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#20 Getting to School — Part 2

Last week I wrote about walking or riding a horse, bike, or the Doodlebug to school.  When Lucinda Bidleman read that article, it brought back a memory she had of riding the Doodlebug in the early sixties. “I was a small child at the time.  The driver/engineer took me up front to try to show me the jack rabbits jumping out of the way as illuminated by the headlamp after dark.”

Fellsburg School Bus, c1931 when Fellsburg High School had about 26 students. Pictured are Evelyn Buchanon, Stanley Higbie, Jesse Lee, Glen Bowman, Pat Sweeney, Harold Hagewood, and Willie McCarty.  (Photo:  McBride Family album)

I want to mention that if these articles bring back memories for you, be sure to let me know and I’ll add your stories and pictures to our files.

This week, I have some stories about riding the bus to school.   In one of our online oral histories, Bill Olsen said he was in junior high school when he started driving the bus to Nettleton School.  “I drove a pretty good-sized bus at the time. In fact, I got a chauffeur’s license.”

One man objected to him driving the bus, but he said he didn’t have any problems “because I felt like I had responsibility, and I never acted like Jughead driving the school bus.  The only thing that bothered me about driving the school bus, was when we’d go to a football game, that was my bus.  I said, ‘What about somebody else?’  They said, ‘That’s your bus, you’re going to drive it.’  I didn’t like that because most of the kids I hauled were my age.  It was kind of a responsibility I didn’t want.”

Betty Lund, who would later become his wife, rode on his bus to school.  “We never were sweethearts till we got out of school.  I did flirt a little on the bus.  I had that big mirror up there, and when driving the bus, I’d wink at her.”  

After Bill graduated in 1949, students were no longer allowed to drive the bus.

Buses in front of Trousdale School, Oct. 1928, which had an enrollment of 235 students with 78 being in high school.  (Photo: Ron Schultz collection)

Arnita Schultz of Trousdale shared a story Shirley Gales Stein wrote down for her of a gruesome event that happened in the late 1930s on Mr. Keene’s bus route.

“The bus was fully loaded and we were traveling north of Trousdale to the Bill Mead home when a young steer was along the side of the road.  Mr. Keene slowed the bus, and the steer just ran along the side of the bus. Suddenly, Ka-whoomp!  The bus tilted, almost turning over as the first tire ran over the steer.  Then Ka-whoomp!  Tilting the bus precariously again, as the back dual tires ran over the steer.  Of course, all the students were excited after two jolts of the bus.  Mr. Keene stopped and cut the throat of the steer, traveled on to Meads and told them about the incident so they could butcher the steer.”

Shirley continued, “Another time (c. 1937) we were traveling west on the road one-mile north of the Emmet English place with Mr. Southards as our driver.  We had a heavy snowfall the day before so the road was partially drifted with snow.  Mr. Southards tried to go through the road as we were the next ones on the route.  The bus couldn’t negotiate the drifts and we slid off into the ditch.  It was cold and we waited, hoping that someone would come along or be concerned and look for the bus.

 “It was beginning to become dark and since the driver could not leave the bus with several students on it, he asked my brother, Harold (11 years old) to walk the mile across the field to the Emmett English home to tell him our situation and to bring a tractor to pull us out.  He loaned my brother his overshoes, and I remember watching Harold wading through the deep snow.  I was so worried about him as a mile in the deep drifts was difficult.  Mr. English did come and pulled us out and we arrived home about 7 p.m.  We were cold and hungry, but relieved to get home safely.”

First buses in Trousdale (FromMcBride Family Album)

Another story about marooned children is told by Eva Gifford (1893-1974) in the Kinsley-Edwards County Centennial book.  “Homer Wilson was the bus river, and got them almost to the Meireis home, which was on the Edwards county and Kiowa county line, before the bus stalled.  There were around 14 extra mouths for the Meireis family to feed that night plus their own family of seven.  They were fed a supper of beans, biscuits, and canned sand hill plums.  There were too many to sleep crosswise in the beds so the mattresses were laid together in each bedroom to make room for everyone.  No one could turn over in bed because they were so crowded, but at least the ones in the middle certainly kept warm!”

This year is already creating stories to tell future grandchildren about 2020 pandemic and the disrupted graduation, cancellation of sports and wearing masks in school.  I hope everyone is taking a minute to write down events and feelings about this time because it will make interesting history for future generations.  I will soon be asking for your reflections for our files.

#19 Getting to School

Alarm clocks will be going off next week to get the kids up and back to school.  It’s hard to imagine, but over the years, Edwards County has had 52 public and 4 parochial schools.  Many rural students had to walk to school.  We’ve all heard those stories that begin “I walked five miles in a blizzard to get to school.” 

This week I looked through our archive of oral histories, some books, and talked to a few “old timers” to reveal how rural kids used to get to school.

Earl McBride (1915-2011) went to the Wendell School through 8th grade.  Wendell was located south of Centerview at 150th Ave and V Rd.    He should have gone to Centerview High School, but both he and his dad wanted him to play football, so he went to Greensburg High School instead from 1929-1933.

“I started driving back and forth down there which was 12 miles,” Earl said.  “I drove for about 6 weeks in a Model T Ford.  Then Dad traded for a 1929 Model A, and I drove that all the time I was in high school.” 

His daughter Bonita McBride and I think it must have really been something at that time for him to drive a brand new car to school.

