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#7 Celebrating Memorial Day – 1900 Style

Memorial Day is Monday, and many people will spend time at veteran parks and cemeteries remembering those who fought for our country.  The day was first called Decoration Day and was created to remember all the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War.  As the years and wars went by, it grew to include all deceased veterans.   It became a national holiday in 1971. Today it has come to be a time to remember all loved ones who have passed.

The June 1, 1900 issue of the Kinsley Graphic describes Kinsley’s elaborate commemoration of that same year.  The day was beautiful and people “began arriving from the country in all sorts of conveyances from carriage to bicycles.” 

“The march to the cemetery began promptly about thirty minutes after the advertised time” (advertised the week before as 10:30 a.m.).  I can imagine they may have been delayed in order to take the picture accompanying this article.

May 28, 1900. Memorial Day in Kinsley, Kansas. The Demain Pharmacy is the building behind the gathering and is the current location of Twice is Nice.

Groups of walkers were organized at the town’s side streets, and parade organizers were instructed “to cut out bunch after bunch and start (them) along the trail, using care to see that they did not crowd or stampede along the line.”  

That word “trail” jumped out at me as I remember this was a wagon road and not paved at the time.

The procession was led by 31 soldiers and sailors of the Grand Army of the Republic, T. O. Howe Post.  They were followed by a firing squad composed of 14 members of the Sons of Union Veterans and the Kinsley Fire Department, fire marshal and drum and fife corps.

“Twelve flower girls, beautifully dressed in white, carrying baskets of flowers” came next followed by the Woodsmen Lodge.  Finally, “about two hundred teams and a party of bicyclists with decorated wheels brought up the rear.”

“Arriving at the outskirts of the city, the marchers were taken into the wagons and driven to the cemetery (1.5 miles away) where the graves were decorated by the children and salutes were fired by the squad.”

When they returned to Kinsley a program was held at the Congregational Church which included a reading of the Gettysburg Address, several speeches and music by the church choir.  The audience was then called upon to “give the old soldiers the Chicago salute of waving handkerchiefs as the marched out.”

I have deduced from research that whenever women were particularly moved, they would show it by waving their white handkerchiefs.  I am not sure why the editor called this the “Chicago” salute as it seemed to be prevalent during the Civil War, and political gatherings afterwards and by the suffragists.

The next sentence reads, “After a word of thanks by Comrade Blanchard, this was done, making a very pretty closing for a very interesting ceremony.”

And there it is, what is fun for me doing local research.  Last week we learned that Judge Blanchard had been wounded three times and survived a Confederate prisoner of war camp.  He came to Kinsley in 1873 and secured a homestead with his Civil War land grant.

I enlarged the above picture archived in our collection.  Comparing to last week’ picture, I believe I was able to locate him standing on the right end of the front row (just in front of the veteran on the end of the second row.)

I invite you to visit Hillside Cemetery this weekend and see the Old Soldiers’ Monument with many Civil War headstones located close by.

Civil War veteran Judge Ferdinand C. Blanchard is buried in Hillside Cemetery in Kinsley, Kansas.
Hillside Cemetery’s Civil War monument made by David A. Lester was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1917. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was restored and enclosed in a building in 2015.
Civil War military headstone of Robert McCanse who homesteaded north of Kinsley in 1872 as the first white settler. He was a lawyer and served over time as sheriff, justice of the peace and county attorney.

#6 F. C. Blanchard, His Kinsley House and Tribulations

The library has a book, ”Architectural Styles of Kinsley, Kansas”, which was researched by architect Ed Carlson for a bus tour conducted in 2010 and again 2017.  Carlson grew up in Kinsley, the son of Edwards County Sheriff Leonard Carlson. During your stay-home time, I recommend going on a self-guided tour around Kinsley either in your car or easy chair.  The illustrated tour guide is available on the library website and in hard copy. 

Many architectural and historical facts are revealed in this book, and I thought I would highlight a few this week.  However, what usually happens, happened again.  I started reading about one of the oldest structures in Kinsley and got caught up in the story of an early pioneer who once lived in it.

The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad reached this area in 1872 and a settlement called Petersburg began to form.  In March, 1973 a group of men representing the Massachusetts colony from Boston located here.  That summer, they would change the name to “Kinsley” to honor Edward W. Kinsley of Boston.

 Ferdinand Charles (F. C.) Blanchard was among these original settlers.  He would later come to live in the house that still stands on the corner of Second Street and Colony Avenue.  Carlson explained on the bus tour that just the center portion of this house was the original structure built by Newton L. Mills about 1878.  


