Dissing Duluth

J. Proctor Knott (Matthew Brady photo, Washington, D.C.)

Today, it would have caused a Twitter-storm.  On January 27, 1871, a well-liked but relatively unknown Kentucky congressman took the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and (to quote a later newspaper) brazenly “twitted” Duluth, a Minnesota town of a few thousand clinging to the western shores of Lake Superior.

J. Proctor Knott’s beef with Duluth arose from his unhappiness with the common practice of handing over public lands to railroads—in this case, in the form of a bill giving federal land to the St. Croix and Lake Superior Railroad.  Knott believed (or pretended to) that the terminus of the proposed line would be at Duluth rather than at Superior, Wisconsin, a short distance to the south. 

Given a generous 30 minutes to vent on the issue, Knott proceeded to double over the chamber in laughter with a satirical takedown of the pretensions of this northern town.  Where was Duluth, anyway?  he asked.  “Never, in my limited reading, had my vision been gladdened by seeing the celestial word in print.”  But he professed confidence “that it existed somewhere, and that its discovery would constitute the crowning glory of the present century, if not all modern times.” 

The Northern Pacific Railroad’s brochure included Knott’s speech

Claiming to have consulted maps and other oracles to determine Duluth’s location, Knott imagined “one of those ethereal creations of intellectual frost-work. . . one of those airy exhalations of the speculator’s brain, which I am told are ever flitting in the form of towns and cities along the lines of railroads built with government subsidies.”  Despite hearing rumors of cold that could “freeze the smoke-stack off a locomotive,” Knott expressed faux confidence in the “illimitable and inexhaustible” potential of the town.  His prediction that Duluth “was destined to become the commercial metropolis of the universe” and his snarky plea for the railroad line to be built without delay drew, according to reprints of the speech, “roars of laughter.”

The railroad bill never came to a vote, but Duluth had the last laugh.  It was, in fact, at the heart of a wealth of resources and soon fulfilled its promise to become “The Zenith City of the Unsalted Sea.”  Only a few decades later, it could claim to be the greatest shipping hub in the world, as millions of tons of wheat, iron ore, dairy products and lumber passed through its port.  And of course Duluthians (being Minnesotans) held no grudge against the saucy congressman who had, after all, put them on the map with his widely circulated speech.  Proctorknott, Minnesota (now just Proctor) was established in 1894 just a few miles from Duluth.  In 1890, Knott himself, now a former Governor of Kentucky, visited Duluth and good-naturedly acknowledged its “marvelous prosperity” at a banquet in his honor.  The Commercial Club of Duluth proudly reprinted Knott’s original speech on the left-hand pages of a commemorative booklet, with a proud narrative of the city’s accomplishments on the opposite pages.  In 1925, fourteen years after Knott’s death, his portrait was displayed at Duluth’s Exposition of Progress and Iron Ore Golden Jubilee.

James Proctor Knott’s Duluth speeches and related material are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid to the Knott Collection.  A recent donation of more Knott family materials is currently being processed and will soon be available.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Emancip-eight!

Historical marker for Paducah’s Eighth of August celebration

Paducah, Kentucky’s Eighth of August Emancipation Celebration is a days-long, event-filled dive into the city’s African-American heritage.  Since at least 1886, the community has been the site of an annual grand gathering to commemorate the end of slavery.  The relation of August 8 to emancipation is a little uncertain, but the most popular theory is that it harkens back to the day in the 1790s when the enslaved people of Santo Domingo (Haiti) were declared to be free. 

In 2008, field workers with the Kentucky Folklife Program visited Paducah to gather information about the current celebration.  They took photographs and video and collected material, including a thick program highlighting that year’s theme “A Journey By Faith.”  Along with sponsors’ ads and event schedules, the program features memorials, announcements, and autobiographies of African-American Paducahns that chronicle their lives, achievements, and spiritual journeys.  Included for that election year of 2008 was a scholarship-winning essay by a local high school senior on the topic “Is America Ready for an African-American President?”

