Sunday, April 22, 2012

George Washington Carver Visits Beatrice

George Washington Carver is coming to Beatrice!  How, you ask, is that possible since the man died in 1943? Carver is one of six prominent historical figures who will be portrayed by scholars as part of the “Free Land” Chautauqua coming to Beatrice May 20-25.  He is best known as an agricultural chemist whose development of products derived from peanuts revolutionized the South’s agricultural economy. Paxton Williams, former executive director of the George Washington Carver Birthplace Association in Diamond, Missouri, will portray the noted inventor and botanist.

The community of Beatrice and Homestead National Monument of America will host the 2012 Chautauqua in conjunction with the kick-off of a year of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Homestead Act.  Other notable American historical figures who will be portrayed during the week-long celebration include Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Standing Bear, Gen. Grenville Dodge, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

George Washington Carver was born into slavery in 1861 near Diamond Grove, Missouri.  He was the son of a slave woman owned by Moses Carver.  Since slave owners found it difficult to hold slaves in the border state of Missouri, his owner sent the young boy and his mother to Arkansas.

After the war, Moses Carver learned that all his former slaves had disappeared except for the frail, sick child known as George.  He was returned to his former master’s home and nursed back to health.  Although the Carvers told him he was no longer a slave, he stayed on the plantation until he was ten or twelve years old.

At that time, he left the plantation to acquire an education.  He supported himself by doing various jobs such as household worker, hotel cook, and farm laborer.  By his late twenties he had managed to obtain a high school education in Minneapolis, Kansas, while working as a farm hand.  He filed a homestead claim in West Central Kansas, but like many Americans who homesteaded, he was not able to “prove up” and had to relinquish the land.

After a Kansas university refused to admit him because he was black, he enrolled at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, where he studied piano and art.  He then transferred to Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames where he received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science in 1894 and a master of science in 1896.  Today the school is known as Iowa State University, the first land grant college under the Morrill Act.

Carver left Iowa for Alabama in 1896 to direct the newly organized Department of Agriculture at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, a school headed by the noted black American educator, Booker T. Washington.  Despite many offers elsewhere, Carver remained at Tuskegee for the rest of his life.

When agriculture in the South was in serious trouble because of the single crop cultivation of cotton, Carver urged Southern farmers to plant peanuts and soybeans and sweet potatoes to restore nitrogen to the soil and badly needed protein to the diets of many Southerners.        There was little demand for these new crops, so Carver set about promoting the commercial possibilities of the peanut and sweet potato.  He ultimately developed 300 derivative products from peanuts including cheese, milk, coffee, flour, ink, soap, cosmetics, and plastics; and 118 products from sweet potatoes including vinegar, molasses, rubber, and postage stamp glue.

Late in his career, Carver declined an invitation to work for Thomas A. Edison at a salary of more than $100,000 a year.  Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt visited him, and his friends included Henry Ford and Mohandas Gandhi.

In 1940 Carver donated his life savings to the establishment of the Carver Research Foundation of Tuskegee for continuing research in agriculture.  During World War II he worked to replace the textile dyes formerly imported from Europe, and in all he produced dyes of 500 different shades.

His great desire in later life was simply to serve humanity.  His work, which began for the sake of the poorest of the black sharecroppers, paved the way for a better life for the South.  His efforts brought about a significant advance in agricultural training in an era when agriculture was the largest single occupation of Americans.

Attendees at the May Chautauqua will have an opportunity to listen to Paxton Williams’ interpretation of George Washington Carver - the man who is best known for his work at Tuskegee Institute and the agricultural innovations that he formulated there. Following the 40-minute, first person presentation, audience members can ask questions of Carver, the historical figure, and then ask questions of Mr. Williams, the scholar who portrays him.

Chautauqua is made possible through funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Nebraska Cultural Endowment, Friends of Homestead National Monument of American, and the State of Nebraska.

The article was compiled and submitted by
Bette Anne Thaut, member of the
2012 Beatrice Chautauqua Committee.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Willa Cather Is Coming to Beatrice!

