Thursday, January 29, 2015

Home on the Range

Photo credit:  Ammodramus
The recent death of Russell Bomhoff, a well-known name to the aviation world and especially in Wichita, KS, brought to the attention of his family his charitable contributions to certain historical projects, among them the saving of the cabin of Dr. Brewster Higley VI.  Higley built the cabin in 1875, but it had fallen into extreme disrepair until a group organized to rescue this important Kansas historical site.  Why are Dr. Higley and his cabin important?  Because Higley was the author of the poem that we know as lyrics for the Kansas State Song, "Home on the Range."

Dr. Brewster Higley VI

Dr. Higley came to Smith County, KS in 1871 to claim a Homestead, first living in a dugout before building his cabin alongside West Beaver Creek.  He was so charmed by his beautiful claim that he wrote a 6-verse poem that he titled "My Western Home," describing the land and its plants and animals.  In 1874 his poem was published in the Smith County Pioneer, the Kansas Farmer in Topeka, and the Kirwin Chief.  These publications leave no room for doubt concerning the authorship of the poem used as lyrics for "Home on the Range."  

Among Dr. Higley's friends was Daniel E. Kelley, a Civil War veteran who came to Smith County in 1872.  Daniel and his wife Lulu, together with the Harlan brothers (Lulu's siblings), formed the Harlan Orchestra, which frequently performed in the area between 1878 through 1885.  Daniel set Higley's poem to music, and "My Western Home" became a popular dance tune.

Photo credit:  How do you turn this on
  Enter David W. Guion, born Dec. 15, 1892, in Ballinger, TX, son of Judge John I. Guion (1854-1920), a former President of the Texas A&M Board of Directors.  David grew up on his father's ranch where he admired the cowboy life, as well as being introduced to African-American music when he attended church with a family servant.  As a boy he was sent to San Antonio by train for piano lessons, and the influence of both the music of the cowboys and the Negro church services came to play a large role in Guion's fame as a composer.  Unfortunately, Guion was not always careful to credit the sources of his musical adaptations.  Innocently or otherwise, he claimed to have first heard "My Western Home" from cowboys, and in 1925 when the song was published as sheet music in San Antonio, TX, Guion revised the song in 1930 for a Broadway show, retitled "Home on the Range.  FDR claimed "Home on the Range" as a favorite!  Both the sheet music and Guion's Broadway show tune claimed that no composer or author was known.  

The credit due Higley and Kelley might have been lost but for the greed of William and Mary Goodwin who, in 1934 filed a $500,000 lawsuit claiming copyright infringement on their own "My Arizona Home," copyrighted in 1905.  The search was on to determine the rightful ownship of the song.  The Museum Publishers Protective Association discovered that a Texas University professor named John Lomax who collected folk songs had published a collection in 1910.  The professor had recorded a soloonkeeper singing "Home on the Range" in 1908, and that man had once driven cattle on the Chisholm Trail to Kansas.  A Colorado mining song was similar, and early Dodge City cowboys had also sung a version.  The final proof linking the song to Higley and Kelley came from an 86-year-old resident of Smith County named Clarence B. 'Cal' Harlan who had sung the song 60 years earlier with the Harlan Orchestra.

The effort to designate a state song began with Kansas Governor Arthur Capper in 1915, but it took over three decades before the Kansas Legislature finally adopted "Home on the Range" as the official state song in 1947.  The Kansas State Song is recognized internationally, and Higley and Kelley finally have received the credit they are due. 

The Home on the Range Cabin was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the cabin site including 240 acres of range and cultivated land is owned by Peoples Heartland Foundation. With the help of volunteers and generous donors, the cabin was restored in 2013 to its 1870s appearance. 

Story Board Cartoon now housed in the Baylor University David W. Guion Collection

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Isaac's Potato Bug Battles

While reading from the 1911 book "Progressive Farming" given to me by a friend, I was excited to find this diagram of the stages of the Colorado Potato Beetle.  This insect was one of Isaac Werner's worst farming enemies!

Potatoes and corn were Isaac's primary crops, and he was especially known for his outstanding potatoes.  (See "Isaac's Potatoes," 2/27/2014, blog archives, for a comparison of Isaac's growing and harvesting methods with those of a modern farmer in his old community.)  In addition to marketing his potatoes throughout the region after harvesting them, (See "The Trip to Sun City," 2/20/2014 blog archives, about his marketing trips), he also stored potatoes in his cellar during the winter to be used as seed potatoes in his own fields the following season and to be sold to other farmers as seed potatoes.

