Sepia Saturday – Two Fiddling Webbers

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

The prompt photo brought to mind a photo of my great-grandfather Myron David Webber.

M. D. Webber playing fiddle

Looking at this photo, I have several thoughts and questions:
When and where was it taken?
What about those clothes, the hair, the missing mustache?
The position of the fiddle?
Did he play only for his own (and his family’s) enjoyment, or did he play publicly?
Did someone teach him to play, or did he teach himself?
How did he acquire his fiddle?
What happened to it?

M. D. Webber was born 15 October 1874 in Villisca, Iowa. Sometime before July of 1888, the Webber family moved to Lurray, Kansas. M. D. married Dorinda Strange on Christmas Day 1897, at the age of twenty-three.

Below is a wedding photo for comparison. On his wedding day, M. D. was sporting a mustache and tamed that curly hair.

Wedding of Myron David Webber (left) to Dorinda Rebecca Strange

I always remember him having a mustache and other photos I have of him show a mustache. So does the lack of one indicate that the photo was taken before 1897?

Great-grandfather Webber and me

But wait. Is that the glint of a wedding band on his left hand?

M. D. Webber playing fiddle

Maybe the mustache had not yet become a permanent fixture when this photo was taken. And has his hairline receded, or is it just the way his hair was combed in the wedding photo that makes it seem so?

I wish I knew more about men’s fashion at the time. His shirt has a stiff collar. A quick internet search has me wondering if this is a separable collar, worn to look stylish without the expense of frequent laundering, starching and pressing. These were often paired with separable cuffs, which M. D. does not have. His collar is stiff and pristine, but his shirt is soft and not stiffly pressed. “Dress casual,” but not “Sunday best?” And can someone please tell me about that wide, dark waistband/belt?

Typically, the violin or fiddle is played with the instrument tucked under the chin. M. D. is not holding his fiddle in that position. My cousin identified the photo as M. D. Webber playing fiddle, so I’ll assume he played fiddle music rather than classical. Is his positioning of the instrument more in line with fiddlers? I don’t know. Maybe one of my musical friends can help me out.

One cousin says she heard that M. D. sold his fiddle to help finance the family move from Fairfield, Iowa to Iowa City. I have written several posts about M. D. and Dorinda’s son, Fred Webber, who won a debate scholarship to the University of Iowa. The family moved in 1926 so that Fred could attend the university.

So far, my best guess as to the date is early 1900s. And place is either Luray, Kansas or Fairfield, Iowa.

Unfortunately, there are no living family who heard M. D. play the fiddle or know much about his skill or public or private playing. In his early years, he was a teacher and minister and active in the community. Did he ever play with others in church or at a club meeting? One thing seems clear: this instrument was for pleasure and when money was needed to assure his son’s university education, it’s usefulness was as a source of income.

In 2018, I wrote a Sepia Saturday post that linked the cornet band in Luray, Kansas and M. D. Webber’s uncle, James T. Webber. Although Jim Webber was not in the cornet band, he was a supporter and I found references to him playing the fiddle.

Luray Headlight, 7 Mar 1889

And other references that do not specify which Webber played the violin. I’ll assume the reference is to Jim.

Luray Headlight, 20 Oct 1887

The Luray Headlight (Luray, Ks) 18 Oct 1888

Maybe Uncle Jim taught M. D. Webber to play. And since Jim was known for his fiddle playing, one can assume that family gatherings included fiddle music and perhaps some singing too. I found other references to Uncle Jim singing in the choir and his sister Nettie playing organ (if I remember correctly).

I haven’t been able to answer all of my questions, but I do like this photo and the little peek it provides into a fuller understanding of my great-grandfather.

Since my Webber and Strange families lived on the prairies of Kansas, I went looking for a fiddle song to include. If you read the Little House books, you know that Pa played the fiddle. I have now learned that several musicians have recorded the songs that Pa played in the books. I’ll include one each from two different groups.


Little snippets in the town newspaper in the 1880s about Jim Webber portray him as quite a talker and joker. I can imagine him playing these lively tunes.

Don’t fiddle around. Dance on over to Sepia Saturday and see what musical notes others have offered today. And join in!

Sepia Saturday – Musical Notes from Luray, Kansas

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. 

