Wednesday, August 9, 2017

E. T. Nuss's 1931 Football Team

The Clay County News issue of August 17, 1967 related this story about Sutton baker E. T. Nuss's semi-pro football team in Sutton in 1931.  

E. T.'s bakery was the noon-time destination for many of us who parlayed our lunch money into a kuchen in lieu of the school's offering in the auditorium. 

The fifty-year-old newspaper photo from 36 years prior is sketchy, but you get the idea. 

E. T. Nuss's 1931 Football Team

From Page Five of The Clay County News on August 17, 1967

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sutton Register Shopper Summer 1942

The Sutton Register newspaper had a shoppers' insert in their weekly newspaper. We've captured several weeks of this two-page advert that identifies a number of Sutton businesses in 1942 and tells us what they were hawking that summer.

From the June 2, 1942 Sutton Register newspaper.

Monday, July 31, 2017

We Don't Want No Stinkin', Rottin' Food

About a year ago, our monthly article was about Sutton’s pioneer Bemis family. We retold a story that Mrs. Bemis, the former Ada Gray had told on her husband, attorney George Bemis, a story that shows up in early Sutton accounts.

It was early in that first spring when only a few dozen people had found and settled in Sutton. George had bought a cow and that evening much of the community gathered to observe the milking of what may have been the town’s first milk cow.

The next morning George was sitting at the table after breakfast when Ada asked him if he was going to milk the cow. His response was, “Why? Are you out of milk already?”

Ada may have told Sutton’s first joke, at least its first lawyer joke. But the story triggers a more serious thought about those early days. How did Ada take care of that fresh milk to keep it from spoiling at a time before refrigeration? How did people store and protect their perishable foods generally?

The food preservation problem goes back a long way, to ancient times when people discovered that salt helped to keep food edible preventing bad tummy aches. Mark Kurlansky published a book in 2002 he called simply, “Salt – A World History” describing how much of the world’s history was driven by the search for sources of that edible and useful rock.

The Romans had numerous sources but when they settled in Britain, they found salt mines all over that island. Town names ending in “-wich” are, in almost every case, a town with a salt mine in its history.
This icebox from the 1920's illustrates one style with the block of
ice in the left compartment. Our icebox from the '40's had a bottom
compartment for the ice. 
Way before that, the city of Jericho in the West Bank of Palestinian Territories was founded almost 10,000 years ago as a salt trading center. And a more recent fun fact is that the early village of Lancaster where its 30 residents were engaged in gathering salt from the marshes along Salt Creek was designated as the state capitol and renamed “Lincoln” partially on the expectation that salt mining would be the basis of a local booming economy.

The lure of spices from the east contributed to the Columbus adventure in 1492 having a certain and large impact on history.

Salt helped preserve food by absorbing water from the food making an environment too dry for mold or bacteria to develop. Spices such as vinegar, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, etc. keep food fresh by inhibiting the growth of bacteria, though cynics may say that it makes food taste so bad you don’t notice it’s rotten.

Before the Bemis family came to Sutton, people wise to the ways of preserving food roamed the area. Native Americans had pemmican. You may have had the misfortune of stumbling upon online videos advertising a book called “The Lost Ways”. The book supposedly describes 150 lost ways to live in the woods. The impetus behind the book is the survivalist movement and you’ll need to wade through the politics on this one.
Native Americans made, and lived on pemmican; mountain men and settlers copied the recipe and today,
today it belongs to campers and survivalists. 
The pemmican video describes how to make the product by drying lean meat and berries in a low-heat oven, grinding the meat and berries into a powder, and then mixing that concoction with melted beef tallow or fat. The result is a supposed to be a high-energy, tasty, and long-lasting food. Ten pounds of the stuff will sustain you for a month in the woods, etc.

The mountain men and early settlers learned about pemmican from the Indians and adapted that and many similar Native American food and food preservations secrets.

The problem of keeping food safe was widespread, far beyond that of the Bemis family and their neighbors in those early Sutton years.

Those people moving west in wagon trains had to know how to keep food fresh. Sailors needed to bring along food and water for their entire trip, plus a safety margin. Have you ever had hardtack and grog?

Generals understood well that an army moves on its stomach, that is, no amount of the latest in armaments will do any good if the general can’t keep the men fed and healthy.

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte gets credit for one of the major breakthroughs in food
Napoleon had a hand in the invention of the
canning process when he held a contest to find
a way to keep food safe for the troops. 
preservation that the settlers used and we depend on today. Military officers knew that tainted food was a huge risk to their army. A soldier in his tent doubled up with a bad stomach ache is as useless to the general that day as the comrade who was shot in the head yesterday.