He struggled with the lack of rain when it was needed, the cooking of potatoes in the hot summer soil, the difficulty of finding laborers when the potatoes needed harvesting, the problems of storage as they were harvested, and the need to keep fires going in his cellar when winter temperatures dropped.  However, his biggest problem was battling the invasions of what he called the Colorado Potato Bugs.  If they could not be controlled when they attacked his plants, none of the other chores would be relevant, for he would have no potatoes to harvest if the bugs destroyed his plants.

The beetles lay their oval-shaped, yellow to orange eggs on the undersides of leaves, each cluster containing 10 to 30 eggs, with one plant hosting as many as 500 eggs.  The hatched larvae reveal their age by color and size--progressing from red to orange to tan with 2 rows of black dots along their sides and increasing in size as they consume the leaves of the plant.  It is this stage that is the most destructive.

However, it was the mature beetle that Isaac attacked, initially hand picking each bug off the plants, and when the job was too much to do alone, hiring Mrs. Ross and her children to help.  Because of the inefficiency of hand picking the bugs, he began poisoning them with Paris Green, a powder he mixed with water.

What Isaac may not have known was that pupae overwinter in the soil of harvested potato fields and emerge to begin a new infestation each spring.  Adults can fly several miles to find host plants, but once Isaac's fields were found, the annual infestation probably came out of his own soil.  Each generation takes 5 to 8 weeks, meaning that Isaac might have thought he had the infestation conquered for the season, only to have a second generation of potato bugs attack his plants.

It is my opinion that the Paris Green that Isaac used to fight the bugs poisoned more than just the Colorado Potato Beetles...but that is another story!

Using the Blog Archives:  If you wish to find a blog in the archives, go to the upper right corner of this page and click on the year in which the blog was published, then click on the month it was published and the blogs for that month will open.  Scroll down to the blog you wish to read.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Disappearing Old Barns

For as long as I could remember the stately barn pictured at left sat on a hillside north of the Kansas Forestry, Fish & Game complex near Pratt, Ks, located in what had once been the Saratoga community.  (See "Cemetery on a Hill," 2-7-2013 in the blog archives.)  In September of 2013 my husband and I paused to take several photographs of the barn.  While traveling the road recently, I was saddened to see that it is gone.  In the past, most farms had a wooden barn, with a loft for hay and the main floor for milking.  Few of those old barns remain.
The Moore Family barn

A friend recently posted a photograph of his old family barn. While it lacks the cupola of the Saratoga structure, it has the same "barn roof" and lean-to on one side, characteristics common to barns in the area.   It also has the loft door and the overhanging roof on which a pulley apparatus would have been used to lift hay to the second level.

Sadly, it was the second picture of the barn posted by my friend that motivated me to write this blog.  Sometimes barns are torn down when the farmstead is abandoned in order to make way for more crop land.  Sometimes the barns are left to decay and rot, eventually collapsing.  However, sometimes the old wooden structures burn.

The fire that destroyed the Moore family barn
Fire is what took down the Moore barn.  A structure that has stored decades of hay, which has often become packed in the walls, as well as years of fine grain dust, presents fuel for a hot fire.  In addition, the early shingles were usually wood, as was the siding.  

Some fires are set intentionally as a quick way to be rid of an unused structure, but other barns are still in use when they catch fire.  By the time the local fire truck can reach the blaze, it is often too late to save the building, and the firemen are engaged in trying to save other buildings on the farm by limiting the spread of the fire.

The Beck Family barn
My family's barn was very similar to the barns pictured above.  After it was gone, I created this pastel painting of the old barn where my brother and I (as well as my father, his siblings, and many cousins) had played and where my father and his father had milked cows.  Our hay was stacked on the sides of the loft to leave room in the center for a basketball court, the baskets hung on the walls under the peaked roof.  If you could dribble the basketball from one end to the other on the warped old board floor, a polished gym floor seemed easy!  The barn was home to generations of farm cats who kept themselves fed on barn mice.  The loft also stored old furniture and trunks holding interesting things which supplied props for young girls playing house.

The new Beck-Fenwick barn
Before my father's death, he had commented on the sadness of seeing abandoned farmsteads with dilapidated barns slowly collapsing.  To satisfy his wishes, we had sold the barn to a lumber merchant who disassembled it and sold the weathered lumber to people who used it in construction and decorating, appreciating the naturally aged wood.

When my husband and I rescued the old homestead, we asked the contractor to built our new metal barn on the site of the old barn's foundation, and we mimicked the appearance.  Unfortunately, our barn lacks the childhood romance of the old loft, and it has never held a cow!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Isaac's Neighbors

On November 18, 2011 I posted a blog titled "Isaac's Land From the Air Today" which explained how land in Kansas was divided into square mile Sections and then divided again into four squares called quarter sections, or more simply, Quarters.  Homesteaders could claim a quarter, containing 160 acres.  In addition, a timber claim of 160 acres could be claimed by planting 10 acres in trees and keeping them alive for 8 years.  Isaac claimed both, which gave him 320 acres.  To read more about this process, as well as information about the population density on the prairie in Isaac's time in comparison to today's population density, you may visit that blog in the archives.  I promised in that blog to return to a further description of the neighbors living around Isaac, and at last, this blog will keep that promise.

