Thursday, November 20, 2014

Farming experiments

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


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

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


Testing moisture absorption in different soils


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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Isaac, the Autodidact

Autodidacts - people who have been partially or wholly self-taught.  Auto didacticism is self-education or self-directed learning.


Anton's Classical Dictionary 
In my Commencement Address to the MHS class of 2014, I told the graduating students, "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."  (See "School & Community Then & Now," 5-21-2014 in the blog archives.)


Isaac was an autodidact.  Although he was still attending school at the age of 17, a rather long period of schooling in the mid-1800s, he continued to study independently for the rest of his life.  His library was extensive and wide ranging.  (See "Isaac's Library," 2-2-2012 in the blog archives.)  Occasionally he read fiction, but the primary focus of his book collection was educational.  As I explained in earlier blogs, I purchased several of the titles in his library, choosing older editions near the publication dates of books he would have purchased.  (See "Bibliomaniac or Collector?" 7-17-2014 in the blog archives.)  

Sample pages from Anthon's Classical Dictionary 
I thought it would be interesting to share some of the books he chose to purchase.  The ones I will include in this blog were not light reading, but they do explain why his neighbors on the prairie came to Isaac to have him draft contracts and other documents and also trusted his ideas shared in various community and county organizations of which he was a member.  He was a genuine scholar on the prairie.

The book pictured above, by Charles Anthon, is an example of the reading Isaac chose for himself.  Its title, the Classical Dictionary, containing an account of The Principal Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors and intended to elucidate all the important points connected with the geography, history, biology, mythology, and fine arts of the Greek and Romans, together with An Account of Coins, Weights, and Measures, With Tabular Values of the Same, is enough to indicate the serious content of this 3" thick, 1,451 page reference.  The author was professor of Greek & Latin languages at Columbia College in New York when the book was published in 1847.  The text is closely printed in small font--not a book for the casual reader!

Sample pages from Fiske's Classical Antiquities 
Isaac's interest in classical literature is also apparent from his purchase of Classical Antiquities by N. W. Fiske, a professor at Amherst College.  This book includes classical geography and topography, classical chronology, Greek & Roman Mythology, Greek Antiquities, and Roman Antiquities.  Included are 32 plates, such as the illustration from the pages shown at right, which include maps, landscapes, ships, helmets, and tools, among other images.  First published in 1843, the book I bought is the 4th edition, published in 1869, an edition which Isaac might have owned.

Cooper's Justinian
Further proof of Isaac's self-education about the ancients is the presence of a scholarly volume of ancient Roman law, The Institutes of Justinian, with notes, by Thomas Cooper, professor of chemistry at Carlisle College, published in 1852.  The book I purchased is an original printing from 1852, bound in leather.  The text includes the original Latin alongside the English translation.

Not only history but also languages were of interest to Isaac, and his journal records books he bought to teach himself modern languages.

Missouri's Columbia College professor, Ahoo Tabatabai, born in Iran, explained that in Farsi their are two words for "student."  The translation for the word used to identify students K-12 is "knowledge learner;" however, once an individual enters college, the word for student becomes "knowledge seeker."  What a wonderful distinction between our youth, when we must acquire information to enable us to understand our world, and our later maturity, when we must begin using that information to reason and expand our knowledge. It is clear that Isaac Werner was a knowledge seeker long after his formal education ended--a serious autodidact!


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






Thursday, November 6, 2014

Isaac's Crockery

Crockery Butter Churn with Lid
When the Administrator of Isaac Werner's Estate retained three neighborhood men to inventory and appraise Isaac's personal property, they recorded the following:  3 pieces of Crockery, 25 cents, and Crockery Ware No. 6, 90 cents.

My Grandmother Beck had a ten-gallon crock that was passed to my mother.  Every summer Mother would fill it practically to the brim with sliced cucumbers to make 3-day Lime Pickles, placing a lid on it to contain the contents.  The finished jars of 3-day lime pickles stood in rows on the shelves in the basement that my mother filled every summer with canned vegetables and plum jelly.  She tinted the pickles with food coloring a bright green, and my father loved them.  My favorite pickles were the dill spears she also canned.

I don't recall the crockery butter churn pictured at left, and I believe my mother may have bought it in a yard sale after I was grown and no longer at home.  I don't recall ever churning  butter, but it is probable that Grandmother Beck used a butter churn for her large family of seven children, so perhaps this churn was at the farm when I was a child, collecting dust and cobwebs in storage somewhere.

