Spring is finally here! Start making your summer dreams!
Take a look at these Iowa State University Facilities Planning and Management collection photos from 1903 at Ledges State Park! Are you going to swim there this summer?
Spring is finally here! Start making your summer dreams!
Take a look at these Iowa State University Facilities Planning and Management collection photos from 1903 at Ledges State Park! Are you going to swim there this summer?
Nothing brings out the joy of Spring like flowers; they are blue, red, pink, yellow, and orange smiles all over the fields.
And if we’re getting particular, in Iowa it’s rosa arkansana, or the Prairie Rose. Take a look at this Digital Collections photograph documented by Ada Hayden, the soft pink petals literally shout “Spring!” when I look at it.
What then is a Prairie Rose?
Named after the Arkansas River in Colorado, the Prairie Rose carries multiple other names because of its wide distribution, ranging from New Mexico to as north as Canada. So much so in fact, that Iowa isn’t the only grand possessor of rosa arkansana as its state flower (in 1897!) — North Dakota also does. Colorwise, there are different varieties from white to deep pink, and spew red berries in summertime.
And not only is rosa arkansana pretty to look at! You can eat its petals in salads, brew it as tea, or even candy it! When it gets gray and rainy during parts of April, maybe think about all the flowers ready to sprout up after they’ve taken their drink.
So as nature’s fireworks — flowers — explode up all around your knees this Spring, what are you looking forward to?
The coal-mining town of Buxton, Iowa has captured the imagination of many people throughout the state and beyond. Buxton was a company town owned by the Consolidated Coal Company to house the miners and other employees working the nearby coal mines or supporting the miners. Built in 1900, its heydey lasted for about 15 years, until the nearby mines were exhausted. By 1905, 55% of the population was Black. Company-owned housing was given to employees on a first-come, first-served basis, so that the town was largely integrated. As Buxton grew, it developed suburbs, and some of these were segregated, such as the primarily white East Swede Town and West Swede Town. Churches were also segregated, but schools and many social activities were integrated.
Buxton was also unique among coal company towns in that many individuals, and not just the coal company, owned businesses; many of these were owned by Black individuals. Interviews with many of its former Black residents reveal that they considered the town a Black utopia. Rachelle Chase, in her book Lost Buxton, writes,
“But to understand this label of utopia is to view it in the context of the African American residents’ experience.
“Buxton was started a mere 35 years after the end of slavery. Numerous African Americans interviewed stated that their parents or grandparents had been slaves, repeatedly sharing stores of their life of slavery. And those who had not been slaves still experienced extreme racism.
“They came from that to Buxton–a place where they could go anywhere they wanted, live any way they wanted, eat or shop where they wanted, and have the freedom they wanted.”
Dorothy Schweider was a white ISU professor in the department of History, who, along with her husband Elmer Schweider, ISU professor of Family Environment, and ISU professor of Sociology Joseph Hruba, conducted a large-scale research project on Buxton in 1980, interviewing many former residents about their experiences living in Buxton. They asked them a variety of questions about the mining and businesses in the town, schools, social life, family life, and race relations.
Below are some passages from interview transcripts that are part of the Dorothy Schwieder papers (RS 13/12/54): [Note: some passages use dated language to describe people of color.]
From an interview with Jeanette Adams, a Black resident, about Swede Town (Q are the questions by interviewers Joe Hraba and Elmer Schweider; A are answers from Adams):
Q. We discovered something yesterday, that we talked about, or Gus talked about East Swede Town and West Swede Town.
A. Oh, yes, I used to ….
Q. [Why] did they call it Swede Town, were there an awful lot of Swedes?
A. Oh, yes, there were a lot of Swedes. Yes, they had their own church and everything. Yes, it was quite their own town. Course they had to go down to the company store; I guess to deal. But they had their own little churches, their own little settlement. […]
Q. Well, let me talk a little more about that. Here’s Buxton with the company store, now is there a place called East and West Swede Town where most of the Swedes lived, and then another place where many of the Blacks lived? Or Italians, or was there a kind of segregation?
A. No, no, no, no segregation. The Swedes just had their own way up there cause they wanted to. But Buxton had no, ah, no colored and white. There were more colored [than] there were white. I think the population was higher for colored there than it was for white.
