Spirit of Jasper

Felton’s Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad, the Napa Valley Wine Train, Mendocino’s Historic Skunk Train, the French Lick Scenic Railway, and the Spirit of Jasper. I seem to be drawn to historic trains.

I enjoyed train rides through the redwood forests in Northern California, where trains were used for logging generations ago. The cars were either open air or accommodated passengers hanging out at the end of cars to take in the sights better. I have distinct memories of the crisp California air as we chugged through majestic redwood forests, over bridges, and through tunnels—and snapping photo after photo of the beautiful scenery.

I miss that. The historic trains in Indiana have a different feel to them. Passengers are sequestered inside and not allowed outside the train compartments. No chance to enjoy the scenery from a closer perspective. No chance to snap photos as we wind through Indiana forest. But it is still neat to ride historic trains down historic tracks.

My most recent train excursion was on the Spirit of Jasper, a ride and dine experience. The train consisted of three different types of cars: the Club Car, the Lounge Car, and the Parlour (yes, parlour with a u) Car.

The Club Car was built in the 1940s as an overnight coach car for the Milwaukee Railroad. Jasper obtained it in 2006. The layout of the car is what I expected from a typical passenger car: sets of four seats facing either with a small table in between. The Lounge Car was built between 1917 and 1922. During WWI, it was used to transport coffins of the war dead (!). Tables extend from the sides with moveable chairs around them, like what you may see in a restaurant. The Parlour Car is kind of what you would expect—cushy seating lining either side of the car with a drink bar. It was originally built in the 1940s and used as a military hospital car. All of the cars were acquired by the city of Jasper in 2006 and restored by individuals and businesses.

The Ride and Dine took me 9 miles up the tracks and back, through forests and past the boyhood home of Larry Bird. Most of the train ride was during daylight, which allowed views of the trees and fields along the track. As twilight descended, I spied a lovely chocolate-colored buck standing majestically in the middle of a gravel road that wound through the trees.

A famous local restaurant, Schnitzelbank, catered the meal. Despite the French origin of the county’s name, the ancestors of Dubois County are heavily German. Although boasting Germany ancestry myself, German fare is not really my cup of tea. But the menu on the date I rode the train didn’t seem particularly German to me: pulled BBQ pork (a dish that Hoosiers seem to be enamored with), Italian chicken breast (a bit dry), cheesy potato casserole (potatoes and cheese…need I say more?), baked beans (tasty), steamed broccoli (not overcooked!), 7 layer salad (refreshing), dinner rolls, and banana pudding (not my choice—I would prefer chocolate—but it was quite good).

The train ride was enjoyable with the smooth rocking of the train and the trees rolling by producing almost a meditative state. Groups of families and friends were enjoying an evening of conversation. One nearby family initiated a conversation with me: parents and a teenage boy. To my surprise, I discovered that they were planning to go to Cupertino for a family trip. Cupertino, CA? Yes.

Seeing how Cupertino is usually not a top travel destination, I was intrigued. Why Cupertino? The son is obsessed with Apple so they are going to visit Apple. Hmmmm…knowing Apple’s secret-like paranoia (we couldn’t get a tour of Apple for women in STEM on a government-sponsored exchange that I was a part of), I gently suggested that they confirm that Apple allows people to tour their facilities before leaving on their trip.

Other than this impromptu conversation before dinner, I was mostly left to enjoy the train ride on my own. A waitress on the train stopped at my table to ask if I was traveling alone. When I confirmed, she was completely flabbergasted. The idea of someone doing something alone was clearly horrifying to her. I inwardly sighed. I hadn’t encountered someone quite so blatant with their own insecurities on one of my many solo ventures, though I assume that many others may have thought the same thing that she verbalized.

The Spirit of Jasper was a neat experience—I am glad I rode it and will look for others during the Indiana leg of my adventure—but my favorite historic train rides are through redwood forests in California.

Hoosier captive in China

I left the Dubois County Historical Museum with a few names and items I wanted to look into. Robert W. Greene was one of them.

From the museum, I learned that he was a missionary in China who was held by the Communists not long after they came to power in 1949. The museum had copies of his book, the TV show about his experiences, and the issue of Life magazine that featured him (May 19, 1952).