 “The original house was one room deep and two rooms wide…. The wing to the west (left side) and the two stories to the east (right side) were added later.  On the east side of the original house is another gable.  Normally this side would have been the front of the house with a porch on it.  These early houses were not tied down, weren’t plumbed, and didn’t have electricity.  They were easily moved.  I suspect that when they added the east wing, they rotated the house around (to face south).”

The many trials and tribulations of F. C. Blanchard are outlined in the Edwards County Centennial book (p. 252) and expanded on in early newspaper articles and “A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans”.

F. C. was a Civil War Veteran of the First Missouri regiment and fought in many battles including Vicksburg. He was wounded 3 times and captured by Confederate troops. When he came to Edwards County he took a soldier’s claim.  It is said that he was the first to ply a furrow to plant crops in Edwards County.  His first crop was corn and watermelons.  Worms ate the corn and he had to rely on the watermelon and truck garden crops.

F. C.’s marriage to Miss Katie Martin on October 29, 1974 was one of the first weddings in Kinsley.  Miss Martin, known as a talented musician, had arrived in 1873 in the Boston party and lived with the J. A. Walkers.  She witnessed herds of buffalo passing through the area and helped bring the meat in from the prairie where the animals were killed. 

Mrs. Walker told the story of their courtship.  Our home “had only one room, so the young couple had what was known as a traveling courtship, walking about the prairies.  Mr. Blanchard gave offerings of bouquets of wild onion flowers, and … Mrs. Blanchard was married with wild onions in her hair.  This may seem strange, as we have so many beautiful wild flowers now, but in those days, there was not even grass on the sandhills, and lack of rainfall sometimes caused all vegetation to dry up by May 15th.  Wild onions are the only things that flourish later.”

Mrs. Blanchard related that when they were married, no butter could be had for baking a wedding cake, so they had a sponge cake.   From 1877 to 1896, the couple would have 4 children.

In 1874, F. C. planted 32 acres of corn. “It had reached the stage of roasting ears and one day Blanchard gathered some for dinner.  In the afternoon the grasshoppers came in a cloud and by night nothing was left.” (Centennial book) The following year the crops were destroyed by hail.

The claim was sold in 1878, and the Blanchards moved to a small house with a dugout stable northwest of Kinsley.  Five years later they moved to a timber claim ten miles south of Kinsley where F. C. engaged in the cattle business.  A severe winter killed cattle by the thousand, and he was one of many who found themselves unable to continue their business. 

The Blanchards then moved to a small place north of Kinsley where in March, 1884 a disastrous prairie fire swept away all that remained of his possessions.  “Mr. Blanchard loaded his wife and children, one only three weeks old, into a buggy and ran to a place of safety.  There was no time to hitch up a horse, and he was badly burned by getting the fire in his boots.  Nothing was saved but the clothing worn.”

That was when the family gave up on agriculture and moved to the little house in Kinsley.  Blanchard became postmaster.  Later he took charge of a mill and elevator where he served until it was destroyed by fire.  Then he managed a lumber yard.

Blanchard’s official services in Edwards county began early.  He was elected one of the first county commissioners and was later elected as probate judge from 1891-1915.

“I do not believe we pioneers of Edwards county endured as many hardships as did some of the other early settlers of Western Kansas,” said Judge Blanchard in an interview in the Kinsley Mercury in 1918.  “However, times were hard enough and I am frank to say that I would not grant a repetition of our experiences.  There were years when we hardly knew where we would get food for bare living purposes, but we pulled through those dark periods and I doubt if there is a man alive who breasted the early day hardships who is sorry he remained.”

The hardships that F. C. and Katie endured may help us to put the current pandemic in perspective.  Having lived long lives, F. C. died in 1922 and Katie in 1929 and are buried in Hillside Cemetery. 

#5 A Tale of a Forgotten Trail

     Imagine it’s 1887 and you want to go to Jetmore.  You could have a long horseback ride, or you could climb aboard the stagecoach in Kinsley at 8 a.m. and arrive in Jetmore at 4 p.m. that afternoon. But just where was this trail that you’re traveling on?

In 2016, the library hosted a winter series on immigration which included the early African American settlement of Morton City, located a few miles northeast of Jetmore. While researching, I found reference to the settlers’ arrival in Kinsley in a small book, “A History of Hodgeman County” by Margaret Haun Raser and Ina Rumford:

“A colony of negroes, made up in Kentucky, arrived in Kinsley in March, 1878 on their way to Hodgeman County.  They experienced considerable difficulty in getting their horses released by the railroad because they had no money to pay the freight.  When they were finally able to secure their property, they set out for their promised land on foot and on horseback, singing happily as they trudged along.”

