When World War II came to Southwest Kansas, I did what I considered my patriotic duty and joined the Civil Air Patrol. We wore crisp Khaki uniforms and jaunty caps, piped in red, and drilled on the athletic field north of the high school before most folks were out of bed in the morning.
Not one to do things halfway, I enrolled in a private pilot course and started taking flying lessons in a 1930’s-something, bright yellow, 65 horsepower Piper J-3 Cub. I reported to Bonnie Thompson, proprietor of the two-runway airport southeast of town, at sunup on a Monday morning. Bonnie introduced me to my plane and explained the many various features that I should become accustomed to.
I’d dreamed of flying since I saw my first airplane at the age of six when one flew over Plains (Kansas)—where we lived at the time—so I paid for the complete course even though I had never been up in anything that wasn’t attached to the ground.
I soloed in the allotted number of hours but my most vivid memory of that early stage in my flying career was trying to compensate for the wind which invariably blew me off course as I practiced pylon and “lazy” 8’s, rectangles, spirals, wing-overs and stalls, first with Bonnie, then solo.
I had only two or three hours of solo when I took off one morning in a strong southwest wind, leveled off at 500 feet and found myself literally flying backward—at full throttle. Instead of being southwest of the field—the direction I was headed—I was directly over it, practically in the same position I’d started out! I had reached about 300 feet in altitude when, on the north east end of the runway, I pointed the nose ground-ward and leveled off. I was too scared to worry about bounces and, although I was shaky. I landed safely. As I taxied to the hanger, I saw Bonnie waiting to meet me. He assured me that finding oneself flying backward was not unusual when flying a 65 horsepower, fabric-covered plane into a wind velocity of over 70 miles per hour.
I helped Bonnie hanger the plane, made an appointment for the following day, and arrived at the field the next morning, relieved to find the wind sock hanging limply on its pole atop the hanger.
From then on, everything went smoothly. I practiced faithfully, sharpening my skills as I worked toward my goal—qualifying for a private pilot license.
When 86 year old Mary Spurgeon was asked to sculpt an eight-foot likeness of Wyatt Earp, to be displayed on Dodge City’s Wyatt Earp Boulevard, she didn’t bat an eye. She was used to challenges—in sculpting and in life.
Spurgeon, a North Oklahoma artist and rancher, personified the ingenuity, the strength and the courage for which plains women are noted.
Becoming an artist began as a childhood dream.
Spurgeon grew up, one of a family of five girl—and no boys—near Ensign, Kansas, a small farming community 15 miles southwest of Dodge City, Kansas. She worked in the fields and at other outside chores, one of which was driving the cattle to pasture in the morning and home at night. As she sat on her horse, day after day, watching the cattle graze, Spurgeon dreamed dreams that sometimes seemed far-fetched.
There was never enough money. If you wanted something, you had to figure out how to get it. Spurgeon longed to paint but she was seventeen before she got her first oil paints.
And what did she paint with those first tubes? Horses! Horses have always been her favorite things to paint. For many years, however, painting was something she could do when nothing else demanded her time.
She attended junior college and after receiving her teaching certificate, she taught in rural schools in Kansas and one year at a rural school near Cody, Wyoming.
For a time she studied under Grant Reynard, a well-known artist who had been a student of Harvey Dunn.
“I learned a great deal about painting with oils—particularly landscapes and portraits—for which Reynard was noted,” Spurgeon said.
She returned to Ensign in 1943 and, that fall, accepted a teaching position at the Barby Ranch School in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
“Everywhere I taught, I rode horseback to school, often fording creeks and rivers,” Spurgeon said. “I usually trained a colt on the way to school in the morning and home in the evening.”
At the time, she was dating a young ranch hand and horse trainer by the name of Bill Spurgeon. They were married in November, 1944 and Spurgeon became a typical rancher’s wife. She raised four children, keeping house and helping her husband with outside chores.
Starting a ranch and raising a family, left little time for painting. However, through years of depressions, teaching in remote rural schools, ranch work, rodeoing, building a home and raising a family, she painted “when she could find the time” between roundups, branding cattle, rescuing them from quicksand, searching for missing calves, helping neighbors and school activities.
“Even though painting always took a back seat to everything, else,” she said, “I never gave up. I never considered the possibility of not succeeding.”
She applied for a correspondence course. It took two years to complete but soon after she completed the course, she sold her first paintings.
Her determination to succeed as an artist also sustained her when she decided to build a new home using timbers from an old bridge.
Still adept at working a herd, Mary Spurgeon urges “Zan,” her registered, white-stocking, sorrel quarter horse forward, cuts a yearling calf from its mother, skillfully maneuvers it to the open gate leading to the holding pen then wheels the horse to seek out another yearling..
It is branding time at the Spurgeon ranches. Son, Del Roy, who lives on an adjacent ranch, is in charge of operations and Spurgeon, as usual, is doing her part. Her yearlings are branded with the “Open Hexagon” which, she says, has been the Spurgeon brand for 50 years. This done, Del Roy’s calves will be branded with his brand.
Occasionally, Spurgeon pauses to make a notation in a small, pocket-size book which records the genealogy of every cow in both herds including age, history and number of calves produced.
It’s time for a break; Zan trots to the cottonwood tree shading the watering tank and Spurgeon dismounts. She is dressed in a typical cow-person outfit; well-washed jeans, cotton shirt, well-worn chaps, cowboy hat, boots and spurs. Removing her hat, she swipes her shirt sleeve across her damp brow and, uncorking a thermos bottle, takes a long drink of water.
Later, before returning to her role as artist and resuming work on the sculpture currently underway, she will check the heifers in the north pasture. There are only five yet to calve and, so far, she has 108% calf crop. (One heifer had twins).
During the winter of 1992/93, when 83 inches of snow kept her snowed in for three months, she calved out 21 head of heifers, she said, wading through snow banks to feed and check on them every three or four hours, day and night. The first calf was born January 25th; the last on March 7.
“I wound up with a 100% calf crop,” she said proudly.
Working around cattle is second nature; she has done it for most of her life.
But there is more to Spurgeon than meets the eye.
If, indeed, “you are what you think about all day long”, Mary Spurgeon’s success as an artist should come as no surprise. She has, not only thought about it, she had worked toward it her entire life.
