The Ukrainian Connection

A few minutes before I started writing this entry, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych agreed to a truce with opposition leaders after a series of bloody clashes between protesters and police.  The health ministry claims that 77 died and hundreds were wounded in recent fighting.   The uproar began last November when Yanukovych’s government scuttled a proposed accord with the European Union in favor of cementing ties with Russia.

Why do I bring this up?

A day after mentioning Ukraine in a piece on American Civil War field hospitals in November (See “Keep It Clean”) the country showed up in analytics for lovewellhistory.com.  The site had received a whopping two visitors from there.  Perhaps a Ukrainian protester was monitoring the World Wide Web, hoping that someone in the West was paying attention to unrest that was smoldering in Kiev.  It was very nearly this site’s first hit from outside the United States.  Since January, I’ve logged almost twelve hundred page views from Ukraine.  For a few weeks the site was viewed there more often than from inside the U.S.

I made light of the unexpected traffic at the time, attributing it to a very mild blog entry from last September with a racy name, “Dark and Bloody Tales,” which suddenly bobbed to the top of the stack of most-viewed pages.  In fact, I experimented with the effect titles can have on web traffic by changing the name of  a dry piece on web analytics from “Too Much Information,” to “Amply-Endowed Data.”  That page recently pulled ahead of “Dark and Bloody Tales” to take the number-one spot.

One other piece of data available to a webmaster is the name of any site that has provided a link to his own.  For instance, this site contains links to specific pages at kansasmemory.org and to a website on the history of the Nehalem Valley in Oregon, where Solomon Lovewell was a pioneer homesteader.  I assumed that I was getting links from Russian-language porn sites, where some folks had jumped to the wrong conclusion about the kind of advice being offered at a place called “Lovewell,” and the sort of stories that awaited them on a page named “Dark and Bloody Tales.”  I supposed there must have been a universal grunt of disappointment after finding that “Lovewell” is a family name, and “Dark and Bloody Tales” is mainly the story of a 19th century Indian atrocity, and a fabled one at that, a sort of pioneer urban legend.

However, I’ve clicked on a few of the Russian-language websites linking to mine, and discovered that misunderstandings can work both ways.  Fuzzy translations that could make others think I’m running a porn site, may have led me to assume the same thing about some of them.    One that I clicked on is actually a beautiful home-furnishings gallery.  Another contains luscious, colorful pictures of tasty-looking gourmet dishes.

What is undoubtably going on here is globalization, and it’s been underway for longer than you imagine.  World history, American history, and Lovewell history all have strong connections with events in Ukraine.  I touched on some of the more obvious ones in that piece I posted last November.  Crimea is a peninsula in southern Ukraine, and the blood-drenched battlefields where an alliance of French, English, and Ottoman armies fought Russian troops in the 1850’s, were testing grounds for newly-developed weapons that would be used to devastating effect in the American Civil War.  

Of the fighting itself, we tend to remember episodes of valor, the charge of a brigade light cavalry into a “valley of death" was celebrated by Tennyson’s stirring poem, while a stand made by the 93rd Highlanders against repeated Russian assaults, is preserved in the phrase “the thin red line.”  The wording is attributed to William Howard Russell, one of the first modern war correspondents, who described British troops at Sevastopol as a “thin red streak topped with a line of steel…”  The war was one of the first to be photographed, and in its final year an underwater telegraphic cable brought reports from the battlefield to London within hours.   The Crimean War also gave the world Florence Nightingale, often remembered with misty Romanticism as “The Lady With the Lamp,” for her late-night rounds to check on wounded soldiers.  Biographers contend that she should be heralded instead for her 850-page report on the abysmal conditions she found at military hospitals during the war, or for her later role in applying statistical analysis to medical treatment.

What does this have to do with the Lovewell family?  Here’s a hint:  In Wednesday’s Bloomberg News, a headline reads, “Ukraine Corn Prices Climb as Unrest Raises Concern About Exports.”

Ukraine is the world's third largest exporter of corn, after the United States and Brazil.  It was also one of the world’s leading grain exporters before the Crimean War, when it was dubbed “The Breadbasket of the World.”  In 1854 and 1855, with some farms sitting idle and exports blocked by foreign navies, there was not only an increased demand for wheat from the United States, but a seller’s market for the rich, black earth that could grow it.  Farmers flocked to Iowa, which was booming at the moment.  When newcomers arrived in southern Iowa they found three Lovewell brothers, Thomas, Solomon, and William, part of an earlier wave of settlers eager to welcome them and, perhaps, sell them a strip of land.

All three brothers, as well as William’s wife Martha, received federal land patents which made them the first private owners of the hundreds of acres they purchased in Lotts Creek and Clinton townships of Ringgold County, all at the government's standard asking price of $1.25 an acre.  By 1855, many of their neighbors in Iowa were ready to move on, taking mortgages at ten percent interest on their farms, sold at inflated prices.  As with most economic booms, there was no inkling that the price of wheat, cattle, hogs, and land could go anyplace but up.  The new arrivals saw how much their farmland and the commodities they produced could appreciate overnight, and were not afraid to run up credit at local stores, paying ten percent interest for their supplies.

Adding more uncertainty to an economy that was ripe for collapse, was America’s fractured and chaotic banking system.  Notes from a bank in a neighboring state might be accepted, but only at a ten to twenty percent discount off the face value.  News of bank failures traveled swiftly, and notes issued by a small local bank in the morning might prove utterly worthless by evening.  After a few bad crop years the Crimean War ended, land values in Iowa declined by half, and even big Eastern banks were unwilling to throw good money after bad.  Yet, many farmers rode out the hard times, and the times did improve.  At least two farmers who bought parcels of land from Thomas Lovewell, persevered to be celebrated as Ringgold County pioneers.

Thomas himself seemed to get out at exactly the right moment, as he tended to do, heading for Kansas in the spring of 1856.  The cousin of New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, and the nephew of abolitionist firebrand Lyman Lovewell, Thomas may have had little choice in the matter, but he went there on a mission to help bring the young territory into the Union as a free state.  A few years later, just before the eve of the Civil War, Thomas headed west with brothers Solomon and Alfred on a trip that may have been financed by the sale of Iowa farmland.  The profit which Thomas and Solomon made on their investment in Iowa, probably owed something to events in Ukraine, half a world away.

Yes, we live in a global economy.  Get used to it.  It’s been our address for quite a while now. 


© Dale Switzer 2016  dale@lovewellhistory.com