Isaac Werner never had a cow, but he did record in his journal that he sometimes traded the potatoes he raised for butter churned by neighbors who lived in Livingston.  How he used the crockery that the appraisers of his estate inventoried is unknown, but crockery was a part of most settlers' households.

Small sampling of broken crockery discovered at farm
Pottery manufacture began early in the settling of America, potters' clays of different types available in many regions.  Red-burning clays were easily found near the surface and required simple kilns and equipment.  Buff-burning clays with a finer texture came later, and by the 1800s factory wares were available.  Studying the names of early towns provide indications of pottery making, with names like Potter's Creek and Jugtown.

In 1895 when the appraisers inventoried Isaac's property, they referred to "crockery;" however, that term was not being widely used in the 19th century, according to the source I consulted, when pottery was the preferred term.  Today the predominant houseware of the 19th century is generally called American Stoneware or stoneware pottery.

When I was digging weeds and digging and planting Bermuda grass this summer, I found many pieces of crockery that had been discarded by my family, a few of which are shown in the photograph above.  Salt-glazing is typical on American Stoneware, but Albany Slip made from a clay peculiar to the Upper Hudson Region of New York produces a dark brown glaze.  My great grandmother, Susan Cummings Beck was born in New York State, and although I have no clues from which to identify the manufacturer of the pieces of crockery I saved, I do have examples of dark brown glaze on some of the pottery shards.

Both the 10-gallon pickle crock and the butter churn pictured in this blog have the Western Stoneware maple logo.  The Monmouth Pottery Company in Monmouth, IL operated from 1894 to 1905, and by 1902 they were using the maple leaf design with the company and town names on their wares.  In 1906 Monmouth Pottery sold to the Western Stoneware Company of Monmouth, IL, merging with seven different stoneware and pottery companies that used the logo of Western Stoneware and the maple leaf, differentiating among the seven plants by using the plant number on the stoneware produced in each individual plant.  Obviously the crock pictured in this blog was produced in Plant 5.  Eventually there were plants in ten different locations:  one each in NY, NJ, and MD, three in VA, and four in PA.

To read more you may want to consult http://www.corzilius.org/Narratives/PotteryInAmerica.htm and http://web.extension.illinois.edu/buildingec/stories.cfm?CategoryID=9707.   There are also many photographs on the internet of pottery currently offered for sale to collectors.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What's Old is Always New Again

Charles Darwin
After enduring years of debt and struggle, Isaac Werner finally had put that behind.  Unfortunately his financial achievements were eclipsed by his failing health, and he never fully enjoyed the successful farm he had created.  His struggles during the Gilded Age bear much in common with today.  In his time, the disparity between the post-Civil War wealthy men like Jay Rockefeller in comparison to factory laborers, miners, and farmers like Isaac was a new social disparity for Americans, our early history having been primarily a population of working people of similar means producing materials sent to England for manufacture.  It was during the Civil War that the steel mills, factories, railroads, and manufacturing began to change the social landscape of Americans markedly.

Ward McAllister
Charles Darwin's Evolution of the Species was distorted by some to justify a social view never intended by Darwin.  John D. Rockefeller's words reveal this attitude:  "The growth of a large business is merely survival of the fittest.  The American beauty rose can be produced in the splendor and fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it.  This is not an evil tendency in business.  It is merely the working out of a law of nature and a law of God..."  Like-minded men of the Gilded Age had little pity for the squalor of immigrant families enticed to America for cheap labor in factories, miners facing daily danger, and farmers struggling to raise crops for which railroads charged unregulated shipping fees to get the farmers' produce to markets.
Jacob Riis

During this time, journalist Ward McAllister wrote about the extravagant lifestyles of wealthy families, describing the centerpiece for one obscenely opulent dinner in the ballroom of Delmonico's at 14th Street in New York City in 1890 as a:  "...long extended oval table, and every inch of it was covered with flowers, excepting a space in the center, left for a lake...thirty feet in length, enclosed by a delicate golden wire network reaching from table to ceiling, making the whole one grand cage; four superb swans, brought from Prospect Park, swam in it, surrounded by high bands of flowers of every species and variety...[and] above the entire table, hung little golden cages with fine songsters..."  The only thing Isaac had in common with the wealthy guests at this dinner was their mutual pleasure in the music of songbirds!
Political cartoon from 1890s

At the same time McAllister was writing about the wealthy, journalist Jacob Riis was exposing the misery, starvation, crowding, graft and political corruption of NYC's tenement district.  His book, How the Other Half Lives, was published in 1891, including photographs of the desperate conditions of working class families.