The field workers also conducted an interview with James Dawson, a Hopkinsville native who had made his home in Paducah since 1951.  He recalled hearing his grandfather talk about the celebration, which drew African Americans from all over the country.  Dawson’s own memories included dances, bands, street parties, class and family reunions, and all-night merriment.  He and his son helped to serve up a food staple—barbeque (Dawson’s favorite was pork or mutton)—together with fried fish and hamburgers.  Unlike the old days, Dawson observed, the event had become less spontaneous, bringing in commercial food vendors and requiring committees, permits, insurance, security and all the accoutrements of modern civic existence.  Nevertheless, the 2008 gathering was another successful chapter in a tradition that retains its unique place in Paducah.

This project focusing on Paducah’s Eighth of August Emancipation Celebration of 2008 is part of the Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid. For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Ray and Ray

Maud Howell’s brother Ray (left) and his namesake (right)

Like many soldiers overseas, Bowling Green’s Ray Howell (1893-1977), who served in the U.S. Army from July 1918 to September 1919, exchanged correspondence with the folks at home.  Often included were personalized postcards with a photograph meant to assure the family that their boy was hale and hearty. 

One of Ray’s correspondents was his sister Maud, but the reply to her letter of December 3, 1918, complete with postcard portrait, was not quite what she expected.  “You start your letter Dear Brother,” it read.  “Sorry I cannot claim you as a sister I only have one and her name is Grace.”  None of the other personalities mentioned in Maud’s letter rang a bell: no “Uncle Ira,” no “Eli”—indeed, the writer “had no relations in Kentucky that I know of.” 

Ray, of course, hadn’t contracted amnesia.  This was a different “Ray Howell,” a private with the American Expeditionary Forces occupying Germany after the Armistice, to whom Maud’s letter had been sent by mistake.  But he had read its contents carefully, and his reply betrayed his eagerness to win a pen pal as he impatiently awaited demobilization.  “I have been here 2 yrs this coming June,” he wrote, referring her to an enclosed picture showing a uniformed young man with arms crossed who bore a startling resemblance to Maud’s brother.  “You can see by the stripes I wear on my lower part of left arm.  Each one represents 6 months 3 of them 4 in June.”  Further, if another letter were to come from his newfound “sister,” perhaps they could be strangers no longer.  Of the mistaken identity, Ray concluded, he was “hoping to get an explanation on this subject and hearing from you very soon.”

Click here to access a finding aid for the papers of Ray Howell, including the letter from Ray Howell #2, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more of our World War I collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Apollo 11

Hardin Planetarium Director Paul Campbell and WKU students examine a moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission

July 20 at 10:56 EDT marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the moon.  Those of a certain age will remember the blurry TV images, Armstrong’s “one small step for man” declaration, and the achievement of President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 challenge to the nation to put a man on the moon before the close of the decade.

Mary (Rodes) Helm and her husband, Auburn, Kentucky native and New York banker Harold H. Helm, had been invited to Cape Kennedy to witness the launch of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on July 16.  Their host, Jim “Mac” McDonnell, the founder of McDonnell Douglas, was a space-age enthusiast whose company had been involved in the mission.  Mary had been initially reluctant to endure the crowds and Florida’s summer heat, but returned from the launch with a change of heart.  “It was a very moving and emotional experience which I did not expect,” she wrote her father, retired Bowling Green judge John Rodes.  “It may have been crowd psychology – so many thousand breathless & with a single thought & prayer.  But when that rocket went up as you saw it on TV – a man behind me murmured ‘God speed,’ I felt tears rolling down my cheeks.”  At a dinner the previous evening, she had met other astronauts from the program, including Wally Schirra (Apollo 7) and Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 and later 13).

Others in Bowling Green were equally uplifted.  “Wasn’t the moon landing and spectacular walk exciting?” Mary Kimbrough declared to a friend.  But like Mac McDonnell, who quickly asked “What next?” after the success of Apollo 11, she was looking ahead.  “They announced that my cousin, Jack (Harrison) Schmitt will go on the next trip – Apollo 12,” she wrote (he actually flew on Apollo 17).  “We’ve always said ‘Man in the Moon.’  We have to revise that to say ‘Man ON the Moon.’”

