Sam Konkel: The Writer

Sam Konkel was the editor of one of the two Boston Colorado Newspapers, The Boston World (1886-1889) and later the Springfield Herald /Springfield Democrat Herald (1913-1930).  It was in 1918 -1919 during this time in Springfield where he relived and wrote during the stories of his time in Boston, which we used as the foundation for our book “Old Boston”.   When he wrote, he often signed the column with the moniker, “The Writer.”

We have used Konkel’s content in many ways the past few years, even adapting his salutatory address from when he purchased the Springfield Herald in 1913 to our Salutatory when we purchased the Herald in 2019.  

In the years following Boston, Sam and his brother Joe moved on to Lyons, Kansas and ran the Lyons Democrat for a couple years.  It was was after the Lyons years that 

Konkel was a very prolific writer, but during the decade of the 1890s you do not find much of his work in the various newspaper databases.  It was during this time he was back east, found his bride and for a time was teaching school. 

However, when he moved back to Eagle Ranch in Southeast Colorado he began to write again. From about 1906 until 1913 when he bought the Springfield Herald, Sam Konkel wrote extensively about farming in the west. 

There is an interesting reference to a December 1913 article Sam wrote for Farm & Fireside magazine.   Farm & Fireside was a semi-monthly national farming magazine that was established in 1877 and was published until 1939. It was based in Springfield, Ohio.  Again this is a reference to the article.  I have searched eBay, Amazon and a few other sources  for a copy of the original 1913 issue, but have not been able to obtain it thus far.

It was the original magazine for what eventually became the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company.  From 1918 to 1923 several of the covers of this magazine were illustrated by Norman Rockwell. 

In February 1930, it was renamed The Country Home in an attempt to compete with Better Homes and Gardens.

The Leader-Democrat (Richfield, Kansas) · 28 Aug 1886, Sat · Page 3
The Leader-Democrat (Richfield, Kansas) · 04 Sep 1886, Sat · Page 3
The Leader-Democrat (Richfield, Kansas) · 23 Oct 1886, Sat · Page 3

Much of Konkel’s writing 1906 – 1913 is dedicated to observing farming endeavors in Southeast Colorado, asking questions about growing certain types of plants/crops  as well as tips and tricks for the farm. Much of the work was originally published in either the Kansas Farmer and Mail and Breeze or the Missouri Valley Farmer.  It was then republished elsewhere, usually smaller papers in Kansas, however,  some of the articles were printed far and wide across the country.  There is even one instance where he was quoted in the Chicago Tribune. 

Over time we have continued to collect Konkel’s work.  His writing provides unique insight to the people, nature, climate, crops, and farming methods in early Baca County.  It indeed tells the story of pre-county and early day Baca County.  Some of our upcoming research and stories will utilize some of this content and will be presented in the pages of the print Herald and behind the paywall of the online PlainsmanHerald.com, while other pieces will be pushed out via Baca County History.com and our social media platforms.  

Check out this announcement on PlainsmanHerald.com to learn more of our 2022 history projects.

Missouri Valley Farmer (Atchison, Kansas) · 1 Aug 1906, Wed · Page 3

To the right is an example of Konkel’s work during this time. There is much much more like this.

Since we are writing about Sam, we might as well use one of his closings… Right at this point we find we have “overdrawn” on our space account, so we will squirt some embalming fluid into the rest of the yarn to keep it from spoiling, and will give it to you the next time.  

Prairie Cattle Company Incorporated 140 Years Ago Today

Today is a day in history that may only matter to those of us in southeast Colorado, northeast New Mexico, the Oklahoma Panhandle and the Texas Panhandle. An event in in an office in Edinburg Scotland change the course of the afore mentioned areas, the American west and the American cattle industry.

You see, 140 years ago Dec 29 the Articles of Association for the Prairie Cattle Company Limited were signed.

Albert W. Thompson was the Sam Konkel (if you hang around this blog or the Plainsman Herald long you will hear the name Sam Konkel) of Clayton NM. He was editor and publisher of the Clayton Enterprise Newspaper. He wrote “The Early History of Clayton New Mexico” in 1933. That document is the equivalent of JR Austin’s 1936 “A Early History of Baca County.” His early writings also record much of a different part of the Prairie Cattle than we are used to hearing about in Baca County, but it gives perspective of how large the Prairie outfit really was. The Prairie had 3 divisions. Division No 1 was the headquarters at the JJ Ranch in Higbee Colorado. Division 2 at the Cross L in Clayton New Mexico and the 3rd at the Littlefield Ranch at Channing Texas. There is quite a bit written on the separate divisions of the Prairie, but not really a comprehensive review of the combined operation.  The Brand Listing below also shows the brands of many ranches the Prairie Company began buying in the early 1880s

Among the corporations launched in Scotland in 1881 was one known as the Prairie Cattle Company Limited.  The corporation had voted, raised, and appropriated for the purchase of land and cattle in America, no less than 650,000 pounds sterling, over $3,000,000 American dollars.  It was called the Prairie Cattle Company, Limited.  Its American headquarter office was located in Kansas City Missouri, its registered office and principal place of business, in Edinburgh, Scotland.  If indeed in 1881 you had cared to look up the gentlemanly directors of The Prairie Cattle Company Limited, some of whom had been knighted, you would have found them dressed in loose-fitting Scotch tweeds within Dowell’s Rooms, 18 George Street Edinburgh. 

To further break it down, a deed on record in Colfax County New Mexico, gives insight into the organization of The Prairie Cattle Company.  The deed recites in part that  John Guthrie Smith and James Duncan Smith solicitors before the Supreme Court, Scotland and William A. Clark, Muscatine, Iowa were trustees of the Prairie Cattle Company, Limited.  

Clark and a Mr. Underwood of Kansas City were bankers and established the firms based in Kansas City that operated under the name of Underwood, Clark and Company.  This firm during its early years was delegated almost unlimited power in the purchase of lands and cattle.  Their acts were approved by a board of directors in Edinburgh.  All of the general managers of the Prairie company, except one were natives of the British Isles.  The purchases of all the ranches in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, however, was left to the discretion of the American’s, either Underwood Clark & Co., or their lieutenants.

That’s all for today. Here’s wishing you a great 2021.

Other Baca County History blogs connected to the Prairie Cattle Company.

The Digital Campfire of Social Media and How it Sparked a Book Project

Greetings from an unseasonably mild but windy Casper Wyoming.  I have a little bit of reflection and a couple of messages related to a local history blog, social media,  and the sparks that lit a book project about one of the wildest little towns of the old west.   Four years ago,  I launched Bacacountyhistory.com.  At that time I stated,

Maybe this project stops with a few blog posts and a couple of tall tales, or maybe we can transform the content into an update of the big brown Baca County History book from the early 1980’s.  