“It has been a full life—a busy one,” she said. “Early on, we had no plumbing on the ranch, so I carried water from the well for all our needs. What with rescuing cattle from quicksand, searching for strays, cooking for cowboys, helping neighbors, keeping up with school activities, and participating in rodeos (She was a barrel racer), there was not much time for painting.”
“When the children were small, Bill worked for various ranchers and we moved frequently,” she said. “During this time, however, we were building our own herd of cattle and, in 1959, we leased the old Mashed O Ranch on the Cimarron River.”
In 1972, they purchased the old family ranch five miles to the south for which Bill Spurgeon’s grandfather, Nelson Taylor, and his wife, Almeda, had traded a team and wagon for squatter’s rights in 1889.
“It was still a lot of work but now we were working for ourselves,” Spurgeon said. “Bill was becoming well known as a horse trainer by that time and that brought in extra money.”
Bill Spurgeon was killed in a riding accident in 1982, leaving the responsibility of running the ranch to Spurgeon. Prior to the death of her horse, Zan‑her life long friend—Spurgeon continued to participate in round-ups, branding, etc.
She still managed to find time for her art, however, and with the passing of time, her paintings became increasingly popular. After she turned her eye to sculpting, demand for her sculpture left little time for painting.
However, Spurgeon didn’t mind. She was doing what she loved to do. “I love the ranch,” she said. “I love my art. And I love my family. I feel that I have been blessed.”
Her art reflects the many facets of her life, and of her pioneer heritage. Always striving for realism, Spurgeon painted and sculpted the stories of the new west as well as the old. Her chief objective was action.
Spurgeon’s 8-foot statue of Wyatt Earp was to have been the first in a series to be placed along the Dodge City Trail of Fame. After completing this statue, she began sculpting a likeness of Doc Holiday. However, according to a city representative, the project was put on hold because of a lack of funds.
Her work has won numerous prizes and awards. In 2008, The Kansas House of Representatives announced the passage of House Resolution 6015, honoring “Kansas native and renowned sculptor, Mary Spurgeon,” for her distinguished work and artistic achievements representing the spirit of the State of Kansas.
Spurgeon, a nominee to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, was the featured artist in the Oklahoma State Capital Governor's Gallery and her paintings and sculpture has been displayed at the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, in Fort Worth, the Dodge City Public Library, the Western Spirit Show at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Museum, the American Quarter Horse Congress, the Barrel Racing Futurity and National Reining Finals in Oklahoma City, the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in Kansas City, the Texas Stockgrowers Association in Fort Worth, the Festival of the West in Scottsdale, Arizona as well as in galleries in Wyoming, Denver, in western art shows across the country and in homes, businesses and institutions throughout the world.
1992, The Oklahoma Historical Society designated the Spurgeon ranch a Centennial Ranch. Mary Spurgeon lived, painted and sculpted
there until her death, at the age of 91, in 2009.
This revised, updated article first appeared in Grit Magazine
THE COMMONPLACE BOOK
Thoreau had one. So did Thomas Hardy, Robert Burns and E.M.
So did Grandma.
Ninevah Augusta Booth—“My Commonplace Book” reads the faded letters on the cover of the battered ledger I found in a trunk in the attic.
Untying the string that held the worn pages together, I found, among other things, scores of Grandma’s verbal treasures, words I’d heard so often I can quote them from memory.
“Teach a child the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it,” was a favorite.
On checking Webster’s Dictionary, I learned that a commonplace book is “a personal journal in which quotable passages, literary excerpts and comments are safeguarded for future reference.”
“Aha!” I thought. I’d never dreamed there was a proper place for the accumulation of clippings, scraps of paper and sentimental trivia I’d been saving all these years!
I purchased a thick notebook and transformed it into my own commonplace book. Now I have two; Grandma’s and mine—vivid paradigms of how books, like people, can be so much alike, and yet so different.
Grandma was partial to poetry and bible verse. A poem—a tribute to the flag—holds the place of honor on the front page of her book. Following that is an ode to her parents, numerous homemade valentines, postal cards with verse, cards and letters from friends and loved ones, and two love letters my grandfather wrote her before they were married in 1895—120 years ago.
Not all of Grandma’s treasures are happy ones. Tributes to loved ones who passed on, a letter edged in black, all reflect an aching heart, as does a red-gold curl (“a lock of my baby’s hair”). On the facing page, written in Grandma’s familiar hand, is a bible verse: “All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me” dated the day that baby died.
Like Grandma, I treasure souvenirs, cards and notes from special people, special times. However, my commonplace book contains more inspirational, philosophical and pithy quotes than poetry.
On the inside cover is “A Writer’s Prayer,” and on the opposite page a poster: “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal. 5:1).
I keep my commonplace books ‑ Grandma’s and mine—where I can thumb through them when I need to recapture emotional equilibrium—refocus direction. They are a source of inspiration and guidance from two lives—two worlds—embracing a time span of 135 years; reminders that, although the world has changed dramatically, basically, people are pretty much the same.
More importantly, they enable me to see my time on earth as part of a larger picture.
These accumulated and ordered odds and ends, preserved out of inner necessity, reflect an individual’s deepest desires, highest aspirations, most profound hopes and dreams.
Jorge Luis Borges tells the story of a man who set out to make a picture of the universe. After many years, during which he covered a blank wall with images of myriad subjects, the man discovered, at the moment of his death, that he had drawn a likeness of his own face. This, Borges said, paralleled what happened to him in the writing of his book: The Aleph and Other Stories.
This is also what happens to us as, day by day, year to year, we fill in the blank pages of our commonplace book.
From THE COMMONPLACE BOOK published in Grit Magazine July
DRILLING FOR WATER
Pete Bartel learned to drill water wells in the service during World War II, little suspecting that it would turn out to be his life work. He planned to be a farmer when he came home after the war, but there was a great need for water in Western Kansas and so many people asked him to drill wells that, in 1948, he finally gave in, bought an old stomper rig and went to work.
In 1949, he built a rotary drill, a faster, more efficient rig than the stomper. He used that until he saved enough money to buy factory built equipment.
“In the early days we thought we were doing good if we drilled 50 feet a day,” Bartel said.