Then, as now, the wealthy used their riches not just for mansions and extravagant lifestyles but also to influence politics, and the People's Party, of which Isaac Werner was a member, included laborers, miners, and farmers in a political movement to confront the wealthy at the ballot box.

An interesting article, "Who Rules America:  Wealth, Income, and Power," which can be read at http://www.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html, defines wealth as what is owned minus what is owed, and points to the advantage of great wealth with financial resources available to spend on more than is needed for a comfortable life--those additional resources giving them power.  The article describes the United States as a "Power Pyramid," with the "...top 10% having 85 to 90% of the nation's stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity...It's tough for the bottom 80%--maybe even the bottom 90% to get organized and exercise much power."

Political cartoon from 1890s
The article supports this relationship between wealth and power with four examples.  First, they are in a better position to make "...donations to political parties, payment to lobbyists, and grants to experts who are employed to think up new policies beneficial to the wealthy."  Second, "...stock ownership can be used to control corporations, which of course have a major impact on how the society functions."  Third, that power can also lead to more wealth through political influence at local, state, and national levels.  And, fourth, the opportunity to do the things that money can buy--whether access to better health, safer jobs, more travel and leisure, among other privileges--becomes a power indicator in itself. 

Both major political parties in America today reflect the influence of power by the wealthy.  Yet, the recent effort by the Senate to act legislatively to change the decision of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case shows a definite split between the parties.  That case, which allows massive spending and influence by corporations and unions through Political Action Committees, has magnified the need for campaign finance reform, something about which most Americans agree, regardless of political affiliation.  The Senate vote attempting to overturn the effect of Citizens United received a majority vote but failed to reach the 2/3rds majority needed when not one single Republican voted in support, despite strong support for overturning Citizens United among Republican voters.

Political cartoon from the 1890s
The impact of Citizens United is nowhere more apparent than in Kansas, Isaac's old political grounds.  According to an article published in The Huffington Post on October 25, 2014, since Senator Pat Roberts's failure to break a 50% majority in the Kansas primary, "Spending by super PACs and dark money nonprofits has exploded by at least 560 percent since then, fueling what will end up being the most expensive Senate race in Kansas history.

Aggravated by the bombardment of political ads on television, I became curious about who was funding them, and my informal observation was consistent with the Huffington Post reporting.  "The biggest spender in the race is Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC founded by the Koch brothers, which has paid out nearly $2 million attacking Orman.  Koch Industries, the private company owned by the brothers, is based in Wichita, Kansas, and has long backed Roberts.  Its employees and political action committee are the leading funders of the senator's political career."  A review of Sen. Roberts's voting record shows that he has been a "forceful opponent of campaign finance reform" and a leading opponent of disclosure of donors contributing to nonprofits.

When I began reading Isaac Werner's journal, I was naturally interested in what he wrote about farming and the social life of early settlers on the prairie.  However, what intrigued me were the many political similarities of his time with our own.  (See "Isaac and the Plutocrats," blog archives April 5, 2012.)  Isaac and other farmers and laborers came together to confront the wealth and power of Wall Street and corporations (which had become even more powerful then through trusts and monopolies).  It seems that the impact of wealth and power vs. the one-man-one-vote ideal of the American democracy is an ongoing political issue! 

Remember, to enlarge the cartoons to enable reading the labels and captions, click on the images.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Solid Foundation

Isaac Werner's Dream Home
Glued inside the cover of Isaac B. Werner's 480-page, leather-bound journal was the picture of an elaborate Victorian house, the image at right.  When he came to the Kansas prairie in 1878, his first two homes were earthen dugouts.  Most early settlers lived in dugouts, cave-like homes tunneled into the ground or the side of a hill; sod homes built of blocks of tough prairie sod stacked like stone or bricks; or shanties, crude structures built of wood.

By the time Isaac's journal began in 1884 he was living in a house built of wood.  He referred to both a basement and a cellar, although it isn't clear whether those references were to a single thing or two different parts of his home.  He also referred to an upstairs, indicating a 2-story home.  However, none of his references indicate anything so grand as the home pictured in the clipping he had glued inside the cover of his journal. 

House and Barn about 1903
Renovating my ancestral home has taught me about early construction methods.  The barn, (top picture at left), built around 1903, had a concrete foundation.  The house, however, was begin earlier.  The bottom photograph at left shows the original house, the part built in the late 1890s.  Typical of many early prairie homes, it consisted of two rooms on the main level, with two rooms above, and a kitchen left unpainted on a simple, open foundation.  Kitchen fires were common, so kitchens were often separated from the rest of the house and built on a simple foundation to facilitate dragging it away from the rest of the house to save the main residence if there were a kitchen fire.  I first learned about this construction practice when we lived in the South, something fairly common there.