Napoleon offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs in the late 18th century to anyone who could develop a reliable method of food preservation. Nicholas Appert came up with the idea of preserving food in bottles, like wine. After 15 years of experimenting, he figured out that if food was heated enough and sealed in an airtight container, it would not spoil, and the process of canning was invented. We don’t know what he did with the prize money.

Canning food was a simple process that anyone could do at home providing safe food for long periods of time.

But back to Ada Bemis. What did she do in 1871 to keep the milk safe? The tried and true approach at that time was to keep the milk in a cool place, usually in cool water. School Creek was handy. Maybe that’s where she kept the milk.

Entrepreneurs on the frontier stepped up to offer ice through much of the year. Sutton’s ice man was I. N. Clark followed by his son, Bertie. Their source was the winter ice in Glen Lake, now called Clark’s Pond. They would cut blocks of ice out of the lake in the winter storing the ice in their ice house. The elder Clark put up 5,000 tons of ice each winter in the early 1890’s. Ice houses were usually dug a few feet deep into the ground and a solid roof built overhead. Ice was layered with straw, a good insulator, and would keep through most of the summer.

Several farmers in the northeast corner of the county built their own ice house, or ice cave stocking it with ice from the Blue River during the winter and sharing the ice in the summer.

Even the nobility had food storage issues. This
partially sunk ice house is in the Boboli Gardens
behind the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy, home of
the ruling Medici family from about 1550.
Ice storage was a world-wide problem. The “coolest” instance I found was the ice house in the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy, behind the Pitti Palace. That palazzo was the Medici home from the mid-16th century and, of course, was used by Napoleon for a time.

Several years ago, we found a newspaper clipping about a fellow near Glenvil who had a large ice business on the banks of the Little Blue River. His storage facility was a way up the bank of the river with an elaborate pulley system to transport the blocks of ice up the hill.

Later, now within my memory, the Sutton Mill just west of downtown on the north side of the Burlington tracks had an ice business. This was during the years before electricity came to the farm and the “icebox” was the answer to cold storage. The icebox was an insulated cupboard, looking much like a refrigerator, but with a section to hold a large block of ice. There was a pan to collect the melted water that you wanted to empty often. My memory is that the blocks of ice we purchased from the mill were about 1 foot cubes, the last purchase in town before heading home.

Another handy cool place was a well. Foodstuffs could be lowered on a rope into the bottom of the well where the temperatures would be considerable cooler than above ground and food would keep for several days.

One farm wife’s story at the State Historical Society’s website describes using tanks in the farm’s milk house to keep milk cool. The water in the tanks needed to be changed daily, or more often, but it worked.

Root cellars were, and still are, another structure dug into the ground, roofed over and stocked with potatoes, turnips, carrots, etc. all layered with straw. Straw layers hold trapped air which makes a good heat insulator protecting cool food from the heat.

When electricity service came to the house, the refrigerator was high up on the wish list of new appliances. It’s hard to overestimate the impact the refrigerator had on the quality of life after literally thousands of years of making do with barely adequate ways to keep food fresh and safe.
Meals Ready to Eat (MRE), modern C-Rations, may be the current high-water mark for technology to preserve and store
food. Military needs come in large sizes and DoD has the resources to make things happen.
The technology and the methods to keep food safe continue to develop. And as often happens, the military has the biggest need and the largest incentive to address it. My last active duty assignment was at the Defense Logistic Agency’s depot in northern California. That facility was tasked with producing Meals Ready to Eat for use by the army and marines and for long-term storage. A relatively small workforce produced millions of these food packs incorporating the food processing and preservation techniques developed over time.

And finally, there is a question that bothered me a lot recently. We typically store about 10 dozen eggs for the historical society’s pancake breakfast on the first Saturday of the month and the Allegro Wolf’s third Saturday waffle breakfast.

We were keeping the eggs in the refrigerator when I remembered that back on the farm in the 50’s we collected about 30 dozen eggs at a time before taking them to town and we certainly did not refrigerate them – we never had that kind of capacity.

After inconclusive discussions, I consulted the ultimate authority, the internet. In part of the world, the U. S., Japan, Australia and Scandinavia, we prefer clean, even pristine eggs so we wash our eggs. Washing removes a natural protective film the chicken puts on the egg. That coating resists bacteria, salmonella and the like. So, without that coating, we need to refrigerate our eggs.

