Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

African-American Heroes of San Juan Hill

"Bill," an African-American soldier photographed by Bowling Green native Frank M. Thomas, then serving as chaplain for the 3rd Kentucky Infantry during the Spanish-American War
“Bill,” an African-American soldier photographed by Bowling Green native Frank M. Thomas, then serving as chaplain for the 3rd Kentucky Infantry during the Spanish-American War

Although he had retired in 1892, Civil War veteran and Warren County, Kentucky native Captain Richard Vance took great interest in all aspects of his country’s prosecution of the Spanish-American War.  Among the topics covered in his personal scrapbooks, letters and essays was the plight of American soldiers who had volunteered for the war only to be met with disease, poor camp conditions, and substandard food and medical treatment. 

For African-American soldiers, Vance realized that the conditions were far worse.  He noted that, in spite of their outstanding gallantry, African-American troops could not escape the racism of their white counterparts; in particular they “continued to be despised objects in the estimation of southern volunteers.”  Vance cited an example in which “certain Virginia gentlemen (volunteers) refused to receive their pay because it was offered to them by a Negro paymaster.”  He had heard stories of “disorders” in some African-American regiments, but dismissed them as no worse than those in other volunteer organizations.  His own long military experience had taught him “that the ‘white-washing’ process is invariably used in such cases.”

Vance included clippings in his scrapbook to illustrate his points.  During the fierce battle around Santiago, Cuba, read one report, African-American soldiers not only “fought like devils” but came to the aid of the wounded, and when wounded themselves showed “more nerve” under the surgeon’s knife “than many of their fellow soldiers of lighter hue.”  When the men returned home, Louisville, Kentucky offered cheers for the 10th Cavalry—“The Colored Heroes of San Juan Hill”—but as the troop trains passed through Richmond, Texas and Meridian, Mississippi, they were targeted with gunfire.  When Charles Mason Mitchell, a veteran of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, attempted to pay tribute to the bravery of his African-American comrades during a lecture in Richmond, Virginia, he was booed off the stage.  “Is there a remedy for these evils?” asked Vance.  “Yes.  Unquestionably.  Will it ever be applied?  That remains to be seen.”

Click here for a finding aid to the Richard Vance Collection, and here for a gallery of primary resources in the Department of Library Special Collections relating to the Spanish-American War.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Paradise

Camp Paradise located on Kentucky Lake near the Snipe Creek embankment, Calloway County, Kentucky.

In 1957 Sid & Florence Jobs wrote a prospective visitor to their Camp Paradise on Kentucky Lake that he should call long distance and make reservations, because their eight cottages were in high demand.  They told the potential guest that his boxer dog was welcome “if there is no danger of him with the children on the premises.”  The Jobs also send along a promotional postcard and literature along with several photographs as a way to tempt this vacationer to the place they considered Paradise, three miles from the nearest store or restaurant in Calloway County.

The owners of Camp Paradise promised:: “You can…be reasonably sure of catching some…fish.”

Camp Paradise, created in 1944 and nestled next to Kentucky Lake, stayed open for business from April 1st to December 1st  each year.  It lured some families for lake vacations, but its chief attraction was fishing on Kentucky Lake’s 160,000 acres.  Promotional literature explained:  “Day-in and day-out fishing in Kentucky Lake is considered the best among the manmade lakes in this part of the country by many fishermen…Almost all species of fresh water game and rough fish are represented here.  Just to mention a few among the game fish are Crappie, Large Mount Bass, Small Mouth Bass, Striped Bass, Walleye Pike, Channel Cat, and Blue Gill.  You can cast, troll, or stillfish anytime during our 12 month season and be reasonably sure of catching some of these fish.”

