Author Archives: Joan Weaver, Kinsley Library Director

This Is the Way Our Archive Grows

This winter, Cindy Courtier of Altadena, California was digitizing pictures to update the Wilson family history.  Cindy’s husband, Brian Wilson Courtier, and Kinsley resident, Sally Wilson Frame, are cousins and grandchildren of Rose Penelope “Nellie” Maxey Wilson and George E. Wilson. 

            Mrs. Courtier wondered if the library would like a copy of the updated history which is well-written and interesting to read even if you are not related.  She also offered a scanned picture of the Wilson children in costume from the 1912 production of “Midsummer’s Night Dream”.  Of course, we wanted both as that is how our archive grows.  I sent the picture on to Dr. William Wolfgang who continues his research of Charles Edwards and community theaters.   

Jerome (Sally Frame’s father), Lawrence, Fred, Ruth and Bob Wilson in costume for 1912 production of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”.  Picture taken at the fish pond beside the Edwards house, 324 E. Fourth St.

            Mrs. Courtier also mentioned that another descendant, Hal Maxey, had a picture of the George T. Maxey family moving to Kinsley in a covered wagon in 1886.  Hal Maxey is the great grandson of George Taylor Maxey and Clara (Burnaugh) Maxey.  She contacted him and he subsequently sent a scan of the picture to me.  What a family treasure to have this rare picture of their ancestors on their arduous journey west.

Picture taken near Hutchinson in 1886 of the Maxey family on their way to Kinsley in covered wagon.  L to R:  George T. Maxey (father), Rose Penelope “Nellie” Maxey, Lura Belle, Clara (mother) holding son Thomas, Edith, Lydia Jane and Charles Robert.

The picture shows George T. with his wife Clara and their six children beside their wagon near Hutchinson.  Twelve-year-old Nellie Maxey is standing beside her father with their dog who also walked from Illinois to Kansas.  They had left on October 1 and arrived in Kinsley on Nov. 7, 1886.

            On the way, George T. had traded one of their old horses for the mule in the picture.  As they began to trek the last nine miles to their claim, the mule lay down and died one-mile south of Kinsley.  They had to go back to Kinsley and buy another mule to reach their new home in Brown Township.

            The Maxeys would soon move to a place 2 miles west of Kinsley and have three more sons, Harvey (Hal’s grandfather) Oscar and Jessie.  George T. would die at age 57 in April, 1909.  Clara would marry Jacob Rapp in Oct. 1910. All are buried in Hillside Cemetery.

Maxey Family.  Front row, L to R:  Nell (Rose Penelope) Maxey (aka Nellie Wilson and Sally Frame’s grandmother), George Taylor Maxey (father), Clara Maxey (mother), Charlie Maxey.  Back Row, L to R: Oscar Maxey, Lura Maxey, Harvey Maxey (Hal Maxey’s grandfather), Jessie Maxey, Edith Maxey, Tom Maxey, Lydia Maxey.

    On March 26, 1958, when Nellie was 83, the Congregational Ladies Society narrated a skit, “This is Your Life… Nellie Wilson: A Portrayal of the Kansas Life of Nellie Maxey Wilson,” written by Helen Buxton and Nell Lewis Woods. The script was printed in the Kinsley Mercury on April 24, 1958 and is available to read at the library.  Wouldn’t it be fun if the Frame women recreated the skit at an event at the library this coming summer.

            After Hal Maxey sent the wagon picture, he generously wrote: “I did look thru your internet site, and I found it easy to use and obviously shows the work already put into it.  It was easy for me to find my family members when I took a quick look and will definitely return when I get back to it.” 

            On his recommendation, I invite you to also discover all the genealogy and local history resources on the Kinsley Library website.

            And remember, you have stories that happened yesterday or before that we would love to add to our archive.

Fire! Sound the Alarm! (Part 4)

            When the city purchased the two hose carts in 1888, they stored them in a 2-story frame building on the west side of Marsh Ave.  In 1889 the second floor was fitted out as a meeting room for the volunteers, but because the building was in the railroad right of way, it was moved two lots to the south. 

            However, the city did not own this lot, so in July 1896, the hose house was again moved, this time to the east side of Marsh Ave where the Alcorn livery barn had burned down eight years earlier. The 1899 Sanborn insurance map labels it as both the city hall and hose house. The bell tower was moved to its south side and the “lock up” located behind it. 

            No major fire had occurred in Kinsley ever since the Carlin House and the livery barn fires eight years earlier.  But that good fortune ended on July 22, 1896, when a fire started in the bakery of the Kinsley Depot Hotel. Because there was no wind, the help and all the guests with their baggage were able to get out, but it was not possible to save the hotel and all its contents which burned to the ground.  The hotel might have been saved except “Upon arrival of the hose companies on the scene, the building was in full blaze, and the water pressure was so feeble that their efforts to suppress the flames amounted to little.” (Mercury, July 23, 1896) Tests conducted the following week proved that there was an obstruction in the lateral main that the hose had been attached to.

The Depot Hotel was a Harvey hotel and was built in 1881 close by the depot at 213 W 8th St. 
It was destroyed by fire on July 22, 1896 and torn down two years later.  

            The next month, the city looked into the cost of running a wire from the hose house to the pump house whistle at the waterworks. In a subsequent fire, both the bell and whistle were used.

