the challenges I faced in finding a publisher was my determination to research as if I were writing a scholarly book but to write for general readers so that it would read like a story.  Academics already know about the Populist Movement, but most of us (including me when I began), know little about the era of our nation's most successful third party movement, the People's Party.  I wanted to write for people who might never read a scholarly book but who would love the story of a bachelor homesteader and his community.

The generation who lived during that time are gone, as are their children and many of their grandchildren.  But, many other descendants are alive, unaware of the courage and hardships of their ancestors.  I wanted my book to be of value to scholars, but it was particularly for those descendants, as well as for general readers who love history, that I wrote "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement."  Bravo to the University Press of Kansas, and particularly to a wonderful editor named Bethany who understood my intensions and fought for them! 

I spent 11 months transcribing Isaac Werner's 480-page journal, but I also did an search on every person mentioned in the journal, and particularly on the Werner family of which Isaac was a part.  The two books to the far left in the picture above, with the bright pink labels reading "Werner" and "Names" contain my Werner family records and the local friends and acquaintances mentioned in the journal.  The research documents on famous people mentioned in the journal are filed elsewhere.

This photograph shows some of the books I used in my research.  Because I researched and wrote over a period of ten years, there were many books, not including the travel, interviews, cemetery visits, and other conventional and unconventional sources I sought.  Blogs over the years have described many of those.  In the 1970s and 1980s several surrounding towns published Centennial books, which were very important to my research.  I also read many books written by the famous and once famous men and women of the Populist era.  Because Isaac Werner wrote in his journal about the books in his own library,  I read those, such as Caesar's Column by Ignatius Donnelly, Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, William J. Bryan's memoir, The First Battle, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, and The Great Revolt and It's Leaders written by the son of the populist newspaper editor in Medicine Lodge.  As well as academic books, I read Shakespeare (whom Isaac loved), the business records of Andrew Carnegie's lawyer that were kept during the Homestead Strike, the records kept during the march to Washington by what came to be called "Coxy's Army," and so very many more reference sources that allowed me to better understand the era about which I was writing.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Among those books was one titled Belpre, Kansas, The Story  of a Small Town, written by David M. Kearney, and published in 1978.  That particular book had belonged to my mother-in-law, along with several of the Centennial books I used.  For some reason I overlooked an author's note stating Kearney's age.  I assumed the book had been written by an old timer.

What a pleasant surprise when someone who attended one of my book talks recently informed me that Mr. Kearney is a living author.  I managed to locate him and we had a wonderful phone visit.  He was pleased to learn that he and his book are referenced in the Bibliography of  Prairie Bachelor, and  footnoted as well.

Here is what I hope:  I hope that someday children not yet born will discover Prairie Bachelor and will pick it up and begin reading.  Maybe they will discover an ancestor's name, or they might recognize the name of a place where ancestors homesteaded.  Maybe they will pick up the book and notice it was signed and wonder why their family had a signed book about a homesteader and the Populist Movement.  

Many living people today are descendants of homesteaders, and many more yet to be born will continue the line of descendants of homesteaders.  I hope they read my book and are proud of the heritage they discover.  Isaac Werner passed the heart of the story to me in his journal, and I hope I can pass the story to a few more generations.  As David Kearney can confirm, an author never can tell who might find his or her book and read it!


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Importance of Small Town Museums

 The title of this blog should be "The Importance of Small Town Museums and Libraries," for our region is particularly fortunate in both regards.  In an earlier blog I featured some of the libraries in our region, so in this blog I will focus more on our local museums.

Recently, I was invited to speak at the Stafford County History Museum, where I did so much research for my book, "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement."  I chose for the theme of my talk, 'The importance of Small Town Museums.'   Michael Hathaway and the board members arranged a wonderful afternoon, displaying some of the reference sources at their museum that I used in my research.  Particularly important was having access to the actual populist newspapers from that era.  Part of that was seeing the political cartoons, and I shared one of my favorites, which is among the images included in my book.  It is called The Plutocrat And His Toy, illustrating the Populist opinion that the large newspapers slanted the news to favor the wealthy.  I surprised everyone by bringing one of my own childhood toys--an example of the toy used in the cartoon.