First, orient yourself to Isaac's Homestead and Timber Claim identified in the center of the photograph, easily spotted because they are bright green from the winter wheat growing in the circles under irrigation.  (The gravestones of neighbors can all be found in Neeland's Cemetery, located in the image above to the north of Isaac's claims.  To see more interesting stones in that country cemetery, you may visit "Woodmen's Gravestones," 3-8-2012 in the blog archives.  Click on the images if you wish to enlarge them.)

Felix and Mary E. Clouse Goodwin's stone in Neeland's Cemetery 
To the south of Isaac's homestead is the Pratt-Stafford County Line.  Directly across the line was the claim of William and Felix Goodwin in Pratt County.  Both of these men are mentioned frequently in Isaac's journal.  William often shared work with Isaac, and when his younger brother Felix came to live with him, they built a larger dugout, which Isaac helped with installing its roof.  When Isaac's friend Lou Clouse died about 1894, his widow married Felix.  It is believed that Lou may be buried near Felix and Mary in the Neeland's Cemetery, but if so, his is an unmarked grave.

Just to the east of Isaac's claim first lived the Green family, who moved to Pratt.  Following them was the Bentley family, who moved to Colorado and later to Salt Lake City.  After a brief occupancy by tenants, Frazee moved onto the land.  Isaac was particularly close to both the Green and Bentley families, and he and Frazee often worked together.

Eliza Campbell's stone, wife of William
Just east of Isaac's Timber claim lived Isabelle Ross, a divorced lady with children who claimed that quarter as a female head of household.  Isaac was kind to Mrs. Ross, often helping her with chores she couldn't do for herself, and she and her children frequently helped him with his potatoes.

North of Mrs. Ross lived William Campbell and his family.  He was elected State Representative for his district, first for the Union Labor Party and then twice for the People's Party.  He and Isaac were good friends and often shared political conversations.  He was frequently mentioned as a potential People's Party candidate for Governor, but family responsibilities forced him to decline.  William's wife died only a few days after Isaac's death, and William did not remain in the community very long following her death.

Just west of Campbell and north of Isaac's Timber claim lived George and Nancy Henn.  They were the couple who cared for Isaac in his final illness, and their claim for payment for that care was the largest claim against his estate, an excessively large amount, considering the favors he had given them in prior years, as well as the depressed wages during the time they cared for him.  In fact, Isaac's advice may have saved the life of Nancy's son, Frank Curtis, when the boy was young.  Nancy predeceased George by several years, and no one had his death date engraved on the stone, although he lived nearby according to census records and is probably buried next to her.

Neeland's Cemetery, George and Nancy Henn
West of Henn's and of Isaac's Timber claim are the claims of brother and sister, Jerome and Persis Vosburgh.  Persis claimed as an unmarried head of her own household, although she did help care for Jerome's children after the death of his wife.  Neighbors eager to claim Persis' homestead challenged her claim, saying she didn't work the land nor live on it full time, but Isaac and other neighbors supported Persis and she retained her claim.  She died in New York state while visiting relatives, but Jerome is buried with his wife in Neeland's Cemetery.  After the death of Persis, her land was acquired by G.G. John, and during the final months that Isaac lived in his home, John looked in on him every day.

To the north are identified Emerson, where Isaac helped build the school (See "Isaac Builds a School," 10-11-2012 in the blog archives), and beyond is the Rattlesnake Creek (See "The Rattlesnake Creek," 11-26-2012).  Near the left edge of the photograph is the name of my great grandfather George Hall, whose timber claim was along the creek.  A small white dot in the trees is visible below his name, and that is the location of his house.  George and Theresa Hall were close friends of Isaac, and they cared for him briefly in their creekside home when he was first unable to live alone.
Neeland's Cemetery, Jerome & Ann Vosburgh

The Stafford County seat of St. John is identified on the horizon.  Before Isaac acquired his horse Dolly, he walked to St. John.  The towns of Macksville and Naron are not within the photograph, but arrows show their direction at upper left and lower right.  Also shown at left by arrows are the direction of the homes of Doc Dix and the Beck family.  To the far right is the Gus Gereke claim.  In the early years Gus and Isaac frequently worked together.

