Monday, April 25, 2011

Immigrants on the Plains, the Volkmann Cabin

I hope everyone had a good Easter/Passover/week.  Today, I would like to post a bit of information about immigrants that came to Dickinson County, Kansas in the mid-1850s. 

Many of the first settlers in Dickinson County were immigrants from European nations.  Throughout the mid-1850s to 1860s, many settlers were originally from Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Prussia, and Sweden.  Many immigrants that came to the county settled in small colonies made up of other people from their same nation.  These people grew up under similar circumstances, found they had a lot in common, and decided to live near one another.  In these types of communities, many church services and school lessons were given in native languages rather than English.  This type of practice would continue into the twentieth century.

Christian and Charlotte Staatz were born and married in Zicker, Germany.  In 1851, the couple with their five children decided to come to America to live.  First, they settled in Watertown, Wisconsin for six years, but decided to move to the Lyona Valley in Kansas.  The surviving Staatz children were grown by this time, and two settled in Dickinson County with their families, while the other family members built homes along Lyon Creek in Davis County.  The Staatz family was very involved in forming a community where they settled.  Members of the family helped build a public school, established the Lyona Methodist Mission, and were elected to public office.

Another family, led by Martin and Dorthea Volkmann of Statien, Germany, also moved to America and found residence in Watertown, Wisconsin.  After living there for a year, they decided to move to Dickinson County, Kansas in 1858 based on encouragement from the Staatz family and another German family in the area, the Oesterreichs.  The Volkmann family traveled by covered wagon for eleven weeks with their five children, Frank, August, William, Frederick, and Wilhemina.  They arrived in Dickinson County and decided to settle in the Lyona area.  Soon after the move, the family built a small two story, two room cabin (one room on the ground floor, one on the second floor).
The cabin was constructed using cottonwood trees that were hewed by hand to form square logs.  Inside, the first floor was used as a general family area.  A small iron stove was used to cook their meals.  In this room, the family could cook, eat, and socialize.  The second floor of the cabin was used as a bedroom for all seven members of the Volkmann family.
As time passed, additions were made to the home, making it larger and larger.  Eventually, the original cabin became completely enclosed by the rest of the home.  In 1985, all of these additions were removed, and the Volkmann cabin was donated to the Dickinson County Historical Society, where it is on display behind the Heritage Center museum.
The Volkmann cabin is used as an attraction for visitors to see a representation of pioneer life on the Kansas plains.  The cabin is also annually used for living history demonstrations and educational programs during school tours, Pioneer Camp, the Chisholm Trail Festival, and Christmas in the Cabin.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter Traditions

Easter is this coming Sunday, so I thought it would be fitting to write a bit about Easter traditions.  Easter, of course, is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But why are brightly colored eggs and a rabbit involved in the holiday?

Like Christmas, some Easter traditions have a pagan influence.  For instance the timing of both of these holidays are very close to times of pagan celebration, in Easter’s case, it always occurs near the time of the Vernal Equinox.  Fertility has long had a connection to the Vernal Equinox and springtime, since it is a time of renewal and in a way, rebirth for the Earth after a long winter.  Eggs and rabbits have long been seen as symbols of fertility.  The connection between eggs and fertility is obvious, but perhaps the connection with rabbits seems less obvious.  But what do we say about a couple that has several children?  They “multiply like rabbits.”  Rabbits typically have large litters and breed often.  In fact, females can become impregnated with a second litter while still pregnant with the first.

Hares were seen as important sacred symbols for the pagan holiday of Eostre.  As time passed, this holiday’s named adapted into “Easter.”

The coloring of eggs is a bit more difficult to pin down.  It is unknown exactly when this tradition started.  But in early days, spring flowers were sometimes used to aid in coloring eggs.  So this can be seen as a celebration of spring.

During the eighteenth century, German immigrants brought the story to America of a hare delivering colored eggs to well behaved children on Easter.  The eggs were left in nests that the children made the night before.  This tradition became more and more widely known, and is the Easter tradition as we know it today.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Civil War

If you are a member of the Dickinson County Historical Society, you may have read this writeup in the quarterly newsletter.  This week marks the 150 anniversary of the firing of the first guns of the American Civil War, so posting this writeup seemed like a timely thing to do.

As you probably know, January 29 marked the 150 anniversary of Kansas statehood; but Kansas is not the only 150 anniversary this year.  2011 also marks the 150 anniversary of the American Civil War.  Problems between the North and South had been brewing for a number of years, and things came to a head with violence occurring in Kansas and Missouri.  After much talk and deliberation, six southern states seceded from the Union in January 1861.  Five other states would follow throughout the spring.  On February 8, delegates from these six states met and formed a constitution.  The next day, they selected a President, Jefferson Davis.  Davis was a former soldier, senator, and Secretary of War.  In March 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the United States.  Both sides had their leaders.