In the rest of the world, most of Europe, Asia, Africa, etc. the egg production and delivery system does not wash the eggs so with the protective film intact, there is no need to refrigerate the eggs. Apparently, those people are less squeamish about buying eggs with chicken poop stains.
After some time with a nagging question about the proper way to store eggs, a bit of research came up with not one
preferred way, but two completely different answers, both equally valid. Case closed.
Both systems work equally well in keeping eggs safe for consumption. The rule is that the system must be consistent and a supporting array of regulations ensures that.

Since you have lasted through this entire article, I commend you. This is another example of our attempt to learn some details about how people have lived in Sutton’s past. If there is some aspect of the past that interests you, let us know as eight years of this series eaten up almost 100 topics. Coming up with another topic each month gets increasingly difficult.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

1967 Dedication of the French Historic Marker in City Park

The Luther French Historical Marker was dedicated in 1967 and until a few months ago, was the only marker in Sutton's City Park. A new marker is now at the other end of the pavilion recognizing that Sutton was the first Germans from Russia settlement in Nebraska. 

This photo was donated to the Historical Society by the Sheridan family from the material saved by Betty Sheridan.

With the help of the accompanying article, we can take a better run at identifying these seven folks. Our original photo
failed to identify the woman on the left, listed the next fellow as "Rev", Earl Vauck is third and Annetta Trautman completes the left group. The first fellow on the right was identified as a French relative plus Robert French and Paul Bender.

Our reading of the article suggests the woman on the left is the French granddaughter, Mrs. Charles Burns of Sutton. The "Rev" is very likely Rev. Norman L. Jones of Hope Reformed Church who gave the invocation. Bert French of Sheridan, Wyoming is the grandson not identified in our original.

So the seven shown here are Mrs. Charles Burns, Rev. Norman L. Jones, Earl Vauck, Annetta Trautman and Bert French, Robert French and Paul Bender.

This clipping describes the dedication in Sutton's City Park in 1967.

And the text of this marker is:

Our Library of Local and Area History

We are fortunate to have a robust library of books and other publications that tell the story of Sutton, Clay County, South Central Nebraska and state and the Great Plains.

The two important publications that pertain to Sutton history are the Sheridan sisters’ book “Along the County line" and Jim Griess’s book about the Germans from Russia. Each does a great job of telling parts of Sutton’s story.

The Sheridan’s told us about Sutton and the farm lands to the southeast into Fillmore County. Jim Griess focused on the story of our major demographic group, working in the early history of our town and tracing the family histories of the Germans from Russia back to Russia and to struggles of the unification of Germany.

And there are many other publications that help to tell the story of our past. We’re going to dash through many of those now.

When we reached the end of the first century of settlement in this area our county communities marked the occasion with the publication of centennial books. Nearly every town in Clay County publish their own Centennial book: Edgar and Fairfield in 1972; Harvard in 1973; Clay Center, 1979; Deweese and Ong in 1986; even Eldorado, 1988 and Spring Ranch in 1990. Missing from that list is Sutton.

Sutton was the first county town to reach 100 years of settlement and perhaps it didn’t enter anyone’s mind at the time to tell that 100-year story. Harvard almost missed out too. Their centennial book is called “Harvard, Nebraska 100 Years + 2” perhaps my favorite title for a book, any book. We might assume that Edgar and Fairfield’s 1972 publications may have triggered the Harvard’s folks.

Don Russell made a good attempt to correct that situation when he was publisher of The Clay County News with his book, “Sutton Nebraska – 125 Years – A Pictorial History”. While his format did not follow that of the earlier county centennial books, he did provide us with almost 100 pages of valuable photos of those first 125 years of Sutton.

A very early short publication about the county was The Centennial Sketch of Clay County, Nebraska published in 1876. That centennial was that of the nation and a county historical committee compiled four, two-column pages packed with the story of the first five years of Clay County. We’ve posted the sketch on our blog at

County Agent George Woosley and the Extension Service produced “The Story of Clay County” in 1969, a 70-page soft-cover for a buck and a quarter. It has sections for each community and a several of the county’s stories.

We start to move beyond the boundaries of Clay County with the large two-volume (almost 1500 pages) “History of Hamilton and Clay Counties” from 1921. Volume 1 has a section for each town in each county plus sections on a variety of subjects. Volume II has more than 400 biographies of citizens.