As you can see from the photograph, the claims that surrounded Isaac with neighbors are now nearly all open fields without families living on the land.  Most of the trees planted by the early settlers have died or been removed, and the prairie is once again nearly without trees except along the creek and at the few homes that remain.

Very few descendants of those early homesteaders remain in the community, although homesteaders believed they were struggling to save their claims to be passed from generation to generation of future descendants.  Isaac's land passed to his brother, his sister, and the children of a sister who predeceased Isaac, but they sold Isaac's beautiful farm without ever seeing the prosperous homestead he had created on the prairie.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Just Who was Isaac B. Werner?

Isaac B. Werner's Grave in Neeland's Cemetery
Last week, as I was writing the blog thanking the visitors who have followed Isaac Werner's story, I realized that many of you have followed my blog since I began in 2011!  However, new followers are arriving at the blog for the first time every week.

I thought that perhaps a good way to start off 2015 would be to suggest certain blogs from the past that long-time followers might enjoy revisiting to remind themselves just who Isaac B. Werner was, and that new followers of the blog might enjoy reading to get better acquainted with the history of this Bachelor Homesteader on the Kansas Prairie.

My first blog was "I Love History," which I republished 1-3-2012.  I believe in the importance of knowing history because of what we can learn from the past.  Isaac is an interesting man, but what made me want to share his story is how his life tells us so much about the history of the settling of the prairie and of the political past of the region.  The experiences of Isaac and his neighbors have much to teach all of us today.

What makes Isaac's story so intimate is that he wrote about himself and his community every day from 1884 through 1891.  He was an educated man, who wrote about literature, politics, agriculture, social events, and through his eyes we can see this time in history.  You can read about how I found that journal in "Finding Isaac's Journal," 10-23-2011 in the blog archives.
One of the early St. John banks where homesteaders got in debt

He was born in 1845 in Wernersville, PA, a town founded by his father, and you can read about "Isaac's Birth & Childhood," in the blog archives at 11-4-2011 and about "Isaac's Childhood Church" at 2-23-2012.  After his father's death, Isaac left his hometown and settled in Rossville, IL, where he ran a drug store, and you can read about that in "Isaac's Years in Rossville, IL" at 1-20-2012 in the archives.

Isaac arrived on the Kansas prairie to claim his homestead and timber claim in 1878, and blogs about his life in Stafford County include the buildings he saw being built in the county seat of St. John, the entertainments he enjoyed, the crops he planted and machinery he used and invented, the pests he encountered, the political groups he joined, and many other subjects.  He was an interesting man, active in his community and in surrounding counties, and there has been much to share about him in my blogs.  If you think one of your ancestors might have known Isaac, you can read "Did Your Ancestor Know Isaac?" at 4-26-2012, for many early settlers to the region are mentioned in his journal.  One of the most popular blogs that I have posted is "Isaac's Penmanship," at 5-2-2012 in the archives, perhaps because schools are dropping cursive writing from their curriculum and people are curious about the subject.  (See also "Isaac's Penmanship Revisited," 12-19-2013, and be sure to read the comments!)
The old St. John School where Isaac attended programs

The blog contains a great deal of history about America during the Gilded Age when Isaac struggled to survive on the prairie as wealthy men built mansions in NYC, Pittsburg, and other cities.  Because of the great disparity between the wealthy and the working classes, it was a time of much  political activity, with Kansas at the center of the progressive movement.  Isaac was actively involved, and several posts in the archives address that history, for example, "Politics Hardly Seem to Change," at 11-24-2011 in the archives.

The picture at the beginning of this blog is of Isaac's grave, and you can read about that at "Finding Isaac's Grave, 1-13-2012 in the archives.  I hope you enjoy looking back (or reading for the first time) these blogs that begin to answer the question "Just who was Isaac B. Werner."  

To reach the archives, go the to upper right column on this page and click on the year and month of the blog you want to read.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays Around the World!

Christmas 2014
I realize that the holiday season is not a happy time everywhere in the world this year.  Perhaps it rarely is happy everywhere.  

Yet, I want to use this post to send holiday greetings to the many followers of my blog around the world.  It has been a surprise and a delight to me that readers in other countries enjoy my blog.  I cannot discern which blogs appeal to particular nationalities, but the popularity among countries fluctuates.  It pleases me to see that at least some of my blogs have a universal appeal.

"Christmas Guests," 12-13-2012 in blog archives


 Buone Feste, sretni blagdani, Joyeuses Fetes, Frohe Feiertage, felices Fiestas, Boas festas, Sarbatori Fericite, Priecigus svetkus, bayraminiz kutlu olsun, Glad helg, Wesolych Swiat, Selamat Bercuti, Selamat Hari Raya, and Happy Holidays to all those for which my key board could not provide symbols (and my apologies for my poor script and for the lack of proper accent symbols for some of the greetings given.)  I appreciate your following my blogs!