When Jerry Anderson was in 1st and 2nd grade, he and his older brother Jack lived a mile-and-a-half from Badger Hill School which was located north of Kinsley at 110 Ave. and C Rd.   In a recent conversation, Jerry said that about half the time they walked and the other half they rode Patty, a small brown and white pinto horse. 

“We rode together bareback and when we got to school, we tied Patty in a coal shed.  There were two stalls in that shed. She stayed there all day while we were in school.  If the weather was really bad, then we were driven to school in the Model A truck.”

Bill Olsen, who lives on the southeast corner of Logan Township, said is his oral history, 
“We’d get up in the morning, when I was six years old, we’d go out early in the morning and milk cows.  We’d separate milk….  We’d come in and always have a healthy breakfast.  Eggs, bacon, fried potatoes.  Then we’d get on a horse or a bicycle and ride two miles to school in Nettleton…. They had a barn.  We’d put the horse in the barn….”  Nettleton was located on the Pawnee County line and Hwy 183. 

Bill went on to say, “We weren’t supposed (to race).  My brother Gene was in the 8th grade when I was in the 1st grade.  I don’t know where he got it, but he got a buggy.  He painted it with red wheels and a black body, and I’d better not tell you what we put on the side of it.  He painted on the side of it, Stripe-ped Assed Ape.”  That’s like him, Gene was kind of a rowdy person.  I don’t know how many days we went to school, finally, coming home from school, he wanted to see how fast he could take that corner down there a mile south.  Well, he took it all right, and all three of us ended up out there in the field with the buggy upside down.  It never hurt any of us; we picked the buggy up, got in and away we went home.”

I had never heard the phrase “stripe-ped assed aped” before.  I looked it up and found it was commonly used for something running or going at a higher speed than expected.

Beginning in 1917, students who lived along the parallel often rode the jitney to get to school.  The locals called this made-over trolley car the Doodlebug.  It operated on the Anthony & Northern (commonly called the Aunt Nancy) railroad tracks which ran just over 100 miles from by the Kinsley High School, south thru Charlet, and then east thru Centerview, Fellsburg, Trousdale, Hopewell, Byers, Strickler, Iuka, and ended in Pratt.  The whole trip took 2 ½ hours.

According to Myrtle Richardson’s book, The Great Next Year Country, “The jitney was considered somewhat of a joke…the first one was a make-shift affair.  Once in a while when the load was light, if the operator drove too fast, the jitney would jump the track.  It would be necessary to jack up the wheels which had gotten out of line, and swing them back onto the track.  Often passengers were pressed into service to help.”

Ted Taylor wrote in an article in the Kinsley Graphic that “Lacking a steam whistle, these altered motor cars relied on their battery-operated horns to warn unwary cows, coyotes, jack rabbits, motorists and pedestrians of their approach.”

In a library interview with Fadonna Anderson (1908-2005) she stated, “I attended a 2-room grade school in Charlet, and later rode to high school in Fellsburg on the jitney

One time, according to the Dec. 15, 1921 Graphic, “The Centerview pupils (who also attended Fellsburg High School) were absent Monday, but it was not the fault of the weather.  The jitney broke down and had to wait a couple of days for a new engine.  Most of the students got in Monday evening and stayed in Fellsburg until the jitney began its regular schedule Thursday evening.”  I wonder if local families took them in that week?

Ted Taylor attended Centerview High School before graduating from Kinsley High School in 1946.  He remembers that “The daughters of C. L. Howell lived at the Hodges station on the road now known as 183 Highway.  The girls rode the jitney to Centerview each morning to high school and returned home on the jitney each evening.  They left school a few minutes early in order to catch their ride home.”

Later gas-powered cars were used on the tracks as backup vehicles.  Jim Mathes (1934-2007) recalled in Ted Taylor’s September 11, 1997 Graphic article that “I rode in a converted 1937 four-door sedan.  The mail was put on the front seat with the driver, passengers were in the next seat and cream cans in the trunk.” 

The astute reader will notice that I have not mentioned the common school bus in this article.  They will be the subject next week in part 2.

#18 U.S. Census, Important Back Then and Now

For several months now, you have been encouraged to complete the 2020 Census.  This easy, confidential form is also one of the most important duties that everyone who lives in the United States is required by law to do. 

The census results are used to determine how much funding local communities receive for key public services like our hospitals, schools, roads, and more.  It also sets how many seats each state gets in Congress and draws the boundaries for congressional, state legislative, and school districts.

Looking back in history, the US Census began in 1790 and has been conducted every 10 years since.  Personal information on the census is kept private and confidential for 72 years.  Then the information is made available to the public. This makes genealogists and historical researchers very happy.  Today, the 1940 census is the most recent one that is available.

An interesting chart was published in the October 7, 1920 Kinsley Mercury. It reported a thirty-year comparison of the growth of population in Edwards County.

Compare those figures to the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimation of Edwards County’s population continuing to decline from the 2010 census to become 2,761 this year.  Projected population for Kinsley is 1,368, Lewis is 417, and Offerle is 187.  It is easy to see why it is so important that everyone be counted this year. 

Census information can provide interesting and valuable information about our history.  I looked at census records to find out about a couple of famous people with ties to Kinsley.

According to the 1900 census, Madge E. Cummings was one-year old, having been born in Kinsley in May, 1899.  Her mother was Alice F. Cummings who was born in Iowa.  Her father was Albert Cummings who was born in Illinois and was a “preacher” by profession.