By way of accommodations, the Jobs could offer five one-bedroom cottages and three two-bedroom cottages, which were frame buildings clad in shingle tile siding and constructed on cinderblock foundations.  The interiors boasted knotty pine paneling, celotex block ceilings and tile floors. Amenities included: tile showers, modern kitchens equipped with refrigerator and gas range, cookware, china, cutlery, linens, electric heating, hot water, and fans.  Towels were not included.   Guests were encourage to bring any necessary electrical appliances “to make your stay more enjoyable.” Every cottage had an outdoor barbecue pit, picnic table and lawn chairs.  The one-bedroom cottages rented for $6 per night or $36 for a week and two-bedrooms rented for $9 per night or $54 per week.  At the camp’s dock you could rent a boat for $2 per day or $12 a week, but you had to pay $4 extra per day for a 5 horsepower motor to go with it.  Life preservers were thrown in free of charge.

Fishing, swimming, boating and hiking were encouraged in this isolated spot on Kentucky Lake.  The Jobs assured their guests:  “We will try to make your stay most enjoyable.”

Logo on Camp Paradise stationery.

The information for this blog post was culled from a small collection of items recently acquired by the Manuscripts unit of Library Special Collections.  We were excited to learn the camp still exists but is known today as America’s Paradise Resort boasting eleven cottages, five condominiums and a full-scale marina.  Modern owners still consider this Paradise.  Their website encourages guests to “relax and take in the amazing sunsets for the family and discover why so many refer to our resorts as a ‘little slice of heaven.’” To see the finding aid to our small collection, click here.

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Side by Side

As we have seen, Edward R. Weir, Sr. (1816-1891) of Greenville, Kentucky took an active role in advocating, arming and funding the Union cause during the Civil War.  His entire family, in fact, opposed secession.  Weir’s wife Harriet defiantly nailed the U.S. flag to a tree when Confederate Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner toured Muhlenberg County.  Weir’s daughter Anna helped raise volunteer home guards and made pocket needle-and-thread cases for soldiers’ kits.  Weir’s son Edward, Jr. served as an officer in two Kentucky infantry regiments, and saw action at Shiloh, Corinth, and Saltville, Virginia. 

But Edward Weir Sr. was also the owner of some 100 slaves, and therein lies the tale of another family.  Weir’s youngest son Miller (1859-1935) recalled the patriarch of this family, known as “Copper John.”  Copper John’s daughter Amy was Miller’s nurse and maid to his mother Harriet.  Amy’s four sisters also worked in the Weir mansion, the centerpiece of a 1,200-acre plantation. 

Four sisters, all servants in the Weir household

The sisters had two brothers, Silas and Jesse (or Jessey).  It was the latter who, as cook, manservant and companion, made Edward, Jr.’s life considerably more bearable after he entered military service.  Writing from Camp Calhoun in McLean County, Edward described his tent, a spartan but comfortable space.  “I have a grand time & live like a king all alone with Jessey,” he told his family. “I sleep on one side & Jessey on the other,” with a small stove for warmth.  His modest dinner table, with its tin cups and plates (and one china plate “for the Captain” as Jessey said), was evidently a source of pride and comfort for Edward.  Even when he was ill and out of sorts at Corinth, Mississippi, he boasted of Jessey’s culinary skills and his ability to make biscuits just as good as those back home.

Amy, maid to Harriet Weir and nurse to Miller Weir

With the exception of Amy, who died in Chicago, the later lives of the children of “Copper John” are unrecorded.  Edward Weir, Sr., however, praised the intelligence and resourcefulness of his former slaves; one became a missionary, another attended Oberlin College, and others became teachers.  And during the upheaval of the Civil War, he gratefully remembered, they “watched over me and mine, with a devotion which I shall never forget.”

The Weir Family Collection of letters and photographs is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.  

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The Generosity of Jeff

James F. Keel (1827-1883) and his father-in-law William C. Pool were enterprising Kentuckians whose business interests were concentrated in Edmonton, Kentucky, but also took them to Hart and Warren counties and to Nashville, Tennessee.  Late in July 1862, Keel, a Civil War partisan of “southern rights,” found himself in Nashville, undeterred by the city’s fall to Union forces the previous February.  “The excitement here,” he wrote his brother, “has quieted down again but how long it will continue no one knows.” 

