Friday, April 14, 2017

Sutton's Arctic Explorer


and so much more...

An expatriate, or expat is a person living in a country other than that of their citizenship. There may be a word for someone who has lived in a town, but has since left, but I don’t know that word. So, we’ve spoken several times of Sutton’s Expats. And that’s what we’ll call them.

Who was Sutton’s most famous, or most interesting expat?

Candidates would include Johnny Bender, Madeleine Leininger, Herbert Johnson and a few others. We’re going to make the case for Walter Wellman here, a fellow we’ve mentioned a few times and have told visitors about him often. But we recently found that much material has recently appeared online about Mr. Wellman which expands his story well beyond what we knew.
 
Walter Wellman (1858-1934), founder of Sutton's first newspaper, Arctic explorer
and renowned journalist. Our candidate for Sutton's most famous expat, and someone
you may never have heard of.
Walter Wellman was born in Mentor, Ohio on November 3, 1858 to Minerva Sibillia (Graves) Wellman, second wife of Alonzo Wellman. Alonzo Wellman was a Civil War Vet, initially with the 105th Ohio Infantry and later as ship’s carpenter with the Mississippi River Squadron.

The Wellman family lived briefly on a farm in Branch County, Michigan after the war before moving west to a claim in York County, Nebraska where they lived first in a dugout and later in a sod house. One of our new sources is a publication in the University of Iowa’s online library called, “Walter Wellman, Washington correspondent of The Chicago Record-Herald.” We’ve also tapped into contemporary newspaper articles and other websites.

This U of Iowa source adds to our understanding of Wellman’s time in Sutton. Early Sutton histories in the Andreas History of Nebraska and in the county history written for the 1876 Centennial told us only that he’d started Sutton’s first newspaper.

It seems Wellman was a clerk in a country store in York County at the age of 12 where he also ran the post office. At 13, he was apprenticed to a local printing office. And at 14, with a stake of $75, he published his first issue of The Sutton Times on Friday, June 20, 1873, Sutton’s first newspaper. Fearing his youth would jeopardize his credibility, Wellman claimed to be 18 years old.

Our early histories described the paper as a “five-column quarto” with nine columns of advertising and eleven of local reading matter. The advertising represented 23 different businesses and professions. It soon expanded to an eight-column folio with eight columns of advertising (44 advertisers). The publishers were listed over time, as Wellman, Wellman & Brakeman, Wellman & White, Wellman Bros. and Frank E. Wellman (Walter’s brother).

Our pitch to visitors to the Sutton Museum often includes the story that the Gray lumber yard was the second lumber yard in Sutton, because another fellow’s wagon of lumber arrived from Lincoln the day before the Gray wagon made it. We’d missed a similar story about the first newspapers. Walter Wellman’s initial issue edged out The Clay County Herald by Sechler & Cowan first published the next day on Saturday the 21st.

Wellman sold his paper and moved back to Ohio about 1878 working as a printer in Cleveland, editing the Canton (Ohio) Daily Repository and then with his brother founded “The Penny Paper” in Cincinnati.

The Wikipedia entry for the Cincinnati Post describes how Walter and Frank Wellman’s paper became the Cincinnati Post and later grew into the Scripps chain of papers, the first modern newspaper chain. The Wellmans sold out to the Scripps brothers after Walter’s early attempt at investigative journalism exposed policy racketeering and police issues. His subjects tried framing him for blackmail and he fled to Kentucky to evade extradition.

Walter Wellman then went to Chicago as a writer for the Chicago Herald. Somewhere in this period Frank and Walter started a daily paper in Akron and Walter married a Canton lass, Laura McCann in December, 1879. They can be found in the 1880 census in Canton, he, listed as “Editor of Newspaper.”

Wellman became a renowned journalist as depicted in the book from the U of Iowa library. Testimonials from dozens of newspapers tell of his scoops and important work. But that’s not why we’re here. Let’s go exploring.
 
Wellman was sure that the future of air travel was the hot air balloon. This craft was his second Arctic expedition airship at its hanger at Spitzbergen in the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway. Has anyone else from Sutton been to Spitzbergen?
Walter Wellman’s first expedition came in 1892 when the Chicago Herald sent him to the West Indies to find the exact spot where Christopher Columbus first landed in America. His team located the spot and marked it with a monument. The Royal Geographical Society and others endorsed that spot as Columbus’ landing site. Yes, that trip came on the 400th anniversary of the first Columbus voyage.

Two years later, Wellman made his first assault on the Arctic which failed as his ship was crushed in the ice and sank near 81 degree latitude near Spitzbergen. The crew managed to explore uncharted areas and return safely.

The next Arctic expedition was far more ambitious. We only recently found numerous accounts of this adventure. The most thorough account appears at the Digital History Project where three of Wellman’s magazine articles are re-printed, articles that appeared in McClure’s magazine in February, March and April of 1900. You can find the first article at: http://www.digitalhistoryproject.com/2012/05/walter-wellman-arctic-expedition-race.html and the subsequent two by following links in the right column of that blog.

The Wellman Polar Expedition of 1898-9 began in June, 1898 at Archangel, Russia where the members of the expedition, four Americans and five Norwegians embarked by ship into the Arctic.

