PITTSBURG, Kan. —
For eight years, the painted likeness of Eva Richard Gartner hung above our fireplace, and I didn’t even know it.
Rather, I didn’t know it was her. Not until a hot July day in 2012 on a dusty road in rural Crawford County.
The print, “Solidarity,” was painted in the late 1990s by Kansas artist Wayne Wildcat. The original work — a huge mural — hangs on the second floor of the Pittsburg Public Library. He based it on a photograph taken of a 1921 march composed of thousands of Southeast Kansas women.
In the dead center is a woman with a bundled up baby in her arms.
The New York Times referred to these women as an “army of Amazons” who set out to protest the work of “scabs,” or replacement miners brought in to work the mines after their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers went on strike.
They were pushed back by state militia members with rifles.
Pittsburg teacher Linda Knoll, who has done years of research on the topic, found that the women’s actions echoed feelings of solidarity with male members of the mining community, and linked the miners’ struggle to American ideals of justice and equality. Knoll said that ultimately led to national social reforms.
Local women rallied to re-create that march on that hot July day a few years ago for the benefit of the Topeka-produced PBS show “Sunflower Journeys.” As I covered the event with both a notepad and a camera, I observed an elderly woman with a bundled up “baby” — a plastic doll, really. She looked as if she had stepped out of Wildcat’s painting.
She told me her name was Eva, and that in the photograph and painting of the original march, she was the bundled up baby. She had been carried by her mother, Blanche Pomier Richard.
She was dressed in a long skirt and pioneer-style bonnet, and her smiling eyes and lively attitude belied her age — 91 — during the re-created march.
I was dismayed, as were many others who participated, to learn of her recent death just a few weeks shy of her 93rd birthday. Services were held over the weekend, with burial in Highland Park Cemetery.
Gartner was born Jan. 28, 1921, in Franklin, not far from where the Miners Hall Museum now stands on the site of the former miners union hall, to Jules and Blanche Louise Pommier Richard.
She attended Franklin grade school and graduated from Arma High School in 1939. She lived in Franklin until 1968, when she moved to Pittsburg, where she lived until her death.
Her career included working in the Crawford County Welfare Department from 1941 to 1947, and as secretary to the registrar at Pittsburg State University from 1955 until her retirement in 1986.
She enjoyed painting, sewing, crocheting, quilt making and working in the yard and garden, and she was active in her church and several organizations, including the PSU Retired Employees, the Pittsburg Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star (and formerly Arma and Girard) and the Arma Red Hats.
Survivors include a brother, Jules Richard Jr., of rural Arma; a daughter, Linda Montee Russell, who grew up in the area and now lives in Dallas; as well as stepchildren and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
It’s likely that few who met her or interacted with her in everyday life were aware of her participation in the Amazon Army. Local historians believe that with Eva’s passing, no one else remains from that historic march.
I’ll think of her when I look at “Solidarity.”
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