Want to Combat Fake News? Become a Better Researcher

In a world awash in fake news, how do you sort fiction from fact? I asked Pati Daisy, a retired teacher-librarian from my hometown of Lake City, Iowa, to share her expertise. Here’s to keepin’ it real.

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Remembering the African-American Sioux City Ghosts Fast-Pitch Softball Team

For decades, perhaps no team brought more excitement to Iowa farm towns and cities across the country than the Sioux City Ghosts, a legendary African American fast-pitch softball team that got its start nearly 100 years ago.

Read more

George Washington Carver Rose from Slavery to Ag Scientist

A man who was born a slave changed the world with his agricultural innovations, and the seeds for these contributions were planted here in Iowa. When George Washington Carver was a student and faculty member at Iowa State, his research forever change…

Read more

Meet Iowa Farmer James Jordan, Underground Railroad Conductor

Some call them upstanders. Others call them allies.  These courageous people are the ones who stand up to help those being oppressed, even at the risk of their own safety. In frontier Iowa, James Jordan fearlessly helped Freedom Seekers gain safe pas…

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Jordan House West Des Moines Iowa

Shattering Silence: Farmer Helped Slave Find Freedom and Racial Equality in Iowa

How much is your freedom worth? In 1834, it was worth $550 for a slave named Ralph Montgomery, whose tumultuous story would involve hope for freedom, dashed dreams, bounty hunters, tremendous risk and a groundbreaking court decision that continues to…

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Shattering Silence sculpture Des Moines Iowa

Latest Posts

Want to Combat Fake News? Become a Better Researcher

Finding information in our digital world has never been easier, but there’s a dark side. Fake news seems to lurk everywhere, wielding the power to misinform and mislead.

How do you get closer to the truth? I asked Pati Daisy, a retired teacher-librarian from my hometown of Lake City, Iowa, to share her expertise. Here’s to keepin’ it real.

I know it takes time to research properly. Why is it valuable to invest the time?

It forces a person to slow down, think for a bit, and ask is the statement in question is a fact, opinion, myth or some blend of the three. Also, question the hidden agenda behind the statement’s presenter(s). What is the stated or unstated bias? What is the goal behind the statement? Who is the intended audience? How is that audience being manipulated?

What are the top 2 or 3 things that drive you crazy when it comes to people failing to research properly?

The thing that disturbs me the most is not that people fail to research properly as much as they fail to research at all. I will lay that blame squarely on a failure of our education system.

Here’s where is gets personal. I am a librarian. I ended my career as a teacher-librarian, but early in my career, librarians were not really seen as teachers as much as selectors and dispensers of information. We were taught how to evaluate, select and maintain information sources that would support a school curriculum. Publishers had editors whose role was to verify or at least help to ensure what was published was authoritative and useful to the intended audience. After all, there is considerable investment in publishing a book.

For a long time, this system was good enough. One person in a school or school district who knew how to do that was good enough. As long as carefully selected information sources were made available to educators and students alike, people really didn’t have to do much authentic re-search. But this is no longer the case. I believe there is not nearly enough being done in our schools to help staff and students learn and be held accountable for those skills.

Students will go to Wikipedia and the first results from Google if they are allowed to do so. It’s just so easy. Teachers today should maybe not accept those things as legitimate resources without some restrictions.

That being said, the Wikipedia of today is vastly improved over its beginnings. I would advise students, staff and general public to start there. It’s a good place to get a general overview or an outline of a topic. I would not allow Wikipedia articles as a source for a student research paper, however, but people can often find out the questions they didn’t even know to ask. Furthermore, Wikipedia now often lists a great number of sources to support their articles. Students and even the general public may well want to start there.

As for the first few Google hits, there are probably whole college courses on how to manipulate search engines, how some sites pay to be higher on the results list, and how sites are constructed so that the search brings the site higher in the results list. Suffice it to say, there’s no inter-net help-desk librarian sitting there answering your question. Search engines like Google are computer programs that have been carefully created (by humans) to specifically bring certain websites up first.

Many people say they don’t know how to combat fake news, because they don’t know where to go for information they can trust. Any advice on how people can sort fact from fiction?

I don’t know that the average person can truly combat fake news. but they can learn more about news and media sites. There are a couple of media bias charts that will help people to recognize the potential bias of particular new/media organizations.

Two that I recommend All Sides Media Bias Chart and Ad Fonets Inter-active Media Bias Chart.

One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain, who said “It’s better to remain silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Did Twain really say this? Upon further research I find that this saying (or a similar wording) has been attributed to Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Samuel Johnson, and the Book of Proverbs, among others. An unskilled researcher runs the risk of falling down the proverbial rabbit hole when trying to verify something. It’s difficult, and far too many haven’t been taught how to do it.

My best advice is to always question the source.

There are several things to look for when trying to determine the veracity of a source. When I taught information skills I used the mnemonic RAD-CAB™ which teaches you to consider these six key points:

1. Relevance
2. Appropriateness
3. Detail
4. Currency
5. Authority
6. Bias

Another mnemonic is called The CRAAP Test (I know, don’t you just love that?) The researcher is asked to consider:

• Currency
• Relevance
• Authority
• Accuracy
• Purpose

As you evaluate sources, start with the basics.

1. Learn how to read the URL. For example, is it a:
– .com – a commercial site, trying to sell
– .edu – from an educational institution, trying to inform
– .org – an organization, trying to persuade
– .gov – government
– .mil – military
– Country designation: .uk – United Kingdom, .il – Israel, .ru – Russia, .no – Norway, and so on

2. Consider the source. My pet peeve is satire sites. Don’t get me wrong, I love satire, but satire is currently being used to inflame emotions. Those sites cater to the gullible, eliciting an immediate gut reaction of outrage. Too often, an outraged reader will then share the site or story, and others become inflamed. That immediate sense of outrage should be followed by these questions Really? Is this true? Who says?

You can try to answer those questions by:

– Going to the website home page and looking for the About Us page. This is something I nearly always do before I even think about re-posting something. I want to know who originally posted it and what their purpose is. The About Us section is usually located in very small letters at the very bottom of the webpage. It is often rather hard to find, by design, I might add. If it is not there, that should be your first red flag.

– Find out who is the author or group behind the page.

– Find out what their credentials are. What gives them authority in the particular subject they are presenting?

– Above all, try to determine the intention, purpose, bias and point of view of the site.

Since researching could be an never-ending process, if you let it, how you do draw the line?

The decision to stop researching depends greatly on your purpose. Are you simply looking for some quick fix, some validation of your strongly held opinion? Or are you verifying a statement or idea for its accuracy? Are you truly seeking to further and more deeply understand a statement, idea, concept, etc.? Are you seeking to learn if there is another viewpoint on that topic?

What’s your advice about analyzing bias when researching?

It has been often said that the pen is mightier than the sword. I believe that is true. Swords, guns, weapons of war do one thing and do it well. They kill, and whoever kills the most wins. The pen or words, if you will, can be subtly woven, bent, twisted and manipulated with the sole purpose of influencing the reader/listener/viewer. Words have power. Just as responsible gun owners learn and practice proper gun safety, so should we all learn and practice proper evaluation of any information we consume. We need to always be aware that there is the potential for bias in everything we hear, read or see.

Every human being has some type of bias, but just because we may believe something does not make it true. We need to question, always.