The expedition was a huge logistic problem. A friend met them at Archangel after coming 2,000 miles over mountains, tundra, rivers and steppes to deliver 83 dogs for the expedition. A herd of reindeer was part of that story.

Their route took them to the island cluster called Franz Josef Lands and through the ice to the ice pack. It took two attempts to get far enough north to continue.
 
Wellman's expedition of 1898-9 had four
American members and five Norwegians
plus 83 dogs, two camps and a huge
logistics challenge.
They established a base camp where most of the men would spend the winter. They then headed further north where they built an advance camp where supplies and most of the dogs would winter waiting for the push north in the spring. Two of the Norwegians were selected to stay with the supplies and care for the sled dogs. The dog food supply came mostly from fifteen walruses that were killed, dressed and stored at the camp.

The other men returned to the base camp and hunkered down.

In the spring, well, early in mid-February Wellman and his crew headed back to the advance camp. The sun was still weeks away from rising from the long Arctic winter as they trudged along in the dark through ankle to knee deep snow using only a compass for directions. It is a challenge to use a magnetic compass at such high latitude as the magnetic north pole and the real pole are some ways apart. You do have to know what you’re doing there.

Wellman writes that he knew something was wrong as they approached the advance camp. One bedraggled fellow came out of the underground camp announced that his partner, Bernt Bentzen had died, two months earlier.

Norwegian Bernt Bentzen died at the advance
camp during the winter of 1898-9 and was buried
when the main party returned in the spring.
They found the body still in his sleeping bag in the shelter. As Bentzen was failing he asked that he not be buried where bears and foxes could dig him up. So, his partner spent two months with the body.

There was an alcove in the wall of the shelter where they burned walrus fat and driftwood to make coffee and cook food. The fire made no impact on the temperature in the shelter which stayed well below zero the whole time. Wellman wrote that he thought it was colder inside the shelter than outside. Bentzen’s body was frozen and well preserved.

The team found a suitable site and buried their companion under rocks, lots of rocks with some confidence that the grave was secure.

The plan had been for the two from the advance camp to return to the base camp while the others pressed north but under the circumstances all headed north.

The expedition had two objectives. They wanted to get to the North Pole, or at least closer than anyone before them. And they hoped to find evidence of the fate of a lost two-person expedition the year before.

They did not find the lost men but became confident that they would get close to the pole, until things fell apart.

First, Walter Wellman fell into a small crevice badly bruising his leg. He didn’t think it was serious and they continued.

A couple of nights later they were awakened by the sound of an ice-quake – the pack ice was shifting. A crack opened under their tents. They jumped out of their tents into the pitch-black night. More cracks opened and crushed back together with many of the dogs and much of their supplies lost.

None of the men were lost but the expedition was over. They headed back. Wellman’s leg worsened and he rode back in a sled. Their support boat met them returning the eight remaining men to civilization.
 
Walter Wellman looked like a man who had spent a year and a half living in
primitive shelters in subzero temperatures at the end of his 1898-9 expedition.
He had.
Two of the members of the expedition returned to the Franz Josef Lands and spent the balance of the summer discovering new islands and mountains, correcting existing maps and filling in blank spaces on the Arctic map adding to the scientific contributions of the expedition.

Wellman then gave up on conventional Arctic exploration, but not on the idea entirely.
This flash photo of Walter Wellman was taken on Christmas Day in a hut
at Franz Josef Land while most of the expedition members were spending
the winter of 1898-9 before striking out in very early spring 1899.

We’d learned about and wrote about his fascination with air travel. Wellman was convinced that the future of air travel lay in hot air balloons. He maintained that position well after the Wright brothers and others had pretty well established the viability of fixed-wing aircraft.

Wellman’s Chicago newspaper gave him $250,000 in 1906 to try to get to the North Pole in a hot air balloon. He made two balloons improving the design and two serious attempts to fly them north, both unsuccessful going 60 miles in the best effort.

By 1910 he’d given up on the North Pole but with another improved airship set out with a crew of five, and a cat, to prove his concept of trans-Atlantic passenger and mail service, again by hot air balloon.

Kiddo the Cat was the official mascot of the airship America in Wellman's
1910 attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Kiddo's numerous internet
appearances could well approach some kind of a feline record.
The side story which we’ve told again and again concerns that cat, Kiddo. Kiddo did not take to air travel at all raising a ruckus at takeoff. Wellman had a two-way radio onboard and a support boat following them off the New Jersey coast. The crew decided to do something about the cat and made the first ever air-to-ground radio contact with the command to their support crew, “Roy, come and get this goddam cat!” They were unable to transfer the cat and Kiddo continued with them.

This time they traveled for 38 hours setting a distance record but were unable to control the craft properly with engines failing off Cape Hatteras. The crew, and the cat were rescued by a British mail ship, the Trent, which became Kiddo’s new name.

Kiddo (Trent) was put on display at Gimbel's Department Store in New York City after being rescued by the Trent. He then lived out his life at the home of Wellman's daughter Edith.

You can find more details of the airship portion of Walter Wellman’s story on the Sutton Museum blog, searching for “Walter Wellman.” These articles will be the basis for a more complete accounting of the Story of Walter Wellman, Sutton’s Arctic Explorer later.

