Thursday, February 26, 2015

Staying Warm

Perhaps when you read the title of this blog and then saw the painting of a buffalo you expected a story about the warmth of buffalo rugs, blankets, or robes.  That would have been logical, for their hides were used for those things.  However, this blog is not about buffalo hides.  It is about another gift the buffalo gave to settlers.  No, not meat either.

This gift was known as prairie coal.  The brown disks of buffalo dung deposited on the prairie were known as prairie coal, for once it dried it was burnable.  Trees on the prairie, if they could be found, were too valuable to use as fire wood.  Instead, the earliest settlers gathered the dried buffalo dung to burn as fuel.  

By the time Isaac Werner arrived on the prairie the buffalo were gone and the prairie coal had been exhausted as a fuel source.  Settlers had begun planting corn, and the husks were tied for fuel, the stalks were chopped into shorter lengths to feed into stoves, and the cobs were saved to burn once the kernels were removed.  (See "Corn Harvest, Then and Now," 9-18-2014 in the blog archives.)  Eventually trees were available for fire wood, but for the earliest settlers, prairie coal kept them warm.

(These photographs were taken at the Celestial Seasonings plant in Boulder, Colorado.  Visitors are welcomed for free tours and may also see their gallery of art and tea pots, purchase tea-related gifts in their tea shop, and dine in the cafe which is decorated with delightful murals.  To read more visit )  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Threats to Timber Claims

A fallen Cottonwood tree
It was not that trees could not grow on the prairie.  Rather, it was that the prairie fires that swept across the plains burned whatever seedlings managed to root in the prairie soil before they could mature.  Once settlers arrived, they protected the trees by plowing fire guards around their trees and crops, which reduced the risk.  When fire was seen on the horizon, neighbors rushed to help however they could.  If they had horses, they plowed fire breaks, and those neighbors without horses and implements battled the creep of fire in the matted prairie grass with blankets or the coats off their backs, if that was all they had to slow the fire. (See "Prairie Fires," 11-21-2013 in the blog archives.)

Cottonwood Leaf Beetle
However, it wasn't just prairie fires that were a threat to Isaac Werner's trees. Cottonwood trees attracted two particular pests.  Cottonwood Leaf Beetles cause damage two ways.  The adults eat the leaves, but they also lay their yellow, oval-shaped eggs on the undersides of the leaves, and when the larvae hatch they feed on the leaves.  The risk of these feeding beetles and their larvae is unlikely to kill the tree, but severe infestation can cause defoliation.  

Isaac wrote in his journal that something was eating the leaves of his cottonwood trees, and it worried him.  However, he made no later mention of severe damage to the trees.  Today there are chemical controls available; however, natural enemies of the beetles may be the best protection, and chemicals could kill these predators.  Stink bugs, assassin bugs, ants, wasps, spiders, lacewings, lady bugs, and parasitic tachinid flies are natural enemies of the cottonwood leaf beetle.
Cottonwood Borer

Another cottonwood pest is the Cottonwood Borer, which also uses the cottonwood tree as its host both as an adult and as larvae.  The adults chew the leaves, stems, and new twigs, but unlike the beetles, the borers chew small pits near the base of the trees in which to lay their eggs.  The larvae burrow into the tree, first feeding on the roots and then burrowing through the heartwood near ground level.  As adults, perhaps 2 years later, they chew their way out of the tree and then dig up to ground level.  If the larvae are numerous they can weaken a young tree and cause it to fall in high winds.  As for the adults, their chewing on tender twigs can cause malformation of new branches.  The harm to more mature trees is unlikely to be significant, but since Isaac was growing young cottonwoods from rooting cuttings, his trees may have suffered some damage.  (See "Isaac Plants Cottonwood Trees," 12-2-2011 in the blog archives.)

Cottonwood rotted in the center
However, it was neither the beetle nor the borer that felled the old cottonwood tree pictured at the top of this blog.  Rather, it was rot.  Common rot which starts at the base of the tree and gradually rots the inner core of the tree is perhaps the most common cause of mature trees falling.  The photograph at left is the same tree pictured at the beginning of this blog, and you can see how rot has eaten the center of the tree away.