"There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.”  Willa Cather left her mark on the United States as a Pulitzer Prize winning writer chronicling frontier life on the Great Plains.  Living among the first generation of settlers in 1880’s Nebraska her novels such as O Pioneers!, My Antonia and The Song of the Lark captured stories of ordinary people, images and the monumental rigors of homesteading life. 

Willa Cather (1873-1947) was born in Virginia and raised on the Nebraska prairie.  As the oldest of seven children, Cather was nine when her family settled on a farm near Red Cloud, Nebraska in 1883.  At the time the population of Red Cloud was about 1,000 and Cather was one of sixteen students in the townships’ one-room schoolhouse. 
The daily arrival of eight passenger trains led hundreds of travels to stop for meals.  The town opera house was completed in 1885 and by 1889 there was a grand bank on Main Street.  There she grew up among the foreign language and customs of immigrants from Europe – Bohemian and Scandinavian - who were breaking the land on the Great Plains. 
Like many families, the Cathers found homesteading to be a difficult and unrewarding life.  They eventually gave up the endeavor before obtaining their 160 acre farm and moved into the town of Red Cloud.  There Cather worked delivering mail on horseback to many of the remote farms located outside the town.  This experience coupled with her immediate, fierce love for the prairie provided the material and a simple manner of expression for her novels.

At the age of Sixteen Cather left home to attend the land-grant college of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Initially she intended to study science but after a professor submitted one of her papers to the school newspaper, Cather began to rethink her career plans.  She began to write a column for the school newspaper and acted in a number of plays.

After graduating in 1895, Cather worked in Pittsburgh and then New York as an editor, dramatic critic and high school teacher.  By 1903 Cather began publishing verses, short stories, and eventually novels.  In 1913, Cather published O Pioneers! a novel depicting one Swedish family’s experiences Homesteading on the plains of Nebraska.  She followed with The Song of the Lark (1915) and My Antonia (1918), but depicting heroic immigrant women growing up on the vast plains of Nebraska. 

By the mid-1920s, Cather was one of America's best-loved writers. She won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours in 1923, made the cover of Time in 1931, and received the Gold Medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1944.

On Friday, May 25 join us under the big white tent at 7:30 for an evening with Willa Cather!  Learn firsthand how she was transformed by three pieces of legislations passed in 1862: The Pacific Railway Act, the Homestead Act, and the Morrill Act and how these experiences transformed and inspired her writing.  Betty Jean Steinshouer will provide a first person interpretation of Willa Cather.  After the performance, members of the audience can ask questions directed to Cather, who will respond in first person.  Later, Steinshouer will also take questions as a Cather scholar.

Willa Cather is known today as one of the most significant American novelists.  She is celebrated for her portrayal of the poignant beauty and pioneer spirit of the American frontier.  During her lifetime Cather wrote a total of twelve published novels and various other works.  Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to meet Willa Cather and experience an evening of Chautauqua under the big white tent!   
Written by Alexis Winder, committee member of the Beatrice Chautauqua:
“Free Land?  1862 and the Shaping of Modern America”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Laura Ingalls Wilder Is Coming to Beatrice!

Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of the most recognized names among American authors and especially for those who are familiar with the Little House series of books based on her childhood in a pioneer family.  What has enhanced her popularity in one’s recent memory was the highly successful television series, Little House On The Prairie, which was an adaptation of her best-selling series of Little House books. 

The Homestead Act of 1862 supported the “free soil, free labor” concept by offering opportunity to anyone willing to work the land.  Just as the Homestead Act influenced the Ingalls family, we find many in Gage County have roots connected to land that was homesteaded by their ancestors.  Much of the homesteaded land remains the property of the descendants of those original homesteaders.

The first of many moves that the Ingalls family would make was to land not yet open for homesteading in what was then Indian Territory near Independence, MO.  Within a few years, the family moved to a preemption claim in Walnut Grove, MN.  Over the winter of 1879-1880, Charles Ingalls landed a homestead near De Smet, SD, where he would spend the remainder of his life.