            Besides obstructed water mains, hydrants could also present problems as described in the following article in the Mercury: “Hydrants and pumps in all quarters of the city are taking a rest these days and our city dads should look after the hydrants and see that they are open…. Two severe fires could not be checked on account of the hydrants being frozen up.” (February 22, 1899)  

            In March 1901, the Graphic reported that “The tower which has faithfully supported the city alarm bell went down before the gentle zephyr which visited this section Tuesday.” I imagine that this is a bit of sarcasm about our Kansas wind.

            I began this series on fire when I read about a “fire triangle” being used in 1880.  The city had needed a proper bell for the years since then.  Finally, in 1904 the Graphic reported that “A new fire bell was put up on the city building and the testing operations kept people jumping to ascertain the trouble.”  (February 26, 1904)

The fire bell was purchased by the city in 1904 and is now part of the
Edwards County Historical Society Museum collection.

            In April 1904, the attic of Wilbur Oliphant’s house on Fourth St. caught fire.  Rain the night before and a garden hose slowed the progress of the fire until the volunteers arrived.  However, the north side of town only had the hydrant at the courthouse and the firefighters’ hose was not long enough to reach it.  The fire had to be fought without access to the city mains but was kept to the second floor. The fire and water damage necessitated the family, suffering from measles at the time, to move in with relatives until it could be repaired.   The editor of the Graphic wrote, “This fire again calls attention to the fact that a fire plug should be placed on Fourth Street west of the one at the court house square.”  (April 22, 1904)

            By 1906, the Kinsley Mercury began advocating for a decent city building as “There was no place for the city police court, justice court of the township, place for the fire company to meet or place for band practice.  What is more, the city fire apparatus is housed in an old wooden building, a perfect fire trap, where it is entirely unsafe…. Our city fathers meet in a room that would disgrace an Indian village and if a citizen in town interested in the doings of the council should come in, he could not find a chair or a place to sit.” (July 13, 1906

            A decision was made to build a new cement building, 24’ X 50’ which ended up costing $3,300 of which the band boys gave $100, the Woman’s Club loaned $500 for five years without interest, and a Business Men’s Base Ball Game contributed $100.  The new building was completed the end of October, 1907.  The first floor housed the firefighting equipment and firemen’s uniforms and a good jail room with steel cages in the back.  The second floor consisted of a good-sized hall for police and justice courts, room for their records in a fire-proof building and a decent place for the city council and others, including the Band Boys, to meet.

This City Hall and Fire Station was built in 1907 of gray concrete block with a “rock face” and had a green shingled roof.  After the 1941 high school fire, the library was located on the second floor until a new city hall, fire station and library was built in 1954.  This building was torn down in 2014.

            The Mercury proudly wrote, “The new City Building is a credit to the town and speaks well for the work and enterprise of the present mayor and council.” (October 25, 1907) And that old frame hose house got moved once more, and I assume for the last time, to Jim Alcorn’s farm.

Fire Alarm! (Part 3)

By February 15, 1888, the water mains and hydrants were working, but it had not been done without some controversy.  Kinsley had two newspapers at the time: The Kinsley Mercury and The Banner-Graphic. They often offered different views on the subject of the day.  Both papers had supported the waterworks project as evidenced in this colorful defense the Graphic made when attacked by the Mercury.

            “We want it distinctly understood by all parties, either born or unborn, civilized or uncivilized, Barbarish, Caucasian or otherwise, regardless of previous condition or past servitude, that we are and always have been in favor of the water-works.” (Graphic Dec. 16, 1888)

            The attack had come when the Graphic editor criticized the city council on water main and hydrant placement. “Oh it’s a very fine scheme to be a councilman and have mains built through your yards and along the thoroughfares of your back alleys” when the rest of the north side got none.

            He wrote “Almost ever since this town has had an existence (1873) there has been an ill feeling between the people of the north and south side…. These people say ‘give us something, if nothing more that plug two inch pipes,’ but the all-wise and ever to be adored council tells them that such a line would be of no value, that it would only be dead water, and offer a thousand other unplausible excuses” of why they will not do it.  Except for the courthouse area near the waterworks, the north side of town was not provided with water mains, not even to the north side school on First St., to save it from fire or keep the trees from dying during the hot summers.

A water main was not run to north side school, built in 1877,
at the location of Lincoln School on First St. 

            Two hose carts had been purchased and the Eagle (south side) and Elk (north side) fire companies were formed.  Both carts were stored on the SW corner of Marsh Ave and 5th St. In 1889, the council fitted out a room on the second story of that building for the firemen to meet. This location turned out to be within the Santa Fe Railroad right-of-way, so the building was moved two lots south in 1890.

            On Feb. 15, 1888, when the water was turned on, a trial test occurred.  “The north side fire company made a run of one hundred feet, attached the hose to the hydrant, and started a stream of water in five seconds.”  (Graphic, Feb. 17, 1888)

            Then as now, fighting fires was dangerous and required training and practice to pull the carts and hook up the hoses to the fireplugs.  The very next month, “George Burt met with quite a painful accident …while out drilling with one of the hose cart companies.  It seems the boys were running with the cart when one of the wheels struck an obstruction, and all hands letting loose, the tongue flew around striking Burt in the side, breaking his watch to pieces and badly bruising him.” (Mercury, March 29, 1888)

A stand pipe to create the necessary water pressure for the mains was located
at 504 W. Sixth St. where the city waterworks remain located today. 