Here we are four years later with a great collection of blog posts from multiple folks.  In conjunction with this blog is a realization on my part of how powerful social media can be for recording and sharing local history.  The primary social media tool I am speaking of for this post is Facebook.  Over the past few years, an ever-increasing number of members in two different Facebook groups have provided a continual stream of memories about the place where I grew up, Baca County, Colorado as well as surrounding areas in Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle and the Lamar, Colorado regions. Those Facebook groups have been a primary catalyst for more than one of those blog posts

I usually end up coming back to some technology angle since my day job as the Computer Director at Casper College, usually pushes me that direction.   I must say that beyond the sharing of  history of the county where I grew up, the technological application and interaction of the Baca County Facebook community and its members fascinates me to the “nth degree”  

On the negative side
Social media and digital social networking isn’t for everyone. However, it is such a massive part of all our lives; whether we embrace or reject the media, it is not to be ignored. I don’t want to get too much into the negative aspects of social media other than acknowledging they are there and that I sometimes can’t believe what I see,  Usually, on the negative side I am thinking….”What is wrong with these people?”    

On the positive side
I have grown to think of our Facebook groups as a digital campfire. That descriptor was given to me by Technology/ Geek Rock Star and friend Wes Fryer.  For a moment assume a digital campfire is a gathering place where a whole lot of folks who are in a whole lot of different places in life have found common ground.  The fire is a place to gather together and swap a few tales and warm up before having to get up go out and face that cold, cold world.  If this is true, then the folks where I grew up have found a digital campfire with Facebook.  To them, all I can say is….”you all have done good!” 

On the positive side I find it fascinating that it’s entirely possible to have hundreds of friends on Facebook. They may not be friends I know on a personal level and spend time with in the real world on a daily or weekly basis. But they’re friends nonetheless. Some are childhood friends, some childhood heroes, and some college acquaintances I have reconnected with.  Some I spent a whole lot of time with, and there are several people I consider friends who I have never met face to face— some I probably will never meet  — but that doesn’t lessen the connection we have made these recent years thanks to social networks.  

I waffle back and forth on whether face to face contact to the phone might be better for conversation but the true advantage of how we are connecting on these Facebook groups is that we can use these tools on our terms.  As individuals or time is stretched to greater lengths by work and family commitments. However, social media offers a chance to communicate speedily and efficiently.

With a phone call, for example, you can’t just say what you want to say and then hang up. That would breach phone etiquette and be seen as downright rude. Instead, with a phone call you have to swap pleasantries before saying what you want to say, and then swap more pleasantries before the conversation comes to a close. Sometimes we may describe it as cold, but it certainly provides some efficiencies that allow for interaction with more people than maybe we were able to in the past.

Facebook has allowed us to share interests with others who have those same interests, such as a shared county history.  Facebook, does for example when preparing to connect us asks you to list interests. This makes it much easier to find common ground with other users.

This release of info does require the sharing of information, and in the process giving up a degree of privacy, which is cause for some people to reject social media outright. Keeping key personal information private is necessary, but sharing likes, dislikes, interests, thoughts, and views contribute, it could be argued, to an open society.

As with most things in life, there are pros and cons.  When used in moderation, with checks and balances on how younger people, in particular, are using them, social networking sites are just a tool.  What is our hearts often is what comes out, so we all need to be wary of how these tools are used.  

So what is the book that has been sparked?  For me personally, the journey is not yet a Baca County History book update (although I still think it is a good idea) as was originally thought four years ago.   But instead it has become a more focused book  I am calling, “Boston: Wild As They Come” with a two-part goal, which is first, to tell the story of the now extinct town of Boston Colorado and second to celebrate frontier newspaperman Sam Konkel who has given us a great historical treasure 100 years past its the original publication.  He wrote a series of newspaper articles which provides us what he remembered of those old days.  One social media conversation led to another and another and then a trip to the Baca County Museum and then……Yes, this project really is a new real-life tale about the old west in 1886 Southeast Colorado.  And to answer your question…no it is not historical fiction.  It is those actual events and people of that old time town.

I am not sure I would have gotten involved in this book project without social media, but at this point, we are on track for a late spring 2018 launch.  I have several angry stabby editors blazing away at the narrative and hopefully, I’ll be ready soon to tell everyone when pre-launch sales will open. It has also sparked a couple of side projects that could easily develop into another book or two.    To provide a bit more of an idea about what I am doing with this book project,  I have provided the book cover, a brief description of the story and my Table of Contents as is stands today, (February 2018).

Boston 1886
On the eve of November 15, 1886,  four members of the Atlantis Town Company stopped on the Southeast Colorado plains preparing to stake out and establish Boston, Colorado.  Though short-lived, (1886-1892) Boston was home to personalities ranging from common homesteaders, flat earth advocates, cowboys, and outlaws including the Jennings Gang before they became famous in Oklahoma.  Frontier newspaperman Sam Konkel joined the joined the town company to promote Boston and described it as “The Utopian City of the Plains.” Old Boston was built to catch the railroad and support commerce and agriculture in southeast Colorado but it quickly became one of the wildest little towns on the American old west frontier.

Book Cover

Click the book cover to purchase on Amazon.com/ Thanks.

Draft Copy of Old Boston Table of Contents February 2018

Note: This post is cross-posted at my tech blog kentbrooks.com

Tioga County

The Springfield Herald had a regular series in 1918 called “Persons, Stories, and Incidents of Old Boston and the Old Days.”  The episode author is listed as “The Writer”.  The February 1, 1918 edition of the series was titled “Tioga County”.   The story as told by the Herald is as follows:

“Probably there are not many and possibly not any of the old-timers in Baca County who remember Tioga County

It is just barely possible that most of those directly concerned about it and connected with it would remember Tioga County only after having their attentions called to the events of those old days that left Boston out in the cold, and finally resulted in the disintegration and scatterment to the four winds of the earth.

It was down at Trinidad that most of the conspiracies of those old days were hatched and it was there that Tioga County had its birth.   The Democrats were then the majority party in old Las Animas County, and had been for many years, and three or four Democrats of Trinidad and all those old days practically constituted the Democratic Party of the county.

Judge Jennings – lawyer, doctor, politician and orator – the weasel of the East End, Albert Hughes president of the Town company and a good second to Jennings in wire manipulations and cunningness, arranged the county seat matters with the “powers” of Trinidad under which arrangements, A. Hughes was supposed to be sent to the legislature from the east end and of course the election of Hughes meant Boston for the county seat.

Doctor Brown always called “Doc” was the paternal progenitor of the name.   “Tioga” is intended as the name to be applied to the intended cut off from the east end of Los Alamos. “Tioga”  was the name of the county in New York he came from and Doc’s influence with the republican was needed to call the new county Tioga.

INCIDENTS OF THE COUNTY SEAT FIGHTS

The incidents wrapped up in the history of Tioga County of course belonged to the scheme of making Boston the county seat of whatever was cut off the east end.