Of course, without the Lucille M. Hall Museum in St. John, I would never have found Isaac Werner's Journal or have written "Prairie Bachelor."

Another local history museum important to my research is the Pratt County History Museum, where I spent an afternoon searching through a box of unlabeled photographs from Pratt's early years, hoping to find a photograph of Isaac (who mentioned having his photograph taken in Pratt by a local studio) or photographs of some of his friends.  The box was filled with interesting vintage photographs, but I did not find any images of people mentioned in my book.  However, much later I received an e-mail from the museum director at that time, Marsha Brown, who amazed me by remembering that one of the names I had mentioned was Dr. Isaac Dix, who was one of Isaac Werner's best friends.  A box of old photographs had been recently donated to the museum, and Marsha remembered Doc Dix as one of Isaac's neighbors.  His image is now in my book.

Not only was I. H. Dix an important figure in Isaac's community, he moved to Pratt after he had matured his homestead and timber claim and resumed his medical practice there.  He became a significant member of the Pratt community, and as you can see, in 1909 when the engraved plaque at the Courthouse was installed, his is among the names of the County Officers.

This past month I am so very fortunate to have been invited to speak by the joint library and Filley Museum, the Larned Trail Center, the Ida Long Goodman Library in St. John, and the Stafford History Museum.  Plans to speak at other local museums and libraries have been discussed for future dates.  I have so many reasons to be grateful for such community support, but I must add how all of us in this region have so many reasons to be grateful for our wonderful resources.

Bravo to all of the wonderful directors, staff, board members, and volunteers who make our access to such resources possible.  And, don't forget the many people in the past who also contributed to creating and sustaining those resources.

I have only one more local program scheduled, which will be at the Nora Larabee Library in Stafford at 7 p.m. this coming Friday evening, June 18, 2021.  I am especially pleased that some of you have chosen to attend more than one of my book talks.  Each one is different, and at the Larabee Library I will  include a power point presentation, with some new images and highlights from the book.

I am so grateful for all of the community support--encouraging me for years to complete the book, and now reading it and supporting me with your kind comments, and in many cases, your participation in the wonderful arrangements for the book talks. 

Thank you also to The St. John News for the article about Prairie Bachelor being selected as a Kansas Notable Book by the State Library, and to the online Pratt Tribune for the recognition of the Award. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Nurses in the Civil War

Clara Barton

Probably the name most remembered as a nurse during the Civil War is that of Clara Barton.  Her fame resulted in many locations and  structures being named after her.  Barton County, Kansas is named after Clara Barton, although she had no specific connection with Kansas.  However, many Civil War Veterans homesteaded in Kansas, and it may have been such a soldier who suggested her name for the county.  

At the time of the outbreak of the Civil War, much doctoring was done in homes by family members.  There were only about 150 hospitals in the entire nation at the time the War began.

Dorothea Dix
Another significant woman is Dorothea Dix, who recruited nurses but demanded very specific qualifications:  at least 30 years old, plain looking, dressed in brown or black, and free of curls, jewelry, or hoops.  Her nurses were paid 40 cents a day, plus rations, housing, and transportation.  (Male nurses received $20.50 a month, plus other benefits.)

Both of these women provided significant leadership in establishing the needed organization to the care of Civil War Soldiers.  Dix was eager to employ her organizational skills, but her exacting standards annoyed hospital administrators and nurses, and Sec. of War Stanton removed Dix from that role to avoid the friction she caused. 

Mary Ann Bickerdyke
Mary Ann Bickerdyke was especially skilled as a nurse, having been trained in botanic and homeopathis medicine, as well as having been a private-duty nurse.  She was 45 at the start of the war and gained the respect of the high-ranking officers, acquiring the nickname of the "Cyclone in Calico" somewhere along the way.

Other women, whose names were well known at the time, in addition to thousands of women whose names are long forgotten, simply showed up to serve.  The three women described in this blog are among those particularly recognized for providing the much needed organization for care for wounded soldiers.  However, while the soldiers' wounds needed that care, it was sickness that created the greatest danger to Civil War soldiers.