When Pete retired, in 1986, he sold the business to his son, Reuben.
“We grew up around well drilling equipment,” Reuben said. Pete began taking Reuben and his brothers, Phil and Dan, along to drill sites when they were only five or six years old.
“One of my earliest memories was of my uncle threatening to throw us into the slush pit if we didn’t behave,” Reuben laughed.
“We boys ‘helped Dad’ drill water wells from the time we could carry a wrench,” he added. “I’d follow him around thinking about what levers I’d need to push and what levers I’d need to pull. I loved it and looked forward to the time when I’d be old enough to run the rig myself.”
Rueben and his brother, Phil, now run the business. On a typical day, they arrive at the site about 9:30 a.m. After setting up the equipment, they drill a test hole and begin drilling taking soil samples as they go. Near the surface, they hit tan clay. Several layers of blue clay follow this then, at 210 feet—the water level previously indicated by a “water witch”—coarse, clean gravel appears. They have reached their target, the Ogallala Aquifer, a subterranean expanse of water that supplies an area covering portions of eight mid-western states with water so pure it needs no treatment.
Bartel is one of few drillers in the area who “witch” a well prior to drilling.
“Witching works for us,” Reuben says,
clasping a metal divining rod in each hand to demonstrate how it is done. “Dad was more accurate than I am; I tend to
stop at the top of the sand, while he always hit the bottom, the depth we drill
to ensure the customer an adequate water supply for the longest period of
“One would think that by the 21st century, the services of a water-well drilling company would be in less demand,” says Reuben Bartel. “However, in spite of a declining rural population, we are drilling more wells now than ever before.”
Although a large percentage of Bartel’s business consists of digging wells for new home sites and replacing deteriorating casing in existing wells, over fifty percent, he said, is due to wells drying up because of the declining water level in the Ogallala Aquifer.
During the drilling process, they continuously check soil samples and as the drill plows deeper into the earth Reuben and Phil work together as a team, moving the levers back and forth, swinging the pipes into place, securing them, their movements synchronized—as finely tuned as a well coordinated sports team.
Although a large percentage of Bartel’s business consists of digging wells for new home sites and replacing deteriorating casing in existing wells, over fifty percent, he said, is due to wells drying up because of the declining water level in the Ogallala Aquifer.
According to Kansas Geological Survey records, observation of 1100 wells during the winter of 2003, showed that the Ogallala had declined an average of just under two feet per year for the past five years in Southwest Kansas.* Since the Ogallala is the primary source of water for agricultural and domestic needs, this is a matter of no small concern.
“In areas where water is hard to find, some drillers have gone into the Dakota—an aquifer which lies below the Ogallala,” Bartel said. “This hasn’t proved very satisfactory, however, because the Dakota lies in sandstone and the water doesn’t move freely—as it does in the Ogallala. The water is harder to get out and isn’t as good for drinking. When we first started drilling, water would flow to the surface when we hit the Ogallala in some areas. It hasn’t done that for years. The only way to get it out now is to pump it.”
The Bartel Water Well Service remains a family business. While Reuben and Phil operate the equipment, Reuben’s wife, Jeris, tends the books.
The business runs much smoother and more efficiently now then it did when Pete Bartel started out in 1948.
“We have better rigs and moving equipment as well as radios and cell phones,” Reuben said. “This makes it a lot easier to keep in touch with the customer and get the job done.”
*Increased efficiency in the irrigation process has slowed the rate of the Ogallala water level decline somewhat in recent years but it continues to be a threat to the economy of the states it serves.
Kansas Water Office
GOING HOME AGAIN
Spring doesn’t just “come” to the Ozarks; it is more like an explosion—of new life, new beginnings. Tiny plants break through the soil, old plants send new growth reaching for the sun, the air is fragrant with spring blossoms which magically appear overnight as do newborn calves, piglets, colts, bunnies and fledgling birds. The air is full of song and human hearts are full of joy, just because it’s spring.
On a morning such as this I returned to visit the old home place, nestled in a remote area of the Ozark foothills.
Although I had been blissfully happy there, things change. Life happens. We do what we have to do; and I had been gone for twenty-five years.
The blacktopped highway had been a graveled road back then and when I set out, accompanied by a friend, I wasn’t even sure I could find my way. However, after driving the requisite number of miles, I shouted with joy when I recognized the turn-off that led into the backwoods and home.
As the car lurched, often “hitting bottom,” on the rutty, rocky road, (This hadn’t changed a bit), I pointed out landmarks and plants and wild flowers I once gathered for bouquets. I was so excited I missed the entrance to the lane and had to back up. Then, halfway to the house, a locked gate blocked our path.
Not to be discouraged, we climbed through the fence and continued on foot.
“Surely the owner won’t object to a friendly visit,” I said.
The early morning walk was exhilarating. I breathed deeply of the sweet, fresh air, my eyes darting here and there so as not to miss a thing. Sparkling droplets of dew cast rainbows on grass and bush, a cottontail scampered across the road and disappeared into the brush and two grey squirrels frolicked in a pin-oak tree.
“Why, it has hardly changed at all!” I exclaimed when I spied white-faced cattle grazing near a pond. “We had Hereford cattle when we built that pond!”
“Perhaps these are descendants,” my friend laughed.
A little further on, I stopped short. Tears filled my eyes.
There, sitting serenely on the crest of the hill, was the little white house that had once been my sanctuary, my retreat from worldly cares. Peace enfolded me now, as it had in the past each time I rounded this bend.
Bathed in sunlight, it seemed as white and bright as I remembered; the grass still dazzling green, patches of white primroses and yellow jonquils blooming where I’d planted them beneath the towering oak and catalpa trees.
Memories came rushing back.
A spotted white horse, grazing near the house, looked up when a young woman emerged from the kitchen door. Other animals materialized from various hiding places and horse, dogs, cats, geese and pheasants followed as she walked slowly along the garden fence, past the long, low broiler house and on to the corral where white-faced cattle waited to be let out to pasture.
“I made pets of everything,” I said. “My horse, Trigger, followed me everywhere I went—once, even into the house.”