Last week I spent hours searching “webber” in old newspapers in and around Luray, Kansas. I was looking for information about my 2nd great-grandfather Norman Webber, prompted by last week’s farming theme for Sepia Saturday. It was fun learning little bits and pieces about my gggrandfather Webber and I was able to flesh out a bit of his life as a farmer.

Not every hit of the name Webber was a tidbit about my Norman, of course, and the vast majority of results in the 1880s were advertisements in the Luray newspaper for Tate and Webber, a dry goods store. I had heard or read family information stating that Norman owned a store and Tate is the surname of Norman’s mother, Elizabeth Isabelle Tate. I assumed a family connection to the Tate who was co-owner of the business and that the Webber in the name was Norman.

But then I found a notice stating that James Webber, not Norman, was in business with Tate.

Luray Headlight, 18 Oct 1888

So I learned that Norman’s brother James also lived in Luray – and that James was co-owner of Tate and Webber grocery and dry goods store.

Before I realized that James also lived in Luray, I assumed that the mention below was about my gggrandfather Norman.

Luray Headlight, 20 Oct 1887

At a later date, a first name is attached to a Webber with a violin.

Luray Headlight, 7 Mar 1889

So I decided the first mention of Webber with a violin was probably the same as the second mention of a Webber with a fiddle – and that was James. Of course, Norman may have also played fiddle, but I never found mention of it in the newspapers I read.

Jim must have enjoyed singing too, as he sang in the church choir.

Luray Headlight, 28 Feb 1889

That sounds like a pretty small choir. Maybe the editor didn’t attend the church program and just didn’t make much of an effort to find out who else participated.

As more and more returns for advertisements for the store came up in my search results – several in every weekly edition, it made sense that Jim probably made weekly visits to the newspaper office. More, if he just liked to drop in and shoot the breeze. And the occasional and sometimes silly references to J.T. (Jim) Webber in the paper makes that seem entirely plausible. I may dedicate a post one day just to the amusing bits about Jim that appeared in the paper.

Perhaps Jim fancied himself a music critic and a comedian.

Luray Headlight, 7 Mar 1889

The Luray Cornet Band did not go to the inauguration of Benjamin Harrison, but at least two bands with Kansas connections did: Marshall’s Band of Topeka and the Dodge City Cowboy Band.

Marshall’s Band, Topeka, KS 1895-1915

1913 Dodge City Cowboy Band

The Luray Band may have been overlooked for this honor, but Jim Webber had high praise for the men… If rattling the shingles and making a box of cigars leap for joy is high praise.

Unfortunately, I could not find a photo of the Luray Cornet Band, but I found several references to them in the newspaper. The citizens of Luray must have been very supportive of the band.

Luray Headlight, 3 May 1888

Luray Headlight, 30 May 1889

Sometimes the band members received other perks.

Luray Headlight, 21 June 1888

And they were always appreciative.

Luray Headlight, 13 Sep 1888

The newspaper often gave a little boost to the band by stating how rapidly they were improving and how the town could rightly be proud of them: “harmony prevails among the boys to its fullest extent, and each one is trying to do his part well. The town has reason to be proud of its band.” 

The Luray Cornet Band played at all of the patriotic celebrations.

Luray Headlight, 28 Jun 1888

Callithumpian is a new word for me! The Oxford online dictionary defines callithumpian as: US informal and regional (originally north-east.). Designating a group of people making cacophonous music or noise using a variety of instruments, utensils, etc., as a demonstration of a general feeling of celebration, dissatisfaction, etc.; of or relating to such a band or its music. Frequently in “callithumpian band”, “callithumpian serenade”. Now historical.

So I guess it was really noisy!

Luray Headlight, 27 May, 1910

As active participants in civic and social life in their community, I imagine my ancestors fully participating in these events. Maybe my gggrandmother was one of the “ladies of Luray” who helped prepare and serve food for the band fundraisers. Surely Norman’s and Jim’s families attended the July 4th and Memorial Day celebrations.

No one in my family has ever seen a photo of James Webber. And no one remembers hearing Norman’s son talk about the musical interests of his father or uncle. I just heard from a cousin that there is a photo of Norman’s son, Myron David Webber playing the fiddle. Perhaps he learned from his Uncle Jim – or maybe Norman also played. (When I get a copy of that photo, I’ll add it here.)

I’ll leave you this bit of wisdom:

Luray Headlight, 9 Aug 1888

Now it is time to march on over to Sepia Saturday and see what music others have created with today’s prompt.