This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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The Ladies Band of White City, Kansas

05 August 2011

The state of Kansas has a wonderful legacy of Ladies Bands from the 19th and early 20th century. This ladies brass band from White City. Kansas, shows 16 women with a nice mixture of ages, along with the typical lone gentleman as bandleader in the back center. Compare this band to another from Kansas, the Udall Ladies Band. The instrumentation of 5 cornets, 5 alto/tenor horns, 1 euphonium, 2 valve trombones, 2 tubas, and 2 drums represents the basic list of brass instruments that a town might purchase from a mail order catalog like the Sears & Roebuck Company.

Most of the women are probably from White City, which was established in 1871 in Morris County, KS, about 24 miles south of Junction City. The first town names proposed were Swedeland or New Chicago, but they settled on naming it White City  after F. C. White, a railroad superintendent. The town was along a branch of the famed Rock Island Line that ran from Chicago to New Mexico.

At least one young woman (marked with an X) lived 10 miles up the rail line in Alta Vista in the adjoining county of Wabaunsee County, KS. She is identified as Mrs. Union Thomas, on the back of this postcard  posted in 1910 by her husband Union Thomas to their son U.P. Thomas.  The Woodman Logrolling Picnic could refer to either Woodmen of the World , or Modern Woodmen of the World , competing fraternal organizations that were started by the same man. 

Union was born in Ohio in 1861, at the start of the War Between The States, which may explain his unusual first name, and his wife Rachel Thomas was born in 1866. Union had various occupations in Alta Vista, mainly as a butcher. He also owned a pond for making ice in the winter, a useful material for a meat merchant in Kansas. Perhaps it was this same pond where the Woodmen rolled logs.

In the 1910 census though, his occupation was Manager, Opera House and Rachel was his Helper. Many American towns had small theaters which doubled as courthouses or city halls. They booked traveling vaudeville acts and silent movies and sometimes maintained an ensemble of musicians for music accompaniment. But this was hardly a "Grand Opera" theater.

Their son Union Pearly Thomas was born in Kansas in 1885, but was on the road in 1910, hence the address Sacramento, California - General Delivery. He must not have been much of a letter writer, judging by the tone his dad takes suggesting that U.P. may have forgotten what his mother looked like. For the April 1910 census he was living in Laramie, Wyoming, and was recorded by a spelling challenged census taker as a Stenegropher, Union Pacific Railroad.  He lived in a rooming house with a Carpender and a Threatre Pianoist.  Later U.P. Thomas went on to become a banker in Alta Vista and in the 1920's moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he was joined by his father after the death of Rachel.

Today the population of Morris County is about 6,000 and Wabaunsee county is similar, but in 1910 they were more than double today's numbers, with over 12,000 people in each county. The turn into the 20th century brought a new influx of immigrants, but not all were farmers. The railroads and livestock industry needed more people than they use today and were major  employers. In short, rural life was more crowded than we see it today. Work involved larger teams of men and women. To operate a farm with horse drawn equipment involved far more trades than today's farm system.

Both White City and Alta Vista had musical bands for men too. How did these immigrant farmers and small town shopkeepers develop such a community spirit to organize and participate in musical groups like this? Despite the larger population, Kansas is still a very big open country. It took time and effort, and above all commitment to belong to a ladies band like this.

Thanks to Google Maps we can get a better sense of place than anything I can write. This view is on the main road looking west towards White City. Go ahead and drive on in.

This time Toto, we are definitely in Kansas.

View Larger Map

My contribution to Sepia Saturday 
where the theme this weekend was a photo 
of the pavilion at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893
also known as The White City.
Click the link for more enthusiasts of vintage photos.

Alfred W. Musgrave (1874-1947)
Source: Musgrave Family Collection


After posting this in 2011, I received an email from the granddaughter of the man standing in the center of the back row. He was the band leader and his name was Alfred W. Musgrave (1874-1947). His wife Mamie Baird Musgrave (1877-1975) is standing far left on the back row with a tuba. In the 1910 census Alfred listed his occupation as Photographer, own shop, and most likely took this studio photograph.

