James C. Malin's Notes on the Writing of General Histories of Kansas

Notes on the Writing of
General Histories of Kansas
Section II

[Article Table of Contents] [part 3] [part 1]


      At the end of 1882 Cutler and his wife returned to the home office of the Andreas establishment in Chicago where the manuscript was put into final form, the type set, the proof read, and the book printed, the typesetting and printing being divided among three printing companies listed on the reverse of the title page. The final revision of the county histories during the early months of 1883 was done in co-operation with local people, although the efficiency of the operation varied with the personal equation. [12]

      The task of delivering the Andreas history began in July and appears to have been completed during October or November, 1883. In the northeastern counties, the most heavily populated area, the first releases occurred simultaneously on or about July 25, notices occurring in the daily papers of Atchison, Leavenworth, Lawrence, and Topeka, July 25, 26, and 27 or soon thereafter. [13] The range of delivery expanded west, southwest, and south. In early September, deliveries were made in Bourbon, Riley, and McPherson counties; and by early October, in Crawford, Montgomery, and Sedgwick counties. By November 1, the job must have been practically complete.

      In order to sample the reception given the Andreas history a spot-check has been made of 54 newspapers, representing nearly every county in the eastern one third of the state, but including also cities as far west as Salina, McPherson, and Wichita. After the range of delivery dates was established, the papers in question were surveyed for that period, July-October, inclusive. In the course of determining the range of delivery dates and of testing out special problems involved, several papers were studied for the whole of 1882, 1883, and part of 1884. Only 25 of the 54 papers noticed the publication of the history. Of these 25, four were neutral or noncommittal, eight were hostile, and 13 commended the enterprise as worth while although not every aspect of it. Regardless of the verdict on the history proper, the biographies of subscribers usually called forth some adverse remarks.

      Appropriately, the feature of the book most commented upon was its size, it was "immense," and the most frequent comparison was with Webster's unabridged dictionary. In his Hiawatha World, August 9, Wilder named it "The Big History" and that name was the most widely adopted nickname among other reviewers, but also he referred to it as "an imperial volume" and this phrase had some following.

      Of the four newspapers noticing the book that have been classified as noncommittal, or neutral, [14] the Leavenworth Times merely announced that it was being delivered; the Coffeyville Journal disqualified itself to judge the historical part but pronounced the biographies "a lot of gush," and not representative of its community; the Cherokee Sentinel printed only a paragraph reference to an allegation that the history of Cherokee was a reprint of the one compiled by the Sentinel the first of the year; and the Fort Scott Daily Monitor made no comment of its own but reprinted, August 11, a most favorable review by the Hiawatha World, erroneously credited to the Hiawatha Herald, and September 9, an extreme denunciation by "A Victim."

      The North Topeka Times was the only one of the Topeka papers to condemn the Andreas History of Kansas: "A Fool and his money are soon parted . . . A 'History of the Humbugged' would be a more appropriate title." The editor recognized that "much of it is authentic," but he insisted also that "a good deal of it is the product of somebody's fertile imagination." The feature of the book that irked him most was the biographies of the subscribers. [15] Sol Miller of the Troy Kansas Chief had a grievance because he did not receive his copy paid for by advertising: "Besides, we gave their men the use of our files, and spent some time giving them information in person, and afterwards read and corrected a large amount of proof relating to this County." To the Chase County Leader: "The new history, of which so much was promised by the publishers, is not very satisfactory."

      In downright denunciation, the letter of "A Victim" in the Fort Scott Daily Monitor, September 9, outdid the North Topeka Times:

      "MR. EDITOR: -- It is not sweet to be called a fool, nor nice to be looked upon as an idiot, but when, way down in his inmost soul a man knows he is both -- he feels, well, he feels just exactly as those feel who subscribed for the above named book. In an unlucky hour they signed their names and then the blessedness of forgetfulness kindly hid their liability until in an hour still more inauspicious was delivered the History of Kansas. This botched up mess of compilations, statistics, hideous photographs and ridiculous biographical sketches, in little type and poorly bound. This is what some crank recently called an "imperial volume." It is a bulky, cumbersome nuisance and a most humiliating monument to the assininity of the victims who thoughtlessly subscribed for what they supposed would be a valuable work. I feel rather free to express myself, for I am one of the unfortunates. Misery loves company and is not a bit lonely just now.