Laura Ingalls married Almanzo Wilder, a homesteader from South Dakota, on August 25, 1885.  In 1894, the young couple moved to Mansfield, MO, using their savings to make a down payment on a piece of undeveloped property just outside of town.  When Laura Ingalls Wilder was making her move from South Dakota to Missouri, the Gage County Courthouse was mentioned in her diary on Sunday, August 5, 1894.  The Wilder’s used their savings to purchase a piece of undeveloped property just outside of town and named their farm, Rocky Ridge Farm.  By 1910, Rocky Ridge Farm was established to the point where the Wilders focused their efforts on increasing the farm’s productivity and output.  They were advocates of farm diversification and became a diversified poultry and dairy farm, with an abundant apple orchard.  In addition, Laura Ingalls Wilder was a strong advocate for farmers as both a columnist and editor of the Missouri Ruralist and had a paid position with the Farm Loan Association, giving loans to local farmers.  Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first book Little House In The Big Woods was published in 1932.  Almanzo Wilder died in 1949, aged 92 and Laura Ingalls Wilder died on February 10, 1957, just three days after her 90th birthday.  Both died at Rocky Ridge Farm at Mansfield, MO.

A unique and spirited individual, Laura Ingalls Wilder is a wonderful example of the heart and soul of the American experience in the early 20th century.

The settling of the American West has been a source of interest for decades and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s writings have played a significant role in explaining the hardships and trials that were encountered by the early pioneers in America. 

The Beatrice Chautauqua Free Land?  1862 and the Shaping of Modern America will be hosting Laura Ingalls Wilder, portrayed by Karen Vuranch, on Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 7:15 p.m. at the Homestead National Monument. Vuranch is an instructor at Concord University in West Virginia and has participated in living-history presentations portraying 10 different characters. 

The stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s experience homesteading in the American West have continued from generation to generation and hold a place in the hearts of all those who have encountered her unique perspective and writings.  Mark your calendars today to attend the heart-warming encounter with the author of the beloved “Little House” series of books.       

Written by Janet Byars, Co-Chair of the Beatrice Chautauqua
“Free Land?  1862 and the Shaping of Modern America”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

General Grenville Dodge

Grenville Dodge is coming to Beatrice!  The U.S. Army general who led the troops during the Civil War and the Plains Indian campaigns and later became the chief engineer for the Union Pacific railroad during the construction of the transcontinental railroad, will be in Beatrice in May.

Actually Patrick McGinnis will be in Beatrice portraying the notable General Dodge as a part of the Free Land Chautauqua May 20-25.  He will be one of six famous Americans featured in the week-long event presented by the Nebraska Humanities Council in partnership with Homestead National Monument of America.

The Chautauqua coincides with the start of a year of events that Homestead Monument has planned to observe the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act which was signed into legislation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.

General Dodge settled in Iowa in 1854 and, with the possibility of an eventual transcontinental railroad route, began to scout areas in the Platte River Valley and Rocky Mountains.

Following his military service in the Civil War and in the Great Plains, Dodge led the efforts of the Union Pacific Railroad crews building from Omaha westward to the eventual meeting point with the Central Pacific Railroad at Promontory Point, Utah.

Repeatedly he proved his engineering abilities by overcoming obstacles and deciding on the ultimate location of bridges, cuts, and fills.

Dodge resigned from Union Pacific in 1869 and settled in Council Bluffs and served as a consultant for other railroad projects.  His portrayal at Chautauqua will help to interpret the rapid economic development of the West and the nation through the building of railroads.

This article was compiled and submitted by Bette Anne Thaut,
member of the 2012 Beatrice Chautauqua Committee.

Chautauqua Calendar

  • May 20: Meet the Chautauquans 11:00 am Chautauqua Park Beatrice
  • May 20: 150th Anniversary Begins 6:00 pm Homestead