I have posted another photo and story on the White City Ladies Band with more detail on Alfred Musgrave's life. To read it click this link:  On The Road in White City, Kansas


Karen S. said...

It's funny I picked up an old book from an antique dealer with photos from the olden days of several cities around here, and one county seat, and there were some band group photos in there and I immediately thought of you! Great information again thanks!

Postcardy said...

Interesting post. I wonder how many people were named Union.

Bob Scotney said...

Rock Island Line made me think immediately of Lonnie Donegan, the British skiffle player. I wonder how his music would have gone down with the ladies of the White City Band?

Little Nell said...

The names are amazing; not just Union but Pearly too, almost poetic!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Way cool! I enjoyed it all.

I was in Kansas for the first time last fall, in McPherson and Wichita. Flat it is, but the people are wonderful.

Happy SS,

Kathy M.

Rob From Amersfoort said...

Nice picture, and interesting first name. I tried to google it, but it looks like nowadays nobody has Union as their first name (don't you people believe in the union anymore?).

Kristin said...

Such interesting faces.

Tattered and Lost said...

I really had no idea that women playing horns was as common as this. I wonder if they received undue criticism?

And that drive along the road in Kansas takes me back to my childhood driving back and forth across country multiple times. On and on with a small town about every 25 miles, grain silos, then on and on and on.

Alan Burnett said...

Love it. Reading your weekly Sepia Saturday posts is like reading an exceptionally good "part-work" on musical instruments and musician. Each week I look forward to the latest installments and to advance my knowledge even further.

PattyF said...

What a great post! I've seen lots of photos of men's bands, but this is the first women's band. I find the inscription on the back amusing. He had to identify the young man's mother by name, and then gave a brief review at the very bottom, indicating they weren't very good because of the lateness of the hour. Everyone's a critic! Thanks for sharing!

(Queenmothermamaw) Peggy said...

Great post. I love the uniform these girls had one. I was in an orchestra in HS and early college. Played the violin. Some of my genealogy work has brought up names like Pleasent and Honor and Precious and Simplicity. Nice ride on that highway.

mary said...

My grandfather, an immigrant from Norway, was in a town band in a small town in South Dakota. Now I want to find out more about his band and see if there was a ladies band also. I am surprised to see such a large number of ladies who could play an instrument. How big was White City at that time I wonder.

Howard said...

Great image, I love their uniforms. Its a shame that the postcard publisher has retouched some of their faces.

tony said...

Anybody who is called Union is alright by me!
As Usual, a post with both Love & Detail.Thank You.

Tanya said...

I was raised in White City and a strong music influence still remains in the PreK-12 school. Mrs. Howard Effland kept our music program strong for decades. It never occurred that her music program did not earn the highest ratings in state contests, and every year for decades "The Messiah" was performed in part or whole by grade and high school choirs at Christmas. Now Amy Harms is building up our vocal and instrumental music programs again, with the help and inspiration of recent teachers. Local churches also support music in our community.

Ronald Fabec said...

I have two photos of members the Alta Vista Cornet Band with uniforms and instruments. The first is of Mrs. Union Thomas with her euphonium the writing on the front and back states “Mrs. Union Thomas Alto vista Kans Euphonium Soloist of the Alto Vista Cornet Band July 4th 1904. This instrument was manufactured by the firm C. G. Conn Elkhart Indiana Especially for Mrs. Thomas.” There is more writing but I haven’t been able to make it out yet. The second photo is of a young boy holding a snare drum. The photo is unidentified and the back is stamped: W. A. McCoy Alta Vista, Kans. In both images the players are wearing the same uniform jacket and cap. Alta Vista is embroidered on the front of the uniform cap.

Beth Wheeler said...

Ronald, I am researching the history of the Alta Vista Cornet Band. Would it be possible to see a copy of the pictures you describe? Please refer to Mike Brubaker for authenticity as I have had a few conversations with him. Thanks,
Beth Wheeler


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