This Jasper native trained for the priesthood at nearby St. Meinrad. In 1937, he was ordained as a priest at the Maryknoll Seminary in New York and was promptly assigned to the mission in Guilin in the south of China, away from the war-torn areas. (China was in the throes of a civil war and had been invaded by Japan.)

In 1945, he returned to the States, but in 1947 was sent back to China, this time to Tungan in the same southern province to run a dispensary in the Maryknoll mission. WWII was long over but the civil war was in full swing. In 1949, the Communists took control of the country. The following year Father Greene’s troubles began.

In October 1950, the Communists confined him to his Maryknoll mission. After 17 months of this solitude, on April 3, 1952, he was dragged before a firing squad to be shot as a spy. Instead, he was bound and held against a wall with bayonets as he was interrogated for 8 days.

A Chinese mob gathered, including fellow parishioners and people he had helped with medicine from the dispensary. The mob was calling for his death. Greene was to be beheaded on April 13.

Instead, he was placed in a cage and paraded through three cities on the way to the border with Hong Kong. The procession to Hong Kong must have been quite a lengthy ordeal. Tungan is in Guangxi province, which does not border Hong Kong. Guangxi province borders Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong.

Greene’s harrowing experiences are chronicled in a 1955 book, Calvary in China, and a TV program, Crossroads: Calvary in China.

The Life magazine story about Father Greene, Red China’s Captured Americans, also mentions the numerous other Americans still held captive after Greene’s release: 42 imprisoned and 19 under house arrest. Three Americans had died. Phillip Cline, a diabetic who didn’t receive needed insulin, died after he was freed. Gertrude Cone died of starvation and cancer. William Wallace’s death was the worst and elicited a gasp from me. Like Cone, he died in jail; his beaten body was found hanging.

As I looked at all the photos and names of those listed in the article, I wondered at their stories. How many died in China? How many survived and made it back to the States? What did they all endure?

Greene himself lived a long life, dying in 2003 at the age of 92.

Dubois County Historical Museum

I find county museums a little bit quirky but fascinating glimpses into local history and identity. What the museum contains says a lot about what the county values and considers important, and how the county residents see themselves.

As I entered the Dubois County Historical Museum, two people greeted me. One took me around to see the entire museum. This would have thrown me—Why am I being walked through the museum? Aren’t I able to see it on my own?—except that I had encountered this not so long before. Maybe it is a rural museum tradition?

The pride he had in the museum and county was evident. The museum looks deceptively small from the outside. In actuality, the museum is housed in the old Kimball International warehouse. He seemed genuinely surprised that I didn’t instantly recognize Kimball International (oh yeah, they made pianos, right?), and I tried not to be embarrassed—and then annoyed as the minutes dragged on as we walked through the museum together with him pointing out everything.

The museum layout is a bit odd. The front part of it is divided into sections or rooms with different exhibits that focus on the founding of the county, the ethnic identity of the early inhabitants, wars, sports, and furniture companies (remember Kimball?) associated with the county’s history.

And then a doorway opens up into a huge warehouse full of farm equipment (county identity—rural and agricultural), a pioneer log cabin, and miscellaneous large objects. Sections are devoted to silver smelting, bees, butchering, woodworking, and blacksmithing.

He pointed to a small, climate-controlled room to the side of the warehouse. The man giving me a tour of the museum beamed with pride. The room, he explained, contained stuffed exotic animals hunted by someone whose name I was supposed to know. (To those familiar with my blog and love of animals, you won’t be surprised to know that I was horrified.) Clearly, hunting and stuffing are some of those things that make up the county’s identity. I swallowed hard as we thankfully walked by the room without entering.

Eventually I was left to peruse the museum on my own. The exhibits at the front of the museum contain a slew of information that I painstakingly reviewed. The fossil collection contains artifacts older than 200 million years. I learned that the Illinoisan glacier (is that what the glacier was called?) reached as far south as northwestern Dubois County.

