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# 47 Charles R. Edwards Adds to Culture in Kinsley

Last week I wrote about Ben J. Ely Jr. who became a professional artist even though many thought, at the time, that he would become an actor on Broadway or the screen.   During high school and for eight years after, Ben was very involved in dramatic production under the direction of Charles R. Edwards.  It is hard to estimate the influence Edwards had on him and many other young people and the culture of this whole community.  The box of photos given to the Edwards County Historical Society contained rare cast publicity shots of two plays produced by Edwards in Kinsley in 1924.

Charles Rufus Edwards was born December 6, 1881 in Kinsley.  He was the nephew of W. C. Edwards, the man for whom Edwards County had been named.  He was the son of R. E. Edwards, the biggest rancher, retail merchant, banker, and “richest man in Kinsley as well as Western Kansas,” In 1911, his sister, Marion, would marry Jouett Shouse who became both a Kansas and U.S.  congressman and Washington political appointee.  You may remember from last week that right after graduating from high school in 1916, Ben J. became secretary for Congressman Shouse’ in Washington, D.C. during WWI.

            It was reported in Charles’ obituary in the Kinsley Mercury that he “Gave a play” at age six.  A review of Kinsley’s third Shakespearean festival in the Kansas City Star (6 August 1916) mentions that “as a high school boy (he) wanted to be in and to produce plays” and that “the members of his class supported Mr. Edwards in putting on all the plays he would get up for them.”

            Charles left Kinsley before graduating from high school to study at the Dillenback School of Oratory in Kansas City.  After graduating in May, 1899, he went East.  He reported in 1908, just before his 27th birthday, that he had had the opportunity to be “something of a theatre-goer” – one who had “seen most of the RISQUE plays presented during the past ten years…”

            Charles came back to Kinsley in 1907 to become the editor of Kinsley Mercury until 1910.  He directed high school plays and began working with Gilmor Brown and his community Shakespearean productions.  Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1912), As You Like It (1914) and Twelfth Night (1916) were produced by hundreds of Kinsley citizens and performed outside to audiences of one to two thousand.  Ben J. acted in these and in the high school plays.  After graduating in 1916, he would continue to spend his summers in Kinsley to be in Edwards plays’ and to construct scenery.

            Edwards pursued his career in acting in Kansas City, New York, Dallas, Tulsa, and elsewhere.  He was one of the best-known producers of pageants and amateur plays in the country. He directed the big Shakespeare Festival in Okmulgee Oklahoma 1920 and 1921.

Sue Bidwell (KHS 1919) played Violet with Charles Edwards who played Dinwiddle in a scene from “Clarence”.

            In 1920 he returned to Kinsley to direct a play performed by the Kinsley Collegians, a cast made up of those talented alumni.  In 1923, Edwards again came back to reform the Collegians and produce two WWI plays, Billeted and Three Live Ghosts. Ben J. acted in both.  In the latter, he portrayed “Spoofy who suffers from shell-shock and dons an expression that brings down the house” (Mercury, 31 May 1923).

Ben J. Ely (KHS 1916) and Margaret McKechnie (KHS 1923).  Margaret was an accomplished pianist and played interludes for the production of Billeted (1923) in which Ben acted.  Perhaps this picture was taken that year.

            In the summer of 1924, Edwards would form the Kinsley Players and direct three plays. He engaged Don Cook, a member of the Kansas Community Players, to play the lead role in the second one, Clarence, by Booth Tarkington.

Cook was talented and handsome.  One can only imagine the effect he had on the female population of Kinsley.  He was described in the Graphic as having a voice filled with tones and delightful resonance.

            Cook was enticed to stay on for the September production of Mollusc by Henry Davies.  Edwards would return to the stage and play a major role in this comedy.

            All three plays featured a talented local actress, Sue Bidwell.  It was rumored that she might have been Charles Edwards secret love, but I’m going to save her most interesting story for next week.

            Unfortunately, the next year on New Year’s Eve in 1925, Charles Edwards would give into the demons of loneliness and commit suicide by poison in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The notes he left are very poignant and tragic.  His mother and sister would bury him in Kansas City.

            On a happier note, Don Cook would go on to have a very successful Broadway and screen career.  He is best known for his roles as Steve in Show Boat(1936), as Mike Powers in The Public Enemy (1931) and as  Stevens in Baby Face (1933).  He acted in 58 movies, 20 Broadway plays, and 10 episodes in television dramas. 

            Cook was married to Princess Gioia Tasca di Cuto in 1937.  They remained married until his death of a heart attack in 1961 at age sixty while rehearsing the lead role in a new play, A Shot in the Dark. Walter Matthau was hired to replace him. 

            Don Cook has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is buried where he grew up in Portland, Oregon.

Sue Bidwell, Charles Edwards, and Ruth Workman in” Mollusc”.

#46 Ben Ely, Jr. Leaves Kinsley for Art Career

           I’ve been working my way through a box of photos given to the Edwards County Museum by the Ely family.  As you recall, my research led me to Robert Kirk who in 1881 started the Kirkfield Post Office (located at County Road 36 and 150 Ave).

 Kirkfield is where Ben Ely, Sr. settled with his wife, children, and mother-in-law in 1901.  The children attended Trotter School and were awarded for perfect attendance in 1907.

In 1909, Ben, Sr. sold his farm and moved his family into Kinsley (814 Colony Ave.).  At that time, Roy was 18 and James was 16.  They would soon marry and have their own households.

