#4 Poets on our Patch of Prairie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        “Spring Day in Kansas”

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

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

#3 A Look Back to Celebrate National Library Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 Black Sunday, April 25, 1935

Eighty-five years ago on April 14, 1935 it was Palm Sunday, and the plains were experiencing a different kind of disaster.  Commonly known as Black Sunday, it was the day one of the worst dust storms in American history rolled through.   It is estimated to have blown 300 million tons of topsoil across the country, some of it ending up in Washington, D.C.  It caused immense economic and agricultural damage.

Over 30 of the 85 oral histories the library has recorded contain memories of Black Sunday and the many other dust storms of the Dirty Thirties.  The following excerpts come from a few of the transcripts which are all accessible on the library website for you to read.  Perhaps they will inspire you to preserve your life story.  This “stay home” time provides the perfect opportunity to to do it.  Just think about it.  All of our life stories will now include how we survived the “Great Pandemic of 2020”.

Catherine Hattrup (1925-2020) told of her fear on Black Sunday. “I was nine years old, and I was at my Grandmother Gleason’s house. . . her house was a big two-story, and it had a wrap-around porch.  She went out on the porch, I don’t know whether she’d been listening to the radio or what, but she came back in and she said, ‘Oh my, there’s a horrible black cloud.  I don’t know what it is, but it’s coming this way.  We must close up all the windows and doors and we must pray’. . . .I was afraid that it was the end of the world.  I was scared, and we prayed, and I do remember that it got so dark that she had to turn the lights on….  I think it was somewhere between four and five o’clock . . . .I just remember that we had to have the lights on.  Then I remember my Dad saying, ‘The chickens think it’s night, because they went to roost.’ “

Jeff Mead was a very small boy on Black Sunday but he still remembers the storm.  “That particular day, my Aunt Joan hadn’t graduated from Centerview yet, so she was in a quartet. This was Palm Sunday, so the quartet was to meet at the Methodist Church in Centerview that afternoon and practice Easter music. And so I went with Grandpa, and we had an old rickety building out there where he kept the car. We got the car out, and as we came around to park in front of the house here, so my aunt could take the car and go practice music, and there, I wish I knew how tall those clouds were. That rolling dust. It was coming toward us. Grandpa told me, ‘You get in the house, and I’ll go put the car away.’ And it hit before he got back to the house. In this house, at 3:00 in the afternoon, of course, there wasn’t any insulation in the house. When they built in those days, there was a wall, and it was all lath and plaster, that was the only insulation. But in this house, right here where we are sitting, I would not have been able to see your face (three feet away). . . .Like I say, I wasn’t quite five years old, but it comes to me, ‘Is this the end of the world?’ It looked it.”

Robert Stach (1925-2011) recalls being out when the storm came in.  “I do remember the dusty days and stuff before we moved to town, and then after we were in town, because I remember what they called Dirty Sunday in 1935.  Mother had my brother and my older sister then, and we had walked across town to the Ford Station corner there in Kinsley and we lived over on the north side park, . . . Mother went over there to visit some friends of the family that were in the south end of Kinsley. I remember pushing a bicycle back because there was too much wind and stuff for her. We couldn’t stand up. Mother was carrying my older sister who was a very small little baby.”

Earl McBride (1915-2011) and his father saw the impending storm coming.  “One of the things that I remember about it was Dad and I were working on the windmill one day. We could see what looked like a black cloud coming from the north. He said, ‘We probably better get down off here; that thing is going to hit here pretty soon.’ We got down off the tower. When it hit, it just turned the afternoon into darkness. I never will forget the chickens. They were running to get to the chicken house and go to roost because they thought it was night.”

Buford Brodbeck 1925-2014 remembers the disease that the dust brought on.   “I can remember the dust storms worse than anything….When they’d roll in, it would just get dark. I had a cousin that lived out in Manter, Kansas. She got dust pneumonia real bad and my dad and mother went out and got her and brought her back here to live for a while. I thought, holy hell, it’s worse out there than here! When you got hit, you just got in the house and tried to keep from choking to death. You’d put sheets up in the windows to try to keep it out. Wet them a little, and the next day they’d be just as black as you could see….”

More Dust Bowl stories can be found in the oral histories of Norma Gatterman, Virginia Rapp, Jean Titus, John J. Riisoe, Carman Rodriguez, Jim Mowry and many others.   You can read their transcripts, listen to theri complete audio, or watch a short video on the library website. Check out the Oral History index in the left menu.  And remember, today is a good day to start writing your history or begin a pandemic journal for yourself or your child. 



The library is closed to the public, but your library staff is still working (alone) on things that will improve our resources and service.  Besides administrative duties, I am working on our local history archive and plan to write an article for the Edwards County Sentinel and this blog drawn from that archive. 

For this first one, I thought it would be appropriate to research the influenza epidemic of 1918 in the Edwards County newspapers.  The current pandemic is often being compared to this “Spanish Flu” which in reality started right here Kansas. 