Later, Adams described black and white neighbors socializing together:
Q. (S) Were you ever, did you ever have white people come visit you in your home?
A. Oh, my yes. We had neighbors that we just loved like little sisters and brothers.
Q. And then you went in some of the white homes, back and forth, you mixed socially with that, no problem.
A. Oh yes, indeed, we mixed socially. …
Another former Buxton resident, Lester Beamon, describes the experience of Black people in towns other than Buxton, including the Ku Klux Klan and sunset laws. Heydock was the town that the Consolidated Coal Company moved on to after the Buxton mines were depleted.
Q. Did you ever hear any stories about the Ku Klux Klan being active in…?
A. They were supposed to have been active right there in Heydock.
Q. Did you ever have any direct experiences with that…?
A. Well, no, I wouldn’t just say so, but they said they were active right there in Heydock.
Q. Who told you this?
A. Oh, just hear the older people talk, you know.
Q. Anything else about the treatment… Ah, obviously Black people could go into Albia and these other towns and shop.
Q. But did they have like what were know as sunset laws in those days that Black people couldn’t be there after dark? Remember anything like that?
A. I’ve heard, my mother and them said someplace, now I don’t remember where its at, but someplace they had a sign that said …let me get it straight now. “Read and run,” or maybe “don’t let the sun go down on you” or something lie that. I don’t know where that was at. I really don’t know.
Oliver Burkett lived in Buxton before his family moved to Waterloo. He seemed to experience culture shock on leaving Buxton:
Q. In your classes there was about a third of the kids were white kids, Oliver something like that?
A. A third was white, huh huh.
Q. I know we talked about this but let me ask you again this. How did black and white kids get along together at school?
A. Real well. There wasn’t a lot of friction at all. When I come here [to Waterloo] it was just like going to a foreign country.
Q. Really, tell me about it.
A. Like I say, the black was dominant there, I mean in population and we come here. I went to Grant School, it’s right up here on Mobile Street and many times I was the only black one in my room. Yeah, see that’s been 51 years ago and there wasn’t very many black people here.
The Dorothy Schwieder papers contain many more interviews of former Buxton residents, along with other research notes from her Buxton project. More information on Buxton can be found in a number of publications, websites, as well as collections held at the State Historical Society of Iowa.
In Iowa State University Library:
“Buxton: A Lost Utopia.” Primary Source Sets, State Historical Society of Iowa. https://iowaculture.gov/history/education/educator-resources/primary-source-sets/buxton-lost-utopia
“The Great Buxton.” Iowa Pathways, Iowa PBS. http://www.iowapbs.org/iowapathways/mypath/great-buxton
Smith, Eric A. “Buxton, Iowa (1895-1927).” Black Past, January 29, 2007. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/buxton-iowa-1895-1927/
This post offers a peek at a new collection. In 2017, Special Collections purchased a collection of letters from William Rankin, a young Iowan from a farming family who appear to have lived in or near Waukon or Dundee in northeast Iowa. Rankin volunteered in the summer of 1864 for the Union Army as a “Hundred Days Man.” The Hundred Days Men were volunteer troops who served for 100 day enlistment periods during the height of the Civil War. They were intended to serve non-combat support roles in order to free up the veteran units for combat. Rankin served as a Corporal in Company F of the 46th Regiment, Iowa Infantry. His regiment was assigned to guard the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, located near Collierville, TN, a town just outside of Memphis.
The collection includes 30 letters addressed to “Folks at home.” He talks about daily life in camp, rumors from the front lines, news about fellow Iowa soldiers, and the area they were stationed in. He was apparently starved for news from home, as each letter ends with a plaintive appeal that his family answer every one of his letters.
In a letter dated “Coliersville Tenn July 6th 1864,” he describes his experience on picket guard on the 4th of July:
…it was my turn to stand on picket guard so all the fourth of July I stood under a big tree in Tennessee and at night I lay behind a log and watched for rebs but nary a reb did I see. About ten o’clock we heard two guns go off on the other side of the picket line, and in a short time the long roll was sounded. The we heard the officers yelling at the men to fall out and form into line. We could hear the colonel’s voice swearing at the men for not getting out quicker and we had (that is the pickets) to lie still. We lay for about an hour and then we heard the boys going back to bed.
In another letter, dated July 12th, he describes the punishment for some men that were caught sleeping while on guard duty:
Every night the officers of the day and guard go to every picket post to see that every thing is all right. It is called the grand rounds. The other night they found six men and a corporal asleep so they have to sleep in the guard house every night & every morning at four o’clock the guards wake them up. The corporal of the squad has to take a board that is fixed like a banner & on it is written “Sleeping Squad.” The guards then take them out of the guard house & march them to the different companies and they have to carry 6 pails of water for each Co. The corporal has to march ahead with his banner and they have to do this for 8 days.
