24 July 2015

Dutton Letters, Part 5: Uncle Harvey Dutton Writes Nephew Lyford Kern the Catholic

I love this letter.  Out of all the Dutton letters that Linda has shared with us so far, this is the one I enjoyed the most.  In my introduction to the Dutton letters, I wrote that perhaps the most rewarding experience for a family historian is to learn the presumptions he made about his ancestors based on his research were found in fact true.  This letter was that confirmation for me.  Remember you can click on the pics to enlarge them.

This is Harvey J. Dutton, age 88, writing to his grand-nephew Lyford Kern, age 21, son of Harvey's niece Effie (Ricketts) Kern.  Lyford converted to Catholicism and became an ordained priest.
Zephyrhills, Fla.                                                    Nov. 13, 1924
Dear nephew,
     Dilatory as usual in answering letters.  Perhaps if I had a typewriter the novelty of using one, or rather learning to use one might make letter writing less of a task.  Was very much interested in what you said in letters of Sept. 8 about your visit home, high water from some same.  Snapping sweet corn, helping neighbors threshing, etc. but while you gave yield per acre you omitted to give numbers of acres or price per ton, which would have given me some idea of the profits of  "specialty farming."
     You see, I am very much interested in how your folks are prospering on their new farm. Your mother wrote me that they hoped to make arrangements to meet the unpaid balance (what it was I never knew) without giving a mortgage.  Hope they succeeded for a mortgage is anything but a cheerful companion.  As I have said before, I do not care to discuss Roman Catholicism.  But do not for a moment think that I consider your claims for said church borne out by the facts as recorded in the history of the early churches.   However, the efforts of any organization to correct former bad practices is to be commended.  Referring to your last letters I will say that had I answered before election I might have expressed some anxiety as to the result.  Not that I had any fears that Davis or LaFollette would be elected, but that they might carry enough states to throw the election into congress which I looked upon as almost a calamity, foreseeing the result.  But the people have spoken & in no uncertain terms.
     So you were for Davis.  Isn't that another departure from your early training?  Seems to me all the Kerns were Republicans or Prohibitionists.  I believe George Ricketts was a Democrat.  Well!  Clarence wrote me that he should support the renegade Republican, LaFollette.  Another source of regret to me.  Another case of influence of environment.  Labor unionism.  Well!  He may be proud to be numbered with the tail-enders.  And you, I suppose, are elated with the idea of being counted with the solid south.  Shame on you, George and Clarence too.  But I have one consolation.  The rest of my children are living up to their early training & they are voters too.  Three of them helped to carry Missouri for Coolidge.  I lost my chance to vote by coming away before the election & depending on a friend to send an absentee ballot which he failed to do.  Just received a letter from Bertha, who writes "I suppose the result of the election suited you.  It does us."  Was shocked that Clarence is a Socialist.  She writes further that LaF. "cooked" himself with his course during the war. Clarence writes that he admired LaF's course in congress during the war.  Which of the two, Clarence or Berta, is the better American?
     Must either wind up as put off further writing till another day.  Speaking of your chum Tom Dillon and Roberta, you say you guess you can trust him with her.  Is Roberta really so dangerous?  Liable to lead him astray, corrupt his morals, is she?  From my acquaintance with her I had formed a different opinion.  As I owe her a letter, shall have to warn her.
     Left Sprg. Nov. 15th Arrived here 18th.  Nicely located.  Brought a comrade with me, so I have a roommate.  His first trip south.  Health is good.  Eats fair.
     Should be glad to hear from you whenever convenient.
     H.J. Dutton
Clarence (Dutton) was Harvey's son.  Bertha (Dutton) was Harvey's daughter.  George Ricketts was Harvey's brother in law, married to Harvey's sister Laura, and Lyford's grandfather.  Roberta (Kern) was Lyford's sister.

Eighty-eight years old, and a mind as sharp as a whip.  God I love this man --
  • Fondly remembering midwest farming, he opens on Lyford not giving him the requisite information to understand everything about how his family is doing on the new farm.  Mean-spirited?  No.  Just an old senior saying "Don't hold back on account of my age, don't discount my mind, son."  Since the next paragraph is about his parents might needing to take out a mortgage, it might also be true he was wanting to know if he needed to help his niece financially.
  • His remarks about the Catholic church also seemed to be pointed and sarcastic, but inoffensive. He holds back any overt counter-fire, choosing the subliminal so as to stay true to his own beliefs but not to hurt.
  • As repeated over and over, the Duttons are devout Christians (primarily in the Methodist tradition), including strong advocates of the abolition of slavery and the prohibition of liquor, and thus they were conservative Republicans.  This is what Harvey keeps harking back to with comments such as the young generations "early training."
  • When Lyford says he supported the Democrat Davis in the '24 presidential election, there is backstory.  The Democratic south was still in part beholden to the KuKluxKlan, and the first party nominee was Alfred Smith, the Governor of New York.  But to the south he was a "Northerner" and he was, gasp, CATHOLIC!  So the Democratic south rejected him in favor of Ambassador John Davis from West Virginia to be the Democratic nominee.  So Harvey is taking the screws to his Catholic nephew "elated to be counted with the solid south."  Hehe.
  • But the Republicans too had internal struggles, the progressive brand of Republicans in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, enticed Sen.Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin to make a third party run.  This is what worried Harvey, that the Republicans would split their vote and make way for the segregationist Democrat which is what happened in 1912 when a third party run by Teddy Roosevelt opened the door for Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
  • Harvey's son Clarence, a tradesman cabinet-maker, was pro-union so supported the progressive LaFollette.  Clarence would say to his father that his "early training" was still true to moral issues, leaving Harvey the only opening of calling Clarence a "socialist."
  • Harvey refers to Bertha versus Clarence based on their opinion of La Follette's antiwar stance during World War I (and desire to pay Germany reparations after).  Clearly liberal.  Harvey a conservative, and veteran and hero of the Civil War, clearly sides with Bertha. 
  • We continue to see Harvey's wit in the closing paragraph where he deliberately twists his grand-nephew's words about his sister Roberta dating a friend, and threatens to tell Roberta what Lyford didn't say. 
Eighty-eight years old.  Standing up for himself intellectually.  Proud, confident, but inoffensive. Witty.  Tongue in cheek.  Great, great letter.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

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