Keep in mind:
– Political viewpoint
– Purpose – such as to inform, persuade or sell
– Who is financially supporting the publication or website?
– How is the opposing view of the topic handled?

Does the author or site:
– Use extreme all-or-nothing type words?
– Use words that appeal to emotion?
– Use words that oversimplify or generalize?
– Present a limited view?
– Cite the sources used?

The New Jersey Institute of Technology has a very good explanation of things you should keep in mind as you check for bias. Click here for details. 

Anything else you’d like to add about how to research properly?

The admonition “let the buyer beware” has never been more crucial.

My final word is to remember that anyone can produce and post anything on the internet now. There is no “librarian in the sky” skillfully evaluating and selecting information for us. We have to do that important job ourselves.

It’s too easy not to, but it’s so important that we must. We must learn, we must question, and we must think.

Want more?
I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my other books, including “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” from The History Press, “Dallas County” and “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. All are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Click here to order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Remembering the African-American Sioux City Ghosts Fast-Pitch Softball Team

Even though owners and players of Major League Baseball are at an impasse trying to negotiate a 2020 season, there are still some noteworthy “boys of summer” stories to share, thanks to Iowa history. Perhaps no team brought more excitement to Iowa farm towns and cities across the country than the Sioux City Ghosts, a legendary African American fast-pitch softball team that got its start nearly 100 years ago.

“The Sioux City Ghosts were a big deal across the nation and internationally,” said Haley Aguirre, archival records clerk with the Sioux City Public Museum, which preserves some of the Ghosts’ history.

Because of their pranks on the softball field, the Sioux City Ghosts were often compared to the famous Harlem Globetrotters. The Sioux City team’s exceptional athletic skills, winning record and razzle-dazzle style of playing generated a level of excitement few teams have matched.

The team stemmed from a boys’ club the West 7th Street neighborhood of Sioux City, which was home to many African-American homes and businesses. This boys’ club team started with about 40 members in 1925. Many of the boys were brothers, and most players thought of their team as a family. Soon after forming, they became Sioux City’s Junior League champions, according to siouxcityhistory.org.

As the team members grew up, they entered Sioux City’s Senior League and again won the championship game. As they became well known in Sioux City, they received sponsorship from local businessman Jack Page. They wore uniform shirts with the team name – Jack-The Cleaners, but had no uniform pants. Instead, they wore whatever they owned, from jeans to bib overalls.
With the sponsorship of Jack’s, the softball team began playing in the tri-state area, but mostly in Iowa. As they toured, the nation was falling deeper into the Great Depression. Baseball and softball helped people forget about the poor economy, if only for a little while.

The Sioux City team grew in popularity the more the players toured. By 1933, they were known as the Sioux City Ghosts. Henry “Fats” Fisher became their first manager. That same year they also had a new sponsor, Whitney Cleaners, along with new uniforms. The black shirts and pants featured an orange skull and crossbones logo, which became the symbols of the Ghosts.
In 1934, Fisher convinced the Ghosts to tour in California, but only after their Iowa tour was complete. The players were an immediate hit in California, thanks to a few improvised comedy routines on the field.

Sioux City Ghosts Lanesboro Iowa

Pitching style and substance
Starting in the early 1930s, the team began concentrating on the comedy routines and pranks for their games. One of the Ghosts’ favorite routines was shadowball. A Carroll Daily Times Herald article from July 12, 1962, described the spectacle.

“Of course, there is always the shadowball game, which has been performed in exactly the same manner since 1932. Not a play or a move changed in well over 3,000 exhibitions. The Ghosts divide into two teams and play a full inning of ball without a ball. The last two put-outs are made in slow motion and include a slow-motion slide into third base.”

The Ghosts were true showmen, sometimes pitching melons instead of softballs. They also rode bicycles in the outfield. Showcasing these stunts didn’t mean the Ghosts’ record suffered, though. They team often played the best amateur teams cities had, including farm leagues, all-star teams and state champions. The Ghosts won more than 2,000 games and lost less than 100 games during a 20-year span, noted siouxcityhistory.org. The Ghosts even challenged the Harlem Globetrotters’ softball team to a game, although the game was never played.

The Ghosts toured Canada and the western United States, playing in Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Francisco. Some of the Ghosts’ games attracted huge audiences. In Vancouver, Canada, 26,000 people came to watch the game.

While the Sioux City Ghosts were celebrated on the field, things were much different when the game was over. Many of the better players tried to move into the professional leagues, but couldn’t because they were black.

“The Ghosts actually didn’t play in a league,” Aguirre added. “They toured and basically played anyone who would get on the field with them. They faced substantial racism and prejudice, and were often at the mercy of those living in the towns they visited.”

The team broke up at the beginning of World War II when many of the players entered the armed forces. The Ghosts resumed playing as a team, however, after the war. While players from other teams were added from time to time, the Ghosts always remained a mostly Sioux City team.

Sioux City Ghosts softball teamLeaving a legacy
The Ghosts included a variety of beloved players through the years, including Richard “Sitting Bull” Fields, “Oatie” Fields, Riley Fields, Willie Lee, Glenn Smith, Lawrence Freeman, Floyd “Fuji” Fulton, Benny Hamilton, Jamie Hicks, Clarence “Darby” Hicks, Rudy Lee, Major Ray, Fred Tolson, Robert Green, Vivian Johnson, Clayton Johnson, Bob Metcalf, Sam Davis, J.C. “Cool Papa” Johnson, Valse “Mickey Mouse” Metcalf, George “Smokey Joe” Murphy, Harold “Speedy” Williams, Reginald “Cricket” Williams, Frank “Papa Be Kind” Williams, Sam Hays, Benny Hamilton, Les “Spook” Wilkinson and L.J. “Bambino” Favors.

“Favors was quite the ball player,” Aguirre said. “He joined the Ghosts in 1934 and also played for the Colored House of David, Sioux City’s colored baseball team. He was inducted into the Iowa Men’s State Softball Hall of Fame in 1975.”

Favors was mentioned in the article “Colored Ghosts at Lanesboro Saturday,” which ran in the July 12, 1962, issue of the Carroll Daily Times Herald.

“The greatest clown ever to tour with the original Ghosts is L.J. Compound Favors, who played with the first team in 1932 and still catches a few innings in most games,” noted the article, which promoted the “razzle-dazzle softball spectacular” slated for July 14 at 8:30 p.m. against the Lanesboro Merchants. “Favors, an ageless receiver, has shenanigans galore in his bag of tricks to confound both the opposition and the umpires. In addition, he keeps up a constant stream of chatter, which has the stands in a virtual uproar.”

While Favors and his teammates thrilled audiences into the early 1960s in small Iowa towns like Lanesboro, Lake Park, Hinton and other communities, times were changing. One big milestone came in 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by becoming the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball (MLB) after joining the Brooklyn Dodgers.

With the integration of MLB, all-black teams like the Sioux City Ghosts became less common. While the last Sioux City Ghosts player, Franklin Williams, died in 2007, the team’s legacy lives on, thanks to the Sioux City Museum and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which preserves some of the Sioux City Ghosts’ memorabilia.

“The Ghosts helped put Sioux City on the map and acted as ambassadors of Iowa across the nation and internationally,” Aguirre said.

Want more?
I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my other books, including “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” from The History Press, “Dallas County” and “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. All are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Click here to order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

George Washington Carver Rose from Slavery to Ag Scientist

A man who was born a slave changed the world with his agricultural innovations, and the seeds for these contributions were planted in Iowa. When George Washington Carver was a student and faculty member at Iowa State, his research forever changed how farmers look at crop production.

