By Jennifer Stultz
Editors, Pratt Tribune, Kiowa County Signal, St. John News
Last week I grabbed a little book from the shelf in our back room, a rescue book from a library sale a few years ago called Red Rock Over the River, which for some reason I hadn’t read yet. It was a young adult book, solid red, very worn, hard cover, discarded from St. Anne’s School in Wichita many years ago and somehow come into my possession. I’m always amazed how a random book selection can somehow always tie in with current circumstances.
During an otherwise busy work week, it only took me a random few hours to read “Red Rock over the River” by Patricia Beatty, but I still ponder the interesting timing of the read and the subject matter of a book written in 1973. Call me crazy, but sometimes it seems that books are really alive, vibrant, breathing things that have something to say to us, no matter when they were written and no matter when they are read.
What are the odds that a book about life at Fort Yuma, Arizona in 1881 has any connection to my life today? None, I would guess, but then what are the odds of other Fort Yuma features coming into my life at the same time. Strange things happened, but this was really interesting.
Searching through some old work emails for another article, I came across a travel article that was about Fort Yuma, Arizona. Interesting. What a coincidence. The travel article focused almost entirely on the same prison that was the focus of an unusual prison escape in the book I just read. The narration of the book took place in midsummer which is turning into autumn, just like the current situations in my life, and it was beastly hot and then dropped by 30 degrees. I could identify myself.
Then, as I read this book, I was drawn into a sideways glance at how life there at the time revolved around what the local newspaper was printing. The Arizona Sentinel, which is printed each week for Yuma City and Fort Yuma, featured stories about local festivals (unlike our own Oktoberfest and the upcoming Pratt Jam or Haviland’s annual Ladies Auxiliary Auction).
Also of interest to readers at the time was a list of prisoners new to stuffy Red Rock Prison. Of course, this book was about a remarkable hot air balloon prison escape and the help of two teenage girls, so that would have been thrown into the newspaper mix as a forerunner, but we used to have avid reader interest in our current Pratt County prison lists, which used to be were printed in the Pratt Tribune each week. We don’t do that anymore. Wrong-doers didn’t like having their names printed. Maybe it’s worth reconsidering, especially given how popular crime shows seem to be on TV these days.
This 1881 newspaper also contained articles and announcements about traveling dentists and doctors or other figures passing through the city. We still do, especially when we have political candidates stopping by Pratt asking for support. Just last week we had a story about a remarkable dance artist who had moved into Pratt’s Presbyterian Church because of its stained glass windows. Visit McNinimy online at www. pratttribune.com if you missed it in print.
Something I found worth pondering when comparing newspapers then and now is that the other much-anticipated issue each week for the readers of the Arizona Sentinel each week was a poem to read, ponder, and even memorize.
Poetry. We don’t do much with poetry anymore. Now that we live in the age of cell phones, computers, smartphones and Google, we no longer need the newspaper to deliver an uplifting stream of poetry. Or we?
Hmmm – it would be fun to publish locally written poetry in our newspaper if people who have read this far into an opinion column had the courage to write and submit a poem about it. I would be happy to publish such articles if you email me at [email protected]
For inspiration, here’s a poem I came across recently, written by Reva Obrecht McAnarney, a former Pratt Tribune columnist. It was written in 1997 along with a new small gardening column on fall planting and the care of Tower Gardens on North Main Street in Pratt.