Ely children: Manning, Ben, Jr. and Ruth in 1912.

Ben Jr. (age 11), (Mary) Ruth (age 9)), and Manning (age 7) would begin attending school in Kinsley.  Tragedy befell the family in June, 1914 when Manning, who had always been frail, died. Ruth would graduate form KSH in 1919 and become a teacher until she married James Shrauner and settle in Cimarron.

Ben, Jr. was active in high school.  Years ago, I became aware of him from his illustrations in the 1914 thru 1916 KHS annuals, the “Harbinger”. He illustrated many pages with ink drawings in the popular art nouveau style.  I invite you to visit the library or go online to see these wonderful drawings:

A Ben Ely illustration in the 1916 KHS Harbinger, perhaps a scene from the Verdi’s opera Rigoletto.

The yearbooks also reveal that besides being on the annual staff, Ben, Jr. was a member of the Adelphian Literary Society. “Safety First Club,” Glee Club and Chorus, played tennis and acted in plays.  He was Vice President of his graduating class of 1916.  As a junior, he was “Known by his neckties”.  As a senior, he earned the following limerick in the annual.

“There is a young man we call Ben
Who always makes use of his pen.
If you’ll take time to look,
At the cartoons in this book.
You’ll say he is great among men.”

Ben Ely played tennis for KHS.

            That summer Charles Edwards, produced Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, and Ben, Jr. worked on the scenery.  He would continue to work with Edwards during the summers after graduation, but that story is for next week.

            In January, 1917, Ben, Jr. left to attend the Art Students League in New York City.  This is where Georgia O’Keeffe and Thomas Hart Benson had studied ten years earlier.

            The United States entered World War I that April, and in September, Ben went to Washington, D.C. to become Congressman Jouett Shouse’ secretary.  He also attended the Corcoran School of Art in D.C. and was in at least one play there.  He would continue to come back to Kinsley during the summers to act and design scenery for plays for Edwards.

In 1927 Ben began working for the Newspaper Enterprise Association at Cleveland.  His illustrations appeared in many papers including the Hutchinson News.  Ben wrote, “My first story was for the weekly issue, a Wild West Thriller, called “The Aztec Mystery” –full of big guns, heroic cowboys and villainous Mexicans.  I have been doing illustrations for the daily issues.”

By 1935, Ben Jr. was living and working as an illustrator in New York City with his wife, Elizabeth (Betty) L. Martin.  She was the daughter of a dentist and had been raised in Lander, Wyoming.  I could find no information about how they met or their wedding.  Betty was ten years younger than Ben, college educated, and worked as a food technician.

In 1936-7, Ben was illustrating a regular children’s column in “The Country Home Magazine” called “Agri and the Magic Corn Silk”.

The Elys were still living in NY in 1940.  I was not able to discover when they left. But they were in Wheatbbridge, Colorado in 1954 and in Lander and Denver in the 1970s and 1980s.  He was exhibitng watercolors and portraits and judging art competitions.

While researching, I noticed that Jerry Wilson (Sally Frame’s father) was also in Edwards’ plays.  When I called her, she recalled Ben and Betty coming to Kinsley and visiting her parents.  Ben gave her a watercolor which did not appeal to her and she has never framed it.

Ben died on April 7, 1988 in Seattle, just two months after Betty died.  They are buried in Lander, Wyoming with their daughter, Martha E. Ely (1950-1994).

Next week I’ll share how the Ely photo box led me to connect Kinsley to one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

#45 Ely Family Comes to Edwards County

            Last week, I began exploring a box of photos and memorabilia given by the Ely family to the Edwards County Historical Society.  It led to finding out about the Kirkfield Post Office established by Robert O. Kirk in 1881.  Kirkfield was where Benjamin J. Ely, Sr. would choose to settle his family.

            Benjamin was born on December 30, 1858 in Kirksville, Missouri one of 14 siblings.  His father, Judge David A. Ely, had established a large slave-holding plantation there in 1835.  I could find no connection between Robert O. Kirk, a Union soldier from Massachusetts, and the Confederate founders of Kirksville, MO.

            After finishing his education in the Missouri State Normal, Ben studied law at Quincy Business College. About 1880, he went with his father and brothers to Maryville, California, where they established an extensive wheat ranch that failed.  When his father died in 1887, Ben returned to Missouri to care for his mother, Mary. 

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Left: Early picture of Benjamin
Above: Benjamin & Martha with Roy and James.

Ben married Martha Alice Crow on Feb. 13, 1890.  They had four children (Roy, James, Benjamin Jr., and Mary Ruth) before moving with Mary to Kirkfield in November, 1901. Ben bought a large acreage where he would farm and raise cattle and horses. Three months after arriving, Martha gave birth to twins boys, but only one, Manning, survived.

Like his father, Ben had an interest in politics.  In 1904 he ran for Edwards County Commissioner of the Second District as a Fusion Candidate.  I was not familiar with that term “fusion”, and found it to be when both political parties back the same candidate.  Despite that double endorsement, he lost the election.

In 1905, the Lewis Press ran a weekly Kirkfield column which gives a glimpse into prairie life.  The year began with visits by the neighbors to the Ely home on January 2 where, “Everyone ate a hearty supper, visited to a late hour and returned home happy.”

The January 20 issue reported, “A good visit by the fire has been enjoyed by our farmers this week while the cold weather lasted.  12 degrees below zero has been the mark.  Our farmers are pleased with the heavy snow on the wheat fields.”