As past blogs have indicated, remodeling has kept us from putting up a tree this year.  (See "Collections and Creations," 12-4-2014 to read about our Angels and Ancestors Tree at the Vernon Filley Art Museum during the 2014 holidays.)  

"Isaac & the Wizard of Oz," 12-15-2011 blog archives
Our decorating for the holidays this year has been confined to the poinsettia plant my husband gave me and one lonely black haired angel.  When I was a little girl, I noticed that most pictures of angels depicted them with golden hair, and my little friends with blond hair were more likely to be chosen as angels in school and church programs than I was.  So, if I have a choice, I enjoy adding brown and black haired angels to my collection.  I also enjoy seeing angels with different skin colors and eye shapes for sale today, because I remember my own feelings as a child to never see angels who looked like me.

Our red & gold tree in 2011
For our first four Christmases after we married, college expenses allowed no spare money for a tree, nor did our tiny living quarters offer any room.  My father went into the tree belt at the farm one year while we were home for Thanksgiving to cut a cedar tree branch, which my mother secured in a coffee can wrapped in tin foil, loaning us a few Christmas balls from their own decorations.  That was our only holiday "tree" while we were in college.  When we could finally afford a tree we chose a color scheme of red and gold.  We bought a box each of red and gold balls, two gold plastic angels and one red hobby horse.  Over the years afterward, at least one holiday ornament was purchased whenever we took a trip, and more ornaments were added from the various places we lived.  Each ornament was documented on the bottom or back with the place and year it was acquired.  Putting up the tree was an opportunity to recall fun vacations and former homes.
Our Wizard of Oz tree with dolls I made

After we began the collections for the Angels and Ancestors Tree, the gold and red ornaments were ignored for a few holidays.  In 2011, we decided to display our collection of red and gold ornaments and other decorations.  It was fun to remove each one from the box and revive the memories.  (You may visit my Christmas blog "Happy Holidays," at 12-12-13 in the archives, which shares images from Isaac's era.)

Last week's blog, "Flour Mills on the Prairie," 12-18-2014, shares my Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz dolls I made one Christmas.  Obviously we enjoy decorating and entertaining during the holidays, and the Wizard of Oz tree is always fun.

For us, the holidays are about family and friends.  We look forward to cards from those who live far away, and we love seeing friends and family nearby, especially sharing the food and spirits of the season.  To all of you who follow my blog, "Thank you!"  I hope you have become fond of the old Prairie Bachelor, Isaac B. Werner, and I also hope the New Year brings me time to turn my attention back to Isaac in order to find a publisher for the neglected manuscript.  Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Flour Mills on the Prairie

Grinder near the granary
Isaac Werner went to nearby mills to have his corn ground.  He generally went to the Webber Mill a few miles north, and after one visit he complained about how some neighbors failed to clean their corn properly before bringing it to be ground.  The result was that the dirt left on the grinding stone made his corn too gritty to feed to his chickens.  The foundation of that old mill can still be found by someone who knows where to look.  Isaac also took corn to be ground in Saratoga, where the mill was located on the Ninnescah River.  (See "Cemetery on the Hill," 2-7-13 in the blog archives.)

Site where old grinder was used
I was told that a concrete pad with a metal rod for the pivot located just south of the old family granary was where the grinder was set up for grinding grain periodically.  There was a crib in the southeast corner of the barn where I took a coffee can to dip out a measure of ground milo for the chickens every day, but I don't recall having seen my father grind the milo.  In the photograph above, taken in the early 1920s, a cone-shaped object can be seen.  It is located about where the concrete pad is located.  I was also told the metal rod was used to secure an apparatus used while butchering hogs in the early days, although I never saw my father butcher anything when I was growing up.

However, this blog is about mills, not butchering.  The mill I know about is the flour mill in Hudson, Ks.  It is a very old business, although not quite old enough for Isaac's time, as the business began in 1904 when Otto Sondregger, a German miller, built a small flour mill.  In 1913 the mill was expanded to a 300-barrel capacity, and further expansions have continued to this day.

Bags of Hudson Cream Flour
Recently I was surprised to see a headline in the newspaper reading "Stafford County Flour Mill going green."  It seems that the Hudson Cream flour mill has put up a wind-powered turbine.  According to the current mill president, Reuel Foote, the cost of electricity was one of their biggest expenses, so they began investigating a wind turbine in 2013.  On November 5, 2014 the rotor hub was lifted into place and the three large blades were attached.