I had always understood that the 1890s house had a stone foundation, but I had no idea of the type of stone used.  A recent small addition that uncovered a partial section of the foundation revealed the stone, and  I was surprised to see limestone blocks carefully laid to support the original house.  Perhaps that limestone block foundation explains why the original part of the structure has experienced less settling than the later 1907 construction with a foundation made of the softer concrete of that time.

Stone foundation with a later concrete buttress
An interesting website sponsored by the Bluestem Quarry and Stoneworks near Lucas, Kansas (with information from "Land of the Post Rock" by Grace Muilenburg and Ada Swineford, published by University Press of Kansas, 1975) describes how stone was quarried in North Central Kansas by early settlers.  The rock bed there is near the surface at a fairly uniform thickness of 8 to 12 inches, and when freshly quarried it was soft enough to shape.  As it was exposed to the air it hardened and became more difficult to shape. A typical 5 to 6 foot block, such as those used as fence posts in that region of Kansas where trees were scarce, weighed 350 to 400 lbs.  I do not know where my grandfather and his mother purchased the stone for the house foundation, nor how the stone was transported to the farm, but I was quite impressed to see the old foundation that had been covered by the gradual accretion of soil, hidden from view for a century!

As the fourth generation to live in my ancestral home, I was moved by this quote from John Ruskin (1819-1900), an English writer from the Victorian period whose interests included art, geology, and architecture, and who is currently respected for his ideas concerning environmentalism, sustainability, and craft.  He wrote:  When we build let us think that we build forever.  Let it not be for present delight nor present use alone.  Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, 'See!  This our father did for us.'  



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Politics Hardly Seem to Change, the Sequel



Political cartoon from late 1800s, "How Foolish Men Vote"
With the inundation of political commercials on television, few Americans could be unaware of the approaching elections.  On November 24, 2011, soon after I began this blog, I compared the political issues of Isaac Werner's times in the late 1800s with current issues, posting several political cartoons from that era. People continue to visit that blog, making it one of my most popular posts.  I thought it might be worthwhile to take a fresh look at whether conditions have changed.

The political cartoon at right is also from the newpaper to which Isaac Werner subscribed.  Its subtitle reads:  "The Farmer, Mechanic or Workman Who Votes for Either of the Old Parties is Voting Bread, Meat, Clothes and Money Out of Reach of His Wife and Children."  Many of the political cartoons posted in my earlier blog also address the issue of political influence exerted by wealthy and powerful men, at the expense of other Americans.  Obviously, that issue continues to play a significant role in politics today.  (You can enlarge by clicking in the image.)

I recently saw a chart (See below left) posted on face book, comparing the ratio of CEO pay to regular workers' pay.  Not only is the 354 to 1 ratio between CEO and Worker pay in the U.S. noteworthy, but also the U.S. ratio to what exists in other countries stands out.  While it is true that we are living in a global economy today, the ratio is  uniquely extreme in the U.S.  (The sources used by Maclean's appear at the bottom of the chart.) 

Of course, what struck me, just as it did in my earlier blog, is the similarity of economic disparity during the Gilded Age of Isaac Werner's time with today.  A recent news article about a house under construction in Hillsboro Beach, Florida described its 60,000 square feet built on 4 acres along 465'  of beachfront (with a 492' private dock for a yacht), having 11 bedrooms, 17 baths, a private IMAX theater with seating for 18, a putting green, a 30-car underground garage, and a 139-million-dollar price tag!  Even the millionares' mansions along 5th Avenue in NYC during the Gilded Age and the Summer Homes in Newport are eclipsed by this extreme display of wealth.

Compiled by Maclean's from various source statistics
An article posted on msn.com titled "America's 10 richest people" reported that entry into the Forbes 400 List of wealthiest Americans in 2013 required $1.3 billion to be included.  This year's list required $1.55 billion, and 113 billionaires were excluded from the list.

Within days of reading that article I read that because of the wages paid by Wal-Mart, nearly half of the children of that company's 'associates,' qualify for Medicare Benefits or go uninsured, their family situation being cited as an example of America's working poor.


A recent vote in the U.S. Senate intended to take action against the Citizens United case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court failed, cited by many as an example of money and power defeating the voice of individual Americans.  The barrage of political ads on television right now nearly all have a tiny caption at the bottom disclosing some political action group that paid for the advertising.  The power of money exerted a huge influence in American politics in Isaac Werner's times, and it still does.