The county is named for Toussaint DuBois, a Frenchman born in Montreal. DuBois joined another Frenchman, Lafayette, in fighting for American independence. He was, like many other Frenchmen in the New World, a fur trader. And like other fur traders during skirmishes (Michel Brouillet for example), he managed spies and scouts during the Tippecanoe Campaign (1812). He was a captain (and later major) during the War of 1812. He was the first landowner in what became Dubois County, but alas he never lived on the land. He died crossing the Wabash River in May 1816 and is buried in Vincennes (which is not in the county that bears his name).

The land that makes up Dubois County came from a 1803/1804 treaty that Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison made with the native Americans. In 1817—a year after Indiana became a state—Governor Jennings approved an act creating Dubois County. (Incidentally, Dubois is pronounced Dew-Boys, a decidedly non-French pronunciation.)

People moved in quickly. By 1820, Dubois County contained 202 non-native American families (1,168 people). The Lincolns, as in Abraham Lincoln’s birth family, lived just seven miles south of the county line. Ethnically, the county included Scots-Irish and Germans—lots of Germans. A good portion of space in the museum is devoted to explaining the providence of these German immigrants, their dialects, and their voyage to Indiana from native Prussia.

Another section highlights the religion in the area, but the focus of the museum in large part is on the military experience of inhabitants. Each war has its own exhibit stock full of artifacts. Indiana is a land of war memorials, and in Dubois County, they seem to take their military history very seriously.

The museum contains an impressive array of military artifacts, including such things as a flag from Company K of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry (the flag was carried in the Battle of Antietam, Maryland September 17, 1862), “souvenirs” pilfered from the enemy dead of WWII, and four (not one, four!) Belgian rifles from the Civil War.

At 14 pounds (!), I couldn’t help but think that the soldiers that carried these Belgian rifles were of a hardy stock—and brave. Not the safest rifle, according to E. R. Brown of the 27th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Company C, “They were all deadly at the muzzle end, and some of them were next to deadly at both ends. Their kick was like the recoil of a cannon.”

Dubois County was heavily wooded and historically had a large lumber industry with sawmills and furniture factories. Many different desks, pianos, and even a complete kitchen with real AristOKraft cabinets are on display. (The museum considered getting a hold of the AristOKraft cabinets a minor coup. AristOKraft later became MasterBrand.) The furniture makers are a litany of past local companies: Jasper Desk, Indiana Cabinet Co., Jasper Office Furniture, Indiana Furniture Industries, and Jasper Corporation (which later became, you guessed it, Kimball International).

As if proving my point about the quirkiness that is a county museum, immediately next to the furniture is a glass exhibit case about Bill Schroeder, an inhabitant of the county who received the first mechanical heart on December 25, 1984. Unfortunately, after the procedure, Schroeder only lived 620 days; he suffered a series of strokes and died on August 6, 1986.

I moved through the doorway to the warehouse portion of the museum. I looked over the various mini-exhibits for different trades, such as silver smelting, blacksmithing, and woodworking. The warehouse section contains many farming implements and machines: buggies, wagons, threshers, water pumps, a 1923 Kitten steam engine, and even a restored 1924 Maxwell.

I found myself face-to-face with that small room, the recently opened Wildlife Adventure Exhibit.

I took a deep breath and steeled myself before entering. The room was full of stuffed animals (not the type of stuffed animals I like!): bears, moose, elk, panthers, cougars, etc. You name it, it had been hunted, stuffed, and put on display here. A section contains trophies from the numerous trips local businessman Frank Fromme Jr. made to Africa starting in 1968. I found myself staring at two elephant feet—the native tribes got the meat, Frank was allowed to take two feet. I breathed easier as I stepped back into the warehouse proper.

Out of the myriad of items, the mechanical item that caught my fancy though was the dog-powered butter churn (yes, really!). A dog would walk (run?) on a slanted treadmill that powered an arm attached to a butter churn. I suppose all members of the family in the early 1900s had to earn their keep. (It reminded me another out-of-the-ordinary butter churn with a side crank that I saw in the childhood home of Ernie Pyle in Dana, IN.)