An article in the Winter, 1989 issue of Kansas History described the immigrants in this manner:

“The settlers arrived with few supplies and very little cash.  Since Kinsley … was the nearest depot to the proposed site, the colonists were set down there with no provision for shelter or transportation.  They spent the first night huddled in the small schoolhouse, the only public building in town.  They could see that just beyond the handful of buildings in the village lay the open prairie extending in an unbroken expanse….the colonists left their shelter to walk the thirty miles to what they believed would bring them a new and better life.”

Because the railroad did not go to Jetmore, I was curious to know their route. Working with Rosetta Graff, we discovered an 1889 map on the wall of the courthouse.  It showed a trail going diagonally from Kinsley to Jetmore.  This interested me as roads in Kansas for the most part do not go diagonally. 

About that time, John J Riisoe informed us that the trail went through his property.  He offered to give Rosetta and me a tour of the ruts and creek crossings.  Pictures taken that day are available in John J. Riisoe’s oral history on the library website.  As he pointed the trail out, I realized that we were not in the location depicted on the old map.  Also the evidence of this trail had mostly been destroyed by cultivation.  John J’s information confused us, but I drew in the trail he described on my map.

 Julie Ackerman wrote in her Offerle History book that Mr. and Mrs. Dan Gleason and their five children also had come to Kansas in 1878.  Their Single Bar Ranch is pictured and described as a “stopping place for many a traveler between Jetmore and Kinsley.”  I placed this known trail site on my map.

Rosetta and I then made a trip to the Hodgeman County Museum in Jetmore to see what information they might have.  At that time, they could not help us.  I began to dream of going up in an airplane to see if we could spot evidence of the trail ruts in Hodgeman County.

Fast forward to 2019, when I was talking to good friend and library supporter Marcile King.  She was about to fly off with her son Boyd KIng on another trip.  I’m not known for my shyness, so I asked her to see if he might be willing to give us an aerial tour of the area in his plane that spring. 

Soon I received an email from Mr. King saying he was willing to take us and Dr. Leo Oliva, an expert on Kansas trails, up as soon as there was a good day and time. 

On March 21st he called and said conditions were right.  He flew his 4-seater Piper Cherokee plane to Rooks County Regional Airport to pick up Dr. Oliva and then to our airport so we could board.  We spent the next hour surveying the landscape for evidence.  Flying over Hodgeman County, we noticed it had more pasture and less cultivation.  After much circling and searching, Dr. Oliva and Mr. King thought they had found a place that might be trail ruts.  I added a notation to my map.

Now we were hot on the trail, so to speak.  The next week, longtime Jetmore resident, Duane Shiew, met us and Dr. Oliva at the museum where he serves on the board.  Imagine our excitement to learn that they had recently acquired an early map of Hodgeman County, and the trail was drawn on it!  When the trail left Hodgeman County, it connected right up to where John J Riisoe said it was in Edwards County!  The old map on the courthouse wall was either incorrectly drawn or there had briefly been another route.

Dr Oliva southeast of Stone Post Dairy Rosetta and Dr. Oliva at Shiew rut site.
Road K

Orwell today (H Road and #228) Morton City site (M Road & #222)

#4 Poets on our Patch of Prairie

 “For there are more poets, painters, and pianists to the acre in Kinsley than any place west of Indiana.”  Hutchinson News, October 7, 1937

People usually think of western Kansans as being hard-working, practical farmers and ranchers, not poets. But six years ago, I decided to research what was behind the above quotation for a program in April celebrating National Poetry Month.  It certainly proved to be true.

Among the many amateur poets who live here in the first half of the 20th Century, there were two well-known professional poets:  May Williams Ward (1882-1975) and Nell Lewis Woods (1889-1959).

May Ward was not native to Edwards County.  She came to Belpre with her husband in 1921 and stayed until 1933.  She often came to Kinsley to meet with the other lady poets and to attend Ward Family gatherings at the Fravel House (816 E. Second St.).  Gladys Fravel was married to Vernon Ward, May Ward’s brother-in-law.  One can imagine the parties going on in this grand house in the 1920s. (The house was originally built by Alfred Hobbs and is now owned by the Bill Brokars.)    

May Ward wrote poetry and edited “The Harp” a national poetry magazine.  Ward created over 300 poems which were published in 35 magazines, including Life and The Saturday Evening Post.