Library files show that Pastor Cummings served the Kinsley Methodist church from 1898 -1901.  During this time, the small meeting house was enlarged and improved. 

By the 1920 census, Madge has married James Blake and is living in Los Angeles, California.   Madge Blake is a name you may recognize.  At age 50, she was encouraged by her first cousin, Milburn Stone, who played Doc Adams on the Gunsmoke series, to become an actress.  This decision was not approved of by Pastor Cummings.

Larry and Mrs. Mondello on the “Leave It to Beaver’ TV show.

Madge is perhaps best known from her portrayal of Margaret Mondello, the mother of Larry, on the Leave It to Beaver show of the 1950s and 1960s.  Madge played over 42 roles in movies and television with an additional 30 guest appearances.   She was Aunt Harriet in ABCs 1966 Batman series, Grandpa McCoy’s love interest in the Real McCoys sitcom, Mrs. Barnes on the Joey Bishop Show and Mrs. Comstock, the school official, on the Addams Family.  Madge died in California in 1969.

Looking in the 1910 census we can find Andrew Mehringer as a farmer with a mortgage in Sterling Township, Hodgman County, Kansas.  He and his wife Katie were both born in Bavaria, Germany.  They immigrated to the U.S. in 1892, and by 1910 they had eight American born children.

By the 1920 census, we read that Kate and Andrew are divorced.  She is now the head of household renting a farm in Logan Township, Edwards County, Kansas.  One daughter from the 1910 census is not listed, perhaps she got married, but a nine-year old boy, Peter, has been added to the family.  He is the youngest of the children.  We can imagine her five oldest sons, ages 15-26, farming to support the large family.

Peter would attend Kinsley High School where he played on the 1926 undefeated football team.  While in high school, he sent away for a correspondence course in wrestling, and then he started and coached the school’s wrestling team.  Although he had to hitchhike to Manhattan, he became the Kansas State Heavyweight Wrestling Champion in 1928 and 1930. 

After graduating in 1930, Pete attended the University of Kansas where he won 49 of his 50 matches.  He qualified for the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles where he won the Gold Medal. 

Pete Mehringer, Olympic Gold Metal Champion

Editor Cora Lewis wrote the following in the August 11, 1932 Kinsley Graphic about six Kinsley boys who traveled to see the Olympics:

“The fact of having one of the world champions, their former school mate in Kinsley, Pete Mehringer, hailed before a crowd of a hundred thousand people, and lifted up on a platform while a thousand-piece band played “The Star-Spangled Banner”, Rex Woods, Jr. insists gave him the greatest thrill.”

It would take a whole article to tell you about Pete Mehringer but that is saved for another day.  He died September 4, 1987 and is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Offerle.

You can access your ancestors’ census records by going to the Kinsley Library website’s On-line Resources from the State Library (right side menu).  From there choose Heritage Quest in the History and Genealogy section.

Meanwhile, be sure to encourage everyone you know to complete their 2020 census on-line or by phone (2020census.gov). Don’t wait for the census taker to knock on your door starting next week.

#17 The answer to the question: How much rain did you get?

We’ve seen a lot of hot, steamy, stormy weather lately.  Some of us complain, while others are busy recording the day-to-day changes.  Over years, these records help predict future treads, aid in studying floods, droughts, and episodes of extreme heat and cold.  They are used for agricultural, engineering, utilities planning and more.

 In 1890 an Act of Congress created the Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) to record the temperature and amount of precipitation all over the country.  A December 15, 1915 article in the Kinsley Mercury reported twenty-five COOP stations in Kansas.

“The observers here receive no pay but receive thermometers and rain gauges of the same high grade as those in use at regular stations and all the necessary forms for recording and reporting their observations which they forward monthly to the office at Topeka….”

Herman Cudney of Trousdale signed on early as an observer in 1916.  Trousdale 1-NE was the first station in Edwards County.  I’m wondering if the location was chosen to be halfway between stations in Hutchinson and Dodge City?

Herman’s son Ray and his wife Joy took over in 1949 just 5 years after they were married.  After Ray’s death in 1995, Joy has continued to observe and report to the National Weather Service in Dodge City.

The gauge was moved into the house so Joy could demonstrate how precipitation is measured. It has rested outside the Cudney house for 104 years.

The precipitation gauge that Joy uses today is the same one that was issued to her father-in-law in 1916.  It has remained in this location for 104 years.  In 2019, Joy received the Ruby Stufft Award for seventy years of service.  Her family now helps her to continue to record and report.  Today Kansas has over 600 observers and the U.S. has over 11,000.

A second Edwards County station was established in 1935 in Kinsley.  Jesse Lee of the National Weather Service in Dodge City informed me that it was operated by Cora Lewis, the co-editor of the Kinsley Graphic.  Later Myrtle Richardson, who wrote the 4-volume history of Edwards County, took it over. 

In 1961, Phil R. Tommer who worked for KP&L became the observer with his wife Marie.  In 2001, they received an award for 40 years of service.  Currently this station is inactive.

Anther long-term observer, Jack Kersting, established the only other station in Edwards County in Offerle in 1973.  In 2008 he received the John Campanius Holm award for 35-years of service.  When he died suddenly in 2012, his backup observer, Pam Wetzel took over.  In 2017, she received recognition for twenty years of service.

