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Kansas History - Spring/Summer 2000

(Vol. 23, No. 1-2)

Kansas History, Spring/Summer 2000

This special, double issue focuses on the wheat culture of the Central Plains. As used here, culture means not only the production of this important commodity but, perhaps more importantly, the integrated pattern of human behavior that depends upon a people's capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. It is, according to Professor James C. Malin, "the way of life as a whole of any people," and as Tom Isern has written, "the set of practices, beliefs, and objects that a group of people have in common." Regular readers of Kansas History, students of agricultural/rural history, and residents of the "wheat state" should find the following articles and essays both interesting and enlightening.

Homer E. Socolofsky, "The Wheat Culture of Kansas in Kansas: Introduction."

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Socolofsky, emeritus professor of history and university historian at Kansas State University, introduces the reader to the importance and influence of wheat culture in Kansas, while calling attention to the special issue's "excellent material" contributed by "an illustrious group of knowledgeable writers."

Elma L. Bamberg, edited by Virgil W. Dean, "‘Give Us This Day Our Daily Bred': A Harvest Memoir."

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This article offers a delightful story of harvest time life and gender roles on a western Kansas farm more than a century ago. Mrs. Bamberg was born Elma L. Barnes on December 18, 1887, and grew up on her family's southwest Ellis County farm. This relatively brief account actually says a great deal about the changes that have affected wheat farming during the twentieth century, both technologically and culturally.

Thomas D. Isern, "Wheat Explorer the World Over: Mark Carleton of Kansas."

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Isern tells us the story of a north-central Kansas farm boy who became a distinguished cereal scientist and contributed as much as any farmer or scientist in history to the adaptation of wheat culture to the Great Plains of North America. A product of Kansas Agricultural College, Carleton's achievements resulted from a combination of scientific expertise, personal determination, and visionary thinking. His vision, according to Isern, sprang from his remarkable grasp of regionalism and environmentalism, decades ahead of his contemporaries.

Norman Saul, "Mill Town in the Age of Turkey Red."

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Saul examines the adoption of hard wheat in Kansas, including of course the origins of Turkey Red, and focus on changes and developments in the milling industry during a critical forty-year period, the mid-1880s to the mid-1920s. Saul uses agricultural census records and selected local newspapers to document the expansion of hard wheat and milltown Kansas, and shows that Kansas was first a flour state rather than a wheat state, a fact that has not been historically recognized.

Barbara Krupp Selyem, with photographs by Bruce Selyem, "The Legacy of Country Grain Elevators: A Photo Essay."

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Selyem offer a beautiful glimpse at one of the Plains most striking visual images. The black and white photographs of country grain elevators in Kansas are complimented by a brief essay reflecting on the importance of the elevator to the Plains' many rural communities: "On a grand scale, it was the community's domestic and international connection. But to the local farmers who gathered there for morning coffee, it was a place to interact with friends, to tell stories and spin yarns, to share laughter and understand tears."

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, "Women in Wheat Country."

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Riney-Kehrberg uses census data, government studies, and the letters and diaries to explore the lives of this group of rural Kansas women." It is becoming increasingly clear, according to Riney-Kehrberg, that factors such as geography and crop mix significantly influenced women's lives. In wheat country women lived far differently than their peers in the well-watered, agriculturally diversified middle west, often bearing fewer children, participating less in the production of butter and eggs, and living at far greater distances from friends and family.

R. Douglas Hurt, "Prices, Payments, & Production: Kansas Wheat Farmers and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, 1933-1939."

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Hurt discusses the effects of the programs of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration on Kansas wheat farmers during the 1930s. The AAA provided payments to enable farmers to reduce wheat production, help eliminate the surplus, and permit price increases, and since they could not afford to do otherwise, nearly all Kansas farmers participated and depended on AAA payments. Payments helped farmers remain on the land, but the program also encouraged the retention of crop production on lands unsuited for wheat, thus enhancing the demand for wheat lands and since payments were based on the size of the wheat enterprise, benefiting large-scale producers more than "family farmers."

Craig Miner, "The Wheat Empire of R.H. Garvey, 1930-1959."