Everyone in the neighborhood was busy throughout January.  D.E. Bear, M.C. Trotter, and L. J. Rumsey were butchering hogs.  Ben was building fence.  Ed Sultz with the assistance of his neighbors was husking corn. 

Pat Sweeny, Jr was marketing Ben Ely’s wheat in Kinsley.  He was also busy hauling telephone poles and wire from Kinsley for the Watson Telephone Co.  Ben and his neighbors were installing new telephones. 

Mr. Wills was looking forward to ordering a steam plow for sod and old ground plowing.  He had nearly 500 acres engaged, the largest contracts being 160 acres in one field for Ben Ely, and another 100 acres for Geo. L. Vedder and 120 Acres for Peter Lancaster.

The end of the January also brought the end to the Kirkfield post office. Wendell took over that service.

With the beginning of February “A general cayoute chase is reported to take place in our vicinity soon.  Mr. Vedder and Mr. Ely ran cayoutes last week but the animals were so numerous, they could not all chase the same wolf long enough at one time to catch a single one.”

February got colder and a revival meeting at nearby Trotter school was postponed because it was 25 degrees below zero.  Ben was sick in February, and his children had whooping cough in April.

In a snow storm on Friday, April 14, S. E. Bear and his steam plow and a factory expert arrived in Kinsley.  On Monday, the 20-horse engine was hitched with 8 plows and working successfully in Kirkfield. Nearly 50 people visited the scene to see the machine that could replace six 3-horse teams and cost one-third less. 

Geiser Peerless steam ploy like the one Bear bought for $2,500 and charges $1.50 per acre to plow.

In 1909, Ben decided to sell his farm and stock and move into Kinsley to give the advantages of education and city life to his children. He bought the house which still stands at 814 Colony Ave.  His mother died the next year, and 12-year old Manning, who had never been well, died in 1914.

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814 Colony Ave. then and now.

Benjamin J. Ely, Sr. was active in civic life.  He was president of the Board of Education for seven years, mayor of Kinsley for two terms, and the chairman of the Democratic County Committees. He was a member of the Masonic Order and a Knight Templar.

Ben Ely driving his new Hupmobile in October, 1914.

At the time of his sudden death on August 27, 1926, he was applying for a patent for an automobile awning. He is buried in Hillside Cemetery.


#44 Kirkfield, Kansas

Last week, the Edwards County Historical Society received a box of photos and documents from the Ely family.  I was interested because I recognized the name of Ben Ely, Jr. as a talented illustrator of early Kinsley High School annuals.  After being inventoried, the box was brought to the library, and I spent an afternoon scanning photos and reading papers.  That is how I found myself off on the trail of Ben Ely, Sr. who brought his family to Kirkfield in Edwards County in 1901.   

That led to the question: Where was Kirkfield?  I was surprised to find it located just south of where I live, but it took a trip to the courthouse to clarify exactly where.   Kirkfield was on what is now called the parallel, at the corner of County Road 36 and 150 Avenue (going south).  Back then the freight trail to Sun City ran close by.  Today it is a cultivate field, but on February 24, 1881, Robert G. Kirk established the Kirkfield post office there at his home and it was named for him.

Robert Kirk was one of the early Edwards County settlers.  He was born in Massachusetts in 1836.  On November 20, 1861, at age 24, he enlisted in Company D, 11th Regiment of the U. S. Infantry   This Regiment was at the Second Battle of Bull Run, at Chancellorsville and at Gettysburg.  He suffered injuries but remained in service until he was discharged at the end of the war on May 25, 1865.  The next week, he married Mary Maher of Boston.  In 1877, they would immigrate to Edwards County. 

The area of Kirkfield (it never was a real town) had its share of problems.  There was a large prairie fire on September 17, 1882 which started south of the river at Offerle and ran “over all the country south of the sand hills (Brown, Wayne and Franklin Townships) causing great destruction of property and in a number of cases endangering life.  In addition to losing all their range…. the citizens lost their hay, straw, fodder and millett, and barely saved their houses…. Such a loss anywhere but on the frontier where the people have learned to bear the frequent visitations of disasters, would entirely discourage any community, but with the courage begotten by the long continued fight with drought, grasshoppers and hail storms, these hardy frontiersmen will go to work with renewed energy to repair the heavy losses occasioned by this new calamity.”  (Kinsley Graphic, Sept. 21, 1882)

Robert Kirk offered a $25 reward from his private funds for the arrest and conviction of the party or parties who set the fire.  I don’t think the culprit was every discovered.

On June 19, 1890, the Kinsley Mercury reported another disaster when Kirkfield was literally wiped from the face of the earth by a cyclone. “The storm Monday evening, which went tearing across the country south of the river did considerable damage to property.  At and in the vicinity of Kirkfield, it raged with the greatest fury and the good people there with one accord betook themselves to dug-outs and other cyclonic means of defense, consequently we hear of no severe personal injury or loss of life.  It is reported that Robt. Trotter, the Kirkfield postmaster, was bruised up slightly and that his residence and post office were blown down.  The house, farm and other out-buildings belonging to John Zimmet were completely demolished.  A number of his hogs and cattle were killed and one or two horses badly injured.”  Kirkfield at this time, only contained a vacant barn which was destroyed.

Luckily for Robert Kirk, he had left Kirkfield the year before in 1889.  He had found that the rugged pioneer life was not possible with his war-caused disabilities. He moved to Kinsley and ran for and won the position of Edwards County coroner in 1893. The Graphic supported his candidacy with these words, “Mr. Kirk will doubtless be elected, as he should be, and hold his first inquest over the remains of the political party that dares to oppose him.”