Pam describes the rain gauge as a 3” diameter copper tube inside a larger aluminum tube with a cone on top to catch the precipitation.  A measuring stick inserted into the copper tube marks the amount of moisture up to 2”. 

(Above pictures are of the Cudney gauge)

Pam explained, “If there is more than 2” of rain like there was recently, the excess goes into the bigger tube.  You have to empty the copper tube and then measure the extra.”

The types and quality of weather instruments and the methods of analyzing observations have changed significantly over the years.  We now have weather balloons, Doppler radar and satellites, but human observations still provide important information about sky conditions, clouds, and the type and size of precipitation.

Ten-year old Lane Hattrup shares 96-year old Joy Cudney’s interest in weather.  Lane is the son of Dustin and Brandi Hattrup of Kinsley.  He told me that as a preschooler, he was afraid of storms, but that all changed to fascination when he studied tornadoes in Mrs. Crammer’s first grade classroom.

 Lane’s family encouraged his interest in weather with gifts of books on weather which he studied.  Family friends, Mark and Vergie Anderson, also recognized his passion and last December took Lane to KWCH in Wichita to meet Chief Meteorologist Ross Jansson.  He spent two hours learning how a weather report is created and got to sit and watch an actual news and weather show.  

Lane’s visit to KWCH to meet Chief Meteorologist Ross Jansson last December

Last Christmas, Lane received an all-in-one weather station to mount on the roof.   “It tells the temperature, humidity, dew point, heat index, wind speed, wind chill, precipitation, and lightning strikes,” explained Lane.  “The rain gage even empties itself.”

After school dismissed early for Covid-19, Lane began creating his own weather forecasts on Facebook.  That’s when I, along with a few hundred other people, began to follow his forecasts. 

When the library acquired a green screen through a grant from the Kansas Library Association, I invited Lane to come and create his forecasts at the library.  He and I are now learning together how to produce a weather show.  I am so impressed with his focus and passion and hope my production skills will eventually be worthy of his talents.

#16 — An Honored Civil War Veteran

Usually at this time, I am vacationing in my native Michigan where it is 75° and the Great Lake shimmers a beautiful blue.  However, this year, Covid-19 has kept me suffering the heat and damaging storms in Kansas.  But as I pondered a topic for this week, I found myself virtually traveling to a different place and back in time.

This story starts in 1798 when construction began of the finest mansion on the Tennessee frontier and located at Gallatin, Tenn., just NE of Nashville.  The owner of this plantation fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, battled indigenous Indians, and helped to co-found Memphis.  He named his new home Cragfont, as it stood on a rocky bluff above a cool spring.

Cragfont Plantation in Gallatin, Sumner County Tennessee.

The plantation was only made possible by the labor of more than 100 African-American slaves who lived in row quarters on the property.  They grew the cotton and tobacco that supported the lavish lifestyle of the plantation. 

The owner died in 1826 and his wife carried on with help from her youngest son and some of her other 11 children.

In 1847, a baby boy, Albert, was born in the slave quarters.  In 1860 we know that twenty-five slaves were divided by age between 3 of those 12 children.  Helen received Albert along with 7 other male slaves and 2 females ranging in ages from 12-24 years old. 

In November of 1863, Albert left the plantation and enlisted in Company B, 14 United States Colored Infantry. He used the name or Albert Menthow.  His real last name was that of his plantation owner, but to protect himself, he changed it to Menthow.  When the war ended at Appomattox in April, 1865, Albert would change his name back to his original slave owner’s name of Winchester.  He continued to serve out his 3-year enlistment until March 26, 1866.

Some of you are now beginning to understand the Kinsley connection.  I’m not sure what Albert Winchester did for the next twenty years, but in 1884 he joined the Exodusters and came to the “Promise Land” of Morton City, just east of Jetmore.  We can imagine he got off the train here in Kinsley and walked or rode in a wagon on that early trail described in #5 of this blog.. 

            That first year, Albert met Jennie Durnet, and they were married on Christmas Day, 1884.  The officiating minister was J. J. Freeman, who unlike Albert, did not choose to retain the name of his slave master.  Jennie was 24 years old and the first five of their ten children were born in Hodgeman County. 

They moved to Kinsley where five more children were born .  The Winchesters bought 40 acres of land just west of Kinsley’s city limits for $260 on May 15, 1897.  They were respected members of the community.  All their children would move away from Kinsley except John, better known as Skeet, who married Lenora Walker, and they had nine children.

  Albert Winchester was granted an original Civil War pension of $8 per month in December of 1899.  He died on June 3, 1900 and is buried at Hillside Cemetery in the row of Civil War veterans who had fought to end slavery.   His grave is closest to the Civil War Memorial.

Albert was highly respected during his lifetime and equally honored every year after his death with the traditional Memorial Day gun salute.  In 1971, the avenue on the western edge of town where the Winchester family had lived for three-quarters of a century was renamed in honor of Albert Winchester and his family. 

Albert died in 1900, so it would be left to his son Skeet to witness the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in Edwards County in 1923, and to his grandchildren who could only sit in the balcony of the Palace Theater, and to his great grandchild, Kenny Gaines who would become a lawyer and join the fight for civil rights in the 1970s.

