By Lyn Fenwick Macksville author and columnist
When we received the message from David Werner explaining that he and his wife were hoping to drive from Wernersville, Pennsylvania to South Central Kansas to visit Isaac Werner’s grave and see the Journal, and anything else of interest with Isaac, I was happyâ¦ then worried. The two things he mentioned were certainly available, but what else was there to show them? Almost all of the structures from Isaac’s time are gone, and even the land claimed by Isaac has changed. What is there to see?
It turned out there was a lot to see, and this column isn’t just about our visit to Isaac’s cousins, but is really about the things around us that we no longer pay attention to – that we fail to share with our children and grandchildren. . Although the things available to share are not exactly as they were when our ancestors lived, there are still things to see and stories to share.
I walked them through the quiet country cemetery, showing them the graves of Isaac’s friends, many of whom are mentioned in Prairie Bachelor, and drew their attention to the number of settlers whose stones displayed their military service during civil war. The many stones of infants and young children were particularly moving.
We walked around the logging concession and Isaac’s farm, although both have been altered by cultivation for over a century. On the second day, we returned, first to say goodbye to Isaac, then to tour his community. As we drove through the community, I read brief excerpts from Prairie Bachelor, related to the particular places we stopped, such as the lot where Isaac stayed with neighbors in his final days, the locations of the post offices of the country, the location of the house of the young man who visited Isaac every day until Isaac could no longer stay at home – sharing at each break details related to each of his neighbors in one way or another. ‘another one. They couldn’t believe how much he traveled around his community for tours, jobs, and other reasons.
They discovered their own surprises – how sandy the ground was, how pretty the wildflowers were, how many animals they saw on the country roads, how the poplars had looked like a snowfall had covered bark, and because of the blackened trees from a recent fire in our community that burned several acres, how frightening prairie fires must have been in Isaac’s day.
We visited the Lucille Hall Museum in St. John and the County Museum in Stafford, which Michael Hathaway generously interrupted his weekend to share with us. It was a treat to both see where Isaac’s Journal was found and to see the newspapers in the “County Capital” where I did much of my research for Prairie Bachelor.
Although I had feared there was too little to show them, there was never. Of course, I wrote this article to share their visit with you, but I hope it can encourage you to consider your own family tour, whether to see sites specifically relevant to your family or simply to explore the community that we sometimes take for granted.
There is a certain joy we all feel when we connect with roots from the past. I had covered the dining room table with examples of my research, and added to the exhibit an incredible collection of research compiled by Cynthia McClanahan Cruz, tracing the direct descendants of Henry and Magdalena Meyer Werner (Isaac’s grandparents), a genealogy that stretched back to the generation that connected all the guests to each other. Among those items placed on the table to be explored was Isaac’s Journal.
Without Isaac Werner’s daily entries in this oversized 480-page diary, my own book, Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement, would never have seen the light of day. Many of you who had never heard of the populist movement in which Kansas and other states played such an important role might never have heard of it, its influence today and the roots populism and progressivism. For many readers of the book, they now understand the challenges their own ancestors faced during this time. Today, Kansas is sometimes referred to as the âflyover state,â but those who know its full history know best!