The centerpiece of the large warehouse room, not dwarfed by the large mechanical equipment around it, is a huge German log cabin. The cabin was built in the 1880s near Patoka Lake at Celestine. In 2004, the cabin was taken apart, moved to the museum, and rebuilt inside the building. In fact, the cabin is too large for the warehouse; they ran out of room to rebuild the second story of the cabin. The logs are incredibly well preserved thanks to weatherboards that covered them from almost immediately after the cabin was built.

The cabin came from the Welp Homestead, which is still farmed by the family today. It housed Gerhard Welp (1823-1897), his parents, and four siblings who came to the US to avoid fighting in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

The warehouse ends with murals depicting important buildings in each city in the county, such as Ferdinand and Celestine. As I exited, I passed through a reconstructed downtown from the early 1900s. On display are a variety of shops and services: shoe repair, jail, photographer, barber, millinery, saloon, bank, doctor, store, school, hotel, undertaker, kitchen, news office, surveyor, and church.

As I left, I felt as though I had a better feel for Dew-Boys County, learned a few things, and discovered a few things I wanted to follow up on. County museums—they are a great way to get a feel for a place and learn about local history.

Ida and the Colored Freedom Settlement immortalized

When I was researching information about the Colored Freedom Settlement in Dubois County, Indiana, I stumbled across several poems about Ida, her ancestors, and the Colored Freedom Settlement.

The poems, written by Jasper, Indiana native and Indiana Poet Laureate Nobert Krapf, reflect a familiarity with Ida, her father, and the Colored Freedom Settlement. Krapf grew up geographically near to the settlement, but was born a few years after the last settlement inhabitant died.

Contemporary American Voices: a journal of poetry

  • Last Sunset: Ida’s Father Ben Hagan, Jr. Is Buried in the Pinkston Cemetery
    Last Sunset describes the funeral of Ida’s father in 1939 and the death of the Colored Freedom Settlement. Note: Krapf uses Hagan rather than Hagen. I have seen the family name spelled both ways.
  • Ida and a Gemini Twin
    Krapf addresses Ida directly in this poem about a famous blues singer who shares her May 24 birthday. The blues singer? Bob Dylan.
  • Hearing the Blues in the Pinkston Cemetery
    Kraft reflects on being in the cemetery of the Colored Freedom Settlement, hearing Jimmie Duck Holmes play the blues, and offering to listen with Ida.

Flying Island

  • Whose Eyes Are These?
    Krapf speaks of Ida and her ancestry.

Ida and family may have been the subject of other poems by Krapf. These are the few that I have found online by this Pulitzer Prize nominee.

The Colored Freedom Settlement

In contrast to other black communities like the Roberts Settlement, Lyles Station, or the Beech Settlement, I can find precious little about the Colored Freedom Settlement.

I first encountered this settlement when I stumbled across Ida Hagen  and Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Wollenmann on a trip to Ferdinand, Indiana. I saw an image of Ida Hagen associated with the Colored Freedom Settlement in the Dubois County Historical Museum. I read about Hagen’s work with Dr. Wollenmann. As I researched Hagen, I found tantalizing tidbits about the settlement. Will-o’-the-wisps really. The settlement is mentioned in passing but seems to have disappeared over time.

In 1840, Emmanuel Pinkston Sr., a freed slave from Georgia, founded the settlement. According to an 1850 census, Emmanuel lived there with his wife and six children. He bought land numerous times: 1857, 1870, and 1871. In 1875, he set aside land in the settlement for a church and a school.

The settlement was home to many different families, including a Ben Hagen, the father of Ida Hagen. Ben lived on a farm next to Emmanuel’s at least as early as 1874. Hagen grew tobacco and watermelon, and was a minister at the Missionary Baptist Church. In 1939, he passed away. His funeral is immortalized in a poem by Nobert Krapf.

Following Ben’s death, it seems that the settlement itself was not long for this world. Larkin Pinkston, the last remaining member of the settlement, died in 1940.

The Huntingburg Conservation Club is now located where the settlement once stood. The Pinkston-Hagen cemetery must still exist. I found a 2013 article that spoke of Uebelhor family members locating graves and preserving the cemetery. But where exactly it exists is a mystery to me.