Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Isaac meets his cousins

James Werner, Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick
When my husband and I packed for a Willa Cather Conference at Smith College in Massachusetts, we had no intention of doing any more than attending the conference and visiting some of the places we remembered from the time my husband was stationed at the air base nearby.  However, rather than returning straight home, we began to travel down the east coast, making spontaneous stops at historic locations.  Our wandering took us as far as Gettysburg, and that was probably when I began to suggest that we travel to Wernersville, Pennsylvania.  

I had already transcribed Isaac Werner's journal and had done quite a bit of  my research, but we had left for the Cather Conference with no intention of its being anything other than a holiday.  The spontaneous side trips had not taken us too far out of our way, but they had delayed our return home.  My suggestion to visit Wernersville would add both miles and more days away from home to our trip.  Yet, it seemed a shame to be so close to the town Isaac's father had founded and not visit it.  I had brought none of my research with me, but at least I could see the present-day town and perhaps visit the cemetery where members of Isaac's family were buried.  I convinced my husband to go out of our way to visit Wernersville. 

My lack of professional preparation for doing research was embarrassing when we reached Wernersville with only the research I had in my memory, but I was rewarded with far more information than I deserved, and one of those rewards was meeting James Werner, to whom I was introduced because we wandered into Hains Church after visiting the church cemetery.  I had asked if any Werners were members of the church, and that is how I was introduced to James, who interrupted his day to come to the church to share much of his family history as a descendant of Isaac Werner's favorite uncle.

In my files I have a letter dated July 5, 2012, in which I tell James "The manuscript is completed, and I am at the point of preparing submissions to publishers."  My expectations for quickly finding a publisher were overly optimistic!  My previous books had been published quickly, but as most of you reading this blog know, Prairie Bachelor was finally released in late December of 2020, twelve years after I first saw the journal and began my work toward telling Isaac's story!  I was determined to write history accurately but in a style that would read like a novel.  Academics already know about the Populist Movement, but most Americans do not know about the most successful Third Party in our history, and I wanted to share that important past with general readers through Isaac Werner and his community.  Finding a publisher willing to do that proved challenging.  I am proud that Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader & the Populist Movement was honored as a 2021 Kansas Notable Book.      

I stayed in touch with James off and on during those years, and when FHSU hosted a virtual book launch in December 2020, the James Werner family was well represented among the many supporters who attended. Many of those who attended the book launch had never attempted virtual gatherings, although many of us learned during the covid pandemic.  Yet, people across America, and even from as far as Ukraine, learned the technology in order to attend.  The picture at left is of James and his wife Emily gifting Prairie Bachelor to the Hains Church.  They also gifted the book to the town library, the school library, and the Heidelberg Heritage Society.  Tentative invitations for me to speak have been postponed by covid.

James and Emily do not look their age, but they have begun to limit distant travel, and it is a long drive  from Pennsylvania to Kansas.  However, for younger members of the family, such a trip was not out of the question.  This past weekend we hosted David & his wife Deann Werner, as well as Cynthia Cruz and LaRita McNeely, whose ancestors were brothers of Isaac's father, making them first cousins to Isaac, three times removed.

The truth is that Isaac Werner was a forgotten man, but he is forgotten no more.  It was surprisingly emotional for all of us to visit Isaac's grave in Neelands Cemetery, not only to see Isaac's stone but also many of the other early settlers buried there, several of whom are mentioned in Prairie Bachelor.  I open Prairie Bachelor by quoting Walt Whitman's poem and close the book with a reference back to that poem, asking,  "Will someone when I am dead and gone write my life?" I conclude by answering Whitman's question with, "Someone has."  

By using Isaac's life to tell the true story of the Populist Movement--the struggles that led farmers, ranchers, miners, and small town merchants to form a political party, the successful achievements of the People's Party, and the eventual decline of the party--a pattern very much like Isaac's own life--my book has brought awareness of this historic movement to so many people, a political movement that changed the two older parties and continues to influence politics today. Now, not only Isaac's relatives know who he is, but also people across the nation--and even beyond.  Isaac's story attracted readers who would never have read a scholarly book about political history, but today they recognize the significance of Populists and Progressives that began with farmers like Isaac and that continues to impact politics today. 

Gifting "Prairie Bachelor" to Heidelberg Heritage Society


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

It's a Small World

 When I was a young girl, I thought my father must know more people than anyone in the world.  I would meet someone from another school and mention my new acquaintance to my father, and he would proceed to tell me who my new friend's parents were, and sometimes who the grandparents were.  Of course, his wide acquaintances were primarily in the half-a-dozen counties where he had been raised.