Nell Woods came to Kinsley as a toddler and graduated from Kinsley High School in 1908.  She married Rex Woods, Sr. that same year.  By 1926, she had published over 75 poems and over 200 columns for the Kansas City Star under the banner of “Over the Back Fence”.  She was syndicated in the Baltimore News, the New York Sun, the New York Tribune, and the St. Louis Dispatch from 1928-1947. The columns were collected into a book by the same title in 1929

You can learn more about these ladies and eight other local poets by visiting the “Prairie Poets” link in the left menu on the library homepage: You’ll be able to see the ladies’ pictures, learn where they lived in Kinsley and a little about their lives, read some of their poetry and view their tombstones in Hillside Cemetery.

During these last days of April, I invite you to take a few minutes to celebrate National Poetry Month, 2020, by enjoying Mary Williams Ward’s sonnet celebrating the season.

        “Spring Day in Kansas”

This is a day like days in a story book
With glitter in the air that glorifies
The edge and tip of every leaf, and lies
In pools of mirror strangeness on the brook.
Pale trees are deeply shadowed with the look
Of rendezvous, and clouds like turrets rise.
This is a day for knights and their emprise.
Treasure seems probably in any nook.

And I am not a changeling in the tale.
My ears feel pointed.  I can talk in rhyme
Today, and know what birds say in their song.
I'll find a next, I know, here in the swale.
And over this next hill that I shall climb,
The lover I have waited for so long.

#3 A Look Back to Celebrate National Library Week

April 19-25 is National Library Week, and here I am in this empty library building remembering the role the library has played in this community.  It is an interesting story of many relocations and transformations.

Kinsley was incorporated as a city in 1873.  As early as 1885, citizens sought to have a library.  In frontier towns libraries were usually funded and located in district schools and by clubs or organizations.  The later charged a modest fee to be a member and to check out books.  Kinsley had several libraries of this type which came and struggled to exist with fees and donated books and funds.

The foundation of what would become our public library came when the Christian Endeavor Society of the Congregational church placed its library in Misses Mert and Mort Schnatterly’s “Millinery Bazaar” in 1899. Their shop was located where the KSU Extension Office is today.  The ladies sold hats and checked out books. 

When the Schnatterlys retired in 1912, the library moved above the Edwards and Noble Store (present day Circle K Auto Parts) and Margaret Hills took over as librarian.  She is credited in keeping the library going with the support of many women’s organizations raising funds through teas, dramas, concerts, box socials, ice cream socials, fair booths and more.   

But a library needs sufficient, reliable support and so finally a vote for a public library was held on April 3, 1923.  With 303 yes votes to 286 no votes, the Kinsley Library was established.  It is amazing that only seventeen votes brought your library into existence.

The library was moved to the north room of the Kinsley High School gymnasium.  Jesse Fravel and Lillie Riley (pictured) would serve consecutively for the next 16 years.

Some people still remember that in the early morning hours of February 13, 1941, the Kinsley High School burned.  The gymnasium with its library was all that survived.  The 7000 books were literally carried to the upstairs of City Hall at 507 Marsh St (across from the Frame Law Office).  Elsie Jenkins serve as the librarian from 1941-1967 (pictured right).

In February, 1953 another election was held and the Kinsley Mercury headline tells the story.  “City Building and Library Bonds Carry by Margin of Eight Votes.”  For the second time, the library won by just a few votes. On March 22, 1954, city hall and the library moved to their new and present facility.  Sixty-six years ago, those few votes counted, and our community is still reaping the benefit today.   We must be grateful to the library board and the citizens for their forethought.

1954 Kinsley Library Board (L to R) Mrs. R. E. Schnoebelen, secretary; Miss Jessie Fravel; Miss Beulah Moletor, President; Mrs. Vern Rehmert, vice president; Mrs. Don Shaffer. (Standing) W. E. Woodard and Roy Hatfield.

Edna Brown was the library director from 1967 to 1972 (pictured left).

Then Beverly Craft took over and ushered in many changes.  She played an active role in establishing the Southwest Kansas Library System of which the Kinsley Library is a member.  She also supervised the introductions of computers into the library and the automation of the library catalog and check out.  When I took over in 1997 the library was in excellent shape. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention that recently retired librarian Rosetta Graff managed to survive three directors during her tenure.  She really was the face of the Kinsley Library for many years.