Nearly 200 feet off the ground, the familiar Hudson Cream logo can be seen, installed before the hub was lifted into the air. St. John sign painter Brett Younie was glad his Signtec business was given the job of mounting the huge logos but said he had no desire to do the job that high off the ground!

Scarecrow from Oz with flour sack head
Several years ago we were in Montreal, Canada, and as we walked into an upscale bakery we spotted a huge display just inside the entrance, piled high with sacks of Hudson Cream Flour, advertising that they used the "best" flour in their baking.  We couldn't believe that the flour from a mill only a few miles from our farm was so highly regarded that it would be used to attract customers to that bakery.  The bakery is correct about its superior quality, however.  It is great flour and I don't buy anything else.

When I made Wizard of Oz dolls of the four main characters, I carefully read L. Frank Baum's description of the Scarecrow.  It said his head was made of an old flour sack.  Naturally, I had to use a Hudson Flour sack for my scarecrow.  Today, however, the sacks are made of paper, which would not do.  When the mill had a small gift shop in the office, I had purchased fabric with the logo imprinted on it, but nothing I had was small enough for my doll's head.  So, I drew the logo on some unbleached muslin.  I could not imagine a proper Kansas scarecrow with his head made of anything other than a Hudson Cream flour sack!

(To see all of my Wizard of Oz dolls you may visit "Isaac and the Wizard of Oz," 12-15-2011 in the blog archives.  Look closely in the first photograph to see not only the Dorothy doll I am holding but also the Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow on the floor beside my chair.  The Tin Man also appears in the photograph near the end of that blog.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Saving the old Opera Houses of the Prairie

Railroad in Waterville, KS
Travel to where Unicorn Road (also known as Highway 9) intersects Highway 77, and what the citizens of Waterville, Kansas have preserved is almost as fantastic as a unicorn trotting down the street.  The 2010 Census counted 680 citizens living in Waterville, yet they have preserved a collection of turn-of-the century buildings that larger cities would envy!
The eastern part of Kansas settled earlier than the central part of the state where Isaac Werner lived.  His sister Ettie and her family, including Isaac's widowed mother, lived in Abilene, Kansas, but Isaac never felt able to make that trip.  Therefore, it is unlikely that he ever traveled as far as Waterville, but I am sure that he would have loved its Opera House.

Plaque at relocated depot
When we visited in 2012 we started at the railroad tracks, pausing to read the plaque describing how the Atchison Pikes Peak Railroad started the line in 1865, which arrived two years later in November of 1867 as the Central Branch of the Union Pacific.  Intended to serve the eastern branch of the Chisholm Trail, the train's purpose ended because of increasing numbers of homesteaders and their barbed wire interfering with cattle drives, as well as the government's quarantine of Texas longhorn cattle that often carried ticks as they were driven north to cattle towns.  Interestingly, after the cattle drives ended, the trains were used to transport turkeys driven to market in Waterville.

The Weaver Hotel

The trains may no longer run, but the impressive Weaver Hotel has been refurbished.  Built in 1905 and originally called the Pride of the Central Line, its history includes not only passengers from the trains registering as guests but also those simply waiting in the front parlor, enjoying a meal in the dining room, or lounging on the hotel porch.  Railroad crews and "drummers" who traveled from town to town selling goods and taking orders were also regular guests.

The Opera House in Waterville, KS

Unlike other prairie towns whose opera houses have not survived, Waterville has saved its opera house.  (See "St. John (KS) Convention Hall & Opera House, 6-26-2014 and Stafford (KS) Opera House, 8-7-2014 in the blog archives.) Built in 1903 at a cost of $8,000, it has been beautifully restored and is used for community and school productions.

The day we visited, a performance was scheduled for the 4th of July weekend, and a small group was rehearsing under the direction of a professional with roots in Waterville.

Interior of the Opera House in Waterville, KS

The discovery of Waterville was a surprise to us, and my husband had parked at the edge of the street while I got out to take photographs.  A citizen riding by on her bicycle stopped to visit, the justifiable pride in her town obvious in her every word.  She told us that the restored Weaver Hotel had been booked full the weekend of class reunions in May, and she informed us of the upcoming performance being produced for the 4th of July in the Opera House.  You may check The Weaver Hotel website for the special events they have planned, like Christmas at the Weaver just held, and reservations can be made online.

The Opera House in Waterville, KS

Also to be seen in Waterville are the 1-room school house from the community of Game Fork which has been restored as a meeting place for Scouting activities, the 1907 Train Depot which houses a museum, the Powell home on Commercial Street, and the 200 block of East Hazelwood Street known as "Bankers' Row."