I could find no record of Robert and Mary ever having children.  Mary, died in 1895, and Robert moved to Larned where he delivered ice.  At age 65, he married a five-time widow, Lucillah T. Aliff, on September 19, 1901. 

Robert Kirk died on March 5, 1910.  His body was brought back to Kinsley and buried under the direction of the G.A.R.  next to his first wife in Hillside Cemetery.  (In 1911, Lucillah, at the age of 75, would marry at least one more time to W. A. Woodruff of Hoisington. It is difficult to research women who have so many last names!)

Sexton Kevin Wetzel points out where Civil War veteran Robert Kirk and his wife Mary are buried in the northwest part of Hillside Cemetery.

In 1901, the year that Robert Kirk left Edwards County, Benjamin Ely, Sr. brought his family and settled in Kirkfield.  As usual this week’s trail with its ghost town of Kirkfield became so interesting, I didn’t even get to the Ely family and their family photos.  I’ll pick them up next week. 

Celebrate Kansas Day

This Friday is Kansas Day, marking the 160th anniversary of our state’s admission to the Union in 1861.  Kansas Day was first celebrated in 1877 by the school children in Paola, and I imagine, the children at Kinsley-Offerle Elementary School are still carrying out that tradition this week.

But Kansas Day has not always been reserved for school children to learn about and appreciate their state.   In 1892, the Republican Kansas Day Club was formed, and for over a century, they organized partisan breakfasts, luncheons, and banquets in Topeka.

The Leavenworth Weekly in 1897 wrote, “January 29 should be a red-letter day celebrated in every part of the State with public decorations and mass meetings.”

An article in the Kinsley Graphic on February 3, 1910 describes a large crowd assembled at the Flohr Opera House (625 Colony Ave.) to hear a lecture by Thomas A. McNeal.  He was the third speaker in an “All Kansas Entertainment” series organized by Cora Lewis. 

            T. A. McNeal was well known in Kansas.  He left Ohio to settle in Medicine Lodge in 1879 where he owned and edited the local paper.  In the next few years, as a Republican, he represented Barber County in the Kansas legislature and also served as the mayor of Medicine Lodge.  

In 1887 he was admitted to the bar and practiced law until 1897 when he moved to Topeka and established the “Kansas Breeze” newspaper.  In 1905 McNeal was appointed private secretary to Republican Governor Edward Hoch and then became the State Printer, the office which he held at the time of his visit to Kinsley.

Graphic editor J. M. Lewis wrote about the lecture.  “Believing the matter of the greatest moment in the state to be the development of men and women of fine character, the speaker took for his theme ‘The Future Kansas Citizen.’  It was a speech worthy of the day – full of clear thought, plain speaking, high ideals, and just estimates of present-day tendencies and problems.  It was full of good stories and humorous illustrations, which kept the audience vibrating between laughter and serious attention, and was greeted with applause, genuine and sincere.”

Charles R Edwards, editor of the rival Republican Kinsley Mercury, wrote similar praise.  “Tom McNeal stands before the people in a most favorable light, as a consistent square dealer, and the political significance of his talk was not missed by the crowd. He is a candidate for the Republican nomination for congress running against Dan Anthony in the First district.  The Mercury believes and hopes that he will be successful…. Standing as they do at the head of the Democratic party in this county, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis showed a broadminded tolerance in presenting Mr. McNeal to our people.”

Another Kansas Day celebration was described in the 1917 Graphic, just 3 months before the United States entered WWI.   The Kinsley Woman’s Club served quite an elaborate banquet and program in the Knights of Pythias Hall (107 E. Sixth St., Young’s Club).  Of particular interest to me is that the profits from tickets sold to the event were to build a club house and library in Kinsley.

“Large artificial sunflowers covered the lights and large baskets filled with them were placed on the small tables in the main room.  Doorways were draped with black and yellow bunting, while at the end of the room the United States flag and the white Peace flag were artistically draped.  A candy table also was an attractive place, in more than one sense.  In the dining room the long tables were decorated with black vases filled with yellow narcissae…. Beck’s orchestra added greatly to the occasion.”

I’m not sure how long it has been since Kinsley has celebrated Kansas Day outside of the schools.  But if you’re looking to add a little variety to your life during this gray pandemic winter, here are some ideas: 1) check out T. A. McNeal’s book, “When Kansas was Young” or another Kansas history book from the library, 2) make some sunflower seed cookies, 3) sing “Home on the Range” while sipping your favorite beverage, 4) Google “Kansas Symbols” to find out just how many state symbols you don’t know, 5) Visit the StoryWalk in South Park and enjoy some images and thoughts about Kansas, 6) or my personal favorite, enjoy a hot bowl of buffalo chili.

Debate Skills in High School and Life

The library has bound newspaper copies of the KHS Breezes, from 1947-1981.   As I was researching an earlier blog, I read that the 1979 debate team took fourth place in state that year.  This interested me as I did not know it when I had the privilege of coaching some talented KHS debater in 1989 and 1990.

Debate is part of the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA), just like basketball, football and volleyball.   Each year, a topic is assigned and school teams research it and become prepared to argue on both the affirmative (pro) and negative (con) sides of the question.  To win, a team must be able to effectively argue on either side they are assigned within time limits.  Competing school teams meet at tournaments where judges listen and award a winner of each round.