If you’d like to learn a little more about the Winchester family, access the online oral histories of Norma Kennedy and Kenny Gaines in the library oral history collection. https://kinsleylibrary.info/patterns-of-change/patterns-of-change-interviewees/

#15 — Edwards County Fairs — Part3

The Old Settler’s Picnic, held in June, continued into the 1960s, but it did lose its original purpose of keeping the pioneering stories alive.  In 1925, there was renewed interest again in organizing an Edwards County Fair.   Trousdale, which was settled in 1915, held community fairs in October of 1923 and 1924.  In 1925, after 38 years without a county fair, it was decided to expand the Trousdale fair into a two-day Edwards County Fair.

The Kinsley Mercury reported that “The work in putting on this enterprise was well handled by the live wires at Trousdale” and the fair was a big success.  “The poultry show had some of the highest types and strains of birds from all over the state, which added to the interest and keen competition.”  There were races of many kinds and ball games on both days.

Cover of the 1925 Edwards County Fair held in Trousdale. 
Image complements of Nancy Bixler, Joy Cudney’s daughter

In 1926 the fair was even bigger and better.  Within the agricultural exhibits was a 10-pound sweet potato and tobacco and jumbo peanuts were exhibited.  The boys and girls competed in all kinds of races including sack and potato races.  Unlike the adult potato races on horseback with lances which was also held, the children merely ran around picking up the scattered potatoes.   For the first time, a turtle race was held, and it has often been a popular attraction ever since.  

The Trousdale merchants would drive around in decorated cars to advertise the fair in Haviland, Cullison, Byers, Hopewell, Macksville, Belpre, Kinsley, Offerle, Centerview and Fellsburg.  1928 found the fair to be even better than the previous years.  Exhibits were praised and cow calling and corn husking contests were added.

However, a county fair is a big undertaking for a small community.  “There is no end of work to a proposition of this kind and while the people of Trousdale are not opposed to work, still when it falls on as few as it did there, it was much of a load” (Mercury, Aug. 19, 1929).  A meeting was held in August and the consensus was that if a fair was desired, Kinsley would host it, but “they did not want to vote a lot of work on a few willing souls if the fair was not wanted and the proper cooperation could not be had.”

At the beginning of September, it was decided to hold the 1929 county fair on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at the Kinsley High School, in the old McLaughlin barn owned by the school and now on the railroad right of way, and at the Flohr Opera House (625 Colony Ave.).  Awards were given for cattle, hogs, sheep, and poultry of all kinds.  The best samples of wheat, oats, barley, clover, millet, alfalfa, sweet clover seed, various varieties of corn seed and the usual vegetables, canned goods, and baked goods were all judged. 

The first night of the fair featured a show of local musical talent and recitations.  During the last part of the program, the J.C. Penney company showed their latest fashions in a big style show.  That year’s Better Babies contest had 138 entries between the ages of 1 to 5 years.   Seven rural school districts as well as the city schools within the county entered exhibits of student work. 

In 1932 the 4-H Observance Day was incorporated into the Edwards County Fair. 4-H Clubs reached their peak this year with 13 clubs and 259 members in the county.  I imagine the Dust Bowl days influenced the county fair being replaced with 4-H Achievement Day in 1935.  In 1941 it would be called the Edwards County 4-H Fair.  

An Edwards County Fair would return in 1959 as a supplement to the 4-H fair.  Entries were open to all residents of the county and a carnival was employed.

Research done by Cathy Ambler of the University of Kansas and others reveals the following highlights over the years. The grandstand at South Park was constructed in 1934 and today is the second oldest existing grandstand in the state.  The first rodeo was held in Kinsley in 1944 and later rodeos were often part of the fair.   The stone 4-H livestock barn was built in 1940.  The first tractor driving contest was held in 1954.  In 1955 there were 813 4-H entries.  The boys walked off with both the grand and reserve championships in food preparation in 1956.

Bill MCGaw’s Tournament of Thrills in 1960 featured 12 Ford cars in 40 minutes of precision driving.  From 1960 to 1971 American Quarter Horse Shows and Cutting Horse Contests were held and sometimes they would be incorporated into the fair.  Loretta Lynn with the Grand Ole Opry entertained here in 1961.  The 4-H building was built in 1968 and the Otis Show Arena in 1984.  In the 1990s, the Tired Iron Club exhibited old tractors and farm equipment.  Carnivals, fireworks, and livestock parades were all fair attractions over the years.

This year will be entered into the annals of history as the 4-H fair that no one could attend.   We still want to congratulate all the 4-H participants who competed and took home ribbons.  Hopefully, next year the pandemic will be under control and the community can again come together for a real, fun-filled county fair.

#14 Edwards County Fairs – Part 2

This week, I’m forced to take a break from writing about Edwards County Fairs because there were none from 1887 to 1925. But you would be wrong to assume nothing was going on in Kinsley during this time.  Another event, the “Old Settlers’ Picnic, took over and would grow to attracting 5000 people.

The “Old Settlers’ Picnic” had a humble beginning on July 8, 1896.   Twenty years after Kinsley was settled, the old settlers were beginning to age, and they felt it was time for a reunion.   “About forty were present and had a very pleasant time in renewing old acquaintances and exchanging experiences of the early days before the buffalo and the Indian had been replaced by real estate agents and populists.” (Mercury, July 9, 1896) 

Besides reminiscing, they enjoyed a campfire and singing.  At the culmination of that gathering, F. W. Blanchard was elected president of the group with the intent of holding an “Old Settlers Picnic” every year.  You may remember from an earlier article that Blanchard came to the area in 1873.

