Letters Home from an Enlistee in IU’s S. A. T. C. Program: Darling Mother

Blog post by Randi Richardson

On April 6, 1917, more than two years after the beginning of World War I, the United States declared war on Germany.  A military draft was instituted in the U. S. for all men between the ages of 21 and 30 and was soon amended to include all men from 18-45.  As young men and middle-aged men marched off to war, either due to patriotism or the draft, homes and educational institutions emptied.  Gone were fathers and son, many of the students and the teaching staff, as well.

The U. S. forces had a great need for college-educated soldiers.  To that end, the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) was created in 1918 and hosted at several hundred different institutions of higher learning from coast to coast including Indiana University at Bloomington.

SATCThe S.A.T.C. program was announced in the last days of August 1918.  Young men affected by the draft who had passed a high school course or its equivalent could, at their discretion, transfer into colleges or universities for a period varying from three to ten months.  The government agreed to treat the enlisted men as enlisted soldiers, quartering them in barracks, furnishing housing, food and tuition along with a private’s pay of $1/day.

At IU, about 60 percent of the student population, 1,102 men, were enlisted in the S.A.T.C.  President Bryan estimated that about 400 of those men had enrolled in the University simply to take advantage of the S.A.T.C.  In order to give the colleges and universities an opportunity to ready housing for the men, the opening of the program was delayed to October 1.

In February 2020 eight letters were purchased on Ebay from one of the S.A.T.C. enlistees at IU.  His name was William Glenn Roberts (1898-1983) from Mooresville, Indiana.  He was one of five children born to John T. and Alva L. (Button) Roberts, both of whom were ordained ministers in the United Brethren Church.  John T. Roberts is considered the founder of the Indiana Central College now known as the University of Indianapolis.  These letters give the reader an inside look at the S.A.T.C. program.

Glenn, as he was commonly known, arrived early on the Bloomington campus in September 1918.  At first he boarded with Daniel and Effie Yadon at 315 E. Sixth St.  His letters had this to say about his accommodations:

Dear little mother,

     I am in a fine room now and am getting room and board for $6 per week.  We get all we can carry away to eat.  The landlady is choicy (sic) about her roomers and does not have roomers who smoke or play cards, and the room has modern fixtures, so I am well placed.  Bath ‘n everything is right on the same floor as the room.  There are eight boys here.

Bloomington is a nice town.  Drinking water is good where I stay and at the school.  The campus is a beautiful place.  It covers 118 acres…The school clock has chimes on it, and every morning at 6:45 they play America.  They’ve just chimed seven.

     We will not be taken up into the army until after October 1st but having signed up for the S.A.T.C, we have to rather watch our step.  Absence from class, for instance, would probably be reported to Capt. Dalton…Bye, honey…

Although S.A.T.C. enlistees were initially given a lot of latitude in selecting their courses, eventually the curriculum was narrowed which forced all collegiate students to take the same few courses within a tightly regimented schedule with reveille at 6 AM, drill from 7-8:50, academic work from 9-11:50, classwork and freedom from 1-5; supervised study from 7-9 and taps at 9:30.

My course of study is, besides 11 hours military drill per week, five hours of French, five hours of general geology, two hours of topography and map study, and three hours of history of war causes and aims. 

Glenn clearly missed his home.  And his mother.

Dear Mother, 

            I passed the physical examination this afternoon and made it easy.  I only weighed 127.3 lbs. which is 7/10 lbs. below the marine standard.  120 is the limit in the army for my height.  I hope to grow some while in the service. 

            When Uncle Sam makes me a second lieutenant…I’ll take you to Colorado Canon so you can paint it.  Won’t that be fine.

            I don’t see how you put up [with all that you do] besides half supporting the family, doing without clothes yourself and keeping your temper so sweet.  You’re a wonderful little mother, sweetheart.  I wish I were good enough to be called “your son!”  It would take some pretty tall stepping for any fellow.


By the first of October there were many changes in Glenn’s life, some welcomed and anticipated, others not.  Watch for the second part of this blog next week in a presentation titled “Letters Home from an Enlistee in IU’s  S.A.T.C. Program:  Flu Closes IU Campus.