When the plan was consummated to send Hughes to the legislature, the Western World mildly opposed his nomination, particularly because of his occasional relapses from the strict state of sobriety and, partly out of the fear of last minute treachery.

It was argued go by practically everyone that Hughes interest in Boston were so great that no opposing interest could afford to buy him and that consequently he would be the safest man in that respect and could be sent to Denver.

As to Hughes, whether he came back a broken hearted man or not we do not know,  but we do know that he came back broke as well as coming out back to a broken and friendless town.

He remained in town but a short time, a week or so matter, and like all others afterward, left never to return. He came to Boston repeated to be worth $75,000 and he got away with anything from $1000 to $6000.

Hughes we understand went to Washington into the store business, but whether he’s still there and whether he’s made good we do not know.

But Boston, the probable one-time County of Tioga County, the largest town in all of the east end – all there is now there to tell the tragic story are piles of stone and holes in the ground.

That is how close to the banks of the North Fork of the Great American desert, lying midway between the range lines third 43 and 44, and a mile post south of the center of the town lines of 32 and 33 – all somewhere in the north temperate zone of the 112 North American continent.

Should you ever chance to visit the shrine of the defunct city, stop long enough to shed a tear on the tomb of its departed glory and offer up a prayer for the souls of those are buried beneath its ruins.

It’s all over now and has been for the past 30 years during which the ground has been made hallowed as a range for livestock, coyotes, and badgers, while its one time rollicking,  hopeful care-free people have been scattered as were the children of lost tribes of Israel.

Goodbye poor ol’ Boston for the present — will call again another day.”

The Rise and Fall of the U.S. Broom Industry

Rise and Fall of the US Broom Industry is an overview of the broom & broomcorn industries in the U.S.  The foundation for  this post was provided to me by Sam Moyer Ph.D.  He gleaned much of this from BROOM, BRUSH & MOP, (especially Tim Monahan’s 1986 review) Sam Moyer, Ph.D.  My updates specifically focus on adding items specifically to Baca County Colorado, the last major U.S. production area.  However, I have added other key notes of interest from various notes I have gathered.

Although there hasn’t been broomcorn production in Baca County for many years, there actually has been quite a bit of research done in the recent past.  My newest broomcorn acquaintance is Dr. Sam Moyer,  a geneticist and a broom maker from New Jersey.   Dr. Moyer has done quite a bit of work towards bringing a cottage broomcorn industry back to the United States. The work primarily revolves around producing a seedless and harvestable varieties. Much of the work was done in conjunction with Dr. Henry Hadley who worked at the University of Illinois / Urbana.   I have permission to repost his writings and will do so in a series of posts.  Again, I will also share any other golden broomcorn nuggets I pick up.

  • 1757- According to legend Ben Franklin brings broomcorn from Virginia and shares with family and friends in New England.
  • 1793- The US “industrial revolution” began in 1793 at Slater’s Mill,Pawtucket RI. The invention of textile machines made factory production more efficient than the cottage industry.
  • 1851.  The first patent related to attempts to automate the broomcorn industry was for the improvement of machines for stripping seed from Broomcorn.  L.D. Grosvenor of South Groton MA.
  • 1876 Broom-Corn and Brooms:  A Treatise on Raising Broom-Corn and Making Brooms is published.

  • 1887 – Broomcorn is introduced into Baca County CO in 1887 by Mr. Roseboom a broom-maker from Eastern Kansas.
  • 1888 – D.J. Greathouse starts growing broomcorn in Baca County CO.
  • 1869- Invention of a broom sewing machine.  The US broom industry may have begun.
  • 1904- the first broom corn dealer was from Wichita KS  (AMEX today)
  • 1910 –  The first broomcorn knife patent was issued to Gustaf W. Hanson, of Marquette Kansas
  • BROOMS BRUSHES MOPS. First issue published Feb 27, 1912!  Started publishing monthly
  • 1915- 52,242 tons raw broom corn was grown in US. For 50 years (1915-65) annual average was 41,000 tons.
  • 1924- Another dealer began in Wichita, John Denning Co. operated 14 branches in different states including one in NC; which became RE Caddy. At one time, there were 1,500 broom shops in the US, making 45 million brooms.
  • 1926– Railroad comes to Baca County CO allowing easier transport of broomcorn and other crops
  • 1929 – Baca County CO is reported to produce 12% of the U.S. broomcorn crop.
  • 1938 – A Broomcorn Festival is announced for November 3 in Walsh CO with events to include a broomcorn auction, a carnival, a parade, a football game between Springfield and Boise City (OK).  
  • 1942- November 11.  My Dad, Charles Brooks, while aboard the U.S.S Relief writes my Grandma  and includes a question about my Uncle Ray’s Broomcorn Crop.
  • 1943- Labor Shortages threaten the Baca County Crop  Sept 5 ad in the Stillwell (OK) Democrat

  • 1947- Labor Shortages Continue

  • 1949-  In this place called Baca, there were 377 farms growing nearly 75,000 acres of this crop.
  • 1950 – Ralph Woods is granted a patent for a broom corn cutter.
  • 1951 –  September 13, Baca County Democrat reports a labor shortage threatens Baca’s broomcorn crop, 1200 workers needed.

  • 1951- The June 27 Hopwell Herald reports that “Witches will have to Ride Imported Brooms” because of the decline of domestic broomcorn
  • 1953 – The The New York Botanical Garden published John H. Martin’s “Broomcorn — The Frontiersman’s Cash Crop.” provided an overview of large-scale broomcorn production as a factory industry at its peak in the US
  • 1955 – Roy Haney patents Harvesting machine  “Method of harvesting broom corn and the like”
  • 1965-1975- change from all US to all Mexican broomcorn due to cheaper labor. Peak of 12,201 processed tons in 1976.
  • 1967- Ricks of Broomcorn in the field in Baca County Colorado (Photo courtesy of Anita Bishop).