“The Fillmore County Story” is substantial. It’s a hardback of almost 400 large-format pages with 15-20 pages for each township. Schools, homesteads, early businesses and settlers get thorough coverage in this book, edited by Wilbur G. Gaffney and published by the Geneva Community Grange in 1968.

Clay and Fillmore Counties share “Mother Wanted a Son” by Alida Curtiss which we’ve written about before: Though it is a novel it is based closely on the life if Nellie Stevens who with the author operated a millinery shop in Sutton for several years.

The York County chronicler was Marie Kramer with at least three books, “Grandchildren of the Pioneers”, Volumes 1 and 2 and “Homestead Fever”. These contain one to three page stories from a widespread, multi-state footprint. One of local interest is an account of a Geneva area farm family by Homer Brauning. His father enticed a brother to stay on the farm by buying him a tractor. He borrowed money from the banker in Grafton to buy a John Deere for $825, a huge investment at the time. Then they drove it home from Sutton on steel wheels, installing lugs when they got it to the yards. So, Bender’s sold them a Johnny Popper.

”Old Settlers’ History of York County, Nebraska” has similar early stories (some duplicates of Ms. Kramer) including a bit more information about the Wellman family who started Sutton’s first newspaper – they were in the York newspaper business too.

A local-interest book sometimes turns out to be “something else”. Dr. John Janovy, a University of Nebraska professor and parasitologist wrote “Keith County Journal” about the birds, snails, people and other critters in one

Many of these books are in local libraries. I think the Clay Center Library has all the town centennial books. The Sutton Museum has some of them (when they aren’t on my desk serving nobly.)

The “Images of America” series has a pictorial book about Hastings – there may be hundreds in this series. Another Hastings book is “The 1931 Hastings Bank Job” by Monte McCord and published by The History Press.

Another History Press book (again, there are many) is Melissa Marsh’s “Nebraska POW Camps”.  I picked up those, and many others at Prairie Books & Gifts on 2nd Street in Hastings.

We should be permitted to claim an expanded list of “local and area” topics to include the discovery, exploration and settlement of the West. The Oregon Trail cut through the southwest corner of the county and provides us with numerous titles.

“The First Girl in the West” is an autobiography of Eliza Spalding Warren, whose family was with the first covered wagon trek in 1836. Catherine Sager’s story is “Across the Plains in 1844”. “Diary and Journals” by Narcissa Whitman is another 1836 story of the long trip to Oregon. These and many other accounts, usually from journals and diaries of women and girls, describe the details of that trip through our area 180 years ago.

Men seldom left us such contemporary accounts. They were busy keeping oxen, mules, horses and cattle alive and moving west along trails through open country. The women tell us the story.

The series of at least 11 books, “Covered Wagon Women” contain the diaries and letters from women who recorded the day-to-day events along the trails for the several months it took to get from the Missouri River to Oregon or California.

Nearly all the books mentioned here and many more are available on,, often for as little as 99 cents. Often hard to pass up.

Consider that essentially every traveler along the Oregon Trail was making the trip for their first, and only time. Almost none had any experience to draw on. The trip often turned into a series of mistakes and blunders threatening to end in failure, sometimes spectacularly. Historians estimate that there was a grave an average of every 200 feet along the Oregon Trail. That is the material for storytelling filling many books.

Mari Sandoz and Willa Cather are Nebraska treasures who illustrate that the story of the west can be told equally well with fiction as well as non-fiction. Mari Sandoz’ wrote “Old Jules” about her father and every bit as much about the Sand Hills. Willa Cather’s classic novels were realistically placed around the town of Red Cloud – many of the buildings and features in the books are readily identifiable today. The dedication of the National Willa Cather Center will occur between the time I write this and when it is published.

Must mention one more Nebraska woman, Louise Pound, longtime English professor at the University of Nebraska but who mingled widely putting a Nebraska face on several intellectual organizations and endeavors. Her book, “Nebraska Folklore” is typical. She was president of the American Folklore Society at one time.

So, it should be clear that there are dozens or hundreds of books that tell the story of Sutton, Clay County, southcentral Nebraska and the surrounding area. I’ve not touched upon the several topics including Native Americans and other 19th Century topics.

These books are valuable for their content. But many years ago, I acquired a set of books covering these topics from one of those Time-Life “deals”, books of interest for more than content. The Classics of the Old West series has decorated my bookshelves in three homes.

These books are leather-bound and were printed with the plates from the original editions. They are almost works of art.

There are recognizable titles, “Roughing It” by Mark Twain, “A Tour of the Prairies” by Washington Irving and William Cody’s “The Life of Buffalo Bill”. But the real treasures are the much more obscure books by early westerners.

