From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Photos from Fort Scott National Historic Site

1840s at Fort Scott, Kansas


We visited the national historic site at Fort Scott, Kansas, last week on our way back to Kentucky. I wanted to tour the fort because I think my 4th great-grandfather John Hill spent a short time there as a private in the 4th Infantry, Company C. They were stationed at Fort Scott from 1842 through mid-1845.

John Hill enlisted in late April of 1845, and the 4th Infantry, Company C, left Fort Scott and headed for Texas in late July of 1845. So John probably didn't spend much time at Fort Scott, but he probably did join up with Company C there.

Captain MacRae had been recruiting in eastern Ohio, and that's where John Hill signed up. Captain MacRae probably escorted John and the other recruits back to Company C. They probably made most of the trip from eastern Ohio to eastern Kansas by water. By 1845, steamboats were on all the big rivers. They could have taken a steamer down the Ohio River to the Mississippi, then another one to St. Louis and yet another one up the Missouri River to Fort Leavenworth. From Fort Leavenworth down to Fort Scott, they may have -- walked? They were infantry, after all. That was probably their first march.

Important disclaimer:
I think this John Hill was my ancestor John Hill because:
 a) this John Hill was born in the right place to be my John Hill;
 b) this John Hill enlisted in the Army in the town where my John Hill's father lived;
 c) this John Hill was the same age as my John Hill; and
 d) my John Hill did serve during the Mexican War.
However, there is always a chance that that I have the wrong military record, and this is some other John Hill entirely who was no relation to me at all. There were plenty of John Hills in eastern Ohio.

Fort Scott was established near the Kansas/Missouri border in 1842, as headquarters for several companies of dragoons. The dragoons had several missions: keeping land-hungry settlers out of Indian territory, guarding the military road that ran from Fort Leavenworth into Oklahoma, surveying the land so it could be mapped, and more. The fort was abandoned in 1853 because the frontier had moved farther west and a military presence at Fort Scott was no longer important.

"Dragoons" is an old word for mounted soldiers or cavalry.
The photos below show the text of this mural.

The stables (left) and dragoons' barracks (right)

The infantry at Fort Scott didn't go on patrol with the dragoons. They did much of the construction of the fort's buildings, took their turns at a number of routine chores around the fort (including bread-making), practiced their military skills such as marching and handling weapons, and maintained a state of readiness.

The bakehouse was located in a distant
corner so if it caught fire, it wouldn't
burn down the entire fort!
The boredom that the infantry suffered is mentioned in every account I've read of life at Fort Scott. Hunting was a way to pass the time, as was drinking in the saloons that sprang up outside the compound. But the easy life ended for 4th Infantry, Company C --  those soldiers marched to Texas to serve under General Zachary Taylor and then fought in the Mexican War. John Hill and the other new recruits wouldn't have had much time to learn the soldiering aspects of their new lives before the march to Texas began.

The infantry, preparing to leave for Texas in 1845
Rachel at the infantry barracks.
This building is a reconstruction, though
 many of the buildings are originals.
During the Civil War, Union troops took up residence again at Fort Scott. I didn't pay much attention to the Civil War side of Fort Scott's history. I was more interested in what John Hill might have seen or done.

This exhibit contained the two photographs below.
John Hill might have seen these structures at Fort Scott.



The powder magazine at center, with lightening rod. At left,
dragoon barracks, and behind the flag, officer's quarters.
At  far right, the fort's well, protected by a canopy.
A closer look at the dragoon barracks.

Fort Scott was laid out by a West-Point-educated Army quartermaster named Captain Swords who was at the frontier outpost from 1842-1846. The following is quoted from an information board at the site:
In the four years he served at Fort Scott, Captain Swords designed and had constructed four sets of officers quarters, three barracks, the hospital, the guardhouse, the well canopy, the magazine, the stables, both the ordnance and post headquarters, and the quartermaster warehouse. His plans featured porches to provide shelter from the torrid summers of the plains, large windows for light and air, plastered walls, and graceful stairways. Despite restrictions on hiring, Swords obtained civilian brick layers, platerers, and a stone cutter to help finish the buildings. In 1846, General Kearney promoted Captain Swords to Quartermaster of the Army.

The route that John Hill took to Fort Scott was probably the
same route that building materials took, as described here.

These floors are laid on top of three or more layers of rock!
I suppose these super-reinforced floors were Captain Swords' idea.
The hospital at Fort Scott is now the visitor's center for the site. There, you can pick up a walking-tour brochure, watch a movie, and look at a number of exhibits. It's really nice that the entire site can be visited free of charge.