  • 1967 –  Plastic brooms made an impact.
  • 1970’s-  Wall to wall carpeting caused a decline in broom consumption.
  • 1970 – Le Roy Sunday is granted patent for Process and apparatus for harvesting broom corn. Machine was tested on 60 acres of irrigated broomcorn south of Vilas Colorado
  • 1971-  Pueblo (CO) Chieftain declares Baca County as the “Broomcorn Capital of the World”

  • 1975 – After 60 years of reporting U.S. Broomcorn production, the USDA announced they were sweeping aside that set of statistical data.
  • 1978 – The last Baca County CO broomcorn crops were sold mostly for flower arrangements.
  • 1971– 1985  Imports averaged 11,800 T/yr.
  • 1980’s- Mexican government tried to control price of broom corn by creating a shortage. This created a demand for broomcorn from Hungary and other countries. Plans for growing it in two places in IL, didn’t happen.
  • 1981– Oct. 24, Front page ad Dal Maschio, Italy by W. Petzold & Co  Cockeysville MD: Model 80; patented sewing device for totally blind.
  • 1982- comment in article:” one of the industry’s problems: difficult to glamorize a broom; innovation is needed” (not profitable for wholesale marketing) .
  • 1982 March Advertisement by Perfex Corp.: Metal cap brooms polypropylene and tropical fibre:” tons of pressure assemble and riviet caps to fibres bonded by exclusive Perfex adhesive.
  • 1982– BROOM and BROOM CORN NEWS was published for 70 years until March 6 1982 (mailed in a plain brown wrapper).
  • 1982- Feb 27,  article: Breeding, Production and Sale of Broom Corn in Hungary US varieties sent by Dr. Weibel, Oklahoma, didn’t perform as well as domestic varieties. But Deer has good disease resistance is good breeding material
  • 1983- Dr. Hadley (in IL) and I (in NJ) started research to develop machine harvestable broomcorn to grow in US.
  • 1986 Dec 6 Professor (Henry Hadley) Trying to Develop  Broom Corn Hybrid. Trying to develop plants uniformly 3-4 feet tall that allows the fiber to grow out of the leaves.
  • 1986- Contest for the fastest broom maker at Arcola IL Broomcorn Festival. make three brooms: four rows of stitching; first row 10 stitches, second row 11, 3rd 12, 4th 13.
  • 1986- April 12,  Historical article by Tim Monahan reported In 1915,the earliest year for which records can be found, 52,242 tons raw broom corn grown in US. For 50 years (1915-65) annual average was 41,000 tons. In 1965, first Mexican 2,400 tons. Between 1965 and 1970 ave. US production=19,600 T/yr; Mexican import ave.=6,500 T/yr. During 1971-1985 imports ave=11,800 T/yr. Plastic brooms made an impact about 1967. Decline in broom consumption in 1970’s: carpeting. “When broom makers are forced to increase their prices because of increased broom corn prices, sales of broom corn brooms fall.”
  • 1987-   21.  Professor Makes Brooms His Hobby. “When Dr. Samuel Moyer finishes teaching classes and completes research into the genetics of broom corn as a biology professor at Burlington County College in NJ, he moonlights as a handcrafted broom maker…”
  • 1987– June Drug Activity caused problems with the Mexican supply.
  • 1987– Dec. Riots by Cuban Detainees Destroy Broom Factory: Atlanta Federal prison. By law, the federal government must get its brooms or industries for the blind…”
  • 1988-  New Prison Factory Catches Attention From Private Sector.
  • 1989–  Jan 1 Carlos Petzold/Bodam International Ltd. asked industry $10,000 support to Dr. Hadley. Dal Maschio invested $100,000 to develop a broomcorn harvesting machine; stopped until a proper broomcorn plant is developed.
  • 1991– April Machinery Issue: NO broom making equipment featured.
  • 1994 –NAFTA went into effect Jan. 1.  After  NAFTA : 1995: 5,691 tons of broom corn a year by 2006: 1,497 tons a year.
  • 1995- February Last Denning Co. ad;  Nov. Not listed in 1995 Suppliers directory;  Nov. comment on dealer survey “… the business isn’t there anymore. …broom corn use will just keep going down in the future.”
  • 1998– President Clinton removes protection: 100,000 dozen may enter duty free.
  • 1998– July  National Broom Co, CA “…close to developing a harvesting machine…”
  • 1999-  Bobbie McClure, Van Horn, TX turns brooms into an art form (most artistic brooms I have seen)
  • 2000– Mexican factory work causing labor shortage and problems with the supply of broom corn.
  • 2003– Jan. “at least 19 countries trying to help replace the Mexican crop”
  • 2003 – Dr. Hadley completed dwarf Deer broom corn.
  • 2004– Roaming camels destroy 5% of the crop of Ethiopian broom corn.
  • 2006- I completed multicolored dwarf broomcorn: too late to help save the US industry.
  • 2006– Dec. Problems importing broom corn due to fungi on seeds, which is a risk to the US sorghum industry. The US Department of Agriculture does not allow the seeds in shipments.
  • 2007- New Broom Stitching Machines made in China. Same function/spare parts as Italian machine.
  • 2008– Is the US broom production returning to “cottage industry”?
  • 2008– January  “Mexican broomcorn crop is shrinking 10%/yr., similar to what happened decades ago in IL, TX, NM, will disappear: high labor costs +competing crops.
  • 2015-  Kent Brooks presents “Dirt & Brooms” at the 2015 Baca County Fair .  Below is the ad and the slidedeck from this presentation

  • 2016-  September  Broomcorn Crop in Mexico.   Dr. Sam Moyer’s harvestable broomcorn variety.  From an email excerpt about the broomcorn  crop growing in Matamoros, Coahuila taken on Sept 9, 2016.  I should have new pictures soon.  We have been told it is looking good.  The crop will be harvested in the next 2 weeks. We are going to wait until the seed is mature so it can be used next year.   The broomcorn has been sprayed several times to kill the aphids.  Broomcorn is so valuable in Mexico this year, that a guard has been hired to protect the crop from being harvested by broomcorn “rustlers”

As a note of interest to those you who raised Baca County Broomcorn the crops above will not produce the greenish/ yellowish brush that you were accustomed to seeing.  The picture below represents the product that will result from this machine harvestable variety developed by Dr. Moyer.  The product coloring is apparently very popular among artesian broom makers.

There is some redundancy from the timeline list in the items below but it probably makes sense to categorize for greater understanding of the industry over time.

Non-broomcorn brooms:

March 1982-  Perfex Corporation Ad: Metal cap brooms polypropylene and tropical fibre:” tons of pressure assemble and rivet caps to fibres bonded by exclusive Perfex adhesive. Polypropropylene fibres a fused by modern construction technology. Hard baked finish gives long lasting eye appeal. riveted handle holds tightly”

September 1986  Baltimore Broom Machine Co. Ad.  Rotex Automatic broom & brush making machine Utilizes a patented thermal method to form plastic fibers into a complete broom….

September 1989 …wound brooms are better, but we don’t want to fight the labor problems, so they make nailed brooms. And the customer doesn’t always have a choice.”

Broom corn supply:

1978- August 5.  Out of the Past: 50 years ago “Approximately 39,000 tons of broom corn from the 1927 crop have been accounted for…

Sept 2, 1978 Letter to Editor: …farmers in the US were raising about 50,000 tons per year, this is the first year that (B&BCN) had no mention of broomcorn raised in US.

From the 1953 journal, ECONOMIC BOTANY; “broomcorn was grown on some 200 to 300 thousand acres annually in the US producing 30 to 50 thousand tons of cured brush”.

Verbal communication from Richard Caddy: Plastic fibers were imported from Italy in the late 50’s. Mexico began exporting broomcorn 1965.

