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Fenwick writes, publishes prairie journal

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Stafford County Author Lynda Beck Fenwick with journal of Isaac Beckley Werner that inspired her third book, Prairie Bachelor, which is set for December 2020 release.

Stafford County native Lynda Beck Fenwick has spent the lion’s share of this decade straddling two centuries as she researched historical events for her third book, Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement, scheduled for December 2020 release by the University Press of Kansas.

Fort Hays State University Forsyth Library will host Fenwick, a 1966 FHSU Tigers alumna, for a guided discussion of Prairie Bachelor--which she based on the 480-page journal of Stafford County homesteader Isaac Beckley Werner--on Tuesday, December 1, with the program also available for public viewing online via Zoom. Registration for the 5:30 p.m. presentation is www.goforthaysstate.com/FenwickBook. 

“Werner’s journal gave me a front-row seat to the years Stafford County farmers and ranchers struggled to survive in a world increasingly controlled by the wealthy,” said Fenwick, who for the last ten years has traveled with husband Larry--a retiree from the world of finance--to places Werner had lived and frequented as she carried out her research.

“It’s been an adventure both of us,” Fenwick said. “Larry’s been a good sport.”

Werner’s journal was the lynch-pin for an odyssey that took the Fenwicks to cemeteries where Werner and his friends were buried, to museums where Fenwick leafed through yellowed fragile pages of The St. John County Capital, the newspaper that published Werner’s writings, and to the Stafford County Courthouse to read probate and trial transcripts that Werner mentioned in his journal.

“I probably know more about Isaac’s friends and neighbors than I do about my own neighbors,” Werner mused. “My research informed me about that period of history.”

Fenwick said she chose to write the book to appeal to general readers, while still making it significant to scholars.

“What I want people to understand when they hear about the book is that it shares an important time in history of our region that has been forgotten,” Fenwick said.

Prairie Bachelor, said Fenwick, lays bare the extreme hardship of Stafford County farmers who were on the losing end of a fight to feed and clothe their families.

“It cost more to raise a crop than they were paid for it,” Fenwick said. “It cost farmers one bushel for every bushel they harvested to ship their grain. This was a time when people were living in dugouts on the prairie. There was one tree on Rattlesnake Creek and people would travel for miles to stand in its shade.”

Through her research, Fenwick said, she gained a fresh understanding of the role Kansas played in history.

“Kansas became the heart of the Populist Movement,” said Fenwick. “Kansas was where it was happening--where history was being made.”

Newly-elected U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran was among those to review Prairie Bachelor prior to publication.

“Fenwick vividly transports the reader to the plains of central Kansas and describes the foundation of a pioneer spirit defined by industriousness and care for neighbor and community that exists to the present day,” wrote Moran in his review.

Fenwick began her career as an English teacher in 1967 before attending Baylor University School of Law, Waco, TX and becoming a practicing trial attorney.

Fenwick’s first book was Should the Children Pray?, published in 1989, for which she was chosen Georgia Author of the Year in Nonfiction by the Council of Authors and Journalists, Inc.   Private Choices, Public Consequences, Fenwick’s second book, was published in 1998 and was added to both university libraries and personal collections.