The hospital was built in 1843, and this is the original structure.
Old photo of the hospital
from one of the exhibits.

I wasn't sure if the buildings were furnished in 1840s or 1860s style, but it was interesting to walk through many of them and see the rooms. Here are some interior photos at the dragoon barracks.


And the quarters, where Captain Swords and his fellow officers lived. I am sure that John Hill never saw these rooms! The enlisted men were forbidden even to stroll the walkways in front of officers quarters.


This fancy dining room was used only for official entertaining.
Below, a look inside the quartermaster's building (work headquarters for Captain Swords):

And lastly, some flowers that were growing behind one of the buildings. I don't know if the soldiers would have had flower beds, but these are some nice "old-timey" flowers.


If you'd like to read more about Fort Scott, the official website is packed with information and nice photos.

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Mighty cold


Finally, it has arrived -- the blast of cold weather we've been reading, hearing, and thinking about for the last week. The wind is howling through the trees, and the thermometer on the porch says +5°F. By morning, it will be zero.

Of course, the cold temperatures in southern Kentucky are nothing much, compared to states north of us. Some of our rain and sleet was "flash-frozen" on our roads when the cold air arrived tonight, but we didn't get enough snow to cover the ground. I'm thankful.

Yesterday was a mild sunny day. The sky was blue until sunset when a low gray bank of clouds appeared on the western horizon. It was the sort of day that once might have lured a pioneer into hitching up his team and setting off on a long trip to town for supplies. We've all heard the sad stories of people who perished in winter storms that appeared from nowhere. Now we have an entire weather industry that keeps us warned about dangerous weather we might not otherwise anticipate.

About 3:00 pm yesterday, one of my ears suddenly began to ache. I didn't recognize that as a weather omen but Keely (my personal scientist) pointed out that the barometric pressure was dropping rapidly, and my somewhat stuffy head probably wasn't equalized yet. I think she was right. Six hours later, the earache was gone.

My father's cattle must have been good at reading the weather signs. When a winter storm was near, they always gathered at the windbreaks closest to the buildings. Remembering them makes me worry about the livestock and other animals that are outside in this weather, and the people who are working outside doing important, necessary things that are made very difficult by the cold.

I'm also a little worried about the electricity which has blinked six times tonight so far. Wind gusts are blowing something against the wires and creating a short circuit somewhere, I suspect. We have plenty of flashlight batteries and lamp oil, but I hope we don't need them. Pennyrile Electric posted on Facebook a few minutes ago that they have power outages affecting over 1200 members.

Earlier today, a Sunday School song (Psalms 118:24) came to mind: "This is the day that the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." I am glad tonight, most of all for warmth and shelter. And, while it's a little hard to rejoice, I do respect and honor the Creator who put the mighty forces of nature in place and set them in motion.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mr. Crawford Remembered

And a vintage sign removed...


This photo was taken in 2006.

Mr. Crawford's parents had operated a little country store in our neighborhood at one time, and Mr. Crawford inherited the property. One day, he quit his bank job in town and moved into the store building.  He lived a very simple life there, without running water or electricity. In the yard around the old store, he had lots of little gardening spots where he grew grapes and flowers and heirloom tomatoes.

During those years, I worked part-time in another little country store in the neighborhood (also now closed), and Mr. Crawford came to the store every now and then to eat a sandwich and visit with anyone who was there. I passed along to him a big stack of old Organic Gardening magazines that my brother-in-law had given me, and he read (studied!) them cover-to-cover and loved to discuss the gardening ideas in them.

Then Mr. Crawford moved away. He said that he couldn't take the stench of the big new chicken barn across the creek any longer. About that same time, I started working in town. So our paths didn't cross anymore, and I don't believe I ever saw Mr. Crawford again. He passed away last Christmas. I read about it in the newspaper.


Not long after his death, someone removed the Pepsi-Cola sign from the old store building. Maybe the sign was kept by a family member -- I hope so. Or maybe someone took it for their private collection, or maybe, since it was a metal sign, it ended up at a salvage yard. Whatever the case, I doubt it will be seen again by the general public.

I still see the little store building as I drive down the road to and from my home, and it always makes me think of Mr. Crawford. He was kindly and intelligent, and I'm sorry that he's gone on.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Little Graveyard on the Ridge

"Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."