Competitive debate began at KHS in November, 1913, shortly after the original voluntary Kansas high school sports organization, called the Debate League and Athletic Association, was started.   This organization would later become the KSHSAA in 1937.

            KHS’s first debate team was formed by having tryouts in the auditorium before the public.  The three questions put forth were:  1) Resolved:  That voting should be compulsory, 2) Resolved:  That letter postage should be reduced to 1 cent, 3) Resolved: That the old soldier’s pensions should be discontinued.

The winners made up two 3-member teams consisting of Olga Leap, Winifred West, Ruth Turner, Mable Erwin, Vera Fuse and Albert Wilson. 

1914 Debate Team: (Back) Olga Leap, Albert Wilson, Winifred West, Sara White, Instructor (Front) Vera Furse, Ruth Turner, Mabel Erwin.

Debate tournaments were spectator evens, just like sports.  KHS continued to have an extracurricular debate team until 1918 when the Spanish flu epidemic cancelled the competitions – shades of 2020.  It seems to have started up again and went until 1929 when maybe the Depression caused its demise.

A quick glance at other KHS Breezes and yearbooks makes me believe it did not return until 1978 when it became a class and two people composed a team on the squad.  At that time, the school paper reported that “Debate class is not an easy one.  It requires a lot of time and sacrifice, but it 1) develops leadership, 2) improves one’s speaking abilities, 3) helps one develop research and investigation techniques, 4) encourages participation in social issues, 5) helps one make mature judgement, 6) fosters honesty, 7) develop courage and determination, and 8) promotes logical decision making.”

The next year, Coach David Cooper’s team consisting ofKenton Kersting, Kim Kurth, Sharon Harnish, Karen Harnish, and Norman Hirsh took second place at regionals while debating the question, Resolved: That the federal government should significantly change foreign trade policies. The novice, or first year team members that year wereKathie Maley, Peggy Marcy, and Shane Shanks.

1980 Debate Team:  (Standing) Coach David Cooper, Sharon Harnish, Norman Hirsh, Shane Shanks, Peggy Marcy. (Seated) Karen Harnish, Kim Kurth, Kenton Kersting, Kathie Maley

Kinsley hosted a tournament in 1979 in which Richard and Jane Wenstrom served as judges.  Judges can be people familiar with debate or just “ordinary” people as Richard said in an article he wrote for the Nov. 21 issue of KHS Breezes.  He ended his article with the following.  ”It seems to me that debate experience would be excellent preparation for any occupation….Our community, our nation, and the world badly needs people who can express, and defend their point of view in a logical, persuasive, organized manner.”

The team traveled to state and heard Keith Akins, Director Washburn Speech Activities, say in his welcoming speech, “Anyone can ‘wing it’ and give a windy, half-hour talk about nothing, but you, as debaters, are able to make solid and succinct presentations. We need more like you in today’s society.”  The team placed fourth that year.

Another high point in KHS Debate, occurred in the 1990 season when the team took Second Place at regionals and again earned the right to be one of eight teams to compete in the 2-A state tournament.

The squad that year was made up of:  Seniors Jared Froetschner, Ty Holborn, Abe Houdeshell, and Misty Houdeshell; Juniors Shari Duggar, Kathy Kregar, Jacob Schmitt; and Sophomore Jenny Brake and Becky Schinstock.  The topic was, Resolved:  That the U. S. government should significantly increase space exploration beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

1991 Debate Team: (Front row)  Becky Schinstock, Misty Houdeshell, Jenny Brake, Abe Houdeshell;  (Middle row)  Jacob Schmitt, Jaren Froetschner, Ty Holborn;  (Back row) Kathy Kregar, Coach Joan Weaver, Shari Duggar

KHS does not currently offer debate class, but lately, I have been thinking about the valuable life-skills competitive debate teaches.  

It forces a person to research and be able to argue with facts and experts on both sides of an issue.  Through this research, fallacious arguments are identified on both sides, offering the opportunity for rebuttal with logic and truth.  If someone doesn’t understand the facts, if they are taking facts out of context, or just making up facts, it is identified and exposed.

To do this, debate research must come from a variety of sources – both those that support and those that are opposed to an argument.   Today it is reported that most of us get our information from only one source and one side of an argument.  This does not allow for understanding of the opposition and discussion on the honest merits of an argument.

Debate also teaches that, importantly, no matter what the source is, it should be challenged for authenticity and backed up by other independent sources.  Just because something is written or said, does not mean it is true.  Sadly today, most people post and repost on social media with no questioning, research or verification.

This leads me to a challenge.  Next time you find yourself in an argument, call a time out.  Then switch sides and honestly argue against your personal belief.  You might even do a little research.  This may offer new revelations of understanding and a focus on facts. 

1886 BLizzard – Part 2

As mentioned in last week’s article, January 1, 1886 was a mild day.  The afternoon became misty, with rain that turned into snow that evening and rapidly grew worse.  By midnight a blizzard was in full rage.  The people of Kinsley managed to dig out and survive with a supply of coal and food.  Rural residents were not as fortunate.

Some settlers on the prairie lived in loosely constructed board shanties.  The only insulation against the wind and cold was often newspaper on the walls.  Others lived in a lowly dugout which was actually more comfortable. They were protected from the wind, and snow was an insulator. 

  For many days it was a struggle on the prairie to find fuel to burn to keep warm.   Some resorted to burning their furniture or would dampen hay to make it burn more slowly.

