#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.” 


#37 Kinsley Celebrates Christmas, 1876-1879

It’s not surprising that Christmas has been celebrated in Kinsley since its founding in 1873.  In the early years, Christmas Eve or Christmas night was reserved for a community celebration.

In 1876, everyone came together on Christmas night at the only church building in town, the Congregational Church.  It was built in 1875 and was located on the northwest corner of N. Third Street and Massachusetts with the main doors facing east.  This building still stands at its present location, 426 E. Sixth St.  The church entrance now faces west.

The first community Christmas tree was in 1876 in the Congregational Church at North Third St. and Massachusetts Ave.  Currently it is a residence located at 426 E. Sixth St.

  This event hosted the very first community Christmas tree.  James A. Walker, who would later write an early history of Edwards County, impersonated Santa Claus.  The 6 o’clock program included “music, recitations, a fish pond and a post office” (Kinsley Reporter, December 1, 1876).

The next year, the Union Sabbath School invited everyone to a social on Christmas Eve at the new two-story brick school house on the corner of First St. and Colony Ave. This celebration was free, with entertainment and something given to all the children. (December 13, 1877, Edwards County Leader

Two-story brick school house located at First St. and Colony Ave.

The December 21, 1878 issue of The Valley Republican reveals that the deep snow did not interfere with country people getting to town to prepare for and celebrate Christmas.  The paper mentions a sleigh drawn by four horses, Jacob Schmidt’s ice house being filled with ice (cut from Coon Creek?) measuring a foot in thickness, and the buffalo bone business being postponed until the snow disappears.

We read in the next issue how the community celebrated on Christmas Eve at “Gem of the Valley Hall” which was located on the second floor of the Depuy and Frater implement store (about 217 E. Sixth, Bossy Sister location). 

The headline reads, “Gem Hall was packed with Lively Children, Beautiful Women and Passable Men.”  The event was described as a great success.  “Gem Hall was brilliantly lighted and packed to its utmost capacity.  Every available seat and standing room was occupied…. One large tree reached from the floor clear to the high ceiling, and was flanked by two small ones.  All were dazzlingly brilliant with their variegated assortment of pendant presents.” 

After the singing of some carols and a speech, “Santa Claus came prancing into the room to a jingle of sleigh bells and amid the shouts of the children, and at once commenced the distribution of presents.  Each scholar received a stocking full of candy and an apple.  Many valuable and beautiful articles were distributed among happy recipients, and there were but few who did not get something.” 

On that night a touching poem entitled “Annie and Willie’s Prayer” by Sophia P. Snow was read.  It was printed in the Edwards County Leader on December 26, 1878.  You can hear a beautiful reading of it by poet Neil Stewart McLeod:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kLnvHUcSH8 or view printed link.

As everyone knows, early in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” we boo the villain Scrooge for not wanting to give Bob Cratchit a holiday on Christmas Day.   But what I learned in the Valley Republican was that in Kinsley, “The stores all closed Christmas at twelve o’clock”, which made Christmas just a half-day holiday.  The rest of the day, “Most of our citizens lay on sofas Christmas afternoon, wishing they had not eaten so much dinner.”

On April 19, 1879, most of downtown Kinsley’s wooden store buildings, including Gem Hall, were destroyed by fire.  On December 23, 1879, in a newly rebuilt Calkin’s Hall (located about 203 E. Sixth St), the last unified Christmas program was held.  In years to come, the churches would begin hosting their own programs on Christmas Eve.

Kinsley was growing rapidly and these reflective words W. R. Davis, the editor of the Valley Republican, might still hold meaning for us today.  “From that time (1876) until the present (1879) the rush of immigration has greatly changed the sociability of the gatherings of ye olden times.  Strange faces and new customs follow the settlement of a new country…. The order of exercises were new, the names called to come forward for presents were strange…. yet it is a pleasant thought that with the newcomers come Sunday School workers and Christian people.  Long may our people live and prosper, and with each Christmas may there be no mistakable evidence on an advancement of all that is good and pertains to the elevation of humanity.”

#36 Christmas Mailing Traditions Go Way Back

I decided to research how Christmas was celebrated in Kinsley in by-gone years.  Anyone who has ever read old newspaper knows that so many things catch your eye, and you end up discovering things you had not intended. 