One day last summer we watched a raccoon climb quickly up an old silver maple tree in our front yard and disappear.  As we continued to watch, the raccoon popped its head out of what from the ground had appeared to be the flat base where a large limb had been sawn off.  Only when the raccoon peeked out of the cavity did we realize that the removal of the large limb had cause the trunk below to rot.  It made a nice nest for the raccoon, but the trunk has been weakened and we do not know how deeply the cavity extends downward.  Our mature row of silver maples may suffer the same fate as the rotted cottonwood. 

(Photo credits to to Whitney Cranshaw for the beetle and Jim Mason for the borer.)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Isaac's Marriage Proposal

Ad from the local County Capital 
When the copy of Edward Bellamy's book, Looking Backward, arrived, Isaac Werner entered in his journal his enjoyment of reading about the main character, Julian West, who awakens in the year 2000, after having been put into a deep sleep in 1887 by a hypnotist.  When the fictional West makes his way up the cellar stairs of his former townhouse, he discovers a greatly changed world.  Isaac writes in his journal that he had to laugh out loud as West encountered baffling social changes, including the fact that women, rather than men, were the ones that extended marriage proposals in the year 2000.

The picture at right taken from the local paper to which Isaac subscribed (and in which his articles were frequently published), shows what a well-attired bride of Isaac's time might have chosen for her wedding.

What impressed Isaac about Bellamy's novel, however, were the descriptions of the amazing new world, with inventions such as credit cards, shopping malls, and electronic broadcasting imagined by Bellamy when the novel was published in 1888 and incorporated into his futuristic world of 2000.

Edward Bellamy at time of  Looking Backward
Bellamy's novel was first published in Jan. 1888 by Ticknor and Company, but Houghton, Mifflin and Company bought Ticknor, and Bellamy had the opportunity to make revisions for their 2nd edition published that same year.  Most modern editions use the second version.

The novel was issued during the Gilded Age, when great disparity existed between the wealthy and the workers like Isaac, whether farmers, factory workers, miners, or other laborers.  (See "Isaac and the Plutocrats," blog archives at 4-5-2012.)  The society of 2000 that Bellamy envisioned was a nation with full employment, material abundance, and a social structure described as "Nationalism," in which all citizens enjoyed benefits on a more equal basis.  Bellamy treated women as equals to men, sharing the nation's work and being paid equally.

Several places in Isaac's journal his belief in women's equality is expressed, so it was to be expected that he would have approved of Bellamy's gender equality society.  He would also have approved of Bellamy's ideas for reducing the social extremes between abundance and want, with opportunity unlimited for those with ambition.  Isaac was not alone in his appreciation for Bellamy's theories.  Across the nation people were forming Nationalist Clubs, the first one having been formed in Boston late in 1888.  Eventually there were more than 160 clubs established for the purpose of implementing Bellamy's political ideas from Looking Backward as a national reality.

Isaac spoke at one of the Farmer's Alliance meetings, sharing some of Bellamy's ideas.  Apparently some of the ladies in attendance decided to tease Isaac about his enthusiasm for Bellamy by challenging him to allow the single ladies of the neighborhood the opportunity of changing Isaac's marital status from bachelor to husband.  Their teasing was published in the County Capital, but Isaac made no mention in his journal of any proposals from his female neighbors!

NPS Photo of Belleamy's house in Chicopee, MA
A few years ago when we were in New England, I hoped to visit Bellamy's house, operated by the National Park Service, but hours were limited and I could not arrange a visit.  Many people alive today have never heard of Edward Bellamy.  Some of his ideas were absorbed into the People's Party, of which Isaac was a member, (See "Politics and Wealth in Isaac's Day," 10-18-2012 in the blog archives), and some of those were adopted by the Democrats, especially FDR's New Deal.  In his own time, Bellamy was widely known, and at the end of the 19th century, only Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin had sold more copies.  Although Bellamy is not widely known today, reviewer Cecelia Tichi believes that "A century after its publication, Looking Backward holds its own as a work of contemporary relevance."  She concludes her review this way:  "His novel engages the continuously vexed relation in American culture between abundance and want, between work and leisure, between ambition and opportunity, and between occupation and identity.  The novel also remains compelling because, in a sense, it speaks to the alchemist in us.  For Americans have never abandoned the mission to transform a gilded nation into an exemplary golden one." (From her Introduction to the 1986 Penguin Classics edition.)

