Posts tagged with Local History

Celebration in Stull Cemetery A cemetery tour might seem an unusual beginning of a 4th of July celebration. On the other hand, it is a place of history, a documentation of the opportunities and sacrifices our freedom offers.

Stull United Methodist Church began its 150th anniversary celebration with a potluck supper and fireworks display on Friday night. Continuing on Saturday, July 4th, is the cemetery tour.

A cloudy rather dreary morning greets an upbeat group gathered on the hayrack for the ride around and through the Stull cemetery tombstones. Our tour guide Iona Spencer has researched the lives of over 4,000 people in the Stull and Lecompton communities. Elsie Middleton also works on the project and provides color commentary for the tour.

The first grave marker we encounter is Wittich, 1832-1910. An unfortunate family name spelling most likely is the reason for persistent stories of this cemetery being haunted. A KU professor, bed sheets and fraternity initiations fuel the fire. Over the years, Iona Spencer said she frequently brought coffee and cookies to Douglas County Sheriff deputies guarding the cemetery at Halloween and the 13th of the month. Razing the original church high on the hill has deterred this activity in recent years.

Tombstone names are familiar to most on the wagon. Many families emigrated from Germany in the mid 1800s because of the unrest in Europe as well as opportunities to find cheap land here in the newly organized Kansas territory.

There seem to be many old tombstones with birth and death dates indicating children. One baby is buried with its mother, both having died during childbirth. Diphtheria was often a deadly early disease for children. One child died because of a prairie fire. His older brother was able to climb the rock fence to escape.

Adults died before their time. A roll over lumber wagon, family feud over equipment and as well as hard work involved in living off the earth—all stories affecting the lives and deaths of local residents.

Perils of early homesteading often found children with one parent other than their own. One father raised two sets of stepchildren plus his own.

The common European homeland gave the community a connection and often children found their partners within the community. An assumption for someone new in the community is, “always assume everyone is related when talking about anyone.” A custom in Germany, which carried over to early America, was if a family were all girls, the eldest would retain the family name when married.

All too soon, our 4th of July cemetery tour is over. It was a great opportunity to hear Stull community history by looking at family burial plots. We appreciate Iona and Elsie’s work in chronicling the past and, in doing so, gathering stories for future.


Symphony in the Flint Hills 2009

The prairie has a voice. Often a quiet whisper.

There are times when the bubbling spring water, neigh of horses, song of birds, and distant tuneful call of cattle roll out over the soft green flint hills, whirl with the prairie wind and return sounding like a symphony.

On Saturday June 13th, it was a symphony—Symphony in the Flint Hills, 2009.

Nestled in a cove in the Upper Turkey Creek Pasture of the Doyle Land and Cattle Company, Inc. in Chase County, Kansas, where the endless view of the rolling hills meet the blue sky, the Kansas City Symphony and the native inhabitants captured the hearts of 6,000 guests of owners Randy and Judy Mills. From a distance, the symphony area appears as low clouds on the horizon. The meandering walk to the symphony site includes a bridge over a clear sparkling spring, inviting all to stop and dangle feet in the cold water. Our duties as two of over 500 volunteers helping to make the concert possible beckons so we pause, wish and continue on.

Abby Dechant, Symphony seating coordinator, directs us to our assigned jobs. Among other duties, we prepare seating for 26 sponsors and 138 patrons. Without these contributors, the concert would not be possible. The stage sits at the bottom of a long sloping hillside. There is no bad seat whether on lawn chair, blanket or special front row chair.

Our four-hour shift soon over, we have time to visit afternoon activities before the concert. Linzy and Lucy, 7-year old black draft horse sisters, driven by Larry Patton and watched over by experienced sidesaddle rider Terrie Todd, help us understand why many early settlers walk instead of ride in their covered wagons.

In the Butterfly Tent, Randy and Judy Mills tell us about their operation. The ranch is named after Patrick Doyle the first settler in Marion County. Their current home, built in 1882 by Mr. Doyle, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Randy Mills tells of the benefit of fire in maintaining the prairie. My observation is the Flint Hills saying, “Take care of the grass and it will take care of you” is evident in their pasture. Proper grass care as well as their high quality, controlled and documented cattle breeding program makes them successful “current stewards” of the Hills.

I attend educational programs explaining the native grasses and birds that inhabit them, the many prolific natural springs, and archeological formations. It is the Evening Primrose Tent with its “Prairie as Muse” presentations that most inspire my day. TerryLee Whetstone, a Cheyenne, plays Native American flute music with such meaning that I only have to close my eyes to slip back in time.

Writers Steven Hind, Jim Hoy and Denise Low read their poems and prose, eloquently telling of their feelings of beauty and love of Kansas in general and Flint Hills specifically. HC Palmer and Leon Loughridge have collaborated in publishing their artistic descriptions by poem and woodblock prints of the landscapes of the Flint Hills. Loughridge, a Colorado artist tells of his love of the region and its people despite his early stereotyped feelings of Kansas' flat terrain. I felt honored to have these professional and talented writers share their work and inspirations. A perfect prelude to the anticipated final program of the day, the concert.