            By the end of the year, city councilman and fire chief E. M. Boies had taken “a great interest in drilling the boys, who in turn have confidence in him.  As showing the efficiency of the ‘laddies’ a ‘test case’ was made last Thursday.  An alarm of fire was sounded in the afternoon when all the members of the company were scattered about town engaged in their various occupations.  At the first tap of the fire bell the boys dropped whatever business they had in hand, and in just two minutes, by the watch, they had taken out engine No. 1, hauled it two blocks and had a stream of water flying, and in just seven minutes they had the second engine out and hose attached to a hydrant, ready for business.”  (Mercury, January 17, 1888)

            The Elk Fire Company appears to have disbanded by the fall of 1888.  Two attempts and a petition to revive it were turned down. The city remained with only one company and two carts until 1896 when the Elk Company was reorganized. 

            The call for a more adequate fire alarm that could be heard all over town continued and was answered sometime between 1890 and 1893 when a bell tower appears behind the hose cart house on the 1893 Sanborn map. There had been discussion that they use an extra bell from the north side school and perhaps this is what happened.

The Blanche House (located west of Palace Theater at 219 E. Sixth St.)
was saved by the volunteer fight fighters on March 6, 1894.

            On March 6, 1894 the Blanche House (219 E. Sixth St.) caught fire and the boys “promptly ran out the hose carts…unreeled the hose from the nearest hydrants and two minutes after the first tap of the bell had a stream of water playing upon the fire.”  The fire was quickly brought under control.  “The damage was very slight but the possibilities were immense.  Our citizens who sometime complain of the water works tax can especially derive an ‘object lesson’ from the occurrence, for had it not been for the water works the city would undoubtedly have had the most disastrous fire in its history.  Too much credit cannot be given to our volunteer fire department for the prompt and through way in which they did their work, although Bob does say that he thinks it was entirely unnecessary to turn the hose on him.  However, ‘all’s well that ends well.’” (Graphic, March 9, 1894)

            So many interesting fire-related stories and history in the 1880s, that news of a proper bell and fire station will again be postponed another week.

#71 Fire Alarm! (Part 2)

            Part 1 of this series described a fire-plagued week in Kinsley in early January, 1880.   When the Hart home burned to the ground that week, over one hundred men carried buckets of water to prevent the buildings and nearby prairie from catching fire. 

            The next month “The city fathers erected an engine house on the square and bought an engine and a hook and ladder truck.” The “square” referred to was the triangular block formed north of Sixth street and enclosed by Colony Ave., Marsh Ave. and the railroad tracks.  Besides the ladders, this truck probably carried axes, pry bars, picks, and leather buckets.

            A “hook and ladder” describes a roof ladder that had spring loaded hooks on the tip which could turn perpendicular to the ladder so it could lay flat.  The hooks would then grab the roof ridge and hold the ladder in place enabling firefighters to work off the ladder with better footing on steep pitched and wet roofs. These ladders, as well as poles with hooks, were also used to pull down burning material to keep the fire from spreading.

            The March 13, 1884, issue of the Kinsley Mercury describes the most destructive fire in western Kansas to that date.  It was started by a spark from a locomotive as it was nearing Offerle.  It was spread by a “hurricane” wind from the south which changed from the west, so that the flames “swept eastward in the direction of Kinsley with frightful rapidity leaving only death and destruction in their path…. houses, barns, windmills, farm implements, hundreds of cattle, grain and feed were lost.”  A number of people narrowly escaped death and many were seriously injured.  If the wind had shifted again, nothing could have saved Kinsley, but it ran one mile north of Kinsley and on east.  The words in the Mercury echo down to us this winter, “There is nothing much worse than a big prairie fire when it once gets under headway with a high wind behind it.”

            This series will be making use of Sanborn maps which are detailed maps of U.S. cities and towns in the 19th and 20th centuries. They were created to allow fire insurance companies to assess their liability. The October 1884 Sanborn map describes Kinsley (population 500) as having nothing but ladders and buckets for fighting fires.  There was no steam and no hand engines, no independent hose carts, and no water facilities.

Detail of Marsh Ave. area on 1884 Sanborn map.   Designations in red added for clarity.    Sanborn maps are freely available on line from the Library of Congress.

            When the Weeks’ Elevator burned to the ground (located in area of present elevators) the following appeared in the December 11, 1886 issue of the Kinsley Mercury: “We hope that this will arouse the people of Kinsley to the danger they are constantly in of being burned out of house and home.  The city is large enough to build water works without their cost and maintenance being a very burdensome tax.  If we do not have them built, the day will surely come when those who are opposed to the measure will stand beside the blackened ruins of their business houses or home and bitterly repent when it is too late.”

            The city council responded and seven months later, on July 7, 1887 a bond issue to install water mains and hydrants in the city was passed nearly unanimously.   Work began laying the mains in November.

            On December 1, 1887, the Carlin House hotel was set on fire by an arsonist and burned to the ground.  It was located on Marsh Ave about where Fireside Realty is today.