Perhaps these kinds of news reports explain why my 2011 blog about similarities our own age shares with the Gilded Age explain why that blog continues to attract visitors.  Many of the Progressive ideas from the People's Party were implemented in the early years of the past century and contributed to the growth of America's Middle Class.  Today's shrinking Middle Class and the economic disparity between America's richest and poorest citizens may have more in common with the Gilded Age than the post-W.W. II years many Americans remember proudly.


I hope you visit "Politics Hardly Seem to Change" in the archives at Nov. 24, 2011.  I think you will find the cartoons and the political comparisons thought provoking, regardless of your own political positions.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Prickly Poppies

Prickly Poppy
Isaac Werner loved the wild flowers that covered the prairie with color every spring.  As for the prickly poppy, which blooms from June through September, he made no mention of it in his journal.

The delicate, ruffled petals of the prickly poppy, and the silvery green of their prickly leaves are rather pretty, but having them in a pasture is a nuisance.  Cattle will not eat them, and they will crowd out other desirable plants.

The plants can grow from 1 to 5 feet tall and are a common plant on the prairie, growing most abundantly in sandy soil.  The presence of these poppies in pastures is often indicative of overgrazing.  They may also be found in flood plains and in locations where the soil has been disturbed.

My father hated prickly poppies.  In the summers, when I was not in school, he would find jobs for me to do around the farm.  To show just how much he wanted to rid the pastures and field edges of these plants, one summer he proposed paying me twenty-five cents for every prickly poppy I pulled, a more generous payment than I received for other tasks.  However, to collect my bounty I had to show the roots dangling from the plant in order to prove that I had pulled the entire poppy so that it would not grow back from roots left in the soil.  That was difficult and uncomfortable work, and I don't remember collecting much money that summer.  

Two undesirable pasture plants
My father nearly eradicated the plants, for he would pause to pull them up by the roots whenever his path crossed one of the poppies.

Native Americans, however, valued the bright yellow sap as a dye for arrow shafts and as a wart removal.  They crushed the seeds to treat burns, cuts, and sores, and they also boiled the plant and used the liquid to treat sunburn.

To learn more about Kansas Wildflowers & Grasses, you may visit the Kansas State University Library at http://www.kswildflower.org/flower maintained by Mike Haddock, who is credited for some of the information in this blog.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Steadfast Tin Soldier, a Sequel

Two Family Relics found during construction
As promised at the close of last week's blog (See "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," 9-25-2014), the discovery of a W.W. I toy soldier opened my mind to the significance of that period of history to my family.  The photograph at right shows the toy soldier beside a glass vase also discovered in the soil as Smiley Concrete crew did their work at our homesite.  (The bouquet is a road-side arrangement I gathered a few steps from the house.)

By chance, I had just begun reading a book titled The Secret Rooms, A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret, which I had purchased because it dealt with Belvoir Castle.  The small village of Branston was part of the Belvoir Estate in Leicestershire, and my grandmother, Lillian Hall, had been born in one of the cottages belonging to the Duke of Rutland in that village.  Generations of the Hall family had lived on the Duke's Estate before my great-grandfather George Hall immigrated to America with his family in 1882, and he continued to correspond and visit with family in England.

Belvoir Castle photographed by LBF during visit to Branston
It was coincidence that the discovery of the little W.W. I soldier at the farm occurred just as I had begun to read the book by Catherine Bailey about the impact of that war on the 9th Duke of Rutland and the tenants of the Belvoir Estate.  The toy soldier had awakened my appreciation for how the war must have impacted my great-grandparents and my grandmother, so imagine my response to this passage in the book:  "...John's [the 9th Duke] regiment had incurred appalling casualties.  On 13 October 1915--the day the North Midlands had lost a quarter of their strength--the Leicestershires had suffered 820 casualties:  the equivalent, almost, of an entire battalion.  Twenty of John's fellow officers had been killed or wounded.  ...  A significant proportion of the regiment's casualties had come from villages on the Belvoir estate.  They were the sons of the butcher, the blacksmith, the postmaster--and the sons of gamekeepers, farmers, estate workers and tenants.  John's father, Henry, the 8th Duke of Rutland, had been Honorary Colonel of two of the regiment's battalions; he had personally recruited a large number of the soldiers."  My great-great grandfather William Hall had been a gardner at the duke's castle!