Perhaps a quarter mile off the road, a small country graveyard sits at the top of a little ridge. When I spotted that old family cemetery not long after we moved here, I decided that, "one of these days," I was going to walk through it. But time flew by, as it does, and so it was five years later, when I finally stopped one day at the house below the cemetery and asked permission to visit.

The silver-haired lady who answered my knock was pleased about my interest in the graveyard. She walked to the pasture gate with me, showed me the least "washed-out" route to take up the hillside, and cautioned my sidekicks, Keely and Isaac, to beware the poison ivy around the graveyard fence.

We bounced up the hill on a trail that was obviously more traveled by cattle than vehicles. As we pulled up to the cemetery, I saw immediately that it was well-maintained and very tidy.  An overgrowth of vines had made the fence into a solid wall of tangled foliage, but the grass inside was neatly cut, and the gate was in good repair. No graves were embarrassed by fallen headstones or weatherbeaten artificial flowers.

Photographs by Melissa Wiesse.
Many of the surnames on the stones were from a half-dozen families. I recognized some names as possible ancestors of families who still lived in Christian County. The dates on the stones spanned nearly two centuries, from a birth in 1778 to a death in l971.  Many of the tombstones stated that the loved one was "Asleep in Jesus." One man was a Confederate soldier. Another was born in County Down, Ireland. In all, there were 50 or 60 graves.

I decided that the cemetery was officially established in the 1860s or 1870s. Perhaps there were already unmarked family graves there when the first graves with tombstones were made. Looking over the cemetery fence from the hillside, I tried to imagine the valley when the blacktop road was a dirt trail, the fences were made of split rail, and the log cabins were marked by plumes of smoke. Surely the cemetery's site was chosen for its fine view in addition to its high-and-dry location.

Photo by Tony Alter.
A majestic old oak grew in one corner. The ground under it was covered with acorns and early-fallen leaves. A half-dozen squirrels were shocked, just shocked, when we interrupted their nut harvest with our presence.

Near the center of the cemetery, a huge stump bore witness to another tree that once grew there. It was a good six feet in diameter at its widest point. This estimate was provided by Keely who stretched out full length across it. At one time, this giant's branches must have shaded most of the little cemetery.

Keely and Isaac were impatient to return to modern life well before I finished reading the stones. When we finally drove back down the hill and closed the gate to the pasture, the little lady came out to talk again. She had been waiting for us. "Did you see anyone you knew up there?" she wanted to know.

I told her that I had recognized some of the family names, and she said that most of the people in the cemetery were from her husband's family. Had I seen this gravestone and that one? One young fellow had commited suicide after World War I. Her husband's mother was the young woman buried with twin babies. Another man and his wife had lived in a big log house that she remembered from childhood. She knew the life story beneath each headstone.

I commented on the huge tree stump, and she told me that it had been another oak tree. It had fallen in the cemetery during a windstorm, but her son had cleaned it up. Then she began to talk about her great fear -- would the cemetery be cared for in future years? Her son, in his late fifties, did all the upkeep. It seemed he was the main person who was interested. Though most of the graves "belonged" to families who still lived in the county, no one else helped with the maintenance. She had buried her husband in town a few years ago because she feared his grave wouldn't be tended up on the hillside.

Photo by Justin A. Wilcox
The thought of brambles and trees taking over the graveyard grieved this lady. I was touched by her desire to honor the graves of her husband's people. Talking to her was a memorable and moving experience. Most of my visits to old graveyards don't include the opportunity to speak with someone who has a personal connection to the people buried there.

When I got home that day, I wrote a short account of my visit to the cemetery on the ridge. A few days ago, I stumbled upon that little story in some old computer files, and I thought that the things I had written still spoke to my heart. I decided to edit it a little and share it. That's the story behind this story.

Related photos on Flickr:
Squirrels in cemeteries
Gravestone details
Historic cemeteries

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Video about the Rose Church

Community of Rose, Nebraska


Here's a short video about the church I attended during most of my growing-up years. I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School in the basement, played on the swings in the church yard, and took piano lessons in the parsonage. I know the people who talk about the church in the video. They are the parents of my childhood church friends.

It's so good to see that the Rose community is working together to preserve the little church!

I know that I have a few photos of the Rose Church that I took while visiting up there in 2002, but apparently I've never scanned them. The photo below shows the Rose Cemetery, right across the road from the church. Like the church, it has served the people of Rose for many years, and it continues to play an important role in the community.


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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.