In the Aug. 13,1983 issue, a chart: beginning1974 10,385 tons (processed?) imported from Mexico, with a peak of 12,201 tons in 1976.

July 17, 1982 article: Hungary Hopes to Increase Broom Corn Sales Here: “As the Mexican situation continues to deteriorate, Hungarian broom corn should become acceptable.”

Oct 30, 1982; article: Broom Corn Demand Down:”Record high prices, lower-priced substitutes and declining broom sales…

Jan 1, 1983 Strong Market Expected for Hungarian Broom Corn: “American broom manufacturers began searching for a substitute for the high priced Mexican broom corn”

May 21, 1983 Hungarian Corn Demand Up…”…the current shortage of Mexican corn…”

June 25, 1983 Announcement: Meeting on Broomcorn shortage; photo: Planting broomcorn in IL “France Broom co.” decide to plant this year after the Mexican shortage

July 2 1983 article From the past: Early 70’s See End to US Broomcorn Production: Comment:”The       shortage of Mexican broomcorn…Just 10 years ago the broom industry witnessed the end of American broomcorn production” In 1972, US production fell below 10,000 tons; 3,300 tons in 1973, under 1000 tons in 1974. Cheap labor in Mexico…

Sept 24, 1983 article :40 Acres of Broom Corn Recently Harvested in IL “1,200 lbs. per acre”; manual harvest

August 13, 1983: 28 tons were imported from Argentina.

August 4, 1984 article Plans for Growing Broomcorn Underway In IL;”…growing and processing 2000 acres within 5 years…the shortage of broomcorn, high prices and the cartel in Mexico…” (didn’t happen; “red tape” article May 11, 1985)

Oct 5, 1985 article: Swiss company plan to begin planting broom corn in Ethiopia

1986 April 12 Historical article by Tim Monahan In 1915,the earliest year for which records can be found, 52,242 tons raw broom corn grown in US. For 50 years (1915-65) annual average was 41,000 tons. In 1965, first Mexican 2,400 tons. Between 1965 and 1970 ave. US production=19,600 T/yr; Mexican import ave.=6,500 T/yr. During 1971-1985 imports ave=11,800 T/yr. Plastic brooms made an impact about 1967. Decline in broom consumption in 1970’s: carpeting. “When broom makers are forced to increase their prices beause of increased broom corn prices, sales of broom corn brooms fall.”

Sept 13 1986 and June 20, 1987 map of four Mexican growing areas

June 20, 1987 Mexican Drug Activity Affecting Broom Corn Industry

Jan 1989 8 tons/acre(?) in Mexico

June 2000 Mexican import for one month about half of broomcorn from other countries

Dec 2000 Mexican factory work causing labor shortage for harvesting broom corn

Jan 2003…”at least 19 countries trying to help replace the Mexican crop.

Feb 2003 Hungary exported 4 more tons than Mexico in Nov 2002

Jan 2004 Ethiopian broom corn; broom corn research there. Roaming camels destroy 5% of crop; nomadic workers are not dependable, they move.

Dec 2006 problems importing overseas, potential risk with seeds: US Dept of Agri not allowing a single seed in a shipment

Jan 2008 “Mexican broomcorn crop is shrinking 10%/yr., similar to what happened decades ago in IL, TX, NM, will disappear: high labor costs +competing crops.

Processed imports 1975-1980 ave= 11,232 Tons/yr  1982= 7,570 tons shortage caused by cartel.

After NAFTA in  1994:

 Year     1996   1997  1998  1999  2000  2001  2002  2003  2004 2005  2006

 tons/yr 5691   4501  3472  3460  2938  3020  2968  2441  1929  1974 1389  1497

Broomcorn Dealers advertising:

1951 July 3, Texas Supply Co. Early Texas broom corn Shipped direct from field -Truck loads-Carloads

1973 Baca County Colorado ads from the  October 1973 issue of Broom and Broomcorn News

Oct 24, 1981 A&E de Laredo, Inc , Laredo TX “Direct Supervision Farm to Manufacturers Door”

H.L. Ginns Broom Corn Supply Wichita KS

John L Denning Wichita KS

Nov 14, 1981 Cover: National Broomcorn Co. Laredo TX

unadvertised dealer comments: Tim Monahan; Earl Caddy

April 1997 Joe Allen 69 dies

Sept 2004 Asa Thomas 84 dies Aug 5, 2004. last person in US to grow & sell Deer variety seed.

1924 John Denning Co. founded. Sometimes owned 75 to 90% of all available broomcorn; operated 14 branch companies in different states. At one time, there were 1,500 broom shops in the US, making 45 million brooms. Last Denning ad Feb 1995. Not listed in 1995 Suppliers directory. Nov. 1995 last comment on dealer survey “… the business isn’t there anymore. …broom corn use will just keep going down in the future.”

1996 August Earl Caddy 50 years in industry

Dec 2002 Amex/National Broomcorn 25 years. Harve Pelton started 1904 in Wichita

Other fibers:

Oct 24, 1981 ad by Charles Demarest, Inc.: Pamyra stalks & fibres-from India; Bahia-from Brazil; Rice root-from Mexico;Split rattan, broom reed, bamboo from far East; Sulima Sherbro & calabar from West Africa

Oct 30, 1982; article: Broom Corn Demand Down:”Record high prices, lower-priced substitutes and declining broom sales…”

August 13, 1983 Ad by Brush Fibers, Inc. Full range of tampico and other vegetable fiber filling materials: Palmyra, bassine, palmyra stalks, sherbro, bahia, Arenga, coco fibers

Plastic fibers:

Oct 24, 1981:Back page ad by Whiting Co.”Polycorn”

Nov 14, 1981: ad by Polymers, Inc. :”Broomstrand”

ad by Standard Brush &  co.: Plastic Brooms now available to Broom & Brush manufacturers Angle plastic broom; fluffy type plastic

March 13, 1982 full page ad by Keystone Plastics: Polypropylene fiber for the Brush and Broom Industries

Non-broom corn brooms:

Ad March 1982 by Perfex Corp.: Metal cap brooms polypropylene and tropical fibre:” tons of pressure assemble and rivet caps to fibres bonded by exclusive Perfex adhesive. Polypropropylene fibres a fused by modern construction technology. Hard baked finish gives long lasting eye appeal. riveted handle holds tightly”

Ad Sept 13, 1986 by Baltimore Broom Machine Co. Rotex Automatic broom & brush making machine

Utilizes a patented thermal method to form plastic fibers into a complete broom….

Sept 1989 …wound brooms are better, but we don’t want to fight the labor problems, so they make nailed brooms. And the customer doesn’t always have a choice.”

Twine:

Oct 24, 1981 Full page ad by Thomas Monahan Co.: Twine war: Imported Hong Kong vs. Domestic Tiger Twine

June 18, 1983 back page ad: Monahan’s Bold Twine Private label imported twine beats Hong Kong twine

Handles:

July 1993 Ramin Prices increase as Shortages Develop. Indonesain government put on a reforestation tax to help save rainforest.

