Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Plucky Pioneer Woman

Sarah Thorp of Ashtabula County, Ohio

Ashtabula County in Ohio
Ohio in the United States
The following story of "A Plucky Pioneer Woman" appears on pages 527-528 of Historical Collections of Ohio: An Encyclopedia of the State, Volume 1 (published in 1907 by the State of Ohio.)

Joel Thorp, with his wife Sarah, moved with an ox team, in May, ‘99 [1799], from North Haven, Connecticut, to Millsford, in Ashtabula county, and were the first settlers in that region. They soon had a small clearing on and about an old beaver dam, which was very rich and mellow.

Towards the first of June, the family being short of provisions, Mr. Thorp started off alone to procure some through the wilderness, with no guide but a pocket compass, to the nearest settlement, about 20 miles distant, in Pennsylvania.

His family, consisting of Mrs. Thorp and three children, the oldest child, Basil, being but eight years of age, were before his return reduced to extremities for the want of food. They were compelled, in a measure, to dig for and subsist on roots, which yielded but little nourishment.

The children in vain asked food, promising to be satisfied with the least possible portion. The boy, Basil, remembered to have seen some kernels of corn in a crack of one of the logs of the cabin, and passed hours in an unsuccessful search for them. Mrs. Thorp emptied the straw out of her bed and picked it over to obtain the little wheat it contained, which she boiled and gave to her children.

Her husband, it seems, had taught her to shoot at a mark, in which she acquired great skill. When all her means for procuring food were exhausted, she saw, as she stood in her cabin door, a wild turkey flying near. She took down her husband’s rifle, and, on looking for ammunition, was surprised to find only sufficient for a small charge.

Carefully cleaning the barrel, so as not to lose any by its sticking to the sides as it went down, she set some apart for priming and loaded the piece with the remainder, and started in pursuit of the turkey, reflecting that on her success depended the lives of herself and children.

Under the excitement of her feelings she came near defeating her object, by frightening the turkey, which flew a short distance and again alighted in a potato patch. Upon this, she returned to the house and waited until the fowl had begun to wallow in the loose earth.

On her second approach, she acted with great caution and coolness, creeping slyly on her hands and knees from log to log until she had gained the last obstruction between herself and the desired object. It was now a trying moment, and a crowd of emotions passed through her mind as she lifted the rifle to a level with her eye.

She fired; the result was fortunate: the turkey was killed and herself and family preserved from death by her skill.

Mrs. Thorp married three times. Her first husband was killed in Canada, in the war of 1812; her second was supposed to have been murdered. Her last husband’s name was Gordiner. She died in Orange, in this county, Nov. 1, 1846.

And here is a little more information about Sarah Thorp, quoted from Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve,  July, 1896.  This publication (a magazine?) was edited by Mrs. Gertrude Van Rensselaer Wickham under the auspices of the Woman's Department of the Cleveland Centennial Commission (source.)

The first settlers [of the Dorset area of Ashtabula County, Ohio] were Mr. Joel Thorp and wife, whose name was Sarah, and three little children, who came from North Haven, Conn., in a pioneer wagon, drawn by two yoke of oxen. An uncle of Mrs. Thorp in Pittsburg gave her a horse, which she rode the rest of the way, and which the wolves soon destroyed. They located on a beaver dam, near the center, and built a log house in May, 1799.

Towards the first of June, Mr. Thorp started to the nearest mill in Pennsylvania, twenty miles away, with only a pocket compass for guide, and staying longer than expected, the family were famishing, when the mother’s watchful eye saw a wild turkey pass the door. Waiting for it to wallow in the dirt, she shot it with the last charge of powder in the house.

Another time she shot a large bear in a huge, wild cherry tree near their house, and “the bear tree,” as it was called, is still kept in mementoes in the county, in cabinet specimens, furniture, and canes. Mrs. Thorp died in Orange, Cuyahoga county, November 1, 1846, then Mrs. Gardiner.

Stories like these makes me laugh a little about one of my Mennonite neighbor ladies. She told me that she and her husband had been "pioneers" of the Mennonite community in Christian County, KY.  Well, yes, they were some of the first Mennonites in the area, but her life as a "pioneer" of the 1980s in Kentucky did not include the hardships and dangers that women like Sarah Thorp faced.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Are You Making?

Confessions of a Public Crafter

As Mom may have told you all, I have a small crafting habit. She mentioned several months ago that she had been coming to knitting group with me, and she's even posted a few pictures of my projects around here somewhere.