In July 1915, according to author Catherine Bailey, "...the Lincoln and Leicester Brigade--recruited from the Duke's Leicestershire estates--had lost seventy-five men after a mine exploded under their trenches."  My personal genealogy records of my Hall family do not reflect any names connected with these tragic dates; however, my ancestors must have known several of the soldiers killed or wounded during the battles during W.W. I.

British W.W. I Recruiting Poster
It was not just soldiers who suffered during the war, however. The first Zeppelin raids on England occurred in January of 1915, and the first raid against London occurred on the 31st of May that year.  The psychological effect had more impact than any military advantage.  The raids continued in 1916, and they were reaching into the Midlands beyond London to the north and northeast.  There were only four Zeppelin raids in 1918, and all were against targets in the Midlands and the north.

During a visit to Branston with our mothers, my husband and I had paused in Coventry along the way.  In 1918 Coventry was one of the bombing sites struck by the Zeppelin raids, targeted by mistake in the belief that it was Birmingham.  Obviously, there was reason for fear not only in London but also in villages like those of my own ancestors.

The mention of recruitment of soldiers from the Belvoir Estate by the 8th Duke of Rutland is an example of how volunteers were drawn from local populations.  These recruits then trained together and were assigned to the same units, creating so-called "Pals battalions."  The obvious result was that when one of these battalions suffered huge casualties, entire villages, neighborhoods, and towns suffered disproportionately.  Beginning in January of 1916 with conscription, Pals battalions were no longer raised as before.

Soldiers in KS being treated for the Influenza Pandemic 
 For three years, the United States remained officially neutral, but on April 17, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson committed the US to the war.  By the time W.W. I ended, more than 4-million "Doughboys" had served, with half of them participating overseas.  Government records indicate that "over 25% of the entire male population of the country between the ages of 18 and 31 were in military service."  My little toy soldier was created to depict the service of those men.

The photograph at right was taken of soldiers from Fort Riley, KS being treated for Influenza at the hospital ward at Camp Funston.  This pandemic, often called the Spanish flu, came in 3 waves--Spring 1918, Autumn 1918, and Winter 1919.)  It is called the Spanish Flu not because it originated there but rather because wartime censors minimized reports of the devastating flu to protect morale.  Spain was not engaged in the fighting and their press was free to describe the epidemic's grave impact, giving the false impression that it originated there or was worse in that country.  The result was the pandemic being commonly referred to as the Spanish flu.

1st Edition Cover of Porter's book
It is not certain where the flu originated, but in the US it was first noticed in Haskell County, KS.  It is also theorized that Chinese laborers brought to work behind the British and French lines were the source.  The crowded conditions, malnourishment, and other wartime factors did cause it to spread among soldiers rapidly.  Ironically, death was more likely to occur among healthy young adults for this reason:  their stronger immune systems  attacked the virus and destroyed their own bodies, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and adults of middle age and older did less fatal harm while battling the virus, allowing them to recover.  Of course, this did not bode well for young soldiers.

It is estimated that between 50 and 100 million deaths occurred in 1918 and 1919 as a result of the flu, and the deaths were world wide, perhaps as many as 1 of every 18 people.  An interesting website created by http://ww1centenary.oucs.ox.ac.uk/body-and-mind titled "The 'Spanish' Influenza pandemic and its relation to World War I," has a computer model of the pandemic that allows the selection of variables, such as 'American troop movements' and 'Armistice celebrations' to be changed to see how various conditions may have impacted the spread of the disease.  At any rate, the pandemic paid no regard to national boundaries nor military allegiances in its deadly spread.

It is amazing to me that history that defined an era is so quickly forgotten by future generations.  Yet, I confess that I was not aware of the Spanish Flu Pandemic until after the Millennium when I launched my Great Books Reading Project.  Pale Horse, Pale Rider was one of the books I included on my list of must-read books, and that is where I first learned of the pandemic during W.W. I.  I recommend a feature titled "Why Libraries Should Stock 'Pale Horse, Pale Rider," at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?stirtID=6184364 which captures my feelings about the importance of Katherine Anne Porter's book.  The novella involves a romance between a young woman in love with a young man who returns her great affection but feels duty-bound to become a soldier.  While she fears his death on the battlefield, it is influenza that defeats him.  Author and university professor Alice McDermott concludes her above-cited essay with these words:  "Porter herself wrote that the arts 'are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away.'  We discard voices such as hers [Porter's] at our peril."  As I did the research for this blog, Porter's book, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, sprang to mind, and I wanted to share its significance and recommend it to those who read my blog.