June 2006 ad by Monahan’s for a manufactured bamboo handle, (Never had 42″?)

Broom Stitcher/sewing machines:

Oct 24, 1981 Front page ad Dal Maschio, Italy by W. Petzold & Co  Cockeysville MD: Model 80; patented sewing device for totally blind and/or instruction of new operators

P.9 full page ad by Baltimore Broom Machine Co. “How much better is the Simplex 4? Operate the Simplex, compare with an Italian stitcher: We’ll pay the fare to Baltimore from anywhere in North America”

Feb. 7, 1987 Article Baltimore Broom Machine Co. changes ownership. …McCaffray, 74, retired

August 1988 Machinery Issue: Photo of Dal Maschio Broomcorn (hurl?)selector “5 lengths” (looks like 7) 220 lbs/hr. Since 1960

August 1989 Machinery Issue: Description of “Simplex V stitcher. Last photo Aug 1990

April 1991 Machinery Issue: NO broom making equipment featured

Sept 1993 Machinery Issue; Baltimore listed, no ad; Bodam listed broom machinery

Sept 1993 machinery issue NO Baltimore; Ad for American Machine & supply (last?)

Nov 2007 New Broom Stitching Machines made in China. Same function/spare parts as Italian machine

Broom corn research, Dr. Henry Hadley of the University of Illinois:

July 23,1983 comment:”…research should continue on finding a variety best suited for mechanical harvesting. (He invited me, letter Aug 30, 1983, to collaborate after I read this)

August 6, 1983 article Research Continues Into New Broomcorn Varieties. Hadley reported the establishment of the Nolan Broomcorn Trust to help solve the broomcorn shortage problem (in 1983) by bringing broomcorn production back to US with mechanical  harvesting

Nov. 26, 1983 grant from Am. Brush Manufacturers Asso. $5000 per year three years to Hadley

May 11, 1985 Professors Working to Improve Broom Corn. Dr. Dale Weibel working on is own at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater on disease resistance. Hadley creating a type that can be harvested mechanically in US for cheaper transportation and political problems (attempt by the Mexican gov’t to set price levels in July 1984) The tops of grain sorghum emerge from a protective sheath; breed broomcorn the same way for easier mechanical harvesting.

Oct 5, 1985 article: Dr. Janos Berenji, from Yugoslavia visits Dr. Hadley and Dr. Weibel to learn breeding for mechanical harvesting.

Dec. 6 1986 Professor Trying to Develop  Broom Corn Hybrid. Trying to develop plants uniformly 3-4 feet tall that allows the fiber to grow out of the leaves.

April 25 1987 Progress on Broom Corn Project 3 new varieties, some hybrids better

Nov 21, 1987 Front page: Financial Support lags for Broom Seed Project. Mentioned that I (Dr. Moyer) has worked with Dr. Hadley to create new varieties.

Jan 1989 Carlos Petzold/Bodam International Ltd. asked industry $10,000 support to Dr. Hadley. Dal Maschio invested $100,000 to develop a broomcorn harvesting machine; stopped until a proper broomcorn plant is developed.

Jan 1990 Progress on Broom Corn project. Five lines promising, including one uniformly 2 feet from ground to knuckle, erect brush completely out of the sheath. Need research to develop a mechanical broom corn harvester. (Why not Dal Maschio?)

Nov 1991 Nolan estate sold in 1989; Trust funds research assistant. 3 lines good for hybrids

Jan 1993 Achieved ideal type in individual plants, but not a line of mainly ideal plants

Jan 1994 Reported efforts on hybrids.

Feb 1996 Hybrids showed hybrid vigor. Report of Dr. Sam Moyer: multicolor dwarf hybrids

Jan 2003 Released new varieties

Feb 2003 Dwarf variety developed almost like Deer except 3.5 feet tall. Could be harvested mechanically (but top leaf covers some of the brush that gives some support)

(I completed “Moyer’s multicolored dwarf”, 2006) (“exserted’ from top leaf, long peduncles) Being maintained by Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah IA

Prison broom factory:

July 2 1983 article: Atlanta Prison Requests 444,000 lbs of Broomcorn: Brooms are purchased by the General Services Administration (Federal government)

May 23, 1987 Broom Firms Battling Prison Competition in Ohio

Dec 5, 1987 Riots by Cuban Detainees Destroy Broom Factory: Atlanta Federal prison….”By law, the federal government must get its brooms or industries for the blind…

Dec 19, 1987 Prison Siege Ends 100 to 200 tons broomcorn burned…Baltimore Broom machine co contacted to supply $400,00 in new machines.

Dec 26 No new site found for prison broom factory. Order for new broom machinery awaits approval. Industries for the Blind will supply brooms for the federal government.

Nov. 1988 New Prison Factory Catches Attention From private Sector. Big spring TX. 29 Paris winders, 3 trimmers, 2 scrapers from Am. Machine Co. Muskogee OK; 7 stitchers from Baltimore Broom Machine co.

May 8, 1982 article: Lions Club Sales Offer Potential (Usually made by blind)

Blind broom making:

March 1990. …president of AP Mills for th Blind, Memphis: business down 18%

June 1995 Suppliers directory listed 3 industries for blind, more than brooms: 225 total employees

June 1998 Only one for blind, in Canada

August 2, 1986 Article: Contest for the fastest broom maker at Arcola IL Broomcorn Festival. make three brooms: four rows of stitching; first row 10 stitches, second row 11, 3rd 12, 4th 13.

North American Free Trade Agreement:

July 1990 US-Mexico Trade Talks to begin in Dec.

March 1991 Debating “fast track”…”Mexico controls the broom corn, they will control the brooms”

April 1992 Members of US broom industry (Task Force Commitee) proposal for negotiations; gradual phase-in for imports and tarifs of Mexican corn brooms

May 1992 “Snap-back provision” proposed

August 1992 Free Trade Talks Nearing Completion

Oct. 1992 “…not as good as what one would hope for, but there’s a certain inevitability about it.”

Nov 1992 Scheduled to go into effect Jan 1, 1994. The industry was “betrayed”: had been promised a tariff reduction plan allowing time for market adjustment. Plan changed at last minute.

Dec. 1992 Trade Talks with Clinton Team: requested changes: “snap-back” provision;return tariff rate to 32% after imports surpass 200,000 dozen. Requested $$ to the Broom Fair Trade Committee; enlisted veteran lobbyist…

Jan 1993 Meeting ‘Productive’ with Clinton Team. Discussed: tariff phase-outs are too abrupt. Clinton would protect US industries, including a “snap-back” provision for broom tariffs. US broom industry had good publicity on ABC-TV WORLD NEWS TONIGHT

Feb 1993 New US trade rep supports side agreements to NAFTA including surge protection

April 1993 Import surge protection will help the future of the broom industry

March 1993 Clinton puts NAFTA on Back Burner

August 1993 Update; Duty-free quota of 100,000 dozen brooms

Dec. 1993. Special Concession Should Protect US Corn Broom Industry.NAFTA becomes law Jan1. From 1994 to 1999 the first 100,000 dozen duty free. Then 22.4 % tariff. In 2000 16%. In 2006 all duty free.