Weeding the garden that hot summer morning, I had gone to the house for a drink of water. Opening the refrigerator door, I was reaching for the water bottle when something nudged my arm. There stood Trigger, his tail-end still on the stoop, sniffing inquisitively at the cold air rushing from the refrigerator.
I could have talked about Trigger’s antics all day but we had reached the orchard and the sweet smell of apple blossoms distracted me. Though many trees were gone and broken branches littered the ground, fragrance filled the air.
I turned to face the south.
“Have you ever seen a more beautiful view?” I exclaimed.
Like a painting, the narrow lane, continuing its winding course down the hill and through the valley, disappeared into the lush green forest and, beyond, ridge upon ridge of tree-covered mountains blended from shadings of green to misty grays and blues fading, finally, into the azure-blue sky on a distant ridge.
God had graced my haven with a profound beauty. Now, as always, I felt a deep sense of peace and contentment. Memories of this scene had often soothed my mind in troubled times.
A cloud floated over the sun, ending my reverie. With a sigh, I turned back toward the house.
It wasn’t bright anymore. The horse, the girl, the animals had disappeared and, as we approached, the ravage of years of neglect tore at my heart.
Pushing the sagging gate aside, I entered the yard. Like sentinels, the ancient trees towered over the little house while jonquils and primroses struggled for life amid broken branches, window glass and roof shingles, in a rank overgrowth that once had been a lawn. Flaking white paint left the siding of the house weathered grey, and one end of the front porch had fallen to the ground.
Avoiding a broken step, we entered the house through the open kitchen door. Our footsteps echoed dismally through the bare, desolate rooms. Once bright, sunshine-yellow paper peeled in dirty, faded strips from the walls and plaster from the ceiling littered the floor. In a corner where a rocking chair once stood, was a gaping hole surrounded by mounds of shredded paper, rags and mice droppings. The bedroom door hung by a single hinge.
Neither of us spoke as we left the house behind and walked past the weed-infested garden toward the corral. Brushing away a spider web, I peeked into the broiler house but, backed quickly from the dark, gloomy interior, remembering sunlight streaming through open windows and the cheerful chirping of thousands of tiny, fuzzy yellow chicks.
We side-stepped a pile of rotting boards—which had once been the fence—and entered the corral. The old red barn was tumbling down. In the shelter of a sagging corner, a newborn calf struggled to its feet and began nursing while the Hereford cow eyed us warily.
Recalling the thrill of discovering a new calf, piglets or puppies, I brushed aside a tear and turned away.
“Everything has changed after all—” my friend said.
I paused to look again at the little house, the towering trees, the misty hills. The cloud had moved on and the sun was shining, again bathing the scene in dazzling light.
Tears filled my eyes.
“Not everything,” I said.
I could still feel God’s presence, His peace, and see His handwork in a newborn calf, spring blossoms and the beauty of these hills. Remembering the happiness I’d known here, I felt a surge of joy and was glad I came. No matter where life leads, this place would always be a part of me.
That fall, I received a letter from my friend.
“Dear Edna,” (she wrote). “Great news! Your old home place has been reclaimed! A young couple, with two small children, purchased it and are restoring it.”
Wonderful news indeed.
My little house still has much to give, I thought. When spring next comes to the Ozarks, I shall
picture it overflowing once again with love, warmth, happy voices and cheerful hearts.
Well Versed Anthology
“THE LITTLE WORLD’S FAIR”
September 5, 6 & 7
Kismet residents can’t remember when
there wasn’t a “Little World’s Fair.” The
first, called “Labor Day Picnic,” was celebrated 100 years ago—in 1915. The town, (2015 population - 460 - give or
take), located in Seward County, Kansas, was 28 years old.
After a four-year hiatus during World War II, the event was resumed—in 1946—and re-named “THE LITTLE WORLD’S FAIR” in honor of servicemen returning from the war. This year Kismet will celebrate its 96th Labor Day gala.
early-on included, in addition to the picnic, a Chautauqua and foot and horse
races. Local businesses, proclaiming it
to also be “Merchant’s Day,” passed out gifts and prizes.
the celebration attracts people from all over the world and from throughout the
for both family and alumni reunions, many former Kismet residents choose this
weekend to come home to visit. The Little
World’s Fair also draws others who have heard about it from friends, as well as
people driving through the area.
Lions Club has organized fair activities since 1966 when the Quarterback Club,
the sponsoring organization at the time, disbanded. The Town Criers, a Kismet Woman’s club and
other organizations and individuals, work closely with the Lion’s Club members
to ensure its success.
The number of The Little
World’s Fair activities has increased over the years, but they still reflect
the simple “down home” type of fun of earlier celebrations. The events, which might include tractor
pulls, stick horse races for toddlers and Grandma and Grandpa slow bicycle
races, are planned for the participation and amusement of all ages.
Church services on
Sunday initiate fair activities. Events
are planned for throughout the day.
Evening activities include bingo, followed by an ever-popular street
Labor Day morning, a frenzy of activity begins
with registration for events at 6:30 a.m.
The mid-morning Labor
Day parade features participants from area towns. In the past, parades down Kismet’s Main
Street, have featured two miles of floats, bands, vehicles, bicycles,
tricycles, and horsemen.
Meanwhile, two huge
vats, containing 200 gallons of ham and beans, are being prepared for the crowd.
Long before noon, people begin gathering
for the free meal. They chat as they
watch Lion Club members, standing over huge vats, stir the steaming, bubbling
beans with canoe paddles, while other workers lay out paper plates, plastic
forks, bread and relish on long tables. Entertainment
In celebration of the
town’s centennial year (1987), the Lion’s Club financed and, assisted by others
in the community, constructed a 400 square-foot building to replace the canvas
tent which had previously served as “The Little World’s Fair” headquarters.
The carnival is the
only entertainment brought in from the outside, and everyone pitches in to help. Everything about the fair is done by Kismet
residents, area farmers and ranchers.
Food, crafts and other
items are sold by area organizations and individuals from booths set up at
strategic points on and near Main Street.
Each year, prizes are
awarded to contest winners, parade entries and costumes, and recognition is
given to the oldest man and woman, the couple married longest, the person who has
lived longest in the Kismet area and those who traveled the longest distance to
Late Monday afternoon,
one might hear a number of audible sighs as the last car disappears down Main
Street. The Little World’s Fair is over
for another year and Kismet becomes, again, a quiet prairie town.
