Saturday, August 27, 2016

General Lee 08 27-2016

President Dwight D. Eisenhower may be the most famous Kansan General to serve during World War II, but while Eisenhower called Abilene home, there was another WWII General who called Junction City home. General John C.H. Lee, known both as Courthousebecause of his strict adherence to rules and regulations (as well as a play on his middle initials C.H.) and as The Bishopdue to his strong Episcopalian beliefs, served as one of Eisenhowers top Generals on the Western front. But before he could become a decorated General, John C.H. Lee started as a local Junction City boy. Known as Clifford (his middle name) as a child, General Lee was born and raised in his grandparentshome on Fourth and Adams. In his memoir he recalled, “The Old family home at Fourth and Adams Street in Junction City had been re-constructed by our step-Grandfather, James Streeter…Across Fourth Street was the little stone Church of the Covenant, the oldest in Kansas.”
Before entering the service, General Lee was an upstanding Geary County citizen. He graduated Junction City High School in 1905 and recalled working at Rockwell General Store as a young man. “The pay was small but it was helpful. Moreover, it gave me an opportunity later to get a steady job when mother was faced by a real emergency [and] Mr. George Rockwell, gave me a steady position in the grocery department of the big store.”
As a child, General Lee reenacted moments from the ongoing Spanish War of 1898. “We played many games of a military nature, had constructed models of the naval ships and fought over again and again the campaigns as reported in Cuba.” But it wasn’t until his visit to West Point in the summer of 1899, that his interest in becoming a soldier was crystalized. As if further proof was needed that General Lee was meant to be a soldier, later that same year he met Dr. Fred O’Donnell, who cared for his aged grandmother in her final days, and who would continue to encourage young Lee throughout his military career. When he entered West Point in 1905, he credited Dr. Fred for persuading him to apply for the prestigious military academy.  Both men would serve with the United States Army during the First World War in 1917 and remained close friends for the remainder of their lives.
When he graduated from West Point in 1909, a write up was done in the Junction City Sentinel praising him. General Lee ranked 12 out of 103 fellow graduates and received an assignment into the Engineer corps. The Sentinel declared “he has gone through the four years’ course with credit to himself and his state. He always stood among those at the head of his class, receiving many honors and distinctions.” This distinction would continue through his military career, which covered both World Wars. In WWI he received the Distinguished Service Medal and the Silver Star.  In WWII, he was named deputy commander of Allied Forces in the European Theater by General Eisenhower. He was charged with the supply of American Forces in Europe, which included the unprecedented buildup of men and supplies in preparation for the invasion of Normandy in 1944.
In 1945, Lee was honored in Junction City with a celebration and a parade through downtown Junction City. General Lee retired in 1947 with the permanent rank of Major General and settled with his wife in York, Pennsylvania where he took an active role in his religious community until his death in 1958.
In 2017, the Geary County Historical Society will be celebrating the Year of the Soldier. The goal is to share the many stories of our military community from the founding of the county in 1855 to the present. Do you have a story to share? Are you a soldier? Was your ancestor a local soldier? Stop into the museum to share the story. Loans of military artifacts and photographs are also welcome. Contact Heather at the museum for more information at 785-238-1666 or stop in the museum Tuesday-Sunday from 1-4. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

08 20 2016 "Aprons"

08/20-2016 Newspaper Musings


One of the interesting parts of my job is researching either a historical period or a person and every once in a while I am asked to speak about an item and research its history.  This week I am researching the apron in advance of a presentation.  Yes, the same household apron that has been around for generations.  My reading led me to beginning with an early mention in the Bible, Genesis 3:7- “And the eyes of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons”. My research then took me to an example of an early apron called the Tabard with family crests worn by knights which then turned into the original cobbler’s apron.  Others who have used an apron are ancient priests, butchers, chefs, wait staff, beauticians, blacksmiths, shoe shine boys, tanners and the BBQ aprons designed for men when they began to grill outdoors. 
However while there were many professions that utilized the apron it has been mainly associated with the lives of women and their role as homemaker.  The apron was traditionally homemade and worn in everyday life as well as their more elegant versions worn when entertaining.  Normally women wore one apron while preparing the meals and then changed into another crisp and clean version when actually serving dinner.  Disney’s Cinderella had a version so popular that J.C Penny’s had at one time published the pattern for women to create their own.  Aprons were not just fashionable they were functional as the apron protected a woman’s clothes and it was also simpler to wash an apron than a dress.  The apron was a multipurpose tool; it was a potholder, it wiped dirty noses and gently brushed away tears from the faces of little ones. The apron helped grandmothers gather eggs from the chicken coops or vegetables from gardens and later wipe the sweat off her face while cooking over a hot stove. A great many things were transported in Grandma’s apron: firewood, fallen apples as well as providing a quick dust to furniture when unexpected company arrived. 
The apron even inspired poetry. Here is a line from “Grandma’s Apron”  and while there are many versions the author is unknown for this one, “When I used to visit Granma.  I was very much impressed, by her all-purpose apron, and the power it possessed”.   An apron reflected the woman herself and sometimes her status in life.  Was it made of cotton, Gingham, organdy or a feed stack?  Did she keep it starched or was it soft and well-worn from constant use and washing?  There are many books dedicated to the making of an apron.  There are patterns instructing one on how to turn a dishtowel into a colonial era apron, mother-daughter projects for creating one of a kind vintage aprons and even instructions for how a homemaker can create a practical but decorative apron in advance of Thanksgiving.
Think back to your family gatherings.  Did your mother, grandmother, or the women of the family have one item such as an apron that evokes a memory?  It does not even have to be the apron; it could be a certain type of pot or pan, a specific meal or dish, or even a scent that carries you back to another time, another place.  This week’s musing is about how one item with a very long history can teach many about a variety of periods in history while also being very personal and significant to an individual.  The Geary County Historical Society and Museums have many such items within their collections.  The Main Street Gallery reflects the businesses that were at the heart of Junction City at its inception however it has evoked memories of visits to the dressmaker for some and trips to the barber shop in others.   Grandmother’s Kitchen and the Tack Room exhibits are both indicative of Geary Counties past while telling the story of the many individuals who make up that past.  So please come and visit us Tuesday through Sunday from 1-4 PM to not only reexamine the history of Geary County but to be taken back to your own pleasant memory. 
In advance of the Year of the Soldier in which, “The Geary County Historical Society is celebrating YOU – the soldier, Veteran, grand-daughter, son, mother of a soldier”.  We are asking you to share your stories, artifacts, or contribute in any way for The Year of the Soldier call 238-1666 or email