Those include “My Sixty Years on the Plains” by William Hamilton, an early trapper. The book was published in 1905 with eight full-page illustrations by Charles Russell whose Great Falls studio was along our drive downtown circa 1970. Captain Hobbs wrote “Wild Life in the Far West” describing his times in Colorado and elsewhere about the west. He seems to have known a lot of folks: Kit Carson, Zachary Taylor, Maximillian and many more.

“Captivity of the Oatman Girls” by Royal Stratton tells of the capture of two girls by the Apaches. Another book is “Live Among the Apaches” by Major John Cremony who had no love for that tribe, but admired their skill at warfare against the U.S. Army.

“The Adventures of Big-Foot Wallace” by John Duval is about a traveling man and frontier yarn-spinner who spent most of his time in Texas.

There are 24 of these books. The appeal is in the production of the books with the leather covers and their preservation of the design of early books. The black and white illustrations are effective but there is merit in the way the table of contents is detailed titles for chapters and sections that enable one to find a vaguely remembered reference months and years later.

This series was a companion to another Time-Life offering called “The Old West”, a large-format series of 26 books, lavishly illustrated and available in some of our libraries. My set has moved on to grandsons. Much of that series is available at amazon searching for “old west time life books”. The whole series is $135.79; individual books from a couple of bucks to 5-ish.

We’ve been writing articles generally about Sutton history and related topics for eight years and have often drawn on books in the library, at the museum or on the shelves at home. We can’t overstate the extent of the material available to satisfy curiosity about what has come before, here in Sutton, and in the surrounding area. If you have an interest in our history, there are plenty of opportunities to oblige that interest.

This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Mustang Media for information about the publication:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Epp Department Store in Lushton - 1917 ad

Our neighboring towns were once were thriving communities: Saronville, Verona, Eldorado and even Lushton:

1917 Newspaper Ad for the Jacob Epp & Son Department Store in Lushton.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Class of 1942's 50-year Reunion

This photo appeared in The Clay County News after the alumni banquet in 1992

This was the 50th reunion for the Class of 1942.

1917 - 4th of July Contributing Businesses

We have here a list of businesses who contributed to Sutton's 1917 4th of July Celebration - at least a partial list of the businesses 100 years ago.

Monday, June 19, 2017

1917 auto headlight frenzy to comply with state law.

A 1917 ad in The Sutton News offered headlights to comply with a new Nebraska law restricting auto headlights to casting light no higher than 42 inches above the ground. Several companies hit the market with new lenses.

Turn Your Ford into a Tractor - 1917

This ad appeared in The Sutton News in 1917. Had not seen any previous reference to the "Sutton Pullford Co." nor do I remember anything about slapping tractor tires on a car to act like it is a tractor. I suspect neither the product or the company had a long life.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

1922 Sutton Basketball Team - World-Herald article in 1967

The 1922 Sutton High Class A State Basketball Champs received coverage in a World-Herald article by Conde Sargent in 1967.

Our earlier post about this team is at   Sutton's Top All-Time Sports Story

You Should Tell Your Story

You really should write down your story.

We’ve told the story of two of Sutton’s expats in the past two articles. Both of those men did things that were written about in newspapers, magazines and Wikipedia. They were somewhat famous people, but even the not so famous live lives worth remembering.

The population of Sutton has fluctuated around 1,500 for most of its existence. So, how many people would that be – it must be at least six to ten thousand. And each lived a life filled with stories. And that includes you.

The Germans from Russia organization several years ago urged members to write down the immigration stories of their parents, grandparents and other family members. We have a few of those in our museum. Completing these projects are time-critical, even urgent as only a few people know the stories and the stories will disappear as people do.

Sutton pioneer John Maltby kept a diary including during his voyage from Boston to the Australian gold fields, traveling rivers in India and pioneering in Nebraska. The diary is among 13 boxes of his materials at the state historical society. Browsing Maltby’s diary gave me a pleasant afternoon a few years ago.

Or someone’s story can be much more benign.

My father, Clarence Johnson, began his journal at the start of 1935. I resolved
many disagreements, misunderstandings and conflicting memories.
My father began keeping a journal on January 1, 1935 and wrote in it typically on Sundays. It settled
 many discussions around the supper table. If my parents disagreed about when or if something happened Dad would announce, “It’s in the book”, go to the appropriate volume and return either triumphant or quietly to confirm Mom remembered better. About 50-50.

