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!


1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

What a heart warming aspiration. It would be wonderful for someone to find ancestors in your book at some point far in the future.