*The word “Kismet” means “destiny.” (Think of kismet as your lot in life, or your fate).
talked to no one who knows why the little prairie town was named “Kismet.”
YOU’RE OK IN MY BOOK
Most of us cherish the memory of a special person who has influenced our lives in a positive way. My special person was James Kendall, a fellow worker.
James was the most understanding and caring person I have ever known. His favorite expression was: "He (or she) is OK in my book."
"What Lois does out of the office is her business," he might say. "She's still OK in my book."
Our receptionist's morals were rumored to be somewhat questionable but James remembered something that the rest of us sometimes forgot—Lois's big heart. It was a rare day when there wasn't a plate of cookies or candy on her desk for us to help ourselves to, and she always remembered to bring in flowers, balloons, or a cake to celebrate a birthday. She went out of her way to do nice things for people, not only in, but out of the office as well.
Lois wasn't the only one in the office that was "OK" in James's book.
"Joe is OK in my book," he’d say when we complained about Joe Green, a grumpy salesman that no one else in the office liked. Later, when we learned that Joe's two boys—ages four and six—were slowly dying from a rare muscular disease, we were more understanding. Unlike James, however, we had to have a reason before we could overlook Joe's unpleasant disposition.
Also OK in James's book was Johnny Barton, our delivery boy. We all knew that Johnny was filching pens, paper and notepads from the office. I agreed with everyone else that he should be fired. That was before James confided in me that Johnny's dream was to be a writer.
“We shouldn’t begrudge him a few supplies,” James said. “His father was laid off several months ago and all of Johnny's salary goes toward helping to pay the rent and feed a family of five children, besides himself.”
Since James and I both worked in the communications department, we saw a lot of each other. Although he was witty and fun to be around, I never heard him say a disparaging word about anyone in all the time we worked together. He always looked for the good in people. He honestly seemed care for other people and to be interested in what we had to say.
James was the one we all went to when we needed a shoulder to cry on, or someone to listen to our problems. His door was always open, and I doubt if there was anyone—from the janitor to the company president—who didn't drop in from time to time "just to talk."
I'm afraid I "bent his ear" as often as anyone and, like
everyone else, I always came away from his office feeling better.
"People often use anger to hide the way they really feel," James once said when I complained about Joe's negative frame of
mind. "Someone who comes across as irritable or insensitive may actually be suffering—physically, mentally or emotionally."
That's when he told me about Joe's children.
James seemed to be able to “place himself in another person's shoes.”
Any time he saw someone looking sad or worried—whether it be in the elevator, on the street or in the checkout line at the supermarket, James would stop and strike up a conversation. Almost always, the person he was talking to walked away wearing a smile.
It's been years since we went our separate ways but I still think of James when I find myself being judgmental or overly-critical.
"What do you know about this person and what he is going through?" I ask myself; and I try a little harder to understand—as James would say—“what makes him tick." And I try a little harder to be more understanding of other people's cares and problems.
James was a tough act to follow; but I'm making progress. This morning when Marge, a neighbor, called to tell me that our mutual friend, Linda, had been seen in public a little tipsy the night before, I thought of the basket of delicious apples Linda had picked for me when she went to the orchard last fall.
"So what, Marge?" I said. "That’s her business. I don’t know anyone who is more kind-hearted than Linda.
Then, thinking of James, I added: "I don’t care what she did, she's still OK in my book."
Published in Ultimate Christian Living Anthology
Reprinted in For the Love Of God Anthology
Both available on my Amazon page
How a cookbook built a gym
for Evening Shade, Arkansas
nothing wrong with the old rock gym.
Built in 1939, by the National Youth Administration, it had served the
school well for more than 50 years. But
the young folks thought it would be nice to have a regulation size gym so they
could host basketball tournaments and invite other schools for district and
They figured it would cost
schools—especially small ones—have trouble raising funds,” said Supt. Billy
Paul Boyle, who oversees 314 students in grades K-12.
was trying to come up with ideas on how to raise money to build a new gym.
fall of 1990, Mrs. Lita King suggested that her home economic class might
compile a cookbook to sell to raise money for various projects. It would make a good chapter project for the
Future Homemakers of America. So the
class went to work, collected recipes from local residents, assembled the
cookbook and ordered 350 copies.
expected them to sell as rapidly as they did.
But a new television situation comedy—“Evening Shade”—had just premiered
on CBS, and the cookbook became a “hot” item.
An additional 200 copies were ordered quickly.
King’s husband, Kevin, who is an attorney at Hardy, suggested that the book be
tied into the television show. He
encouraged the students to incorporate recipes from the stars of the show—and
to apply the proceeds toward a new gym.
laughed! You have to sell a lot of
cookbooks to make $350,000!
not to be daunted, spoke to a friend and fellow attorney, Hilary Clinton. (They were working on the same case at the
time.) She, in turn, contacted friends
in California—the producers of the TV show.
long, recipes and photos of the stars began to arrive. Burt Reynolds, the show’s major star, wrote a
dedication for the book.
that, things began to move fast. A drama
as exciting as an episode of the show itself began to unfold.
Arnold wrote a letter to Burt Reynolds, inviting him to speak at her class’s
graduation exercises. He came. So did Hilary Clinton and Harry Thomason and
his wife, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, producers of the TV show.
summer, Reynolds invited Shalynn to visit Hollywood at his expense. While there she appeared in a scene on the TV
Lita King said that after the cookbook edition with the stars’ recipes was published, 110,000 sold in just about a year, making it the second fastest selling cookbook in the country.
Evening Shade Cookbook Foundation was formed.
The group retained an architect and discussed integrating an auditorium
into the plans for a gym.
the cookbook poured in from all over the country, and that fall Mrs. King set
up a vocational entrepreneur class through the State Department of
Education. For two years, students gained
valuable experience, as well as credit, packaging, addressing and mailing out
the cookbook. The community joined in,
and volunteers met each Thursday night, working long hours to fill the orders.
the gymnasium is important to the school, and it has brought a lot of attention
to the town, what is more important is it brought the town together. We were all working for a common cause—our
young people,” said Donna Ables who spent innumerable hours working on the
In July of
1992, Charlie Dell—Nub in the sitcom—served as grand master in the annual
Evening Shade Summerfest Parade. He
returned again the following year and was married in the Methodist Church to
actress Jennifer Williams.