He also shares news from the front lines. His letter from August 22, 1864 contains this story:
Yesterday Memphis was attacked by about fifteen hundred cavalry. They dashed into the city and captured Gen. Washburn’s headquarters and about five hundred of our boys. They also took a battery. We heard the firing very plainly but could not find out what it meant for some time for the wire was cut on both sides of us. About ten o’clock they got the wire fixed & then we began to get the news. They were chasing them. They had recaptured the battery. Last night they were fighting at White’s Station which is about half way to Memphis from here. We expect them here about tomorrow morning. They will find us ready. We were called out last night about two o’clock and had to stay up till sunrise. We didn’t like it very well. We expect to have the same thing to do tonight.
The entire collection of letters can be read in Special Collections and University Archives: MS-0711, William Rankin Civil War Letters.
This week the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference came to campus. This is an annual event that occurs every June. Approximately 900 teenagers descend onto Iowa State University’s campus for three days filled with workshops, speakers, community service activities, and an assortment of social events. This year, I partnered with Iowa State University Library Instruction Librarian Cara Stone and offered a workshop about preserving family history. Our goals were to help participants identify past, present, and future artifacts. We also addressed basic ways they could keep their stuff safe and provided resources for further information on both preservation resources and what cultural heritage institutions reside in the state.
We had a great time with the 4-H youths and hope they had fun also, and learned a little too, of course.
As the AV and Film Preservationist for ISU’s Special Collections and University’s Archives, I often come across visual and aural content I am tasked to preserve that is beautiful, interesting, and insightful. But sometimes content is the opposite of all those things. So when I came across Herb Hake’s episode Landmarks in Iowa History: Spirit Lake Massacre, a kinescope 16mm black-and-white print, I felt compelled to provide a rebuttal of its narrative. To that end, I am very excited to introduce Katie Prout as my guest blogger. Katie is a writer and graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. She’s currently working on a book about addiction, inheritance, and ghosts. You can read more about her take on Spirit Lake at LitHub. -Rosie Rowe
“If you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see.” This is the opening line of Jamaica Kincaid’s searing book-length essay A Small Place, and this is what echoed in my head as I watched and then re watched “Landmarks in Iowa History: Spirit Lake Massacre.” Kincaid’s book, an anti-tourist travelogue and history of her native Antigua, reverts the gaze of power by putting the white tourist, the white colonizer, under her critical lens. You think you can know a people just by looking? Fine. Let me take a look at you.
The people doing the looking in “Landmarks in Iowa History: Spirit Lake Massacre” are the tourists in this scenario, though perhaps they wouldn’t see themselves that way, and it’s through their gaze that we, the viewers, are invited to look at an event known as the Spirit Lake Massacre. This short film is one of a series produced by WOI-TV and Iowa State Teachers’ College designed to be a supplemental educational tool for teaching Iowa history in public schools. This film, then, is the official narrative, The Facts of What Happened not to be questioned. It’s easy to imagine children bent over their desks, tongues in the corners of their mouths as they strain to recall what they learned from “Landmarks” for their teacher’s test. The facts, loosely, are this: The winter 1857 was a time of starvation in northwestern Iowa, both for the white settlers who were homesteading beyond federally determined borders and for the native peoples who had first called that land home. That March, members of the Wahpekute Dakota raided the settlers for food, possibly also for revenge for loved ones who died by the hands of white settlers and soldiers—those of Inkpaduta (the man leading the raid) not the least among them. At the three day’s end, over thirty settlers were dead; four white women were kidnapped and held for ransom. Among those four was a girl; a thirteen year-old named Abbie Gardner.
This much is true. It’s also true that tourism has long figured into the economy of Iowa; indeed, the Gardner family cabin—the essential heart of the Spirit Lake Massacre, the state’s last indigenous-settler conflict in Iowa—later became the state’s first tourist attraction. But is this the truth the film is directing us to see? What does the camera’s lens hide, and what does it really reveal?