Keel reported that the victorious Union troops were keeping a close eye on Confederates banished to the other side of the Cumberland River.  “The pickets converse with each other across the river every day,” he noted, “both armies having agreed not to shoot their pickets unless they should get into close quarters & attempt to escape.” 

The standoff, however, gave the two sides opportunities for some nineteenth-century-style trolling.  In one incident, a Union officer in need of a boat spied an unattended one on the rebels’ side of the river.  After making sure the coast was clear, he stripped and swam over to it.  Just as he began to row away, a voice ordered him to halt, come ashore “& partake of the hospitalities of Jeff Davis, which of course he had to do without a rag of clothes to hide his nakedness.”  The poor fellow had to convince his captors to send someone back under a flag of truce to retrieve his garments.

In another incident, Keel wrote, Confederate pickets called over to their Union counterparts with a friendly offer of “a little good whisky.”  To their surprise, it was accepted.  This time, two men stripped down, swam across the river for their reward, and were duly taken prisoner.  Again, they delivered a request for their clothing under a flag of truce, but this time their commanding officer “sent them word back to go to hell” for their foolishness.  For all he cared, they could “go naked for the balance of their lives.”  Keel concluded with satisfaction that these men would have no recourse but “to appeal to the generosity of Jeff to hide their posteriors.”

James Keel’s letter is part of the Howard and Anne Doll Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“You will ask me, what is going on at Washington?”

Kentuckian Edward R. Weir, slaveowner and abolitionist

Lawyer, legislator and merchant Edward Rumsey Weir (1816-1891) was a prominent citizen and one of the largest slaveholders of Greenville, Kentucky.  In that contradictory fashion common to many Civil War-era Kentuckians, he was also an abolitionist and a supporter of the Union.  As the war approached, Weir was vocal in his animus toward secession.  But he would do much more, putting his time and money to work recruiting and equipping home guards to defend Muhlenberg County and helping to raise troops for the regular army. 

January 20, 1861 found Weir in Washington, D.C., just ahead of the admission of “bleeding Kansas” as the newest member of the fracturing United States.  Observing the tensions of the capital, he wrote his son Edward, Jr. of his impressions in terms we could apply today to the current impasse in its political culture.

After a quick look around, Weir pronounced Washington “a queer city,” its “acute angles,” “sharp ended houses & squares” and “streets that seem to go no where & end no where” guaranteed to mystify and frustrate the stranger.  Lodged at the famed Willard Hotel, Weir spied “six or eight Senators & fifteen or twenty members” of the House among his fellow guests.  Though they all appeared “quiet, orderly & sober,” they did not strike him as “men of commanding talent.”

Weir knew his son would be curious to know “what is going on at Washington,” but answered only “that the newspapers will keep you better advised” than anyone in the city.  There was, in fact, a strange silence on the subject of war: “No man would dream,” he wrote, “that the country was in a state of revolution, from the conduct and appearance of our public men.”  Only the occasional rants of  “some half drunken fellow” gave a clue that anything was wrong. 

Weir, sadly, concluded only “one thing – a peaceful separation is positively impossible.”  More than ever pledged to the cause of Union, he nevertheless feared for Kentucky’s future if his countrymen were to “kill off our friends in the North.”

Click here to download a finding aid for the Weir Family Collection, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For other Civil War collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Serendipity

Edward Rumsey Wing just prior to being appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador.

It’s funny how items from collections, coming from different donors and eras, occasionally overlap. Last year, Doug Brockhouse and his wife of St. Louis donated a set of papers related to the Weir family of Muhlenberg County. The collection revolves around a prosperous agricultural and merchant family that exerted quite an influence in nineteenth and early-twentieth century Greenville. The collection includes a noteworthy travel account of James Weir’s trip from South Carolina to Tennessee in 1798-1799, ante bellum and Civil War correspondence, and Edward R. Weir Sr.’s declaration of Muhlenberg County’s support of the Union. The collection also contains a little over thirty photographs, chiefly of the Weir family and allied families. One of the latter is of Edward Rumsey Wing (shown here), who was a cousin of Edward R. Weir, Jr.