(Each year near Valentine's Day I post a blog having to do with Isaac Werner's flirtations.  If you are curious about Isaac and the ladies in his life, you may go to the archives to read my annual Valentine's blogs.)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Barbed wire, Barb wire, or Bob wire?

Barbed wire against an Osage Orange post
Isaac Werner homesteaded in 1878, when many settlers still regarded the prairie as a land of open grazing.   Farmers needed to fence livestock out rather than fencing their own livestock in.  As more crops were planted, it became the responsibility of the stock owner to build fences to hold his cattle, hogs, and other livestock.  However, during the period of drought in the late 1880s, stock raisers had too little to feed their stock and they became negligent about keeping their starving livestock penned, instead ignoring the trespass of their animals onto neighbors' land in search of forage.

Isaac had particular trouble with Goodwin's hogs.  After spending a day fencing his haystacks, he found his neighbor's hogs back eating his hay.  Isaac wrote in his journal that it might have been better to have gone over to repair Goodwin's fences than to have spent the day building fences around his own hay!

Close-up view of the barbs on a roll of wire
Isaac's only livestock consisted of his horses, occasional pigs, and chickens, and he never mentions barbed wire in his journal.  He built board fences for his hog pens and he would never have used barbs on fencing to keep horses penned, so chances are that his journal references to wire described smooth wire.

Osage orange wood made excellent fence posts, and some people used closely planted Osage orange trees as pasture and pen enclosures, the thorns on the tree limbs making an effective barrier.  (See "Planting Osage Orange Trees," 3-15-2012 in the blog archives.)

Patent drawing for Glidden's wire
The first patent for barbed wire was issued in 1867, with a later patent in 1874 being issued for a modified version more like modern barbed wire.  The history of its introduction is part of the plains narrative of cattlemen vs. farmers.  Barbed wire was the first fencing that could effectively fence cattle in pastures or out of fields of crops.  On the open range, cattle had roamed freely, moving with the seasons to avoid prairie blizzards and to find grass when grazing areas became depleted.  Cowboys were needed to drive the cattle and to round them up.  Fencing ended open ranges in most places, although some western regions still have large areas of open range.  Fences also ended the need for significant numbers of cowboys, bringing an end to the mythology that grew up around the cattle drives.

Another sad use of barbed wire is in war, and the horrors of battlefield barbed wire were especially tragic in W.W. I when soldiers charging out of trenches toward enemy lines became entangled in the barbed wire and were mowed down by machine guns in massive numbers.  Tanks were specifically developed to combat the effectiveness of barbed wire in trench warfare.  In addition to agricultural use, barbed wire can still be seen atop security fences and on prison fences. 

Barbed wire around a pasture
There are barbed wire collectors who collect the various types of barbs.  My father believed he fell victim to an over-eager collector one day as he took down the barbed wire with which he had temporarily fenced a field.   When he finished he put the roll of barbed wire in the ditch beside the field, well concealed by the tall grasses.  He went back to the house for the pickup to collect the roll of wire, but when he returned, the roll was gone.  Only one pickup had driven past as he was working, and because he was only gone a few minutes he always suspected that the man who saw him putting the roll in the ditch had returned for the wire.  He knew the person and also knew he was not a farmer nor did he keep cattle, so he wondered if he had been the victim of a barbed wire collector.  Today few farmers bother using barbed wire for temporary fencing, using electric fences instead.  

Whether you call it Barbed wire, Barb wire, or Bob wire, or as some people in the southeast say, Bobbed wire, this fencing played an important role in taming the Wild West. 

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.