Gilliam, who plays Virgil, has also played an important role, as has Jay. R.
Ferguson (Taylor), Jacob Parker (Will), and Bonnie Franklin.
nationwide publicity, tourists began to arrive from throughout the United
States, Canada and several foreign countries.
of the gym began in October, 1992. Delk
Construction Co. of Bald Knob submitted the low bid of $604,000, almost twice
the original estimate. Not to worry;
$300,000 worth of cookbooks already had been sold.
gym was completed in August of 1993—at a final cost of $750,000—the foundation
reported cookbook sales of more than $625,000.
Evening Shade T-shirt sales—totaling $25,000—purchased the sound system,
a lighted school sign, drapes for the stage and other incidentals.
building was named the “Burt Reynolds Gymnasium and the Linda Bloodworth
Thomason /Harry Thomason Auditorium” and
bears the TV show’s “Evening Shade” symbol.
A cover protects the floor when plays, band concerts and the like are
presented. An additional 600 chairs
bring the auditorium seating capacity to 1,500.
spring of 1993, the school received 70 blue and gold (school colors) warm-up
suits as a gift from Burt Reynolds. With
them was a note: “I Love You, Burt.”
teams from North Central Arkansas came for the first event—a basketball classic
held in October of 1993. School
secretary, Anna Lee Little, was pleased the day she moved her files from a
portable building that had served as an office into the new administrative
offices in the old rock gym. Physical
education classes are held there as well.
Evening Shade cookbooks were sold, bringing in a total of approximately $1
million dollars. It wasn’t all profit,
of course, and some of it went to pay off some school debts, buy an adjacent
lot, purchase mailing equipment and the like.
Sales slowed down after the
show went into syndication, but no one complained. There were enough good memories to last for
years to come and everybody was enjoying the new gymnasium.
The Jonesboro Sun—May 6, 1995
LIVING OFF THE LAND
THE DALTON GANG HIDEOUT
The Legend Lives On
Mystery surrounds the Meade, Kansas Hideout, used by the infamous Dalton Gang—notorious train and bank robbers in the late 1800’s
by mystery, romance and intrigue, visitors stop at the Dalton Gang Hideout in
the southwestern Kansas town of Meade, year after year, not only to view the
house, barn and underground tunnel, but also to try to unveil the secrets
Eva Dalton Whipple’s honeymoon cottage and the tunnel leading to the barn on the creek below is reputed to be where the notorious Dalton Gang hid between train and bank robberies more than 100 years ago.
Meade’s Dalton Gang
connection was established when Eva, sister to Bob, Grat and Emmett Dalton, and
her friend Florence Dorland moved from the Coffeyville area to Meade Center—as
the town was called then—in the 188o’s.
“No one knows why they
came—perhaps to visit relatives or just for the adventure,” said Nancy Ohnick,
who is well versed in the Dalton family history. Ohnick, who has researched the Daltons since
she worked at the hideout as a teenager, has published a book, “The Dalton Gang
and Their Family Ties.”
Eva and Florence arrived, Ohnick said, the ladies established a millinery
shop. Eva was considered a “fine lady”
and, being “young, gay and comely,” she attracted the attention of most of the
available men. She, however, was
interested only in John N. Whipple, proprietor of Whipple’s Headquarters which
is believed to have been the first mercantile store in Meade.
and apparently a dedicated booster of the growing community, Whipple’s various
activities were reported weekly in one or more of the three local newspapers,
said Ohnick. Although Whipple was
somewhat older than Eva, they appeared to be a good match. They were married October 25, 1887. The wedding and reception took place at the
home of a prominent local couple who lived south of Meade Center. Emmett, the youngest of the four Dalton
brothers, who were serving as Deputy U.S. Marshals at the time, was reported to
have attended the wedding.
couple moved into a new home Whipple had built for his bride on a hillside
southeast of the city. An older Dalton
brother, Frank, was killed a month later on November 27, near Fort Smith,
Arkansas while making an arrest.
unusual sequence of events which followed were not explained at the time and
have baffled historians ever since.
Three weeks after the wedding, Whipple gave up his business, and two
months later, transferred the deed to their home and property to Eva. Since Eva had given up her millinery business
earlier, the couple were presumed to subsist—quite well, in fact—on the
proceeds from “Whip’s” horse trading and poker playing.
There are conflicting
reports concerning Eva’s brothers’ “falling out” with the law, but their first
train robbery attempt was reported in Alila, California in February 1891. Grat was captured but escaped. In the spring, rumors of Dalton Gang
activities began circulating in the Midwest.
Meade Center sympathies
were with “poor little Eva.” After all,
everyone said, she couldn’t help what her brothers did. Some said if the Dalton boys had been treated
squarely when they were U.S. Marshals, they wouldn’t have turned bad. Also, they said, it probably hadn’t helped
that the brothers had grown up hearing about the escapades of the Younger
Brothers, cousins on their mother’s side.
The Whipples house was
often watched and, on occasion, searched by lawmen, but the infamous brothers
were never seen on the premises. When
asked about an unusually large number of horses in his corral, Whipple
plausibly explained he’d “been doing a little trading.”
In 1892, the Whipples
quietly left town. No one knew exactly
when but they were gone when Bob and Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell and Bill
Powers were shot and killed in Coffeyville on October 5 while attempting to
hold up two banks simultaneously.
The Whipple house was
sold at a sheriff’s sale in November, 1892, Ohnick said. Sometime later, a secret passage was discovered
after a trail-weary stranger appeared in the house, seemingly out of nowhere,
startling the family who had moved into the cottage.
The 95-foot tunnel was
a crude, ditch-like affair, too shallow in which to stand erect. Covered over with dirt and boards, it opened
beneath a stairwell on the lower level of the house and ended in the feed room
in the barn. It appeared to have been
used as an escape tunnel by the visiting Dalton brothers who could hide in the
tunnel when the house was approached and, if necessary, make a getaway through
the barn, mounting their horses and galloping out of sight up the draw.