My latest knitting project
I learned how to crochet from my mom when I was about 7. I'm convinced that she taught me as a way to get me out of her hair. For years, all I ever made was long chains of crochet, not finished things. When I was about 10, I figured out how to make bags, and I did that obsessively for a while. Then, I got older, and I started making afghans. I continued that until high school.

A couple of years ago, a very patient friend taught me now to knit, and introduced me to the thriving online craft community. It was like my little crafting world exploded! If you're a big crafter, and you don't know about the online communities that are out there, you're missing out hugely. There are millions of people that are out there talking about what they make and how they make it. It's pretty wild.

Since then, I've made huge strides in my craft. I feel that I'm a much better knitter and crocheter than I was two years ago. I also find that I've become pretty fearless about it. I'm willing to try to knit or crochet most anything. One of my first knitting projects from a pattern was the shawl I knit for my wedding.

I take my crafting everywhere with me. I knit and crochet at restaurants while waiting on the food, in the doctor's office, at the movies. If you want to confuse strangers completely, knit or crochet in the movie theater. As I'm sure you can imagine, reactions have varied wildly.

  • Almost two years ago, while a friend and I were out to dinner, our server confessed to me in a very quiet voice that he had been taught to knit many years ago when he was a young boy in school in Moscow, but that he hardly ever did it now.
A "Wild Thing" (as in the children's book)
  • One day at a different restaurant with my little brother, a group of ladies stared pointedly at me for about five minutes. I was working on a baby blanket while waiting for a table. When they were called, they huffed by as one of them stared at me and said, "Well I Never!" in a very angry voice.
  • Children commonly stare and ask their parents why I'm sewing or playing or whatever they think I'm doing. This once led to a near argument between myself and the mother of a child. The mother insisted that I was sewing, and she ought to know, since she was older! When I asked her about it, she confessed that she had never sewn, or crocheted (which is what I was actually doing), but she knew what they looked like, and I was definitely sewing.
  • One German lady was so overcome by my knitting a set of potholders that she came over and questioned me extensively about the technique I was using. She said that she had been knitting for 40 years and had never seen it done. She was very excited to get home and do some internet research to try it herself.
  • Countless people have told me how their mother or their grandmother used to knit or crochet, and tried to teach them, but they've forgotten how or never gotten the hang of it. A few people have even asked me to teach them, and these are the people that I've directed to knitting groups or yarn shops to pick up the basics, since a lot of times the people asking aren't in a position for me to teach them for whatever reason.
I don't do it for the reactions, but I confess that they amuse me. Nothing tickles me more than to have someone come and ask me about what I'm doing, especially kids. Because of how much it tickles me, every time I see other crafters out and about, I ask them, "What are you making?"

Keely's Been Knitting
Yarn Store Adventure

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Discovery by Dowsing

Anecdotes vs. data

Along life's way, I've heard many interesting stories about water dowsers, and I've had a few personal experiences with the art.
  • When I was growing up in Nebraska, my dad always called the Gudgel brothers* when he needed a new well. My dad showed them the general site, and they used a dowsing stick to determine the best spot before they drilled.
  • At his ranch in Kansas, my brother successfully dowsed for underground water pipes and avoided some unnecessary exploratory digging. 
  • Telling me about my brother's dowsing, my father put two wires in my hand and tried to show me how to use them. He wanted me to feel the electric current in the ceiling fan overhead. I was unable to sense it.
  • I watched my Mennonite neighbor hold his pocket watch by its chain (a pendulum) and follow the underground water vein on which our old well in the yard was hand-dug. (At least, he said so.)

Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas'
"De re metallica libri XII"
(Wikimedia image, from a 16th
century German mining manual.)
Dowsers find many sorts of anomalies in the earth -- water and water pipes, sewer lines, septic tanks, buried cables, oil, veins of ore, graves, caves, tunnels, buried treasure, lost objects, and much more**. An internet search for "dowsing" will find hundreds (thousands!) of success stories.

Water dowsing is such a common practice that the U.S. Geological Survey, a branch of the Department of the Interior, has even published a pamphlet about it. In the early 1900s, they also published a book about the history of dowsing. While they discourage reliance on dowsing to find water, they don't outright condemn it.

But many scientists doubt that dowsers can find much of anything with their rods, sticks, pendulums, and so on. Stories abound, but stories are not data. When put to the test, it seems that dowsers find things mainly when they dowse in locations where it would be hard not to find those things.