William David Howe, “An Educational Experiment,” Indiana University Alumni Quarterly, January 1919, Vol. VI, No. 1, pp. 43-46.

“News of the University,” Indiana University Alumni Quarterly, January 1919, Vol. VI, No. 1, pp. 85-87.

Gas Lights and Capt. Shoemaker’s Narrow Escape from Death

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Before electricity became widespread and economical to use, gas lighting was the most popular method of illumination.  One of the first known uses of electric light in Monroe County was the intended placement of an electric light on the courthouse steeple in late 1881.  Albert Seward of Cincinnati, whose relationship to the Monroe County Seward family is unknown, agreed to provide the exhibition light at no cost to illustrate the capability of electricity and electric light.  According to him, if the light was placed high enough on the steeple, it would illuminate “nearly ever portion of the town.

Research to determine whether or not that exhibition ever took place has not been successful to date.  One thing is, however, quite certain.  Gas lighting remained in place for decades before 1881 in Monroe County and decades after 1881.  And it was not without inherent risks such as those experienced by a druggist and military veteran, Capt. John Wesley Shoemaker, in 1871 and reported by the Bloomington Progress on August 30.

“On Thursday morning last, at about ten o’clock, an accident occurred in the Smith & Tuley Block which for a time threatened to result in the entire destruction of the fine new buildings on the south side of the square.

gas lights
Gas lamps hung from the ceiling are featured prominently in this unidentified photo.  Rather than needing to be refilled manually, the lamps shown here were powered with piped gas.  Gas lighting is still used predominantly among the Amish.

“Capt. J. W. Shoemaker carried the gasoline lamps which are used in the Union Drug Store into the wareroom which is situated south and directly in rear of the main building.  While engaged in cleaning and refilling the lamps he concluded to light them.  Lighting one, he placed it on the top of a barrel containing alcohol.  The lamp had scarcely been steadied on the barrel when the captain noticed a small blue flame directly beneath the lighted lamp apparently proceeding from a small aperture in the barrel.

“Before he had time to blow out the flame or take a thought as to his best mode of procedure, the barrel exploded and he was enveloped by the burning liquid.  Fortunately Shoemaker’s presence of mind led him to think of a barrel of water at the wareroom door, and dashing out he jumped into the barrel and crowded down until the water entirely covered his person and extinguished the fire.  An examination soon afterward revealed the fact that his injuries, although severe, were not dangerous, and with careful treatment he will again be at his post in two or three weeks.  The burns are on his arms and face, the burns on his left arm being deep and painful.

“On the whole, the captain has reason to congratulate himself that his injuries are no more severe and that his entire store was not destroyed as the wareroom contained coal oil, gasoline, whisky, varnishes and oils that, if ignited, would have insured the destruction of the entire block.  Many of the citizens worked heroically to extinguish the fire in the wareroom and risked their lives with a knowledge of the inflammable character of the stock in the drug store ware room.”

Yet in his twenties when the incident occurred, Capt. Shoemaker lived another 44 years and died in 1915 of natural causes.  At the time of his death, about half of all homes in the U. S. were still using some type of gas lights for illumination, and by 1930 only ten percent of Americans who lived on farms and in rural areas had electric power.

David Jacobs Killed a Golden Eagle to Save a Goose, or So He Said

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Photo compliments of Zdeněk Macháček of the Czech Republic at unsplash.com

Golden eagles, not to be confused with bald eagles, are one of the largest, fastest, nimblest raptors in North America.  They hunt on land and in the air.  They are capable of preying on land animals the size of a small deer with a grip strength said to be 100 times greater than that of a human male and feeding on birds like geese and crane.  Their stamina in pursuit of prey can be seen in a second effort to attack a bird or animal that at first escaped capture.  They come back with a vengeance that endures as long as it takes for what it is hunting to be dead.

Although golden eagles are now quite rare in Indiana, that wasn’t always the case.  On November 13, 1872, the Bloomington Progress reported that David Jacobs shot a golden eagle that was endeavoring to kill some geese in Salt Creek near where he lived.  “There were three geese in the creek, and the eagle was flying back and forth over them,” said Jacobs “striking them with enormous talons.”