Over the years, may people have faithfully served on the library board and I have had the privilege of working for them.  Social distancing would not allow for a picture of the 2020 Library Board which is made up of:  Susan Mathes, chair; Don Stewart, vice chair;  Lynn Schaller, secretary; Bill Keenan, Treasurer; Mike Padgham, Tracy Ritchie, and Fran Jarvis. The current staff includes librarian Julia Butler and library clerk Yaneth Holguin.

So back to where I started, sitting here, alone in this building.  It doesn’t take much to realize that the building, the resources, and even the librarians are not what make up a library.  It is the support of the citizens.  It is you coming and checking out books and movies.  It is you accessing a job application, the 2020 census, or a knitting pattern on the internet.   It is your children being amazed with a story hour puppet.  It is people sharing ideas at a book discussion.  It is learning about women’s suffrage, Kansas Indians, or our local history.  It is students discovering how to find the answer and form an opinion.   It is producing a musical about the Fleagle Gang.  It is creating a painting or an experiment in summer reading.  It is simply just seeing and talking to all of you each day.  As was true in history, it is still the citizens of Kinsley who create and sustain this library.   I thank you for your support and involvement.  I look forward to seeing you all here soon.  And please tell the kids, this June we WILL have a summer reading program, maybe in a very creative fashion.

#76 Liberty Loans and Ruth Law, Female Aviator

In Bertha Schnatterly’s letter published in the Kinsley Graphic on May 2, 1918, she writes about a Liberty Bond parade in Washington, D.C.

“There was a big Liberty Loan parade yesterday afternoon.  All government offices and the private business houses were closed for the event and everyone who had bought a bond was urged to march in the parade.  All government employees especially were supposed to march, but many of them like myself thought it would be more entertaining to watch the rest so begged off.  After watching the parade for several hours, one wondered how it was that anyone was left to watch it, but the streets were crowded.  I stood with a friend on some steps and we had an excellent view of it and watched it pass from 2:30 until 4:30 and it was only about half finished, we decided we had enough and left.  All of the departments and divisions carried banners and I learned of many branches of the government work which I did not know existed. 

During the time the parade was passing, Ruth Law also gave an exhibition with her flying machine. She staged some very exciting stunts and it is hard to know which attracted the most attention.  She was also to autograph all the bonds that were sold at the Ellipse after the parade.”

Because I had never heard of Ruth Law, I decided to do some research. I discovered that she was a very famous aviator at the time.  She bought her first airplane in 1912 at age 21 from Orville Wright and began setting records.  The announcement below left appeared in the Kinsley Mercury on December 15, 1916 after she established an American nonstop record from Chicago to NY.




During World War I, Law visited President Wilson dressed in a men’s military uniform.  She requested a commission in the Signal Corps to join the forces in Europe.  Wilson refused and Law returned to using her flying skills to support Liberty Loan and Red Cross drives.

Ruth Law did make a trip to Kansas to perform at the International Wheat Show in Wichita in early October, 1918.  The Kinsley Mercury promoted the event in the September 27, 2018 edition (above right):

“In her flights Miss Law interprets the role of a foreign invader making a raid on a city in wartime.  By the use of artificial bombs she demonstrates how easily and how successfully an aviator could deal out death in bunches, and crumble to the ground the largest buildings in the city.  In her day and night fights in Wichita…Miss law will theoretically blow up the Forum, Post Office, City Hall, Court House, and several ten story buildings….”

Miss law has been giving flights in the east for the last few months.  She demonstrated to the residents of Washington, D.C. how easy it would be to blow that city to smithereens before preparations could be made to defend it.”

Perhaps this was part of what Bertha Schnatterly had witnessed back in April at the parade.  Bertha went on in her letter to describe some other ways that Liberty Bonds were promoted.

“All sorts of inducements have been held forth to those who bought bonds this week. Those who purchased at the Italian War Exhibit were to receive a certificate that the bond was purchased in the President’s private waiting room at the union station, and to those who made their purchase last Sunday were allowed to go inside the big British war tank, which spent a week here.  Unfortunately, I bought mine at the office the first time the solicitors came around so received no special credit. “

Bertha would not return to live in Kinsley after the war.  She married Ernest Hedstrom, a man she had met in Washington.  They would live and raise a family in Massachusetts.  She would die in 1970 at the age of 75.


#75 Bertha Schnatterly Goes to Washington

World War I not only caused young men to leave Kinsley, but also some of the women.  One was Bertha Schnatterly, the granddaughter of Harry and Elizabeth Schnatterly who came to Kinsley in the early 1870s.  They had two sons, Milt and Mant and two daughters Mort and Myrt.  (I can’t imagine keeping those names straight when you were trying to call one into dinner!)

