Here's a bit of what you'll find in the Spring 2013 issue.
Call us toll-free at 1-800-833-6747 to become a member or to order just this issue.
Frank H. Shoemaker, Self-Made Naturalist and Photographer – Mary Ellen Ducey, Elaine Nowick, and Rebecca Bernthal
Frank Shoemaker ranks among important early Nebraskans who applied their interest in nature to learning more about the state and its environmental history. As an amateur naturalist and an expert photographer, Shoemaker focused his life’s work on investigating, observing, and recording birds, landscapes, beetles, and all types of natural flora and fauna. His work focused particularly on Nebraska landscapes in the Panhandle, the Sandhills, and in the once-rural areas of the Lincoln and Omaha metropolitan regions.
Shoemaker’s lifelong interest in the natural world resulted in a valuable legacy of resources housed at the Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries. These sources include Shoemaker’s natural history records and his personal letters, field notes, journals and narratives, and more than three thousand photographs. His letters to close friends and family, along with his carefully edited and typed field notes, illustrate his strong inquisitive nature and his sense of humor. Shoemaker’s papers and documentary evidence of the state’s environmental history complement those of his academic contemporaries, such as Erwin H. Barbour, Raymond J. Pool, and Walter Keiner, whose papers are also housed at the University Libraries. The research and scholarship in these collections record the evolution of landscapes, birds, beetles, and other natural resources extant in Nebraska during the early twentieth century.
Frank Henry Shoemaker was born on April 2, 1875, in DeWitt, Clinton County, Iowa. His parents were Samuel Henry (S. H.) and Rette F. Ferre Shoemaker. He had one sister, Jessie, seven years his senior. S.H. Shoemaker supported his family as editor of various newspapers in Iowa, first the DeWitt Observer, 1862 to 1888, the Cedar Rapids Gazette, 1888-1890, and last as editor of the Chronicle in Hampton, Franklin County, Iowa.
As a young man, Shoemaker worked for his father and consequently missed his final year in high school. He wrote: “I became convinced that it was my duty to give it up and assist in the publication of the newspaper, as my father’s health was at that time very poor. . . . I pursued my various studies during the evenings, practically covering the twelfth grade work and going farther in certain of the more practical branches.” Efforts to expand his knowledge despite a lack of formal education proved characteristic of Shoemaker’s entire life, supported by his curiosity and his interest in all things related to natural history studies.
Bird study first dominated Shoemaker’s interests and inspired him to devote much of his spare time as a young man to expanding his knowledge of species and habitats. Shoemaker collected bird nests and eggs and documented his findings and his outdoor adventures in field notes. He recorded notes on birds and their behaviors following “tramps” into the woods and fields around his home, documenting the information he discovered about Franklin County, Iowa. Early on he attended lectures of professional ornithologists, such as Herbert Osborn from the Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University), who advised Shoemaker to collect government bulletins to assist his bird studies. Taking this advice, Shoemaker wrote letters to the United States Department of Agriculture requesting publications on bird species. He sought assistance from the Smithsonian Institution “for collecting and preserving natural history material.” These government publications were the foundation for Shoemaker’s studies in ornithology.
At age fifteen, Shoemaker’s field notes indicate that his focus turned to observation rather than collecting. Describing flickers in his front yard Shoemaker noted that the birds “were boring in the ground with their bills, though with what object I could not surmise. I watched them for some time from my room, and noticed the exact position in which they were working that I might examine after the birds had departed. Upon examination I found that they had been engaged in boring into the honey-combed ground occupied by ants’ nests, eating the insects or their larvae, or both. This is a thing I have never before noticed, but the manner in which they conducted themselves showed that it was no new business to them.” While Shoemaker noted that it was sometimes necessary to kill specimens for study, he acknowledged the greater value of research in natural settings. Reviewing his lists for Franklin County he wrote: “the other evening I found I had 104 varieties catalogued: this species makes the 105th on my list. I cannot help being impressed with how infinitely better it is to thus study bird life than to murder and destroy to further the cause of ornithology.”