From the beginning, “Landmarks in Iowa History: Spirit Lake Massacre” is, knowingly or not, is concerned with who is looking at who and the limits of what can be known through that gaze. The viewer watches the tv (or in my case, the laptop screen). After the opening credits, the camera shows us a white man looking through another camera in turn. We watch him watch nothing. This man is teacher and historian Herb Hake, one of the show’s two co-hosts, and he’s pretending to do that time-honored tourist tick—take photos of a historic site. After a beat, Hake straightens up and winds his camera as he smiles sheepishly into ours. “Well boys and girls, it’s another beautiful day to take pictures, isn’t it?” Dressed in a jacket and cap, as though he’s greeting us from the Iowan outdoors, the host in fact stands on a studio stage. Behind him, a not-quite life-sized backdrop of the Gardner Cabin gleams, shiny with shellacked light. “Today, we’re going to take pictures of this Gardner cabin. You see it here in the background,” Hake says, gesturing to the blown-up photograph behind him. The studio lights invoke sunlight, the photograph of the cabin is a facsimile of the real thing, and the cabin itself is a stand-in for Abbie Gardner, the only survivor of the family who once called the cabin home, and from whose memoir much of the information shared on “Landmarks in Iowa History: Spirit Lake Massacre” is obtained. “As the announcer said, we are in the Great Lakes region today.” As Hake speaks, the gaze of the camera stays narrow enough to hide the stage wiring from our view, but not so narrow that we can’t see co-host Irving Hart’s elbow waiting in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Specific locations in the Great Lakes region are named to further assist the construction of our belief.
With this, the viewer enters the white imagination, but that imagination is presented as fact. Hake-as-host is grave and charming, a kind of history-loving Mr. Rogers, but the imaginative play presented before us is no game. When dealing with the magic of television, how are we to understand the reality of the warfare described? What are the young students, for whom this film was originally intended, to take away? The film goes on to present more facsimiles, reproductions, artifacts that are similar and or closely related to the real thing, but that thing they are not. In “Landmarks,” the viewer is caught in the strange place of being asked to believe but also to do the work of creating a thing to believe in. We’re to take as fact what we see, but what we see is itself a stand-in, a reproduction, a retelling of the real thing.
Here’s why this matters. In an era of fake news, the more difficult work is in looking at an incident of violence not as an isolated aberration, but as a complex response to a chain of events that stretches back and forth in time. This film was made in the 1950s, but historians should know that in any decade. The hosts of “Landmarks,” describe the violence perpetrated by the Wahpekute against the settlers in detail, with words like “ruthless,” and “dragged,” but they don’t explain that the federal government was terribly late on annuity payments to the tribe, payments that might’ve been able to keep the tribes from having to choose between raids and starvation. Hake describes Inkpaduta a “big, ugly-looking Indian,” inviting the viewer to imagine all kinds of racist caricatures, but he doesn’t explain that this “ugliness” comes from horrific smallpox scars, a European disease sometimes deliberately introduced to indigenous populations by colonizers as a method of biowarfare. The camera eventually shows us a picture of a memorial near the Gardner cabin, constructed in memory of the settlers who died; the memory of the Wahpekute is represented to the arrow-shaped stone at the top of the memorial, reducing them to nothing more than weapons, objects of death.
Towards the end of the film, the camera lingers on a picture Hake tacks up to an easel. The picture is of one of the cabin’s inside walls. On this wall, an oil painting hangs, depicting burning cabins, teepees, and cold snow. Again, we have our gaze directed to another reproduction, but this one was created by a survivor who was there. Remember Your History, Gardner admonished. She painted these words on the bottom of a painting much like this one, one of a series of scenes from the memories that haunted her. This film brought to my mind Kincaid’s A Small Place, but Gardner, a very different woman, also wrote down her observations of a land and its history; first as a settler, then as a captive of the people who her kind forcibly replaced:
“In [writing this memoir], I hope to benefit myself, pay a lasting tribute to the memory of those whose lives were consecrated to civilization, and save from oblivion the historical matter within these pages.”
History, as is so often said, is written by the victors, and it seems that educational television programming is too. While Gardner was absolutely a victim, it is her written testimony of the conflict that has been preserved and saved, and it is this version that is preserved and uplifted by “Landmarks.” Nowhere in her above sentence, quoted from the beginning pages of her memoir, is there mention of the lives of the Wahpekute; their version of history is not the “historical matter” Gardner is concerned with saving from oblivion. Working to recognize indigenous experiences and perspectives alongside those of white settlers would undoubtedly lead to another kind of conflict; an ideological one, with educators and historians striving to understand who shares what responsibility in violence, and why, and what can be done to repair that violence rather than replicate it again. This kind of history would create programming less easily reduced to symbols, more uncomfortable for some viewers to look at, but perhaps it would show us something more true.