One of Kinsley’s hose carts is preserved and on display in the Edwards County Museum.

            That month, the city ordered two hose carts and 1200 feet of 2 ½” hose.   The plan was to keep one cart on each side of the railroad tracks. Two volunteer hose companies would be organized: Eagle Company on the south and Elk Company on the north.  The carts arrived on February 10th.  The city also purchased two “elegant fire trumpets” which the fire chiefs would use as megaphones to instruct the volunteers. 

Two fire chief trumpets, probably like this one, were purchased in 1888.

            On February 15, 1888 the fire hydrants were in place and the water mains were turned on.  However, this did not save two large livery barns owned by Ed Watrous and W. P. Alcorn when on April 12th another nighttime fire, perhaps started by a tramp, burned them down. They were located just north of where the Carlin House had been on Marsh Avenue. 

            The fire was not discovered until both stables were ablaze.  “The fire companies were on the ground fully 10 minutes before there was pressure sufficient to throw a stream of water, and for a while it looked as if the row of frame buildings on the opposite side of the street would have to go.  One building did catch fire, but fortunately by that time the water from the mains was available.”  Eighteen horses, 18 head of cattle, feed, and implements were lost.       

            The next Sanborn Insurance map in 1888 shows that progress had been made to fight fires in growing Kinsley, population 1000.  The map reports that there still were no steam and no hand engines, but two independent hose carts (or reels) and ladders were now located in a building on Marsh Ave (Frame Law Office today).   

            Sometime in the 1880s an “inadequate” bell had replaced the iron triangle for the city fire alarm.  There is mention of it on the roof of the Edwards and Nobel dry goods store which is Circle K Auto Parts today.   Coincidentally, our fire chief Larry Myers owns that building as did his fire chief father, Niles, before him. 

            The story continues next week with the addition of a proper fire station and bell.

#70 Fire! Sound the Alarm! (Part 1)

“There has been new developments in the mystery of who tried to fire the town a week ago last night (January 9, 1880), nothing to assist in pointing to any one with suspicion has transpired, and yet that there was a villain in this town bent on wholesale destruction of property…. is a certainty.  Who he is, is the mystery and may heaven have mercy on him if the mystery be cleared.  Monday morning (January 12) a passing engine set fire to the prairie, and hard work alone saved considerable hay belonging to N. L. Mills.  Monday evening the residence of Mr. L. V. Lewis took fire and with his household furniture, burned to the ground.   Mr. Lewis and his wife at the time were sitting in the house, and were not aware of danger until it was too late to even save their wearing apparel.  Tuesday morning (January 13) a prairie fire came up from the south, and would have made its way into town with a certain loss to property, had not the citizens turned out and fought it out.   Tuesday afternoon the residence of S. S. Hart, with nearly everything in it, burned to the ground…. Mrs. Hart and Mrs. Gregory were sitting in the kitchen sewing, when the smoke from the roof of the house blew by the window.  Almost the same instant, and before they could move, some men who had seen the fire, broke the door open.  It was but a few minutes until a crowd of men were present and doing what they could to get some of the furniture outdoors, and in doing so got the doorway blockaded so that the ladies could not get out.  By this time the fire and smoke in the house was unbearable, and seeing the peril they were in, the ladies broke the sash out of a window, but before they could get out they fell fainting on the floor, and were dragged out by gentlemen from the outside.  At the time of the fire there was a high wind blowing from the south, and it was with considerable difficulty that the buildings on the north nearby were saved, as burning shingles were setting the prairie on fire and lighting on buildings for some distance.  We should judge there was over a hundred men busy carrying water and doing what they could to prevent buildings in danger from catching fire….

Reproducing this one article nearly in its entirety from the January 17, 1880 issue of The Valley Republican seemed to be the best way for me to convey the prevalence and fear of fire in early Kinsley. 

Since its founding seven years before in 1873, fires had been a constant threat.  In March, 1877 an earlier arson attempt was reported in the Edwards County Leader.  “The office of Messrs. Flick & McCanse was entered at night by some fiend in the shape of a human, and a slow fire started…. This scare caused the citizens to organize a system of night watching.”      Kinsley organized its first volunteer fire company in December, 1878.  The 26 volunteer members were only equipped with a wagon with buckets and hook and ladders

Early in 1879, the city purchased 12 large fire extinguishers for $30 each.  Eight were distributed around the city and four were assigned to the fire company to be carried with their ladders.  The city had a public well located in the middle of the intersection of Sixth St. and Marsh Ave. where water could be drawn for bucket brigades. 

1909 postcard of Sixth St. which still shows the water well or cistern at the intersection of Marsh Ave. 

In March 1879, the Kinsley Graphic advocated for the acquisition of a fire bell.  It was not purchased before a major fire broke out on April 20, 1879, and all 28 businesses on both sides of Sixth St., from Marsh St. to Niles Ave, were set ablaze within twenty minutes. Nothing could be done to save these businesses due to strong wind. However, every man and woman fought hard and kept the fire from spreading to the surrounding homes, businesses and prairie.   The losses were estimated to be from $75,000 to $100,000 with only $11,000 of insurance coverage. As a result of this fire, many of the new business buildings were constructed of brick.

