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.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Modesty on the Clothesline

Hanging out the laundry



A lady told me about her recent vacation in San Francisco. She was shocked, she said, to see underwear hung out to dry on balconies above busy streets. She guessed she was old-fashioned because she would never pin her underwear to a clothesline and put it on display to the world. It wasn't modest.

This amused me a little because this lady is no shrinking violet. She spent a number of years driving 18-wheelers all over the nation with her husband. She's a plain-spoken person without airs, and she's about 15 years younger than me. Of all the things that she might have been shocked at in San Francisco, I wouldn't have predicted underwear on clotheslines.

When I thought about it, I couldn't remember seeing any sort of underwear hanging on the clotheslines at Mennonite and Amish homes. I can say with certainty that they hang cloth diapers outside to dry, but beyond that, I'm not sure.

When I used a clothesline faithfully for a number of years, I hung out the whole family's underwear. I usually hung the undergarments on an inside line, behind the sheets or towels.

We live in the country. The clothesline was barely visible from the road, but someone who drove into our yard might have seen the laundry well enough to identify individual pieces. To be honest, I wasn't too worried about it.

I asked Isaac (my 19-year-old son) what he thought about underwear hanging in plain view on the clothesline. He says that if he ever sees anything like that, he's going to lodge a complaint with the board of governors immediately. He also says that the only good weapon for fighting something like that is satire. Whatever, Isaac.

Laundry day at a Mennonite home

Monday, April 27, 2009

Grasses of the Nebraska Prairies, 1903

Grasslands of Brown County, Nebraska


The Charlie Youngman Ranch, Brown County, Nebraska,
about 1900. Photographer: Solomon Butcher

In a century-old book digitized by Google, I found an interesting fact about Brown County, Nebraska.

At the 1903 state fair, Brown county exhibited over 160 varieties of native grasses, which was twenty-five more than were shown by any other county. For the most part these were forage grasses, and they indicate that Brown county was intended by nature to be the home of cattle and horses. It is not uncommon for them to go through the winter entirely upon the range, though this is not to be depended upon. Probably, the largest single interest in the county is its cattle, and for several years past they have brought to the county a large income.

Source: Resources of Nebraska (page 25), by the Nebraska Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics, published in 1904.

It should be noted that buffalo, elk, deer, antelope and many other forms of wildlife made good use of Brown County's grasslands long before they were "intended by nature" as a home for cattle and horses.

Science, a 1901 publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, states that 170 different species of grass had been identified in the Nebraska Sandhills. What a wealth of grass! Brown County's exhibit of over 160 different grasses may have represented a variety of Sandhills grasses along with other native grass species. The terrain of Brown County is varied.

Brown County is located in north central Nebraska, near the South Dakota state line. It borders on the east with Rock County, where I grew up. My father grew up at Moon Lake, in southwestern Brown County.

Related:
2.4 MB high definition version of the Solomon Butcher photo at the top of this post
Photos from the O'Hare Ranch in western Brown County

These photo tours have some nice shots of the Sandhills prairie, though no images from Brown County:
Photo tour of the Sandhills and northwestern Nebraska
Another photo tour of the Sandhills

UPDATE:
The primeval prairies of Brown County are described in a little book published in 1937, Days of Yore, Early History of Brown County, Nebraska, compiled by Lillian L. Jones. The following quote is from the section about "Early History".

Let us try to imagine what this portion of Nebraska was like before the coming of the white settlers. A great expanse of prairie, slightly rolling, spread out on every side as far as the eye could reach, most of it covered with a rich growth of grass. Some varieties of this grass were tall with stiff, straight stems, some of low growth with delicate, curling blades. Here and there were running streams which were hidden in canyons or ravines where trees and shrubs were found, but until the edge of the canyon was reached the entire country appeared to be "a sea of grass," which stretched ever on and on toward the setting sun.

In the section titled "Ainsworth, Reminiscent", Jones mentions another first prize won at the State Fair for a native grass collection. The winning collection of "nearly one hundred varieties of native grasses found in this county" was made by C. W. Potter, W. H. Peck and J. E. Stauffer.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

One Room School

Old-fashioned education





While wandering the roads of southern Todd County (KY) a few days ago, I drove through an Amish community. I think there are probably several little schools like this in the general area. The area served by the school is limited by the distance the students can travel on bicycles, and also by the size of the building.

A schoolbell tops the building. Playground equipment, including a slide, provides recess entertainment.  The little square building in the corner of the playground is probably the outhouse. A woodshed may be somewhere out of view. I don't see a chimney on the building, but it looks like there is a stovepipe coming out of the wall beside the porch. There is no electricity.