This blog is really about those serendipitous meetings where you are someplace far from home and you meet someone you know, or you meet someone new and discover you have a very close connection.  For example, when we attended the Montreal World's Fair of 1967, we ran into a man my husband had played basketball against in high school.

During my husband's tour of duty in South East Asia, he was playing pool in the officers club and heard someone call out his name, using his high school nick name.  It was an acquaintance from a neighboring Kansas town whom, my husband discovered, was also an Air Force Officer.  Although they hadn't seen each other for several years, they had a nice visit half way around the world.

In the early 2000s we took our mothers to England for a holiday, and while having lunch in an English castle my husband spotted the parents of one of our best friends having lunch in the same castle dining room, and we stopped by to say hello..

This story, however, is a little different, since the person I met was a stranger.  We were attending an art exibition in Oklahoma, and I wandered into an ongoing conversation with one of the artists exhibiting her work.  The Filley Art Museum in Pratt, Kansas was mentioned, and the artist acknowledged having some familiarity with that area.  As I joined the conversation, the artist asked if I grew up in Pratt, and I replied that I had grown up in the small community of Byers, adding "which you have probably never heard of."  She replied, "Oh, yes, I know Byers.  My Aunt Gloria went to school there."  "Gloria Martin?" I asked, never imagining it might be someone I knew.  "Yes," she replied excitedly.  "That's my Aunt!"

Painting by Sonya Terpening

As a result of pure serendipity I had a delightful conversation with Sonya Terpening, an artist who began studying with professional artists in junior high school, who received her degree in art from Oklahoma State University, and who was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from that university in 2020.  However, her recognition as an artist goes well beyond Oklahoma, and even well beyond Texas, where she now lives.  She and her work have been featured in such important magazines as Art of the West, Western Art Collector, and Southwest Art.  Her deep feeling for the West, which is the frequent subject of her paintings, is beautifully expressed in her own words:  "Living in Oklahoma or Texas is living with the fable of the West, both states are so rich in history." (More of her work can be seen online.)

What a treat for me it was to meet Sonya Terpening, and what proof that "It's a Small World" that I wandered into a conversation, mentioned my small childhood community, and unexpectedly had a pleasant chat with an artist whose work we had admired as we wandered through the exhibit earlier.  Serendipity can shrink the world and produce delightful surprises!   

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

What Else May You Be Missing in Kingman?

In previous blogs I have mentioned outdoor mural art and indoor post office art, from both of which history can be learned.  Kingman, Kansas offers both examples.  In a previous blog I featured the two murals by Stan Herd on the north outside wall of the Main Street Kingman County Historical Museum.

Just across the street from the Museum is the Kingman Post Office.  Kingman is one of those lucky towns whose post office contains art commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture.  Kingman's painting, "In the Days of the Cattlemen's Picnic," was done in tempera by Jessie S. Wilbur.

Because I have already posted a blog about the commissioning by the U.S. Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture during the 1940s, I will mention that only to date Jessie Wilbur's painting as being done in 1942.  At that time, she would have been 30 years old and would have completed her study of art at Colorado State Teachers College.

Initially, she became interested in cubism, which held her interest for many years, but later she became interested in impressionism.  However, it was as a printmaker that she became best known.  None of these styles dominate her painting in the Kingman Post Office, but her inclination toward a more modern style of painting can be seen.

She did not rely entirely on her paintings for income but rather taught at Colorada State for a few years before going to Montana State College in Bozeman, Montana, where she also taught courses at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana.  

Many examples of her public art may still be seen. Some of her art is on permanent display in the Jessie Willber Gallery at the Beall Park Art Center in Bozeman.

The next time you travel through Kingman, Kansas, you just may want to visit the Post Office.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

More Praying Mantids to Share

Credit: Lyn Fewick  Praying mantid turns to greet me!

I was so excited to see an article in the newspaper from the K-State entomologist about Praying mantids.  Those of you who follow my blog know that I am fascinated by them.  The article described how to ensure a garden has a few praying mantid guardians by carefully removing a discovered egg case and putting it in a glass jar with a lid that has at least 10 small air holes.  The instructions said to keep the egg case in the house with warm temperatures and wait 4-6 weeks for eggs to hatch.  The instructions included the alternative of keeping the jar in the refrigerator to delay hatching and then removing it when you want it to hatch, which will take 1 or 2 months after removing it from the refrigerator.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick     Admiring his shadow

Frankly, I have much more confidence in Mother Nature to help with the hatching than in myself getting involved.  If I got something wrong, I would feel very guilty.  The need to make sure the nymphs were not released to freezing temperatures, which would be fatal, convinced me that I needed to stay out of the praying mantis mothering and leave it up to nature.

