Thursday, September 11, 2014

Isaac's Bad Luck with Hogs

Isaac B. Werner was not lucky when it came to raising hogs.  For several years he had no livestock on his claims.  Eventually he bought a horse, the mare's purchase price and some extra for implements being his first indebtedness.  (See "Isaac's Dolly Varden," 2-28-2012 in the blog archives.)  He also began keeping chickens, (See "Isaac Builds an Incubator," 8-22-2013, and "Isaac Raises Chicks with a Broody Hen," 8-29-2013), and at last he traded some of the grain he raised with neighbors for hogs.  It was the beginning of his bad luck with hogs. 

On April 2, 1888, he wrote in his journal:  "Dix sow died from pigging.  Fed [her] since 12th of December about 6 bushels of corn.  'Yellow Jersey' about same amount of corn & still lean.  Vosburg brood sow now about a year on hand.  Eat about 17 bushels of corn.  Time to be pigging (112 days [according to] Garvin), about up & no signs."

Not only did his own hogs give him trouble but his neighbors hogs got out and ate his crops.  A few days later he wrote in his journal:  "H. Bentley helped me stretch 5 wire around & by eve W. Goodwin hogs inside eating corn again."  Isaac became so annoyed by how often his neighbors' livestock got out and ate his crops that he suggested it might be more efficient if he stopped trying to fence the livestock out of his fields and instead just went to his neighbors' farms and repaired their pen and pasture fences!

By the 11th of April he had given up on the sow he traded grain for with Vosburgh, and he asked Will Goodwin to help him butcher the sow.  He was concerned that the weather was getting too warm for butchering, and he had never killed a hog before.  Will loaned him a barrel and helped him butcher the sow, and they found no signs of piglets inside her.  He asked his neighbor, Mrs. Ross, to render the lard for him while he "cut up the swine and salted same in cellar."

Hedrick's Racing Pigs leave the gate!
Although he continued feeding the 'Jersey' hog, by August it was still lean and he decided to butcher it, despite the warm weather.  Again, he asked Mrs. Ross the try out the lard, but he decided to salt the pickled meat himself.  Unfortunately, the packed meat started going bad, although he "dipped out brine, cut bones out of those hams & salted into a jar by themselves, other meat back into barrel with heated pickle repacked & salted." The hams had to be discarded and the fermented, repacked meat had to be rendered for lard to get any use from it.

An article in the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of "Capper's" with the subtitle "Revisit the virtues of your grandmother's secret ingredient and get cooking,"  included directions for "Dry Rendering" lard and praised the benefits of fats from both animal and vegetable sources.  Citing lard, tallow, duck and goose fat, as well as vegetable fats from olives, coconut and flax, the article claimed the fatty acids "keep our bones healthy (adding calcium absorption), and they enhance the immune system," contrasting the absence of these benefits in engineered fats.
Pig 3 takes the lead at the corner, cheered by the crowd!

The article acknowledged that "The amount of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids varies in lard according to what the pigs have eaten, making fat from pastured or grass fed hogs the best choice."  Of course, it was all the corn that Isaac had fed his hogs that made him most resentful of their failure to thrive and produce neither meat nor piglets!

The article warned that "Most of the lard you find stocked on the grocery store shelves has been harvested from 'factory farmed' animals; it's been hydrogenated, bleached and deodorized, and emulsifiers and other chemicals have been added.  Stay away from it!" the article declared.

A new leader in the straight-away excites cheers!
The year of 1888 was not the last time Isaac tried to raise hogs, but he was never very successful.  He was not much of a pig farmer, and he had to admit that he would have been better off hiring out his labor and selling his corn than getting into the hog business!

The photographs accompanying this blog were taken at the 2014 Kansas State Fair.  You may wish to visit blogs posted during Sept. & Oct. 2013 featuring the exhibits at the Kansas State Fair that year.  A special thank you to the Hedrick Exotic Animal Farm (and Bed & Breakfast) located near Nickerson, Kansas for the photographs of the pig races.  The announcer, her helper, the 'volunteers' drafted from the crowd as cheerleaders, and especially the clever little pigs made for great entertainment!
We have a winner and a triumphant cheerleader!

As you can tell if you look more closely, there were actually three races, so the apparent lead changes were really different little pigs among the twelve racers.  The final group slipped through the gate as they were being assembled before their race, and perhaps the fact that they had already had a taste of the trophy plate filled with piggy treats made them slow down a little in the straight-away.

The fair continues through this weekend, so you could still catch the Hedrick's Racing Pigs at the 2014 Kansas State Fair if you check for starting times!  Maybe Isaac's pigs that refused to fatten for butchering really saw themselves as Racing Pigs and were 'staying in shape!'

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Natural Bridge, Part II

Natural Bridge near Sun City, Kansas
Last week's blog, "The Natural Bridge,"   (archives, 8-28-2014), about artist, Birger Sandzen's paintings and prints drew many visitors to the blog.  Some of those visitors left comments, a few at the blog, but many more on face book.  One of those comments was left by Janice Smith Urban with a link to a wonderful website containing many photographs.  The photographs used in this blog are from the Collection of Brenda McLain, courtesy of Kim Fowles, with post card images collected by Kim Fowles, together with images from the Kansas Geological Survey.  I recommend a visit to that website, where specific photo credits are shown and additional photographs may be viewed.  My thanks to Janice, who led me to the site, and to the many others who left comments.

Taken by Stan Roth in 1961, KsGeoSurvey
The face book comments described visits by many people when they were children, and the wonderful old photographs document visits far earlier, judging from the clothing and an old automobile in one image.  Look closely at the photo above to see the three young women in their long, white summer dresses which would have been the fashion from the early 1900s.

The photograph at left was taken in 1961, showing very different dress of the men in the picture.  Compare the condition of the rocks in the two photographs, and notice how the cracks have become more apparent.  The bridge collapsed shortly after the 1961 photograph was taken.

Last week's post included excerpts from an interview published Dec. 5, 1940, in which Sandzen expressed his concern about the stability of the bridge.  He urged the importance of immediate preservation efforts, and, in fact, there were efforts taken for the state to acquire the property as a historical site.  An article in the Barber County Index, dated Feb. 20, 1942, describes passage by the Kansas House, which was sent to the Senate as a joint resolution, directing the Kansas Fish and Game Commission to acquire the Natural Bridge to be supervised and promoted by the state.  Unfortunately, the resolution required acquiring the area described at no cost, and the property remained in private hands.

From Fowles Collection
A detailed description of the bridge by Prof. F. W. Cragin appeared in the 1912 Kansas:  a cyclopedia of state history, Vol. II, p. 336, a copy of which is in the collection of the Pratt Historical Museum.  "The bridge spans the canyon of the creek, here about 55 feet from wall to wall.  The height of the bridge above the bed of the creek is at the highest point 47 feet, at lowest 31, and at middle 38.  The width of the bridge at the middle is 35 feet.  The upper surface of the bridge declines toward the downstream side, but not so much that a wagon drawn by a steady team could not be driven across it."

Children wading under the Natural Bridge
Former Pratt resident Chuck Renner described in a face book comment the creek as being about 4' wide and 2' deep when he was a boy and his father allowed Chuck and his siblings to swim in the water.  Others remembered a dry creek bed, or no more than a trickle of water.

Prof. Cragin's description reads:  "The relief of the vicinity seems to indicate that at a geologically recent time Bear creek here flowed to the east of its present course, and that its waters, becoming partially diverted by an incipient cave, enlarged the latter, and finally were entirely stolen by it, the cave at length collapsing, save at the portion now constituting the natural bridge."  Since present memories of the amount of water in Bear Creek when they visited as children vary, perhaps the amount of rainfall explains the differences.  However, there was certainly water in Bear Creek when the children in the photograph above visited.  (Clothing would indicate the early 1900s.)

Entrance to Havard's Cave
Filley Docent Gary Curtis, upon seeing the Sandzen painting of The Bridge in the "Kansas Ties" exhibition at the Filley Art Museum, described being encouraged by my older brother Clark to enter a cave where Gary became stuck in a narrow passage.  In a 2005 exchange of e-mails between Kim Fowles and David Massey, he described high school boys entering Havard's Cave.  "The tough part was the entrance as you had to lower yourself down into a sink-hole, finally get yourself flat on your stomach and wiggle yourself in for several feet, then it would open up and finally you could stand up.  It was fairly spacious and [I] don't remember how big it was now, but I'm sure it was a lot less than I remember it.  The first fellow that entered it had to have had nerves of steel as there is very little wiggle room at the beginning and its not easy to wiggle backwards if you met something that did not welcome you."  Massey's description sounds as if Gary might have remembered that tight passage into Havard's Cave.  (The photo of Havard's Cave is from the collection of Elizabeth Covington Hoagland, via Kim Hoagland Fowles.)

As for the 'something that did not welcome you,' Chuck Renner may have offered a clue about what that could have been.  His face book comment described a family visit when his sister jumped from the car ahead of the rest of the family and nearly stumbled into a pit with at least twenty rattlesnakes in it!  Chuck had never seen so many rattlesnakes at one time, and he has never forgotten what he saw that day.  Lee Massey, in the 2005 exchange of e-mails, described a cave that ran from one side of the bridge to the other.  "It was exciting to go thru," she wrote. "I was always afraid of Rattlesnakes.  It was always cool.  There was a ledge along one wall and I was afraid snakes would like it."

Collapsed Natural Bridge, KsGeoSurvey
I have saved the saddest photograph for the close of this blog.  The danger of a collapse from natural causes had long been known.  Perhaps that is what occurred.  However, it is suggested by others that the bridge was dynamited because of the liability it presented.  What is obvious from this photograph is that the place remembered fondly by many people living in this area is gone.  There is no question that trespassing was frequent and risks were taken.  The photograph taken in 1961 shows how the cracks had enlarged from what appeared in earlier photographs.  Liability concerns were reasonable, however tragic the destruction of a beautiful natural wonder loved by so many people and worthy of designation as a State Historical Site may have been if, in fact, it was dynamited.  

Jerry Ferrin may have been one of the last to visit the bridge and to crawl through a small tunnel under the bridge, a tunnel Nancy Smith has early home movies of her father and her grandparents with others "coming out of it, shaking the dirt off, laughing and having a good time!"  In the 2005 exchange of e-mails, Jerry wrote, "Dad had heard the natural bridge was to be destroyed, and took us to see it soon before that was done."  

Sadly, those of us who can remember visiting the bridge now have gray in our hair, and family visits can no longer wade under the bridge and crawl through the caves.  However, all of us can visit the Vernon Filley Art Museum now through November 30, 2014 to see Birger Sandzen's painting of The Bridge, on loan from the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, KS.  Visit last week's blog for more information.

(Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.  Be sure to add comments to this blog if you have memories to share.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Natural Bridge

Near Sun City, Kansas
In the autumn of 1887, Isaac Werner made three trips to Sun City, Kansas to market potatoes.  The market for potatoes nearer his homestead was glutted, but the soil around Sun City did not encourage farmers to raise potatoes.  Of the rugged terrain, Isaac wrote "curious country around here."  To read more about Isaac's trips, visit "The Trip to Sun City" in the blog archives at 2-20-2014.

The photograph at right gives some idea of the rugged terrain; however, one parcel of land was so rocky and rough that people called it "Hell's Half Acre."  The Barber County Index published an interview on October 6, 1927 of an early settler from Kentucky who had come to Barber County to claim land.  During that interview, Green Adams explained why he had chosen such rugged land.  "The first of March 1873 I came to Barber County.  A great many people wonder why I came to Barber county when I passed over so much good land further east.  The reason was because there was plenty of timber and water in Barber County.  As I came from a heavily timbered country I didn't think I could get along without timber."

The land known as "Hell's Half Acre" remained in the Adams family until about 1958, when family member, Bruce Adams, sold the land near Sun City and moved into Pratt.  By that time, many people in the surrounding region knew about a natural bridge and some caves located on the land.  It was not unusual for families to travel there for picnics.  Schools even brought buses of children to visit the natural bridge.

I was one of those school children.  Most of us had never seen a natural bridge, and to our innocent eyes this was about as exciting as a visit to a National Park like Arches or the Grand Canyon.  The existence of this natural wonder spread as far as Lindsborg, Kansas, where artist Birger Sandzen learned of its existence.  He traveled to the site and used the bridge as the subject for his art.  Sandzen's painting is the centerpiece for the special exhibit, "Kansas Ties," currently at the Vernon Filley Art Museum through November 30, 2014.

Sandzen's oil painting  "The Bridge, Pratt, Ks," 1941
A recent visitor to the museum shared the website for the December 5, 1940 Johnson (Kansas) Pioneer, where on page 10 an interview with Birger Sandzen is reported.  Sandzen explained that he had been doing some sketching of the natural bridge, and he urged the importance of stabilizing the bridge to preserve its beauty.  He had observed that rains were weakening the rocks, endangering its collapse.  Sandzen praised the beauty of the area, saying it reminded him of the Grand Canyon.

At the Opening of the "Kansas Ties" exhibition at the Filley on Friday evening, August 22, 2014, many visitors described their own visits as children to the area, sharing clear memories of the wonderous natural bridge they had enjoyed.  Sadly, the bridge no longer arches across the creek bed below.  Although many of us clearly remember the bridge, no one recalled the amount of water depicted in Sandzen's painting.  In fact, several believed the bridge spanned a dry creek bed.

"Kansas Ties" is on loan from the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, Kansas, and along with Sandzen's work, the work of other artists with Kansas connections, as well as connections as friends, fellow artists, and students of Sandzen, are exhibited.  Perhaps best known among those artists is John Steuart Curry, famous  for his mural in the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka with its depiction of abolishinist John Brown.  Curry was included with Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton and Iowa artist Grant Wood as the three leading Regional Painters of the early 20th Century.

While you can no longer visit the natural bridge in Hell's Half Acre, you can visit the Vernon Filley Art Museum to see its depiction in an oil painting and to learn more about the role of Kansas artists during this period.  The "Kansas Ties" exhibition may be viewed through November 30th, and you may even want to join one of the 1st Saturday Docent tours conducted the first Saturday of every month for visitors who come to the Filley at 1:30 p.m..  Visit for more details.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Nearly Forgotten Country Cemetery

Martin Cemetery in Stafford County, KS
Most people driving by on Highway 50 do not notice the small cemetery with its few stones on the north side of the highway.  Busy Highway 281 is just a mile and a half to the east, and the town of St. John is about a mile to the north.

Those of you who visit my blog regularly know that I am fascinated with the history to be found in old country cemeteries.  (See "Finding Isaac's Grave," 1-13-2012; "Visit to Wernersville," 2-16-2012; Woodmen's Gravestones," 3-8-2012; "Naron--an early settler, a town, and a cemetery," 8-9-2012; and "Cemetery on the Hill," 2-7-2013; in the blog archives.)  It should come as no surprise that I asked my husband to stop to explore the Martin Cemetery.

I had learned that the Martin Cemetery was the burial place for early Black settlers in Stafford County.  Isaac's journal mentions a Black hired hand helping plant wheat on land he had rented to a neighbor, and he described a Black speaker at a People's Party rally in St. John.  (See "1st Black Female Lawyer," 3-27-2013 in the blog archives.)  I knew there were other Black families that had come to the area after the Civil War, and I was curious to visit this cemetery.

Unfortunately, few stones remain in Martin Cemetery.  In 2006 Linda Brower and Renee Wright walked through the cemetery and documented the stones they could read, and those were the only stones I found as well.  (See

The newest and most legible stone belongs to married couple George & Dora Hilton.  According to the 1900 Federal Census for Clear Creek Township in Stafford County, they had been married for 2 years.  George was born in Tennessee, as were both of his parents.  Dora was born in Missouri, but her parents were born in Kentucky.  Twenty-five years later, the Kansas census for Clear Creek shows not only their daughter, May L. Hilton, age 16, living with the couple, but also a 5-year-old niece named Sarah M. Martin.  In the 1940 Federal Census, the couple was living in Naron Township, just across the county line in Pratt County, and 20-year-old Sarah was still with them, identified as their "adopted daughter."  Because Sarah was identified as a "niece" in the 1925 state census, I cannot help but wonder if Dora's maiden name might have been Martin.

F.C.H. inscribed stone
Nearby is a small stone bearing only the initials "F. C. H" without any dates.  Since the last initial is "H" it suggests the possibility that a member of the Hilton family is buried there, perhaps an infant that lived only briefly.  However, that is only supposition.

Because the cemetery is known as the "Martin" cemetery, and because the only other stone is of the Martin family, I was curious to see what I might learn about them.

The 1900 Federal Census for Clear Creek Township showed, in addition to Dora and George, four other Black residents.  Lewis Martin, born Sept. 1872 in Illinois, his wife Maud, born 1877 in Kansas, and their 4-month old son Joseph, born in Kansas comprised one household.  The only other Black township resident was William Martin, a single man born January 1877 in the household of John Hart, for whom he was working as a farm laborer.

Family Stone of Joseph & Sarah Martin
However, in Rose Valley Township in 1900, the Federal Census record shows the family of Joseph Martin, born 1827 in Kentucky, his wife Sarah J., born in Kentucky, Son Wilson J., born 1879 in Kansas.  Also in that household were daughter Ella M. Bowen, born 1881 in Kansas, and her daughter Mary A., born 1888.  In the next residence listed on the census was Joanna Gardner, born 1866 in Illinois, her son and two daughters, James L., born 1884, Bessie A., born 1888, and Estella, born 1891, all three in Kansas.  A boarder named William H. Glass was also living in the house.

Tracing Joseph and Sarah Martin's family back to the 1880 Federal Census, I found them living in St. John Township with six children:  Johanna 15; Charles 10; Lewis 7 (See 1900 Fed. Census for Clear Creek Township referenced above); William 4; Missouri 2; and Isaac 3 months.  Only Isaac was born in Kansas, while 2-year-old Missouri had been born in the state after which she was named, indicating that the family had come to Kansas within the past two years.  Also in their household was Mellissa Armstend, described as "mother," age 70 and born in Kentucky.

Stafford County 8th Grade Graduates about 1926
The family stone of Joseph & Sarah Martin is difficult to read (even printed in black & white to enhance the engraving somewhat), but the Martin names recorded from the stone by Linda Brower are as follows:  Joseph, 1828-1920; Sarah, 1831-1906; Wilson I., 1880-1907; Ella, 1881 (only date); and Perkins, 1922 (only date).  

Ella M. Bowen was living at the time of the 1900 census, so the date on the family stone would appear to be her birthdate, with the intention of adding her death date later.  The identity of Perkins does not appear in the census records consulted for this blog.

The arrival of Joseph and Sarah Martin sometime between 1878 and 1880 corresponds with the arrival of many settlers to Stafford County.  The Stafford County 8th Grade Graduation photograph shows Black students among the graduates.  The role these settlers played in Stafford County's history is too infrequently mentioned, and although my brief research of those buried in the Martin Cemetery leaves many unresolved clues, perhaps this blog will encourage others to investigate the history of the community of Black Americans in Stafford County.  

When my husband and I visited the cemetery, there were flowers at each stone, making it apparent that those buried in Martin Cemetery are still remembered.  I hope anyone with information about the Martin Cemetery and those buried there who reads this blog will share their comments.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Emulating Isaac

A man doesn't plant a tree for himself.  He plants it for posterity.  Alexander Smith  

Isaac Werner planted many trees on his homestead and timber claim, using cuttings, seeds, and plants bought from growers.  (See "Isaac Plants Cottonwood Trees," 12-2-2011 in the blog archives.) He also sold some of the small trees he had grown.  This summer I emulated Isaac by transplanting some volunteer seedlings that had grown where they were not wanted.

My transplanted redbud tree
For two seasons I had watched small silver maples growing in my vegetable garden, hiding alongside veggies that I did not want to disturb by digging up the little trees.  There were also two volunteer maples and a redbud tree in an ivy bed next to the house.  Because they were a foot or two tall, my husband suggested that he should probably be the one to dig them up. At that time, neither of us knew that maples are surface feeders with shallow roots.  Redbuds, however, are a different matter.

My husband forgot his offer to dig up the seedlings, and the following spring, I decided I would dig them up myself and find a place to transplant them.  The maples were surprisingly easy, but I had no idea when I began digging that redbud roots are so deep.  The little volunteer was only about 16" tall, but its root was longer than my arm, more like a pig tail than a typical root. I was determined not to cut the main root, and I stubbornly dug for most of the morning.  After a break to eat lunch while water soaked into the hard soil at the bottom of the hole I had dug, I returned to dig some more in the muddy bottom of the hole until I finally reached the end of the root!  In the photograph above, notice that the root begins at about elbow height and the end lays out slightly on the ground by my foot.

A red bud branch covered with seed pods
I know that redbuds thrive in the shade of taller trees, yet I foolishly planted my little tree in a place shaded during the morning but in the hot afternoon sun.  Its leaves turned brown and became as crisp as potato chips before falling off, leaving nothing but naked branches.  

Much to the amusement of my husband and his friends, I refused to give up on the naked redbud, continuing to water it.  I trusted in the long root to save the tree, but after many days of seeing what appeared to be a dead tree, I was about ready to concede defeat.  Just in time, I spotted a tiny speck of green--too small to be identified as a sprouting leaf, but worth continuing to water for a few more days.  Eventually I could determine that it was a leaf, and soon a few more green specks appeared.  It was then that I clipped a white towel to the west side of the wire cage around the little tree, providing it with afternoon shade.  It rewarded me with more leaves.

The row of silver maples in their new cages
I am told that it is uncommon for the seeds from a redbud tree in a cultivated landscape to root naturally, but apparently one little seed found a perfect spot in the moist shade of our ivy bed on the north side of the house.  I have never paid much attention to the redbud seed pods, but they are forming now, and I think I may try planting some of them.  I will choose the planting location more carefully, providing the shade of taller trees to protect the seedlings from the hot afternoon sun, and maybe I can grow more redbuds to join the brave little transplant that I planted in the sun.

Isaac could not have been more proud of his sprouting cottonwood cuttings than I am of my little redbud tree and the five transplanted silver maples.  Because deer rubbed the cottonwoods my husband transplanted last year to death, we put tomato cages with mesh around the little trees to protect them, and this week my husband made proper cages for the growing maples.  My little redbud is still in its tomato cage, but we think all six of the transplanted trees are thriving and will mature along with the new bald cypress trees we bought from the nursery.

Bald Cypress with Hedge Apple tree row
My great grandmother and her son, my grandfather Beck, planted cottonwoods and hedge apples; my parents planted elms.  Their trees are aging, and even the self-seeded elms growing all around the farm are getting old.  We have enjoyed the shade of trees planted two generations ago, so now my husband and I are planting trees for others to enjoy after we are gone.

As long as people plant trees, there is hope for the future in their hearts.  As Albert Schweitzer believed:  Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore.  There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stafford (KS) Opera House

Weide Opera House, Stafford, Kansas
On November 5, 1888, Isaac B. Werner wrote in his journal:  "While eating my breakfast I decided should occasionally enjoy a holiday at least, so got ready & soon took off for Stafford City.  Got there by noon when they were forming the procession for Union Labor rally.  Looked hastily over the town which had improved a little surprisingly since my last trip through there some 7 years ago.  Had some speaking in a hall...  Close to 500 people attending, some 200 women and an enthusiastic audience it was too."

Although Stafford had vied with St. John for the Stafford County seat, it was St. John that won the battle at the ballot box.  (See "Isaac's Victorian Courthouse," 3-29-2012 in the blog archives.)  Consequently, Isaac traveled to the county seat in St. John more often than to Stafford.  Even so, it seems surprising to those of us today who think little of traveling  25 or 30 miles, that Isaac would not have returned to Stafford City for 7 years!

Eventually, Stafford got a new Opera House, but that structure had not been built when Isaac attended the Union Labor rally.  His only description was "some speaking in a hall," so I am uncertain of the building that might have hosted the speakers.  As always, Isaac was encouraged by seeing women taking part in political matters, although they did not yet have the vote.

Interior, Weide Opera House, Stafford, Kansas
The post card images in this blog, including The Weide Opera House, Stafford, Kas. at the beginning of this blog are part of the Yost/Leak Collection and should be credited as such.  The post card image of the interior of the Weide Opera House bears on the reverse side a postal cancellation with the date "1911, Sep 18," although the "Stafford County History, 1870-1990" indicates the building date as 1912.  (The postal cancellation would seem to establish that the construction was completed by the earlier date.) It was clearly an impressive building for public performances.

Unfortunately it fell on hard times and was demolished in 2013.  We are left to imagine what wonderful social evenings the residents of Stafford must have enjoyed in their Opera House in its prime!

(If you missed the blog about the Opera House in St. John, KS, you may visit it in the blog archives at "St. John (KS) Convention Hall & Opera House," 6-26-2014.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My New Landscape

Before Landscapers Arrived
I am slow posting today's blog, but it has been a wonderful day.  Several days ago, we discovered a nursery in Kingman, KS whose owner, Roy R. Riggs, is the third generation of his family to operate the business begun by his grandfather.  John W. Riggs was born in 1887, and Roy's father, C.W. Riggs was a late in life baby born of John's second marriage, so it is almost as if the business has been owned for four generations, based on the number of years that it has existed.

We have enjoyed several beautiful yards, some of which we inherited when we bought a home with an existing garden, and others of which we designed and planted ourselves.  But, until today, we had never had the nursery do the landscape installation.  At 7:45 a.m. Roy called to say he would arrive late morning to begin installing the plants I had carefully selected with his assistance.  I had done the design, but I needed his advice about which plants would work best in my sandy loam soil and the sunny and shady conditions of our yard.  I was already working in the yard, getting ready for his arrival when he called.  I have just come inside from my day involved in the landscaping, and after 12 hours I am tired but delighted.  I decided I would share my day with you.

As you can see from the "Before" photograph above, I have spent many days plugging Bermuda grass from our existing yard into the new area, also building the stairs and raised bed in the picture, as well as installing pavers for the sidewalk and small patio area.  I was ready for some help!

Taking a lunch break
Roy arrived at noon with J.L. and Joseph, ready to unload the plants but inquiring about the closest restaurant.  They had counted on The Hornets' Nest, a wonderful cafe in Byers that has closed, so Larry offered to go to Macksville to get their lunch and bring it back to the farm so they could get started.

By the time he returned, the crew had set all the plants where they were to be installed, and they were ready to take a break before beginning to dig!

My objective was to select plants with colorful foliage, different textures, and a significant number that would retain their leaves or needles year round.  I chose bald cypress trees, two colors of bayberry, two different yews, a spruce and a pine, two different euonymus plants with yellow and green leaves, and two flowering deciduous shrubs--crepe myrtle and hydrangea. 

At day's end
I am thrilled with the result! you can see from my smile as I posed with the crew at the end of the day.  I told them what a pleasure it was for me to stand with my hands on my hips and watch someone else dig, after all my days of sodding the yard.  Actually, it was an even greater pleasure to watch their professionalism and their genuine effort to do a good job and make sure I was pleased.  What a joy to experience a crew who worked so hard to make sure their customer was completely happy.

No, they don't know that I am posting this blog about them, and no, I am not getting a discount for praising their work and their beautiful plants.  But if you want a nursery with over a century of experience and a determination to make their customers happy, you may want to visit Southwestern Nurseries in Kingman, KS...or, (for all my international and distant blog followers), you may just have to wish you lived close enough to be able to do that!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Do You Like Isaac?

Isaac loved Shakespeare
There are a few writers' blogs that I follow occasionally, and one of them is "Live, Write, Thrive."  Recently a post there was titled, "Make Me Like Your Protagonist or I'll Stop Reading."  The advice was directed more toward novels, but I had fun applying some of the advice to my history of Isaac and the Populist Movement.

First, the suggestion was that the character has to grow and change, perhaps learn a life lesson by the end of the book, a technique sometimes called a Character Arc.  I'm going to give Isaac points for his constant belief in the importance of learning.  While he did most of his learning from books, he also learned how to work within his community, directing his attention toward helping others as much as he sought to help himself.  At the end of his life, the lesson that he learned was that even an independent, solitary man must sometimes accept help from others.
Catalpa blooms like Isaac's

Second, the character must have a clear goal.  Double points to Isaac on that one.  His personal goal was to make a success of his farm, and he created a farm described as one of the best in the community.  His social goal was to work with his community through the Farmer's Alliance and the People's Party to make better lives for working people, and while he and the People's Party declined at about the same time, they left accomplished goals behind.

Isaac's friend "Doc" Dix
Third, don't make me wait to like your character.  That's a little tricky, since I start the book with Isaac's funeral.  Yet, the friends gathered at his grave are those who cared about him, who knew the good things he had done for the community, and who would miss him and his thoughtfulness.  Readers won't meet Isaac until the next chapter, but they will get to know him in the Preface through the eyes of his friends.
Isaac's Gravestone

Last, make your character sympathetic by showing his passion, needs, and vulnerabilities.  None of you has read the manuscript, but as you follow this blog, I have showed many sides of Isaac, and I hope by now you are invested in his life and find him a sympathetic man.  You cannot answer whether I have done a good job in the manuscript of meeting these suggestions for developing the main character, but from reading the blog, I hope you can answer the question at the top of the blog!  Do You Like Isaac?

Isaac was not a character that I created in a novel.  He was a real man, with his talents and his flaws, his intellect and his idiosyncrasies.  But, in the end, I've enjoyed spending the last few years in his company.  I definitely like Isaac and I hope you do too!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bibliomaniac vs. Collector?

Bibliomania - a disorder involving the collecting or hoarding of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged...characterized by the collecting of books which have no use to the collector nor any great intrinsic value to a more conventional book collector. 

Having just spent several days boxing up some of my precious books to be stored while we are remodeling, at least part of which construction is motivated by the need to have more bookcases for my books, I might seem to some people who read less seriously or who have converted to reading e-books to be a candidate for the above-defined disorder.  However, I do read the books I buy--or at least intend to read the books someday--and except for the fact that I save paperbacks whose contents are worthy, even if the yellowing pages and dog-eared books are not, my collection does have intrinsic value recognized by other serious bibliophiles.  I think I am still relatively sane in that regard!

Sample of Isaac's handwriting from his journal
I also believe that Isaac Werner acquired books worth collecting.  (See "Isaac's Library," blog archives 2-2-2012.)  His journal from his mid-20s describes how he planned space on his bookcase for future acquisitions, and he consulted a particular book and other publications for recommended reading.  He approached additions to his library very seriously.

Thanks to Marcia Brown, past director of the Pratt County Historical Museum, I now own a book from Isaac Werner's library!  Her sharp eye and amazing memory spotted three books in the recent deacquisition sale at the public library, and she bought them for me, delivering them to me the afternoon of the Filley Grand Opening (See "Arts Thrive on the Prairie," 7-3-2014), making that special day even more special for me! 

All three books bear the library's inventory bookplate reading: "Presented by Dix Collection," and the book titled Among My Books by James Russell Lowell, copyright 1870, bears the inscription "I.W. Werner, Rossville, Ills., May 29th, 1870," a date consistent with Isaac's years in Rossville as the proprietor of a drug store.  I assume that Dr. "Doc" Dix, a close friend of Isaac, may have bought these three books at Isaac's Estate Sale following his death.  Isaac's probate records document the sale of many titles from his library with the name of the purchasers; however, there were so many books in his collection that a large portion of his library was boxed and sold in lots, without the specific listing of titles contained in each box. 

All three books bear copyright dates prior to or during the years Isaac lived in Rossville, when he was doing his most active collecting (having more disposable income as a young druggist than he had later as a struggling farmer on the prairie).  One of the books is McGuffey's New Juvenile Speaker:  Containing more than Two Hundred Exercises for Reading and Speaking, published in 1860, at a time when Isaac was still a student in Wernersville, PA.  Isaac mentions in his journal referring to books on grammar and elocution in his library, which also supports the possibility that this particular book could have been owned by Isaac when he was a young scholar.

The third book is Recent British Philosophy, by David Mason.  There are penciled notations in the margins
A margin note from Philosophy book
on several pages, as well as at the back cover.  I have examined samples of Isaac's handwriting to compare with the margin notes in this book, and many of the letters appear very similar to the style of Isaac's penmanship.  However much I would like to be certain that this book did belong to Isaac and the margin notes are his, I cannot be sure.  You may make your own comparison from the journal sample above and from the sample of Isaac's signature at the opening of last week's blog.  (See "What's in a Name?" archives 7-3-2014.)  

As I shared in earlier blogs, prior to beginning to write the manuscript about Isaac and his community, I bought several books that I knew from his journal that he owned, and I attempted to buy the editions near the time of his acquisitions of the books.  I wanted to see what Isaac was reading in order to understand more closely who he was, and it was obvious to me that Isaac's education did not end with his formal schooling.  His curious mind explored history, art, literature, medicine, and other serious subjects.

In the Commencement Address I delivered this past spring, I told the graduates, "Learning doesn't stop when you leave school, and if each of us isn't learning something new every day, we just aren't trying."   Isaac obviously agreed.  (See "School & Community, Then & Now," blog archives 5-21-2014.)

I suspect there are still Isaac's books to be found on book shelves in his old community, and thanks to Marcia Brown I definitely own one of Isaac's books.  If you have some dusty old books on your shelves that were published in the late 1800s, check to see if Isaac's signature is inside.  I know there must be more of his library to be discovered!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What's in a Name?

Like many prairie settlers of his generation, Isaac B. Werner had ancestral roots in Germany.  Although his surname was Werner, it was apparently pronounced Verner, judging from that spelling having been used occasionally in newspaper references to Isaac.  His signature employed his initials, but newspaper references used his given name of Isaac.  There were apparently some who called him Ike, as he quotes in his journal the words of an acquaintance who referred to him with that shortened version of his name.

We have no control over the names our parents choose to give us, and recent choices are sometimes quite unorthodox.  When the Social Security Administration revealed the most popular names given American babies in 2013, Noah and Sophia topped the lists.  However, the SSA also shared unusual names that were used, including the number of babies given those names.  On the girls' list, 63 babies were named Vanellope, with Happiness (8), Envie (7), and Rarity (7) apparently expressing the emotions of the parents.  Ransom, Sierraleone, and Snowy were each given to five little girls.  Boys were also given unusual names:  Jcelon (10), Tuf (8), Charger, Forever, Kyndle, Power, and Warrior each having been given to 7 little boys.  Sometimes vehicles seem to play a role in the naming, with 5 little boys named Subaru.  We recently met a young girl named Ramsy, who told us she was named after a truck.

Studies have been done on the impact a person's name may have on their character or their future success.  Of course, if a person is so unhappy with the name they were given, it can be legally changed later, but most people adapt to their unusual names. 

Sometimes our names are modified by others.  Laura becomes Lori; Sarah becomes Sally; Barbara becomes Barb; Charles becomes Charlie, Johnathan becomes Jack; and Nicholas becomes Nick,--names shortened, lengthened, and transmogrified by friends and family, with or without the concurrence of the person whose name is altered.  In the past the identity of women nearly disappeared, as for example when Miss Hillary Rodham married and became Mrs. William Clinton.  Those tracing their family's genealogy know how quickly the identity of female ancestors disappear because of that older tradition.  Today, women often retain their maiden names, whether as a middle name, a hyphenated combination of their maiden name and their husband's surname, or as the surname they retain for themselves.

Informally, I prefer to be called Lyn, but for official documents and publications I use my formal name, consisting of my given name, my maiden name, and my married name.  Uncle Sam and some businesses seem to disapprove, insisting on changing my maiden name to an initial, a modification I find irritating.  As an attorney, I had to prepare affidavits to clear title to land (and for other legal matters) when people took title in one version of their name but conveyed the land using a different version.  I want to be consistent about my informal and my formal name to avoid that problem!

Kansas Governor John Pierce St. John
Many governments around the world are inclined to tamper with the naming process.  Among the naming restrictions in several countries are:  prohibitions against using names that imply a title (such as Prince, Princess, King, Major, Sargent, and Knight), unisex names that do not make the gender of the person obvious, names of products or surnames as given names (such as Isaac's middle name of Beckley which was his mother's maiden name), shortened versions of a name (such as Tom rather than Thomas or Tomas), spellings that indicate ethnicity or a religion different from the national majority (such as banning Sarah, which is the Hebrew spelling but authorizing Sara, which is the Arabic spelling).  Some countries oppose names from nature, which would present a problem for several American celebrity babies, such as Apple (Gwyneth Paltrow), Sage Moonblood (Sylvester Stallone), Bear (both Kate Winslet and Alicia Silverstone's sons), and Birdie and Cricket (Marc Silverstein's daughters).  The daughter of Bristol Palin's ex, Levi Johnston, was given the name Breeze Beretta, combining nature and weaponry, while Kanye West and Kim Kardashian named their daughter North West!  (Maybe their next child will be named three-one-five, the compass point for northwest, or maybe they will choose South West for their second child!)   The United States concerns itself more with name changes for concealment of identity or deception than with creative choices by parents.

The city of St. John, KS (Isaac Werner's former County Seat) had been struggling for years, trying to end the practice of the United States Post Office changing their name to Saint John.  St. John was named after Kansas governor John Pierce St. John who served in office from 1879 to 1883.  The official name of the city was never Saint, and the use of "St." is not an abbreviation of that word!  Because of the USPS misuse of the city's name, the error had been picked up by others, such as businesses and schools that did not know the origin of the name.  You might think it would be easy to simply let the USPS know of their error in order to get the practice stopped; yet, that had not been the case.  However, an online petition succeeded quickly when other efforts over the years had failed.  One week after the petition was started, the U.S. Postal Service agreed to change the name in its data base, the only omission being the period after St., because the data base does not include periods.  Bravo to the internet, where voices were apparently heard after the sounds of real human voices and letters had been ignored. 

As it turns out, "What's in a Name?" is not an easy question to answer.  I hope some of you will add a comment to this blog, sharing unusual names among your family and acquaintances.  If you are a grandparent adjusting to an unusual name given your grandchild, maybe you will take comfort after reading this blog that your descendant isn't named Moonblood or Beretta!