About 30 people died in western Kansas, but I could not discover that any of them were in Edwards County.  Men, women and children died by getting caught and/or lost in the storm.  Farmers were spared by stringing a rope-line to the barn.  Both the Graphic and Mercury did write of many bad cases of frozen hands and feet in the hills south of Kinsley.

This is a photo of a drawing of a herd of cattle in a blizzard drawn by Charles Graham from a sketch by Henry Worrall. (Kansas State Historical Society, Kansas Memory)

D. L. Simmons who lived between Dodge City and Spearville, wrote the following remembrance in the Wichita Beacon (January 22, 1922).

 “When daylight came, the air was white.  It was like looking against a sheet.  There was not a minute of the day that you could have distinguished a cow from an elephant one rod from your door.

“I had a good barn about a hundred yards from my house, with six horses and twelve cows and calves in it.  The snow came through cracks around the doors until the horses’ backs were against the top.  The blizzard continued until midnight.  On the morning of the third day, it was drifted level with the top of the barn.  I was two days getting my stock out of the barn.

            “Almost everything, man or beast, that had been out during the blizzard died.  There were 1,500 head of cattle killed on the Arkansas River between Dodge City and Kinsley….Many of the frozen cattle were skinned and saved for meat.”

            On January 16, 1886 the Dodge City Globe reported that the below-freezing north wind caused the cattle to drift south “…until they came to the river, and rather than stand there they attempted to cross and perished instead. Some by breaking through the slush and ice, and others by falling on the ice and being unable to get up.”

“According to a news item, a bachelor spent the storm in his 10-by-12 foot shack on a plot of land in Edwards County.  But he was not lonely during the raging blizzard.  Sharing his house were two bachelor friends, his dog, nine head of cattle, three hogs, 18 chickens and one horse.  Under these conditions the motley assortment of creatures endured two days and two nights.  If misery loves company, surely this fellow must have felt great gratification.” (Hutchinson News, Jan. 1, 1986) 

In Fellsburg, Mr. John Reeder lost five head of cattle in the storm.  Mr. Fell lost eighteen head of hogs, and Mr. L. White had eight head of hogs to smother in the snow. 

The Kinsley Mercury (February 20, 1986) told a very different story of Hugh Bartis Oliphant’s hog.  “The place where the animal had been in the habit of bedding at night was covered by a huge drift, and after prodding around in the snow for a while without finding the porker, Mr. O. concluded that he was lost bacon and gave the search up.

“Five weeks after the animal disappeared, the melting snow disclosed the emaciated form of the hog still alive and kicking. Mr. Oliphant says the animal presented a pitiful spectacle when first uncovered, being crazed for food. It bit and snapped at everything within its reach.  Food was promptly place before the resurrected one and it is now fattening up rapidly.” 

Some wondered if this story was true, but Mr. Oliphant stood by it.

Within days of the storm ending, the Graphic understated the disaster and voiced the spirit of the persistent, courageous, and ever hopeful farmer.   “The new year opens up a little cold but the prospects for a good season were never more favorable than now.  The wheat crop in western Kansas was never more promising that at this time.  The fields being protected by a good fall of snow which remains on the ground and prevents from freezing.”

Blizzard of 1886

Last week, I wrote about the Kinsley gentlemen calling on ladies on New Year’s Day, January 1, 1886.  That was 135 years ago when New Year’s Day also fell on Friday, as it did this year.

The day started out very mild, but while the men were calling, it began to snow.  It turned into a blizzard that night which continued until Monday morning.  At least 8 inches of snow fell and drifted with 20-30 mph winds and 12° F temperatures.

 Two days later, on Wednesday, January 6, a second, more severe blizzard hit.  The Kinsley Mercury reported: “The “blizzard” which struck this place at about nine o’clock Wednesday night was one of the worst that ever visited this country.  The oldest inhabitant of them all acknowledges that he never saw anything worse.  The wind blew a gale from the north, while the thermometer soon sank several degrees below zero, and the snow, which was all the time falling fast, was blown across the face of the earth in clouds so dense that at times the eye could not penetrate it for a distance of more than one or two rods.  The storm continued all day Thursday, the mercury still falling, until at four o’clock p.m. the thermometer registered eight below.  About six o’clock the gale commenced to decrease in force and before Friday morning, had ceased entirely, though the cold had increased to 18° below.”

With 10’ drifts and snow-blocked tracks, Kinsley became the western terminus of the railroad for a week.   The tracks would not be cleared for another week and after that it took quite an effort to keep them cleared.  The snow was packed so hard it made the snow plow almost useless.  All available men, even clerks and baggage men from every depot, were brought in to shovel.  About six hundred men were in the force which worked westward, and a gang of three of four hundred worked to the east.  They met near Cimarron.

Photo of the 1886 Blizzard in Ford County. (Photo: National Weather Service)

Passengers on trains that had made it to Kinsley were stranded here.  They slept in their pullman cars, and the Santa Fe Company fed them at the Depot Hotel free of charge.   However, according to the editor of the Mercury, it sounds as if some were unhappy being snowbound. “It is safe to say that with the large number of delayed travelers that have been tarrying here lately there has been more useless profanity indulged in than ever before since the founding of the town. “(Kinsley Mercury, January 16, 1886)

Depot Hotel, 213 W. 8th St., located next to railroad tracks. After a fire, it was torn down in 1898.