These picnics, held in South Park, always included talks by early settlers on the history of the area and their experiences.  They were always held in June except in 1900 when they tried October and the weather was bad.  In 1898 a large tent was purchased to give protection from sun, wind, and rain.

Horse racing and baseball were permanent popular events throughout the years.  Other entertainments were added and changed over time.  In 1898 there were pigeon shoots which latter gave way to trap shooting.  In 1899 foot races, jumping, hammer throwing, hurdles, and high jumping were events.

In 1901 the Prattsburg Woodsmen of the World joined in for a chopping contest and a tug of war.  “Dave Heath won the chopping contest in 25 seconds and some of the boys were mean enough to say he picked the logs and knew the punky one.  His wife hit him the hardest by remarking that she would not chop any more as she had discovered his ability in that line.”

The editor also commented on the tug of war, “Both teams were made up of a splendid lot of men, but the boys from the country showed that hard work in the field better fits man for a severe physical strain than sitting down hard on chairs in town, and that weight is not the only desideratum in a contest of this kind.”  (June 14, 1901 Graphic)

1901 saw bicycle races and ladies unhitching contests added.  By 1902, 2000 people attended and the stores closed for the event, including the taverns as “The proprietors had been notified that it would not be a healthy day to do business.”

Alcohol was always discouraged.  The June 16, 1905 Graphic reported that “One hobo-looking chap came to the grounds with a big bottle of whiskey sticking out of his pocket.  The sheriff pulled it and used it to drive a stake.  It was poor glass and broke.  It was funny to watch the crowd who saw the performance.  Twenty young fellows carefully placed a hand over some convenient pocket and walked swiftly away as though some one was waiting for them in the tall timber.

A dancing pavilion was added in 1903 and a grandstand constructed in 1904.  That year also saw a pretty baby contest, the first automobile race, a circus and bronco busting.

Horse racing grandstand built in South Park in 1904.

Articles over the years revealed that these picnics could be a little dangerous.  There were no barriers or fences to protect spectators from events.  One time, if a bronc rider had not pulled up and laid himself and the horse down, they would have run over a girl.  Another spectator was hit with a ball when walking behind the catcher.  Buggies turned over, spectators were kicked and Ed Fletcher was badly cut when a bottle of pop exploded. 

In 1905, the Old Settlers’ Picnic became a two-day event.  Around 5000 people attended that year and this number would hold into the future.  People came to see the auto race as “Many had never seen the big machines before.”

In June 1906, Dr. Pearson and Miley Hawkins competed in the 2-mile auto race.  “While on the second turn Hawkin’s trouble began.  Man and machine had not been acquainted long enough to become familiar with each other’s eccentricities and instead of making the turn gracefully, the machine went on an exploring trip through the adjoining fields.”

Dr. Pearson and family in their 1905, 16 horse power Rambler in front of their home at 308 E. 8th St. 

In 1914, C.V. Cessna provided an exhibition of his monoplane, but I’m going to save that story for future article.

Beside the annual trotting and distance horse racing, I found a reference to a “potato race” in 1921.  This race required riders with long lances to spear potatoes scattered on the ground. The rider who gathered the most potatoes, won.  Hugh Miller, Will Lancaster, James Ely, and Herbert Crawford competed, and it “was the most interesting and amusing event in this part of the program.  Lancaster and Miller tied for first place.”

Old Settlers’ Picnics continued until about 1960, long after all the old settlers had been laid beneath the prairie they had tamed.  The next county fair would be held in 1925 in Trousdale and that’s where I’ll begin next week.  Meanwhile, good luck to the 4-H kids at this year’s virtual fair.

Horse racing grandstand built in South Park in 1904.

#13 Edwards County Fairs – Part 1

It’s fair time in Edwards County, and this year’s fair will be very different as it faces the Covid 19 pandemic. Fairs have been held in Kansas since before it became a state in 1861.  Edwards County was established in 1874 and in 1878 the first Edwards County Fair Ground Association was formed.  Showing and racing horses and trotters was a main attraction of fairs back then.  Edwards County already had a reputation for having fine competitive horses. Even though plans were made to host a fair, it never materialized because 1878-1880 turned out to be drought years, and the farmers were struggling to survive.

In August 1885, representatives from the county tried again and formed the Edwards County Fair Association.  A major controversy flared up over where the fairground should be located, and lest you think politics were more civil in the past, I will quote J. W. Crawford’s editorial in the Kinsley Graphic, August 28, 1885.

“The farmers undertook not long since to organize a county fair association but the move was hardly on foot when the would-be dictator of the religion, politics, finance and social etiquette of the county, R.E. Edwards, stuck his miserly mug into it, and as a matter of course undertook to control it, and as usual tried to control it in the interest of the few and against the interests of the many.  A committee was appointed to select a site for a fair ground, and although the big medicine with the bald head was not on that committee, he at once undertook to control it….Some of the boys are talking “tar and feathers’. But other say ‘give him a rope and he will hang himself.’”

It seemed that Mr. Edwards wanted to locate the fair grounds a mile north of Kinsley.  Land south of Kinsley was offered, but a location on the southeast side of Kinsley by the Coon Creek bridge was finally chosen.  By fair time, October 19-24, 1885, a judges’ stand, floral hall, other buildings and a race track were ready.  School was cancelled and the first fair in Edwards County was underway.