Edward Rumsey Wing was born in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1843 to Samuel M. Wing and Emily (Weir) Wing. He became a lawyer and at the age of 29 was named the U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador, at the time the youngest ambassador ever appointed. He served for four years before he died on 5 October 1874 in Quito while still in service. Interestingly, through his wife Louise Scott, Wing was related to the Green family of Grayson County. The Manuscripts unit in Library Special Collections owns a significant collection of Green family papers. In this collection are several letters that Wing wrote to Green and Scott family members back in Kentucky.

In one of those letters Rumsey, as he was called, wrote about an 1870 earthquake that he and Louise experienced in Quito. With the skills of a poet, Wing described the event: “It was ten o‘clock and Louise had gone to sleep on a sofa over a ‘Cornhill Magazine’ while I was lying on the bed reading a law book and deeply interested, which I presume kept me from fully appreciating the situation at the first shiver of the earth I could still hear voices in the street and then a heavy heel went clanging by over the resonating sidewalk. The white light of the moonlight enwrapped the houses and the hill and [provided a] silvery kiss on our windows. All at once there was a sudden silence that I now remember first attracted my attention, & the very night seemed to hold its breath as if waiting, listening, terror-stricken at the coming shock. The next moment it struck me that the bed curtains were stirred as if by a strong wind. Still I did not think of the dreaded ‘temblor’ until in a flash I heard groans, screams and prayers issuing from every direction – our own servants running across the courtyard with loud outcries for “El Senor Ministre’ – and the bed trembled as if in the grasp of some fierce giant.”

“I recall then the queer jingle of the windows,” Wing continued, “and their latches, & springing up felt the room with its ‘six foot’ walls reeling like a beaten ship at sea. Glancing from the window at the moonlit street I could see many people on their knees & many prostrate on their faces, praying most fervently, whilst loud above all other sounds, I could distinctly catch the cry of ‘El Temblor, El Temblor.’” After a contemplative night, Wing summarized his reaction to the event: “The most disagreeable thing in connection with an earthquake like a battle is really ‘after it is over.’ Then one begins to realize what an infinitesimal atom he is, and not only himself but all men and all nations and all the ambitions of life and all the absorbing interests which we so untiringly & eagerly pursue, — in the face of these tremendous convulsions. These terrible forces of nature, these awful agencies, so bitterly dreaded and so little understood, & of their supreme ruler and controller…Why should helpless man be thus made the unwilling sport of misfortune – or of superior power & wisdom & goodness?”

To see a finding aid for the Weir Collection click here, or to view the Green Family finding click here.

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“Fill My Eye”

Postcard of a young woman

But there are other fish in the sea?

With the upheaval of the Civil War still a year away, Hattie Binford of Hickman, Kentucky was preoccupied with a smaller, more personal and yet equally consuming drama: the man who got away.  Perhaps because her friend Lucy (Parker) Robbins was 10 years older and married, 17-year-old Hattie looked to her for mentorship on matters of the heart.

Hattie had just experienced a sighting of the object of her affection, a certain “Mr. McBride,” she wrote Lucy in May 1860.  Unfortunately, her glimpse of him was as “the Bridegroom of another.  I had to summon all the courage and fortitude I possibly could to keep from showing my feeling,” Hattie mourned, “which was not very pleasant at that time I will assure you.”  But she vowed to rebound.  “There is as good Fish in the sea as ever was caught out so I will have the pleasure of catching another.”  For instance, that gentleman presently staying with Lucy, what was his name?  “Let me know if he is a candidate for matrimony,” Hattie demanded, “he can have my vote.”