Of course, if a building to which the mantid mother had attached her eggs was being torn down, or I spotted a branch or stem in the burn pile about to be set ablaze, that would be different.  In such emergency rescue cases, even I might be willing to take the chance of hatching the nymphs, whose eggs case appears like a hardened piece of Styrofoam stuck on branches, walls, fences and sides of houses.  Perhaps a school science class might be entrusted with the responsibility, and more specific instructions could be obtained from Kansas State Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick   Discarded shell

As for myself, I will continue to keep my eyes open for praying mantid hiding in leaf rubble, where I once spotted one, or hatching on the side of our house.  I watched in amazement as it slowly escaped from the case it had outgrown.  Several weeks later that year, my husband and I were sitting on the porch when a praying mantid joined us.  He showed no signs of fright and lingered with us to enjoy the afternoon before finally disappearing.  It didn't take too much imagination for me to believe it might have been the praying mantid I watched shedding his case earlier in the spring. 

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick     Escaping outgrown case 


They are beneficial in gardens, eating "anything they can grab onto with their raptorial front legs," according to K-State entomologist Raymond Cloyd.  That includes flies, of which we had so many last spring and summer, and crickets, months, wasps, and caterpillars.  Unfortunately, it also includes butterflies, but if they are on their toes, those butterflies can escape into the sky!

Be on the lookout for these interesting insects, which are described as "a beneficial to a home garden."  

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Buffalo Bill Cody and Hays

William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody
Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

The picture above shows the image of William F. Cody, also known as 'Buffalo Bill,' outside the Hays Library.  Buffalo Bill is nearly legendary in Hays, Kansas, his exploits familiar to local people.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Beneath the bust of Cody his importance to the city of Hays is described, explaining how he co-founded the town that was the predecessor of Hays, with a man named William Rose in 1867.

Cody was in the area because in 1867 he was employed by the Kansas Pacific Railroad, his job being to hunt buffalo to feed the railroad work crews.  The following year, 1868, Cody served as a scout and guide in the U.S. Army.  These assignments were often dangerous, and he was awarded a Medal of Honor.  His celebrity made him well-known, and he was featured in the popular dime novels of that era.

In his time, he was seen as a hero--brave, handsome, charismatic.  Yet today we often judge our heroes with hindsight.  His reputation was gained by the displacement, if not actual slaughter, of indigenous people and animals.  Indians saw the arrival of trains, and the people inside those trains, as a threat to their way of life--and they were correct.  While Cody killed the buffalo to feed railroad workers, he also killed for sport, killing far more than was needed to feed work crews, and he sometimes led hunting groups.  It is believed that Cody himself killed 4,000 buffaloes.  

Photo: Lyn Fenwick
Indians also killed the buffalo, but almost no part of the animal was wasted, from their wooly coats and their meat, all the way down to their sinews.  In contrast, wealthy sportsmen shot from trains, leaving the buffalo to rot on the prairie.  Sometimes they would compete to see who could kill the most buffalo in a single day.  It has been estimated that for every buffalo killed, as many as four wandered off to die, suffering from their wounds. 

The irony is that part of the thrill was the fact that these prairie bemouths were regarded as a great prize to kill.  As they were slaughtered to near extinction, they were also considered the Monarchs of the Plains.  The plaque at left reads:  "Herds of 60 million Buffalo once roamed the Prairie until reduced to 300 and near extinction.  They were the basis for the Indian Economy, Food for the Emigrant, Railroad Worker and Soldier." 

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

The reverence for the Monarch of the Plains is sculpted from the native limestone of the region, depicting the buffalo looking out across the fort once occupied by soldiers and now visited by tourists.  And so, Hays, Kansas honors both the marksman who used his frontier reputation to create his own Wild West Show and profit from the reputation he built killing buffalo, while on a hilltop outside of Hays a buffalo carved from the native stone looks over the city of Hays.

Cody's Wild West Show became internationally famous, but in the end, his show went bankrupt and closed in 1913, although he performed in other shows until his death in 1917.  Near extinction, a small herd of Buffalo was used to breed back the Monarch of the Plains, avoiding extinction.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick