Westward Ho!


The following two typed pages give more details about the Edwards family’s move from West Virginia to Kansas, making two trips halfway across America before settling.

If only someone had kept a diary. It would be so interesting to have details about the trip and learn why Louisa, Rensslear’s second wife, returned to West Virginia, had her baby, then again made the trek to a new life.

There’s a famous book title, by American author Thomas Wolfe, which has become a well-known phrase: You can’t go home again. I wondered if Louisa, after making such a major move, then having her husband die, felt that she no longer fit in when she returned east. Or perhaps she and her children thought there were better prospects in the new land.

I remember at the funeral of my grandfather, Andrew Enoch Edwards, my cousin Greg Welch gave a lovely eulogy. He commented that our grandfather’s world changed dramatically in his lifetime, with transport moving from the covered wagon of his childhood to sky travelers in jet planes.

I wonder if the younger generation wonders how we older people grew up without all the modern gadgets available today. I for one never imagined typewriters would become obsolete. And when we visited Pop and Mameen at their farmhouse, Dad would sometimes phone someone and then hoist me up so I could talk on the wall phone. He’d wind the handle to make so many rings, which identified who was being called on the party line, and then I could talk. Soon we had phones on cords, so you didn’t have to stand up to talk. And the winding handle changed to a dial with numbers. Now I have a mobile, so small in comparison to the old phones, that half the time I can’t find it.

img447 R edwards hist 1 of 2041img447 R edwards hist 2 of 2042


Nelson Edwards & the Newsreels: Part 1

After sending my last post, I wondered if there was anything about Nelson Edwards on the Web, given that he was well-known for his film reportage in the 1930s and 1940s.

I found two links to an article about him, published in 2012, by Cooper C. Graham and Ron The new strain of wheat, Turkey Red, brought in by the Russian Mennonites, helped Kansas become famous as the Wheat State. Perhaps Jake Edwards had been persuaded to move to Kansas by reports of the money to be made in wheat.van Dopperen. The article is interesting not only because of the account of Nelson’s career, but also because of details about his younger years, including his family’s decision to travel by covered wagon and settle in Kansas.


Abstract of the article

Nelson Edwards (1887–1954) was among the first newsreel cameramen in American film history. From 1914 he filmed for Hearst International News Service and covered the Mexican Revolution. In 1916 he filmed the Turkish and the German side of the World War. He was also chief cameraman for Fox Newsreel during the year of its birth, and thereafter a longtime stringer for Paramount News. The essay describes Edwards’s life and work, as well as some of the background of Hearst’s first attempts to get into the newsreel business, based on research in Edwards’s personal documents, reports in the press and interviews with his family.

The start of the article, titled ‘Nelson Edwards and the Newsreels: An American life’,  is summarized below. I don’t have a way to get the whole article–my town library doesn’t have access–but thought Edwards family members would be interested in reading a little bit about Nelson.

Nelson’s early years

Edwards was one of the best-known photographers in the early period of newsreels. His career included working for William Randolph Hearst  before and during World War I, being head cameraman for Fox newsreels and later a stringer for Paramount Newsreel. In these roles, he was part of many major historical events.

Nelson Elisha Edwards was born in Point Pleasant, Mason County, West Virginia on 25 November 1887. His parents, Jake C. and Margaret Edwards, farmed in West Virginia. When Nelson was six months old, the family moved, by covered wagon, to Plevna, Reno County, Kansas, a journey that took between two and three and a half months. It is possible that the family was convinced to move because of he success of the new strain of wheat, Turkey Red, brought in by the Russian Mennonites.

They lived in a sod dugout, what Nelson called “a hole in the ground”. By 1915, photographs show that the family now had a solid house and farm. Jake served twice as a member of the Kansas State House of Representatives, in 1915 and 1917, and was also appointed county chairman. The Edwards had nine sons and one daughter: Preston, Nelson, Cecil, Clarence, Roy, Hobart, E.K., Morry (who died in infancy), Naomi, and Curry. Some of Nelson’s brothers would also become newsreel cameramen.

Nelson was described in the article as “a tall, muscular man with prominent cheekbones, a hawk nose, lighthouse eyes peering out at the world from under heavy eyebrows, and thick, dark hair which photographed jet black”, who was “stocky, but . . . quite large” and was also athletic.

Subsistence farming apparently did not suit Nelson. In 1908, he went to New Orleans to learn photography. By 191o, he was in New Jersey, working for a ‘celebrated photographer’, whose sister-in-law, Cornelia Fisk, eventually married Nelson. In 1912, he was working as a still photographer in New York for the chief of photo syndication, the International News Service.

Source:  Cooper C. Graham and Ron van Dopperen (2012). “Nelson Edwards and the Newsreels:  An American Life. Film History (vol. 24), pp. 260-280. ISSN:  0892-2160.

Ron van Dopperen studied history at the University of Utrecht, Holland, where he wrote his Master of Arts thesis on the American World War I documentary films (1988). He now works as a communication advisor for the Dutch government. Correspondence to rjvan@telfort.nl
Cooper C. Graham is retired from the Library of Congress where he was a curator in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. He is the author of numerous articles, as well as Leni Riefenstahl’s “Olympia” and (in collaboration) D.W. Griffith and the Biograph Company. He is presently working on a series of World War I film subjects.  Corespondence to c.graham2@att.net


Final Christmas Cards

I think this is the last set of Christmas cards I have in my Edwards box of stuff.

The first one has a drawing of a girl in a blizzard, a photograph of what looks like a farm house, and a couple in silhouette, the man behind and slightly left of the woman. The inscription:  Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a year of happy days.  Mr. and Mrs. Jake Edwards.

QUERY: Does anyone know where they lived, and if this photograph was their home?


img446 last 3 Xmas cards034

The other black-and-white card shows a snow scene, and is signed, Nelson & family. I wonder if Nelson was the one who took that photo, similar to the other photo-cards of his that I’ve provided in other posts. There’s no year given. It’s a change from the humorous ones in the early ’30s.

The  red-and-black card postcard is difficult to see, even in the original, so I’ve worked on it a bit.

Img446 redblack edwards card

What a lovely card!  On the back is this inscription: Nelson Edwards family Baltimore

Fire & Death at A.E. Edwards Farm–

The Front page of the Turon Weekly, Thursday 30 June, 1921, covers the death of a local girl, Bernice, who helped my maternal grandparents, A.E. and Icea Edwards, with house and family.

My mother, born on 13 January 1921,  was a baby when the fire broke out. She told me that she and her sister Virginia were left in a safe spot outside while the rest of the family who were there unsuccessfully fought the fire. Bernice suffered extensive burns and died hours later.

At some point, my mother found and framed two items from the fire–small sewing scissors and a squashed thimble. Do any other Edwards relatives have relics from the fire, or know more about it? If so, click on the Comment option to the left.

Some years ago now, I took back to Australia the small frame, which my mother used to mount the two items. (My brother bought the house after my parents died, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to their possessions.)

At the Wichita Airport, I was pulled up by security for having a weapon in my carry-on. I thought they were crazy, until I saw the scan and realized it was the scissors. I explained what they were and what they meant. They told me to put them in my checked luggage or kiss them goodbye. Lucky it was a small airport. I raced back, and the staff at the check-in counter caught my bag just in time before it disappeared to be loaded onto the plane!

I’ve typed out the relevant articles from the Turon paper. Scroll down to read them.

img446033Newspaper article about fire and death at A.E. Edwards farm.

The paper provides an account of the fire, with the headline Fatally Burned (column 3),  a Card of Thanks from Bub and Pearle Edwards (col. 2), and Memorial, the death notice for Bernice Helen Hodson (col. 2) .

Some relatives will know more about the fire than I do. Mom said that Bernice was brought out of the house, horribly burned, and was put in the back of a wagon. She apologised to A.E. Edwards for her mistake. I’m not sure if she died there at the farm, or later. The obit mentions that Bernice was a member of Glendale Church. A.E. Edwards and his family were also members. The church is no longer there, but the Glendale cemetery is.
Does anyone know if the Rev. J.N. Edwards, of the Glendale church, is a relative of A.E. Edwards?

Fatally Burned

Miss Bernice Hodson of Sylvia, who was at the A.E. Edwards home six miles north of Turon, assisting Mrs. Edwards with the harvest work, was fatally burned Saturday evening about five o’clock when she attempted to hasten a slow fire in the kitchen range by pouring kerosene on it. The can was a 5-gallon one and contained only about a gallon of oil, leaving space for the accumulation of a good deal of gas.

The explosion which followed the attempt threw burning oil all over Miss Hodson and also set fire to the house. Mrs. Edwards was burned about the hands and arms in trying to save the girl, as also was Mr. Edwards, who was coming in from the field at the time of the explosion and hurried to the house as quickly as possible.

Miss Hodson was so terribly burned that she died at midnight and the house and contents were entirely destroyed. The property loss is partially covered by insurance.

Card of Thanks

We want to thank our friends and neighbors for their warm sympathy and generous assistance in our recent misfortune.

Mr. and Mrs. A.E. Edwards


Bernice Helen Hodson was born in Sylvia, Kans., Feb. 4th, 1903. She was converted and joined the United Brethren church at Glendale at the age of nine, was baptized by Rev. Givens and has lived a devoted Christian life ever since.

She went to her eternal home June 26th, 1921, aged eighteen years, five months and twenty-two days. She was president of the Christian Endeavor Society of Glendale and the last time she was at church led one of the best meetings ever held there.

She was graduated from the Sylvia High School in a class of fourteen, May 26th, 1921. She was very patent in time of suffering and all who knew her loved her. Her chosen life work was to help the sick and suffering.

She leaves to mourn her loss, her father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. James Hodson, of Sylvia; one sister, Bertha; two brothers, Harry and Albert; an aged grandfather and grandmother, Mr. and Mrs. John Proctor of Nickerson; and a large number of relatives and friends.

Funeral services were held at the Glendale church Monday at 2 p.m., conducted by the pastor, Rev. J.N. Edwards. A mixed quartet from Sylvia furnished the music and six girls from her graduating class were pallbearers and her body was laid to rest in the Sylvia cemetery.



The Two Families of Rensslear Edwards

Rensslear Edwards was the father of my grandfather, Andrew Enoch Edwards. The list below identifies his two marriages, and the children of those marriages.

Rensslear Edwards 2 families listInterestingly, the name Rensslear continued into successive generations, with different spellings as time passed. I remember an grand-uncle, I think, who was called Rant. When I’ve mentioned to friends some of the odd nicknames I know, I think Rant is the most striking or mysterious!

The other interesting fact is that Rensslear’s work is listed—perhaps by my mother—as ‘tobacco farmer, preacher, blacksmith, pioneer’. That’s pretty extensive!

He was buried in Rich Hill, Missouri. At some point, Mom and my cousin Janice Allison drove there to find his grave. I was told that the family had started out from the east coast by covered wagon, intending to reach Kansas. But they turned back when Rensslear died (and his wife was 5 mths pregnant), but trekked back west the next year.

When I was recently sorting through the Edwards family papers that Mom had gathered, I saw a couple that should provide more information about the trip to Kansas. I just have to locate them again.

Regarding large families, I once taught at Andale HS, in a German Catholic community. Large families were common, the most memorable being the family with 16 kids–whose surname was Mohr!  My students told me they planned on having smaller families. For them, that meant 4-6 kids.



Sylvia KS, 1887-1987

Slyvia KS 1887-1987 - PS

Cover of Sylvia KS centenary book

This is the cover of a book titled Sylvia, Kansas, 1887-1987.

Over 1,000 Sylvia residents, current and former, were asked to provide their family histories. The two main developers of this project were Donna Graber, who chaired the centennial committee, and Mary Ellen Roberts, who chaired the history book committee.

The book is bound with 83 pages and a number of black-and-white photographs, old and modern.

I enjoyed looking at the earliest photos, when Sylvia had a main street lined with shops, plus it boasted a garage, post office, electric power plant, restaurant, associations, churches, and even an opera house.

This map of Reno County, Kansas, USA, is copie...

Reno County, KS. Sylvia is located near the left border. (Wikipedia)

The last time I drove by Sylvia, I passed it in the blink of an eye. In the 2013 census, it is listed as having 216 residents. Its boom year was 1910, when it had 634 people.



A website that lists sights and amenities for towns provide only one entry for Sylvia, a Mexican restaurant.

This book provides an engaging look into the past. Its table of contents:

Dedication, Centennial Celebration, In the Beginning, Agriculture, Churches, Organizations, Schools, Families, Photo Gallery, Memorials, Boosters, and Photo Gallery.

I thought perhaps the Hutchinson library may want this book, but when I checked its online catalogue I found that it already has two copies in its genealogy room upstairs.





Coming of Age, 1968

Below is the public auction notice for the land and farm of my uncle, Glen ‘Bus’ Edwards. I don’t remember being there for the event. When I consider the date, I realize I would have just finished summer school subjects at Wichita State and been getting ready for my second and last year at Bethany College, Lindsborg Ks.

img446024An auction of someone’s entire possessions, including the place where they lived and work, is a rite of passage. We have various rites of passage, and I remembered one that bypassed me.

My parents moved from Dodge City to Hutchinson when I was four. I went to Hutchinson schools—Roosevelt Elementary School, Liberty Junior Hugh—but attended Hutchinson High for only two years,  as a sophomore and junior.

The reason for the interruption was that in the summer after my junior year, we moved to Wichita, because my dad, Malvin, had accepted a job with Garvey Grain Co.

So that autumn,  I enrolled as a senior at Wichita High School Heights. The rite of passage I would miss was being part of Hutch High’s May graduation, surrounded by students I’d known for years, some since kindergarten. The positive note was that in the Wichita education system, I had enough credits to complete high school that December.

In January, as a new high school graduate, I returned to Hutch in and shared an apartment on E. 4th Street with my brother Hal. We were both enrolled at Hutch Junior College.

But in May, I drove back to Wichita one day to attend my the Heights graduation. It sounds crazy to me now, wanting to be part of a ceremony where I knew hardly anyone, and I had moved beyond high school life. But at the time, it seemed a crucial rite of passage to adulthood, not to be missed. I wanted to walk  across the stage and be handed my diploma–then somehow my adult life would begin.

It was a misjudgement, similar to my deciding I had to buy a Heights class ring and a Heights yearbook. Both items, like the graduation itself, were part of the rites of passage.

My mother, Pauline, must have thought the same when she graduated. She begged her parents to buy her the class ring, commemorating her high school graduation from Turon HS in 1939. Years later, she told me how guilty she felt, aware of how little money the family had during the Depression.

I have her ring now and often wear it. My Heights ring? I think I tossed it out years ago. Physical tokens are wonderful when they bring back positive, joyous memories, but why keep them around when they mean nothing?

My strongest memory about my Wichita graduation took place at the end of the evening. The event was held at the basketball stadium, and after the speech, I was part of the graduate  procession, walking out to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, clutching my new diploma.

The pomp and circumstance ended in the narrow hallway, where workers quickly stripped us of our rented  graduation gowns. I went to the exit door, where I arranged to meet my boyfriend. Outside, groups of mainly male troublemakers had assembled, threatening, cursing, and screaming at the new graduates as they left. The police were there, keeping order of sorts, but it was still scary. My  boyfriend grabbed my arm, pushed me through crowd, and rushed me away to his car.

Welcome to the real world. I’ll never forget the contrast, listening to an uplifting speech about a bright future, and then experiencing the threat of violence, the scary world beyond.

Maybe that’s why I chose to finish my BA at a small, quiet, and safe college experience in a rural town, Lindsborg KS. After graduating, I was fortunate to be accepted into the English department’s MA program at the University of Kansas, and  given a teaching assistantship.

KU campus

That was another rite of passage that wasn’t traditional because the normally safe KU  had been the scene of student riots that summer. I arrived that autumn to find the campus still had barbed wire barriers and a student union heavily damaged by an arson attack. A student had been shot  in front of the main library.


My mother drove me and my belongings up from Wichita. When she saw the dumpy little apartment I had rented in a dilapidated two-story house—complete with long-haired hippies sitting on the front porch—she later told me she cried all the way back home.

When I arrived at KU, I expected it to be a rite of passage, one that would somehow change me for the better. In some ways it did. But now, years down life’s track, I am both amused and sad thinking of my younger self,  with her unformed and unrealistic expectations about what growing up means.

It should be possible for readers to copy photos and other items in my posts, and then make changes (e.g., enlarge, shrink) and save them.