It’s kind of cool to read what your dad wrote the day you were born.

Are you afraid you don’t have anything interesting to say? So what? Your grandparents had their toddler days, likely school days, they met and courted, fell in love and were married, made a life for themselves, made a living, raised kids and grew old. You knew them late in life. Do you have any curiosity about how they lived their earlier lives? Doesn’t it stand to reason that your grandkids and other younger people will have that same curiosity about all those things you did?

If you haven’t written down your own story, consider doing it. Really consider doing it.

So, what do you say and how do you say it?

Well, you can start at the beginning. I’ll illustrate.

I was born on June 23, 1943 to Mildred (Cassell) and Clarence Johnson.

OK, a start. Do I know anything else about that day?

“I was born in the midst of World War II when many common items were rationed. Every person had a ration book that allowed purchase of sugar, flour, coffee, meat, gasoline, tires, etc. I was born at 4:45 am at the Hastings hospital. My Dad drove back to Sutton later that day, stopping in Clay Center to pick up the new ration book that I was now entitled to, a book of stamps authorizing my parents to buy more items than they could the day before.”

You likely have lots of family pictures, perhaps labled
but maybe not. A little effort on your part to label and
preserve photos will earn the appreciation of your
offspring, and can add a chuckle to your day.
Isn’t that a story worth preserving? It’s personal, but it does provide a bit of background. You certainly have similar stories.

You’ll want to mention your grandparents and other relatives. You don’t have to go an entire genealogy thing; that’s another project. But you should record what you know about those people.

For instance:

My grandfather David Cassell died two years before I was born. My mother told me that on Sunday morning he would shave, take a bath and smoke a cigar, and that was the only occasion he did any of those three things.

We only have a few pictures of the man and that little piece of information is what I think of when I see those pictures.

My other grandfather died when I was six. My most vivid memory of him was the day he ran over my toy truck I’d left in the driveway. I didn’t learn the meaning of “distraught” until years later, but when I did, I knew that’s how Fred Johnson felt that day. (He got me a new truck.)

Your story will be better focused and easier to write if you identify your audience first. You will be one member of that audience yourself. Memories are fragile. Once you start recalling little details, more will come back, but not always.

I kept a good journal and took a lot of pictures on a lengthy trip to Europe 14 years ago. Using that journal and the pictures as a reminder, I can reconstruct many of those days, a thing I know would not happen without those clues.

Your relatives are a part of your story, don't leave
them out. This is my uncle Mike Cassell who
worked in the Sutton Lumber Yard for... ever.
But you should share your story. I write for my grandkids. They don’t know it, and I don’t require them to care. But aiming at them provides my focus.

Your story will likely include your school days. I attended country school from K-5th grade. That is a memory that a diminishing population has. Our Wolfe School museum is the ultimate show-and-tell for that purpose, but our personal memories fill out that story. Again, for instance:

Our country school had a storm cellar dug into a hillside on the school grounds. It was intended as a safe place for pupils in case of a tornado. The cellar was crawling with snakes. The young teacher had asked the school board (including my father) to clear it but it wasn’t happening. One spring afternoon she cancelled classes and led a bunch of boys, and girls, in a snake-slaughtering episode, ending with 42 (as I recall) snakes stretched out on the driveway. K-8 kids don’t do much of that anymore.

That story seems worth saving.

My contemporaries on the farm grew up while farming was in transition (isn’t it always?). We saw the last of stacking hay, shelling corn, threshing and other tasks soon to be altered, automated or obsolete.

My most painful memory of growing up on the farm was fixing fence. No matter how many tasks you worked to completion, there was always fence to fix. It was infuriating to move back to Nebraska 12 years ago and see large herds of cattle confined by a strand of horsehair-sized electrified wire. I spent my youth repairing and rebuilding “miles” of four-strand barbed wire stapled to closely-spaced buried creosote posts, railroad tie corner posts and carefully designed gates. Where is the justice?

Your story, the story of your life is worth remembering and saving for others. Think of the tales we tell at family reunions, to friends over dinner or at the bar, in letters…  Scratch that, we don’t write letters anymore. Emails, tweets and texts are not conducive for what I’m talking about. All the more reason…
My grandparents took this family photo in the fall of 1911 - yes, the horses were important family members for early farmers.
My grandparents raised at least seven of their nine children in this house on the west side of Section 3 in Logan Township,
until recently occupied by Jim and Virginia Moore until it was badly damaged in a fire. I claim that my mother is in this
photo as that is my grandmother just to the right of the four-horse team and she would give birth to her ninth child, my mother
in May 1912.

