Manuscripts Miscellany: Buxton, Iowa

Black and white photograph showing a broad, open area with many houses set in plots of land.

Looking S.E. from Water Tower, Buxton, Ia. From the Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 20, folder 21.

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.

Black and white photograph of schoolchildren lined up in five rows in front of a school building. At the back is a teacher. The children are both male and female. A large portion are black, while the rest are white. The teacher is female and may be black.

Buxton schoolchildren, undated. From the Dorothy Schwieder papers, RS 13/12/54, box 20, folder 21.

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.”

Black and white portrait of a Black man wearing a suit jacket, vest, shirt and bow tie. Photogaph is in an oval frame.

Portrait of George Woodson, a prominent lawyer in Buxton and later the founder of the Iowa Negro Bar and National Bar Association. From the Dorothy Schwieder papers, RS 13/12/54, box 20, folder 21.

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):

From the Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 12, folder 8.

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:

Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 12, folder 8.

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.

Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 12, folder 9.

Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 12, folder 9.

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. Really?

A. Yeah.

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.

A. Yeah.

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:

Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, box 12, folder 13.

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.

Selected Bibliography

In Iowa State University Library:

Chase, Rachelle. Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa. HISTORY Press, 2019.

–. Lost Buxton. Arcadia Publishing, 2017.

Dickey, LeeAnn. Before Buxton: the Muchakinock Years, 1874-1900. PBL Ltd., 2014.

Dorothy Schwieder Papers, RS 13/12/54, Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives.

Gradwohl, David M., and Osborn, Nancy M. Exploring Buried Buxton: Archaeology of an Abandoned Iowa Coal Mining Town with a Large Black Population. Iowa State University Press, 1984.

Schwieder, Dorothy, et al. Buxton: Work and Racial Equality in a Coal Mining Community. Iowa State University Press, 1987.

–. Buxton: A Black Utopia in the Heartland. University of Iowa Press, 2003.

Websites:

“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/


Native American Heritage Month: Historical Photos of the Meskwaki

November is Native American Heritage Month, and our post for today features two sets of photos from within larger manuscript collections that offer glimpses of Meskwaki life from late 19th and early 20th century Iowa.

It bears mentioning that, while we are always seeking to diversify our collections, Iowa State University is not, and by its very nature will never be, the best resource for learning about Native American people’s histories and cultures — even those directly adjacent to us. This is because Native American nations keep their own records. If, therefore, you want to learn more about the Meskwaki Nation, which is located in Tama County, about an hour’s drive from ISU, I strongly recommend that you go directly to the source by visiting their website, their cultural center and museum, and/or by getting in touch with the museum’s historic preservation staff (contact information at the bottom of the linked page). They will be able to tell you more about themselves than our archives, or even coursework in ISU’s excellent American Indian Studies Program (AISP), ever could.

I also want to point out that the photographs in this post are, to the best of my knowledge, the creation of white, European-American photographers, who were outsiders to the Meskwaki culture. This is significant because it suggests that what we are actually seeing in these photos is (sometimes obvious, but always decidedly one-sided) documentation of encounters between two very different cultures, rather than internal elements or perspectives of Meskwaki life. It does not, at least in my opinion, make the images any less interesting or historically valuable; it is simply important context to bear in mind, particularly as our collections do not contain the counterpart, which would be documentation of such interactions that centers a Meskwaki point-of-view.

1897

These photos are among the oldest I know of in our collections that contain glimpses of people from what was then, at least to English-speakers, known as the “Sauk and Fox” tribe. The images are contained in a 6″ x 8″ photo album, which documents rural life in central Iowa at the end of the 19th century, though it is unclear who the creator was or why so much of the album remains empty.

KIC Image 0001.2

MS-0714. Iowa Photograph Album. Album cover.

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MS-0714. Iowa Photograph Album. Last page in album, identifying the manufacturer.

I have scanned the relevant page spread in its entirety but will zoom in on the three individual images, as well. Each is a black-and-white, thumbnail-sized picture inserted into a photograph sleeve with four-windows and then captioned and dated by hand.

KIC Image 0002.2

MS-0714. Iowa Photograph Album.

KIC Image 0001.3

MS-0714. Iowa Photograph Album.

According to an Encyclopedia Brittanica article, THE Black Hawk (Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kai-kaik), a Sauk warrior famed for leading three allied Iowa tribes (Sauk, Meskwaki, and Kickapoo) through the 1832 “Black Hawk War” against the U.S. government, died in 1838. This means that the man pictured above must be another, younger leader who went, or at least was know to local Anglo settlers, by the same name.

KIC Image 0002.3

MS-0714. Iowa Photograph Album.

It is too bad that the photographer neglected to ask and/or recall these individuals’ names. It is, unfortunately, also not clear whether any of them had consented to be photographed in the first place. The fact that they are walking away from the camera suggests that they did not.

KIC Image 0003.3

MS-0714. Iowa Photograph Album.

Although these individuals are identified as being “from Tama Reservation,” it is not entirely clear whether they would have belonged to the Meskwaki Nation as it currently defines itself. “Sauk and Fox” seems to have been a catch-all term designated by the U.S. government for at least two distinct tribes, both of which it sought to forcibly relocated to Kansas in the decades following the Black Hawk War. The Meskwaki have also never referred to themselves internally as the “Fox”; this is an anglicization of a name conferred on the tribe by French fur trappers more than a century before. The “reservation” in Tama county, where a number chose to remain and/or return, was also not technically a government reservation, as the Meskwaki had purchased this land for themselves in 1857.