One teacher teaches all eight grades in little schools like these. In many ways, it's very similar to the one-room school I attended in Nebraska as a child, except that we had a telephone, fuel oil heat, and electrical power.

Related posts:
Lunch Hour at a One-Room School
Three Old Schools in Christian County, Kentucky
St. Elmo School Revisited
Some Memories of Duff, Nebraska
Duff Valley
Teaching in a One-Room School

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Door to Yesterday

Side entrance to an old building in Hopkinsville, KY





This door, a side entrance to one of Hopkinsville's 1880s buildings, probably opens to a staircase. Perhaps the merchant's family once lived above the store, or perhaps the space was rented.

The window above the door enhanced the airflow to the second floor in hot weather. I believe a window above the door like this is called a "transom window."

The metal awning is too high and short to provide much shelter for a person opening the door in the rain. It probably did prevent rain from coming through the transom window, if the wind wasn't strong. The awning was surely added sometime after the building's construction. I doubt if it dates back to the 1880s.

Update:
This doorway is a side entrance to the Klein Building, on the corner of 6th and Main Streets. The front of the building, as seen from 6th Street, is pictured below. The Alhambra Theater on Main Street is visible in the background. The main entrance of the Klein Building sits diagonally at the corner, behind the black post that's supporting the second floor.


The Klein Building in Hopkinsville, KY, was built in 1883.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

An Old Barn Falls

I told you so.



Tobacco barn, Christian County, KYFall of 2007


A couple of years ago, I wrote that I was surprised this barn had tobacco hung all the way to the top in it. I hoped they had checked the old barn's stability before climbing to the top tier with heavy tobacco-laden sticks because the barn was in poor repair.

Sometime after that, an angry man from eastern Kentucky wrote an impassioned comment on that post. He said that falling out of the tops of barns was just part of growing tobacco. I, an ignoramus, should mind my own business because I knew nothing about barns, tobacco, or farming. He added a number of obscenities for emphasis.

He may have been right (I don't know a whole lot about tobacco farming), but nevertheless, the barn collapsed sometime recently, probably in one of the wind storms. Or maybe the farmer pushed it over. Anyhow, nobody will be hanging tobacco in it anymore.

Spring of 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax Day 2009

Taxes and Tea Parties



Today was April 15, so I completed and e-filed our taxes. When I figured them roughly several months ago, I saw that we had to make an additional payment. I wasn't anxious to relinquish the money until the last minute.

I had a Tax Day conversation with the man who's doing roofing repairs for us. He told me that he had to pay an extra "five" when he filed a few days ago. "Five hundred?" I asked. "No, five thousand," he replied. (He probably needs to increase his quarterly payments!)

If I hadn't been busy with our taxes today, I could have gone to a Tax Day Tea Party. As you may know, rallies against higher taxes were held across the nation. Many people are very concerned about a huge increase in Federal spending that ultimately must be funded with a huge increase in taxes.

Several Tea Parties were held in this area today -- Bowling Green (KY), Clarksville (TN), and Madisonville (KY). The Hoptown Hall forum has some accounts from people who attended these events, and the forum's moderator has posted some photos from the Bowling Green Tea Party.

When I was in Wal-Mart late this evening, I noticed that the edition of TurboTax I used was sold out completely. It's a good thing I didn't wait until the last minute to buy the software, or I might have been downloading desperately. (Figure the taxes on paper with brain and calculator power? Perish the thought!)

Wal-Mart's in-house tax service, Jackson Hewitt, was closing up shop and moving out. A crew was taking the booths, desks, and computers to a truck and trailer waiting outside. Tax season is over for this year, but it's a sure bet that the debate about taxes will continue.

Things to See and Do

Internet diversions



Can't wait for spring? Here's a flower garden that you don't have to plant. Click anywhere -- or click and hold as you move across the page. (Thanks, Gloria and Alta!)

Gloria also sent a link to a Rootsweb section devoted to old-time picture postcards. Choose your state and then find your county. I was surprised at some of the little towns that are represented.

Check out these photos of a Great Horned Owl family and their nest in downtown St. Marys, Georgia.  (Thank you, Alta!)

Another email from Alta led me to Pixdaus, a site with over 7000 pages of photographs. I saw many beautiful photos of nature that would be nice backgrounds for the desktop.

Here's a froggy logic game from Kenneth that you might enjoy. I solved it after several (OK, a dozen or more!) false starts, and I'm sure you can do the same.

Now that your brain is revved up and both lobes are thinking, test your knowledge of Mideast geography. Just drag the name of each country to the place on the map where it belongs. There is no time limit, and the map will not let you make a mistake. (Thank you, Fred.)