In Shoemaker’s early records two statements illustrate his shifting views on collecting and observation. In an entry in his field notes on May 14, 1893, Shoemaker “concluded to spend part of today in the woods, not as a collector but as a naturalist, confining myself to observation out of respect for the day.” Shoemaker’s decision on that day perhaps initiated the change that became permanent over the course of his life—a dedication to observing nature in the forms that most interested him and recording it through documents and photographs. The publication of his records, in an 1896 pamphlet titled A Partial List of the Birds of Franklin County, Iowa, provides a second view on bird studies. In the introduction Shoemaker wrote: “other matters have so occupied my time that no opportunity has been given for systematic study in this branch. . . . This list is the result of observations made at odd times; a method not at all conducive to the best results.” Throughout his life, circumstances or practical needs left Shoemaker at odds with his desire to study nature in a professional scientific manner.
The entire essay appears in the Spring 2013 issue.
Folkways of a One-House Legislature - State Senator Bill Avery (LD-28)
The Nebraska Unicameral, like most other organized groups and institutions, has two sets of rules that govern how its members behave. On the one hand are the official rules that govern the formal legislative process. These are the written rules of the game. The second set of rules are informal, unwritten norms of behavior that are just as important, if not more so, than the first. These rules perhaps are best described as “folkways,” or those standards of behavior that are usually known as customs and practices to which all senators are expected to conform.
Political Scientist Donald Matthews first identified the presence of folkways in the U.S. Senate more than fifty years ago. He argued that failure to abide by them can be detrimental to one’s effectiveness as a legislator. Other researchers have examined this topic in different settings and reached similar conclusions.
This article discusses the folkways of Nebraska’s one-house legislature and evaluates the role they play in shaping the influence of senators in the lawmaking process.
Probably the most widely recognized folkway, both within and outside the Nebraska Legislature, is the expectation that new senators will benefit from a period of time spent “learning the ropes,” before taking on highly visible activity in the chamber. Taking to the microphone, for example, to make major speeches early in one’s first year is frowned upon by more senior members. It may be only a slight exaggeration to say that senior senators generally agree it is wise for new members, at least for a time, to be “seen, but not heard.” New members are expected to listen and learn, speaking infrequently and then only after observing an appropriate period of apprenticeship.
This folkway, however, is not applied equally among all members. New members with prior experience in the Unicameral are exempted. They already have served their apprenticeship and may occasionally even succeed in being selected to a leadership position in their first year back.
Some evidence suggests that this folkway may be waning in importance. This is especially so in light of recent voter-imposed limitations on how many terms senators may serve. With only two terms in which to achieve one’s legislative objectives, senators may be less willing to wait before stepping forward to pursue their goals. Nonetheless, more senior members still can be observed grumbling from time to time when new members speak too often on too many topics.
Work Horses and Show Horses
Professional observers of legislative processes long have distinguished between two distinct types of legislators: work horses and show horses. Legislators who covet public attention are more likely to become show horses. Those who want to gain the respect of their colleagues and get things done become work horses. This holds true in Nebraska as well. After an extended and contentious debate in a recent session of the Unicameral, a new member on the losing side, but who had played a prominent role in the debate, reportedly commented: “I may have lost, but I’ll make the evening news.”
Senators who seem more interested in scoring political points, getting quoted in the newspapers and appearing on television, than they are in making sound public policy are viewed as show horses and are less likely to be effective.
Much of the daily routine of legislative work is highly detailed, dull, and boring. Despite that, one of the most entrenched ground rules of the Nebraska Unicameral is that members will attend to these unrewarding tasks on a daily basis. Not everything necessary to making good policy is exciting, but it needs to be done and senators are expected to do it.
One particularly tiring task involves long hours spent listening to often repetitive testimony at public hearings on proposed legislation. The Unicameral is one of a limited number of legislative bodies in America to require that every bill introduced receive a public hearing. This is one of the many practices of the Nebraska Unicameral that make it arguably the most open and transparent legislature in the country.
Members take pride in the distinctiveness of its procedures and most work hard to preserve and protect them. Senators who take a casual approach toward doing their share of routine work—for instance, habitually departing hearings early, leaving others to do the work in their absence—face disapproval and risk losing the respect of their colleagues.