Hattie filled her letter with other local news, including a visit from two admirers, but “I think I can do better than to take either of them.”  Her gold standard remained Mr. McBride, and she deputized her friend Lucy to “pick me out a nice Beau.”  He didn’t have to be rich, as long as he didn’t drink whiskey and play cards (to excess, that is).  “I want the jewel to consist of himself,” Hattie wrote dreamily.  “I want him to be handsome intelligent polite good natured,” as well as modest—“no profusion of fob chains Necktie or big words need apply, for they cannot fill my Eye.”

Click here to download a finding aid for Hattie’s letter, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For other letters about courtship and marriage, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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New Year’s Away From Home

The Malacanan Palace where McElroy spent New Year’s Day in 1909.

Where did you spend New Year’s Day? On January 1, 1909, Bowling Green attorney Clarence Underwood McElroy found himself amongst other invited guests at the royal palace in Manilla, Philippines.  Governor-General James Francis Smith invited McElroy, who was on an extended trip to the Orient, to the “national holiday” soiree.  McElroy recorded the temperature at 89 degrees and noted that the “grounds men elaborately decorated [the courtyard] with Japanese lanterns and electric lights in the fountain.” He goes on:  “The Palace is designed for entertaining and was built by the Spanish and was occupied by the Spanish Governor-General.  The rooms are very large with beautiful mahogany hardwood floors of planks from 12 to 15 inches wide.  The Palace is right on the river bank and boats come up to the porch.  The reception was largely attended.  All the elite being out in force…American, English, Spanish and Filipino.”

Governor-General Smith had served with Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War and was part of the first expeditionary force to the Philippines during that same conflict. He later served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the Philippines and subsequently on the Taft Commission which was responsible for developing a legal code for the Philippines.  William Howard Taft appointed him as Governor-General in 1906, and he served in that capacity until 1909.  During this period the Philippine Assembly convened for the first time.

Clarence Underwood McElroy.

Clarence McElroy, one of the most revered members of the Bowling Green bar, kept a detailed account of his trip to the Orient. On this trip he visited the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Japan, Hong Kong, China, Ceylon and the Philippines, and he jotted down copious notes about the industrial, economic, and cultural aspects of each country.  To learn more about his journal, click here.  In addition to these travel journals, Library Special Collections houses over 50 boxes of correspondence and case files related to McElroy; to view the finding aid for this collection click here.  A portion of McElroy’s diary is included in an online exhibit titled “Seven Continents” which features travel items found in Library Special Collections.

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Hickman’s War

One of Lucy Ligon's Civil War correspondents

One of Lucy Ligon’s Civil War correspondents

If we have to die had we not better die together?”  That was the question members of the Parker family of Hickman, Kentucky asked each other in spring 1861.  Lucy Robbins, the recently widowed daughter of Josiah and Lucy Parker, was staying with her brother-in-law near Memphis, Tennessee, but her parents were desperate to have her and their young grandson come home.  Letters to Lucy, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, provide a vivid picture of lives upended by the Civil War.

At the outbreak of war, the Mississippi River town of Hickman was still recovering from a fire so destructive that it was seen from Cairo, Illinois, some 40 miles away.  But now Cairo itself posed the threat, with rumors of soldiers massing there to mount an invasion from the North.  Lucy’s father had heard of still more troops gathering at New Madrid, Missouri.  Caught between these two armies, Josiah Parker feared that Kentucky “will again become the dark and bloody ground.”  Lucy’s mother wrote of the anguish of Hickman’s women: watching in fear as their husbands and sons chose sides and enlisted, many had packed up their households and were ready to “go to woods” if the enemy should appear.  “O what shall we do pray to god for our country,” she cried.