You may have left Sutton for a time, for college, a job, even a vacation when you had experiences worth remembering and telling about. Or you left home for another reason.

There is sensation I experience when I’m outside in that hour before dawn on a cool morning with no wind and birds singing. A memory sweeps in and I’m standing at attention in the breakfast line outside a chow hall at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. It’s 5:00 am, the birds are singing, no one speaks (absolutely no one speaks!) as we take repeated single steps into the chow hall. I was only in basic training for five weeks but that scene in imbedded and recalled when I find myself outside, before dawn on a still day with birds singing.

Do you have anything like that, a thing that triggers a memory? A song or a smell or an object may do that for you. Tell that story and allow people to see that part of you.

When you tell your story, a lot of it will be centered on your family. Tell your kids and grandkids about meeting your spouse, what was it that led to your marriage, how you lived as a new family, how the kids changed that, and the grandkids. Let your family take center stage for their portion of your life. You will trigger their own deep memories.

You should be willing to bare a bit of yourself. Brag about your successes; own up to your failures. What are you most proud of; what do you wish you’d done differently; what advice to you have for your reader (again, grandkids make a good target audience).

I’ve focused on the “writing” of a memoir here. There are alternatives. Make a video or at least an audio recording. Your computer likely has a camera (or you can plug one in). Sit back and tell your story. Choose a comfortable pattern. Fifteen or 20 minute segments on one or two subject at each setting isn’t a strain.

Technology allows you to put preserve your files several ways. You could share your memories via email or on at a common location (Google Docs). Lots of ways.

Many years ago, I sent each of my cousins a two-hour VHS tape (that’s how long ago) where I’d described my version of our genealogy story as I had it at the time. Should update that – the information and the format.

We very often hear people say that they wish they’d asked their grandparents more questions before it was too late. The onus may not have been on you to ask questions, but on grandma to offer the answers unprompted.

If so, then the onus is on you to offer the answers about your life before your grandkids know they have questions. And furthermore, how are they going to know what a cool character you were if you don't tell them.

Did my great-grandfather understand that? James Demetris Rowlison kept a journal while with the 82nd Indiana Infantry throughout the Civil War. We have six months of that journal.

My great, grandfather's civil war journal is now reaching his sixth generation of grateful descendants. 

Herbert Johnson - Sutton's Cartoonist

Renown cartoonist Herbert Johnson

was born in Sutton on October, 30, 1878 

Herbert Johnson (1878-1946)

It is trite to say the amount of information on the internet has ballooned. It is more accurate to say it is still ballooning.

The people at youtube claim that the amount of new videos uploaded is approaching 500 hours every minute. If you are disappointed that you might be missing some good videos, chill out. You can’t keep up.

Government agencies continue to make their archives available online. Genealogists really appreciate that.

Clubs, associations and just about any organization is creating or expanding their online presence.

Herbert Johnson's cartoons usually featured his depiction of the "Common People". 
If you did some research just a few months ago, you may want to look again. We learned that last month when several articles about Sutton’s Walter Wellman showed up that we had not seen before. An obscure magazine posted three articles Wellman had written about his exploration giving us in Sutton a much better picture of the life of that Sutton native.

It’s happened again. We had earlier learned a little bit about Herbert Johnson. We knew he came from Sutton, was a cartoonist for student publications at the University and later drew numerous political cartoons during the 1930’s. We even have a book with 90 of those cartoons. He drew more cartoons for the covers of Saturday Evening Post and Country Gentleman magazines.

But we knew nothing about most of his life. Until now.

Among the items that we found about Herbert Johnson was an issue of “The Scroll”, a publication of the Phi Delta Theta international social fraternity. The publication had asked our fellow to write a sketch of his life. This account was written about 1914 covering his early life, before notoriety may have dimmed this portion of his life. We’ll take advantage of it here.

Our hero was a rather distinguished looking fellow.
Herbert Raymond Johnson was born in Sutton on October 30, 1878. The family appears in the 1880 census where J. W. Johnson, age 29 identified himself as a broker, we can guess real estate. Herbert’s mother was Mary A. (nee Bagley) and he had an older brother Joseph W. age 3. We learn later that Joseph was also his father’s name. A seventeen-year old brother of Joseph was living with them.

In his sketch, Herbert Johnson quotes William Allen White when he said he enjoyed “the inestimable privilege” of being born in a small town.