While more than 120 years have passed since Carver completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Iowa State in Ames, his spirit lives on.

Carver’s journey began on a southwest Missouri farm owned by Moses and Susan Carver near the town of Diamond. It’s uncertain whether Carver was born in 1864 or 1865. Both of his parents had been enslaved. His father died around the time of his birth. His mother, Mary, was given her freedom by the Carvers, and she adopted their last name.

The Carvers eventually took young George into their home and raised him as their own. He was unusually talented at almost everything he tried. By the time he was a teenager, Carver left the farm to attend a school for black children in Neosho, Missouri. For the next 10 years, Carver wandered from town to town in Missouri and Kansas in search of a better education. He supported himself by taking in laundry and doing household chores, according to. Iowa Pathways, an online learning environment from Iowa PBS.

“From a child, I had an inordinate desire for knowledge and especially music, painting, flowers, and the sciences, algebra being one of my favorite studies,” Carver wrote. “I wanted to know the name of every stone and flower and insect and bird and beast. I wanted to know where it got its color, where it got its life—but there was no one to tell me.”

Finding a new future, from Winterset to Ames
Carver was accepted at Highland College in Kansas, only to be turned away shortly after he arrived by school officials who were surprised by his skin color. Undeterred, he set off for Iowa, where he arrived in Winterset in 1888. This county seat town in Madison County was located along a section of the Underground Railroad that had been a hotbed of activity from 1857 through 1862, according to the Madison County Historic Preservation Commission.

While Carver found work as a hotel cook in Winterset, he wanted to be an artist—a painter—and capture the beauty of nature that so fascinated him. Friends in Winterset recognized his talents and encouraged him to enroll at Simpson College in Indianola, where he studied art and music. It took only a few months for his art teacher, Etta Budd, to realize that she had nothing else to teach the talented young man. At her urging, Carver transferred in 1891 to Iowa State College in Ames, where her father was the head of the Department of Horticulture.

Through quiet determination and perseverance, Carver excelled at his studies and became involved in all facets of campus life in Ames. He was an active participant in debating and agricultural societies and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He was also a trainer for athletic teams (including Iowa State’s football team), captain of the campus military regiment and a dining room employee, according to Iowa State University (ISU). His poetry was published in the student newspaper, and his artwork was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Carver earned his bachelor’s degree in 1894. “Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God,” Carver said. His professor, Dr. Louis Pammel, encouraged him to stay at Iowa State and pursue a graduate degree. Because of his proficiency in plant breeding, Caver was asked to join the faculty. Not only did he become the first black student at the school to earn a master’s degree (in 1896), but he also became Iowa State’s first black faculty member, all while expanding his knowledge and skills and writing professional papers of national acclaim.

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver on Iowa State University calendar

More opportunities take root
Carver planned to earn his doctorate at Iowa State, and the school wanted very much to keep him on its faculty. But then a letter arrived in 1896 that changed everything. “I cannot offer you money, position or fame,” it said. “The first two you have. The last, from the place you now occupy, you will no doubt achieve. These things I now ask you to give up. I offer you in their place work—hard, hard work—the task of bringing a people from degradation, poverty and waste to full manhood.” It was signed by Booker T. Washington, the principal of an industrial and teacher training institute for black students in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Washington was determined to make the Tuskegee Institute the leading black educational institution in the South. He wanted to establish an agriculture department. There were 5 million black farmers in the South. Most lived in poverty and ignorance of scientific agriculture. But to establish such a department, Washington knew that he needed a black man with an advanced degree in agriculture. There was only one such man in America: George Washington Carver.

Carver accepted Washington’s offer. This opportunity to serve fit with Carver’s philosophy that “education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” Carver urged southern farmers to rotate crops and use organic fertilizers. He preached the value of planting soil-restoring crops such as peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans.

At Tuskegee, Carver gained an international reputation in research, teaching and outreach. His research resulted in the creation of more than 300 products from peanuts, more than 150 uses for sweet potatoes and multiple uses for soybeans. These products contributed to rural economic improvement by offering alternative crops to cotton that were beneficial for the farmers and the land.
“Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough,” Carver wrote. “Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people, they give up their secrets also—if you love them enough.”

Some of Carver’s most interesting, plant-based innovations included diesel fuel, axle grease, hand cleaner, stains and paints, gasoline, glue, insecticide, linoleum, printer’s ink, plastics, laundry soap, medicines and more.

Service measures success
During World War I, Carver worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a consultant on food and nutrition. Carver had risen to fame nationwide by the 1920s and 1930s, thanks to his agricultural pursuits. By the early 1940s, Carver was working with Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, who supported the production of ethanol as an alternative fuel and showcased a car with a lightweight plastic body made from soybeans.

Carver remained at Tuskegee until his death in 1943. Landmarks across the nation have been named in honor of Carver, including the George Washington Carver Center on the U.S. Department of Agriculture campus in Beltsville, Maryland. In Iowa, Carver’s legacy is celebrated at Iowa State University, where Carver Hall was named in his honor. Through the George Washington Carver (GWC) Scholarship program, the university awards 100 scholarships in the amount of tuition to multicultural, first-year students coming to college directly out of high school.

All these tributes honor Carver, who devoted his life to education, research and community service to help others. “It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts,” Carver wrote. “These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.”

Want more?
This story is an excerpt from my book Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food. Click here to learn more and order a signed copy here. 

I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my other books, including “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” from The History Press, “Dallas County” and “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. All are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Click here to order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Meet Iowa Farmer James Jordan, Underground Railroad Conductor

Some call them upstanders. Others call them allies.  These courageous people are the ones who stand up to help those being oppressed, even at the risk of their own safety. In frontier Iowa, James Jordan fearlessly helped Freedom Seekers gain safe passage on the Underground Railroad route that passed near his farm in the area that would become West Des Moines.

The Underground Railroad ran across the southern and central regions of Iowa, a state where slave ownership was never legal.  This impacted pioneer farmer J Jordan (1813-1891) and his wife, Melinda, some of the earliest settlers in Polk County’s Walnut Township. The land they once owned includes the stately Jordan House, which is located along Fuller Road in West Des Moines. The Jordan’s farm harbored fugitive slaves during the tense days leading up to America’s Civil War. Such daring deeds, however, weren’t always part of the Jordan family’s history.

Jordan was born in in 1813 in what is now West Virginia, in a community where slavery was ingrained in society and culture. Jordan, a cattle farmer, was expected to assist family members and neighbors in their hunt for escaped slaves. Jordan’s branch of the family, however, was influenced by a religious movement called “The Great Awakening” that was sweeping the country and opposed slavery. These experiences developed Jordan’s abolitionist beliefs and zeal, especially as he moved westward.

Jordan House West Des Moines Iowa

Jordan House, West Des Moines

Building a new life in central Iowa
As treaties were signed between the U.S. government and the Indian tribes that agreed to move out of the Iowa territory by the mid-1840s, pioneers like Jordan were ready to move in. After Jordan settled in the Walnut Township area of Polk County, he chose a beautiful location with ancient oak, walnut and hickory trees on land gently sloping to the Raccoon River. Jordan’s first shelter was a lean-to tent, which he replaced in 1848 with a log cabin.

In 1850, Jordan and his wife, Melinda, began work on the first phase of a new frame house. The family, which at that time included six children, lived for a time in the basement, which included a small kitchen and a bedroom/sitting room.

James Jordan Iowa

James Jordan

Aiding the Meskwaki
Jordan became a successful farmer, livestock dealer and bank director. Though Jordan’s dream was to develop and manage a financially successful livestock business, he remained deeply committed to helping others achieve their dreams, as well. He supported the Methodist Episcopal Church and belonged to the new Republican Party, which included many members who opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act that Congress passed in 1854.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery within their borders. The Act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which prohibited slavery north of latitude 36°30´. The Kansas-Nebraska Act infuriated many in the North, who considered the Missouri Compromise to be a long-standing, binding agreement. There was strong support for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, however, in the pro-slavery South.

Pro-slavery and anti-slavery supporters rushed in to settle Kansas and impact the outcome of the first election held there after the law went into effect. Violence soon erupted, with the anti-slavery forces led by the radical abolitionist John Brown. The territory earned the nickname “bleeding Kansas” as the death toll rose.

Back in Iowa, many citizens wanted to avoid involvement in the slavery issue and keep black settlement out of the state altogether, while others saw Iowa standing strong as a beacon of anti-slavery hope. When Jordan was elected to the Iowa Senate in the mid-1850s, he was able to make a difference Sen. Jordan and his colleagues in the Iowa State Legislature helped the Meskwaki Indians achieve their dream of regaining the land they had lost in Iowa.

Speaking out against slavery 
While Jordan was described as a quiet, modest man who was widely-known for the kindness and generosity he showed to all who came to know him, he despised slavery and spoke out vehemently against it. Jordan was actively engaged in the abolitionist movement locally, becoming the “chief conductor” of the Underground Railroad in Polk County. Jordan knew that involvement in the Underground Railroad was dangerous and illegal. Nevertheless, he became directly involved in sheltering and aiding fugitive slaves from his Walnut Township farm.

At the state level, Jordan promoted the anti-slavery Republican Party, and on the national level he befriended the radical abolitionist John Brown. Brown stayed at the Jordan House at least twice, the last time in 1859 when he was leading a group of 12 slaves he had recently liberated in Missouri to freedom in Canada.

On February 17, 1859, Brown led 13 men, women and children who had been enslaved in western Missouri to the Jordan homestead. The small group had begun their journey at a rural Iowa hamlet known as Civil Bend, an Underground Railroad stop just upriver from Nebraska City, Nebraska. From there, Brown brought the refugees a bit closer to emancipation. As they neared central Iowa, the group rested in a stand of timber near the Jordan farm.

(While people on the Underground Railroad stopped at the Jordan family’s property, they most likely never set foot in the actual home. Jordan was one of the largest land owners in the state, plus there were barns and outbuildings on his property, so it didn’t make much sense for freedom seekers to hide in the basement of the Jordan family’s home, according to the West Des Moines Historical Society in a 2018 interview with Des Moines TV station WHO Channel 13.)

After leaving the Jordan farm, the group of freedom seekers traveled the next day to a place called Hawley’s farm east of Des Moines. Their three-month journey took to them to Grinnell, Iowa City and eventually to Detroit, Michigan. In the late summer of 1859, the group ferried across the Detroit River to freedom in Windsor, Canada.

John Brown

John Brown

Just a few months later, on October 16, 1859, John Brown and an 18-man “army of liberation” raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, hoping to seize a supply of weapons and spark a rebellion of slaves. Brown was subsequently captured, found guilty of treason, and hanged on December 2, 1859.

It’s interesting to note that Brown’s connections to James Jordan weren’t his only ties to rural Iowa settlers. One line of the Underground Railroad crossed the Raccoon River in southern Dallas County. Fugitive slaves in the 1850s sometimes traveled this route to the “Quaker Divide” northeast of Dexter. Many local members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) supported anti-slavery efforts.

Some residents, like Harmon Cook, were conductors on the Underground Railroad. When Brown was in the Dexter-Redfield area before his 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry, he admonished Cook after the conductor almost got caught going to Des Moines with fugitive slaves. “Young man, never do so rash a thing as to talk and laugh out loud on the way.”

While no one knows for sure how many slaves reached freedom on the Underground Railroad, historians estimate that 1,000 slaves per year made the attempt. Most who tried did not have the benefit of someone like John Brown or Harriet Tubman to guide them along the journey and were not successful.

Seeking the north star of freedom
Jordan’s role in the Underground Railroad has been honored for generations. “The History of Polk County,” published in 1880, stated that “Jordan has been a life-long enemy of slavery; his devotion to the political life as a staunch and stalwart Republican is the outgrowth of deep-seated conviction; it is among the pleasant things to remember, that under his protecting roof John Brown and his associates, with more than a score of recently liberated slaves, have offered their prayers and sung their first jubilee hymns on their way to Canada….”

Jordan passed away in 1891, but his story lives on. Today, the Jordan House, a stately Victorian home of Italianate Gothic design, is one of the oldest structures in Polk Country and is one of the few locations in Iowa where visitors can tour the home of an Underground Railroad conductor. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program.

Perhaps Jordan’s legacy was best summarized by Jordan’s pastor, who eulogized him by stating, “In the days of slavery this great heart reached out and helped the oppressed, seeking the north star of freedom.”

Click here to learn more if you’d like to plan a visit the Jordan House in West Des Moines. 

Want more?
This story is an excerpt from my book Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food. Click here to learn more and order a signed copy here. 

I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my other books, including “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” from The History Press, “Dallas County” and “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. All are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Click here to order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

Shattering Silence: Farmer Helped Slave Find Freedom and Racial Equality in Iowa

How much is your freedom worth? In 1834, it was worth $550 for a slave named Ralph Montgomery, whose tumultuous story would involve hope for freedom, dashed dreams, bounty hunters, tremendous risk and a groundbreaking court decision that continues to inspire Iowans to shatter the silence on the volatile issue of racial inequality.

“He was born into slavery, a piece of property allowed only to serve others,” noted the article “Iowa Supreme Court’s First Case Freed a Slave,” which ran in 2015 in The Courier newspaper in Waterloo. “Even his name belonged to someone else.”

He came into the world as Rafe Nelson, probably in about 1795. But early on Nelson became Ralph Montgomery, named for his slave master in Virginia. After being taken to Kentucky by his owner and namesake, Ralph was described as “quite a chunk of a field hand” in his 20s. Despite that fact — or perhaps because of it—Ralph Montgomery, the slave master, sold his slave to a brother.

The new owner, William Montgomery, then sold Ralph in 1830 to a son, Jordan Montgomery. Newspaper accounts of the era described Jordan Montgomery as “kind and indulgent.”
Jordan Montgomery subsequently took Ralph to Palmyra, Mo., located northwest of Hannibal, the famed Mississippi River town. Ralph served his owner for about two years in Palmyra, which was roughly 60 miles south of the Iowa border.

“Here [at Palmyra], Ralph met a white man named Ellis Schofield, who had just returned from a trip to the Upper Mississippi region’s lead mining regions. He told such glowing tales of boundless wealth to be acquired there that Ralph became “seized with a burning desire to go and work out his own salvation,” according to the Janesville Gazette in Wisconsin.

Seeking freedom in Iowa
Jordan Montgomery and Ralph worked out a written agreement sometime around 1834 or 1835, where Ralph committed to pay $550, with interest, for his freedom. He traveled northward, “strong of purpose and light of heart,” according to a story in the Janesville Gazette in 1870.

Ralph went to work mining lead in Dubuque in the Iowa Territory. After five years, however, he hadn’t been able to repay the debt. The problem was the high cost of living. Ralph apparently struggled simply to pay room and board, according to historian Dorothy Schwieder, author of the book Iowa: The Middle Land.

At the same time, Jordan Montgomery experienced financial difficulties, struggling to repay a $4,000 bank loan. When two men from Virginia offered to return Ralph to his cash-strapped master in Missouri for a fee of $100. Jordan Montgomery wasn’t inclined to write off Ralph as bad debt, so he accepted the bounty hunters’ offer.

Shattered dreams
The Virginians swore an affidavit in front of a justice of the peace that Ralph was a fugitive. Court official ordered the local sheriff to assist the bounty hunters. The group found Ralph at his mineral claim, put him in handcuffs and loaded him onto a wagon.

Alexander Butterworth, variously described as a farmer, businessman, concerned eyewitness and noble-hearted Irishman in the Dubuque area, was plowing a nearby field and saw the kidnapping. Butterworth dashed to Dubuque to notify Thomas Wilson, an associate judge on the newly formed Supreme Court of the Territory of Iowa.

Let’s take it to court
Judge Wilson ordered the sheriff to follow the bounty hunters who had seized Ralph and return bring Ralph to Dubuque. Armed with a writ of habeas corpus and accompanied by the sheriff, Butterworth galloped to the rescue, noted historical accounts.

The Virginians had managed to get Ralph to Bellevue, Iowa, along the Mississippi River to board a riverboat that would transport him back to Missouri. Butterworth and the sheriff reached the dock just in time. They ordered the riverboat captain to return Ralph to Dubuque for a hearing before Judge Wilson.

Ralph’s case would turn out to be the first decided by the Territory of Iowa’s Supreme Court, which had been established in 1838 in Burlington. The court’s inaugural case was titled “In the matter if Ralph (a colored man), on Habeas Corpus.”

The legal question was whether Jordan Montgomery had a legitimate claim to demand Ralph’s return. Jordan Montgomery’s lawyers argued when Ralph relocated to the Iowa Territory, slavery was not specifically prohibited in Iowa under the so-called Missouri Compromise of 1820, since a local legislature had not taken additional action to ban it. Jordan Montgomery’s lawyers also claimed Ralph was a fugitive slave, since he had failed to fulfill his contract and should be returned to Missouri under conditions of the federal Fugitive Slave Act.

Ralph Montgomery’s attorney, David Rorer, argued that Ralph became a free man when, by consent of his master, Ralph moved to Iowa. Rorer, and rising star in the Iowa Territory, claimed that his client was neither a slave nor a fugitive, in part because he entered a contract “which presupposes a state of freedom.” Rorer also cited an English case in which it was ruled that a slave having lived in a free country could not be taken to another land that would again lead him into slavery. According to Rorer, the only obligation Ralph owed was to raise the $550 for his former owner in Missouri.

Rorer also cited Chapter 23 of the Book of Deuteronomy in the Bible, which says, in part: “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, even among you.”

Ruling delivered on Independence Day 1839
The Iowa Supreme Court conceded Ralph Montgomery should repay Jordan Montgomery — with one key stipulation. “It is a debt which he ought to pay, but for the non-payment of which no man in this territory can be reduced to slavery,” wrote Charles Mason, the first chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court.

Mason concluded Ralph Montgomery “should be discharged from all custody and constraint, and be permitted to go free while he remains under the protection of our laws.” The Iowa Supreme Court declared Ralph Montgomery a free man on Independence Day, July 4, 1839.

In their opinion, the court justices wrote, “When, in seeking to accomplish his object, (the claimant) illegally restrains a human being of his liberty, it is proper that the laws, which should extend equal protection to men of all colors and conditions, should” intervene.

The unanimous ruling established the tradition in Iowa’s courts of ensuring the rights and liberties of all the people of the state. Years later, the state legislature adopted Iowa’s motto: “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain,” which stands as a permanent reminder that the freedoms in this state are freedoms for all.

state of Iowa flag

What happened to Ralph?
Ralph Montgomery remained in Iowa for the rest of his life. According to the State Historical Society of Iowa, he showed up one day to work in Judge Wilson’s garden in 1840 (one year after the Iowa Supreme Court ruling in his favor). “I ain’t paying you for what you done for me,” Ralph said. “But I want to work for you one day every spring to show you that I never forget.”

Ralph Montgomery stayed in Dubuque the rest of his life, a free man. While not much is known about how he lived the remainder of his life, we do know he continued to mine lead and was a familiar figure around town. While the Dubuque Times in 1870 credited Ralph Montgomery with finding several valuable lodes, he eventually fell in hard times, either through being swindled or by gambling, according to conflicting accounts. During his later years, he lived in the county poor house, according to the Dubuque Times. He succumbed to smallpox, a disease he contracted while nursing a sick patient, during his time in Dubuque’s pest house. He died on July 23, 1870.

(A pest house, short for pestilence house, was a quarantine facility typically found throughout American communities in the late 1800s. Before the development of hospitals, people afflicted with communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox or typhus were placed in pest houses.)

Ralph was buried in the city cemetery which became in Jackson Park in later years, according to Encyclopedia Dubuque. When that cemetery was closed, Ralph’s remains were among those moved to Linwood Cemetery, where they were buried in a mass grave.

Ralph Montgomery’s case offered much different outcome than Dred Scott case
Eighteen years later, the lessons of Ralph Montgomery’s case seemed to be forgotten when Missouri slave Dred Scott pleaded his case for freedom in court. On March 6, 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision on Sanford v. Dred Scott, a case that intensified national divisions over the issue of slavery.

In 1834, Dred Scott, a slave, had been taken to Illinois, a free state, and then to the Wisconsin Territory, an area where the Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery. Scott lived in Wisconsin with his master, Dr. John Emerson, for several years before returning to Missouri, a slave state. In 1846, after Emerson died, Scott sued his master’s widow for his freedom on the grounds that he had lived as a resident of a free state and territory. He won his suit in a lower court, but the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the decision.

Dred Scott

Dred Scott

Scott appealed the decision. A federal court decided to hear the case on the basis of the diversity of state citizenship represented. After a federal district court decided against Scott, the case came on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was divided along slavery and antislavery lines; although the Southern justices had a majority.

During the trial, the antislavery justices used the case to defend the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise, which had been repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Southern majority responded by ruling on March 6, 1857, that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the territories. Three of the Southern justices also held that African Americans who were slaves or whose ancestors were slaves were not entitled to the rights of a federal citizen, and therefore had no standing in court.
These rulings all confirmed that, in the view of the nation’s highest court, under no condition did Dred Scott have the legal right to request his freedom. The Supreme Court’s verdict further inflamed the irrepressible differences in America over the issue of slavery, which in 1861 erupted with the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Shattering Silence
It would take the Civil War, the passage of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery and the civil rights’ movement of the mid-20th century to help create a more just America for everyone, regardless of race. The battle is not yet over, as evidenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality (in tragic cases such as the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May 2020) and the resulting civil unrest that has swept America.