During the 1980s, an extensive, well-funded study of water dowsing was conducted by a group of physicists in Munich, Germany. The group included members who were skeptical to dowsing and members who were sympathetic, so the study could not be called "unfriendly." Variables were carefully controlled, and double blinds were employed. The results were conclusive -- the dowsers were unable to detect water. In fact,  "it is difficult to imagine a set of experimental results that would represent a more persuasive disproof of the ability of dowsers to do what they claim." (J. T. Enright, "Testing Dowsing: The Failure of the Munich Experiments." Published in Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 23.1, January / February 1999)

I've read a dozen success stories tonight about grave dowsing, but I have to wonder how many of the found graves were opened to see if remains were actually there. A report by the Iowa State Archaeologist lists cemetery after cemetery where grave dowsing failed. In some cases, graves were indicated by dowsers, but no remains were found when the ground was excavated. In other cases, remains were found where dowsers said there were no graves. The State Archaeologist advises, "My final recommendation is for cemetery caretakers to stop using dowsing."

I had always imagined that dowsing was a natural ability that you might be born with, just as one might have an inborn talent for dancing or for learning foreign languages. I'm a bit disappointed at the lack of scientific evidence for dowsing. If I had to locate an underground pipe -- well, I guess I'd call 811 -- or my brother.

* When my dad was growing up, his family and the Gudgels were neighbors in the Nebraska Sandhills, south of Wood Lake and Johnstown. Amos Gudgel was one of the homesteaders of eastern Cherry County. His sons who were well-drillers were Francis and/or Bill (as I recall!)  I could definitely be wrong about their names, so please don't hesitate to set me straight.

** I learned in my recent reading about dowsing that it's not just a popular way to find water on the farm. Dowsing is also a New-Age, "spiritual", pagan art, practiced for power. Some even claim that they can predict the future, influence the actions of others, and find success and love through dowsing. To them, it really is "witching", another name that dowsing is sometimes called.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bridges at Cairo, Illinois

Railroads and ferries brought prosperity

A. B. Safford Memorial Museum in Cairo, Illinois, built in 1883

Cairo, Illinois, is at the extreme southern tip of Illinois, at the point where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers converge.

I always have mixed feelings as I drive through Cairo (pronounced "Care-roh".) Sadly, the town has endured a long period of hard times and population loss. In the business district, empty lots suggest that many deteriorated buildings have been bulldozed and hauled away. Some old buildings, still standing, are candidates for the next demolition list.

I'm not sure if this church is in use.
But the town still has some fabulous old buildings. I always enjoy the architecture when life leads me to Cairo.

Cairo became an important railroad hub after the Civil War, and the town enjoyed several decades of great prosperity. Train cars (and other vehicles) were ferried across the rivers, and the ferry business was as important to local fortunes as the railroad and river-shipping businesses.

The Riverlore in Cairo, Illinois
During this era, a U.S. Customs House was built in Cairo to process goods from foreign countries.  The Cairo Post Office (a mail distribution center of major national importance) and a Federal court were also located in the Customs House.

Then in 1889, the Illinois Central Railroad completed the Cairo Rail Bridge across the Ohio River (image, another image). It was a masterpiece of engineering. The metal bridge itself was nearly 2 miles long and the entire structure including the wooden approaches was almost 4 miles long. Freight from Chicago could travel directly to New Orleans via the Cairo Rail Bridge -- a revolution in rail shipping, but a blow to Cairo.

More mansions in Cairo
In 1905, a group of five railroads built the Thebes Rail Bridge over the Mississippi River, eliminating the need for railroad cars to be ferried at Cairo. Thebes, a town on the Mississippi River about 25 miles north of Cairo, was chosen for the bridge because the earth there was much firmer than at Cairo.

Vehicles traveling in the Cairo area still used the ferries until two highway bridges were built -- the Mississippi River bridge (leading to Missouri) in 1929, and the Ohio River bridge (leading to Kentucky) in 1937. The bridges and roads connected a short distance south of Cairo, so travelers could quickly cross both rivers without even entering town.

The loss of the railroad and ferry industries was significant, but it alone did not kill the town. By the early 1900s, other serious problems (racism, corruption, violence, crime) were well-established in Cairo. Over the next century, these evils had a slow-but-deadly effect on the town. You can read about the darker side of Cairo's history at "Cairo, Illinois, Death by Racism."

Overgrowth and disrepair, too!
Last summer, I traveled from Kentucky to Missouri. South of Cairo, I crossed the Ohio River bridge from Kentucky to Illinois, but the Mississippi River bridge south of Cairo was closed for repair. So I drove through Cairo, got on Interstate 57 a few miles north of town, and crossed over the Mississippi River and into Missouri on the I-57 bridge. A few days later, I drove through Cairo again on my way home. That's when I took these pictures.