I found an article written by the Kinsley postmaster, Benjamin Franklin Tatum, in the December 18, 1919 issue of the Kinsley Graphic. With additional research, I learned that B. F. (as he was known) was born in 1854 in Newtonia, Missouri.  He lived there until he married Sarah Hurst in 1879, and they moved to Comanche Co., KS. in 1889, before settling here in 1892.

 B.F. had many enterprises during his life.  He started out in cattle with a ranch five miles west on the Arkansas River.  He had a drug store (1885-1900).   He was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives for two terms (1900-1904).  He was then elected mayor of Kinsley (1904-1909).  In 1905 he had a hardware store before owning a garage in 1912.  Finally, in 1914, he became Kinsley’s postmaster at the age of 60.

The headline of B.F.’s article, “Mailing Christmas Parcels”, caught my eye.   It begins, “On account of the unreliability of train service and the unusual bulk of mail to be transported, the mails are very liable to be badly congested during the Holiday season between December 15th and January 1st.  The Postal employees will do all that they can to give prompt and efficient service in the handling of the Christmas rush, and they will greatly appreciate any help which the public may give them in doing this.”

New post office Building under construction at 103 E. Sixth St. (Part of Ryans currently.)

Our mail does not move by train anymore, but during this pandemic Christmas, the post office and UPS certainly are seeing a great volume of packages, and they have been encouraging us to mail early.  In 1919, B. F. recommended three things that are still true today to better insure your packages arrive on time, “wrap parcels securely, address plainly and mail early”. 

“Wrap parcels securely” reminds me of the song lyric, “Brown paper packages tied up with string”.  According to B. F., “Parcels must not be sealed or stickers put over the string or over the edge of the paper on a parcel.”  Packages had to be tied because Scotch tape was not invented until 1930.  Even though we had tape when I was a child, my mother still taught me how to tie a package for mailing with string without using tape.  Might be a fun activity for kids to do today; Google “square package lashing”.

(As a side note, until 1917, presents (not packages for mailing) were wrapped in solid colored tissue paper.  In 1917, Hallmark of Kansas City ran out of colored tissue paper and substituted decorative French envelope lining paper.  It sold so well, that from then on, they printed and sold their own decorative wrapping paper.)

B. F. also instructs that “Christmas seals should appear only on the back of parcels or letters.” In 1919, these stamps were being sold by the National Tuberculosis Association to combat one of the world’s deadliest killers. Like Covid 19, TB is airborne, and would not have a cure until antibiotics were invented in the 1940s.

According to B. F., “On December 20, 22, 23, and 24th, the back door in the Post Office lobby will be used as a parcel post window.  You will mail your parcels and also accept parcels addressed to you at this window…. Do not put a message of any kind inside parcels.  You indorse them, ‘Not to be opened till Christmas’.

Main Street, Kinsley, C. 1912.  Post office is first building east of Davenport Hotel (Ryan’s Appliance currently).

In that same issue of the paper this separate announcement appeared: “The Postoffice will be open on Christmas Day between the hours of 9-11 a.m.” 

These Christmas Day hours surprised me.  However, after learning about B. F., I like to think they may have been a kindness so as not to disappoint children with an undelivered parcel.   This is what it said in his obituary: “His affection for children was one of the beautiful characteristics of his generous nature, and they loved his merry greetings, wherever they met him.”

Just six months later, B.F. would die of a stroke at age 65 on May 5, 1920.  He is buried in Hillside Cemetery. 

B. F. Tatum’s obituary also says that he had to the “fullest degree the fine qualities of American manhood and business integrity.  The love of the community came to him because he added all this, the savor of the kindliest heart and the friendliest disposition that a man ever had.”

We might all strive to have our obituaries read like B. F. Tatum’s. “The memory of a clean, active, generous, kindly life will always remain with those who are left.  It is after all the choicest gift life can bestow upon us.”

#35 Strike Up the Band –Part 2 — The Marching 100

Last week I introduced you to Lester Beck who fostered a love of music in Kinsley boys from 1912-1919.  This week we will fast forward fifty years and remember Charles Kingry who ushered in the glory days of the Kinsley High School Band from 1961-1972.