      Indeed, it does seem that running through the American character is a vein of greenhornism that is ineradicable. Our New England fathers bought wooden nutmegs and basswood pumpkin seeds -- and we buy the history of Kansas. The book agent is a standing joke -- our eyeteeth were cut long ago -- we warn the unsophisticated to beware of him, we write jokes and read puns about him and look upon him as a fraud and a snare -- and yet we buy the history of Kansas.

      Sometimes, after reading the last stanza of Burns' "Address to the Deil (sic)," I feel as if I could forgive the devil for most anything except for creating and scattering abroad the itinerant book agent. But since I have thought it over, I believe I can freely forgive him for that, if he will agree to forgive me for signing for the history of Kansas.

      The Manhattan Republic recognized "much valuable historical reading matter" but insisted that the book was "too big to be handy," and that it would have been better if "consolidated one-half." E. W. Hoch, in the Marion Record, reported that "a sicker lot of book-buyers you never saw.

      The two most notorious episodes came late in the season. At Manhattan, the Industrialist was a weekly paper published by the Kansas State College of Agriculture and edited by the faculty, E. M. Shelton, managing editor. At the head of the editorial column of the issue of September 22, and without any heading, appeared the following paragraph:

      "The herd-book" is what the irreverent call the big history. But for the fact that every man wrote his own autobiography, we should have suspected, in looking over the pedigrees, that some of the remarkable careers here blocked out, must have given a thrill of astonishment, as well as joy, to the subjects of these biographical sketches.

      Note should be made of the fact that Shelton did not claim that either he or his associates had originated the name. The inventor has not been identified, but, so far as the present investigation has been able to determine, the Industrialist was the first to make the term a matter of record in print. Nevertheless, the agricultural college animal breeding interests afforded a suggestive atmosphere for such a label and possibly also "the irreverent."

      In reprinting September 28, the Industrialist paragraph, the Marion Record commented: "That big history business is creating a good deal of fun for the newspaper boys all along the line." Of the newspapers included in this survey, however, only one other picked up the "Herd Book" tag, [16] yet over the years it stuck. The second edition of Wilder's Annals of Kansas (1886) reported (p. 1,031) that the Andreas History of Kansas "soon comes to be called the 'Herd Book,' and the 'Stud Book'." Probably the Wilder perpetuation of the "tag" rather than the original printing in the Industrialist was responsible for its survival. Neither Wilder nor Prentis identified the origin, and the first printing of the term by the Industrialist was discovered in the present investigation only after a long search that lent realism to the proverbial quip about hunting for a needle in a haystack.

      The lawsuit over payment for the Andreas History of Kansas occurred in Crawford county, November 1, 1883. The first hint of any difficulties of such a drastic nature that has been found was a note in the Chase County Leader, September 20, about the publisher of a history of St. Louis bringing suit against a subscriber who objected to biographies instead of a history of the city. The Leader believed, erroneously, that the publisher was Andreas. Such a suit was, however, brought by a representative of Andreas in justice of the peace court (Justice J. P. Hamlin) in Pittsburg and heard November 1, the defendant being W. H. Larimore, a farmer and stockman. The Pittsburg Smelter November 3, reported that a number of prominent men were in the city on that case: "The boys are having plenty of fun over this history business." The verdict was not reported by that paper. The Girard Press, November 8 said: "The plaintiff got judgement (sic), but the jury assessed the value of the book at $3.00, which is quite a reduction from $12.50." [17]

      The time has come now for an appraisal of the Prentis story of 1891. The two leading incidents related by him, but without date or place, did occur, the application of the "Herd Book" tag and the lawsuit. But what about the conclusions or interpretation of those facts? The Industrialist paragraph using the term "Herd Book" was not published until September 22. By that time the deliveries of the book had been completed in all the more populous counties. The Fort Scott Daily Monitor, September 12. reported completion in Bourbon county. The lawsuit occurred November 1, when deliveries were completed in most of the more distant counties. Even in Crawford county there were no reports of other "incidents." Prentis' allegation seems unwarranted, that as a result of these facts "the sale of the book by the publisher seems to have ceased. . ." Furthermore, there is no evidence that Kansas failed to appreciate with a fair degree of accuracy both the merits and weakness of "The Big History." Wilder's verdict in the Annals (1886, p. 1,031) was an ever-present reminder: "The completeness of the work is amazing. Without a full index, the true value of the history will be known only to the few who really read it." But the strictly contemporary record of reviewers who took the more favorable side must be given full consideration.