This booklet contains three magazine articles by
Walter Wellman describing his 1898-9 expedition.
Wellman was the political correspondent in Washington, D.C. for the Chicago newspaper for many years. He spent his last years in New York City dying of liver cancer in 1934.

The liberty ship Walter Wellman was launched on September 29, 1944 in Houston, Texas.

Walter Wellman was a remarkable fellow and a dominate candidate for Sutton’s most famous expat. He showed particular talent and vision in his early teens with large ideas. His ideas generally exceeded his, or anyone’s capability to carry out at the time. But these accounts of his exploits all point out the things he learned and the expanses of maps he filled in.

His career as a journalist is outlined in a couple of our new sources. It’s clear that he was a leader among those describing and analyzing the national political scene. We did not delve into that later aspect of his life. It’s possible that will be even more enlightening than his exploration phase. Watch this space.

A thorough story about Wellman and the airship America appears at this site. 


The story of Kiddo the Cat can be found at several locations on the internet. We present some here - you may find more.





America (Airship) reference in Wikipedia    YES, friends and neighbors, a cat with a Sutton connection made it to Wikipedia. How about that.


 and there are likely more...

The End

The end of the airship America as it was seen from the deck of the Trent during the rescue of the crew, and Kiddo. You can
see the life raft hanging below the airship as the America crew abandoned the balloon.


This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Sutton Live Magazine. For more information about that publication contact Jarod Griess at Sutton Life Magazine, P. O. Box 454, Sutton, NE 68979, or at mustangmediasales@gmail.com or at 402-984-4203. Or contact Lisa Griess, or Katie Griess or Lavina Griess - that's the way we roll in Sutton, Nebraska. 

Sutton News Pg 1 March 23, 1917


Our weekly column in The Clay County News is currently looking at the years 1917, 1942, 1967 and 1992 - all war years as it turns out. We have copies of several county newspapers for those years to draw from but what that means is that it takes quite a while each week to write the column since I READ ALL THE DAMNED NEWSPAPERS every week.

Though if I wasn't doing this, I'd have to find some excuse to do it...  You may have to blow this up (CTRL-+) a few times to read this, and it may still be a bit blurry. It's a primitive technology I'm using when in a hurry...






Clay County 1917 Doctors' Fee Schedule



The Sutton Register newspaper published the new fee schedule for Clay County doctors for April 1917. 

The article also has a list of county doctors - likely all of them.







Communicating through History

How do we stay in touch with people;

How did Grandma?


On pages 144 and 145 of our local history book, “Along the County Line” are two small photos of the Sheridan sisters, Anne and Nellie. The sisters are both standing at the mailbox on a country road, we guess, in front of their farmhouse. Two pictures are the same subject though they are next to different mailboxes.

The Postal Service was one of the first government services
initiated with the founding of the country. Mail service was
the primary means of communication with friends and
relatives for the families who struck out from Europe and
the East to Settle in the West.

Anne and Nellie were each reading a letter they’d just received, perhaps from each other. The pictures remind us of a time when exchanging notes with someone involved handwriting, several days and the mail system.

The changes in the means of communicating with each other triggered this topic for our article this month.

Author/historian Stephen Ambrose wrote about changes in technology of communication and transportation early in his book, “Undaunted Courage” about the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-1806.

Ambrose made the case that the first half of the nineteenth century was the period when human society experienced the most change of any similar length of time, even our most recent periods. His case is that one change, by itself, earns that title for the 1800-1850 period.

There were about 5.3 million people in the United States in 1800, two-thirds of them lived within fifty miles of the Atlantic. The best highway in the country ran from Boston to New York. A light coach, carrying only passengers, their luggage and the mail took three days to make that 175-mile journey, changing horses at every wat station.

Nellie Sheridan, with her sister Anne, provided us with the
definitive history of our town and the surrounding area in
their book, "Along the County Line."
It took two days to go the one hundred miles from New York to Philadelphia. Jefferson’s 225-mile trip from Monticello to Philadelphia was a ten-day trip involving crossing eight streams, five without bridges or ferries.

In 1800 nothing: people, mail, freight, merchandise, information, an idea, instructions, nothing moved faster than a horse could travel or the wind would push a sail. It took six weeks for a person or mail to travel from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic coast. Any bulky item such as grain, barrels of whiskey, furs, gunpowder took more than two months for that trip in wagons pulled by horses, oxen or mules on roads that barely existed.

Travel, and by extension, communications had been limited to the speed of a horse or a ship for a long time, really, since about the beginning of civilization. A Greek or Roman citizen plopped down in America, or Europe, or anywhere in 1800 would have found nothing remarkable about transportation or communications.

Many other aspects of civilization had changed little for millennia. But around the year 1800, things began to change.

The late years of the eighteenth century saw the new nation trying out new innovations in political philosophies and technology innovations began to appear too.

The first trial run of the steamboat was on the Delaware River with members of the Constitutional Convention observing. Eli Whitney patented his cotton gin in 1794 and the patent was validated in 1807.

Thomas Jefferson envisioned the steam engine being used to power a train though he never saw one. He also anticipated mechanically powered cars a full century before that happened.