Life in town was interrupted.  Businesses were closed on Thursday night (January 7), and the public schools were not opened until the next Tuesday (January 12) because it was impossible for some teachers to get into town.  I’m sure the kids had fun sledding and it was reported that several parties were out sleighing, something which could not normally be done here. 

On January 20, an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe west-bound passenger train became snowbound in Kinsley. It was followed by a second train, a special excursion carrying vacationers from Massachusetts to California. The 270 passengers on the trains were taken care of and entertained by the people of Kinsley. 

Some of these passengers passed their time by writing a newspaper called the “B-B-Blizzard” which was published by the Graphic on January 23.  It contains humor, puns about the snow, a list of passengers with comments about them and train personnel.

One article complimented the citizens of Kinsley.  “It is fortunate for the passengers of the two trains, snowbound at this place that they were not compelled to pass their captivity in a less hospitable city.  Kinsley, Kansas is a thriving young city, of about 1,500 inhabitants with enterprising citizens and some handsome and substantial business houses and dwellings.  Much has been done by the citizens to entertain their involuntary guests, and tonight they will give a literary and musical entertainment at the (Flohr’s) opera house.” (First floor of building still located at 625 Colony)

The evening was filled with vocal performances and witty speeches by both townspeople and passengers. After a luncheon provided by the Kinsley ladies, the string band played for dancing which “continued until the wee small hours, when the excursionists returned to the palace cars and the citizens retired to their houses all feeling that they had spent an enjoyable evening.”

As you can imagine, the townspeople fared well in this storm as compared to settlers out on the prairie.  Their situation was very different as you will be able to read about next week.

#39 Celebrating the New Year

Newspaper writers know that the first paragraph of an article should contain the lead information.  So, before I get into my normal historical article, I want to share what is really important about the writing of “A Note from Your Remote Librarian”.   This column is interesting because people have and do contributed to your library’s archive.

Much of my information comes from citizens supplying it.  We often do not think our memories, photographs, and scrapbooks have historical significance.  However, all of us can tell stories about things that are interesting, if not foreign, to our children and grandchildren.  Some of my most popular articles have been ones that include information from the last eighty years.  One example, is the picture I used last week of the community tree being installed in the intersection.  It was just a snapshot, but it captured a moment in Kinsley history that was nearly lost to history.

I’d like all of you who enjoy this column to spend a nostalgic New Year’s Day looking through old photo albums and scrapbooks or jotting down memories to share with the library archive.  If you do, you will help move our historical records up a few decades.  Our remembered history will be preserved for future generations.  The current pandemic is already becoming history (not soon enough), and just like the Spanish Flu, will be interesting for people to read about in a few years.

For this week’s article, I decided to look into how New Year’s was celebrated in early Kinsley, I discovered an old tradition which I knew nothing about.  This custom, “New Year’s calling”, was brought to Kinsley by the early Bostonian settlers.  It was a Victorian era practice of ladies announcing that they would be home to receive callers on New Year’s Day.  The gentlemen would then make the rounds of these “open houses,” and announce their arrival with their own calling cards.  I found an example of a New Year’s calling card on the internet, but maybe one of you have one in a great grandmother’s memory book.

A sample of a calling card used to call on and receive visitors on New Years Day.

The January 2, 1886 issue of the Kinsley Mercury reported many ladies of the city received New Year’s Day callers that year.  Visitors came to homes and extended New Year’s greetings and enjoyed  what I assume was a buffet luncheon.  One of the receiving homes that year was described as “A company of ten ladies assembled at the elegant residence of Mrs. Ed Boies received together.  All gentlemen calling learned that they could make almost a dozen cards by going there and went.” 

Interestingly, on January 1, 1888, the receiving tradition was turned around.  At the last minute, a group of gentlemen got together and decided that they would receive the ladies. Many people thought that the ladies wouldn’t like this, but as it turned out, they really got into the spirit of the day.  About fifty men received about an equal number of women who arrived in homes that year.

“The ladies displayed great originality not only in their unique calling cards, but … in the many exceedingly novel conveyances used. One crowd came in a buss with a large trunk strapped on top, conveying the impression that they had come to stay.  Another came in a sleigh, all tucked up in furs and robes, as a reminder of the holiday season back east.  Anther had a dray handsomely covered and carpeted, and rode in state in upholstered chairs and had their coming announced by a colored footman.  One party … called in costume representing the grandmothers of the early part of the present century.  Mrs. Spencer was a somewhat talkative but very precise old lady accompanied by her two daughters of whom she was exceedingly fond, and very solicitous lest they fail to make the proper impression on the young gentlemen on whom they were calling.”  Those two young ladies who wre the daughters were costumed like old maids of uncertain age – giddy as sweet sixteen” Mercury, January 5, 1886.

The upstairs hall of the Alamo House hotel was the location of the 1888 New year’s Day dinner. the hotel was located at 217 E. Sixth St,, the present day location of Navanod Antiques.

The last call that the ladies made in their rounds that day was to the Alamo Hotel where the gentlemen had arranged a supper.  After which, “toasts were responded to, card playing, singing and dancing indulged in until a late hour, when everybody retired to their respective homes feeling that it was not only good to have received or called on New Year’s Day, but it was exceedingly fortunate that they had cast their lots in Kinsley, among so many pleasant, agreeable, and whole-souled people.”

A new-fangled device, called the telephone, came to Kinsley in 1899.  By the next year, it seems that a telephone call was already replacing the need for calling cards, and this receiving and visiting tradition died out. 