Our last link today opens a chapter of heartland history -- the story of the North Platte (NE) canteen on You-Tube. Elaine added a personal story:

I think you'll enjoy the Canteen story. Bob, my husband was there on his eighteenth birthday and they asked if any one of the young men had a birthday. The ladies were giving a cake to the birthday boys. He was so shy and scared that he didn't say a word. When the group boarded the train again, one of the group said," Too bad someone didn't have a birthday as we could be eating cake." Bob never said a word. Aug.7, l943.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Scrabble to the Death

Marathon match



Keely brought her fancy Scrabble board yesterday when she and Taurus came out for Easter dinner. After the dishes were done, she challenged me to a Scrabble "duel to the death", and I accepted.

Each square on Keely's board has a ridge around its boundaries so the letters don't slide around.  It has twice as many letter pieces as Classic Scrabble does and twice as many squares on the board.  The squares on the corners are quadruple words, and there are also some quadruple letter squares.

Our duel lasted three hours.  Lengthy dictionary searches were conducted (mostly by me, because I wasn't feeling very sharp), and there was an extended "7th inning stretch" while I found the popcorn and the air popper.

We managed to play all the letters, and the final score was 711-707 in my favor. My brain was dead afterwards so Keely did duel me to the death.

It wasn't a decisive victory. I wouldn't have won if Keely hadn't showed me a place to play where I got 19 points, instead of the 6 points I was getting ready to play. But on the other hand, she played a proper noun (Zend), and I didn't catch it until it was too late to call it. I predict a rematch in the future.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Kirkmansville's Rise and Decline

Some history of Kirkmansville, KY


Road signs at the intersection in Kirkmansville, KY

The little village of Kirkmansville, KY, is located at the intersection of Highways 107 and 171, in the extreme northwestern corner of Todd County. It's an outpost in the borderlands -- less than two miles from both the Muhlenberg County and the Christian County boundaries.

Kirkmansville was incorporated in 1882 by an act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  In 1900, the population of Kirkmansville was 126.

According to the Todd County, KY, Family History, compiled by the Todd County Historical Society, Kirkmansville was a thriving little village in the early 1900s.

Early in the twentieth century, Kirkmansville was an active community. There were four churches, one to three doctors, a hotel, a bank, a post office, a garage, a flour and feed mill, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, a funeral home, a restaurant and pool-room, a jail, four general stores and a school.  Also near the community, where the Edwards Bridge crosses Pond River, the Thomas Parker Sullivan Tobacco Factory and Warehouse served the area farmers. When Mr. Sullivan died in the early 1900s, the establishment closed.

Source: Todd County, KY, Family History

By 1928, the population had reached 200, and a school building that accommodated grades 1-12 had been built. In the early 1930s, a gymnasium was constructed for sports events. However, the school's enrollment dwindled despite efforts to bus in students, and it was closed in the spring of 1938.

The closing of the school was the beginning of a period of ill fortune.  Within a few years, the school building and the gym were both destroyed by fire. Then, in the winter of 1944, a major fire destroyed the bank, a garage, the post office and a house. Residents fought the fire with a bucket brigade until help finally arrived from the Greenville Fire Department.

More fires followed:

During a 25-year period, the bank, the school, a garage, the post office, the jail, a Negro church, three store buildings, and ten residences burned. Most of them were not replaced. A succession of tragedies almost had transformed a small progressive community into a ghost town, with little except memories to remind the citizens of Kirkmansville as it was 40 years ago.

Source: Todd County, KY, Family History

103 years after its establishment, the post office in Kirkmansville closed permanently on March 10, 1967(Source: Kentucky Place Names by Robert M. Rennick). Today, Kirkmansville is a crossroads with a handful of houses, a couple of churches, and a little store and restaurant.

I wonder why so many fires occurred in Kirkmansville. Was there evidence of deliberate fire-setting? Were there recurring coincidences of time, place and person? Many dark scenarios can be imagined -- maybe a parent, spouse, neighbor, or friend knew something about someone, but kept it a secret.

The Todd County history book doesn't say that an arsonist or pyromaniac was at work, but I think it's possible -- and even probable. Certainly, as the little town endured its era of fires, citizens must have hoped that their buildings wouldn't be next.

Other interesting scraps of Kirkmansville history:
Bids to carry the mail once a week from Kirkmansville to Elkton, a trip of 19 miles and 5 hours in 1876.
Shenanigans at Kirkmansville during 1912 revival meetings
A Kirkmansville doctor's account of a tumor that caused the stillbirth of a baby

Related posts:
Helen's Place in Kirkmansville, KY
Seen at Kirkmansville, KY

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Spring Wildflowers

"They toil not, neither do they spin."