My words cannot describe the beauty of a full orchestra in this setting. The sound system enables the entire hillside to hear the smallest, quietest note as well as the full expression of each instrument. Copeland, Grofe, Bernstein, Barry. All recognized music even to an inexperienced ear such as mine. For me, Director Steven Jarvi’s final presentation of John Berry’s Dances with Wolves Suite brought tears when Native American riders circled the site then ascended the nearby hill to silhouette against the sky as the last notes rolled across the valley.

Randy Mills said earlier in the day, “I like to be out here by myself. Early in the morning on a horse or in a pickup. It’s quiet.” Judy quickly added, “It’s God’s Country.” For a split second, even among thousands of others before the applause erupted, I for one and perhaps many others at the 2009 Symphony in the Flint Hills shared Randy and Judy’s feeling of quietly being by ourselves with nature.


Go Fly A Kite The kite was tucked at the back of the garage, forgotten. Spring cleaning has its surprises.

Today the sky is crystal clear with a slight breeze--great for outdoor work but perfect for flying a kite. So we do. Forget the flu, economy, and cluttered shed.

The red, white and blue delta wing is up in a minute. Tethered to a post, it bounces around with its tail wagging.

And, as we watch, the stress of the day floats away.


Valley home to diverse wildlife

Most early, crisp mornings Chip Taylor and his dog make their way along the Coblentz marsh located in the Kansas Wildlife and Parks area of Clinton Lake.

As usual, there are ducks, geese and traces other wildlife from the previous night. Chugaah, a well-trained hunting dog, is nosing around his usual spots as they move around the marsh area

It was during their walk Sunday morning that Chugaah found and retrieved this beautiful, large mink.

The American Mink is a member of the Mustelidae family, a carnivore and lives in dens by water.  It has brown to black fur with a type of oil gland that makes the coat water proof.  Often up to two feet long, the tail 1/3 their length.  They have small bit of white on their chin and throat.  Chip, a Professor of Entomology at KU, says, “Mink are not rare in this part of Kansas, but they aren’t common either.”

It is still a mystery how the mink was killed.  “At first I thought the mink had been attacked by a coyote and then somehow escaped. They are quick and vicious fighters” However after further inspection of wounds in the neck region Taylor now thinks that the mink was attacked by, and somehow escaped from a bird of prey.

Dr. Robert M. Timm, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a curator of Mammals in the KU Natural History Museum agrees. “Perhaps a great horned owl or read-tailed hawk, both big enough to dive at the mink.”  Timm adds, “This mink has a beautiful winter coat. Forty years ago this pelt would have been worth $30-$40.”

This picture was taken the same day near the marsh however, I doubt if the mink coud have escaped an attack from one of these. On the other hand...



Should a Game Determine the Age of a Brain?

Up until this year, GSCG (Grandparents Suggested Christmas Gifts) only included plug and play games. They were fun enough bringing back the old Pac-Man’s ferocious appetite.With the oldest grandson now almost ten, the parents finally gave in to requests for the newer handheld games for Christmas. Thus, my GSCP this year included games for various brands of electronic devices. It didn’t take long to figure out the popular games. They were sold out. I started getting up early in the morning to check web sites for availability. The last one arrived two days before Christmas. Christmas Day dawned with five little heads bending over their new electronic toys. Even the adults enjoyed bowling a line. Our little four-year-old punching her brother instead of his “Me” in their boxing match prompted a quick turnoff. I’ll be honest. I became quite intrigued with the whole thing. So, guess what Santa brought me—an electronic toy with two games: Brain Age (Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!) and My Fun Facts. As the name implies, Brain Age has interesting little tests, which are supposed to determine whether your brain is healthy. As an example, there is a list and you are to say the color of print of a color name as quickly as you can. There are about ten basic arithmetic problems but they require close attention to what is being asked. There is a list of around 30 words that you are to memorize in three minutes and then have one minute to write as many as possible. This game is billed as brain training. It says mine is 56. And, it says my brain is only “walking.” Perhaps these game manufacturers are on to something. Especially if they convince adults we need one of them as we get older to keep the brain healthy. Well, at any rate, I agree with the grandkids, it is fun.


Last Minute Gift Wrapping Tip

Finally finished shopping--now to wrap the gifts. Here is my suggestion for a green Christmas.I am wrapping individual gift (gifts) in Lawrence Journal World newspapers and placing them in shopper bags available at supermarkets. Several days ago, HyVee had Holiday bags in red, green and blue for $1 each. I am hoping to use a wood burning tool to make little wood labels for each but there are many possibilities of ways to identify the bags.We will arrive at our Christmas celebration with ten shopper bags in hand, ready for grocery shopping another day. The wrapping will go back into the recycle pile.Merry Christmas!


Where Is That Recipe?