Soldiers at Fort Funston (part of Fort Riley) were given a few days leave in March before being sent oversea to fight in WWI.  Some went home to Hesston where they contracted the flu and took it back to Fort Funston.  The disease quickly spread through the troops and soon 200,000 men carried it to other bases, overseas to Europe, and around the world.

 It is estimated that 50 million people died of the influenza in 1918 and 1919, with 675,000 deaths in the U.S.  According to Kansapedia, “The Spanish influenza was responsible for twice the number of casualties (both killed and wounded) of the United States in World War I, which totaled near 323,000.  A third and final wave of the epidemic hit in the spring of 1919, and many reported that it was so severe that people could wake up healthy and be dead by nightfall.”  (The second wave was in the fall of 1918.)

Hundreds of deaths were reported in Kansas and health officials closed many Kansas cities, schools, churches, theaters and other public gatherings.  As I read through the local papers of the time, I found many reports like this one: “The families of Adam Stegman, A. Burkhart, and J. Jensen are all having a siege of influenza, several members of each household being sick.” (KInsley Graphic, March 20, 1919) 

The Kinsley Mercury of March 6, 1919 wrote that: “The flu epidemic is getting a good start in Offerle.  Heretofore the Offerle people have been very lucky in not spreading the flu but we can not say that any more as it is quite common.  Some of the flu patients are Mr. and Mrs. E.H. Renfro, Reuben Miller, Mrs. Jess ward, Mrs. John Lobil, Sophia Rabey, Earl Hedges and Vernon Oliphant.”

“Strict quarantine regulations will be enforced here until the influenza abates.” reported the Kinsley Graphic of December 12, 1918.  Some examples of the rules were:  All cases must be reported by doctor or the head of household.  The house must be placarded.  All members of the family not engaged in imperative business must remain on the premises.   All patients afflicted with the disease are to be strictly isolated.

We can be grateful today that our rules do not include a warning reference to a world war.  “Look well to your cough and smother your sneeze! For the Kaiser laughs when you spread disease. (Kinsley Graphic, October 19, 1918)

To be placarded meant the family had to post a quarantine sign on the house. Like now, the editor of the Graphic found a spot of humor amidst the serious situation (December 19, 1918)

“One of Kinsley’s automobile dealers has a family of five small children, and they are the kind that not only bless their own home but are a constant source of enjoyment to their neighbors.

“A few days ago the ever prevalent ‘flu’ sign appeared by the front door and caused much worry to those who saw it.  Shortly following, Mr. Auto-man was asked the common question: ‘Who has it?’

“He stoutly contended they were all well, when he left shortly after breakfast, but hastened home to make sure of his assertion.

“He lined his family up.  No fever, no aches—everybody fine. Whereupon he began to inquire of his young hopefuls about the ‘flu’ card.

“’Well’ said one, ‘we found this one, and most everybody had one, so we just tacked it up’ –and they did.”

What Nell Lewis (Woods) wrote in her Kinsley Mercury column “Down Our Way” on January 30, 1919 might ring true in your “stay home” household today.  “One thig, the screen door that had been broken all summer was repaired, and some other things that had been neglected got attention during our hibernation.”

When this pandemic is over, we can hope that history records us in the same manner that the Kinsley Graphic did Fellsburg.   “Fellsburg gave a fine example of neighborliness in the recent epidemic of influenza from which the town and surrounding country suffered.  There were one hundred cases in and about the village, no doctors or nurses there, and the roads so nearly impassable from the snow that it was very hard for doctors to reach them.  The neighbors cared for each other, taking turns nursing the sick, and doing the necessary work of caring for the stock on the farms.  There was but one death in the one hundred cases of flu, and we are wondering if any other place has so good a record, in the recent terrible epidemic.”

Reading in these old newspapers can be quite entertaining and educational.  The Kansas Historical Society makes them freely available online to all Kansas residents Click here to register: https://www.kshs.org/ancestry/drivers/dlverify

#76 Liberty Loans and Ruth Law, Female Aviator

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


#75 Bertha Schnatterly Goes to Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blog #74 Letters to Home – John W. Pixley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog #73 Letters to Home – Karl Keller

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

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

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

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

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

Blog #72 Letters to Home – Gilbert Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blog # 71 – Best Chautauqua Ever

Chautauqua is Entertaining Crowds and Pleasing Everybody
(Reprinted from the Kinsley Graphic, August 29, 1918)

 “The best Chautauqua we have ever had is now going on under the big brown tent.  The opening program was given by the best girl company Horner has ever put out, and the audiences have been responsive and appreciative.

The lecture by Captain Lougher was pronounced by those who have heard hundreds of war lectures, the strongest plea for the necessity of speed and spirit for winning a victory they had ever heard.

Captain Lougher has been in the service for four years and was brought home by the government to speak on the Chautauqua circuits.  Captain Lougher held his audience spell-bound for an hour and a half.  He presented to them the vital points that illuminate the war, and America’s duty in helping to win it.