These wildflowers are blooming along the backroads of Christian County right now. I saw them in several wooded areas today. This clump is growing on a high bank above a creek. The blooms are violet in color, but the plants aren't violets. I think they might be a type of phlox.

Good News

Congratulations, Keely!


For the past year, our daughter Keely has worked as a lab tech at the Breathitt Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in Hopkinsville.

Breathitt has had hiring constraints due to budget cuts, so Keely has been in a temporary position all this time. When a full-time position opened recently, she applied and was interviewed. We thought that she surely had a very good chance, but we couldn't help being a little worried. Several other qualified applicants were interviewed.

Keely learned yesterday that she has the job. In addition to the improvement in job security, she'll have health insurance, vacation leave, and other benefits now. We're very happy for her.

Keely is in the Serology Department. They test blood samples for brucellosis, leptospirosis, bird flu, and many other diseases. A lot of the testing they do is required by law for dairies, poultry farms, cattle and horse farms, etc. Her work each day is important for our food safety and for the prevention of contagious animal diseases in our state and nation.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Stormy Weather

Another day of tornado season



Today (Palm Sunday): Tornado watch.
Tomorrow (Monday): Rain mixed with snow and a stiff northwest wind.
Monday and Tuesday nights: Temperatures in the upper 20s and a freeze watch.

I suppose the lilacs won't get to bloom, or the redbuds or the dogwoods. I hope the winter wheat isn't far enough along to be damaged.

No tornados came out of the bad cloud in the photo as it passed over us this afternoon. I don't know what it did after it left our area.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Homeless Gnomes

Waiting for a garden of their own





I'm a softie for gnomes, because they remind me of German gardens. I own a couple of gnome musicians from Germany whom I do not allow to go outside. They content themselves with playing gnomish flute and concertina music for a garden of houseplants.

The gnomes in the photo are living at Hobby Lobby in very cramped quarters. Some of them look a bit anemic. They need a better home and garden -- you should adopt them! Well, a few of them, at least. Don't be like the lady with 200 gnomes in her front garden. Even with garden gnomes, moderation is good.

Related post:
Gnome gardener"Gnomes in the News" includes a photo of one of my gnome musicians.

Gnome game:
10 Gnomes -- Flash puzzle. Zoom in and hunt for the gnome any place the cursor changes to a hand. Zoom out by clicking in the "go back" area at the bottom of the screen. Oh, you can waste some time here.

More gnomes in the news:
"Gnome Sweet Gnome"

Conficker Virus Check

Simple, quick test


Maybe you've heard about the Conficker worm, a computer virus that became active on April 1. Millions of computers are said to be infected with it. It is unknown how or when the worm will be used, but it probably won't be used benevolently.

A quick, easy test for the virus has been posted by the Conficker Working Group. Visit the test page and compare your results with the charts at the bottom of the page. This is a reliable test, as long as you aren't viewing the internet through a proxy server (such as a web accelerator provided by a dial-up internet service.)

Or, simply try to visit some of the anti-virus software websites such as Symantec, Trend Micro, or F-Secure. If you can't open the websites, your computer is probably infected with Conficker.

Experts say that if a computer's anti-virus software has been kept up to date, it's unlikely that it will be infected. But visit the test page, just to be sure. If you learn that your computer is infected, see the CNET article: "Rid your computer of the Conficker Virus".

This information is a little off topic for Prairie Bluestem, I know, but I don't want any of my readers to be caught unaware. If you're not using anti-virus software currently, a good, free program is available from AVG.

A hat tip to Seth Rosenblatt at the CNET Download Blog.

Using Google Book Search

Enjoying the old books


I like old books, and thus I enjoy Google Book Search, where I can find old books and magazines on just about any topic.

I type my search term into the box and wait for a page of results to appear. Then, from the drop-down menu titled "Showing", I select "Full view only". Another page of results appears -- all of which are fully available on the internet without any restricted pages.

The full-view books are often available for download, so I sometimes import them to my own computer. I've also started using the Library feature of Google Book Search. When a book is in my library, it's easy to find it again. It's also possible for anyone to browse my library.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Caution Advised

Beware of pranksters!


Remember -- today is April Fool's Day. Would-be tricksters are everywhere, so stay alert.

You may enjoy my Tree Notes post for today: "Jonathan Baldwin Turner and Osage orange hedges". No tricks are hidden there. It's just an interesting bit of history about the American prairies.
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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.