Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Allure of the Flint Hills

"Matfield sits on the western side of the South Fork, against the brow where the uplands drop to the river terraces and then rise again a half mile eastward to run brokenly to the Flint Hills escarpment.  The hamlet is snugged in enough to make me believe that with a terrific heave, I could throw a rock up and out of the valley onto the the uplands; it is this compression of river and trees and simple dwellings, hidden from the prairie sweep, that give the village its unornamented, if decrepit, charm and keeps its name from being a hoax."
-William Least Heat Moon, Prairy Erth.

At least five generations of my family have been drawn to the allure of the Flint Hills.  In my search for the root of this attraction I am indebted to the work of Joseph V. Hickey, Jim Hoy and William Least Heat Moon.  Their vivid descriptions of the land and the people who inhabited it have provided me with a rich backdrop for understanding the people and places that are my heritage.

I have come to think of the Flint Hills in feminine terms much like a sailor thinks of his ship as a “she”.  Her gentle breezes through the tall grasses tempt men like the ruffle of a woman’s skirt or a soft kiss.  Her perfume lingers over the prairie beckoning you to follow.  She is a temptress whose soft voice seems to whisper, “Come to me. Like the red tailed hawk souring above, I will set you free”. 

Yet she is a fickle mistress.  Her soft breezes can suddenly  become tornadic winds that destroy men’s lives. Without warning, her warmth turns frigid leaving men stranded and alone in the icy cold of a winter blizzard. As if on a whim, she moves from drought to flood without a care or concern for the lives she destroys in the process.

But she will not set you free. Like the Sirens of mythology, she calls men back with sweet promises. “Come back to me,” she whispers.  “It will be better next time.”  Women cannot compete with the power she holds over their men.  Like the wives and lovers of the sea captains of long ago, they wait and hope.
Pioneer women followed their men into the Flint Hills in search of the dream.  Often times it was not a dream of riches or wealth, but of a paradise on earth where one could derive sustenance from the land itself. The Flint Hills promised bountiful wildlife and fertile valleys.  If a man had a strong wife and many children, the land would provide the rest.  For most, it was an empty promise.  Families withered and died from starvation or the harshness and unpredictability of the climate.  Those who survived, remain loyal to the land and the dream.  They are rooted to the soil in ways others cannot understand. It is against this rich background that I begin to piece together the tapestry that is the beginning of this legacy.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The End of an Era

My grandfather died a few weeks before I was born so I never knew him.  In honor of Father's Day, I am posting a memory of my Grandfather, written by my mother, his daughter several years ago.

Let me tell you about my dad.  Newton Guy Cauldwell was his name.  Everyone in town called him "N.G.".  Mom called him "Guy", and we, his children, called him "Pop".

He was born to Will and Melvina Cauldwell on March 7, 1887. They lived about 8 miles north of Madison, Kansas in what was known as the Number 1 District.  This means it was the first school district in Greenwood County.  As a matter of fact, the school was only about a half mile from his boyhood home.

He use to tell me about how his mother would get him ready for school and pack his lunch and send him down the road.  She would stand at the door and watch him until he reached the bend in the road, because he was prone to play hooky.  Once he reached the bend, he would turn, wave to her and run towards school, but once out of her sight, he would duck into the orchard and hide until school was out in the afternoon.  Then he would come home as though he had been in school all day.

All good things must eventually come to an end.  Finally he was caught and Grandpa told him that either he went to school, or he went to work.  Dad became a man and put aside his school books and boyish ways.  He completed only four years of school.

It was at about this time that the Trail Drive Era in the Flint Hills of Kansas effectively came to an end and gave way to the Railroad Era transforming the Flint Hills cattle country into a major cattle shipping point on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad line.  The romance and lure of the great cattle ranches drew many young men away from the drudgery of farm labor and they hired on as ranch hands to help round up the cattle from their summer grazing pastures and bring them to the railhead for shipping. A major part of preparing for the summer cattle included the repairing of fences and replacing of water gaps that were washed out by spring rains.  Pasture season began in early spring when the dominant grasses of the tallgrass prairie were beginning to green. Massive general fires were set to burn off the previous year's dead grass and promote new growth. Trainloads of cattle would be unloaded at the Flint Hills railheads in the spring, many of which were thin and weak and required special attention if they were to be saved. Those that had their health, on the other hand, could be wild and skittish and difficult to drive.  Others, after having been put in the pasture, would sometimes crawl through fences or walk the cattle guards and wander off.