Major Marr and his Canadian soldiers went straight to the hearts of our people.  They are all returned soldiers, wounded many times, and unable to fight, so they are doing their bit in another way.

Cimera’s band was pronounced by everybody the best band Mr. Horner has ever given us.  The woodwind section of it is very fine, and the tone textures more like an orchestra than a band.  Mr. Cimera is an artistic conductor and his interpretation of the beautiful numbers “The Benediction” from “The Hugenots” and the overture from William Tell delighted the big audience.  The conductor at the request of the audience played on afternoon and evening programs a trombone solo, which was encored over and over.

Madame Cafarelli, who has a beautiful voice, a perfect method and a charming personality, was soloist of both concerts.  We believe she gave more pleasure in her singing than any other soloist we have had.  She had the advantage of the delightful accompaniments played by the band.  Mr. Cimera is from Bohemia and like all the people from his country who come to us, is an intensely loyal American.  He watches from afar the bitter struggle of his people for freedom.

The big feature on the platform this year was the talk by Captain David Fallon on “Fighting Thru Hell.”  The speaker was introduced by Congressman Jouett Shouse, who was given a rousing welcome when he appeared, and who made an interesting talk, which came to us straight from Washington.

Captain Fallon speaks from the heat of his own experiences fighting Germany, as a soldier in the infantry, in the flying service and in the tanks.  He has the gift of language and set before his hearers a somber picture of what this war with Germany has meant to the countries invaded, and to the civilized world, painting it in words tipped with flame of suffering.  He bears on his body the scars of his sacrifice, and his gallant spirit grieves more because he cannot get back into the fight than because of the wounds.  A student of world affairs, a teacher of military training in the English schools of both India and Australia before the war, he gave an address from our platform that will do more to make our people realize their duty, their danger, than any other speaker.

His book on the Gallipoli campaign is one of the big books of the war, and it is rightly named “The Big Fight.”  The largest audience for this year’s Chautauqua greeted Capt. Fallon under the tent last night.

Mr. Welch, who has been managing our Chautauqua because the regular platform men are in the army, is a prince of manager and Kinsley likes him. The Chautauqua service flag ahs 250 stars on it.”

Closing of Chautauqua  (Reprinted from the Kinsley Graphic, September 5, 1918)
Closing Programs are Best Ever and Plans are Made for Next Year

“On Thursday afternoon of the press last week, one of the very finest programs of the week was given by the American nurse, Harriet Bird Warren.  She has a beautiful speaking voice and told in a way which held her audience, the story of her work with the French army for the men who are wounded by the Huns. She is a surgical nurse, her specialty being plastic surgery.  She touched the hearts of her hearers, and paid the same fine tribute to the French women who are carrying on the work of France and keeping up the morale of their men that all who have spoken on the war have done.

She plead with American Women to do their full duty here and to volunteer for service overseas if possible.  In the evening Montraville Wood gave a scientific lecture which explained the use of the gyroscope in this war, the violet ray, which he illustrated in some fine experiments, and the submarine.

He had a full-sized torpedo with ears that seemed the most human piece of machinery ever invented, and gave many ideas about the new scientific things now in use in the war with the Hun, which will be in general use after the war.

Kansas composer, Mr. Thurlow Lieurance, and the Premier Quartet gave the afternoon program Friday and the prelude to the play ‘The Climax’ in the evening.

Mr. Lieurance is the foremost authority on American Indian music and the composer of many songs in which he uses the thematic material secured from the long study on Indian music.  He has a new rhapsody using the Indian songs, and collaborating with Preston Ware Orem.

The Premier artists were Mr. Haverstraw of Lincoln and Mr. Parvin Witte of Kansas City, Miss Edna Wooley (Mrs. Thurlow Lieurance) and Miss Grey of Kansas City, and it is the finest singing organization Mr. Horner has ever had on this circuit.  Mr. Haverstraw is a composer of note and ‘My Soldier,” one of his songs, was on the afternoon program, sung by the composer.  Miss Wooley sings the beautiful Indian songs of Mr. Lieurance better than anyone else, having a voice of great beauty with a flute like quality, which brings out their loveliness.

At the close of the program enough people had signed the contract for next year to assure Kinsley of a Chautauqua in 1919.

Practically the same public spirited citizens went on the guarantee as before.  The Horner management did not push the matter at all, as they have lost money every year on the town.  But Mr. Horner takes the ground that if a town wants a Chautauqua he will come and take his chances on coming out even in some other place.  The sale of tickets for the lecture of Captain Fallon illustrates the matter.  Kinsley sold sixty-six dollars’ worth of single admissions and Stafford, a town of the same size, sold one hundred and seventy dollars’ worth for the same lecture. That seems to hold good on all Chautauqua talent. But the old guard, or most of them, saved the day as usual….”