The following month, The Valley Republican wrote, “There is an organization of a fire company in the city, but with nothing to work with except a ladder or two that is kept at Berkely’s carpenter shop over west of the railroad, which could not be gotten to before a building had time to burn down, can be of little more advantage than no organization.  This city needs an effective department equipped to do effective work.  A department in name will do at all times except in time of fire.  Our experience has been dear.  Let something now be done to avoid a second calamity.”

Probably busy with rebuilding, not much was done until after the week of fires in January 1880 that began this article.  Then the city council set about reorganizing the fire company. 

The Valley Republican reported an alarm system being establishedon May 8, 1880 where “That large tri-angle in the engine room is to take the place of a fire bell.”  Now the sound of that clanging iron triangle would cause every man’s heart to palpitate with alarm as he was called to fight a fire.

The story of volunteers, fire alarms and equipment will be continued next week.

#69 Odd Fellows Convene in Kinsley – 1912

Recently Ed Carlson who grew up in Kinsley purchased some Kinsley Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) memorabilia on eBay.  My father belonged to this fraternal organization which is similar to the Masonic Lodge with degrees and secret rituals.  You may have seen their symbol, a 3-link chain, on gravestones at the cemetery. 

            I.O.O.F goes back to the 13 century in Europe when men of different labor guilds organized for the purpose of aiding each other.  They were called “Odd Fellows” because unlike the Masons, they  came from different trade guilds.  

            I.O.O.F were to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead, and educate the orphan.”  The 3-link chain reflects the I.O.O.F motto of “Friendship, Love and Truth”.  It was the first fraternity in the US to include both men and women when in 1851 it included the Daughters of Rebekah for the ladies’ companion organization.

Frank Milloway I.O.O.F. Ribbons

            The first settlers in Edwards County already belonged to the I.O.O.F. when they arrived here. On June 14, 1877, men met in Kinsley and within a year they were organized into five lodges in the county.  It was the most popular fraternal organization in Kansas and early on established orphanages.   

The Kinsley High School band leads the I.O.O.F parade up Sixth St. on April 26, 1912.   Mark Parkhurst is identified with an X as the trombonist in front.  In 1912, starting on the east end of Sixth Street and moving west, the businesses were:  Namur Garage, Graphic, Gonder Warehouse, Dinkens & Russell Cleaners, Evans Hardware, Elite Theatre, People’s Store. Popp’s Meat Market, Leonard Jewelry, Geer Grocery, and the OK Lunch Room.
I.O.O.F members stand in front of northside of Sixth St.  In 1912, starting on the west end at 110 Sixth St. and going west, the businesses were:   Green’s Lunchroom, Goldschmidt’s Hardware, Rex Woods Clothing, Goddard & Mairs Drug Store, Schnatterly Jewelry, DeMain Drug Store, Ehlers Mercantile/Farmers & Merchant Bank, and the Electric Light Company.  Note that Rex Wood Clothing (116 E. Sixth St., former Farm Bureau Building) was a 3-story building and the I.O.O.F held their meetings on the top floor.

            Among the collection of pins, medallions, and ribbons that Carlson purchased were postcard images of downtown Kinsley captured on April 26, 1912 during a parade organized by West Lodge No. 150 and Kinsley Rebekah Lodge No. 411.  That day marked the 93rd anniversary of the establishment of I.O.O.F in the United States by Thomas Wildey in Baltimore in 1819. Eight hundred Odd Fellows and Rebekahs from all over southwest Kansas attended the day-long meeting. 

            Carlson surmises that the memorabilia belonged to Frank Milloway (1871-1941) whose I.O.O.F portrait was with the collection.  Frank Milloway had worked for the railroad.  He married Anna Doerr, the daughter of Jacob Doerr of Larned. 

Frank T. Milloway in his I.O.O.F regalia.

            In 1906 he moved his family to Kinsley to a home just east of the Catholic Church.  He managed the Moses Bros. elevator and then the dry goods department of the People’s Store (213 E. Sixth St., antique store lot).  After it burned in 1911, he went across the street to manage the dry goods in Timken Store (212 E. Sixth St., Extension Office).  In 1913 the Milloways moved to Dodge City where Frank managed the dry goods department of Locke Mercantile Co.  He’s buried in the Doerr family plot in Larned. 

            I.O.O.F remained an active organization here and in Lewis for many years.  I am not sure when they disbanded.  If you know that or have any other information, please let me know so it can add be added to our files. 

#68 A LaRue Christmas Story by Joan LaRue Weaver

Christmas is a season for memories, for telling family stories, old stories from the past and new stories created recently.  These stories may be happy, funny, sad or even tragic.  Perhaps you have story about your great grandfather or a new pandemic Christmas story.

My mother and father told family stories.  I was young, and I only half-listened to many of them.  My parents died over twenty years ago, so now I wish I had paid more attention.  Perhaps you have that same regret.  I am lucky, however, in that some of their stories were written down and preserved for me, my children and grandchildren.  

As we move into a new year, I am getting on my old soapbox to encourage you to tell and preserve your family stories.  One thing I have learned from conducting over 80 oral histories and writing a weekly article is that everyone has stories that are interesting and worth preserving.