It wasn't an easy life by any means.  Days often began at 4:00 a.m. and continued late into the night, but there was plenty of work and wide open spaces. Grandfather's lack of education was irrelevant to the times and the work of the cowboy...and then he met the school marm.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Cowboy Spirit

 “As another necessary consequence to possessing true manly courage, the cowboy is as chivalrous as the famed knights of old. Rough he may be, and it may be that he is not a master in ballroom etiquette, but no set of men have loftier reverence for women and no set of men would risk more in the defense of their person or their honor.”
(Texas Live Stock Journal. October 21, 1882.)

“The term “cowboy” was supposedly coined in Texas. When the Civil War began in 1861, the Confederate Army needed every able-bodied man available, so the women, children and slaves were left to run the big cattle ranches by themselves. Suddenly young boys took over the responsibilities of their older brothers and fathers. Because they learned the roping and riding techniques that were necessary for maintaining the herds of cattle, they were called cowboys. Eventually the term was used to refer to anyone who herded and tended cattle, regardless of his age.”

“The cowboy traveled very lightly; every article of clothing and equipment had to be functional, serving a multiple of purposes. His wide-brimmed hat, which evolved from the Mexican sombrero, served as a screen from the blistering sun, a water dipper and as a pillow at night. His long-sleeved flannel shirt and leather vest had plenty of pockets for holding small items, like tobacco, rolling papers and perhaps a harmonica. The colorful bandanna around his neck was used as a towel, a tourniquet or sling in medical emergencies, and a mask during dust storms.” (Helberg,1982: 4)

Instead of shining armor, these “knights of the plains” were dusty and dirty and often smelled bad from long periods of sleeping and working out on the range.  Yet, there was a gentleness and a general sense of moral goodness beneath that tough demeanor. They were often loners who relished the wide open spaces and solitude of the prairie.  There was no need to develop social skills on the prairie.  As a result, relationships were often difficult and conversations tended to be short and stilted.  Yet these same men who found it so difficult to show their emotions and feelings openly were often capable of great tenderness and passion. The same hands that could punch a man to death if pushed to it, could also help birth a newborn calf or gently cradle a baby.

“Altogether cowboys are a large-hearted class of fellows...the constant communication with nature...the days and nights of lonely cruising and camping on the prairie, the uninterrupted communion with and study of self which this occupation affords, tends to make young men honest and noble.” (G. Shields, author, 1886).  These men were fiercely independent and often questioned or rebelled against authority.  They were used to living by their own rules and code of honor. The cowboy’s relative isolation and work environment both contributed to the development of a distinct cowboy culture, based on the frontier values of the American West: self-reliance and individualism with a healthy dose of the blues. 

When there was too little rain for ordinary farming, but enough grass for grazing, cattle ranching became dominant. In the mid 1800’s much of the Great Plains became open range, hosting cattle ranching operations on public land without charge. In the spring and fall, ranchers held roundups where their cowboys branded new calves, treated animals and sorted the cattle for sale. Such ranching began in Texas and gradually moved northward. Before the railroads arrived in Texas the 1870s cattle drives took large herds from Texas to the railheads in Kansas.

Overstocking of the range and the terrible winter of 1886 resulted in a disaster, with many cattle starved and frozen to death. From then on, ranchers generally raised feed to ensure they could keep their cattle alive over winter.  With the end of the great cattle drives, cowboys became hired hands, lived in bunk houses on the ranch and took care of feeding and rounding up the cattle for sale. My grandfather was such a man—small in stature, but larger than life in many ways, and fiercely independent.  It is no wonder that my grandmother, the school marm, was attracted to him.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Women in Education

"Wanted Immediately: A Sober diligent Schoolmaster capable of teaching READING, WRITING, ARITHMETICK, and the Latin TONGUE…Any Person qualified as above and well recommended, will be put into immediate Possession of the School, on applying to the Minister of Charles Parish, York count."--The Virginia Gazette, August 20, 1772.