Harry had a grocery store which his son Milt took over.  Bertha was Milt’s daughter. This picture of the store was taken in 1966 before the building was torn down. (It was located on the NW corner of Hwy 56 and Colony).

Bertha was born in 1895 and graduated from Kinsley High School in 1909.  She was a talented pianist, gave piano lessons, and was the organist for the Congregational Church.  She also sang and acted in local plays.  She played an active role in the social scene and is mentioned in the newspapers as hosting and attending showers and being a bridesmaid.  However, eight years after graduation, at age 26, she herself was not married.  Perhaps she looked at her spinster hat maker aunts, Mort and Myrt, and decided she needed to take her life in a different direction.  Perhaps she wanted to contribute to the war effort, or maybe it was the opportunity to earn a living and travel.  Whatever motivated her, in the winter of 1917 she attended the Salt City Business College in Hutchinson.  When she took the civil service examination, she received the highest grades of any one at the college.  According to the Kinsley Graphic of March 28, 1918, she “received an appointment to a clerkship in the adjutant general’s office in Washington, D.C. at $1100 a year, to be raised to $1200 after three months.”  On March 30, 1918, she left for Washington, D.C.

The May 2, 1918 issue of the Kinsley Graphic published the following from a letter from Bertha.

“As this is my first visit to Washington, I have had to take the word of those who have lived here for the fact that it is now a very different city than it was a short time ago, but that is very easy to believe.  At the present time there are approximately 70,000 new government employees in the city and it is estimated that within a few more months there will be 98,000.

If it were not that the people of Washington had opened their homes, and taken these new clerks into them it is hard to think what would have become of them.  But everyone has been very gracious and there are very few homes but what have been opened to the newcomer. 

I think that being right at the seat of so much activity makes one realize the war situation more deeply.  It is all one hears and there are always so many speeches and talks to be heard on the subject.  There are such immense throngs of people that go to hear these that it is necessary to issue tickets for them.  These can be had for the asking, but the mere fact that one has to go for them limits the crowd to a certain extent, although there are always many turned away.

…. As for my work, I am very much pleased with it.  I find it very enjoyable and certainly have no complaint to make, so that I think I am going to enjoy Washington very much.”

On August 30, Bertha wrote the following update to the editor of the Graphic:

“I think I have neglected writing to you for some time but most of my spare time has been spent in trying to keep cool and comfortable.  However, from the temperature reports, I think we have had a more pleasant summer than you people in Kansas.

There were about ten days of exceptionally hot weather, otherwise it has been very pleasant.  Washingtonians tell us that it has been an unusual summer as it is generally almost unbearable. The weather man must have known that the town was filled with government clerks who had to stay here.

Government clerks have a reputation for being great loafers, but that is now a thing of the past. That is especially true in the Adjutant General’s office, for we don’t waste any time and the work increases daily.  When I first took charge of the desk where I now work I was able to handle the work by myself but in a few weeks I had to ask for an assistant and at present I frequently have the section chief loan me one of his file clerks so we won’t become entirely swamped with work. 

My division chief brought me a few cases of tangled papers to straighten out one day and I just happened to have good luck in locating them and was able to send them to the right divisions.  Since then, when anything goes astray they send me out on the trail.  It is quite troublesome at times but I rather like it as it breaks the monotony of desk work.  Some days I am all over the building from attic to subbasement, trying to calm people, for they don’t like it at all if they don’t receive the papers they wish. 

Some dormitories are being built on Capitol Hill for the housing of clerks.   They are badly needed and will no doubt relieve the congested rooming houses to some extent.  They are not far enough along to know what they will look like but they will probably be like the Ordinance building, a temporary structure, to be dynamited after the war.”

I’ll be writing more regarding Bertha’s interesting letters in my next blog.


Blog #74 Letters to Home – John W. Pixley

John W. Pixley was born in 1894 and was a sophomore at Kinsley High School in 1917.  At the time he was drafted in February, 1918, he was living at the YMCA in Newton.  He would serve 15 months, becoming a sergeant of the 42nd Transportation Corps working with the railroad.   In June of 1918, Pixley found himself on a transport ship crossing the Atlantic.