Charles was born in Hodgeman County on October 24, 1918 to Albert and Bessie Kingry.  He grew up in Kinsley, and it was only natural that he would become a musician as his mother was a piano teacher and played for services at the Kinsley Christian Church.

Charles began playing the piano at a very early age and later played clarinet and saxophone in the Kinsley High School Band.  He was well known for his beautiful tenor voice. 

He graduated from KHS in 1937 and received a scholarship to study voice at Bethany College.  That was where he would receive his degree and also meet Martha Nell Pinney, another music major, who would become his wife.  They were married in 1941 and Charles began teaching at Walton, KS.  Soon he was drafted into the army and served in North Africa during World War II where he also sang in quartets to lift the spirits of his fellow soldiers.

After the war, the Kingrys would have five children (Danny, Lauren, JoNell, Lynda and Thyra).  Charles would teach music in several area schools including Utica (1945), Tribune (1949), Haviland and St. Nicolaus School in Kinsley (1953) and Rozel before becoming the KHS instrumental music instructor in the fall of 1962.  That year, the 67 band members got new uniforms and began gaining a reputation.  Besides marching at the home football games, Charles had them travel to play at the State Fair in Hutchinson and for the Fort Hays State College homecoming.

During the sixties, Kinsley High School enrollment was about 250 students and the Junior High was 100.  In 1963, when the band became “The Marching 100”, a large percentage of this small school system was in the band. 

On October 5, 1961. under Charles’ direction, the KHS drum corps developed a new precision cadence which brought them the honor of leading all the bands onto the field at the Kansas Wesleyan Band Day in Salina.   

In 1964, the band joined over 100 other bands to parade for the Colorado University’s Band Day in Boulder where they witnessed K-State beat CU, 16 to 14.  The band also played in Hutchinson for the state fair and participated at Fort Hays State College homecoming.  Of the twenty-seven bands in attendance at the latter, the Marching 100 was the largest with 110 members, and it received a Superior Rating for its sound quality, marching ability and appearance.

In 1965 the band returned to Colorado University as one of a hundred participating bands.   The three judges gave the band “highly superior” ratings and a recommendation to apply to appear in the Cotton Bowl parade. 

Charles went to work sending the Cotton Bowl committee a tape of the concert band and gathering letters of recommendation from other band directors.  In the spring of 1965, the letter came that is the thrill and dream of every high school band.  The Marching 100 were invited to be one of twenty bands to play in the Cotton Bowl Parade in Dallas on New Year’s Ever, 1966. 

The band had to raise $3000 for the trip and through the support of the school, civic groups, and the hard work of students in a “WOW – Work Our Way” campaign they did just that. 

Drum Majorette, Hyla Wiles, kept a journal of the trip. “Saturday morning came and we were called out of bed at 6:30 a.m.  The weather was disappointing because it was foggy and cold.  However, this did not keep the Marching 100 from rousing their enthusiasm.  As soon as we reached the fairgrounds, we lined up behind the high school band from Irving, Texas.  While we stood in place, we played and marked time. Finally, it was time to move out.  We marched behind the Dallas County Sherriff’s Posse.  The TV cameras were over halfway in the parade.  The band looked great and the many floats were beautiful.” (Kinsley Mercury, January 5, 1966)

During the following years, the Marching 100 would continue to play at K-State Band Days, the state fair, Fort Hays State College homecomings and in 1971 for the Lindborg Festival.

            Although the Marching 100 received most of the glory, during his tenure, Charles Kingry also directed a large pep band, a stage band and a concert band. All received honors and his impact on KHS students cannot be estimated.

Charles decided to slow down and spent the last two years teaching in the Kinsley grade school and junior high school where he produced operettas.  In 1975, he retired, and in 1982 he was inducted into the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame. 

Throughout the years Martha Nell accompanied Charles as he sang in church, at funerals, and on other occasions.  He also was a natural whistler and enjoyed playing the harmonica and spoons.  After sixty-four years of marriage, Martha Nell died in 2005.  Charles died in 2014, and they are buried at Hillside Cemetery.