The property was
purchased by the City of Meade in 1940. Improvements
were made to the house to make it tourist accessible. The barn, which was in disrepair, was removed
and another was built in its place. The
tunnel was enlarged and reinforced for safety and convenience. The Dalton Gang Hideout was opened to
tourists June 6, 1941.
Visitors to the hideout
may browse through Evan’s cottage, the gift shop, the museum on the upper level
and walk through the tunnel leading to the barn. Eva’s house is furnished as it might have
been when she lived there—complete with a dress form and sewing machine.
In the tree-shaded park
below the barn are barbecue facilities and picnic tables, playground equipment
and a stage used for occasional concerts and other entertainment. Also on the premises are an 1800’s-era
covered wagon, mail cart, steam engine, farm wagon, school bell and a wishing
Nearly 14,000 tourists
visit the attraction annually, according to Nancy Dye, former manager and
curator of the facility.
“A surprising number of
people from other countries are very interested in the hideout, as well as
anything pertaining to the Old West,” Dye said.
Tourists routinely pose
numerous unanswerable questions. Why did
the Dalton brothers “go wrong?” Why did
John Whipple give up his business and deed the house to Eva after the couple
was married? Was there something shady
in his past? Were the Whipples innocent
bystanders, or did they play an active role in the Dalton Gang’s escapades?
including reports of a cache of “loot,” keep the Dalton legend alive. Although portions of the Dalton legend are
admittedly speculation and much of it remains a mystery, enough has been
documented in court records such as deeds and licenses and in newspaper
articles to validate most of the history, Ohnick said.
“Among other things, we
know that Eva and John’s love proved strong enough to survive,” she said. “After leaving Meade, they lived quietly in
both Oklahoma and Arkansas. Although
nothing is known about them, records show that the marriage produced two
children, a daughter, Maud, born in Meade in 1888, and a son, Glenn, born in
Arkansas in 1894.”
Whipple died in 1932,
at the age of 81, in Arkansas. Following
his death, Eva moved to Kingfisher Oklahoma, where she died in 1939 at age 72.
The Dalton brothers’
careers as outlaws are legendary but, for them, crime did not pay. Another brother, Bill, joined the forces with
outlaw Bill Doolin and was shot and killed by lawmen in 1894. Emmett Dalton, the only member of the gang to
survive the Coffeyville incident was sentenced to life imprisonment after
recovering from his wounds. He was
released in 1907, whereupon he moved to California and became a respectable
businessman. He was once quoted as
saying that he was the only Dalton ever to profit from those outlaw days. He did so by writing two books and assisting
in producing films about his early experiences.
Although both books, “Beyond the Law” and “When the Daltons Rode,” were
said to be highly fictitious, they apparently sold well and at least one was
made into a movie.
The above article was published in KANSAS! Magazine (2nd Issue, 1997)
The Dalton Gang Hideout, located 4 blocks south of Highway 54 ((502 South Pearlette) in Meade, Kansas is open from 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 on Sunday.
THE WHITE HOUSE COOKBOOK
When my grandparents headed West to homestead in the Oklahoma Panhandle, my grandmother carried one of her most prized possessions, The White House Cookbook. I was lucky to inherit this family heirloom.
The 3-inch thick, 600-page, Comprehensive Cyclopedia of Information For the Home sold for $1 in 1900. It is an intriguing contrast to our cookbooks of today, in price and content as well.
As I thumb through it, I wonder at the changes technology has wrought in the past 100 years, changes in our lifestyles and interests, in our knowledge.
The White House Cookbook, dedicated to “the wives of our presidents,” features portraits of the first 25 first ladies. A portrait of Ida Saxton McKinley graces the dustcover. Pictures of the White House kitchen, the Family Dining Room, the Great State Dining Room, the East Room, the Blue Room and the Red room are also included, as are menus, table settings and recipes for “everyday” occasions as well as “state” and “special” events.
The book contains everything the homemaker of yesteryear wanted or needed, including how to carve beef, pork, mutton, venison, fish and fowl (including wild game); how to stay healthy, how to care for the sick, and how to make perfume, toiletries, cough syrup, liniment, wine, soap, glue and dyes.
As we approach the 21st century and an increasingly high-tech lifestyle, these circa 1900 remedies seem quaint, if not downright ridiculous. An item in the chapter Facts Worth Knowing tells us: “To discourage troublesome ants, a heavy chalk mark laid a finger’s distance from your sugar box and all around will surely prevent ants from troubling.”
And under Hints In Regard To Health, we learn: “the flavor of cod-liver oil may be changed to the delightful one of fresh oysters if the patient will drink a large glass of water poured from a vessel in which nails have been allowed to rust.”
To keep Well: “Don’t sleep in a ‘draught’, don’t go to bed with cold feet, don’t stand over hot air registers, don’t eat what you do not need just to save it, don’t try to get cool too quickly after exercising, don’t sleep in a room without ventilation of some kind, don’t stuff a cold lest you next be obligated to starve a fever, don’t sit in a damp or chilly room without a fire, don’t try to get along without flannel underclothing in winter.”
“Leanness,” the book tells us, is “caused generally by lack of power in the digestive organs to digest and assimilate the fat-producing elements of food. First, restore digestion, take plenty of sleep, and drink all the water the stomach will bear in the morning on rising, take moderate exercise in the open air, eat oatmeal, cracked wheat, graham mush, baked sweet apples, roasted and boiled beef, cultivate jolly people and bathe daily.”
From the Medicinal Food section we learn “spinach has a direct effect upon complaints of the kidneys, common dandelion greens are excellent for the same trouble, asparagus purifies the blood, celery acts upon the nervous system and is a cure for rheumatism and neuralgia, tomatoes act upon the liver, lettuce and cucumbers are cooling upon the system, onions, garlic, leeks, chives and shallots possess medicinal virtues stimulating the circulatory system, red onions are an excellent diuretic, white ones a remedy for insomnia – ”
I daresay Grandma would be amazed at the progress we’ve made in 100 years.
Although I have an aversion to cod-liver oil and drinking water flavored by rusty nails, many old-timers still swear by these home remedies. As the use of natural products to promote good health gains new followers, some of the suggestions in The White House Cookbook sound vaguely familiar. Advertisements touting the beneficial uses of vinegar, honey, garlic and soda have been published in recent issues of GRIT, for instance.