      Although not chronologically first, Wilder's review is entitled to first place [18] In introducing "The Big History" August 9 he asserted that:

      "Nobody will ever read it through, but whoever wants to know anything and everything about Kansas will find it here. . . . The book can be compared to nothing but itself. It is all of Kansas, 200 miles wide and 400 miles long, and all here. We are overcome with wonder and give up the attempt to write a notice of such an imperial volume."

      The following week confirmed the first impression: "No one can examine this work without admitting that it is the most complete history that we have." In adverse criticism, Wilder called attention to a Massachusetts state history in which each writer of a section in a co-operative work was

      "eminent in his department -- a real historian. . . . The object of that work is to make the best history, by the best men living at the time. The purpose of the Big History is to make money for the publishers. The biographies are put in to float the volume. And yet the publisher has not sought to distort history, to misrepresent or conceal facts . . . its real history could he condensed into one-tenth of the space and one-twentieth of the type, with no loss; with a real gain. That is what the real historian will do within twenty years, taking this book, and all of its predecessors, with the newspapers of the day, as his ample repository of facts."

      Wilder was concerned about the anonymity of authorship and rendered his own verdict on where he thought credits belonged:

      "No credit is given in the Big, for any writer of the Big, and this is hardly fair. But the army of writers were doubtless well paid. We judge, from internal evidence, that the State history proper was written by Judge F. G. Adams and Col. S. S. Prouty, and two more competent men could not have been selected. The history of the Indian tribes, most admirably done, we credit to Adams. The Territorial Conflict is Prouty-Adams, the Erckmann-Chatrian, of the Big. The picture of Lane, and the great speech in Chicago, is Prouty's, of course, and is the first worthy laurel placed upon the tombstone of the Grim Chieftain by any Kansas writer. And yet Lane's Chicago triumph was only one of a hundred similar Jim Lane victories and ovations. Looking the matter all over we can understand very well why we were a "Lane" and not a "Robinson man" up to 1864 -- when we ratted, and went over to the Opposition."

      Wilder's speculation about the authorship of the principal part of "The Big History" brought a prompt denial, August 17, from F. G. Adams, the letter being printed in full in the World, August 30:

      "You are not correct in your surmises . . . I did not . . . prepare any part of the book, and there is no writing of mine in it. [The authorship of the general history was credited to William G. Cutler, of Milwaukee, Wis.] By him or under his direction all investigations were made, and by him, according to the best of my information, most of the writing was done, though he was constantly assisted while here, by his wife, a lady of excellent literary ability. They resided here in Topeka, for about ten months, from February to December 1882. Mr. Cutler was assisted more or less by Colonel Prouty and J. C. Hebbard, who I think, assisted somewhat on the general history, as they, and many others did upon county and local work.

      Credit for the planning and financing of the Kansas history project was given, of course, to A. T. Andreas, the publisher, who told Adams, upon his visit to Topeka July 19 that the cost was $90,000. Adams then summarized the story of the relations of Cutler with the Kansas State Historical Society and himself in connection with the whole episode. When Cutler arrived in Topeka in February and first approached Adams the latter disapproved, but Adams should tell of this in his own way:

      "As it was to be a mere business enterprise, and the book necessarily to contain in part matter which would be of interest only to subscribers, the directors of the State Historical Society, when asked for the use of its library and materials in its preparation, looked upon the undertaking with disfavor and sought to discourage it. It was hoped that the materials collected by the Historical Society would be first used by some competent citizen of our own State in the preparation of a history of Kansas; of a book which would be free from the taint of commercial jobbery; . . . he was told very frankly that the Society did not wish the result of its labors to be used as he proposed, and that he could not expect any encouragement from the Society. Such effort as could be was immediately made to head him off by getting a Kansas man at such a work. Colonel Prouty was consulted, and urged to undertake it, as he of all other competent persons, seemed to have the leisure, and the requisite knowledge of book-making, and book-publishing. He gave the matter careful consideration and decided against it. A meeting of such of the directors of the Society as were in Topeka was held, and Mr. Cutler was invited to come before the meeting and explain his project, which he did. The following is the entry upon the records of the Society, concerning the meeting:
"After a consultation had in the Society's room, February 8, 1882, the following officers and members were present, namely: Gov. J. P. St. John, Hon. P. I. Bonebrake, Hon. James Smith, Hon. John Francis, Hon. F. P. Baker, Hon. T. D. Thacher, Hon. C. K. Holiday, Col. S. S. Prouty and the Secretary."

      Adams stated the object of the meeting and Cutler presented his plans. After deliberation the decision was made and entered in the minutes of the board of directors as of February 8, 1882. Adams related that: "It was informally decided that Mr. Cutler should be given access to the library of the Society in such a manner, and under such restrictions as the Secretary might determine." [19] In accord with this permission the library was opened freely to Cutler who promised that the work would be well done, "and the promise, it seems to me, has been amply fulfilled." Adams testified that of course he took an interest in what was being done, but no compensation had ever been offered or received for his time taken by the project.

      The Atchison Champion, John A. Martin, editor, wrote: "There can be no complaint on the score of quantity" because it was "certainly one of the largest volumes ever printed in the English language." He pointed out that the general state history occupied about 300 pages, the county histories and the biographies accounted for the remainder:

      "The feature of the book which will be most criticised (sic) -- and read -- is the biographical, containing sketches longer or shorter, of Kansas citizens, some well known; . . . and others unknown. But the sketches have, many of them, genuine historical value, and the others are of interest to individuals and families, and will have [value] in the future to the historian, the seeker in the field of geneology (sic), and others."

      And in conclusion, applying to both the general history and the county histories and the biographies: " . . . this book . . is of great value, and, in that respect it is a happy disappointment."

      The verdict of the Topeka Capital was that:

      "The completeness and accuracy of the book will be a pleasant surprise to the subscribers. The editor, Mr. Andreas, has fulfilled every promise he made his subscribers, and given them the most comprehensive history of Kansas ever made of a State in one book. . . . The book is unlike most histories . . . gotten up to sell by subscription, in being really a meritorious work. . . The matter it contains is of value to-day and will continue to be of increasing interest for its historical and biographical data for generations to come."

      The Topeka Commonwealth said: "Its contents, which will of course be criticized, are carefully compiled, great attention having been paid, apparently, to genuine history." The Lawrence Daily Kansas Herald, said: "So far as the work goes it is grand . . . Yet as an authentic history it is sadly lacking in many points." Especially the Herald objected to the biographies. The Emporia News thought it "will undoubtedly be consulted almost as much as Wilder's Annals." The Hiawatha World insisted that: "The book can be compared to nothing but itself. It is all of Kansas, 200 miles wide and 400 miles long, and all here. We are overcome with wonder and give up the attempt to write a notice of such an imperial volume." All of these evaluations were printed during the last days of July and the first days of August, 1883, and all were by major Kansas dailies and weeklies.

      Political partisanship was not conspicuous in the reactions to "The Big History." A letter to the editor of the Marion Democrat, signed "Patriot," had possible political implications. He quoted Wilder's World review on one point: "Many matters are fully and correctly brought out in the Big that have not been well understood before, and the chief of these are the Pottawatomie murders." Instead of undertaking to justify John Brown as most admirers had done after the Townsley confession of December, 1879, "Patriot" spoke his Democratic mind: "At last men are beginning to admit that 'Old John Brown' instead of being a christian (sic) and a patriot, was a thief and a murderer. John Brown did this diabolical work. And yet men refer to him as a saint." This was giving the Andreas history an approval not exactly in the orthodox vein, but nevertheless the minority of otherwise minded in Kansas found something of merit in the cracks shown in the monolithic structure of antislavery-abolition Kansas historiography.