Some of the Unicameral’s most effective members may be senators many Nebraskans have heard little about. They diligently go about their work, day after day, receiving little public attention in the process. They make the legislative process work more smoothly and they get things done.
The entire essay appears in the Spring 2013 issue.
“Send a Valentine to Your Valentine from Valentine, Nebraska”: The Cachet Program - Mary Ann May-Pumphrey
The front page of the February 6, 1941, Cherry County News contained a small announcement entitled “Send a Valentine to Your Valentine from Valentine Nebraska.” The subject was a specially designed Valentine’s Day cachet, which could be affixed to the envelope of a Valentine’s Day card via rubber stamp. The cachet was the brainchild of fifty-two-year-old postmaster Margarete Clare Phelps. Appointed to office in 1934, Phelps viewed the cachet as a means of attracting attention to her hometown while simultaneously pleasing the many philatelists who had for years been mailing Valentine’s Day cards to the post office for remailing in order to obtain a February 14 postmark from Valentine.
The cachet was just one of several Valentine’s Day events launched in Valentine in 1941. Afternoon activities that day included a free tea party at the Marion Hotel, where “tea and heart-shaped tarts were served to 250.” Main Street’s Jewel Theater hosted free showings of the official motion pictures of that year’s Rose Bowl game and the pregame Rose Bowl parade. The 1941 Rose Bowl had been a first for Nebraska. Although the team lost to Stanford, the opportunity to view the game was a rare treat in that pre-television era; estimated attendance at these showings was 1,200.
On the evening of that first city-wide celebration of Valentine’s Day, a coronation of a “King and Queen of Hearts” was held in the civic auditorium, followed by a costume ball. Although World War II put an end to the coronation for three years beginning in 1944, both the cachet program and the coronation have survived and thrived to the present day.
It is unknown whether the cachet program was also temporarily halted during the war years or whether local newspapers simply considered it too frivolous an item to cover in the midst of a world crisis. Regardless, the cachet received a good deal of publicity in 1947, the year the coronation was restarted. The Quincy (Illinois) Herald-Whig published an article entitled “Your Valentine Can Have Valentine Postmark from Valentine, Nebraska,” which was reprinted in the February 13 Cherry County News. The Herald-Whig article included not only an image of the 1947 cachet but also a news photograph taken by Valentine newswoman Myrtle Shaul of postmaster Phelps standing at the top of the steps leading up to the post office. The article told Herald-Whig readers how they could obtain the cachet and Valentine postmark for their own outgoing Valentine’s Day cards. In an addendum to the Herald-Whig reprint, the Cherry County News informed its readers that the cachet program had appeared in newspapers throughout the nation, as evidenced by the clippings that were often attached to remailing requests received by the post office. The News expressed the view that “intensive, coordinated local effort in connection with this holiday could pay good dividends.”
The cachet remained largely unchanged for the first twenty-two years of its existence. During the 1940s, the “Saint and City” slogan was repositioned slightly, undoubtedly to improve its readability; the year was also added. In 1949, the month and day of Valentine’s Day were added, which gave more emphasis to the holiday aspect of the cachet. The 1949 design remained unchanged throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s.
In February 1949, postmaster Phelps was too ill with cancer to work; her daughter Margaret Jean Iseman came from her home in Denver to temporarily take over as postmaster. The Cherry County News paid tribute to postmaster Phelps in their February 10 issue that year by reprinting the photograph of her from the 1947 Herald-Whig article. The reprinted photo’s caption focused solely on Phelps’s contribution:
Mrs. Phelps is primarily responsible for the promoting of the tremendous volume of Valentines, which are sent here annually from all over the world for remailing. To supplement the regular Valentine postmark, several years ago she designed a special attractive cachet (shown at left), which is affixed in red to each piece of mail. This project has gained considerable national publicity and each year the number of Valentines remailed increases.
Phelps died four months later. Probably as a means of honoring her creation of the cachet program, the 1950 Valentine’s Day Coronation decorations included a gigantic reproduction of the cachet she had created on the left side of the stage.