We get a taste of man from the boy:

I have always been temperamentally opposed to the tyranny of vested interests, and at the ripe age of nine, feeling that my personal liberties were being unduly curtailed by the stand-pat policies of the family government adhered to by my parents, I insurged, and ran away from home, hitting the trail for the Black Hills.
He returned after a few days “to submit to the domestic steam roller.”

The family moved to Lincoln when Herbert was 13. He attended public schools for two years and then got a job as a clerk and bookkeeper in a general store in western Nebraska.

Another two years later he was on vacation in Denver when he visited the office of Mr. Wilmarth, the cartoonist for the Denver Republican. He did a few sketches and was offered to job as assistant for $20 per week.

He had never had any formal art training but had always been able to draw pictures “better than anything else except ride horse.”

He went to the Kansas City Journal where he was in charge of the art and engraving departments. An article at the time identified him as the youngest art manager in the country.

In 1899 Hebert Johnson returned to Lincoln and the University where he earned his way managing a college weekly. This piece of information surfaced some time ago on one of the University websites. And, of course he still neglected to take any art classes.

He was back living with his family in the 1900 census with three younger brothers, all would have been born in Sutton. Herbert listed his occupation as “cartoonist”.

His health failed so he went to California to work in the Yosemite Valley shoveling snow off trails, cutting timber, fixing roads and general labor.

In 1901 he wandered into Tucson where he became circulation manager for the Arizona Daily Citizen, screwed up and was fired. However, the only reporter on the paper quit and he was hired to take that job.

Herbert Johnson drew covers for the Saturday Evening
Post and Country Gentleman magazines, among others.
He then went to New York City and submitted five drawings to Life Magazine, one was accepted for $45 but little more came of that experience. Then onto Philadelphia where his career took off. He was in charge of the Sunday art department of the North American newspaper and became their regular cartoonist in 1908.

At this point in his life at age 29 he was drawing cartoons and illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post, Country Gentleman, Life, Colliers, LaFollette’s, etc.

He had finally arrived.

By 1910 he was married to Helen Letitia Fowler Turner and they had an infant daughter named Heberta.

His father Joseph Johnson worked for the State of Nebraska as Railway Commissioner and as Food Commissioner.

The 1920 census found the family in Philadelphia where Herbert listed his occupation as cartoonist. Herberta was ten and had an eight-year old sister Katherine. The household included Herbert’s widowed mother-in-law and a 31-year old servant, who was identified in the practice of the time as “Mu”, mulatto.

Herbert’s political cartoons during the 1920’s were in solid support of the Republican Party and the administrations of Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

The Johnson family met the 1930 census enumerator out in the northeast suburbs of Philadelphia in Montgomery County where Herbert valued his home at $100,000. Not bad in 1930. Though his 1940 census estimate of the home value is a tad more. It definitely is some number of millions, the first digit is blurred. The transcriber interpreted a value of $9,000,000.
This article appeared in The Sutton Register on June 29, 1939, part of an exchange between John Heinz in Sutton and
Herbert Johnson. He did remember his early (before age 13) years in Sutton including the "Blue Clay" swimming hole.

The election of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal policies of the Democratic Party predictably led Johnson to a new style of cartooning with a new harshness and edge. He did not like Roosevelt. He did not like anything about the New Deal. His opposition crossed the line into quixotic.

Our collection of 90 cartoons from this era came to us from a grandson of Mr. Johnson in Berks County, Pennsylvania. His wife had seen a post on our blog several years ago. In it we mentioned that the book of cartoons was listed on amazon but was out of print. We received an email offering us one of the volumes, we took it…
This early 1936 cartoon reflects Johnson's hope that Republican voters would
return to his party to defeat President Roosevelt and the New Deal.
Didn't happen.

We more recently received an enticing offer from a dealer in memorabilia. He had a book of 384 original cartoons by Herbert Johnson. His photos of the book indicated it was a scrapbook with four cartoons pasted onto each page. We asked for more information and learned that his asking price was $25,000. It was not that enticing.

We passed.

Herbert Raymond Johnson died on October 13, 1946 after 53 days in the Abington Memorial Hospital in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania as he neared his 68th birthday.

This is another in our series of research efforts and articles about natives of Sutton who have left this area and achieved fame elsewhere. We’ve seen here that Herbert Johnson did not forget where he was born and raised and that he enjoyed “the inestimable privilege” of being born in a small town. We need to return the favor and remember him with a certain level of pride that he was once a part of our town.

Herbert Johnson at the easel in his studio, likely in his Montgomery County home outside of Philadelphia.