Dec. 1994 More duty free brooms than allowable

Dec. 1995 Industry hopeful government will re impose duties in imports

Dec. 1996 Pres Clinton Rules in favor of Increasing Broom Tariffs

Dec. 1998 Clinton Removes Import Protection: 100,000 dozen may enter duty free, then 22.4%, 16% Jan 1, 2000

Bear Tracks & Cactus Trees: More Info on Life in Early Baca County

Hi there!  I’m Heidi, Kent’s wife.  I swiped this blog for a minute so I could tell you about a great book filled with Baca County history.  I grew up in Balko, Oklahoma and until recently I thought Kent was my only connection with Baca County.  My parents recently surprised me with a book they have had for many years.   A friend of our family, Iris, had written a couple books about her childhood and early years in Balko.  She gave a copy of each book to my parents, they read them and thoroughly enjoyed them.  Recently, mom was sorting through their collection of books and came across the books from Iris.  Dad decided to read them again.  He realized this time that the first book was Baca County history!   Kent had taken Dad by Soldiers Canyon just a year ago so he remembered the area when reading the book.   Iris passed away many years ago, but she has left us with some great history.  Iris was at our wedding, but I don’t think she knew Kent was from Baca County.   Oh the fun those two would have had had they known their connection!  Well, thanks for letting me be a part of Baca County too : )   I’ll let Kent give you a review of the book now.

One of the books,  “Bear Tracks and Cactus Trees” documents her journeys with her parents from the Oklahoma Panhandle to the Western Baca County to Arkansas and back to the Oklahoma Panhandle.   Baca County residents will enjoy this book as roughly 2/3 of the text covers her time in early Baca County.   What is very interesting about this book is a first person account of how they really lived life in early Baca County

I have included below a few excerpts from the book that many of you may recognize.

The second paragraph in the book tells us,

… my father, Albert Elmer Powell and my maternal uncle, Jess Jackson, had earlier set out to secure some of the virgin, unspoiled land in Baca County Colorado.

Chapter III “The Quiet Prairies”  says,

Nothing, anywhere, compares with the quiet solitude of the prairies before they are touched  by man.

It was easy to see that the day-dreaming child had turned off on the wrong trail and gone east in the direction of the store and Post Office, called Joy Coy, seven and one-half miles away.

Chapter IV, “Strange Bedfellows”  begins,

We arrived on our claims at the exact time.  The merchant at Joy Coy was in need of someone to freight his supplies out from town.  Joy Coy was a general store and Post Office, seven and one-half miles east of our claim.  It was there that we did all our buying, such as that might be.  Stocks in the store were groceries, hardware, shoes, patent medicine, clothing, yard goods and numerous other items, all of which required a lot of freighting.   I have only a vague idea of where all the customers came from.  They certainly did not live close to us and we didn’t even know about them.  I believe there were some few settlers east of Joy Coy (towards Pritchett), and they, no doubt, traded at the store, but in the area west of Joy Coy there were no settlers, except the two families of us, and we lived together.

She discusses when freighting many of the hazards of sleeping outside on the ground including rattlesnakes as well as the following,

On another trip when they awakened, Papa had a feeling of being pinned down, although he could feel nothing extra on top of him.  He asked Uncle Jess to try and see what was holding him down down.  Uncle Jess, quietly, a very unusual action for him, peeked out from under the edge of the tarp and let out a quiet chuckle.   ‘There’s a full grown JJ cow standing right over you with all four feet straddling you.’  he said.  In this case they decided to flap the covers and yell loudly.  The cow almost literally flew off without even touching them.  She didn’t stop until she was well away from those noisy, strange-smelling men.

Chapter IX “Milking Wild Cows”  gives a perspective most of us will recognize even today,

Temperatures in that vast high country can range from a possible 110 degrees in the summer to 20 to 30 degrees below in the winter.  Nothing about that area is consistent, except possibly the inconsistency, so that these are not usual temperatures but have occurred in some years.

There is also discussion of JJ cattle in the chapter titled “Mad Steer”, an entire chapter discussing Soldiers Canyon just north of the Colwell and Jackson homesteads,  as well as a discussion a short time living in Springfield after they moved from the homestead.  There is also mention of familiar area names such as Mizer as well as a note that Iris’s brother Lloyd was friends with LeVoe Holt, son of early Baca County Banker Sam Holt.

This past week while in my hometown I did have the chance to go with my wife, Heidi, and my father-in -law run out west to visit Elmer Briles who lives within view of the location of Joy Coy.   When you head west out of Pritchett, Colorado and then follow the curve of the pavement It is about a quarter mile south of the curve on the west side of the road.  Me and what is left of Joy Coy is shown in the image below.

Elmer gave us a great tour, showing us the Joy Coy site as well as the locations of the Prairie Queen Cemetery and Prairie Queen school.  Following that visit we had a chance to head on west to visit with Eddie and Joyce Ming near the actual Powell and Jackson homesteads.  For those of you who would like to read the rest of the story I am going hold off telling any more of the story for now.   After learning of this I was able to find a few copies on Amazon.  I got a copy for us and I also purchased a copy which has been placed at the Baca County library.   There is also one copy still left on Amazon.com.

Orville Ewing’s Travels: The 1930’s

I mentioned in a previous post the large number of Orville Ewing postcards available for sale online, but there are also over 300 newspaper references to his 30 plus years of travel.

Orville Ewing outside the Springfield Courthouse Leaving on his First Journey in 1938

UPDATE:  April 2020.  This past week I received another scan of the picture above.  Since we already have it the picture isn’t that big of a deal as our local museum has that one, but the stamp on the back is unusual.  Orville often talks about being a painter and artist, but this one is almost like a business card.

Beginning in 1938 with a a couple of references in the March 11, 1938 issue of the The Spokane Daily Chronicle and the March 11th 1938 Fresno Bee Republican in Fresno California.

Fresno Bee Headlines 1938 in the paper providing the article announcing Orville’s departure

Both papers report Orville setting off for San Francisco as follows:

“In an ox drawn ancient stagecoach mounted on balloon tires and equipped with a radio in a nanny goat Orville Ewing Colorado pushed on today towards San Francisco a destination he said he hoped to reach in 15 months.  If he keeps up a schedule you and we’ll deliver on June 10th 1939 to the Golden Gate exposition officials a letter of greeting from Mayor Earl Deeds of Pritchett.

Ewing said he expected to make a hundred miles a month Salt Lake City Christmas he said would provide all his dairy requirements throughout the trip.