The Larned Chronoscope reported that “The fairgrounds are beautifully located east of the city, and slope gently to the river’s bank.  The buildings are new, and though small, are very prettily designed, and the grounds are enclosed by a high tight board fence.”

Governor John Martin came and spoke at the 1885 fair.  The next year, Kansas U.S. Senator Preston B. Plumb spoke.  Trotting horse races were the main feature of these fairs with the Kinsley Mercury reporting, “…the track, one of the best, if not the very best in southwestern Kansas”.  The ladies also had equestrienne tournaments which “The judges after much scratching of heads and prayerful deliberation finally decided that Miss Scott was the best rider and entitled to the prize, a new saddle.”

The fairs offered competitive displays by local merchants, judging in horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, grain, vegetables and fruit.  The fall fair featured cabbages, squash, parsnips, cucumbers, apples and watermelon. Mr. E. M.  Stapleton exhibited a beet weighing 17 pounds and a whopping big pumpkin of 103 pounds.

The fair also had today’s familiar competitions in photography, painting, needlework of all kinds, flowers, canning and baking.   One unique display of taxidermy was described as representing “a duel scene between two warlike squirrels, with seconds, a surgeon and a reporter up a tree taking notes.” (My librarian finds that disturbing.)

As successful as these fairs seemed to be, the association was a corporations funded by selling shares, and they did not make enough money for investors to continue.  No fair was held in 1888 and the fairground land was sold in 1889.  An Edwards County Fair would not be held again until 1929.  In the intervening years, an “Old Settler’s Picnic” took on much of the role of a county fair.  (To be continued)

#12 A Story from a Village in England

Last month, in the English village of Croston, population 2,917 and 4,500 miles from Kinsley, the death of a young man was remembered.  A plaque was installed in his honor on a wall next to the town’s memorial for the village men who had died in World War II.  But the dedication ceremony planned for VE day, May 8, 2020, had to be cancelled because of the corona virus. 

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about this.  Who was this man being honored in an English village?

His name was Kenneth V. Burnett, Jr., and he was born in Kinsley on December 19, 1921.  His parents were Kenneth V. Burnett, Sr. and Alice Dixon Burnett, a 1917 Kinsley High School graduate who became a teacher and taught one year at Columbia School in Omar located a few miles east of Kinsley (Hwy 50 & south of 140 Ave.)

The first tragedy of Ken’s life happened when he was only 18 days old and his mother died of peritonitis.  Alice was only 23 years old and had not yet celebrated her second wedding anniversary.

Alice Dixon Burnett’s grave marker in Hillside Cemetery, Kinsley, Kansas

Alice died in the Kinsley home of her parents, Frank and Emma Dixon.  They took on the responsibility of raising the baby.  But tragedy struck again when Ken was 14 years old and his grandfather died.

Ken then moved to live with his father and stepmother in Pueblo, Colorado. He graduated from high school there in 1938, went to junior college, and worked.

Kenneth Burnett, 1938 Pueblo High School graduation picture (unable to obtain photo in his US Air Corps uniform)

Ken enlisted as a US Air Corps Aviation Cadet on November 8, 1941.  On December 1, 1942, Second Lieutenant Burnett was assigned as a pilot with the US AF 8th Division, the 13th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron and headed to England.

Not two months later, in January, 1943, Ken’s father received the telegram informing him that his son had been killed “in an accident on foreign soil.”  The manner of his death was obscured by the war, but twenty years ago Nick Wortherspoon was able to discover the story of the young pilot who crashed near Croston on the bank of the River Douglas on January 15, 1943.

On that day, Burnett and another pilot, 1st Lieutenant A.C. Vernon Luber, had volunteered to ferry two new P-38s back to their base with Second Lieutenant Otto Hloucal leading them in a new P-47.  Hloucal knew the area while Burnett had just recently arrived in England.

When they took off, Burnett got separated from the other two.  It was a cold, gray late afternoon with a low lying mist. Witnesses around Croston could hear his plane circling above as evening came on.  It was obvious that the pilot was lost.  One witness told Wotherspoon that it looked “like the pilot was attempting a forced landing over the River Douglas, just outside the Village of Croston.  However, the aircraft turned steeply in the last moments and made an apparent attempted, wheels down, landing, in the field immediately bordering the river. With the aircraft close to the ground the wingtip struck an area of brush and the pilot ‘gunned’ his engines in an attempt to gain lift.”

Instead of rising the plane went down hitting some large trees.  It came apart, exploded, and burst into flames.  After the fire was able to be extinguished, Ken Burnett’s body was removed to a mortuary.  Soldiers arrived to guard the wreckage although most had been destroyed by the fire.  Kenneth Burnett was buried at the Brookwood American Cemetery in Surrey, England.

Wotherspoon wrote of the incident, “Given the short time he was flying over this country it does not seem unreasonable to assume that this was yet another case clearly illustrating just how alien an environment the young newly trained US flyers must have found wartime Britain.  With its difficult navigation and unpredictable weather, which could change so quickly and vary so widely from one location to another relatively close destination, it caught many such pilots unawares.”

Kath Almond of the Croston Village Archive recently wrote. “The Second World War was still raging. We had also lost many young men on land, sea and air. The plight of this young man was soon forgotten amidst our own troubles. That was over 75 years ago, and the incident has faded with the passing of time. The names of the men we lost from our village are named on our War Memorial, but Kenneth Burnett’s body was taken back to America in 1948 when his father applied for the body to be placed in the grave of his mother in Kansas. When it was mentioned that before the incident was lost in the mists of time, a plaque should be placed by our memorial in his memory, a local resident, who was 8 years old at the time of the crash, offered to pay for the plaque.”