Stephen Ambrose made the case that the period of 1800-1850 was the period of greatest change in civilization based on one observation. Prior to that period, society had no expectation of change. There had been little indication that anyone would live significantly differently from how their parents, grandparents and earlier ancestors had lived. Neither was there any expectation that children and grandchildren would find their lives to be different either.

The farmers’ plow, or plough if you speak English anywhere other than Canada or the U.S., seems to be Ambrose’s favorite illustration of his point. Greek farmers used a plow made from a flat board pulled by a horse or other large animal. The Romans used the same straight-board plow as did Dark Age, medieval and Renaissance farmers and all in between.

About 60 generations of farmers spent hour after hour, day after day, year in and year out for about 2,000 years looking at that straight-board plow and never did it enter any one of their minds that this implement could be improved. Never, that is until a Virginia planter, that Jefferson fellow again, thought he could improve on the design of the moldboard of that ages-old plow. He thought, no he calculated, that a curved moldboard would be more efficient and could be pulled through the ground with less effort. In 1798 he wrote to a friend that he’d been using the design for five years and felt he’d confirmed his hypothesis.
This plow at Monticello was built to Thomas Jefferson's 1794 specifications. His curved moldboard design
overturned more than 2,000 years of straight-moldboard plowing, pun intended. 

Mom used to say, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” Not always, sometimes when things change, they really change.

When the steam engine was put on rails and there was a prospect of people and things moving faster than that horse or that ship, there were the 1800-era equivalents of today’s internet trolls who poo-pooed the idea, or worse predicted that tampering with laws of nature would have disastrous consequences. A person might die if they traveled faster than 25 miles per hour was such a prediction.

Should we sympathize those with such concerns. After all, historically people had only traveled faster in special circumstances like falling off a building or a cliff and that did not generally turn out well.

But the first trains, and steamboats became operational carrying people and things faster than ever before. And who was there from the very beginning? The postal service jumped onboard from the get-go and information, ideas, letters to sisters all began to travel faster than ever before.

Travel across the western two-thirds of America took off in 1849 with the California Gold Rush. Wagon trains typically took six months for the trip. The Pony Express was carrying information, ideas and letters between sisters ten years later. The Pony Express only lasted about a year and a half before workmen finished the telegraph line to Sacramento. (You can remember the date of the Pony Express if you remember that news of Abe Lincoln’s 1860 election reached California via Pony Express.)
Stagecoach lines were the crucial infrastructure supporting the early settlement
of the west with a transportation system providing cargo and communications.

Railroads quickly connected cities in the U.S., in Europe and elsewhere allowing people to ship freight faster than ever before. The Golden Spike was hammered home at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869 and freight, packages and those sisters’ letters were crossing the breadth of the continent faster and safer than thought possible just a few decades earlier.

Speed of communications had always matched and depended upon transportation, disregarding smoke signals and semaphores, I suppose.

Massachusetts painter Samuel Finley Breese Morse (betcha didn’t know what the “F. B. stood for before now) first demonstrated his telegraph between two rooms in the Capitol building in 1842. He’d been motivated to develop a faster means of communications while he was working on a painting in Washington, D.C. when his wife became sick, died and was buried back home in Massachusetts before he’d learned of her illness. He also kind of snookered some Europeans with his claim to have invented the device.

The advances of the first half of the nineteenth century enabled technology to rapidly change the way things were done and to establish an appetite for new stuff throughout society.

Alexander Bell received a patent for his telephone in 1876. Twenty-two-year-old Guglielmo Marconi demonstrated his “wireless telegraphy” (radio) system to the British government in 1896. World War I was a catalyst for further development of radio.

This early radio set was installed in Harry Stevens' Nebraska-Iowa Elevator
in Sutton on June 22, 1923. Stevens picked up daily market quotes getting the
jump on his competition. On display at the Sutton Museum.
Another catalyst for radio during and after that war was early radio hobbyists who formed the American Radio Relay League which continues to speak for radio amateurs, “Hams.”


Westinghouse worked on radio during the war and began broadcasting with the call sign of 8ZZ, later KDKA which still broadcasts from Pittsburgh. Experiments with moving picture transmissions began before 1920 with General Electric’s station WRGB on line in 1928. The first national color broadcast occurred on January 1, 1954 with the Tournament of Roses Parade.

The communication of information and ideas was broadened by these technological advances, Not so much for exchanges between sisters. Sisters separated by distance faced significant charges for “long distance” phone calls preserving letter writing for a time. Calls without charges were limited to the immediate exchange.

Communications systems come and go.
There was a curious exception to call charges. People in Sutton and other county towns could make “free” calls to Clay Center, ostensibly to support business with the county courthouse. Clay Center residents still had to pay to call Sutton and other towns.
There were two phone categories, “station-to-station” and “person-to-person.” Station calls went through no matter who answered but with a person-to-person call, you told the operator the name of the person you wanted to talk to. If that person was not available, the call, and the charges did not happen. How many times did my cousin call our house asking for his sister, who would not be there? That was my signal to call back to his Clay Center exchange phone, with no charges. Of course, the operators were no dummies, but what could/did they say?

The telephone was the focus of communications throughout the
20th century and remains the basis in the 21st.
Mail continued to be the main written communications between individuals until email made the letter-writing art form nearly obsolete. Facebook, twitter and texting sequentially erased the popularity of each of their predecessors.