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Miner explores the corporate culture of wheat by concentrating on Garvey and the integration of wheat farming into a larger entrepreneurial empire. The Garvey story is a path for analyzing a twentieth-century trend in farming and many other businesses toward diversified yet integrated enterprises, applying many economies of scale, cross-business lessons, and deep national and international information and analysis to what had been an isolated, tradition-bound, family-based rural farming activity. Attention also is given to the ways in which such an entrepreneur operated and how integration into an operation such as Garvey's changed the regional wheat business, for better and worse.

Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, "Beyond Winter Wheat: The USDA Extension Service and Kansas Wheat Production in the Twentieth Century."

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Lynn-Sherow examines one of the influences on the wheat culture of the Plains. Dr. Lynn-Sherow surveys the advice given to farmers by the Extension Service since 1914 on the scientific farming of wheat and assess the probable links between that body of information and selected changes in the Kansas landscape up to the present day. As a government agency promoting a particular view of agriculture, the Extension Service is currently being re-examined by historians for its contribution to the advent of modern agricultural practice and its consequences for rural life.

Thomas Fox Averill, "Kansas Wheat Harvest."

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Averill brings his skills as a writer of Kansas literature and an observer of Kansas culture to bear on harvesting in the "Wheat State." His observations were made one June while flying over central and western Kansas during a particularly big harvest year, but his essay is a reflection on the meaning of this great annual event as well as an analysis as to how wheat "is storied in Kansas literature, as well as in Kansas soil." The writings of Edna Walker Chandler, Mela Meisner Lindsay, John Ise and others are discussed.

Book Notes:

KATY Northwest: The Story of a Branch Line Railroad. By Donovan L. Hofsommer. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. xiii + 305 pages, cloth $59.95.)

Originally published by Pruett Publishing Company in 1976, KATY Northwest is a heavily illustrated volume that was billed as "the first and finest in-depth study of a branch-line railroad." This particular early twentieth-century road served mainly northwest Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle, but the Wichita Falls & Northwestern (the railroad's original name) "was chartered to build from Wichita Falls through Oklahoma to Englewood, Kansas," and Professor Hofsommer's study contains many more Kansas references of potential interest to Kansas History readers.

Union Pacific West From Leavenworth: A History of the Leavenworth, Kansas & Western Railway. By I.E. Quastler. (David City, Neb.: South Platte Press, 1999. 88 pages, paper $22.95.)

This second volume in the history of a storied Kansas branch line covers the years from 1890, when the old narrow gauge Kansas Central converted to standard gauge, to the end of its operation in 1935. Railroading buffs especially will be interested in Quastler's story of another railroad with big hopes that ultimately operated only 166 miles of track from Leavenworth to Miltonvale and was known after 1897 as the Leavenworth, Kansas & Western (LK&W)--although many preferred "Look, Kuss & Wait" or "Little Kansas Wiggler."

A Sense of the American West: An Anthology of Environmental History. Edited by James E. Sherow. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998. x + 309 pages, cloth $60.00, paper $19.95.)

This fine collection of fourteen, mostly previously published, essays pulls together some important works by noted historians of the American West, including the editor, an associate professor of history at Kansas State University. Kansas History readers may be especially interested in Sherow's own introductory essay, "An Evening on Konza Prairie," and "Workings of the Geodialectic: High Plains Indians and their Horses in the Region of the Arkansas River Valley, 1800-1870," as well as Dan Flores's "Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy: The Southern Plains from 1800 to 1850" and John Opie's "The Drought of 1988: The Global Warming Experiment, and Its Challenge to Irrigation in the Old Dust Bowl Region."

The Time That Was: The Second Forty Years, 1915-1955. By Ruth Kelley Hayden. (Colby, Kans.: H. F. Davis Memorial Library, 1999. xii + 300 pages, paper $18.00.)

The Time That Was: The Second Forty Years, 1915-1955 is Hayden's second volume of Rawlins County history; the first being The Time That Was: The Courageous Acts and Accounts of Rawlins County, Kansas 1875-1915, published in 1973. In the present volume, readers will find many fine illustrations, numerous stories of local and statewide interest, notes and appendixes, and a helpful index to personal names.

Early Lane County Development. By Ellen May Stanley. (Dighton, Kans.: the author, 1999. xiv + 450 pages, cloth $45.00).