Jacobs’ noted that his bullet did not kill the eagle but struck the bird’s thigh.  After struggling several hundred yards over the ground and finding it could fly no further, it fell on its back.  Jacobs then set his dogs upon it and the eagle began to fight for its life with its talons.  The talons of its right foot struck into the face of one of the dogs and held him until it was dead when Jacobs released the dog.

Pleased with his defeat of the eagle, Jacobs brought it to Bloomington where it was exhibited on the streets.  A formidable bird in appearance, the wing span from tip to tip measured over seven feet and the claws spread near seven inches.  Archie McGinnis purchased the bird with plans to have it preserved by a taxidermist.

One might wonder if Jacobs’ action against the eagle was truly motivated by his desire to save the geese.  You decide.  Take into consideration that within the past few years he had fathered a bastard child with his wife’s sister and had been tried for the murder of his brother-in-law, Robert Clark.  Although he was initially found not guilty, Robert’s wife later admitted that she witnessed the murder but was threatened by Jacobs with her life if she told what she had seen.

Based upon the widow’s recent testimony, the community came to believe that Jacobs did, in fact, kill Clark.  Because Clark could not be tried a second time for the same crime, some men took it upon themselves to mete out their own brand of justice.  They waylaid him along a deserted road in the darkness of night and put a bullet through him.  No one was ever tried for the offense.


Bloomington Packing Company Closes Its Doors after 56 Years in Business

Blog post by Randi Richardson

lardFor many years, in many homes and restaurants, tins of Winterlein lard and other Winterlein meat products were a common sight.  Bloomington Packing Company, manufacturer of Winterlein merchandise, was founded in 1922 by Ernest Reuter, Elzie L. Baldwin and Fred G. Baierlein, all former residents of Muncie.  Winterlein was created from the last syllable of each of their names.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 8, 1927, a fire started in the smoke rooms of the Bloomington Packing Company.  Although the Bloomington Fire Department responded promptly they were hampered by a lack of water.  Before the fire could be extinguished, more than $2,000 worth of hides and a large quantity of fresh and smoked meats were burned and the plant was completed destroyed.  Not long afterward, the plant was rebuilt on the same site 2 ½ miles northwest of the square off of Hensonburg Road.

Work in packing plants was often dangerous as described by Upton Sinclair in his historical novel, The Jungle, published in 1906.  Most workers earned just pennies per hour and labored ten hours a day.  Reuter, Baldwin and Baierlein, by their own report, worked from 4 AM to 9 PM almost daily those first few years.

Bloomington Packing plant employees went on strike in late 1936 in an effort to unionize.  Vernon Fiscus was on a voluntary picket line on a road leading to the packing plant when he was shot and wounded by Ernest Baldwin, manager of Bloomington airport and the son of Elzie Baldwin, one of the plant’s owners.  The strike was settled in June 1937.  At that time Thomas Hutson, the state labor commissioner noted that the strike “was the oldest in Indiana.”

For the next few years, it was business as usual.  Then a second fire brought destruction to the plant in August 1951.  It began with a grease fire in a smoke room and swept through the sausage and cooking rooms causing damages estimated at $75,000 including the loss of five tons of meat.  Firemen fought the blaze for seven hours stopping it just short of the company offices.

Once again the company regrouped and expanded.   By 1955, the company employed over 100 local, full-time people and purchased over 43,000 hogs and cattle from area farmers each year.  It was said they sold about 50 percent of all the meat consumed in Bloomington.

Undoubtedly the dynamics of the business changed as the founders passed away.  Fred Baierlein, a native German, was the first to go.  He died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 45 in 1949.  Elzie Baldwin, 65, died in 1958 at the Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.  At the time of his death he was vice president of the company and lived in Bloomington.  The last to die was Ernest Reuter, another German native.  He was 79 years old and the president of the Bloomington Packing Company at the time of his death in 1969.

Less than a decade later, on May 15, 1978, the Indianapolis News announced that the Bloomington Packing Company had closed its doors for good after 56 years of business.  The news came from Larry Baldwin, the firm’s spokesman who blamed the rising cost of business and government regulation for the decision.

A Lasting Gift from the IU Class of 1868

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Looking at the busy parking lot in front of Kroger at Second and College today, one would see little or no evidence that the property was once the original campus of Indiana University.  But before the last remaining building was demolished, several relics were removed and made a part of the new campus in Dunn’s Woods.  One of those items was the sundial.

Gil Stormont, an IU graduate class of 1868, newspaper publisher, editor and historian, reminisced many years later that the idea of a sundial was conceived of by his professor, Cyrus M. Dodd.  Professor Dodd came to IU from the east in 1866 to fill a vacancy in the math department.  The following year, when the regular professor returned, he was appointed professor of Latin Language and Literature and at the end of the next year, 1868, he left to chair the math department of his alma mater, Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

The sundial, encircled by railing in the lower left of this picture, was erected in front of this IU building on the Seminary Square campus in 1868 and relocated to the front of Maxwell Hall in Dunn’s Woods in 1896.

According to Stormont, the greater part of the funds for construction of the sundial was provided by his class.  Nelle V. Neill Jackson (1893-1974) who compiled a family history for her descendants many years ago, reported that it was her grandfather, Greenberry Cruse (1842-1909) of Monroe County with his partner, Mr. Bierly, that “built and sunk [the] sundial.”  It was placed in the center of the main walk leading to the college entrance.

Several interesting stories about the sundial have been passed down through the ages.  One involves Rev. Dr. Cyrus Nutt who was president of IU from 1860 until 1875.  It is said that one evening after sunset, in the darkening twilight, he came up to the iron railing around the sundial and absentmindedly struck a match to see what time it was by the dial.

The sundial as it appeared about 1899 on the new campus in Dunn’s Woods.

In 1883, following a destructive fire at the university, the campus was moved to Dunn’s Woods where it is located today.   The one remaining building on the old campus became the property of the City of Bloomington in 1897 and was used for many years as the Bloomington High School.  About that same time the sundial was moved to the new campus.  It was situated just outside Maxwell Hall where it inspires little notice today from busy students and faculty.

Two IU students, Mathilda Zwicker and Otto Paul Klopsch met at the sundial.   Both graduated in 1896, the year the sundial was relocated to Maxwell Hall, and went on to marry.  Although they left Indiana to pursue a career in other states, the college sweethearts had fond memories of Bloomington and often reminisced to their children about their college days and their first meeting at the sundial.  Mathilda passed away in 1933 after being happily married for thirty-seven years.

Following the death of Otto, in 1935, Otto Klopsch, Jr. met with President William Lowe Bryan and asked to spread his parent’s ashes at the base of the sundial.  The request was granted.   Shortly thereafter Mathilda and Otto were laid to rest.  If one takes the time to look closely, he or she might notice the bronze plaque at the base of the sundial which reads in part, “They met at this sundial when classmates.  Their ashes rest here together until eternity.”

Today the sundial is well worn by time and few are familiar with its seemingly ordinary history.  However it still stands as testament of the university’s early history.


Blog post by Randi Richardson

Slavery was not legal in Indiana, but the laws were sometimes circumvented with indentured servitude contracts.

Deed books include property transactions and slaves were considered property.  Occasionally, then, even in those states where slavery was banned by constitutional law, deed books include contracts of indentured servitude, one of the ways whites maneuvered to keep possession of their slaves in spite of the law.


John Sedwick, an early pioneer in Monroe County, Indiana, made such a contract with his “negro woman,” Anaca Johnson on June 1, 1820.  (See Monroe County, Indiana, Deed Book A, p. 41.)  According to that document, if Anaca promised to voluntarily and of her own free will make herself  John’s indentured servant for a period of five years, he would give her $5.00 at the time she signed the document.  As an indentured servant, she would be expected among other things to faithfully serve her “master’s’ lawful command,” “gladly obey,” and never absent herself day or night from his service without out permission.  Alone in a unfamiliar place with hardly anyone she could turn to for support,   Anaca surely felt she had little or no choice, so she dutifully placed an “X” beside her name in agreement.

John Sedwick came to Monroe County with his wife, Elizabeth, and several family members from Calvert County, Maryland.  They began their journey on March 1, 1820, in the later months of winter.  It was a journey, according to John’s estimate, of 1200 miles over land and water.  During the course of the journey John kept a diary that was passed down through his daughter, Sarah (Sedwick) Akin, and her son Joseph Akin.  A transcription of the manuscript is available online.

Toward the journey’s end, on Monday, April 2, as the family neared Salem, Indiana, in two wagons, John noted that the roads were quite bad with snow three inches deep.  After traveling eighteen miles, a decision was made to stop for the day.  They put up at a farm house that was not entirely welcoming to the family.  John described the mistress of the house as a “cross old jade.”

The next day John wasn’t feeling too well, but the group took off anyway with John riding in one of the two wagons.  Anica (sic), who John identified as “his negro girl,” took advantage of the situation by escaping.  It was four or five miles before she was missed.  Because John thought it likely that she taken the time to hide herself after the escape, which would make her difficult to find, the group forged ahead rather than immediately turning around in pursuit.

Travel during the next three days was almost impossible.  The roads were so bad that they were practically impassable in places.  But eventually, at sunset on April 6, they arrived in Ellettsville where the family settled until the death of John in 1849.  How or why Anaca/Anica made it back to John Sedwick’s home sometime between April 6 and June 1 is not known, but clearly she did return.

Nothing is known of her after signing the indenture on June 1.  She did not appear as a person of color in John’s household of six in the 1820 Monroe County census.  Neither was she noted in his household in 1830, although the household that year did include a free colored male between 10 and 23.  Was she released from her contract when it expired?  Or was John forced to release her in 1821 when Indiana’s Supreme Court ruled that indentured servitude was illegal.

To learn more about the family of John Sedwick, check out the rich Sedwick family file at the Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.


Bierly’s Bit in Building Bloomington First Horseless Carriage

Blog post by Randi Richardson

O. Howe with friends in his Winton, c 1907. Photo courtesy of Monroe County History Center.

In 2017, in a blog item on this website, Joshua O. Howe was credited with assembling the first horseless carriage to run on the streets of Bloomington.  But there seems to be another side to the story.

Mary Loftin, in an article published in the Bloomington Daily Herald Telephone on June 7, 1955, suggests that Howe did not work alone on his machine.  She reported that in addition to Howe, Ora “Dick” Bierly and two unnamed others were involved.  Bierly, who was 79 years of age when the story ran, was given many of the bragging rights for the car’s assembly.

Bierly, who ran a bicycle shop at the time, reportedly was always interested in something new.  When he saw his first car in 1906, he and three of his equally-interested friends decided to build one themselves.  Initially Bierly worked on his portion of the assembly in the bicycle shop, but eventually the four men moved the operation to the backroom of Howe’s jewelry store where they worked on it every spare minute.

The machine was described as a buckboard type with small wheels carrying one-inch, solid rubber tires, an air-cooled, one-cylinder engine mounted at the back, with six dry cell batteries and a coil to provide spark current, and a steering rod as opposed to a wheel because that’s how most early automobiles were operated.

When the assembly was complete, the four discovered the car wouldn’t fit through the door.  Howe said he’d fix that.  And, according to Bierly, “He picked up an axe and took out one side of the door frame.”

For the next two years the little Bloomington-built car was a familiar sight on Bloomington streets.  A five-gallon tank of gas would take the car about 50 miles and water from a bucket on the front seat was used to cool the engine when it overheated.

In 1908 something went wrong.  The car quit and wouldn’t go again.  Bierly tried everything he could think of but nothing worked.  Finally he called IU and asked if they would like to have the car as a museum relic.  For a while, the car was on display on the third floor of what was  then IU’s main library with a sign giving credit only to Bierly and Howe for its construction.

Meanwhile Bierly, ever the optimist, took it upon himself to build another, better car.  However, when his home caught fire and destroyed his work before it was completed, he totally gave up the idea of assembling a car and never looked back.  Fact of the matter is, he no longer trusted the modern variety enough to ride in one.

Source:  Mary Loftin, “Early Auto Builder Doesn’t Trust Fast Models of Today,” Bloomington (IN) Daily Herald Telephone, June 7, 1955, p. 1+.  NOTE:  Two photos, one of Bierly and the other of the car, accompanied this item but did not copy well from microfilm.