We now have a generation growing up that has not experienced anything but the capability to instantly contact anybody almost anywhere in the world. That alone makes the early 21st century awesome.

But has there been a cost?

Well, yes.

I have fourteen handwritten letters on tablet paper from Corporal James Rowlison to his best girl, Rhoda written from his tent while with the 82nd Indiana Infantry in the Civil War. How many emails, Facebook postings or tweets will be preserved for 150 years? Good thing? Bad thing? Up for discussion.

Historians routinely study boxes of correspondence to and from important figures of the past to learn what happened and important, often intimate details of when, how and why crucial decisions were made to cause what happened.

A letter writer exposes a lot about themselves in their correspondence to a friend, family member or business associate. I believe I know a little about what kind of a man my great, grandfather was, insights I’d never learned without those Civil War-era letters to Rhoda. I have many family letters from 100+ years ago, priceless.

On the other hand, that’s not to say we don’t learn a lot from the kinds of stuff people email to us, post on Facebook and especially the stuff that some people tweet.

This article first appeared in the February 2017 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For further information about the publication contact mustangmediasales@gmail.com or call 402-984-4203.





Thursday, April 13, 2017

Comparisons of farm prices in 1916


This article gives us an idea of comparisons of farm prices in the area in 1916.




Around Sutton History in 80 Months


People are still surprised to learn that the Round Baler was invented in Sutton.
The Sutton Historical Society’s first article in Sutton Life Magazine appeared in the second issue of the magazine in August 2009. We’re well into our eighth year of this endeavor with 80 different articles published that are somehow related to the history of Sutton. Are there really 80 topics about Sutton history worthy of such consideration? Don’t answer that.

Recently, an interesting topic for an article came to mind. We were well into putting it together when a feeling of déjà vu set in, full stop. A look at our list of past articles confirmed that it was a topic interesting enough to have already been written about, by us. Embarrassing, but increasingly common.

So, when the author can’t remember what articles are included in this collection, it’s about time to remind the readers.

Our first articles and several since have examined those first years after the founding of our town. The first two articles were titled, “Sutton, Small Town, Large Story” and “Sutton, the Sudden Settlement.” These were short articles by our standards and habits today, that described how the town came to be here and to get started at the time it did.

We’ve often returned to that first decade of Sutton’s story, the 1870’s, because Sutton’s founders left several contemporary accounts of what was here, who was here and what they were doing. Later periods aren’t that clearly described but usually require plowing through old newspapers and other general sources. Conveniently, our weekly newspaper column in The Clay County News requires exactly that kind of research enabling us to stumble onto stories of Sutton’s past.

Minnie (Rowe) Crabb, Sutton High Class of 1886, was another obscure product
of our town whose story was well worth telling on our pages.
It is a concern that these stories we’ve uncovered would sink deeper into stacks of old magazines and newspapers and again slip in to the fog of history. Our answer has been to post almost all of the Sutton Life articles on the historical society’s blog at suttonhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com. There are more than 400 postings on the blog of which about 80 are these Sutton Life articles.

The blog format does not lend itself to a quick route to a post but there are multiple ways to find locate what you’re looking for.

A brute force method is to employ the “Labels” tag in the right column of the blog. Clicking on the “Sutton Life Magazine” label will bring up the entire set. Blog postings appear in reverse chronological order so the first post will be the most recent, previous posts follow and the earliest ones are deepest in the pile. Scroll through to visit them all. “Brute force” as I said.

There are almost 20 different labels identifying the posts that fit that category. A post likely has more than one label and the labels are intended to be logical groupings and accurately labeled. We try.

Another directory into the post is the Blog Archive a bit lower on the right side of the blog. There are headings for each year since 2008 when the blog started and entries for each month in that a post was published. If you know about when a specific article appeared in Sutton Life Magazine the archive can get you close and you can zero in to the right one.

Near the top of the right side, about next to the Labels is a “gadget” “Search This Blog” with a small box to type in a search argument or “key word.” The searcher will then list articles where that key word appears. There could be several. A search for “Maltby” will find about 40 postings containing the name of that Sutton pioneer. It’s not a perfect method but it does narrow the 400+ postings by 90%. Titles of individual postings will help locate specific topics and posts.

Dr. Martin Clark and his brother Isaac were
instrumental in the early development of our town,
both as community leaders and real estate agents.
Our third article in the magazine was a brief biography of Isaac N. Clark, one of our important town founded. It introduced one of the common categories of our articles as we told the stories of several important early Sutton residents. We recently did a bio on Isaac Clark’s brother, Martin Clark. There are biographies of John Maltby, F. M. Brown, Madeleine Leininger, Ted Wenzlaff, the doctors Nuss, Ochsner and Pope and others. In the September, 2015 article we posted bios of several Sutton men that appeared in The Sutton Register in early 1894. Those biographies and others made it to the blog in several separate postings.

There are posts that speak about pioneer families rather than individuals, the French family, Bemis family, the Gray’s, Sheridan’s and a few others.