Saturday, August 13, 2016

08 13 2016

To celebrate both the Olympic Games and the Ft. Riley Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard performing at the Spring Valley Historic Site’s Open House on August 27th here is a reprinting of an article by the GCHS former Executive Director, Gaylynn Childs.
  On January 1st, 1893, Fort Riley became site of the Cavalry and light artillery school, which continued until 1943, when the Calvary was disbanded.  Thanks to Fort Riley’s Cavalry School, equestrian champions, both of the two and four-legged variety, are almost a part of our community heritage, for Geary County can boast of several representatives who won medals in Olympic competitions in the 1930s.
            In 1932 these world games were held in Los Angeles and the entire Army Equestrian Team was trained and groomed at Fort Riley.   Among the horses which would be entered in the competition that year was a gray mare with real local ties.  Her story was brought to our attention by Bill Koester, a member of the Junction City High School Class of 1937.
            Bill’s father, Capt. William Koester, had been posted to Fort Riley in 1925 after a 5 year stint with a Cavalry Regiment in the Philippines.  In 1927, he became aide to the Commanding General and eventually a student at the post’s Mounted Service School.  According to his son, “this assignment offered an opportunity to try out for the U.S. Army Olympic Equestrian Team then being assembled at that post.  He qualified, and in 1931 was named a member and team coach.”
            In 1928, while driving through the farmlands surrounding the Fort, Capt Koester happened to spot a gray-colored mare jumping a 22-foot-wide creek on a farmer’s spread near Ogden.  He recognized her potential and went to see if the farmer would consider selling her.  When asked how much he wanted for the horse, the farmer scratched his head, pondered a while, and then allowed as how he wouldn’t take a penny less than 75 bucks for her.  ‘Sold!’ said my Dad.
            “Next day, he returned with a trailer and cashier’s check for $75.  He trained her from day one for the Olympics, and in her prime she was the greatest jumper in the world.  Dad named her ‘Show Girl’ and personally oversaw her training and development into a world class jumper.
            “Dad loaned Show Girl to the Army specifically for the games of the 10th Olympiad.  It was a fortuitous move.  On August 14, 1932, she transfixed 103,000 spectators in the Los Angeles Coliseum by dramatically negotiating a 1500-meter course of 23 obstacles to win the Silver Medal in the “Prix des Nations” jumping competition.  Never had an American entrant been a medalist in this event, and none would again until 1968, when the U.S. won the Gold in Mexico City.
            “During the remainder of the ‘30s, Show Girl reigned as the greatest jumper in the world, winning countless trophies at the elite horse shows of the world.  Dad’s reputation—as horseman (he rode her in most events), trainer, and equine authority—soared.”
            Another legendary Geary County horseman was also on the 1932 Olympic team and also brought home a medal.  Col. Hirum Tuttle has been aptly described as a true “Renaissance Man” for he was a man of many talents and abilities.  Born in 1882, in Maine, he grew up riding on the back of his father’s plow horse as his father worked the fields on the family farm. When the war started in 1917, he enlisted in officer’s training and when the United States entered World War I, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army.  Following the war he was posted to Fort Riley in 1923 and then served for a time in remount work at Fort Robinson, Nebraska.  There, he was in charge of the buying and overseeing the breaking of horses and mules for the Army to make them suitable for the service for which they had been obtained.  From this experience he developed the skills and expertise which would eventually make him the premiere trained rider in the world. 
            In 1932 Hirum Tuttle represented the United States’ team in the Olympic Games at Los Angeles, and again, in the fabled 1936 Games in Berlin.  To this day, he is the only U.S. rider to have won an individual medal in Dressage.  He did this in 1932 when his performance also contributed to the U.S. team’s Bronze Medal won that same year.
                        Tuttle owned all the horses he rode and they were all trained and developed at Fort Riley.  Four of them--Olympic, Vast, Si Murray, and Peter Brown—were known throughout the world. After retirement, Tuttle got special permission from Washington to keep his horses at Fort Riley, at no expense to the Army.  He worked with them there every day, and even after he had suffered a stroke and was wheelchair-bound, he had someone push him out to visit his horses each day.  Col. Hirum Tuttle died on November 11, 1956, and was buried at Fort Riley with military honors, including that most poignant tribute—for this man especially—the riderless horse.
            So not only is Fort Riley one of the most historic and important military bases in the United States, but it also has some Olympic Gold to show off!  