What an amazing journey the little steadfast soldier who waited in the dark earth for nearly a century to be discovered has inspired me to take.  I hope you have enjoyed coming along with me in experiencing those dangerous times in the world's history during the Great War meant to end all wars.  It may also help you to understand the worry and sacrifices your own ancestors endured during that time.  Sharing this story seems particularly relevant in our own war-weary world now facing its own pandemic.  


Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

George & Theresa Hall with Maria & Lillian
I love history, as I declared in my first post of this blog, and I have been an enthusiastic family genealogist for many years. Yet, Isaac Werner has opened my eyes to a great deal of history I might otherwise never have considered.  I hope this blog has shared some of that awareness with everyone who has followed the blog or reflected on my face book postings.  I am disappointed that my manuscript has not yet been published, but I continue to enjoy the adventure for which Isaac has been responsible.  (See "I Love History," 1-3-2012 in the blog archives.)

My Great-grandfather, George Hall, was one of Isaac Werner's best friends, and when Isaac became too ill to live alone, it was the Hall household that first took Isaac into their home.  I believe that is how Isaac's journal, which led to my discovery of the life of this amazing bachelor homesteader, came into the hands of my family.  (See "Finding Isaac's Journal," 10-23-2011.)

George brought his family to America in 1882, settling first in Marion County, Ohio where his son Thomas was born in 1885, and then moving to Edwards County, KS, where youngest daughter Abbey was born in 1888.  By the time of the Kansas Census in 1895 the family was living in Albano Township, Stafford County, KS on the Rattlesnake Creek near Isaac Werner's claims.  Both men were active in the Progressive movement, which probably deepened their friendship.

The baby on her mother's lap in the photograph above is my grandmother, Lillian Hall Beck, born in 1880 while the family still lived in England.  She and my grandfather, Royal Delbert Beck, raised their family (including my father) in the home where I was raised.  Now we are doing some construction on our Kansas home which involves disturbing the foundation of the house on one side.  I have collected several objects during the landscaping and construction, but the discovery by the Robert Smiley Concrete crew near the foundation of what was once the back porch of the house is the most wonderful object we have found! 

W.W. I Manoil Barclay lead soldier
A toy lead soldier about 3 1/2" in length was found buried in dirt where it must have lain for decades.  I guessed from the uniform and the popularity of toy 'tin' soldiers during that era that it represented a wounded World War I soldier, a relic of the Great War.

Immediately I imagined my father playing with the little soldier, and I was eager to do the research to document when these lead soldiers were made.  I learned that Manoil Manufacturing Company in Manhattan, NY, began toy soldier production in 1935-1936, which continued until 1942.  The soldiers are prized by collectors today because of such authentic sculpting of American combat soldiers.  The specific toy that workers found in the construction dirt at my family home is M53 30, Wounded Soldier (Lying).  Most of the figures have a concave base, but because the particular figure our workers found was designed to be lying down, it has no base.  The Barclay Manufacturing Company continued making antimonial lead toy soldiers until plastic toys finally took over the market.

Another example of the wounded soldier
Today there are many collectors of the Manoil Barclay toy soldiers, and examples for sale can be found online, where I found these two images of wounded toy soldiers.  There are soldiers marching, fighting, riding, as well as wounded with their care givers.

Because of the manufacturing dates of these soldiers, it seems less likely that my father or his brother Arthur played with the little soldier I found.  Rather, the soldier may have been part of a serious collection.  Realizing that, I began to think more seriously about how my English grandmother, brought to America when she was very young, and her parents, must have worried about family during the fighting.  George Hall made trips to England several times to visit his family, and he took his son Thomas on one trip and his daughter Dorothy on a later trip.  Family oral history taught me that my grandmother Lillian never got to go with him to England because she was always pregnant with one of her seven children at the time her father planned a trip.

The happenstance discovery of that toy soldier made me appreciate the worry my family must have felt during W.W. I and W.W. II, not only for American soldiers but also for their English family, civilians and those serving in the military.  More about this later...

(One of my favorite children's stories is "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," and there are some beautifully illustrated versions of that story available for young readers.  I naturally thought of that story when I was so respectfully handed the toy soldier by Juan, who understood my family roots in the soil where the little toy had rested for decades.)  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Corn Harvest, Then & Now

Combine & Grain Wagon, 2014
Last week farmers in our area began harvesting dry land corn.  With rain in the forecast, they pulled into the field adjacent to our farm home to begin cutting at dusk as dark clouds approached.