Even more fun has been finding more obscure Sutton residents who are worthy of mention. We did an early article about Betsy Swanson who immigrated at age 10 with her family from Sweden to Utah as part of the Latter-Day Saints. She was a seamstress as a young girl before her family left Utah and came east to Council Bluffs. She was a veteran of the ox-cart walk to Utah and an Indian attack in Colorado before becoming the lady of the first lumber house in Sutton Township.

It is rewarding to see the reactions of Sutton residents when they learn anew about the exploits of past Sutton residents such as the two Medal of Honor soldiers with Sutton connections: Jacob Volz and Orion P. Howe.

Our list of stories about lesser known people with Sutton connections include the explorer Walter Wellman, political cartoonist Herbert Johnson, pioneer teacher and Sutton shopkeeper Nellie Stevens,
Several downtown buildings are decorated with the name of the builder
providing a topic to research. Ed Woodruff wasn't a well-known fellow.
early businessman and one-time mayor Ed Woodruff and many more.

Another category of magazine articles and blog posts have been detailed looks at specific dates in Sutton’s history. These normally come from either an analysis of the census or time spent deeply engrossed in the newspapers of a particular year or period. We examined 1880, 1890, 1923, 1940 and will likely take on some more of these.

We’ve done several articles on Sutton businesses over the years and have written about aspects and changes in farming since Sutton was founded in the early 1870’s in the era of homesteading. We’ve linked to, or published plat maps for the county from 1886, 1908, 1925 and 1937 among others. The railroad story is an important part of Sutton’s past and warranted coverage from multiple perspectives.

Veterans played a big role in Sutton’s settlement and Sutton contributed men, women and substantial support to the nation’s wars through the years. An article about the local GAR post pointed out more than 40 Civil War vets who contributed to Sutton’s start.

Our blog and the Sutton Life articles are products of the Sutton Historical Society and the Sutton Museum so we could hardly be expected to avoid some self-promotion during these seven years. The ulterior motive has been to attract more people to join us to support the museum and help in our work. That approach has fallen flat on its face but we continue and hope springs, or pushes on.

We’ve had at least three articles or posts about sports in Sutton’s story. The earliest one told the story of Johnny Bender, a 1900 Sutton High grad who starred on Nebraska’s football team for five years (can’t do that anymore) then went on to coach at several universities where he initiated homecoming and invented the nicknames for the Kansas State Wildcats, the St. Louis Billikens and the Washington State and Houston Cougars.

Sutton High sports programs collected about one-half of all championship banners on display in the auditorium during a single six-year stretch between 1986 and 1991 – good for a February, 2015 article.
The athletes of Sutton High School in the late 1980's and through 1991 set a high bar for all who will follow.

But the top Sutton sport story appeared in the February, 2013 issue where we related the story of Sutton’s 1922 Class A state championship basketball team that went on to play a three-game series in Yankton and went 1-1 in a 32-team national championship tournament in Chicago. Still our candidate for Sutton’s top all-time sports story.

And there have been some articles that are just miscellaneous, such as the Royal Highlanders (Oct, 2013), City park story (July, 2010), Round Barns (July, 2015), rural schools, genealogy, etc.

We’ve stretched our criteria for a Sutton connection a few times to include a bit about Key West, my 2nd great, grandfather’s abolition story in Indiana, Indians, book reviews and more.

Lodges played a big part in the lives of early folks in Sutton. The
Royal Highlanders was founded in Aurora and Sutton formed
Chapter #11. Insurance was the basis for the lodge; a Lincoln
insurance company traces its origins to this and two other
Nebraska-based lodges.
Putting together one of these articles each month is a challenge. Just coming up with 80 topics has been a tall order. But every now and then we encounter a story that makes it worthwhile. That happens when we uncover a piece of Sutton’s history that has been lost to most, sometimes it seems all of today’s residents. It came as a surprise to many that the round baler was invented in our community. That story has appeared in a couple of articles since 2008.

We’ve had visitors who are surprised that we’ve chronicled so many people and events that have made Sutton’s history interesting. On further consideration most agree that every community, even as small or smaller than Sutton has some similar collection of tales from the past. In too many cases, no one has expended the time and effort to uncover those stories. In each case, I assure you, there is “low-hanging fruit” – stories that are readily available with a minimum of effort to find them. Eighty topics worth writing about may take a while, but a few dozen should be easy to find in almost any community. It should be done.

Writing this article has pointed out the weakness of the blog format in finding specific posts in and among the 400+ postings. We’ve added a task to our TODO list to build a decent directory for the blog, likely to be published in the “Pages” section where permanent posts are maintained. Watch this space.

So, what do we think of as the #1 article in our collection? Easy.

We delayed writing this article for several months knowing we wanted it to properly honor our subject. There were several false starts and considerable editing before we were comfortable in submitting the article for the January, 2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. The title of this article was “SATCH” and it is the high point of this project. It can be seen at http://suttonhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2012/05/satch.html and we hope you enjoy it whether you knew this gentle man or not.

The Unforgettable Suttonite


 This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Sutton Life Magazine.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Schools of Clay County

Sutton’s Wolfe School Museum operated through the 1962-1963 school year, well past the time that most of the county’s rural schools had consolidated into “town” school.