Shattering Silence photo by Des Moines Public Art Foundation

Shattering Silence in Des Moines near Iowa Supreme Court (photo from Des Moines Public Art Foundation)

Even as racial-charged protests turned into riots in downtown Des Moines during the weekend of May 30-31, a 30-foot sculpture near the Iowa Supreme Court pointed to the hope that has endured in Iowa from the beginning.

“Shattering Silence,” which features a ring made of limestone quarried in Dubuque, was designed by artist James Ellwanger and installed in 2009 on the 170th anniversary of the Iowa Territory Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the Ralph Montgomery case. (Photo credit for the winter image of Shattering Silence that I used with this post goes to Jason Mrachnia.) 

The stunning sculpture stands at the top of the hill overlooking the Des Moines skyline. The Iowa Art Council has called the piece a commemoration of “those moments when Iowa has been at the forefront of breaking the silence of inequality and commemorates those Iowans who refused to stand by silently when they saw injustice.”

Former slave who made history in Iowa leaves powerful legacy
Back in Dubuque, local residents raised money in recent years to install a tombstone to honor Ralph Montgomery. On October 1, 2016, community leaders unveiled a monument to Ralph in the Linwood Cemetery to highlight Iowa’s ongoing role in shattering the silence on the issue of racial inequality.

“We are gathered today to honor a man who has brought such honor to this state by helping us discover not only who we were at that time, but who we would hope to become today,” said Mark Cady, former chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court who passed away in November 2019. “Ralph Montgomery suffered through the indignity of slavery to rise and stand against it and help forge a great meaning …of our collective belief in equality, both then and now.”

Ralph Montgomery marker Dubuque Iowa

Want more?
I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my other books, including “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” from The History Press, “Dallas County” and “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. All are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Click here to order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Long Live Print Newsletters! 5 Keys to Content Marketing Success

While rumors of its imminent death persist, your print newsletter is still one of the most powerful ways to connect with your customers and prospects. Customers appreciate useful, interesting, curated, well written information arriving in their mailbox. You’re sure to get noticed, as more companies sacrifice print marketing in favor of digital marketing exclusively.

Why do print newsletters still work? Because they’re an effective form of content marketing, when you know some of the secrets to success. This starts by creating and distributing the valuable, relevant information your target audience seeks. Do this consistently, and you’ll stay top of mind and boost your sales potential.

The concept of content marketing has been around for hundreds of years. One of the first companies to embrace it in more modern times is John Deere. It launched its perennially-popular magazine The Furrow in 1895. Click here to hear a young farmer share why he likes to read The Furrow.

Notice the farmer said he doesn’t see the name John Deere popping up all over the stories in the magazine. If fact, it’s extremely rare. There’s a reason why. People know when they’re being sold.

Instead of pitching your products or services, provide clear, compelling information that helps your prospects and customers solve their challenges. But does this kind of content marketing work? Yep. “Content marketing generates over three times as many leads as traditional marketing — while costing 62% less,” notes the Content Marketing Institute.

5 keys to success with print newsletters
If this sounds good, you might be wondering next steps. If you already have a newsletter program, how do you keep it going? If you had one but dropped it, how do you revive it? What if your company never had a newsletter program?

The answers are basically the same, no matter your current situation. Here are five keys to success:

1. Add value. The #1 secret of any successful content marketing, including print marketing, is to add value for your audience. The easiest way to find good story ideas that add value? Become a detective. Ask your co-workers to provide answers to timely questions they are hearing from their clients and prospects. Don’t forget to have them think about the questions they think clients and prospects should be asking but aren’t. Then have your team provide the answers, which make a great foundation for newsletter content.

2. Define your why. Why do you want to publish a newsletter in the first place? Want to build trust with your target audience? Want to set yourself apart from the competition? Want your team to be viewed as thought leaders in your industry? Looking for a way to boost your company’s sales potential? All can be part of your why. The answers will help guide you as you invest in your content marketing and decide what to include in your newsletter. Also, think about how often to publish. Quarterly newsletters often work well. They allow you to communicate frequently enough with your target audience without overwhelming them. You won’t be overwhelmed by the process, either.

3. Recruit the right talent to create the newsletter. You may have a writing enthusiast, graphic designer and/or amateur photographer or on your team already. If so, fantastic! See if they’d like to help produce the newsletter. If you don’t have this kind of talent on staff, or if your team is just too busy to take on another task, the smart move is to outsource the writing, graphic design and/or photography. You may also be able to use a combination of in-house and outsourced talent. You want your newsletter to incorporate a high level of quality, which will reflect well on your company.

4. Find a reliable printer. A good printing company ensures your final product looks good and helps ensure the newsletters are distributed properly. Your printer will likely have a graphic designer on staff, if you need that expertise. Start by asking for a price quote. The printing company will ask you a number of questions, such as how often you plan to publish your newsletter each year, how many copies you’ll want for each print run, the type of paper you’d like the newsletter to be printed on, the page dimensions of the newsletter, your mailing list and more. The printing company can also advise you postal regulations, mailing costs and more. In my area, I’ve seen clients have good results with PSI Printing. (Click here for details.) I work with Mary Black at the Ft. Dodge location.

5. Leverage your content across print and digital. Just because you’ve invested in print doesn’t mean you still can’t go digital. Why not post the newsletter on your website, too? Looking for someone to host your website and provide ongoing web services? I use Team WTI, which is owned by my friend Kim Gehling (click here for details) for my own website. Some of my agribusiness friends use Caliber Creative (click here for details) and have had great results.

I know you still may have a lot more questions about content marketing or a print newsletter program. If so, let’s start the conversation.

Want more?
I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my other books, including “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” from The History Press, “Dallas County” and “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. All are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Click here to order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Myth Busting: No, Your Pork Doesn’t Come from China

There’s so much misinformation circulating on social media (and now I heard it on a radio program recently) that can be summarized as those “awful companies like Smithfield that raise pigs here in America but send them to China for processing before the meat is sent back to America to grocery stores–and then claim these are American products.” Aarrrgghh.

A caller to the talk show was irate about this, and the host agreed with her premise. Well, I’m not an expert in the meat industry, but I grew up on an Iowa hog farm, still live and work on an Iowa farm, worked in ag my entire career and know these things to be true:

1.) There’s a reason why new pork processing plants have been built in Iowa in recent years, like the new one near Eagle Grove. Iowa farmers raise a lot of pigs, and it makes economic and common sense to process the pigs close to where they are produced, rather than shipping them halfway around the world.

2.) Pigs that go to market weigh a lot (well over 200 pounds each, sometimes close to 300 pounds). Would it make any sense to ship them to China for processing and send the product back to America? Nope. Think how costly that would be.

I shared all this on a Facebook post the last week of April 2020 and was amazed when the post when viral within hours. Not only did the post garner 82 comments and 151 shares in less than a week, but it prompted many people to thank me for addressing this myth. I was pleased  that my ag industry friends joined the conversation to combat fear with facts. One, a former executive with the National Pork Board, noted, “USDA has not approved China to ship pork to the U.S.  In addition, China has lost half of their swine herd to African swine fever and is buying large amounts from anywhere they get their hands on it to address the shortage. They have no pork to export. End of story.

But what about Smithfield “being owned by China?”
If you’d like to dig a little deeper, here’s some information from Smithfield Foods, since Smithfield is often associated with the misinformation going around:

Smtihfield Foods was founded in Smithfield, Virginia, in 1936 and was acquired by Hong Kong-based WH Group in 2013.