Arts Thrive on the Prairie

While my blog of 6-18-2014 declared that "Isaac Would Have Been the First One Inside the Door" when the new Vernon Filley Art Museum held its Grand Opening on June 29, 2014, he would have needed to have lined up early to have been the first visitor!  The crowd began to gather well before the 2 p.m. ribbon cutting, and when Mimi Filley arrived, applause filled the air.


Awaiting Mimi were Stan Reimer, who had worked with her for nine years to establish the museum in Pratt, and two members of the Filley Foundation Board, Chris Himmelwright and Lu Sherer, who were waiting with a festive red ribbon.

As the ribbon was cut, the Brass Ensemble announced the moment with their fanfare!  Musicians were Abby Giles, Peter Weinert, Steve and Brittany Novotony, and Blake Lee.  The crowd formed a line to await entry into the museum, eventually adding their names to the guest book, a document that will forever evidence the huge support the community showed their new museum on opening day.

By the end of the day, estimates of the crowd attending the Open House ranged from 500 to 700 visitors.  Not only had they filled the galleries to enjoy their first opportunity to view the Filley Collection, but they were also treated to entertainment by harpist, Julie Rewerts, from the Stafford community, just one of the communities in the surrounding region served by the museum.  A trio of young fans particularly enjoyed the music!

It was overwhelmingly apparent that support for the new museum is strong.  The museum is located at 421 S. Jackson Street in Pratt, KS and will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday - Friday and from 1 to 4 on Saturdays.  Regular Docent Tours will be available for the public without prior reservations at 1:30 the first Saturday of each month, and arrangements for planned Docent Tours may be made by calling the museum at 620/933-2787 or e-mailing INFO@VERNONFILLEYARTMUSEUM.ORG.  Classes for children and adults are now available, and rental opportunities of the museum are also available by contacting the museum.  Volunteers to help in many capacities have already been of great benefit to the mission of the museum, and more volunteers are welcomed!

In addition to revenue received from memberships and rental of the facility, financial support from individuals and businesses is important.  On Saturday evening a dinner in the museum lobby was held to honor Mimi and to show appreciation to the generosity of early supporters.  A member of the Filley family said that nothing reflected the community support more clearly for her than the willingness of members of the community to loan their fine China for the table settings.  In the background of the image at right can be seen the harpsicord that was used to entertain during the evening.

  At the close of the evening, Mimi Filley and Stan Reimer shared a private conversation, undoubtedly relishing the occasion marking the fulfillment of Mimi's childhood dream and the years of hard work it had taken to make her dream come true.  You may read more about the museum at

(Remember, to enlarge the images, you may click on them.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

St. John (KS) Convention Hall & Opera House

Parade around the St. John, Kansas Square
[You can still read last week's blog about the Grand Opening of the Vernon Filley Art Museum in Pratt, KS on Sunday, June 29th from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the end of the current blog.  This week's blog continues the theme of  the tradition of high regard for the arts in this region.]

On November 3, 1888, Isaac B. Werner wrote in his journal:  "I off on horse back for St. John, there by noon as the U. L. [Union Labor] procession was about forming.  I hadn't time to get lunch but went into rink early for a front seat & soon the house filled & Mrs. Lease of Wichita entertaining the respectable audience for 4 hours on the political issues of the day...audience of nearly 1000 persons attending."

Isaac's journal references refer to "the rink" and "the opera house" interchangeably during this period.  Having seen The Opera House in Willa Cather's hometown of Red Cloud, NE which has been beautifully restored by the Cather Foundation, I know that opera houses did not always have sloped, fixed seating.  I assume that the structure to which Isaac referred had a flat, board floor which could hold chairs for performances or be cleared for use as a roller rink, much like the rink in the movie, "Days of Heaven."

The St. John (KS) Convention Hall
 It was in 1906 that a new brick convention hall and opera house was built in St. John.  The post card image at left is from the Yost/Leak Collection, together with the post card image below, and should be so credited.  The building was 50' x 100' and was built on land located on the northeast corner of the square which had been donated by Dr. C. C. Hoaglin.  It featured a drop curtain, an orchestra pit, and numerous dressing rooms, and traveling plays came from Kansas City and Denver to perform!  School activities and graduation exercises were also held in the building.  (The Opera House can be seen in the background of the photograph at the top of this blog.)

Post card of St. John (KS) buildings
The post card at right, also from the Yost/Leak Collection, shows the Convention Hall & Opera House in the upper right corner.  Buildings featured in previous blogs also appear on the post card, and going clockwise around the card are the 5th Avenue Hotel (See "5th Avenue Hotel," 3-14-2013 and "Postscript to 5th Avenue Hotel," 3-20-2013 in the archives), the south side of the square, the "new" water tower, the school, the mill, the 1st Baptist Church, and the courthouse (See "Isaac's Victorian Courthouse, 3-22-2012 in the archives).

The remodeled Convention Hall & Opera House

Less than three decades after it was built, the structure was remodeled to house the city offices, the fire department, and the library in 1934.  Many people felt that a landmark structure had been sacrificed in the process.  The remodeling was well in the past by the time I was a child, and I have very fond memories of the old library housed there.  The stacks were crowded and the floors uneven, and as I recall, the half-round widows were low to the floor, all combining to make that library an unusual space that fueled a child's imagination.

For others, it was the memory of the Convention Hall & Opera House that stirred their imaginations, remembering the festive occasions and glamorous theatrical productions that were once held there.  However, the older rink and opera house Isaac mentions in his journal seems to have faded from all memories today.