The spring of 1954 saw the closing of most of the country schools in northeast Clay County as “redistricting” changed the lives of grade schoolers compared to older siblings and neighbors. For decades, the coming-of-age moment for farm kids was that jump, a big jump from the eighth grade in their neighborhood one-room school house to their freshman year in town school.

This is the map from the 1940-1941 school year, before the Navy took a bite out of Clay County.
Notice, if you can see them, the five little red dots around Harvard. Those were the country
schools that were part of, and administered by the Harvard School system. District boundaries
also appear in red outlining the seven to nine square miles of each school district.
Town school classes were typically at least twice the size of the entire rural school student body. Thirteen-year olds found that leap daunting enough. From a small tight-knit group of about a dozen neighborhood friends, early teens were suddenly thrown in with a couple of hundred strangers. That was the normal pattern for decades. Redistricting was a one-time event that put seven and nine-year-old kids, all kids in that five to twelve bracket through the experience.

Later generations accept rooms with twenty to thirty classmates from kindergarten on as a routine part of school. The wholesale change that accompanied redistricting probably had an impact on many farm kids. Just saying.

We take the early rural school system in Clay County largely for granted. But it was not an inevitable phenomenon. Universal public education was the consequence of specific public policy very early in the history of the country. I mean really early.

We should credit Thomas Jefferson for setting the foundation for universal public education. We might call him a zealot on the topic. Jefferson was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in late 1776 in the midst of war with Britain when he set about changing Virginia’s legal code to correspond to the principals alluded to in the Declaration of Independence earlier in the year.

The educational directories preserved the list of all teachers in the county that
year, including salary, teaching certificate level and the enrollment of each
school. This page is for District #2, the Sutton Schools for the year 1952-53.
His “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” is the part of that work that is most remembered but another topic was “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.” He summarized his education plan in 1781 as follows:

“This bill proposes to lay off every county into small districts of five or six miles square, called hundreds, and in each of them to establish a school for teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. The tutor to be supported by the hundred, and every person in it entitled to send their children three years gratis, and as much longer as they please, paying for it. These schools to be under a visitor [i.e., superintendent], who is annually to choose the boy of best genius in the school, of those whose parents are too poor to give them further education, and to send him forward to one of the grammar schools [high schools, in effect] of which twenty are proposed to be erected in different parts of [Virginia], for teaching Greek, Latin, geography, and the higher branches of numerical arithmetic. Of the boys thus sent in any one year, trial is to be made at grammar schools one or two years, and the best genius of the whole selected, and continued six years, and the residue dismissed. By this means twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually, and be instructed, at the public expense, so are as the grammar schools go.”

Jefferson’s bill did not pass but he was able to implement bits and pieces of that philosophy and was recognized for his groundwork as modern public education in this country took shape in the 1830’s.

I hesitated to include that quote but could not resist, for several reasons. First, it illustrates that Jefferson was thinking past the moment, the Revolutionary War, to consider how to construct the new country if the war was successful. Second, Jefferson planted the seed that society had a responsibility for basic education even of children of the poor. Latin? Sutton High taught Latin into the ‘ 60’s.

There are a few other things that reflect how certain words were used and defined 225 years ago. “Genius”, “residue”, “raked” are a few.

It is important to remember that Jefferson and the Founders did not make up the philosophical foundations of public policy out of thin air. These were the educated “elite” of the day with at least one common trait: they read. Various positions of society’s relationships and public policy had already been thoroughly discussed, debated and the talking points were published decades and generations earlier, mainly by Europeans: Locke, Rousseau, Mill, Montaigne and several Greek and Roman thinkers.

A lot of useful discussion happens when smart folks ponder issues over more than 2,000 years. Those seeking public office are well advised to understand, or at least be familiar with some of that discussion.
School group pictures usually were taken in the spring, often on the last day of
school. This school Fillmore County District #64 just east of Sutton in 1922.
We have many such pictures at the Sutton Museum, though not well organized.
Does that sound like something you'd like to help with?

Jefferson’s direct contributions to our universal public school system began very early when he headed on a committee in 1784 working out the land management scheme for open western lands. (Open in the sense of unpopulated, disregarding indigenous people, as they were.) That committee originated the concept of parceling open land into ten mile squares further divided into “sections”. Surveyors later tried five and seven-mile squares before settling on six. Our townships were just surveyor units.

The Land Ordinance Act of 1785 provided that five of the 36 sections in a township were reserved for public purposes. Section 16 was designated to support schools in the township. Sections 8, 11, 26 and 29 were held back to be sold by the government when/if the market drove up the value. (Just found that last tidbit on Wikipedia – need to check it out.)

Didja notice? Jefferson managed to implement his plan for public support of education two years before we had a constitution. The Oregon Territory Act of 1848 added Section 36 for school support.

Another curiosity. Sections were originally numbered starting in the southeast corner of the township and heading north using the “snake” pattern we’re familiar with. That may be even more weird that the current pattern.

So, how was Mr. Jefferson’s desire for universal public education implemented in Nebraska, and especially, in Clay County? Largely as he envisioned it. His suggestion for one school per township did not survive, perhaps due to travel demands. Districts of from seven to nine sections became typical with four or five schools in each township.