“….To begin with, immediately after leaving port, I was initiated into life on the water by getting sea-sick, which stayed with me two days. I have been sick in a number of different forms, but oh joy, if ever one felt miserable….I had to feed the fish several times before I finally overcame it….It may seem to you that seeing so much water would be tiresome and while I admit it is some puddle, yet there are many things to interest ‘dry land turtles.’  You can readily understand that it would be impossible to carry enough fresh water for washing purposes for such a large gang of men, so it is necessary to use salt water to wash with.  The first thing we discovered was that ordinary toilet soap won’t work with salt water at all.  Fortunately however, the ship is equipped with a canteen where the men may buy tobacco candy, soap, pickles, canned beans, peanut butter, etc., and we were able to procure a salt water soap made by Colgate which works   fine with ocean water.”                                 Kinsley Graphic, August 15, 1918

I must admit that I did not know regular soap did not work in salt water until reading this letter.  I tried to do a little research, even chatting with Colgate, and could not definitively discover what Colgate product this was.  It may have been a lye soap Colgate produced called Octagon Soap.\

Soldiers’ letters home were all read and censored usually by an officer and sometime by the chaplain.  The soldier was not allowed to write anything which would give information to the enemy, such as location, movement of troops, and size of troops.  They also could say nothing that the enemy could use to bring down the morale of the troops or that would affect the morale back home.   Many of the letters that were published in the paper mentioned the censorship, and what Pixley wrote was typical.

“I am beginning to understand why the boys do not write much from here.  There is so much that is forbidden being included in correspondence that it is some job to write anything and keep within the rules, at least I have found it so.  There is so little to write about except one’s own activities, and the censorship rules are so strict in this respect that it leaves so little to write about. However, one should not complain about that for if such rules were not enforced, information of untold value could be communicated to the Hun, whom it is our job to lick to a standstill and in the shortest time possible.  So you will have to satisfy yourselves with what I write (and what the censor) will pass, until it is over and I am home again, then I will give it to you in detail.”  (Published August 8, 1918 in the Kinsley Graphic).

I found some other interesting facts about the mail during World War I in an article published by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  In April, 1917 postal service underwent several changes.  The rate for a letter was 2¢.  To help pay for the war, it was raised on November 2, 1917 to 3¢ and remained that until July 1, 1919 when it was returned to 2¢.

Both men and women were rural mail carriers in the early 1900s, but only men were postal carriers in the cities.  But with the scarcity of men, “…the Post Office Department experimented with appointing women as mail carriers to replace the men.  The ‘experiment’ began in December 1917 in eight cities with the largest post offices – by the war’s end, several other cities had also appointed women mail carriers.  Most of these women gave up their positions to returning veterans once the war was over.”

During World War I, the U.S. Army Post Office (APO), was begun mainly because the War Department did not want to share the location of troops with the Post Office, which made their job very difficult.  The APO operated independently from the USPO.  Congress also decided to grant free postage to those serving in the armed forces.  These were simple marked “Soldier’s Mail” as in the postcard below from Chester Bidleman.  The censors stamp can also be seen on it.

Blog #73 Letters to Home – Karl Keller

As a young man, Karl Keller was interested in electricity and communications.  The November 6, 1913 issue of the Kinsley Graphic, reported that Karl, at age 13, had visited James Wolfe to see the “inter-wireless telegraph communications” between Lewis and Kinsley.  If you are like me and do not know what that is, it is the transmission of telegraph signals (i.e. Morse code) by radio waves, not through a telegraph wire.

Karl went on to graduate from Kinsley High School in 1917.  That fall he planned to attend the University of Michigan to pursue a course in electrical engineering.  Instead, he enlisted in the United States Navy and attended the Navy Radio School at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  He was assigned to the Battleship Mississippi in March, 1918.  He would serve aboard that ship for most of his tour which lasted until July, 1919.  He wrote many letters to his mother, Mattie Timkin, and they appeared in the newspapers.

In a letter published in the Graphic on August 29, 1918, he describes life aboard ship as not always being pleasant.  On one particular night, “…it was so hot we could hardly sleep out on the decks.  About 11:30 we were awakened by lightning and wind and had to move in and nearly smothered after the ports were closed.” He goes on to say “Our main radio station is out of commission.  When we get it all fixed up again it will be much nicer than to stand watches below the decks where it is hot as ‘blitzer.’   However, we are standing only a two hour watch at a time now.  It is impossible to stay there much longer at a time.  My ears get so sticky and sweaty to have the telephones on.  Every fellow in the radio bunch has a cleaning station. “

In the same letter, he recounts a near tragedy.  “This morning I was told one of our picket boats with ten men were lost.  The boat was coming along the ship to get out of the gale, but someway or other they lost the rudder and drifted out to sea.  One of the signal boys who was in the boat has told me all about it.  He said the waves were mountain high and the boat rocked like an egg shell.  They sent up rockets until they had no more.  All the time the boat was drifting out to sea.  This boy said he sure said a few prayers for he thought they would never be saved.  Early this morning we got under way and searched for them.  We finally found them.  All were there but they looked sick.  I don’t have any picket boat duty.”