Does Smithfield now import products from China?
Smithfield has not, does not, and will not import any products from China to the United States. No Smithfield products come from animals raised, processed, or packaged in China. All our U.S. products are made in one of our nearly 50 facilities across America. These products are produced in compliance with the strict standards and regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other federal and state authorities.
Is WH Group owned by the Chinese government?
WH Group is a publicly traded company with shareholders around the world. Anyone anywhere can purchase shares of WH Group on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange under the stock code 00288. In fact, WH Group’s shareholders include many large U.S.-based financial institutions. It is not a Chinese state-owned enterprise and does not undertake commercial activities on behalf of the Chinese government.

How has the acquisition impacted the U.S. pork industry and the country’s economy?

Smithfield and the U.S. pork industry export products to China, benefitting American pork producers and processors. More exports to China mean more American jobs and more demand for products “Made in the USA,” and reduces the U.S. global trade deficit.

https://www.smithfieldfoods.com/madeinusa
Also, America exports plenty of pork around the world, including China. Here’s an April 3, 2020, press release from the U.S. Meat Export Federation about the amount of U.S. pork that is exported: Exports accounted for just under 33% of total February pork production and nearly 30% for muscle cuts only, the highest on record and up substantially from last year (24% and 21%, respectively). The January-February ratios were 31.3% of total production and 28.6% for muscle cuts, up from 23.8% and 20.6%, respectively, in 2019.

The bottom line? Don’t worry. Your pork doesn’t come from China.

Want more?
I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my other books, including “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” from The History Press, “Dallas County” and “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. All are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Click here to order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

Sauce to Sanitizer: Cookies Food Products Bottles Hand Sanitizer Made with Ethanol

Going with the flow takes on a whole new meaning in times like this COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. It also explains why ethanol-based hand sanitizer has been flowing through the bottling line instead of barbecue sauce at Cookies Food Products Inc. in Wall Lake, Iowa.

“I’m a firm believer you have to pay rent for the space you occupy while you’re here on earth,” said Speed Herrig, who has grown Cookies Food Products into one of the largest regional sauce manufacturers in the country in the past 40 years. “We want to do what we can to help.”

That’s why Herrig didn’t hesitate to offer his company’s bottling resources when he heard that Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy (SIRE) near Council Bluffs was trying to fill bottles by hand with ethanol-based hand sanitizer they’d produced. Filling bottles manually from large plastic totes was complicated and slow, especially when time is of the essence to help protect people’s health.

Herrig knew there was a better way. Just as General Motors retooled some of its production lines to make ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cookies made some small modifications on its equipment so employees could fill jugs with hand sanitizer instead of barbecue sauce. The Cookies team filled 5,000 1-gallon jugs with hand sanitizer in a couple days in mid-April for SIRE. “We’re fortunate to have a lot of long-term, experienced employees at Cookies, so it wasn’t too hard to make these changes,” Herrig said.

Cookies BBQ bottles hand sanitizerCorn-based solutions fuel innovation
By early April, hospitals and nursing homes in Iowa and beyond were desperately searching for hand sanitizer, as demand for the product soared. Ethanol plants that can make large batches of sanitizer’s main ingredient, alcohol, offered to help.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stringent production standards designed to protect the quality of medicines, food ingredients and dietary supplements. Previously, the agency prohibited many ethanol plants from using their alcohol that didn’t meet high quality specifications for use in drugs or beverages.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, FDA revised its regulations, noted Justin Schultz, SIRE regulatory manager, who was quoted in the Council Bluffs Nonpareil newspaper several weeks ago. With the FDA’s new guidelines, ethanol made at plants that produce fuel ethanol can be used in a product like hand sanitizer, if the ethanol contains no additional additives or chemicals. Ethanol plants must also ensure water purity and proper sanitation of equipment.

SIRE produces more than 130 million gallons of fuel-grade ethanol per year and consumes more than 44.6 million bushels of corn annually. After FDA revised its guidelines this spring, SIRE shipped a few hundred gallons of pre-mixed hand sanitizer to Cookies’ Wall Lake bottling facility in early April. Once the Cookies team readjusted some settings to ensure the sanitizer would flow through their bottling system properly, they began filling 5,000 1-gallon plastic jugs.

The jugs of hand sanitizer were shipped to the Des Moines area to increase the state’s stockpile for distribution throughout Iowa. Herrig is glad that more people will be able to get the hand sanitizer they need, without being at the mercy of con artists.

“I’ve seen scammers selling hand sanitizer for well over twice the price it should be,” Herrig said. “Changing $75 a gallon or $10 for an 8-ounce bottle is outrageous. I don’t want to see anyone price gouging.”

Giving back
While Herrig added that the Cookies team played a small role in the fight against COVID-19, they viewed this as a way to help their fellow Iowans in a time of need.

“We’ve enjoyed doing business in Iowa for many years through our sauce business, our automotive parts business and our golf cart business,” said Herrig, who opened an automotive parts and repair business in 1962 on his family’s farm near Wall Lake. “Iowa has been a good place for me, and I want to give back.”

This article first appeared in the April 24, 2020, issue of Farm News

Want more?
I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better communicator.

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my other books, including “Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food” from The History Press, “Dallas County” and “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. All are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase the history of small-town and rural Iowa. Click here to order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

The Corn Lady: Jessie Field Shambaugh and the Birth of 4-H in Iowa

Well-behaved women rarely make history. At a time when young girls in rural Iowa generally weren’t encouraged to broaden their knowledge of agriculture, Jessie (Field) Shambaugh chose to attend educational farm meetings with her father by the time she was 12 years old. She went on to become one of the first female ag teachers in the nation. By the time she was 24, she was elected superintendent of schools for Page County, Iowa. “The Corn Lady,” as she was affectionately known, also helped guide the formation of an innovative new learning opportunity that endures today–4-H–with the goal to “make the best better.”

Farm women have long broken new ground in rural Iowa. Jessie Field Shambaugh (sister of the famous nursery and garden innovator Henry Field) guided the formation of today’s 4-H clubs during her tenure as a country schoolteacher in southwest Iowa.

Born in 1881 on a farm near Shenandoah, Shambaugh started her career teaching taught country school in southwest Iowa. By the turn of the twentieth century, “Miss Jessie” was a woman far ahead of her time. An innovative teacher, she introduced basic science classes in addition to the “3 Rs” in the country school curriculum. She believed in teaching country children in terms of country life and was a strong proponent of relating school lessons more closely to life on the farm and in the rural home.

Jessie Field Shambaugh of Iowa

Jessie Field Shambaugh of Iowa

By developing the Boys’ Corn Club and the Girls’ Home Club, Miss Jessie created the forerunner of 4-H and became the first female ag teacher in the nation. Her knowledge of agriculture was extensive, as her father had encouraged her to learn about farming methods from the time she was a young girl. As early as age twelve, Miss Jessie attended local Farmers’ Institute meetings with her father and listened to presentations from ag leaders like “Uncle Henry” Wallace, who edited Wallaces’ Farmer.

Inspired by these ideas, Miss Jessie promoted hands-on, practical learning. She pioneered a powerful educational concept to help young people learn “to make the best better.” By age twenty-four, Miss Jessie had been elected superintendent of schools for Page County. She was one of the first female county superintendents in Iowa.