Think about the connections you have to your old family stories.  You may have photo albums, diaries, scrapbooks and letters that provide a window to the past.  Future generations will not be so fortunate. Today’s letters have become emails and text messages which are not printed.  Photographs are now digital images on devices that get lost or cannot be retrieved on a new computer which no longer accesses floppy discs or CDs.  Super 8 movies and VSH recordings already can’t be watched without migrating them to newer technology.  Even the word processing software I used some years ago to retype an old diary is now obsolete.  This article contains three pictures my father took in the 1950s using slide film that had to be digitized and then printed.  These are just some of the reasons that it is important to print what you want to preserve for the future.

New Year’s Day is a good time to make a resolution to begin preserving your family stories.  You don’t have to write a long memoir – just write recollections whenever you have a little time.

The following is one of my memories that I offer to you as an example of a simple story from my childhood.  Maybe it or the accompanying pictures will spark a memory of your own that you can share with your family.    

It looks like I received a cowgirl outfit, a Christmas doll and a nurse’s kit in 1951. I do remember taking the doll’s temperature that day only to have the toy thermometer fall into the doll’s hollow head causing a rattle she never recovered from.

“When I was four or five years old, I vividly remember one Christmas Eve.  Having been warned that Santa would not come if we were awake, my two older brothers and I had been sent upstairs to bed.  However, we had no intension of going to sleep.  Instead, we crawled under my brother’s bed and gathered our heads around a cold air register positioned directly above the hallway below.  Because we didn’t have a fireplace, my brothers knew that Santa would have to come in the door and down that hallway to reach the living room where the Christmas tree and our stockings were.  Giggling with anticipation, we peered down through the holes of the register awaiting Santa’s arrival.

It wasn’t long before we saw the top of the fur-trimmed red hat go bobbing past below. We scrambled out from under the bed and tore down the stairs to see Santa standing with mom and dad in the living room.  He gave us our presents, wished us a Merry Christmas and left back down the hallway.

John and Brian LaRue in their new cowboy outfits are taking care of the bad guys in 1950.

Happily, I began playing with my new doll house, but my worldlier brothers started to doubt that it had really been Santa Claus.  They insisted on going out into the yard to look for the reindeer tracks and sleigh marks.  Mom and Dad tried to discourage them, but they bundled up in their coats, boots, scarves, and mittens and headed outside.  I was too young to go and had to be content to watch from the window.

After years of seeing deer tracks on the beaches of Lake Michigan, my brothers were experts.  It wasn’t long before they came trudging back through the snow to assure Mom, Dad, and myself that they had definitely seen the reindeer tracks.  It had been the real Santa! And that is why, to this very day, I know Santa Claus exists.  My big brothers proved it!

Diane LaRue on her jumping spring horse in 1953. 
This Christmas her grandson Gene is riding the same horse in Michigan.

#67 Dear Santa…

            “Dear Santa” is the hope-filled salutation that children begin their letters with each December.  This year, like every year, Santa is sharing some of his letters with the Edwards County Sentinel.  This tradition appears to have begun in 1922 with the Kinsley Mercury.  What children wanted back then and they want now has changed.

            One hundred years ago, many children asked Santa to bring them a book – a request that warms the heart of this library. 

            Nearly every child asked for nuts, candy and oranges for Christmas.   I can remember my mother (who was born in 1913 into a family of meager means) told me that she always got a fresh orange and nuts.  If you found an orange in the toe of your stocking it was considered a real treat, a luxury shipped in from some faraway place, exotic place called Florida. 

            Oranges also may have been inspired by a legend of St. Nicholas who once gave three gold balls to a poor man whose daughters couldn’t marry because he couldn’t afford their dowries.   The tale says that St. Nicholas tossed the gold balls down the man’s chimney, where they ended up in the daughters’ stockings, which were drying by the fire. Later in history, people began to honor this story and the saint by gifting oranges instead of spheres of gold.  Santa always gave me, and later my own children, an orange in our stockings.

            A survey of some of these early letters finds that little boys wanted Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, cowboy suits, and steam engines.  Many requested some type of gun, from cork guns to Buck Rogers toy guns, to BB, pump, and shot guns.  There were requests for skates, sleds, electric trains and bicycles.  Keith King wrote, “I want a farm, I’ll take a boat.”

LA favorite toy for boys in the 1930s was a Buck Rogers ray gun.

            In 1922, Harvey Shafer asked for a “basketball bladder” which harkens back to a time when the outside of a basketball was stitched leather that covered a rubber bladder inside. 

            Many little girls in 1934 and 1935 wanted a Shirley Temple doll.  I wonder in the midst of the hard economictimes how many were disappointed on Christmas morning?   Other girls wanted rubber dolls with moveable eyes, doll buggies, doll dishes.  Four Centerview girls (Marcia Brown, Marcia Dimmick, Enola McClaren, and Valeta B. Derley) all wanted xylophones. I wonder if that was their favorite rhythm instrument at school. 

Every girl wanted a Shirley Temple doll in the 1930s.

            In 1933, Norma C. Lewis wrote, “I am a little girl and I have tried to be good.  I wish you would bring me a Teddy Bear and a set of dishes.  Also a table and 4 chairs if you will have room in your sack for them all.”

            Seven-year-old Junior Kleysteuber reflected on the times when he wrote in 1932,  “Dear Santa, I hope the depression has not hit you, like it has most of us, for I would like a few toys, and candy, nuts and oranges.  Don’t forget mother and father.”