      Among the later reviews the McPherson Republican pointed out that: "Unlike most works of the kind, there is not a bit of padding or stuffing in it. No thick leads, wide margins, blank pages, and spongy paper to make a little matter fill a big book." The immense labor involved in the county histories was emphasized: "the force engaged in gathering the facts seems to have ransacked the country pretty thoroughly." In conclusion it was said that: "the work has been done well and faithfully. The value of this history to the Kansan who takes pride in his state, is beyond estimation."

      The Republican went beyond the scope of comment usual to these review notices. One point made was that:

      "The book has also another peculiar value. It preserves in permanent form the history of events which hitherto have never been recorded. Kansas is a peculiar state. She has had her share of announcements, proclamations and other performances common to what may be styled, statesmanship on paper. But here the people have gone further. With the early Kansan, thinking was followed by acting and often so quickly that it was not easy to tell which came first. A real or fancied grievance, an indignation meeting, a raid, a fight, that was the way in early times. But the participants in these affairs never troubled themselves with writing. . . . Kansas may be grateful that before these memories have perished from earth, they have been gathered and recorded."

      The writer did not assume that history as found in such a book was final: "That all of this matter is not equally important is true, but this book will be a treasure house for future historians." In one respect the Republican was more discriminative than most people of that day who would have agreed with Andreas about the relation of Kansas to the American Civil War: "In Kansas the war was begun . . . " Instead, the Republican observed: "What influence Kansas has had on national affairs cannot be estimated at present . . . To those who in the future years shall attempt the task, this book will be of inestimable value."

      After a first look at "The Big Book," weight 14 pounds, the Girard Press admitted that it was too long to read in the time available, so the editor did not commit himself on its literary merits: "The state history, we notice, contains much that has not heretofore been collected, and is valuable, at least, in furnishing data that will be of value to the student." He was troubled by the biographies. The Girard Herald admitted that when the agent called and outlined the scope of the history he thought it "too collossal (sic), would take too much time, means and research, and altogether . . . too much like the many dreams that are discussed by impracticable people . . ." But when the agent delivered the book:

      "Imagine our surprise [that it was] in no way inferior to the declaration of purposes. . . . That it is a perfect piece of work, such as could be gotten up by the same parties after ten years labor instead of eighteen months, only, we would not have inferred, but we do not hesitate to say that the work done in that time by the author, agents, printers, binders is well done."

      The editor regretted the limited edition because he wished that it might be accessible to "every boy growing up in Kansas." Apparently girls didn't count in such a context!

      One of the strangest aspects of the review notices of the Andreas history was the generally favorable judgments on the physical aspects of the book, the department where experienced printers have been not only qualified to speak, but sensitive as a matter of professional pride. With few exceptions the paper and binding were commended. In perspective those were the two most serious physical defects of the book. A wood-pulp paper was used and the binding was totally inadequate for a 14-pound volume. As of the mid-20th century only a relatively few surviving copies can be rebound successfully because the paper is too brittle.

      The prediction of John A. Martin may be taken as the means of introducing some consideration of the problem presented by the biographies in "The Big History": "The feature of the book which will be most criticized -- and read -- is the biographical . . ." The unanimity of the reviewers, both those hostile to the project and those appreciative of the general history, leaves no room for disagreement with Martin on that point. But merely to denounce the printing of the biographical sketches of the subscribers did not then and does not in perspective meet adequately the challenge involved. A number of contemporaries recognized the unpleasant facts and said as much.

      Less objection would have been aroused apparently had subscription not been the sole criterion for inclusion of biographies in the county section. Apparently few would have objected to the inclusion of the subscribers as such providing others had been selected upon some reasonable standard of merit for the state as a whole or for the counties as a whole. The North Topeka Times asserted that:

      "It is well enough to write the biography of every early settler, and of prominent men of the state, and to embellish the book with their faces. They made the history of Kansas and we love to read of them, and look at their pictures. But we protest against making up such a book, of promiscuous biographies of anybody who would pay for it, leaving out of the work so many prominent and worthy names and calling it a "History of Kansas.""

      The omissions irked the Lawrence Herald which stated the matter thus: "unfortunately very many men whose lives formed a prominent part of the history of Kansas were not subscribers . . ."