Last year I intended to photograph the corn harvest on Isaac's land, but they cut it at night, and all I was able to photograph were the strong headlights of the combine as it moved through the darkness.  I had photographed the corn a few days earlier, so this post will include images of "Isaac's" 2013 corn, as well as images taken last week in our field.

Isaac had no horse of his own to help him break sod for several years (See "Isaac's Dolly Varden," 12-28-2012 in the blog archives about acquiring his first horse.)  He had to swap his labor in exchange for a neighbor's labor +  horse + equipment to break his sod, and it took a great deal of his own labor as a field hand or carpenter to balance the trade.  With little plowed ground to plant, he planted sod corn right in the unplowed prairie, resulting in poor returns for his efforts.  Eventually he had Dolly, and then more horses, to break sod and to plant his corn in plowed fields.

 2013 Corn on Isaac's old Homestead land
The equipment Isaac used for planting and harvesting his corn was quite primitive and small, especially compared to today's farm equipment.  Interestingly, one thing Isaac and today's farmers have in common is the need for a good banker when it is time to purchase new equipment!  Generations of farmers have needed to borrow the money for new equipment.  The first time Isaac went into debt was when he purchased Dolly and borrowed enough extra to begin buying equipment that could be pulled by a horse.  Prior to that time, all of his equipment was man-powered, and even after he had a horse, he struggled to find equipment that worked well in his sandy loam soil.  (See "Isaac's Farm Implements," 6-21-2012 for a photograph of a Hand Corn Planter.)  When he purchased a corn drill to try, with the option of returning it if he didn't like the way it worked, he found that it dropped too many kernels some of the time and dropped none some of the time.  He returned the drill and continued hand planting.

Cut stalks, cobs, and missed ears, 2014



Today's combines move through a field, cutting stalks, removing the ears from the stalks and the kernel from the cobs before filling the bin with the clean, golden corn.  When the combine bin is full, the corn is augured into the grain wagon on-the-go, so that the combine can continue harvesting the standing corn in the field.  The corn is then transferred from the grain wagon into the larger grain truck waiting in the road to take the corn to market or to store in the farmer's huge grain bins.  (See "What Do I Do With My Crop?--Parts I and II," 1-2-2014 and 1-9-2014.)  For the early homesteaders like Isaac, preparing their corn for market was far more human-labor intensive.

Growing corn on Isaac's former homestead in 2013
Just as the Indians are said to have used every part of the buffalo that they killed, not just the meat and hide, the homesteaders used every part of the corn plant they harvested.  They may have chosen to remove the ears of corn in the field, but most farmers, like Isaac, cut the stalks near the ground and stacked them in  teepee-like corn shocks of bound or unbound bundled stalks for curing or drying.  Before the 1890s, few farmers had a corn binder to cut and bundle the corn into sheaves, and the job was done by hand, one stalk at a time.  Whether the ears were removed from the standing corn in the field or from the corn shocks later, much work remained to be done.

Isaac former homestead planted in a circle of corn in 2013

The corn shuck or husk around the corn had to be removed, a chore called shucking. That exposed the corn, but it remained on the husk until it was shelled, a job that may have been done by hand or with a crude machine.  The farmer would have set aside his best ears from which to save the kernels for planting the next year's crop.  The rest of the shelled corn might have been marketed or it may have been ground to feed his livestock.


Because there were no trees in the early years, the dry corn stalks were cut into lengths to burn as fuel for their stoves.  The husks were tied in knots to slow their rate of burning, and were also used as fuel, as were the corn cobs.  Homesteaders took advantage of every part of the harvested plant in their struggle to survive on the prairie.



The photograph above shows the types of litter that a modern combine may leave on the ground. Often, the harvested fields are fenced for cattle to fatten on the corn that escaped the combine's paddle.  The roots of the corn plant will help hold the sandy loam soil against the onslaught of the strong prairie winds until the soil is cultivated for the next season's crop.



Beyond our new landscaping, a field of green corn, summer 2014
Isaac was a very progressive farmer, and he even invented a 4-horse cultivator to allow one farmer to cover more ground quickly.  There were a few steam-powered combines operating in the fields before Isaac's death, and he approved of the mechanical advances to allow a farmer to farm more acres.  Each generation has increased the number of acres owned or rented on their family farms, so that the number of farming residents in Isaac's old community has sharply decreased as one farmer cultivates more land.  The myth of "Wide Open Spaces on the Lonesome Prairie" that people imagine during the Homesteading Years is actually a better description of living in Isaac's old community today.        

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, http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ksbarber/natbridge.html 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.)