This undated photograph of a horse at the Cavalry School shows the horse vaulting what looks like two horses and a fence.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Our Past is Present

Museum Musings
08 06 2016

In addition to our normal museum programs and weekly newspaper article in the Daily Union, the Geary County Historical Society also has a daily radio spot called “Our Past is Present” on KJCK 1420 AM about a moment in our county’s history. For today’s Museum Musings, I am sharing a small sampling of what you might hear on 1420 KJCK at 9:45 a.m. throughout the week.

Our Past is Present: April 18, 2016
There was quite a ruckus at Fort Riley in late spring of 1954, when a veterinary officer from the Fifth Army Headquarters in Chicago was sent to the post to investigate the cost of the 30 “retired horses” stabled on the reservation.

Rumors flew that Fort Riley had been ordered to dispose of the horses, and cavalrymen and local residents protested. Every one of the 30 retired horses had been on an honorary list. Among the horses being considered were Millwood, the personal mount of General Joseph Wainwright, the “Hero of Corregidor,” and Dakota, former star of the U.S. Army’s 1936 Olympic equestrian team.

Weeks passed and no order was received to confirm this rumor. As summer began, members of the military and civilian sources alike came to believe that orders to destroy the horses never would come!

To learn more about the fates of Millwood, Dakota, and the other retired horses, stop by the Museum any time from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and ask about the epilogue!

April 19, 2016 Our Past is Present
April is the month when a special ceremony is conducted in most communities in the Midwest. On Arbor Day, citizens are encouraged to plant trees to improve our environment and the beauty of our communities. Nebraska originated the observance of Arbor Day in 1872, but in Geary County, motivated residents took it upon themselves to plant trees, and not just for cosmetic purposes.

In the nineteenth century, Kansas needed an incentive to plant trees for shade and windbreaks. Like most of the Midwest, our township was originally treeless. When the city was laid out in 1858, the planners decided the southwest corner block of Sixth and Washington Streets would be a likely place for a park. General Knox, an eccentric community resident, is credited with planting the first trees and sowing grass in the park. He watered and cared for them until they appeared to be established on their own. William Cutter, a local nurseryman, and others followed General Knox’s lead in planting many other trees in what is now known as Heritage Park.

In addition to giving the listener short tidbits that reflect Geary County’s history, “Our Past is Present” also features updates about upcoming events at the Geary County Historical Society and its museums. Listeners may hear about a new guest speaker at the Museum, an open house day at our Spring Valley Historic Site, or the theme for this month’s Home School activity. Tune in to “Our Past is Present” at 9:45 from Monday through Friday on KJCK 1420 AM.

About the Museum
There are many learning activities offered through the Geary County Historical Society for school groups, families, and private organizations, and our spacious auditorium is available to the public to rent for special events. We also offer numerous volunteer opportunities to people of all ages. Our volunteers run our Research Center, learning valuable research and technical skills as they scan and digitize documents in our collection, and their assistance as docents, hosts, and Traveling Trunk program educators is instrumental to the Museum.

We have a variety of books in the Gift Shop at the Museum that will be interesting to those who enjoy reading about historical people, places and events. One of our best sellers is titled Set in Stone, which is a collection of articles about Geary County History. These articles were written by local authors including Gaylynn Childs, Josephine Munson and Leona Garrison. New books available are Fort Riley and Its Neighbors and Buffalo Soldiers and the American West. For younger readers we have “H” is for Honor and “S” is for Sunflower, both by JCHS graduate Devin Scillian. Stop by the Museum on the corner of Sixth and Adams Streets and visit our Gift Shop. Admission is free and the books are reasonably priced.

The Geary County Historical Society is an invaluable resource available to the residents of Geary County or anyone interested in Geary County history. We are open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For more information and event fliers, follow us on Facebook (@GearyHistory) and Instagram (@GearyCoHistory). Our phone number is 785-238-1666 or you can email us at, and finally you can come in and visit with us at 530 N. Adams St. We would love to hear from you.