In her latest book on Lane County, Kansas, Ellen May Stanley, a past president of the Kansas Historical Society, picks up where her last (i.e., Early Lane County History, 12,000 B.C.-A.D. 1884) left off and chronicles her county's development to 1914. This handsome volume contains numerous photographs, maps, newspaper graphics, and other documents, as well as early Lane County settler biographies and appendixes, one of which is the lyrics (five verses) to "The Lane County Bachelor."

Kansas Past: Pieces of the 34th Star. By David Hann. (Lawrence, Kans.: Penthe Publishing, 1999. x + 157 pages, paper, $13.95.)

Like his first book, Sampling Kansas: A Guide to the Curious, the present volume contains many short stories--in this case, twenty-eight--of interesting Kansas people and events that many of our readers will enjoy. Here one will find the story of Kansas Day and the Potato King of the Kaw Valley; an account of the vegetarian colony near Humboldt; the African American settlement at Nicodemus; the Beecher Bible and Rifle Colony; and biographical information concerning such notables as Arthur Hertzler, Mary Bickerdyke, Blackbear Bosin, and D. R. "Cannonball" Green, plus much more.

Between These Walls: Working for the People. By Billy Q. McCray, with Jon Roe. (Wichita, Kans.: McCray Publications, Inc., 2000. xii + 180 pages, paper, $12.95.)

Billy McCray, born to Oklahoma sharecroppers in 1927, settled in Wichita after being discharged from the Army Air Corps in 1951 and soon became active in the city's civil rights struggles. In this interesting, well-illustrated, personal memoir, McCray tells of his activism, his many years in the Kansas state senate (1867-1884), his historic 1982 candidacy and campaign for secretary of state, and his service as director of the Kansas Minority Business Office. His is an important Kansas story that should be of interest to all readers of Kansas History and students of contemporary politics.

Reopening the American West. Edited by Hal K. Rothman. (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998. xiv + 208 pages, cloth $35.00, paper $15.95.)

In this useful collection of essays, the editor, a professor of history at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, formerly of Wichita State University, and nine other scholars including Don Worster ("The Legacy of John Wesley Powell"), Dan Flores, ("Environmentalism and Multiculturalism"), and Robert Gottlieb ("The Meaning of Place: Reimagining Community in a Changing West"), explore tourism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and history. The volume's contributors "focus on the changes wrought in the environment of the American West" and demonstrate "the vast range of the new field of environmental history."

Review Titles:

Antislavery Violence: Sectional, Racial, and Cultural Conflict in Antebellum America
edited by John R. McKivigan and Stanley Harrold
332 pages, notes, bibliography, index.
Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999, cloth $30.00.
Reviewed by Brian R. Dirck, assistant professor of history, Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana.


With Badges & Bullets: Lawmen & Outlaws in the Old West
edited by Richard W. Etulain and Glenda Riley
xvi + 223 pages, photographs, bibliographic essays, index.
Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Publishing, 1999, paper $17.95.
Reviewed by Joseph W. Snell, executive director emeritus, Kansas Historical Society.


T-Town on the Plains by R. Alton Lee
xiii + 217 pages, illustrations, photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
Manhattan: Sunflower University Press, 1999, paper $22.95.
Reviewed by Robert W. Richmond, assistant executive director emeritus, Kansas Historical Society.


Doniphan's Epic March: The First Missouri Volunteers in the Mexican War
by Joseph G. Dawson III
xi + 325 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999, cloth $35.00.
Doniphan's Expedition by John Taylor Hughes
xv + 202 pages, illustrations.
College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997, paper $16.95.
Reviewed by William D. Young, professor of history, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas.


Frontier Children
Linda Peavey and Ursula Smith
ix + 164 pages, photographs, notes, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999, cloth $24.95.
Reviewed by Gayle R. Davis, associate vice president for academic affairs and associate professor of women's studies, Wichita State University.


A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community
by Robert R. Archibald
224 pages, illustrations, bibliography, index.
Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 1999, paper $19.95.
Reviewed by Cathy Ambler, assistant division director, Cultural Resources Division, Kansas Historical Society.


Carry Amelia Nation Papers, 1870-1961 (bulk 1872-1909)
Kansas Historical Society