One other incident he describes happened on August 4, 1918, one hundred miles off the Virginia coast.   “I guess it will be all right to tell you that I heard my first S.O.S. call on this cruise.  A tanker, O. B. Jennings, was gunned by a submarine off the coast.  That night in the press we found out she was sunk, however, all were saved.  There is another incident where the radio has saved lives.”

Blog #72 Letters to Home – Gilbert Lewis

Today’s soldiers have FaceTime, Skype, email, and cell phones to keep in touch with their loved ones when they are away.  The World War I soldiers had none of these.  Soldiers and their families communicated through letters.

Gilbert Lewis was one soldier who wrote home.  He was the son of the editor of the Kinsley Graphic and had graduated from Kinsley High School in 1910.  He got his law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and began practicing law in Pittsburg, KS.  The day after the U.S. declared war on Germany, he enlisted.  He was 24 year old when he reported for duty at Fort Riley in early May, 1917.

Gilbert sent a letter to the Pittsburg Daily Headlight, which they published.  On May 21, 1917, the Daily Headlight reported that “Uncle Sam has put the news lid on Fort Riley.  An order has been posted in the reserve officers training camp that no officer or enlisted man shall furnish correspondence to any newspaper.”

Because newspapers continued to print letters, I am guessing that it was OK for friends and relatives to take the letters they received to the newspaper for publication.  Soldiers could just not be war correspondents.  No more of Lewis’ letters appeared in the Daily Headlight, but they were published regularly in the Kinsley Graphic.

In early July, 1918, Lieutenant Lewis was in France.  He wrote “I’ve had a new job wished on me in addition to my regular duties.  I am town mayor altho I still wear Lieutenant’s bars and have that salary.  Have charge of the handling of the billets of troops and officers and the first thing I did was to billet myself in a nice room vacated by the departing town mayor.  It is a dandy clean room upstairs, simply spic and span as can be, and down stairs the people run a bake shop and are nice and friendly.  They gave me some warm water for a bath tonight.  On the bed is a thick feather tick and you almost sink out of sight in it, but my how you do sleep….The way the job came, they sent to Co. H. for an officer to relieve the departing mayor, and being the Junior Lieutenant the Captain picked on me….The mayor must act as a buffer between the civilian and military authorities, and up to date, I have settled fifteen hundred rows more or less.  Of course an interpreter goes with the office.  This morning I had a time assuring an old Frenchman that the gas engine of the surgical car would not shake his building down, and another that the boys would not play ball in his pasture any more.     Also asked an old lady if we could have religious services on her field and she said ‘sure” in French. (Kinsley Graphic, August 8, 1917)

The letter published the following week told of another duty the mayor had.  “Today, July 14, is a big day for France, the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille.  They celebrate as we do the Fourth of July, and today we are to help in their celebration by having a parade.  As town mayor I am to go with a party of officers and call on the Mayor and present America’s compliment and say a few nice things, and then when the excitement is over the rest of the day is ours.”

A letter published in the September 26, 1918 issue of the Graphic, reveals that Lewis has been in the front lines in France and has now been moved back to support.  (Troops were continually rotated in and out of the front line trenches.) He relates the following story:

“My nice trench coat has been repaired and does not look so bad.  It was hanging in the shack we were staying in when we were in support.  The place was shelled and riddled with bits of high explosive shells.  At the time I was in the front line trenches.  That night we all slept in dugouts though, just to be safe.  One day Wick and I were gathering plums in a deserted village between the support lines and the front line trenches and about two miles from the German lines.  Wick insisted on climbing into the trees that were exposed to the view of the Germans and I suggested to him he might be observed, but he insisted we were so far away the Germans could not see us.  Well, I don’t know whether they did or not, but pretty soon I heard the whine of a shell coming, and you can sure tell when they are headed in your direction. Wick jumped down out of the tree and I was already on the ground.  The shell whizzed by right over the tree and exploded about 150 yards beyond.  Strange to say we gathered no more plums but wended our way homeward to the support.  Wick allowed as how he didn’t mind being sniped at by the Germans with a rifle, but when they took to sniping with three inch cannon, it was time to call off plum gathering for the day.  But you don’t need anybody to tell you to duck when you hear the whine of those shells coming.  It sounds lots nicer to hear our own artillery shells sing as they toward the German lines.”