Each successive letter from home told Lucy of the war’s shadow over her family.  Her father, a local judge, lost his livelihood when the legislature temporarily suspended the courts.  Her brother Matthew joined the Union Army (and would die in service), even as some of his neighbors cast their lot with the Confederates.  Nevertheless, some of the town’s young women, including Lucy’s sister Lockey, refused to take a furlough from the marriage market and continued to preen in new dresses and bonnets whenever they could get them from places like St. Louis.  Lucy herself returned to Hickman in 1863, where she contemplated remarrying.  When she asked her dead husband’s brother for advice, he was clear: NO secessionists.  Having been financially generous with Lucy as long as she was widowed, Curtis Robbins declared that his continued support would be jeopardized if she allowed a Rebel to raise his brother’s child.

Lucy, however, didn’t listen.  Not only was he a Rebel, but her new husband, George J. Ligon, served under Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and was severely wounded at Harrisburg, Mississippi.  If this condemned Lucy in the eyes of her brother-in-law, another young man who had worked for him and who remained Lucy’s friend was more forgiving.  Writing to her in 1864 during his Union Army service, he expressed regret that Lucy’s husband had been “crippled”; “I guess he is in the Southern army”—but, he shrugged, “you know it is all the same to me.”

A finding aid for family letters to Lucy (Parker) Ligon can be accessed here.  For more Civil War collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Measure Twice, Cut Once: Quilting, Community, and Tradition

On the backside of a quilt, a panel reads

I have named this quilt “My Dear Jane” which is a reproduction of Jane A. Steckle’s quilt she made during the Civil War titled “In War Time 1863”. I, Donna Patterson, began this quilt journey on April 5, 2010, 4 years, 3 months, and 15 days later on July 30, 2014, this quilt was completed.

Hand quilted by Irene Harper, my 87 year old mother, and Donna Patterson.

5,600 plus pieces

225 patterns

281 fabrics

169 pieced blocks

52 pieces triangles

56 solid triangles

4 corner blocks

Countless yards of thread

When viewed from the front, the quilt is a quick kick of color. Deep reds, pale yellows, oranges, greens, purples, and pinks all demand the eye’s unfocused attention. The patterns, too, reject uniformity. Sharp, jagged angles push up against soft, rounded edges, an arrangement of thoughtful geometric design. Regarded individually, each panel suggests the quilters’ keen awareness of ordering, movement, and composition. As a whole, the quilt is representative of timeworn quilting traditions that place a high value on community, craftsmanship, and creativity.

Donna Patterson's finished "My Dear Jane" quilt

Donna Patterson’s finished “My Dear Jane” quilt

Over the course of 2017 and 2018, Sandy Staebell, Kentucky Museum’s Registrar and Collections Curator, conducted fieldwork with more than 30 quilters throughout the region. Her findings were eventually turned into a presentation for the Osby Lee Hire and Lillian K. Garrison Hire Memorial Lecture Series, a program which seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the history and culture of Allen County and Monroe County in Kentucky and Macon County in Tennessee. Staebell’s presentation, which was titled “Heritage, Tradition, & Craft,” focused on the aesthetics, processes, and finished pieces of both individual quilters and larger communal groups, such as the Buck Creek Homemakers (Allen County) and the Monroe County Piecemakers.

As a widely recognizable form of folk art, quilting highlights both the conservative and dynamic nature of folklife. While the women Staebell interviewed work within a particular artistic framework, one that underscores the nuanced relationships between color, shape, and style, they also move beyond traditional forms of quilting to create pieces that reflect their own personal experiences, preferences, and tastes. In folk studies, the study of material culture has shifted from an emphasis on product to the more contextually-relevant emphasis on process. While the final quilt is no doubt a visually and emotionally-stimulating piece of artwork, it should also be understood as a manifestation of the work required to maintain strong bonds between family and friends.

The collection (FA 1131) is located within WKU’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives and includes hundreds of color photographs of quilters proudly displaying their quilts as well as digitally recorded audio interviews where women discuss their sources of inspiration, their most treasured pieces, and their connections to the quilting community.

For more information on quilts and other forms of expressive material culture visit TopSCHOLAR or browse through KenCat, a searchable database featuring manuscripts, photographs, and other non-book objects housed in the Department of Library Special Collections!

Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers

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