 

1931

These pictures were taken at an annual Powwow festival, which, according to the Meskwaki website, is typically held in either August or September and modeled after a traditional harvest-time social event known as the “Green Corn Dance.” Photographer Walter Rosene, best known for his prolific local bird photography, featured in the Avian Archives of Iowa Online, took these pictures, presumably while attending a Meskwaki Powwow with family or friends.

KIC Image 0007

MS-0598, Box 17, Folder 5. Meskwaki Powwow.

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KIC Image 0002

MS-0598, Box 17, Folder 5. Meskwaki Powwow. The kids posing for this photo afford us an excellent view of their fancy outfits. The little one on the left, though, looks like he’s ready to scamper off to re-join the festivities!

KIC Image 0009

MS-0598, Box 17, Folder 5. Meskwaki Powwow. It is unclear whether this photo was taken at the Powwow or sometime before or after. There is no additional information on the back, but I am guessing that the people in this photo were all spectators. I personally also find the symmetry and contrasts interesting — for example, the plaid in both the little white girl’s dress and in the Meskwaki woman’s shawl, and the way the woman and children in the foreground are the only ones both not wearing hats and seemingly absorbed in something other than Rosene’s camera.

I did locate photos within a few more collections, all of them RS collections, which is more of what I typically work with. But I realized belatedly that the boxes I needed from each of these are stored off-site and that I wouldn’t have time to request them. Perhaps they will become their own blog post someday.

 

 


Manuscripts Miscellany: Old-time Campaign Photograph

In this season of political campaigning, especially here in Iowa, my attention was caught recently by a photograph I came across while looking through the Walter M. Rosene papers, MS-0589. Rosene was a birder, and most of his photographs are of birds, nests, and landscapes through which he traveled to go bird watching. So, I was surprised to see a photograph of a politician, addressing a crowd from the back of a train car:

Kansas Governor Alf Landon won the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1936. He was running against Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had been in office for one term at this point. Roosevelt won with a landslide victory. But before that, Governor Landon made a campaign stop in Boone, Iowa, speaking from the platform of a train car. He was engaging in a whistle stop campaign, making brief speeches at a number of small towns along a train route. Judging by the crowd of people in the photograph, Iowans were as engaged in politics in the 1930s as they are today.


Rare Books Highlights: Biblio Vault of Horrors!

Illustration of blonde woman with mouth open in a scream.

Oh, the horror!

Gaze–if you dare–on these images of spineless and dismembered books uncovered in our vault.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

Broken spines, missing spines, and detached boards

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This one has been stabbed…

This one makes me cry: laminated title page:

Please don’t do this to your books! The adhesive is acidic (see the browning effect?), and it is basically impossible to remove the lamination without destroying the book.

Remember, be kind to books, and they may last for hundreds of years!

 


#TBT Dairy Month

Tomorrow kicks off Dairy Month, and today’s #Throwback Thursday post includes links to posts of Dairy Months past.

Iowa State Dairy circa 1905 (University Photographs, box 639).

Here are some prior posts we’ve done to celebrate Dairy Month:

Fun Facts

  • A cow is more valuable for its milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt than for its beef.
  • All 50 states have dairy farms.
  • Dairy is the 5th largest agricultural business in Iowa.
  • 99% of the ~1,400 dairy farms in Iowa are family-owned.
  • Dairy Month started out as National Milk Month in 1937, to promote drinking milk of course.
Black-and-white photo of a man (presumably a student) sitting on a stool, wearing overalls, work shirt, and cap milking a cow a red and white spotted cows. The pair are flanked by cows on either side.

Undated photograph (University Photographs RS 9/13 Food Technology).

Check out how ISU Extension and Outreach are celebrating Dairy Month.

References for Fun Facts:

“Celebrate Dairy Month in June”  by Iowa State University Extension & Outreach 

Dairy Month media kit by the International Dairy Foods Association


#Flashback Friday – Iowa State vs. Iowa

Tomorrow is the Iowa State vs. Iowa football game. Wednesday’s post detailed the history behind the rivalry. Today’s Flashback Friday photograph is of an Iowa versus Iowa State football game in Ames at Clyde Williams Field.

Photograph of an Iowa versus Iowa State football game in Ames at Clyde Williams Field.

Drop by our reading room to look at more football photographs in our University Photograph collection. We’re open Monday-Friday from 9-5.




#TBT Forestry

Forestry Student, 1916

Student with pine cones, presumably at Forestry Camp, 1916 RS 09/14, Box 718

Earth Day is coming this Saturday, and we are celebrating with some pictures from the Department of Forestry camp records.  Forestry is currently part of the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, but was part of the Department of Horticulture and Forestry at the time the photos were taken.

Forestry Summer Camp, 1916

Forestry Summer Camp, Glacier National Park, Montana, 1916 RS 9/14, Box 718

Pictures from the Forestry department are a perfect fit for Earth Day.  According to the Iowa State University Forestry website, “The forestry curriculum offers courses dealing with the management of forest ecosystems for multiple benefits including biodiversity, recreation, water, wilderness, wildlife, and wood and fiber. Conservation and preservation of natural resources are emphasized.”

To learn more about forestry camp, please visit this blog post.  Enjoy these photos from over 100 years ago, and have a Happy Earth Day!


National Ag Day 2017

black-and-white photograph, young woman on tractor in field.

Extension photograph from University Photographs

Today is National Ag Day 2017. National Ag Day is organized by the Agriculture Council of America (ACA), you can check them out on their Facebook page. ACA is a nonprofit organization composed of leaders in the agricultural, food and fiber community. The ACA was founded in 1973, and their mission is:

To educate all American’s about the importance of American Agriculture.

In celebration of National Ag Day, check out some of our agricultural collections.

4-H boys and girls posing with their sheep

Extension photograph from University Photographs

Drop in some time to do some research. Our reading room is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.