A photo I took inside the Customs House some years ago
Seen at Wickliffe, Kentucky

Ohio River bridge, just south of Cairo

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Crops of Christian County, Kentucky, in 1915

A "Farm Calendar" of income sources

In about 1915, Judge W. T. Fowler of Christian County, KY, put together a 32-page booklet. Every page was devoted to praise of the county's citizens, public institutions, private enterprises, and farms (especially the farms!)

In the foreword, Judge Fowler noted that a delegation of farmers from other counties was visiting Christian County to study the farming methods so successfully employed here. Judge Fowler wanted every visitor to take home a copy of the booklet, to use as a reference for writing articles about Christian County.

 Geoffrey Morgan led the delegation of visiting farmers (the "Morgan party", as Judge Fowler called them). Morgan was a Kentucky Board of Agriculture state agent who worked with county agents, according to documents of the period. A few years later, he helped organize the Federated Farm Bureaus of Kentucky.

Now, here is the Farm Calendar from Judge Fowler's little book -- a list of the most important farm products here, a century ago. Something is missing -- do you see it?

CHRISTIAN COUNTY is the only place in the world where something is doing all the time. Our farmers collect their dividends each month in the year. The following is a partial list of our money crops: Things which are sold off of Christian county farms each month in the year.

JANUARY -- Tobacco, clover, hay, corn, potatoes, dairy products, poultry, poultry products, mules, and pork products.

FEBRUARY -- Cattle, hogs, tobacco, corn, clover, hay, dairy products, poultry products, potatoes, mules, etc.

MARCH -- Tobacco, hay, corn, pork, mules, poultry, and dairy products.

APRIL -- Silage-fed cattle, hay, corn, mules, and all the articles mentioned in the preceeding months.

MAY -- Hogs that follow cattle, wool, seed potatoes, onions, dairy products, poultry products, farm seed, strawberries, early garden products.

JUNE -- Barley, alfalfa hay, new clover hay, early lambs, strawberries, garden products (all varieties).

JULY -- Wheat, late lambs, dairy products, etc.

AUGUST -- Oats, timothy hay, dairy products, orchard products (all varieties), garden products (all varieties).

SEPTEMBER -- Hogs fattened on barley and wheat field, wheat, oats, hay of all kinds, etc.

NOVEMBER -- Cattle fattened on summer and fall pastures, potatoes, garden products (all varieties), orchard products.

DECEMBER -- Corn-fed hogs, tobacco, corn, hay, pork products, dairy products, etc.

Each month in the year, Hopkinsville furnishes a good market for cream, poultry, and truck. Our creamery on First street purchases cream, poultry, eggs, and other farm products and pays therefor the highest market price. This is one of the best markets for dairy products and poultry products in the South.
Related article: 
Passenger Pigeons in Christian County, KY

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Fly Problems in the Good Old Days

Typhoid in the Spanish American war

Occasionally, I hear someone waxing nostalgic about the good old days, and I admit that I, too, sometimes grow wistful for simpler times.

However, I don't feel a deep yearning to return to animal-powered transportation -- such as horses and buggies. They didn't create air pollution problems like cars do, but the manure on the streets was a huge sanitation problem. In warm weather, street manure was a prime breeding ground for flies as well as a source of stench. Pedestrians had to watch their step at all times, and in wet weather, they ran the danger of being splashed with raw sewage from the street. (I'm not exaggerating.)

I don't get nostalgic about outhouses, either, having had the joy of using one at school through the eighth grade. People like to decorate their bathrooms with cute privy pictures and to send around amusing e-mail poems about outhouses, but those outdoor toilets really weren't very pleasant places. They were cold in the winter, and in warm weather, well... they smelled bad and the flies liked them.

The following is from a health textbook of the 1920s:

In the Spanish-American War, about one out of every five of our volunteer soldiers had typhoid fever, and it was found that the fly was one of the principal agents in spreading the disease. In Jacksonville, Florida, flies used to cause a great deal of typhoid, until a campaign for the screening of outside closets reduced the typhoid death rate of the city to less than one fourth of what it had been.

Typhoid fever is by no means the only disease that is carried by flies. Studies made by the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor in New York City showed that babies which were carefully protected from flies had only one half as much diarrheal disease (summer complaint) as babies not protected in this way.

Source: Healthy Living (p. 264), a textbook by Dr. Charles-Edward Amory Winslow, published in 1924 by the Charles E., Merrill Company of New York and Chicago.
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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.