One of the unknowns about Apollo 11 was the danger of invasion by alien microbes or “moon bugs,” a possibility that kept the astronauts in quarantine for more than two weeks after their return.  But three years later, it was the cargo of rocks brought back from the lunar surface that scientists sought to keep in pristine condition.  In August 1972, a loan of one of these moon rocks arrived for display at WKU’s Hardin Planetarium.  To protect against leakage and contamination by the earth’s atmosphere, the sample was sealed in a container filled with pure nitrogen.  More than four billion years old, it was part of a 70-pound haul collected during the Apollo 11 mission.

Click on the links to access more information about these materials, housed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

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“Picture Perfect” Exhibit Opens in WKU’s Special Collections

Tommy Hughes as a young photographer.

The Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC) opened a new exhibit on July 1 in the Kentucky Building’s Jackson Gallery titled “Picture Perfect:  The Wedding Photography of Thomas W. Hughes.” The exhibit, which will run until December 15, 2019, is built around thirteen enlarged photographs taken by Bowling Green professional photographer Tommy W. Hughes.  These images are part of a larger collection of Hughes’ wedding photography donated to DLSC by his daughter Amy Wood.  “During my father’s years as a professional photographer,” Amy Wood recalls, “he photographed over a 1,000 weddings.  He wore a suit and tie, polished his dress shoes and often judged a wedding on the quality of the reception food.  His equipment was heavy and bulky and in the days of film, each image was essential.”

A unique double wedding documented by local photographer Tommy Hughes.

Hughes, a native of Savannah, grew up in nearby Simpson County.  He attended Western Kentucky University and graduated from the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, Connecticut and took further classes at the Winona Lake School of Photography.  He opened his Bowling Green studio in 1970 and worked from there until his retirement over 35 years later.  Included in the exhibit is a case documenting Hughes which includes one of his large format cameras, an advertisement declaring that his studio loved wedding photography, photographs of him, and some of the commendations his work received.

Nancy Richey, the Special Collections Images Librarian, tried to select photographs that best represented the overall community.  “Great photographers,” Richey notes, “see not only with a camera but with their eyes and heart. It was in this way that Hughes captured these couples’ special days. Selecting these images among the many that were donated was difficult but we wanted to capture the diversity of his work.”  Photographs of several African American weddings were included as well as themed weddings, a double wedding, and traditional weddings that date back to the early-1970s.  One of the favorites with visitors is a couple in a Pee Wee Herman pose.

To supplement Hughes’ photos, librarians filled exhibition cases with wedding invitations, vintage wedding photos, etiquette books related to weddings, greeting cards, wedding books, and information and images related to weddings in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, including a rare painting by Bowling Green photographer and artist Clement Reeves Edwards showing the Bridal Altar formation and a group of what is speculated to be a wedding party.  Also on exhibit is the Woolsey family Bible which includes a genealogical entry that notes that Sanford Woolsey and  Angie R. Smith were married in Diamond Cave on December 22, 1847.  One exhibit case also includes Prince Charles and Princess Diana dolls elaborately dressed in their wedding attire.

Western Kentucky University’s campus has become a favored spot to hold weddings.  Utilizing social media, DLSC put out a call for campus wedding photographs.  Hoping for seven to ten photographs to fill a case, librarians were overwhelmed when they received over one hundred images.  WKU is a treasured venue for many reasons, one being variety.  People submitted photos from Hilltopper friendly Houchens Stadium to the elegant Van Meter Auditorium and Kentucky Building to the charming green spaces all across campus.  “We chose WKU because the Chapel setting and campus are full of gorgeous simplicity, surrounded by greenery and connected to all we love about Bowling Green,” said Tiffany Isselhardt who married on campus in April 2017.  “The people, downtown proximity (our reception was at 440 Main), and campus spoke to everything we are as a couple and the community we are thrilled to call home.”   Some submitted photographs non-campus weddings that included visits from Big Red both before, during and after the event, Big Red cakes, red towels, and of course Hilltopper pride.