Wouldn’t you know? I can’t find a recipe. The search has been fun, though.Recipe cards are like old pictures or clothes. They bring back memories. Here and there are a few retro ones that look good but a bit out of fashion. Personally, as a kid, a meal would not be complete without Jello containing upside down half pears, fruit cocktail, or strawberries and bananas. I see in my card file, layered Jello salad recipes containing pistachio pudding and Cool Whip but pull out the cabbage salad with crunchy noodles and fresh vegetable salads that are popular with us now. My Mom always made sweet rolls as well as regular rolls. The regular rolls were made by putting three little balls in each hole of a cupcake tin. She only did that during the Holidays. Bread machines have simplified these recipes, however, we still have cloverleaves. Green beans & mushroom soup as usual. Desserts haven’t varied much from pie--pumpkin, pecan, cherry or apple—although here are tasty pie-like desserts. Over the years, Mr. Turkey has made his presence at our dinners dressed formally to casual, the only recipe is how long it takes to fix him up. In the fifties, mom placed the bird on the table whole with stuffing inside. When I began having the meals, he was baked early, sliced with defatted juice poured over. Recently, our kids deep fry or smoke him. Personally, I don’t care how he is dressed, just so he shows up.Well, wouldn’t you know, here is that dog-eared, stained recipe card filed under “Christmas.” No wonder I couldn’t find it, that makes too much sense.Scalloped corn and oysters—no holiday family dinner is complete without this dish. It could be a developed taste because newer members are slightly less enthusiastic. Something about finding a whole oyster hiding in corn. This recipe is my grandmother’s. I am sure she told it to my Mom, though, as grandma never used recipe cards. Enjoy!Scalloped Corn and Oysters
3 cups soda cracker crumbs
1 t salt
¼ t pepper
1 stick melted butter (not oleo)
Mix above ingredients together & put 1 ½ cups in the bottom of an 8 x 8 glass dish. Over this arrange drained oysters (two cans if you really like oysters) reserving the liquid. Add another light layer of crumbs then whole corn (frozen is better than canned). Over all pour 1 cup milk and oyster liquid (add additional milk if you can’t see liquid around the edges). Sprinkle a few crumbs over the top. Bake 350 25-30 minutes.


Need water? Get a Witcher

Witching for water may seem a bit outdated in an age of technical instruments hooked to computers. Possibly some of you reading this would say it is down right ridiculous.Ridiculous or not, I believe. And, my late uncle had the gift.In an article entitled Ancient art of water witching survives the centuries, M.L. Lyke reports the earliest records of water witching are 6,000 to 8,000 year-old cave paintings in Africa. Then, as now, a water witcher or Dowser is primary used to find underground water for wells, although some say they are able to find graves. Practitioners use metal rods, wire coat hangers, or pliers. Others require a certain type of tree such as apple or peach. Holding the instrument of choice with both hands, water is located when the tip pulls either down or up. Dowsers have different thoughts on who actually has the gift. The American Society of Dowsers maintains everyone is born with the gift while others will say only one in a thousand can do it.There is much controversy surrounding the practice. Geologists almost unanimously condemn it. Lyke says "many modern-day critics call dowsing a superstitious relic." Although there are many people who do not believe, dowsing remains very much alive. Why? Because what is there to lose. When it costs $20,000 or more to dig a well, why not?Witching for a well was a common practice in the rural area where I grew up. I remember well the day my uncle came over with his peach stick when Dad decided to dig a new well. Gripping the Y shaped branch with a sort of backward grip, he walked back and forth over the area. Sure enough, the stick pulled down hard in one certain area. He kept walking around, always going back to the same spot. The well is there to this day.Years later, we were visiting with my uncle. When asked how it works, he said he did not know. We pressed for a demonstration. No peach branch was available but he thought pliers from the shop would do. Although he had a very tight grip, we could hear the rubbing on his hands as they pulled down while walking around the kitchen. He said the pliers were reacting to the water lines in the house. That sounded crazy so I held on to the pliers over his hands and, sure enough, I also experienced the pull. I discussed Uncle Lawrence's witching gift with his son not long ago. He agreed his dad had this ability. He saw him use it many times. When asked if he too could witch, he said, "Hell no." What ever one might believe on this subject, perhaps this quote from an article entitled Dowsing, Science or Humbug says it all"Simple truths about nature can't choose to hide from the skeptical minds and be seen by the gullible at the same time."


The Old Farmstead

The valley is mostly green on this beautiful spring day. Off to the southeast is a group of tall green Elm and Oak trees scarcely visible among the other foliage. Sometime over the years, we named this location The Old Farmstead. The Corps of Engineers demolished The Old Farmstead to establish flood easement area for Clinton Lake. The farmland became part of the Wildlife and Parks hunting area. Each spring we visit The Old Farmstead. Red cedars planted in rows provide the windbreak for the ghost home, remnants of a foundation the only hint of its location. Clumps of iris and daffodils bloom along a sidewalk that leads to nowhere. Fragrant overgrown lilacs flourish as if decorating the grave of a loved one long deceased. Could a fenced clearing have been the garden? We feel the spirit of the family who lived, loved and laughed in the yard, acknowledging their presence as our neighbors.One day a young lady asked if she could park at our house and walk down to The Old Farmstead as it was her grandparent's farm. She could remember visiting there when she was young. She didn't stay long. She said it made her sad.The lake changes how we perceive the land and soon there will be few who remember how it was before. However, we will remember The Old Farmstead as a special place, not yet ready to send it back to the land forgotten.