The thousands of women who came to tend the sick and wounded allowed many of those soldiers to recover and return to civilian life following the War.

The Farmington Cemetery in Macksville, Kansas has 49 Civil War Graves--48 men and one woman.  These are the fortunate who survived the war and came to Kansas at some time later in their lives.  Most Civil War soldiers were between the ages of 18 and 29, and if they survived the disease and injury of the war, they had years ahead of them.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Mary C. Hill, the lone women that is buried in Farmington Cemetery in Macksville, Kansas, after having served in the Civil War, was also young.  She was an Army nurse from 1861 to 1865, beginning her military service at the age of 17.  According to the 1900 census, she married Paul H. Hill in 1862.  Whether they met during the war, fell in love, and married, or they were sweethearts and she became a nurse in order to be near him during the fighting, I do not know.  It was not unusual for women to become nurses in order to be near their family members.

Louisa May Alcott

Many of you will remember that in "Little Women," a telegraph arrived, which read:  "Mrs. March:  Your husband is very ill.  Come at once."  Mrs. March does not hesitate.

She says, "...I must go prepared for nursing.  Hospital stores are not always good.  Beth, go and ask Mr. Laurence for a couple of bottles of old wine:  I'm not too proud to beg for father; he shall have the best of everything."  Those of you who are fans of "Little Women" will probably remember Jo's sacrifice for her father's care.  After having sold her beautiful hair for $25, she tells her mother, "That's my contribution towards making father comfortable and bringing him home."  

"Little Women" shares in fiction the lack of government provisions for the sick and wounded Union soldiers, and the response of wives and family to step forward to provide what was needed.  In real life, Louisa May Alcott was one of those women who became briefly a Civil War nurse.


Thursday, June 3, 2021

Honoring Those Who Served


Cemetery in Macksville, Kansas
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

Since we returned to the farm, my husband has marched with the VFW on Memorial Day.  Over the years the veterans marching have changed, with the W.W. II veterans gradually disappearing from the group.  This year the marchers were reduced in number by the death of a Viet Nam Veteran normally a part of their group, who passed away recently.  It was a challenge to assemble marchers, at a time when fewer local men and women choose to join the military, but as it turned out, the largest group in quite a while arrived on a damp morning, assembling in the mist and drizzle in hopes that by 10 o'clock the weather would clear.

In past years I had dropped my husband off and driven to the cemetery to visit the graves of my many ancestors buried there.  This year I waited to take him to the cemetery, and it gave me the opportunity to watch the men and one woman prepare for the ceremony.  I had not realized the effort taken to polish up a group of veterans who haven't drilled in decades, except for the occasional participation on Memorial Day.

To be honest, they looked a little ragged.  The variety in height ranged from short to tall, and the belts tightened around their waists would have been several inches shorter when they were on active duty, but as they stood there in the damp chill doing their best to drill as they had years before, I thought they looked like heroes.

Last year it poured rain on Memorial Day, and the ceremony was delayed until the following Saturday.  Despite the drizzle, this year they were determined to march, crossing their fingers that the weather would clear.  It didn't.  They drove to the cemetery and began to assemble, surprised by the crowd waiting in the rain to watch the ceremony.  Instead of clearing, the drizzle had increased.

Reluctantly, they decided to cancel the ceremony.  The sound system had been prepared, and there was worry about the danger of combining electricity with drizzle and electrical cords on wet grass.  The minister, under the tent where the electrical equipment was assembled out of the rain, delivered a prayer after the decision not to carry out the program was announced.  People began to head toward their cars.

The veterans were disappointed.  The honor guard had failed to march only twice before, and one of those times was the previous year when they did march on Saturday.  It is a duty taken seriously, a community tradition that is expected.  Two hours later, the weather had cleared enough that they could have marched.  However, the town had planned a nice lunch and interfering with that would have been a different disappointment. 

Those who had come to the cemetery expecting the traditional ceremony may have been disappointed, after waiting in the drizzle themselves.  It certainly seemed unfair to everyone that Mother Nature had spoiled the tradition two years in a row.