And who can ignore the “new research” reports appearing regularly in the media reminding us to eat certain foods to control or prevent such illnesses as cancer, heart disease or diabetes?
Published In Grit Magazine
Although the following was written a few years back,
security measures are still being taken, in ways we may not even be aware of,
not only in Southwest Kansas, but in other communities nationwide as well.
"Sixty-eight percent of the world's beef is produced in a
triangular area from Dodge City west to the Colorado border, south to Amarillo,
Texas and back to Dodge," Stice said. "This includes range
cattle, feed lots, and the three Southwest Kansas packing plants -- National Beef,
Excel and IBP -- which process process a combined total of one million head of
livestock a day."
We Kansans have always felt
relatively safe what with a wide-open prairie surrounding us and a half
continent between us and terrorists and threats of like nature. However, we may not be as safe as we’d like
“Everyone is under the
impression that if anything happens, it will happen in New York, not here,”
said Mike Cox, Meade County Sheriff. “That’s not necessarily so. We, here in western Kansas, are vulnerable in
a number of ways. It’s possible for
anything to happen at any time, and we all need to stay aware—and alert.”
This is also the message of Meade County Emergency Management
Coordinator, Marvin Stice, who heads up a recently formed committee made up
of law enforcement personnel, businesses and individuals whose goal is to
address all areas of terrorist vulnerability in the county.
“Our office receives
upgraded Emergency Sensitive Notices from the FBI Intelligence Office
periodically—especially when a terrorist alert is changed,” Cox said. “With the 2nd anniversary of the terrorist
attacks approaching, we are prepared to take any precautionary measures
necessary—whatever the threat might be.
“For example, when the two
previous red alerts occurred—in October, 2001 and February 17 to May 29 of this
year—we were notified to beef up security at various Meade County facilities,”
he continued. “We had deputies on high
alert on an hourly basis; then after the level of the alert went to amber, we
continued monitoring the facilities with periodic drive-bys.
“Immediately after the
terrorist attack, we were notified to keep our eyes on airports—especially
spray planes which might be confiscated and used to spray toxic chemicals over
towns,” he added. “Since this is still
considered a threat, we check the airport on an ongoing basis.”
“We work closely with county
law enforcement officials as well as the KBI,” said Craig Stratton, who
operates a crop dusting service out of the Meade
airport. “Agents of the KBI checked all crop dusters in the state early on
to make sure that we each have all the planes we are supposed to have—and only
the planes we’re supposed to have. They
want to know where all crop dusters are at all times.”
With the threat to food
security high on the list of possible terrorist activity, the Meade County
Emergency Management Coordinator, as well as area farmers and ranchers, are
keeping a watchful eye on cattle, crops and grain elevators.
*“Bioterrorism has been a big
issue ever since 9/11 and our beef industry is considered a very vulnerable
target,” Stice said. “Sixty-eight
percent of the world’s beef is produced in a triangular area from Dodge City
west to the Colorado border, south to Amarillo, Texas and back to Dodge. This includes range cattle, feed lots and the
three Southwest Kansas packing plants—National Beef, Excel and IBP—which
process a combined total of one million head of livestock a day.
“One of the objectives of
our team,” he continued, “is to take every precaution possible to safeguard
these facilities, including any attempt to spread foreign animal diseases such
as foot and mouth disease, anthrax, etc.”
“If we receive a warning
that dangerous chemicals or toxins might be passing through the area, we are
prepared to shut down our main highways (54, 160 and 23) immediately and begin
inspecting carriers” Cox said.
“Although we’ve had no
serious incidents of any kind in the county and, thus far, reports have proved
to be false alarms, we intend to be on the ready in case there is an actual
emergency,” Stice said.
“The entire Southwest Kansas Medical Community has
been on the alert since the initial terrorist attacks,” said Mickey Thomas,
Director of Meade District Hospital. “We
watch for any indication of unusual viruses, poisons, small pox, etc., and are
carrying a heavier inventory of antibiotics and supplies. We also have a task force of aids standing by
if an emergency should occur.”
Although the date has not
yet been confirmed, a consortium of 17 Southwest Kansas hospitals are making
plans to conduct a bioterrorism mock disaster drill in October, he said.
With new diseases cropping
up worldwide, we are always on the alert,” said Michele Correll, Director of
the Meade County Health Department. “As a bioterrorism measure, we are working
with a six-county regional group, studying ways to identify and contain these
diseases should they appear.”
offices, schools, utility companies, etc. are notified during heightened alert.
“Everything changed on
9/11,” said Mark Goldsberry, Director of Lake
Meade State Park. “Although Lake
Meade is less vulnerable than the larger state lakes, we are always on the alert for unusual or unexplained fish kills,
bird die-offs, etc., as well as persons or activity of a suspicious
Goldsberry is a member of
the Southwest Kansas Regional Foreign Animal Disease Committee (FAD) as well as
the Meade County Emergency Planning Committee.
“The success of Homeland
Security depends on the involvement of the common people,” he said. “The cowboy riding the pens, the waitress in
a restaurant, the gas station attendant—any of us—may see or hear something
important to our security. The bottom
line is that we all remain aware and alert at all times.”
In addition to supporting
local antiterrorism planning groups, Darrell Yarnall, Senior Resident Agent for
the Garden City FBI office, suggests
that citizens be aware of who their neighbors are and report any suspicious
persons and/or activity to the FBI or to their local law enforcement officials.
“We are concerned most about people, fitting the terrorist profile, who might move into the area and assume a new identity, using this as a base to carry on terrorist activity,” he said.
Dodge City Daily Globe 8/29/03
*All statistics apply to 2003
Although this article was published in 1903, Marvin Stice, former Meade County Emergency Management Coordinator, has since informed us that agencies continue to remain alert for possible terrorist’s threats. Certain information in the article might also apply to other counties, states, etc. (Marvin Stice resigned as Coordinator in 2010).
MID-AMERICA AIR MUSEUM
"We have a great museum," Bert said. "You'd be hard pressed to find an aviation museum with the diversity of airplanes we have anywhere else in the world."