From colonial times and into the early decades of the 19th century, most teachers were men.  However, reformers in the 1840's began to argue that women were by nature nurturing and maternal, as well as of high moral character.  Even as they granted women moral superiority, reformers quietly worried over women's ability to maintain order in the classroom and discipline unruly children. In the mid to late 1800's, with as many as 60 children in the one-room schoolhouse, teachers had their work cut out for them.  Admittedly, the curriculum was generally not very demanding--reading, writing, basic arithmetic, a little geography, and history.  The texts often took the form of simple moral tracts and primers of childish virtues.  Still, women flocked to teaching.  Not only were they grateful for the salary, however meager; they also welcomed the independence and sense of purpose teaching gave them.  No doubt some regretted having to leave their homes and earn their own livings.  Many assumed they would teach only a few years until they married.  But many others welcomed the escape from a life of drab labor, isolation or frivolity.  Teaching gave women a window onto a wider world of ideas, politics and public usefulness  (PBS Online: Only a Teacher:  Teaching Timeline, ).

It’s a well-known fact that in public education today, women form the bulk of the work force and men serve as bosses. In school administration, men are most likely to be found in positions with the greatest power, pay, and prestige (Smith-Doerr, 2004; Blackman, 2000; Maskell, 1997; Fauth, 1984; Foxley, 1982; Astin & Snyder 1982; Allain, 1981; Adkinson, 1980-1981).  Researchers have attempted to find some explanation for this anomaly, usually be focusing on the obstacles women face attempting to enter administration. Generally, the obstacles are categorized into two groups:  Internal obstacles which include sex-role stereotyping, lack of aspiration, role conflict, and low self-esteem; and external obstacles which include lack of encouragement, family responsibilities, lack of mobility, and hiring and promoting practices (Gilligan, 1985; Marshall, 1985; Yoder, 1985; Maskell, 1997).

Much been written regarding the perception of a “glass ceiling” for women wishing to move up the ranks of management, but in truth, women are more likely to run through a maze of obstacles that may prevent or impede them from moving up. While more and more women are moving into the ranks of leadership, they often do so by sacrificing the more traditional roles of the family.  They may have a surrogate parent or grandparent who provides child care and assumes the roles of parent volunteer and afterschool chauffeur.  In some cases, the husband is the primary care-giver for the children.  And yet, in many cases, the woman has made the decision to remain single or childless in order to pursue career goals.

What’s interesting to me is how men will mentor and open doors for other men wishing to move into leadership roles, but women are often not inclined to do this for each other.  Sometimes known as the “good old boys” network, this support framework has not always existed for women.  As a result, women tend to have to prove their worth and leadership by working harder and walking a fine line between assertiveness and the gentility expected of a woman.  Assertiveness in a man is often viewed as a sign of strong leadership, while in a woman, it has quite a different connotation.

Even today, women in educational leadership roles tend to come up through the ranks of elementary education.  Perhaps this is because the time commitment seems a better compliment to family life than the late nights and weekends associated with the extracurricular activities of secondary education, not to mention the myriad of emotional and discipline problems that interfere with the learning process. 

However, there is an interesting phenomenon occurring as more and more women enter the ranks of educational leadership.  They are more informed about learning theory and more focused on student achievement outcomes.  They are opening their classroom doors and having professional conversations about student learning.  No longer content to blindly "follow the leader", they are more willing to question authority when philosophies are not in alignment. They are also less likely to fold under pressure and more willing to be tough when the situation calls for it. 

Why has this change taken so long and how have the gender dynamics between men and women influenced and impeded this movement?  I can only speak to the relationships of the four generations of women educators in my family.  What is it about the "cowboy" spirit and attracked us to them?  To find out, I'll need to look more closely at the lives and loves of school marms and cowboys.