The Berkeley Daily Gazette – Feb 15, 1939  Reported Orville dressed as a pioneer woman and spectators murmuring “Poor things look so tired” referring to Orville’s two plodding oxen Tom and Jerry

In The DePauw University Paper, October 9, 1939  Above Glen Thomas wrote  a great little snippet on Orville’s travels in an article called “Wandering Son Returns To Greencastle After 26 Years Of Nomadic Life”. Thomas writes,

With two goats, an ox, a hen, a dog and a covered wagon of questionable stability, Orville Ewing, former local artist, returned to Greencastle Friday after 26 years of nomadic life in the West. He thought that his home town “had growed a lot”, and that the girls skirts shrunk during his absence.

Orville explain that in 1913 a Greencastle painters life was not the life for him, so he off the freight and headed for Colorado.  Since that time he has traveled throughout the west. In 1937 he acquired his present outfit and traveling companions and decided to travel the country pioneer style.

Wearing a bright orange shirt, leather vest, black cowboy hat, & a well weather skin, he shows clearly the type of outdoor life he is led since his departure from Greencastle.

The ox-drawn wagon is covered with tan canvas, has red wheels and a green body. Hanging from both sides or pans pots and feed bucket semicolon well from a full extension at the rear, his daily wash things out to dry.

When traveling his dog and his hen ride on the back of the ox and the goats are on leashes connect the back of the wagon. Mr Ewing who is 51 years old spend his first morning in town looking in vain for a hitch rack on which to tie his ox.  He was also unable to find the old Locust Street Church which she claims was located in the front yard erector hall Orville has however, succeeded in locating many of his old Greencastle friends.

Now that he is back, Mr Ewing space intends to go into the goat herding business if he can find suitable pasture.  He said that he’s thinking of asking for permission to use a part of the campus near East college.

Mapping Orville’s Travels(This should be interesting)

Guess what folks…only 29 more years to go.   See you next time.

Orville Ewing’s Postcards

I don’t live in Baca County Colorado anymore, but it is the place where I grew up and still call home. It will always be home. This mini writing adventure began after I shared the picture below of my grandma holding what I now believe to be Orville Ewing’s wooden rifle in front of his wagon. The wagon was sitting in front of my grandparents store on 10th street in Springfield, Colorado. Based on the car in the background the approximate time frame for the picture was mid to late 1950’s. The photograph, not a postcard, interestingly enough is what sparked this post about postcards.

Following the Facebook share of the photo a few questions arose on how Orville was related to Elden Ewing, who was known to the locals as “Dink” or  “Dinker”.  Dinker was the Pritchett City Marshall. Orville was his dad.

Orville Ewing is one of the many colorful characters who has lived in Baca County Colorado.   Born in Indiana in 1888, he graduated from Newcastle High School in 1910. Having artistic interests, he attended an art school in Chicago for a period of time. Orville last resided in Pritchett, Colorado in Baca county passing away in 1978.

In his younger years he delivered the mail from the Baca county communities of Joy Coy to Buster, Two Flues and Atlanta.  Orville gave up oil painting because the paint affected his health and started pencil sketching instead in 1938.  Also that year he began a unique odyssey. Orville traveled the the highways and byways of America for the next 30 years in a wagon.  His wife Olive describes the wagon in the 1983 Baca County history book:

His conveyance was a covered wagon, not the high wheeled Conestoga type used by the early pioneers, but a small unit on rubber wheels.  

This link takes you to the only known video clip of Orville’s wagon.  The video clip is attributed to George & Rella Duchow of Potter, WI

He made his living primarily by sketching, drawing and selling postcards of himself and his menagerie as he made his way from coast to coast.

There are an abundance of references to him such as a 1959 Lodi California news article which described Orville as an easy-going, gnarled, sunburned  old timer.  His travels are well documented and certainly amazing but postcards of him and his menagerie are the piece of his story which makes it live on.  The Hinton (Indiana) News – Jun 30, 1955  says Orville Ewing took Monon (Indiana) “by storm as he has every town that lay on his winding path.”  It also describes all of his worldly goods being carried in the wagon including… several thousand  color postcards.

No longer hidden in an old box in my mom’s basement,  I have a few of these postcards, similar to the one below:

Below is another sample provided by permission of Sylvia Harrison from the collection of her grandmother Elsie Hargis.

I also remember seeing several of these postcards over the years, but never really thought about how many of them may have been sold in the 30 plus years he was on the road. The volume of postcards emphasize the extent of his travels and his contact with people all over the United States. Orville Ewing’s travels are alive and well even today when you look on eBay or do a Google images search for “Orville Ewing” .    Do this once and you will realize he sold a lot and I mean a lot of post cards. The image below is a small sampling of the staggering volume of these postcards for sale on ebay and various other online locations.

Many of the postcards have only a picture, however one of the postcards proclaims:

I was an artist until 1937 when too much paint got into my system and I was forced to give up this work. In 1938 I started out for the San Francisco World’s Fair, arriving in 1939. Soon after my arrival I shipped my outfit back to Colorado and then started for the New York World’s Fair. I arrived in New York in 1940 and was back again in Colorado in 1941. The touring menagerie has traveled from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Canada to the Mexican border. One of the most interesting features of the menagerie is the six year old ox who weighs 1500 pounds. The Menagerie makes about ten miles a day. I was born in Indiana and now in 1943 am fifty-five years old. I have spent most of my time in the West since 1916

There are many groups that revolve around collecting postcards.  One such group in a  2007 newsletter tells us:

The message (on one of the members postcards) mentions that he smelled just as strong as his goats.  When the postcard club member interviewed Ewing’s widow and son in 1989  he mentioned the ‘goatly’ odor. They claimed,

Never bothered us, he was rarely home.

A USGenWeb Project  archive has more Orville postcards.  The USGenWeb Project  consists of a group of volunteers providing Internet websites for genealogical research in every county and every state of the United States.  This site provides great insight about the type of postcards Orville likely sold. According to the USGenWeb Penny Postcard Archive there were three primary postcards made during the time Orville wandered the US.   (NOTE:  Although this post focuses on Orville Ewing, another Baca County son, Jack Ratliff is also featured in the Baca County section of the this archive. It appears he also sold quite a few post cards)

  • Linen (1930 – 1945) – These colorful postcards were mass produced on a fiber board that had a linen-y texture
  • Chrome (1939 – Present) – These cards look like a color photograph.
  • Real Photo Postcards (1900 – Present) – These cards are real, black and white photos. On the back, the publisher put the photo process in the stamp box: Kodak, AZO, EKC, KRUXO, VELOX

Source:  US GenWeb Penny Postcard Archive

The postcards are just one part of this story.   Orville Ewing was a cultural link to a time  and a pace of life that no longer exists.  Hopefully we can follow up with more discussion of this true American original.  If you have more quotes comments or stories please comment.