Districts were numbered sequentially starting with District #1, the Corey School just north and east of Sutton. Mr. A. A. Corey was an early settler. Sutton Schools was assigned Number 2. Schools numbered 3 and 4, Spring Ranch and Prairie Rose were off in the southwest corner of the county in Spring Ranche Township.

Schools were identified both by number and a name. The name often came from the farmer who owned the land. Some other names were descriptive, even poetic. We had Sunnyside, Lakeside, Blue River and Blue Valley, Prairie View and Plainview, Liberty, Pleasant Prairie and Mulberry Grove. Our Wolfe School Museum shared their category with Carlson, Wachter, Hartley, Peterson, Kitzinger, Kreutz, Grubb and Grosshans. There were two Nuss schools, both in School Creek Township about six miles apart, Districts 8 and 16.

Though some early schools were placed in Section 16, in Clay County only 71 in Leicester and the Spring Ranch schools did. None were in Section 36 of their township.

Our primary source for details about county schools is the annual Educational Directory that was published by the County Superintendent. We have copies from school years beginning in 1925, ’27, ’30, ’31, ’32, ’34, ’40, ’44, ’45, ’46, ’47, ’48, ’52, ’53, ’62, ’63 and 1986. Some came from Bertha Lobeda of Fairfield, a few from Herbert Nuss of Sutton but most are from Clarence Johnson who served on the District 16 school board for several years. We’ve tried to find directories from surrounding counties but have struck out, completely. We’d like to hear from anyone with copies of these directories – we’d appreciate any donations but would be grateful to be able to copy that data.
The county superintendent published the educational directory
annually. A lot of  school and county history is packed into the
fine print of each.

A common question we field at the museum is along the lines of “How many schools were there in Clay County?” It’s a bit hard to answer.

The question is usually aimed at the one-room country schools but let’s generalize.

County schools were numbered inclusively from District #1, the Corey School near Sutton to District #80, the Richview School just north of Ong. Except there is no District #48 listed even on our earliest directory. There may have been one that closed before 1925. Numbering then skips from 80 to District #101, the Trumbull town school. So, there were 80 schools, plus maybe #25. There must be a story about why numbering skipped the 80’s and 90’s. Anyone know?

Town schools were numbered districts and should be subtracted from our list of 80 schools. Sutton is District #2; Harvard, 11; Clay Center, 70; Fairfield, 18; Edgar, 12; Ong, 64, Trumbull, 101 and Glenvil was District #49.

The village schools shouldn’t count as one-room country schools. They were larger and for a time, some went through the 10th grade. Those would be Inland, District 72; Eldorado, 67; Saronville, 73; Verona, 43; Deweese, 75 and Spring Ranch was District 3.
So we’ve deleted 14 schools from our list leaving 66 one-room country schools in Clay County. True? Not true.

Harvard District #11 not only operated the Harvard town school but also operated five one-room country schools circling the town, each about two or three miles distant. They appeared under the Harvard system as N.W., N.E., S.W., S.C. and S.E. indicating the direction from town. So, we want to say that there were 71 one-room country schools in the county. At least until the early 1940’s when the Hastings U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot wiped out six of the county’s schools: districts 51, 61, 31, 56, 57 and 15 causing Plainview, Grubb, West Lynn, Glenwood, Weber and Lone Tree to disappear. Now we’re back to 65 schools, post-NAD.
This map is seven years later than the former map, school year 1947-1948
and showing the Nevada-shaped land mass that was one of Clay Counties
major contributions to World War II. Smaller plots were taken for the Harvard
Air Base and, it seems, for a rifle range. The air base was an Army Air Corps
aircrew training school. Was the rifle range also Army? Was it "taken" land?

Our Sutton neighborhood had nine of these schools in School Creek and Sutton Townships. Districts 5, 66 and 8 were in a straight line, west to east in the north of School Creek. They were called Becker, Grosshans and Nuss. District #16, the other Nuss school, and my K-5 school was two miles west and one and a half north of Sutton. District #1, the Corey School was just north of Sutton, but I repeat myself.

District 9, Carlson School was in Sutton Township a mile east of the Saronville south road; 20, called Sunnyside was on the road between sections 28 and 29 about six miles southwest of Sutton. District 13 was the Wachter School four miles south and just to the east and the Lange School, District 79 was just east of the Sutton road on Highway 41.

Just two miles to the east is the Fillmore County line and although we don’t have any of those Educational Directories, “The Fillmore County Story” edited by Wilbur G. Gaffney does have a map showing districts 8, 29, 31, 66, 64, 62, 89, 74, 63 and 61 were schools in Grafton and Bennett townships just east of Sutton.

The story of these country schools was a big part of Clay County’s past which has largely faded into the fog of history except when someone digs around in obscure sources for an article like this. Or, until someone visits the Wolfe School Museum on North Way Avenue in the extreme southeast corner of Sutton Park where the visitor may trigger a distant memory of their own country school, or more likely, try to make sense of something a grandparent once told them.

Showing our country school to kids is a satisfying part of working with the Sutton Museum. We are especially proud to be a part of the Sutton Schools 4th grade Apple Valley study block when we can provide a hands-on, eyes-on visual aid of what those schools really looked like.

This article first appeared in the December, 2016 issue of Sutton Life Magazine - www.mustangmediainc.com