Today we text or email to arrange a visit.  This year, Facetime and Zoom have become alternative, safe ways to visit with friends and family.  Let us hope that our continued masking, social distancing, handwashing and the eagerly awaiting vaccine, will soon allow us to gather together again.  But no matter how the message has been conveyed in the past, it remains the same today. The library board and staff wish you a healthy and happy New Year! 

#38 Christmas Trees and Bright Lights

Christmas is a time for traditions.  Until a few years ago, the traditional Kinsley community Christmas tree was placed downtown in the center of the intersection of Marsh Ave. and Sixth St.  This tradition had to be abandoned when it was deemed a traffic hazard. But I was curious about when it began.

In 1963, bricks were removed in order to secure the tree in place.  (Photo: Ed Carlson)

I knew it went back at least to 1963 because the library archive has a picture from Ed Carlson’s family scrapbook of the tree being put up that year.  Ten years earlier,  Kinsley Mercury published a picture in 1953.

The tree in the intersection of Marsh and Sixth St in December of 1953 (Mercury Photo). 

Last week, Melanie Wheeler happened to be in the library when I was wondering out loud about the tree.  She left the library and asked her father, Harold Burkhart.  He remembered the tree being there a few years after he moved to Kinsley in 1944.    

I then called Charles Schmitt who said he could remember a tree being there when he was a small boy in the early 1930s.  At that time, he remembered a half-barrel being filled with sand and used to hold the tree upright.

Articles in the Graphic in both 1929 and 1930 reported that there were four Christmas trees, three on Sixth Street and one on the corner of Colony Avenue and Seventh St.  However, they do not say if one was in the Marsh St. intersection.

I kept reading back in time and finally found in the December 19, 1919 Graphic what I was looking for.  “The community Christmas tree is to be managed by the Red Cross,. . . .  A large tree will be placed square at the intersection of Sixth street and Marsh avenue and the crowd will gather for a carol and a song at 7:00 o’clock Christmas Eve.”

I discovered other things about Christmas trees and lights. The stock market crash ushered in the depression, but a 1929 headline that Christmas read, “Our City the Best Lighted in the Country.”  It described “strings of colored lights on Main Street from the Hupmobile (317 E. 6th) and Nash Garage to the end of the street, down Niles Avenue to the end of the first block, down Colony Avenue past the school house, down Marsh past the Britton Garage (622 Marsh), and north on Marsh to the City Hall (507 S. Marsh).

“The lights make the down town streets like fairy land with lights.  In the foggy evenings and mornings, they are especially beautiful.  More than 600 lights were used in the plan for loops of lights along the streets, with strings across the ends of each street continuing down the next. 

“Monday night the cars were as thick as if a circus was in town.  Many of the individual merchants are putting Christmas trees in front of their places of business and lighting them which adds to the beauty of the street at this season, when the world wants to be happy.”   (Graphic, December 12, 1929)

The Kinsley Bank (121 E. Sixth St. – Ornery Bros. Distilling) had a big 22’ tree in their 2-story lobby every year beginning in 1930. The employees pictured in this c. 1943 photo are, left to right: L. (Lee) S. Parker, Oval LoVette, Helen Dill, Lois Titus, unknown lady, Evelyn Lorimor, Richard Schinstock and Robert “Bud” Draut.

Outdoor home lighting began as early as 1922 when James M. and Cora Lewis wrote about their house, “The Three Winds” (802 Niles Ave.), having a lit out-door Christmas Tree which the neighborhood children enjoyed every night for a week.

 The first year for a home lighting contest was in 1949, and it offered three prizes of $10, $5, and $3.  I read that in 1953, Leonard and Dean Carlson were helping the city and many businesses and individuals put up their lights.

Ed Carlson, Leonard’s son, remembers that “All the strings of lights were custom made by Dad and Dean.  They would order in the twisted, cloth-covered wire, and two piece sockets that screwed together over the wire at the desired spacing. 

“Our house (916 E. Sixth) had green lights, Bobbie’s (Williamson’s, 919 Sixth) directly across the street, was red, and Mrs. Spitze (919 Sixth) next door east was blue.  The Swedlund house (905 Marsh) had the nice rounded roof on the front, south of the front door, and they always installed Santa’s sleigh and his reindeer.”

The Carlson Home in 1956

In September, 1953, Evelyn Carlson, Leonard’s young wife and Ed’s mother, died after a year-long illness.  That December, Mrs. C. E. (Bobbie) Williamson touchingly wrote the following in the Kinsley Mercury.

“Somehow I feel the Christmas lights are a glowing tribute to my lovely neighbor lady that lived across the street.

“Last year – her whole neighborhood felt it would be her last Christmas, and because the lights made her so happy and their home was done so beautifully, everyone went all out on Christmas lighting, down here in our east end of main street. 

“Somehow, I was so surprised when Leonard began a month ago to talk about Christmas lights.  Talking with the first happy glow I’d seen in his eyes for a long time—which somehow seemed a lesson of inspiration.  So now I feel each and every Christmas light is a glowing tribute to her memory.  Incidentally, the street lights are the nicest they have ever been.”

This year, when we are all suffering with isolation and loss, maybe all the colorful lights on the houses, streets, and trees of Kinsley can also serve us as reminders of those we hold in our memories. 

And may we still take to heart today what was written during the depression in the Graphic. “What we all need to feel is that all we need to be normal is to feel cheerful, and Christmas should be a time for looking on the bright side.”