            Today’s child usually does not hide the disappointment whenever a gift of clothing is unwrapped.  Not so, back then.  Requests for overcoats, shoes, gloves, caps, overalls, and slippers all appear in the letters.  Lida Mae Titus wanted something a little more special, “a fluffy dress”. 

          Many of you are familiar with the quotation, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” that New York Sun editor, Francis Church, famously wrote to answer a little girl’s question in 1897.  Twenty-five years later, Kinsley also had a newspaper man, Jay Baugh, defending Santa.  He was a member of the KHS Class of 1922 and the editor of the KHS Breezes (school newspaper). 

Jay Baugh, KHS Class of 1922

Jay also wrote for the Kinsley Mercury.   In the Dec. 21, issue, he wrote the following:

 There is a Santa Claus
The Letters on Another Page Prove It
He Will Reimburse Them in His Own Good Way 

            “Who can read the letters to Santa Claus from the kiddies of this community, that are printed in this issue and then have the audacity or the nerve to tell the youngsters that there is no Santa Claus, and that Christmas is a joke?

            “Each of those letters tells its own story of love of the unseen—the mythical—and of undaunted faith that can not be destroyed by the mere words of mere men—that exists in the minds of each of those young writers.  The simplicity of the faith that each one has unconsciously expressed in his letter to “Santa” is really great in its portrayal of the childhood dreams, desires and general trend of thoughts.  It gives a far keener insight into the personality of childhood than any grown person can write, regardless of his authority. 

                “We have heard people say that it is rank foolishness and deception to allow children to believe that Santa Claus is really in existence, but it is that to try to destroy that belief, for he does exist in the mental form.

                “Santa Claus is a mental being, the symbol of love and fellowship—in short, everything that tends to make men love one another.  What matter if he doesn’t come down the chimney?  That doesn’t prove that there isn’t any Santa Claus.  It is only the fancy that makes the mental status comprehensible to the mind of the child.  If he were told that Santa Claus was a mental being, he would know even less about it than he did before, and his faith in everything, including humanity, would be shaken, due to the doubts which would fill his mind.

                “Tell the kiddies there is a Santa Claus who represents all that is good.  They like to hear it and you will like to tell it to them.  You will be building the foundation upon which, in time, the essentials of real manhood and womanhood will come to exist.”

                Jay graduated and became the youngest newspaper editor in Kansas when he purchased the Montezuma Press in 1923.  That year he married his high school sweetheart, Ethel Payne, a junior at KHS.  They had one child before she died in 1926. 

                Jay would move on to Montezuma and own the Johnson Pioneer.  His career spanned 50 years and earned him the title, the “Dean of Southwest Kansas Newsmen.”  He died in January, 1973 and is buried in Dodge City.

                The Kinsley Board and staff hopes that all of you find an orange in your stocking and that you have a very Merry Christmas and the Happy New Year

# 66 More Turkey Tales

            I decided to go down another turkey trail this week.  After Marcus Coover read last week’s article, he brought in a Kansas Turkey Champion trophy that Glen and Mildred Bidleman won in 1939 from the Kansas Poultry improvement Association.  A little polish and elbow grease brought out the inscription and shine of the silver plate.  The trophy had been passed down to Marcus by his step-father, DeLos Bidleman, Glen’s son.   This trophy is just one of many trophies and plaques that the Bidlemans won for their turkeys during the 1930’s and early 1940s.  It will be at the library this month if you would like to see it.

Trophy reads:  “Kansas Turkey Champion, 1939, Mr. and Mrs. Glen Bidleman, awarded by the Kansas Poultry Improvement Association.”

            In the course of conversation, Marcus also recalled a more modern turkey farm which was located on the southern edge of the football field in the early 1960s.  I had to laugh when he said that during football practice, those big white birds would run up and down on the other side of the fence chasing the plays.  That would have been fun to watch.

            My curiosity was aroused to know the dates of this turkey farm.  I decided to inquire at the local coffee group that meets every morning at Kinsley Drug.  As usual, the guys were a font of information.  Harold Burkhart and Jerry Froetschner remembered the 20-acre turkey farm being owned by a Don Fourier.  When he sold the land, the two families had bought it from him.

            Harold knew his family owned the land sometime before the June, 1965 flood.  His dad was running a few cattle there at the time.  The flood took out the shed, and when the water remained about a foot deep for a couple of days, three cows sought higher ground on Mrs. Hargadine’s porch.  He remembered having to go and chase them off and herd them over to the old sale barn by the overpass. 

Harold Burkhart looks on as Bill John Bidleman admires his Uncle Glen Bidleman’s trophy during coffee time at Kinsley Drug last week.

            In order to better pin point the dates of the turkey farm, I visited Cheryl Proffitt and Melinda Habiger at the Edwards County Register of Deeds office.  The ladies researched in the big volumes and were soon able to tell me that Fourier had purchased the land in 1961 and sold it in April, 1965.

            I then quarried my go-to local history guru, Ed Carlson, and he came up with a November 22, 1964 article in the Great Bend Tribune which told about the Fourier enterprise.            