The Dickson-Heinze wedding held at WKU’s chapel. Photographer: Justin Mutter.

“Picture Perfect” is in the Jackson Gallery on the second floor of the Kentucky Building, 1400 Kentucky Street, on WKU’s campus.  The exhibit is free to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

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A Buzzard and a Boxer

A boxer’s mysterious letter

Bowling Green, Ky.: They found him in September 1902 in “Hobson’s woods,” after a passerby noticed a buzzard in a nearby tree.  His head was devoid of flesh (probably courtesy of said buzzard) and his body dismembered.  There was a bullet hole behind his right ear.  He may have been deposited in a shallow grave, because investigators found a pair of pants “buried with him.”  Other personal effects included a hat, “one Phial of poison,” a “large long rubber ear trumpet,” $3.59 in cash, and a Catholic badge. 

In the deceased man’s pocket was a letter from one Barney Furey, whose letterhead advertised his prowess as “Light Weight Champion of the West.”  In a pencilled scribble, the Cincinnati-based boxer introduced himself to our dead friend who, we learn, was from Chicago and who had acquaintances in common with Furey: Joe Gans, an African American who was one of the nation’s greatest lightweight fighters; another pugilist, Charley “Young” Kenney; and respected match referees Malachy Hogan and George Siler. 

But Furey’s letter then moved on to other business.  “Now the money I owe don’t be worried,” he told the dead man, “for I will surely give it to you.  I am going to Chicago to fight in a week.” 

At the inquest, the coroner’s jury had no difficulty determining the cause of death, but the backstory, unfortunately, remained untold.  Who was the man, and what, if anything, did a letter from a boxer in his debt have to do with his murder?

This is only one of many local mysteries to be found in the collections (currently being processed) of historic court records, including inquests, held in WKU’s Manuscripts & Folklife Archives.  Search us in TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Stitches in Time

On this June 13, National Sewing Machine Day, we remember the 19th-century English, French, German and American inventors who alleviated (or at least revised) the toil of the tailor and seamstress.  We also remember the millions of women who saw their employment and domestic lives transformed by the new technology. 

Early in 1861, Sallie Knott had much to write about from Missouri to her mother in Bowling Green, including the election of Abraham Lincoln that had ignited talk of secession.  Also of note, however, was her friend’s new Grover & Baker sewing machine.  “I’ve learned to sew pretty well,” Sallie reported.  “It only cost $45 & answers pretty well when there is no stout jeans for servants.”  She had run up a calico dress in only one day, and was quickly losing interest in sewing by hand.  “It spoils one very soon,” she admitted.  “I dislike to take up any needle now to do anything – even to baste.”

Whether at home or in the workplace, women were quick to find that like much new gadgetry, the sewing machine pushed them to perform more labor in the same time rather than the same labor in less time.  “Lizzie sews every day,” a correspondent reported to her cousin from Bourbon County in 1870.  “She has a Wheeler & Wilson machine, and has all the sewing she can do.”  The machines also required a new technical language for parts and maintenance.  “Send me No. 26L306 sewing machine Needles one doz. for Improved Singer Head No. 6389759,” wrote Lewis County, Kentucky’s Annie Kinney to Sears, Roebuck in 1918.  Her efficient requisition was accompanied by a sample needle and a preference for ones “just a little longer,” if possible.

On its way to becoming synonymous with the sewing machine, Isaac Merritt Singer’s company developed a mass marketing strategy for women who sewed at home.  In 1885, Singer wrote from its Cincinnati office to Bowling Green lawyer Clarence McElroy about one of its local agents on whom it relied to sell machines, parts and accessories.  J. C. Webb had signed on as a full-time agent in 1880, receiving a salary of $15 per week plus a 3% commission on sales.  His contract also stipulated that he was “to furnish one Horse to be used in the business and to pay for its keeping.”  Webb, however, had attempted to buy his horse in the company’s name, making Singer responsible for payment.  While reluctant to make a scene, the Singer representative was firm in his instructions to McElroy.  “We do not question our obligation to pay for a Horse if Mr. Webb had bought it for the use of the company, but we cannot admit that an agent has a right or authority to purchase a Horse for another party and bind the company by a note.”  Besides, he pointed out, there was the matter of that clause in the contract – prepared, as it happened, on another newfangled device, the typewriter.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Hands, wits, and guts”

Stephen Ambrose’s 1994 book about D-Day bore this dramatic image.
Inset: Bert J. Borrone

June 6: the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the best- and worst-kept secret of World War II. 