Early settlers like Isaac Werner brought their desire for culture with them to the prairie, and even in hard times they invested in the future of their communities with the construction of opera houses, where music, lectures, plays, and community social and political gatherings were held.  Times changed, and other forms of entertainment displaced what was once enjoyed.  The opera houses were converted to other uses or were allowed to deteriorate, but Waterville saved this rare example of the striving for culture among the early settlers of the prairie.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Collections & Creations

Isaac B. Werner was both a collector and a creator, for at the time of his estate sale there were several framed etchings among his collections, and his journal is lined with margin sketches of his inventions.  He would have enjoyed the current holiday exhibition at the Filley Art Museum in Pratt, KS, where collections from local supporters of the museum are shared with the community, along with  many local artists' creations of a wide-ranging variety.  Visitors will be amazed by the taste and talents of those who have loaned objects to the museum, as well as by their generosity of loaning holiday objects that would normally be part of  displays in their own homes during the winter season.

My own ancestors, including those who were friends and acquaintances of Isaac, are having quite an adventure this December, for our Angels and Ancestors Tree is among the holiday collections on display at the museum.  (See "Christmas Guests" at 12-13-2012 in the blog archives.)  You can see our tree in the background of the photo at right.

As you might expect, there are many Santas on display, as well as several nativity figures.  Several of these nativity groups represent the work of artists from foreign countries, and one nativity has a historical appeal for Pratt residents, having been purchased from the old Duckwall's store on Main Street in the late 1940s or early 1950s.  

There are also fiber artists whose work is on display, the work including quilts, cross-stitch, clothing for the Santa's, needlepoint and ornaments, as examples.

There are ceramic pieces, such as the beautiful example at right, as well as 2-dimensional objects on the walls of the museum.  The pastel painting in the image at right is my work, which was used as our Christmas greeting in 1989.  There are two beautiful photographs by Pratt's own Stan Reimer, and an unique example of paper cutwork, among many other wonderful things.  

An example of living art in the form of a Magnolia Topiary by Lou Lynne Moss centers a table of figures.  In the background of the image below you can see a beautiful carousel horse, hand carved and painted by Jon Hartman, who has carved enough full-sized figures of different animals to fill a carousel!  Some of the needle work can also be seen in the distance.

These images represent only a tease of all the wonderful things to be seen in this exhibition!  I cannot credit all of the artists and collectors, but when you come to the exhibition you will find carefully prepared information accompanying each object
The exhibition extends only through December.  The opening reception for members is Saturday evening, Dec. 5th at 7:00  p.m.  The exhibition opens for the public at 1 p.m. Dec. 6th, and because that is the First Saturday of the Month, there will be a Docent Tour starting at 1:30.  No reservations are necessary for the 1st Saturday Tours, and we hope people in the region are getting accustomed to those regular docent tours held each month.  I will be the Docent doing the tour Dec. 6th, so I hope to see some of you who follow this blog at the tour!

Do you know what a Tomtegubben is?  If you come to see the special holiday exhibition at the Filley Art Museum you can find out, and for those who come to the 1st Saturday Tour, remind me to show you a tomtegubben!    

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Antique Wallpaper

Salvage showing "Union Made" wallpaper
Did Isaac Werner have wallpaper on any walls in his house?  I don't know, but wallpaper has existed for centuries.  The Chinese are known to have glued rice paper to the walls of their homes by 200 B.C.  In 1481, we know that King Louis XI of France had wallpaper painted for him by Jean Bourdichon.  A guild of paperhangers was established in France in 1599, and a fragment of wallpaper dating from 1509 was found in Cambridge, England.

The arrival of wallpaper in America is dated to 1739 when Plunket Fleeson began printing wallpaper in Philadelphia.  Toward the end of the 18th century, scenic wallpaper became popular, on which panoramic scenes were depicted.

In the homes of early settlers on the prairie, some families pasted newspaper sheets on their walls to minimize the cold air entering through the cracks.  The old joke about this practice was that the newspaper on their walls gave them something to read!

Undisturbed wallpaper under sheet rock
During the recent remodeling of our home built around the turn of the last century, some walls were stripped down to the studs, removing lath and plaster.  In that process, one wall that had been covered over the plaster with sheet rock revealed old wallpaper I had never seen.  Perhaps the wallpaper was the choice of my grandmother, but more likely it was chosen by my mother when they moved to the farm about 1944 after my grandfather's stroke resulted in my grandparents moving to town.