      The objections of the Wyandotte Gazette and of the Chase County Leader were based also upon the wording of some of the biographical sketches which converted them into advertising. After analyzing the composition of the group in the Coffeyville section, the Journal of that place insisted that they were not representative of the community.

      Two papers came nearer than the others to stating the issues adequately. The Girard Press, as did several others, asserted that the biographies were written by the subjects themselves. Possibly some of them were, but the usual formula was that the subjects supplied the data which was written or revised by the editors and submitted for approval. Some were modest, said the Press, "but some have given the histories of their families (real or imaginary) from the time of the revolution, and boiled over in gushing eulogy of their own attainments. This is the disgusting part of the book -- but as this was the publisher's source of profit, could not well be avoided in a work of this kind." The Atchison Champion was quoted as saying: "We really cannot understand what the critics expected. The biographies are as full and accurate as the parties contributing them would give." [20]

      None of the reviewers distinguished clearly the two-fold character of the problem of biography involved. First, some provision should have been made for selection of nonliving persons for biographical mention upon a basis of merit. Second, besides the subscribers, some categories of living persons could have been included. That no provision was made for persons no longer living was the omission that was hardest to understand or defend. Strictly speaking there was no possible justification. That omission violated the theory of history and biography formulated by Andreas himself, and laid him open to the cynical accusation so often leveled at all subscription or vanity histories of this sort, that they were purely commercial ventures operated solely for profit.

      Pertaining to the limitations of the second group, the living persons, to subscribers there is an aspect that should be suggested for serious consideration. In any study of the structure and characteristics of a given society, criteria of selection must be set up. As every person in the state or county could not be described, a sampling technique must be adopted. Without rationalizing it as such, had not willingness to subscribe to a promised but unwritten history, on the assurance of a canvasser acting for an unknown publisher, achieved a fair sample of one sort of cross section of the total population of Kansas? Did not a similar principle operate also in explaining acceptance of political and social panaceas as well as patent medicines and book agents? If one were to be completely candid, just how far did this criterion deviate from the representative or average citizen of Kansas or any other state?

[12] Sol Miller in the Tray Kansas Chief, August 23, 1883, described his participation. The revision by H. Miles Moore of the Leavenworth county history was acknowledged p. 420, Footnote.

[13] The Leavenworth Times July 24, announced it was being delivered but did not review it. The Topeka Daily Capital, July 20, announced that A. T. Andreas had visited Topeka August 19, and that F. G. Adams, at the Kansas State Historical Society, had received notice that the history was ready.

[14] Leavenworth Daily Times, July 24; Fort Scott Daily Monitor, August 11, September 9; Coffeyville Journal, October 13; Cherokee Sentinel, January 18, 1884.

[15] North Topeka Times,. August 3, 1883. The other newspapers that condemned the book were the Wyandotte Gazette, August 10; The Weekly Kansas Chief, Troy, August 23; the Cottonvood Falls Chase County Leader, August 30; the Manhattan Republic, September 14; the Marion Record, September 21; the Manhattan Industrialist, September 22; and The Smelter, Pittsburg, November 3, 1883.

[16] Chase County Leader, Cottonwood Falls, October 25. 1883, January 3, 1884. The Topeka papers, the Capital, the State Journal, and the Commonwealth did not pick up the term.

[17] The Smelter, Pittsburg, November 17, 1883, reprinted the Press paragraph. and so did the Chase County Leader, January 3. 1884. Larimore's biography is found in the history, p. 1,125.

[18]. Atchison Daily Champion, July 25; Topeka Daily Capital, July 26; Topeka Daily Commonwealth, July 26; Topeka Daily State Journal, July 27; Emporia Weekly News, August 2; Hiawatha World, August 9, 16; Junction City Union, August 25; Lawrence Daily Kansas Herald, August 1; Marion County Democrat, Marion. August 30; McPherson Republican, September 6; Girard Press, October 11; Girard Herald, October 11; Wichita Beacon, October 17, 1883.

[19] The official action is recorded in "Record A," "Proceedings" of the board of directors, K. S. H. S., pp. 56, 57.

[20] Chase County Leader, October 25, 1883.

[Article Table of Contents] [part 3] [part 1]

[Cutler's H
istory] [Andreas' His

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