Starting in 1906, she enlisted the assistance of the 130 one-room country schools in the county to form boys’ and girls’ clubs. Miss Jessie encouraged the young people to participate in judging contests. She believed that friendly competition inspired students to excel. At the Junior Exhibits held at the Farmers’ Institute in Clarinda, entry classes for students included “Best 10 Ears of Yellow Dent Corn,” “Best Device Made by a Boy for Use on the Farm” and “Best 10 Ears of Seed Corn Selected by a Girl.”

Miss Jessie’s efforts gained national attention from educators and reporters. She hosted the U.S. Commissioner of Education and state superintendents as they toured Page County clubs in 1909. She designed the 3-leaf clover pin to reward 3-H project winners and wrote the Country Girls Creed. Jessie Field Shambaugh’s vision and pioneer spirit led to 4-H clubs nationwide, notes the Iowa 4-H Foundation. 

4H logo

4H logo

The goal was to “make the country life as rewarding as it might be in any other walk of life,” Miss Jessie noted in The Very Beginnings. While she passed away at age 90 in 1971, Shambaugh was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1977, and her legacy lives on.

“My mother always wanted to help the farm boys and girls,” said Miss Jessie’s daughter, Ruth Watkins of Clarinda, whom I interviewed in 2002. “She had great idealism and was able to carry it through to reality.”

This is the spirit that inspired me to post this on March 8–International Women’s Day (IWD). I’ve long been inspired by rural Iowa women like Miss Jessie, who were breaking new ground as they became a force for good in their local community, long before the first IWD, which dates back to 1911. I think Miss Jessie would agree with the IWD’s philosophy that “We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society.”

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. Miss Jessie’s story is just one of the remarkable women featured in Chapter 9, “Iowa Women Blaze New Trails in Agriculture,” in my upcoming book Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food, which will be release on April 27, 2020, by The History Press.

In the meantime, I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too. 

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy

When Agriculture Entered the Long Depression in the Early 1920s

The culture of Iowa agriculture hasn’t only been shaped by good times. The farm crisis that started in the 1920s, a decade before the Great Depression engulfed America, shook rural Iowa to its core. In the post–World War I era, the Golden Age of Agriculture was over, and farmers throughout the Midwest began to suffer the effects of an increasing economic depression that culminated at the close of the 1920s with the stock market crash.

“To understand the nature of the agricultural problem more clearly, it needs to be said that farming is a difficult and uncertain profession,” noted Gary D. Dixon in his thesis “Harrison County, Iowa: Aspects of Life from 1920 to 1930,” which he presented in 1997 to the Department of History to earn his Master of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska–Omaha. “The farmer has no control over the prices he pays for goods or, more importantly, for what he can ask for his own products, as he ‘buys in a seller’s market, and he sells in a buyer’s market.”

Wesells Living History Farm WW1

Wesells Living History Farm WW1

It was definitely a seller’s market during World War I, when all sectors of the American economy produced as much as possible to help the war effort. It was profitable, as well as patriotic, to raise crops at top capacity. But then the war ended on November 11, 1918.

“Government price supports for agriculture were kept through 1920, when the guaranteed prices on wheat and other crops were terminated,” Dixon noted. “The government ended loans to European nations at the same time, which meant they were unable to purchase U.S. agricultural products.”

This is what had kept the exports going, and exports had driven the boom in the U.S. farm economy. In the years just after World War I, prices for farm goods fell by half, as did farmer income. The Federal Reserve raised the credit rate just when the farmer needed its help the most, so money tightened up. Banks did not renew notes, but mortgages and bills still came due. To make it worse, the railroads raised their freight rates, so it was more expensive to get the crops to market, Dixon noted.

Farm income fell from $17.7 billion in 1919 to $10.5 million in 1921—nearly a 41 percent drop. In Iowa, farm values that had almost tripled between 1910 and 1920 plunged during the 1920s. In Harrison County in southwest Iowa, 1930 land values of $41 million reflected a drop of more than $35 million from 1920, Dixon said. In addition, Harrison County’s total crop values, which in 1919 were more than $10.8 million, fell to roughly $5.7 million by 1924. “Taxes on the remaining income, and the other expenses incurred in farming, remained as high as they ever were, or increased,” Dixon added.

While there had been a historic growth in the number and size of farms in the nation until 1920, that soon changed. Then the farm population showed net losses of 478,000 in 1922 and 234,000 in 1923. The more lucrative prospects of the city lured many of the best of the younger generations away, Dixon said.

Iowa farm,  1920s  Source: Library of Congress

Iowa farm, 1920s Source: Library of Congress

Banding Together in Farmer Cooperatives
In response to these troubling developments, some farmers began organizing with their neighbors so their shared concerns could be heard at the county, state and national level. Some turned to groups like the Iowa Farmers Union, which had formed in 1915 to help members work together to strengthen the independent family farm through education, legislation and cooperation.

Others turned to a new group, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF), which had formed on December 27, 1918, during a meeting in Marshalltown. The sSeventy-two county Farm Bureau groups from across Iowa voted unanimously during this meeting to form a state federation. These farmers knew that they needed a stronger voice in legislation governing their industry, improved marketing for their ag products and better relationships with other related industries, including meatpackers and the railroads.

“We regard this movement as one of the most sensible efforts toward an organization of farmers that has yet been made,” said Henry A. Wallace, the editor of Wallaces’ Farmer, who went on to become U.S. secretary of agriculture and vice president of the United States.

The IFBF also helped support the cooperative marketing movement that had been gaining momentum, noted Tim Neiss, IFBF historian. Ag cooperatives had started to form in Iowa by the mid-1800s in response to unfair business practices by the railroads that hurt competition and lowered the prices farmers received for their products. Farmers began banding together to market their products more efficiently, at higher prices, as well as to buy inputs at lower cost.

One of these early Iowa cooperatives was Farmers Cooperative Elevator of Marcus, which was incorporated on December 12, 1887. The Marcus location, which is now part of First Cooperative Association based in Cherokee, remains the oldest active cooperative elevator in the nation.

While organizing into farm organizations and cooperatives appealed to some farmers, other farmers decided to move in a much more radical direction—one of that would culminate in the Farmers Holiday movement and the near-lynching of an Iowa judge in Le Mars. Get the whole story in my book Iowa Agriculture: A History of Farming, Family and Food, which is published by The History Press the week of April 27, 2020.

Want more?
Thanks for stopping by. I invite you to read more of my blog posts if you value intriguing Iowa stories and history, along with Iowa food, agriculture updates, recipes and tips to make you a better

If you’re hungry for more stories of Iowa history, check out my top-selling “Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More” book from The History Press. Also take a look at my latest book, “Dallas County,” and my “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing. Both are filled with vintage photos and compelling stories that showcase he history of small-town and rural Iowa. Order your signed copies today! Iowa postcards are available in my online store, too.

If you like what you see and want to be notified when I post new stories, be sure to click on the “subscribe to blog updates/newsletter” button at the top of this page, or click here. Feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who might be interested, too.

Also, if you or someone you know could use my writing services (I’m not only Iowa’s storyteller, but a professionally-trained journalist with 20 years of experience), let’s talk. I work with businesses and organizations within Iowa and across the country to unleash the power of great storytelling to define their brand and connect with their audience through clear, compelling blog posts, articles, news releases, feature stories, newsletter articles, social media, video scripts, and photography. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, or e-mail me at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Let’s stay in touch. I’m at darcy@darcymaulsby.com, and yettergirl@yahoo.com.

Talk to you soon!

Darcy