On 18 March 1970, Ralph Ellison spoke at ISU as part of the University’s Lecture Series program. Mr. Ellison was a 20th-century, African American author, whose first and only novel, Invisible Man, won the National Book Award. In spite of his renown, the lecture was not recorded (or, if it was, apparently did not survive). Nor have I been able to locate any documentation about his lecture. I’m left wondering how he would have engaged with the Iowa State audience. I wonder whether he spoke about his love of jazz and how music influenced his writing.
Charles ‘Buddy’ Bolden (1877-1931) was a well-known, African American coronet player and a progenitor of the jazz movement in New Orleans. His trombonist claimed that at least one cylinder phonograph was made of Bolden’s music at the turn of the century by a local New Orleans saloon owner, but no known recordings have survived. Major music industry labels – Edison, Columbia, and the Berliner – regularly paid white artists to record Black music. In fact, the earliest known jazz recording is a 1917 album by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, an all-white group. So, despite its apparent uniqueness, labeling the Original Dixieland Jazz Band recording as a foundational document of jazz would be a misrepresentation of American history. In doing so, we would be ignoring the racism of the music industry that refused to record Black musicians and erasing the people and communities who were the actual creators of this American art form.
The loss of early jazz recordings – probably through neglect and mishandling – is one of the greatest examples we have of a cultural memory gap.
Cultural memory gaps within memory institutions are why modern archiving practices are slowly shifting toward intentionally collecting and prioritizing records of marginalized communities. This is why Black Archives, and other archives focused on marginalized communities, are so important. But we shouldn’t rely solely on these dedicated institutions to do ALL the collecting, prioritizing, and describing of these records. All archives must be responsible for hiring staff that can properly identify and interpret the records of marginalized communities. And as archivists, all of us share in the responsibility of preserving them.
Film and audio-visual (AV) records already have notoriously patchy documentation. What records have been collected have often not been effectively described. Combine that inherent lack of information with institutional and societal-level systems that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, erase the work of marginalized groups, and we are left with a huge cultural memory gap. We have little film and sound recordings from marginalized communities at ISU.
The scarcity of these records makes the ones that we DO have even more valuable. I happened upon one of those valuable records while wrangling the Iowa State University Film Collections.
What we do know about Ralph Ellison’s visit to ISU is that Dorcas Speer, a WOI TV reporter, interviewed him before his lecture. That the interview was filmed, and that I was able to find it. This footage is from the WOI Radio and Television collection (more information about this collection is here). We are working towards making WOI TV’s film collection more discoverable for researchers in the near future. To see the interview, watch here.
February marks Black History Month, or African-American History Month, in the U.S. and Canada. It’s true that the population of Iowa is mostly white, and African-Americans only make up about 3.4% of the state population. One of the largest (if not the largest) populations of African-Americans in the state is centered in Iowa’s largest city, Des Moines, making up 10.2% of the population of the city. African-Americans first started migrating to Iowa and Des Moines in the 1800s. Since then, there has been a history of opportunity, but also prejudice and discrimination, like every other part of the United States.
In our film collection, we have a recording that discusses all of this, entitled Black Des Moines: Voices Seldom Heard. It was recorded in 1985, produced by WOI, and produced, narrated, and written by Verda Louise Williams. It’s available on our YouTube channel, and you can watch it here below (approx. 60 minutes). If you have the time, watch it. It reveals a lesser-known side of Iowa and examines the history of African-Americans in Des Moines, featuring interviews with people who lived it.
Admittedly, our collections largely document the white experience – likely due to the fact that most of our population is white. We do, however, try to document diverse experiences, and we have a subject guide devoted to that. Collections directly tied to the African-American experience include the George Washington Carver Collection (please also see the digital collection), the Jack Trice Papers (please also see the digital collection), and the Verda Louise Williams Papers (also linked earlier in this post). In addition, we have relevant records of student organizations and subject files, which can be found in the University Archives Subject Index.
We also have reference files regarding African-American alumni, faculty, and administrators of Iowa State. Contact us or stop by if you have any questions or want to see any of our collections!
If you are looking for an interesting museum in Iowa, here is a handy Iowa museum locator, created by the Iowa Museum Association.
More information on ISU’s University Museums can be found in the University Archives, Records Series 5/8.
It’s road trip season and here in Special Collections we have a variety of interesting materials pertaining to highway travel and the development of road infrastructure in Iowa.