The entire essay appears in the Spring 2013 issue.
The Folk Songs of Great Plains Homesteading: Anthems, Laments, and Political Songs - Dan Holtz
“Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm.” So proclaimed a popular song from the early 1850s. In that era, good old Uncle Sam undoubtedly had deep enough pockets, enough bread in the cupboard, or, overstated kidding aside, enough real property on the balance sheets to be a national sugar daddy. In fact, the record shows that roughly 270 million acres of the public domain (nearly 422,000 square miles, or about 10 percent of U.S. lands) were eventually given away because of the Homestead Act of 1862. So the real issue for aspiring homesteaders was not so much whether they could get a farm; it was whether they had the gumption and the wherewithal to keep it. Homesteading was an uncertain endeavor. Only about 40 percent of all homesteaders “proved up” on their claims and received a final patent from the federal government. Although the percentage was somewhat higher in Nebraska—a little more than 50 percent between 1863 and 1900—government records nevertheless reflect a cold, hard reality.
Records of a different kind, folk songs, show other dimensions of that reality, namely the humanity of the situation. Not surprisingly, many homesteading songs tell of the hardships and deprivations of the homesteading experience. Just as tellingly, though, they illustrate the mindsets of homesteaders in other ways, as their focus and purpose shifted from mostly shared commiseration to determined public action by the latter decades of the 1800s. To put it another way, these songs were at first a salve, then a sword for these struggling but determined pioneers.
In Nebraska at least, the greatest flourish of songs responding to the human consequences of the Homestead Act occurred between August and November of 1890. These can be broadly classified as political songs (either campaign or protest or both), and typically dealt with persons and issues important to that year’s election. However, these are not the homesteading songs that are most often collected; the songs which have resonated most through the years are mostly those predating the volatile 1890s and which portray the universal human stories of the uncertainties of the homesteading experience. The ephemeral nature of the political songs illustrates, perhaps, the old maxim that propaganda does not endure as art, although I am not arguing that any homesteading song is fine art.
At this point I need to define the term “folk song,” and make clear that not all the songs discussed in this article are true folk songs. I also need to explain the criteria I used to put songs into the homesteading category. For a folk song definition, I used one formulated by noted Nebraska folklorist Louise Pound, who wrote in Nebraska Folklore:
My three tests of genuine folk songs . . . have always been: they are handed down in tradition orally or in print, their form not static but continually changing; they are anonymous, their authorship and origin lost to the singers; they have retained their vitality through a fair period of time.
With this definition in mind, I began to look for songs which appear to have originated between 1854 and 1905—in other words, from the year the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened these territories to legal non-Indian settlement, to one year after the Kinkaid Act took effect. I chose the latter date to allow folk song composers ample time to respond to that land legislation. Guided by these parameters, I then looked for songs whose lyrics specifically mentioned the words such as “homestead,” “homesteading,” “soddies,” or “sodbusters,” or songs that mentioned getting land as a “claim” (e.g., “The Little Old Sod Shanty on My Claim” or “Starving to Death on a Government Claim”) and, more generally, ones in which the speaker of the lyrics is primarily engaged in farming as an occupation, even if the song did not specify the land being acquired through the Homestead Act or some other piece of federal land legislation. I found a number of songs which met one or more of these criteria; for the purposes of this article I found that I could classify them into three categories: anthems, laments, and political songs.
Although none of the political songs composed during the three-month deluge in 1890 is a true folk song—because its authorship is usually known or, more importantly, its vitality is gone—all of these songs drifted into the folk tradition. They drifted this way because all borrowed their melodies from older, well-known songs, which made them recognizable and easy to sing and pass along. For example, Mrs. J. T. (Luna) Kellie’s “Independent Man” was sung to the tune of “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” a popular song during the Civil War. These campaign or protest songs were ephemeral; unlike the songs I refer to as “anthems” or “laments,” only a few of the protest songs are included in the standard-bearing folk song collections.
The entire essay appears in the Spring 2013 issue.
Back Issues of Nebraska History quarterly
Search the Nebraska History index database
Return to Nebraska History quarterly Main Page