Flowery prose of the prairie

Flowery prose of the prairie

WHO NEEDS PHOTOSHOP?: 19th-century Wichita, and Kansas at large, suffered plagues of grasshoppers, some so massive they literally blocked out the sun. Novelty postcards such as this were popular jokes at the time.Source: Vintage Postcard

Today's newspaper reportage is typically dry and straightforward, with little to none of the florid prose employed by journalists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This week's Wichitarchaeology collects samples of the long-lost old style of purple prose published in the Wichita Eagle many years ago; many can be attributed to Eagle founder Col. Marsh Murdock, the master of the style who coined such Wichita pseudonyms as "Peerless Princess on the Plains," "Magical Mascot of the Meridian," "Mecca of Men" and "The Windy Wonder."

Friday, April 19, 1872: The Little Arkansas river, which forms a junction with the Great Arkansas river, just west of Mr. Waterman's addition, is a beautiful stream. The water is blue as the sky in appearance. For short it is called hereabouts "Little River." Never have we known a stream so full of fish. They are seined out by the wagon load and angled out by piscatorial amateurs by the dozen. The worst varieties retail for 3 cents, the choice 5 cents per pound. We were told that one man has cleared $2,000 during the winter in the fish traffic.

Friday, May 17, 1872: [The first railroad train arrived in Wichita on Saturday, May 11, 1872, bringing 44 passengers. This event marked a key turning point in the town's history, transforming it from a village into a proper city.] This is a fact. Regular through trains reached our depot yesterday. The bosom of our valley "heaved and sot" with ecstatic emotion. All is joy, and many, very many, are "too full for utterance." We are exhausted, bewildered, and can say no more. It is enough.

Friday, July 26, 1872: We have often been interrogated as to the name "Chisholm" which the pretty little stream that flows along the eastern confines of our city bears. It was named after an old half-breed Cherokee trader whose ranch or post was located at the crossing of this creek where the old cattle trail of the same name intersects it. Chisholm has been dead about four years, the immediate cause of his transit to the happy hunting grounds of his fathers being an attack of cholera morbus, superinduced by an overdose of bear's grease. True to his Indian instincts and appetites, he was taken with a "big hungry" for bear's oil, which was appeased after a two week hunt by his killing an old bruin and drinking over a quart of its oil, which gave him such a cramping belly-ache as to quench his vital spark and knock him out of time.

Thursday, March 20, 1873: The shipment of buffalo hides and robes from this place is astonishing. Mr. Marsh informs us that an average of two car loads per day, or about 1000 hides per day, for the past two months, have been sent forward from Wichita. Some of these hides have been consigned to parties in Liverpool, and will be manufactured into leather. The destruction of these animals for the past winter has been fearful. A congressional law should be enacted against the wanton destruction of these monarchs of the plains.

Thursday, July 23, 1874: Charles W. Hill has moved his large drug establishment into his new building on Douglas Avenue opposite the Eagle block, which leads us to remember that a little over two years ago we moved the Eagle establishment on to the same avenue, at which time there was no other business represented on the street, if we except old Jack Peyton's harness shanty. We felt lonesome enough, but a suitable room was to be found nowhere else.

Thursday, Jan. 7, 1875: [The Eagle published a letter describing] the grasshoppers that plagued this area last August. Male is seven-eighths to one inch long, with wings and legs same length as body. Female is one-fourth larger. Seen at a distance clustered on crops or trees they resemble bees, but flying in sunlight high in the air they look like flakes of snow. He (the writer) extrapolated from number counted in a cubic inch to approximately 43,000 in a bushel. In his son's corn field he found ten quarts of grasshoppers in an average rod, or an estimated 50 bushels to the acre, or 2,150,000 grasshoppers to the acre.

Thursday, Nov. 17, 1881: Our county attorney, D. M. Dale, was married on Nov. 3rd to Miss Louise Berry, of Pawpaw, Illinois. David may have dodged the strife of the late campaign, but we assure him he has enlisted in another, in the presence of whose warmth the heat of a political struggle would pale. The securing of bread and butter, shoes and stockings, little and big, soap, hook, wash-tubs, cooking stoves and pianos, may not bother him much, but as his acquaintance ripens with the milliners, and the spring and fall openings, the dressmakers and their wonderful figures, and the satanic smile of the average dry goods man, the bald spot on the top of his head will reach the nape of his neck and the furrows on his brow will look like they had been made with a sub-soil plow. Ta, ta, young man.

Thursday, June 28, 1883: Mr. S. L. Davidson of the Citizens Bank has as yet failed to remove those unsightly old peach stumps from the lawn in front of his fine new home. Such incongruity is terribly shocking to the aesthetic residents on that avenue , and particularly unsightly in connection with the otherwise faultless surroundings. Clean 'em out, old man.

Friday, Oct. 15, 1897: The first spikes have been driven for the new up-to-date street car system, when workmen began the construction of the new line to Fairmount. They were the death knell of the old, worn out, dilapidated, ramshackle, bone racking, creaking, rusty, and generally worthless street car system that has tried the patience, disturbed the peace, and paralyzed the Christianity of a long suffering public. There was general rejoicing at the prospect of a new railway system and of retiring the loudly and fervently cussed old system.

Thursday, March 27, 1913: Article on Mrs. Buckwalter's defeat in the primary election for city commissioner. She received 855 votes (fifth of eight candidates). Says one of the campaign stories that came to her ears was that "Her husband cannot live with her. She is so quarrelsome; he cannot eat her cooking, is the reason he is so thin. He is threatened with nervous prostration every time the moon changes. She has Socialistic views."

Wednesday, Nov. 11, 1914: Old "Mary Ann," the official provider of joy rides for newlyweds never piloted a more popular couple nor a jollier bunch of well wishers than last night, when Mr. and Mrs. Olin Epperly were the honor guests. "Mary Ann," the work car on the street car line, was gaily bedecked with electric lights and a banner inscribed "Just Married." Flashlight pictures were taken. Mr. Epperly has been with the street car company four years.