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The Most Interesting American You've Never Heard Of

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September 9 2017

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Mr. Beat films live on location in Lucas, Kansas, to tell the story of Samuel P. Dinsmoor, the most interesting American you probably haven't heard of. For a paper Mr. Beat wrote about Dinsmoor as well as a complete list of sources, visit: Want a specific history topic covered? Your idea gets picked when you donate on Patreon: Mr. Beat's band: Mr. Beat on Twitter: So, you may have not heard about Samuel P. Dinsmoor, but his story is about as Americana as it gets. Dinsmoor was born near Coolville, Ohio, on March 8, 1843. His youth abruptly ended after enthusiastically signing up for the Union Army after the Civil War began. Standing at just five-foot five inches, fellow soldiers nicknamed him “Little One.” He later claimed to be involved in 18 big battles during his three years in the war. He spent much of his service as a nurse, likely assisting in amputations and often witnessing horrifying deaths. Incredibly, Dinsmoor made it through the war with no major injuries. However, just a few days after the war was over, a commander’s horse he was riding threw him off, slicing his head open. Always abstaining from alcohol, he refused to sip liquor as doctors stitched his head up. He then returned home to Ohio and soon moved west to the Mississippi River, settling on the Illinois side just north of St. Louis. In 1869, he began a brief career as a schoolteacher. During this time, he fell in love with a woman four years older than him named Frances Barlow Journey. They married on August 24, 1870. The two exchanged vows on horseback in a stream bed, and yes, the presiding minister was also on a horse. After the wedding, Dinsmoor quit teaching to farm, helping run a 341-acre property near the river that Frances had inherited after her first husband died. Frances and Dinsmoor managed one of the highest valued farms in the area. For 18 years, the family grew and lived a peaceful life. Yet, when Dinsmoor was 45 years old, he decided to move the family west to Kansas, leaving their prosperous and comfortable life back in Illinois behind. It’s not clear why he decided to do this, but some speculate it was because of how promoters hyped Kansas up. By the time Dinsmoor arrived in Lucas, Kansas, his family had grown to five children, although his two stepchildren, now in their mid twenties, stayed behind. As soon as Dinsmoor arrived, he bought a small farm east of Lucas for $800. Unfortunately, the family arrived in Lucas at a time of economic downturn. Kansas farmers struggled, in particular, due to drought, which caused crop failures and major dust storms. By the end of the 1880s, many couldn’t pay back loans due to lower crop production. It’s unknown how badly this widespread depression hurt Dinsmoor, but regardless his family moved to Nebraska just two years after arriving in Lucas. Dinsmoor later sold insurance for a company based out of Omaha, so perhaps this explains why the family made the move. However, less than one year after living in Nebraska, they lost everything in a house fire. This is probably why they ended up back on their land in Lucas less than one year later. Back in Lucas, Dinsmoor became heavily involved in the trendy Populist movement. By 1892, Dinsmoor was probably the biggest Populist supporter in Lucas.The local newspaper called him a radical due to his outspoken and sometimes controversial views. In 1896, Dinsmoor served as a delegate at the Populist national convention in St. Louis. He also held large Populist rallies at his house, sometimes attracting as many as 300 people. That same year, he achieved his first and only elected office, as justice of the peace of Fairview Township. However, just as the Populist Party began to fade in the late 1890s, so did Dinsmoor’s political ambitions. In 1898, he lost a state representative race, which devastated him. He vowed to never run for public office again after that. In 1905, at the age of 62, Dinsmoor sold his farm and moved into Lucas, buying land that would later be world famous. Despite not having any experience in architecture or engineering, he built a stone log cabin almost entirely by himself, completing it two years later. But he always had cement, and couldn’t stop creating with it. After he built a cement fence, he built a grape arbor that reaches from the back porch to the road. From there, at the end of the arbor facing the street, he created Adam and Eve, although Adam started out as a scarecrow he messed up. After Adam and Eve, Dinsmoor began constructing the first of his eventual 29 concrete trees, some as high as 40 feet. Over the next 22 years, Dinsmoor used 130 tons of cement to create over 150 life-sized statues. Today, if these statues were cut up and sold at an auction, they’d likely sell for millions of dollars.

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