This secession occurred for a myriad of reasons.  Many southerners were frustrated by their northern brethren.  The North had shown a large amount of industrial and economic advancement in recent times.  It was also feared that northern representatives would try to force federal laws, thereby limiting the south.  The economy was still strong in the South, but greatly depended on slave labor.  While the North had been moving into the factory system and away from dependence on slavery, the South remained agriculturally based and needed slavery to keep its economy afloat.  While slavery was a big issue, it was not important to everyone.  Many soldiers and elected officials on both sides had little concern about the morals of slavery.  The aims at the beginning of the war were that the North would fight for unity between the states, while the South would fight for independence.  Of course, later in the war, the North would adopt the aim for emancipation.

On April 14, 1861, the first guns of the Civil War were fired.  After the South’s secession, President Lincoln had stated that federal property that lay in Confederate territory would be held by the Union.  Fort Sumter, located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, was one of those places the President was speaking of.  Confederate soldiers were posted outside the fort in April.  When it was heard that President Lincoln planned to send provisions to the Union soldiers inside, the Confederates made their attack.  After thirty four hours of attack, the Union surrendered the fort to the Confederacy.  No one died on either side during the attack; however two deaths occurred after the surrender.

Throughout a large portion of 1861, skirmishes between Union and Confederate soldiers happened sporadically.  Later in the year, battles began to happen with more frequency and would continue in that way for the next four years.

Several technological advancements and innovations occurred throughout the war.  Notably, the Gatling gun and Spencer Repeating Rifle came into use.  The Civil War was the first American war to use air warfare, in which hot air balloons were used for this task.  Another remarkable occurrence was the first submarine to sink a target.  While most of the war was fought directly on the battlefield, these instances marked a gradual change in the way wars were fought.

Most of the violence found in Kansas during the war was outside of the war effort.  Raids performed by guerrilla bands, such as Quantrill and his men, were more common than actual battles.  The largest battle fought in Kansas was the Battle of Mine Creek, in Linn County in 1864.  Close to 10,000 people were involved in this battle, and with a Union victory, the battle ended the chance for a Southern invasion of the state.  Elsewhere, many soldiers from Kansas fought throughout the Civil War, resulting in nearly 8,500 casualties.

On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to General Ulysses S. Grant.  The war was over roughly four years after it had begun.  The Civil War is still known as the deadliest war for the American military.  An estimate of 620,000 Americans died from 1861 to 1865 due to the war (the exact amount of casualties is unknown, but some historians believe that it could exceed 700,000).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Photography as a Family Business: The Jeffcoats

A staple of Abilene throughout most of the twentieth century was the Jeffcoat Photography Studio and Camera Shop.  Paul H. Jeffcoat, known as “Bud” to many locals, started a photography business in 1921 in a small second story room in downtown Abilene.  In 1925, he built a small studio on Broadway Street and opened business at that location.
The Jeffcoat Photo Studio.  Today, it is the Jeffcoat Photography Studio Museum.
Paul got his start in photography due to his mother, Lucy Fritz Jeffcoat.  Lucy had taken some training classes in developing and retouching film.  She assisted area photographers with retouching and hand painting portraits for a number of years as supplementary income for her family.  Paul became interested in the photographic process at a young age, and learned all that he could about the art of photography.

After a few years had passed since Paul opened his new studio in 1925, the Great Depression was in full swing.  During those years, the Jeffcoat Studio began to sell Abilene postcards for five cents.  Small postcard stands bearing the title “Abilene Views” could be found in some area businesses.  This was not a lucrative money maker though, Paul only made about one cent per card.  He began to rent out half of his business’ building for additional income.

Over the years, the Jeffcoat Studio shared its space with several different businesses including a shoe store.  Paul’s son would muse that it was not ideal to have the hammering sounds of shoe repair next door to a portrait studio.
In the studio, a 1925 Century No. 7 studio camera is still on display.
The same year that the Jeffcoat Studio opened on Broadway Street, Paul’s wife Regina gave birth to a son.  The couple named him Paul William Jeffcoat.  To most, he became known as Bill.  Bill was also interested in the family business, but initially wanted to aspire to other things.  He attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio and later moved to New York City in search of work.  After World War II, he heard a lot about General Dwight D. Eisenhower, also from Abilene.  Bill decided to move back home to see if he could document the goings on in Eisenhower’s hometown.  He began working for his father in the studio, and found some business selling pictures of Abilene to United Press.  Bill continued to do this for a number of years, documenting every visit that Eisenhower made to Abilene, including Eisenhower’s presidential campaign and later, funeral.  

Bill eventually took over the family business; however before doing so, he was told by his father that he would have to buy the building.  After gathering enough money to do so, Bill did just that.  He continued to run the studio and camera shop long after his father’s death, and was well known as a portrait photographer in Abilene.  
Several cameras are still on display, as well as photography exhibits showing many of the pictures taken by Paul and Bill Jeffcoat.
Bill always had great interest in local history, so near the end of his life, he decided to turn his studio into a museum.  Bill died in 2007 before he could see his dream fully realized.  The Jeffcoat Photography Studio Museum opened in May 2008.  The museum is managed by the Dickinson County Historical Society and the Jeffcoat Memorial Foundation, and is open on a part-time and by-appointment basis.  For more information, visit here.