It was 1944, and everyone knew this would be “the year of destiny,” when the Allies would launch a massive cross-channel invasion of Europe to mark the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.  But until it happened, no one knew precisely when or where the assault would take place. 

Bowling Green’s Bert Borrone was deeply interested in the question.  Stationed with a signal service company in North Africa, the U.S. Army sergeant was responsible for radio broadcasts that would keep his military audience informed about the course of the war.  Late in May 1944, he prepared two 15-minute programs for the American Expeditionary Station News Bureau to ready his listeners for the invasion, “so that when the day does come. . . and General Eisenhower says ‘Tonight, we strike,’ we shall be able to follow the hourly news, be it good or bad, with understanding, with confidence.” 

Borrone’s first program painted a vivid picture of the invasion landscape: the English Channel, both a “ready-made highway for assault” and “an itinerary to death”; the minesweepers, those “unsung old ladies of the sea,” spearheading the fleet; the arc of invasion vessels stretching across the horizon; the bombers, fighters and paratroop transports.  Beaches were necessary to land troops, and ports to supply them, but “no one knows better than the Nazi what is potential invasion land,” Borrone warned.  The enemy would be ready with mines, landing-craft traps, anti-tank obstacles, machine-gun and mortar emplacements, pill-boxes, bunkers, fortified towns and “hundreds of thousands of the Wehrmacht’s finest, dug in for the showdown.”

Then would come the landings, as “battle-wagons, with their escorts of the sea and air, plunge toward the pre-assigned beaches,” and all the plans, rehearsals and calculations were put to the test.  Many had performed their duties in advance: if Nazi fighters or weapons failed to appear, or if the enemy’s reserves arrived too late, or if his mines failed to detonate, it was because a production facility had been bombed day and night, or an intelligence operative had directed just where to place an explosive, or an underground fighter—“a Hans or a Pierre or an Emil”—had carried out a successful sabotage.  Ultimately, however, the invasion would be “committed into the hands, and wits, and guts, of a few hundred thousand.”

Borrone’s second program was a tutorial on the tactics of a coastal invasion, the nuts-and-bolts calculations of everything from enemy firepower and types of forces needed to anticipated numbers of sea-sickness among the troops.  Tides, terrain, defenses, roads, availability of reserves, and the timing, makeup and objectives of each “wave” of the invasion—these and other innumerable considerations, Borrone explained, needed to be weighed “against the single most important factor in any military action . . . initial, tactical surprise.  Only then,” he declared, “can the supreme commander point his finger at one definitive spot along all the vast shore line and commit it irrevocably to the fates who weave human destiny.”

Bert Borrone’s radio broadcast scripts delivered in anticipation of D-Day are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections on World War II and D-Day, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.   

75 years ago (@BeschlossDC)

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SOS from Bowling Green

Timmons’ letter to Stewart, 1869.

The Manuscripts unit of Library Special Collections recently acquired an unusual letter in which a Bowling Green resident pleads with a wealthy New York merchant to send funds so that he can save his home from a judicial sale and subsequently allow him to continue educating the city’s young Irish immigrants.  On 18 March 1869, James Aloysia Timmons (1836-1902) wrote a solicitous letter to Alexander Turney Stewart (1803-1876), a multi-millionaire who operated New York City’s A.T. Stewart & Co., one of the world’s largest and most lucrative dry goods businesses.  Timmons was born in County Cork, Ireland and had a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s College in Bardstown and a master’s degree from St. Louis University.  In 1863 he came to Bowling Green and established a small, private college with Professors William F. Kouwenberg and John Leonard.