On the selvage of one strip of wallpaper a series of letters and the words "Union Made" appeared.  With a little research, I learned that in 1883 the Wall Paper Machine Printers Union was founded in NYC, with a charter from the Knights of Labor in 1885.  My family home was built in the late 1890s (See "A Solid Foundation, 10-23-2014 in the blog archives), but the addition doubling its size was constructed in 1907.  In 1883 the Wall Paper Machine Printers Union was founded, chartered by the Knights of Labor in 1885.  (The Knights of Labor were part of the progressive movement, which included factory workers, miners, and farmers like Isaac.)  In 1902 the union became the National Association of Wall Paper Machine Printers and Color Mixers, with a charter from the American Federation of Labor.  The National Print Cutters' Association merged with them in 1923 to become the United Wall Paper Craftsmen and Workers of North America.  That bit of history seemed to resolve the mystery of the initials in the selvage of wallpaper we found.
Older border

Looking at samples of wallpapers found online, the old wallpaper we discovered appears to be the style of the 1940s.  Perhaps all that my mother could initially afford was a wallpaper border, for a different border was found under the border that seemed to match the full papered wall.  (If you look closely you can see at the bottom of the image where the newer pattern appears overlapping the older border.)  Both patterns featured red, a color Mother would have chosen.

Perhaps since the first printer of wallpaper in America began in Philadelphia, it is Pennsylvania State University Libraries that house the archives of the Wallpaper Craftsmen and Workers.  To read more about the information I have shared, you may visit and

Border on top of older border
Judging from Isaac's indebtedness incurred first to buy a horse and worsened to buy equipment, it seems unlikely that he had sufficient funds to wallpaper his house.  I do know that he sometimes stored his grains and other produce in barrels and bags in his kitchen, another reason that fancy wallpaper seems unlikely.  He was also hired to strip and apply new paint to a buggy, and he brought that buggy into his kitchen to do some of the work, another indication that his kitchen wasn't too fancy.  Yet, I believe he would have imagined wallpaper for the future Victorian home whose newpaper image was glued in the cover of his journal.  (See "A Solid Foundation" image titled Isaac's Dream House, 10-23-2014.)  Sadly, his health did not allow him to build that dream house.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Farming experiments

Corn grown in glass bottle to study roots
Isaac Werner regarded farming as a profession, deserving of serious study, experimentation, and record keeping.  His journal entries each day began with the weather, including temperature, moisture, and wind.  He used the almanacs of two different forecasters.  He subscribed to farming journals and submitted letters and articles to them.  He read bulletins from Kansas State College, the land grant agricultural college, and he corresponded with Professor Shelton, head of the college experimental farm. 
Testing see germination

For his own farm he acquired seed varieties from other regions, experimenting with what did best in his sandy loam soil and prairie weather.  He tried different planting depths and spacing of seeds.  He modified the equipment he bought, improving it for his soil type.

For his community, he initiated the founding of the Stafford County Agricultural Society and was a member and lecturer of the Farmers' Alliance.  He shared work and ideas with his fellow farmers and formed a small group of the more progressive farmers in his community which met to consider untried crops and methods.  He studied cooperative farming and formed a group of neighbors to plant a potato patch on his land.  He was definitely a professional farmer.

Testing moisture absorption in different soils

Like  many  farm daughters, I  loved  to trail  along  after my father, watching him work and asking him questions. I still remember one evening when he explained the seed germination test he was conducting.  As I recall, he used damp cloth or paper towels between two panes of glass, with seeds between the moistened material to see how many would sprout.

When a friend gave me a textbook first published in 1911 titled "Productive Farming," some of the illustrations reminded me of the experiments Isaac and my father had conducted.  The Preface describes "This book is intended to suit the needs of rural schools of all kinds, and graded village and city schools chiefly below high-school rank."  As I flipped through the pages, I thought about the many children today who know so little of farming and the rural landscape.  For them, corn and peas come from cans on the shelves of their local grocery store.  Only a few would have seen their mothers make bread from flour, and even those would lack real understanding of how flour is produced.  Perhaps these children would benefit from trying some of the experiments reproduced in this blog from the old 1911 textbook. 

Plan for school farm
While many people think the school garden is a new concept, the 1911 farming book included a plan for a 10-acre school farm, as well as a diagram for a less ambitious garden, with vegetables planted in the corners and along the sides of the school play ground.  The image at left shows the 10-acre plan, but picture the lower-right play ground and school rectangle with the perimeter and corners used for gardening rather than trees and you can imagine the suggested school garden.

It is significant that the century-old book emphasized the importance of preserving the play area with enough room for physical activity without allowing the gardens to inhibit the children's exercise.  Diet and exercise were important ideas to teach.

Once again I was reminded by this 1911 book how much we can learn from history, and how the ideas we regard as uniquely modern are often merely a rediscovery of the wisdom from the past.

With the holidays approaching and children home from school, perhaps there are some ideas in this blog for activities to do with children and grandchildren, or for teachers to incorporate into their (already busy) curriculum.  Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them for reading the directions for the experiments.