            Don Fourier was hired as the Kinsley Co-operative Exchange farm field man in June, 1961.  He purchased the land and was began raising one-day-old birds under 20 brooder stoves.  A maximum of 400 baby turkeys were able to be kept under each stove. In 1964 he raised 5,000 turkeys for the fall market.

            Kinsley no longer had the turkey processing co-op Glen Bidleman had started in 1936., so Fourier’s birds were transported and processed by poultry packing plants in Fairview, OK and Gibson NE.

            Fourier, like the Bidleman’s before him, entered his birds in competitions.  In the 1964 State Turkey Show in Wichita, he took a sixth and a third place.  The later 30-pound winner was sold at auction for $68, considerably more than the $8.70 it would have brought at the time in the grocery store at 29₵/lb.

            I have described this research “trail” to show how “it takes a village” to preserve our community’s history.  When Marcus Coover brought the trophy to the library, it helped me uncover and preserve a little more history.  If one of my articles brings to mind a memory, a picture in your family album, or some vintage object, share the story with the library.  Both myself and the readers will enjoy any tidbit you can add to the Edwards County story.

#65 Pearl Harbor – And an Aftermath Story

This article contains information written by my father’s cousin, DeLos A. Seeley, who was in Waikiki, Hawaii before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  At that time, DeLos was the civilian assistant city planning engineer, but he would be put in charge of coordinating the burial of the dead immediately after the attack.  The following is part of the letter he wrote to one of my high school students on January 30, 1986.

“There was much concern here in Honolulu about a possible Japanese attack in the weeks prior to Dec. 7th, 1941.  I had been asked to be a block warden – just in case – so on the night of the 7th, I went around my block being sure that everyone had their house lights off or concealed (autos had to drive without headlights until special headlight covers were issued).  The Red Cross and civilian hospitals had prepared extra bandages.   But somehow, the military wasn’t as ready.

I was living at Waikiki Beach (about 10 miles from Pearl Harbor) – having come to the Islands four years before to take my first job right out of college (University of Michigan).  At the hotel where I was living there were some military officers living there also.  The attack took place just before 8:00 a.m. (Hawaiian time).  There was considerable noise and for a while we thought the whole thing was just a continuation of some war games that had been held during the previous few days.  But someone noted that the gun fire from over Pearl Harbor was black (the real thing) and not white smoke used in the games.  Also, the officers soon got phone calls and quickly left.  Another fellow at the hotel had his own small plane and had gone to his airport (located next to the harbor) for an early morning flight (it was a beautiful Sunday morning).  He returned to the hotel about ten o’clock to report that the airport (military as well as civilian) and the planes had been strafed by the many small planes with the “red sun” emblem on their wings (the Japanese aircraft planes).

Our local radio stations began reporting what was happening, what everyone should (and should not) do, etc.  Once they asked that all the able-bodied men report to the beaches and waterfront to help set up barriers since it was thought that we would soon be invaded (but, of course, we never were).  The call for help was cancelled almost immediately when huge traffic jams resulted.

Some of our planes had left California that Sunday morning on a routine flight to Hawaii – it took all day then for the 2300 miles.  There was some confusion when they tried to land that evening at Pearl Harbor airbase – at least until everyone learned what the situation was….”

Included with the letter DeLos sent was a Dec. 6, 1984 article by A. A. Smyser, a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.  Smyser wrote about DeLos’ report to the Navy and his recollections on the week after the Pearl Harbor attack.  This is a little-known story of what the attack left behind.

In the Navy report, DeLos wrote that at 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 7, only a few hours after the attack ended, the cemetery in Nu’uanu Valley received a request to open 25 graves in an area called Navy Plot.  Within a few minutes the Navy Hospital at Pearl Harbor called for 35 more.  Forty men were assigned to dig the graves and worked until night.  The following days found sixty sailors and other Navy work crews added.  DeLos assisted in coordinating this work.  By Friday, Dec. 12, the number of burials reached 341, including 13 Japanese aviators.

It was not in the official report, but DeLos recalled that the inclusion of the Japanese precipitated a work stoppage among the grave diggers until there was assurance that the Japanese would be interred separately from the other dead.

Speed in burial was considered essential because of sanitation and health problems but some body bags were racked up in stacks until adequate wood caskets arrived, and foul smells developed. Some of the first caskets were hurriedly built and were too small to handle some of the bloated remains from Pearl Harbor.

Extreme care was taken in retaining proper identification of the bodies and in marking the graves.  Identification numbers were stenciled on all caskets and stakes bearing the same numbers were placed above the graves.  The bodies of the 13 Japanese were identified alphabetically – J-A, J-B, J-C, etc.

Delos also said he did not include in the report that the Navy did not have sufficient flags to cover the caskets and Cmdr. Houston reluctantly used flags from a department store.  There still were not enough to have one for each burial.

All of the remains buried by the Navy described in this report were later relocated to graves elsewhere on the U.S. mainland, in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located at Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii and in Japan. 

DeLos would go on to serve during the war as a staff sergeant in G-2, Army intelligence.  He worked as a design engineer for the Army in the creation of the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Honolulu.  During his career he was instrumental in overseeing development of many of Oahu’s parks and scenic attractions and retired as the deputy director of the Honolulu Parks and Recreation Department.  He died in 1999 at the age of 84.