In the letter, Timmons noted that losing his house “would prevent me from being able to do what little good I have been up to this time, teaching my countrymen’s poor children at very low rates, and some of them without any charge at all.”  Timmons announces that he chose Stewart because of his noted “benevolence and…acts of charity.”  It is clear that Timmons did not know Stewart personally but only by reputation.  He declares his cause a magnanimous one:  “I make my request with no selfish views or deceitful purposes, but purely with the view of being enabled to conduct my school, and instructing the poor Irish children of this place, most of whom are not able to pay anything for tuition.”  He ends his letter with a plan to pay off the house.

Court flyer advertising the sale of Timmons’ house.

Also included with the letter was a Warren County Commissioner’s sale flyer that further elucidates the situation.  It shows that the house’s previous owner, Robert Wenn Ogden, a wealthy Bowling Green businessman, had taken Timmons to court for back payments.  The advertised sale was for a “valuable house and lot” two blocks from the public square on Main Street.  The flyer further describes the house as “a large brick Dwelling with a basement, all well finished.”

From all appearances, Stewart did not come to Timmons’ rescue.  James Timmons eventually moved to Lebanon in Marion County where he taught mathematics at St. Mary’s College.  He and his wife had four children.  He died on 5 November 1902 at 66 years of age and was buried in the Saint Augustine Church Cemetery.

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Fool’s Gold?

Selden and Maria Miner vie for the last word in a letter to Selden’s brother in Maysville, Kentucky

The family name was appropriate, given what one of its members had set his sights upon.  The Miner brothers, Selden and Samuel, had left Wethersfield, Connecticut, Selden to help settle the identically named Wethersfield, Illinois, and Samuel to make a home in Maysville, Kentucky.  In spring 1849, the Maysville Miners were planning a visit to the Illinois Miners, a prospect that pleased Selden’s wife Maria.  Unfortunately, the news of some shiny nuggets in a California river bed had sent a contagion through town—a delirium—and her husband had caught it.  It was gold fever.

Maria had endured two weeks of her fidgety husband, alternately anticipating his brother’s visit from Kentucky and then declaring “To California I am bound”!  “I have no opinion at all of his going,” insisted Maria, before making her misgivings crystal clear in a letter to Samuel.  One can picture this skeptical spouse, folding her arms and rolling her eyes.  “We are now as it were just getting things a little comfortable around us,” she declared, “& I feel as though we had best try & make ourselves contented with our lot.”  She was, in fact, “very confident that there are at least ninety nine chances out of a hundred” that Selden’s get-rich-quick scheme “would entirely ruin us for life.”

Now it was Selden’s turn to make his case.  Taking up the pen, he dismissed his wife’s “doleful description of this dreadful ‘yallar feaver.’”  All of Wethersfield was abuzz, he reported, with companies of 40-50 men apiece preparing wagons, oxen and a year’s worth of provisions to make the journey west to the gold fields.  “They all leave Independence [Missouri] in the middle of May,” Selden wrote.  “It will take 90 or more days to reach the Sacramento valley.”  And, of course, he had already heard rumors of spectacular success: two men who had “left here poor” were now worth some $100,000 each.  Yet, Selden concluded, “I seem to lack the full consent of my wife.”  Could his brother referee the dispute?

Now it was Maria’s turn again, and she filled the remaining space in the letter with her rejoinder: her husband claimed to have the encouragement of his friends, but in fact none of his real friends supported the enterprise.  Not only had Selden given little thought to the care of his farm and stock during his absence, she charged, “this is all nothing – nothing compared to what I fear he will suffer in his own person if he goes.”  Now, Maria sighed, her friends must pray “that none of my fears may be realized” and that her husband “may be willing to stay—for if he stays unwillingly you know we can neither of us be either happy or useful.”

A finding aid for Selden and Maria Miner’s letter, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, can be downloaded here.  For more letters about the Gold Rush, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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