Kenneth Burnett’s grave marker beside his mother’s in Hillside Cemetery.

So Kenneth came to his final rest in Hillside cemetery with his mother and a plaque on a wall in England honors his sacrifice.  

May 2020, Plaque to honor Lieutenant Barnett located in Croston, Lancaster, England.

Earlier this month, Kenneth Burnett’s second cousin, Nadene Snyder of Mesa, AZ, emailed me to see if we would be interested in this information for our archives. I thought I should share it with you.  It is fitting that we remember the service of Lieutenant Kenneth Burnett just as the citizens of Croston Village do.

#11 Come on in! The water is fine (Part 3)

The need for a new swimming pool in Kinsley became evident in 1958.  The citizens of Kinsley were utilizing the Brodbeck pool discussed in last week’s article.  That summer there had been an average attendance of 155 people per day and in one five-day period the attendance averaged 279 persons per day.

Also a letter had come from the Kansas State Board of Health declaring Kinsley’s poolone of forty-five pools in the state which they have determined to be obsolete and need replacing.  The board considers the fill and draw type of pool to be unsatisfactory and potentially hazardous to the health of swimmers and furthermore, that the turbidity of the water in fill and draw pools is frequently excessive, rendering the bottom of the pool invisible and thereby greatly increasing the hazards of drowning’” (Kinsley Mercury, Sept. 4, 1958)

A citizens’ committee was formed and upon their recommendation, a bond issue of $85,000 was issued to construct a city pool in South Park for the next season.  The issue passed.

The average home owner would be assessed $3.29 per year for twenty years to retire the bond.

The city engaged Paddock Construction Co. of Oklahoma City.  The committee met with an engineer who determined that the preferred site in South Park would be feasible with mitigation for flood water issues.  The land could be raised 3’ and underflow pressure could be controlled with two automatic safety valves. 

The site was excavated and forms were placed in January, 1959 for a mushroom-shaped pool.  It would have a modern filtering system, a modern bathhouse, and an underwater lighting system that would make the pool safe and enjoyable for evening swimming.

Concrete was poured for the walls and floor on February 16.  This needed to be a “continuous pour” as once the pour started, it could not stop until it was completed.  Because there was not enough labor available to accomplish this, “the vocational ag class of the high school was hired to help with the work.”   All day the cement mixers were fed and loads of concrete wheeled (Mercury, Fe. 19, 1959).

A month later the Kinsley Mercury reported, “The pool is rapidly taking shape and is becoming a matter of pride with citizens of the city.”  The paper showed a picture of the bathhouse as being constructed by this time.

On Saturday, May 30 the pool officially opened to the public at 2 p.m. The hours that summer were from 2-9 p.m., and 2-6 p.m. on Sundays.

Single admission prices for swimming were 15₵ for children, 25₵ for high school age and 35₵ for adults.  Ten swim passes were available at a 5₵ per swim discount.  Free swimming lessons were held in the mornings.

The Mercury editor noted that “…the swimming lanes painted on the bottom are clearly visible…”  This comment reflects the Kansas Board of Health’s concern over the turbidity of the water in the old pool which was not filtered and had to be drained and cleaned once a week. 

Eric Taylor, who provided the library with the film I made accessible, emailed me last week to say that a few seconds of footage existed in the home movies of the pool bottom being power washed.  I remembered seeing a man with a hose when I was editing the movies, but at the time I didn’t know where or what the footage was.  Now I know and maybe when I get some time, I’ll add those frames to the movie.

 The Mercury reported that “Alois Bieber was the pool manager that first year, assisted by Leland Brodbeck.  Lou Jean Brown checked in the swimmers.  The concession stand was leased to the Carlson-Vomberg rides now located in the South Park and will be operated by them.”

That last sentence intrigued me.  Was there a summer amusement park?  The library files revealed the answer that in 1959 there was.  It was located south of the pool.  It included a ferris wheel, a kiddie car ride, a kiddie train ride, a popcorn and candy stand and a photo booth.

The new pool’s diving area had three diving boards: one high board in the middle and two low board at either side.

I was a little alarmed when I read that the children’s wading pool would “enable mothers to swim and also check on their youngsters from time to time.”  Thank goodness that was clarified in the June 18th issue.  “Parents wishing to take the small fry there for a dip may do so at no charge.  This pool, however, is not attended by lifeguards and parents should watch their own children.”

The pool recorded 3,573 paid admissions during the first 17 days of operation.  180 children took advantage of the first round of free swimming lessons.

Like with the opening of the Brodbeck pool, special swim races were planned for Saturday afternoons.  Swim passes were awarded as prizes to those who won their division’s races.  Challenge races with the lifeguards were also held.  Anyone beating a lifeguard received a week’ swimming free.

There have been few changes to the pool over the years.  Until recent years, the pool included daily evening hours.  The high diving board was eliminated in 1991 because of insurance coverage and inadequate water depth at the diving end. The lift was put in when the ADA mandated it in 2012.  The water slide was added in 2014

If anyone has information or pictures of the construction or features of the early days of the city pool, the library would like to add them to the archive.  Meantime, we can be thankful for the sixty-one years this pool has provided enjoyment to the citizens.