Henry Rogler

man with violin

Henry Rogler with grandchildren, courtesy Pioneer Bluffs.

Maybe you’re familiar with the place — perhaps you’ve driven by on K-177 Flint Hills Scenic Byway between Strong City and Cassoday.  Just north of Matfield Green, where the highway winds around the foot of a high bluff, alongside Crocker Creek stands a picturesque farmstead. A proud Sears & Roebuck house foremost, and large white barn with Pioneer Bluffs painted on the side.

It was Henry and Maud Rogler who, through hard work and humble beginnings, made this familiar farmstead we recognize today. Long before the barn or the house, or even the stone fence, back in a modest if not crowded farmhouse in 1877 William Henry Rogler was born.

When fifteen years old Henry sold The Youth’s Companion, a children’s magazine, accumulating points for each subscription. He used those points, along with an additional four dollars, to purchase a fiddle from the company. This type of sales/reward system was not uncommon at that time, and a great way for kids to learn an instrument they may not have otherwise been able to afford.

Banjo ad Jan.1934 Good Stories

Advertisement clipped from a magazine or newspaper circa 1930, presumably from a Chase county source. Author’s collection.

Henry practiced his fiddle every night, learning by ear. According to family history, in a few weeks he was playing at barn dances around the county. It was also said that he could play over 100 ‘hoedown tunes’ from memory.  Tunes his daughter Irene remembered were “After the Ball” and “Irish Washerwoman” among “an endless number of square dance tunes.” Irene also recalled her brother George playing the banjo and singing “It Ain’t Gonna Rain.”

Henry enrolled at Kansas State College in 1894, having passed his entrance exam with nothing more than a grade school education. When not taking classes on entomology, livestock or grasses he hunted rabbits in a wooded area off campus now known as Aggieville. Henry played violin in the school orchestra, which leads us to presume he learned to read music as well as play by ear.

Henry and Maud were steady together through college. They got married in July 1901 shortly after Maud’s graduation so she could wear her graduation dress for her wedding. A testament to Mauds practical, if not fiscally responsible nature. The Roglers started their lifelong devotion to their farm and ranch and began raising their family of four children.

Henry quit traveling to play for dances about 1912; their growing family making it difficult to manage the travel and late nights. However, music continued an important institution in the Rogler home. A 1918 sales ledger from the furniture store in Cottonwood Falls show a piano was purchased by “Mrs. Rogler.”

Henry Rogler with fiddle

No doubt that piano helped daughter Helen become an accomplished pianist. The Chapman Center for Rural Studies has conserved some records of her playing. Helen, a longtime schoolteacher, also went into acting. She appeared in a number of commercials as well as the 1978 horror film Slipping Into Darkness.

Henry's fiddle, from Susan Troop

Henry’s fiddle, courtesy Susan Troop.

In 1912 Joseph King moved to Matfield Green from Lead Hill, Arkansas. He worked for the Roglers for many years, until retiring in 1962. Like Henry, Joe also played fiddle. It is known the two played music together, leaving little doubt that they learned some tunes from each other. One particular tune played by Joe King, and passed down from fiddler to fiddler, was known locally as Joe King’s Schottische. At least that’s what June Talkington always called it. June, also from Matfield Green, taught it to those who gathered to play music on Friday evenings at the Emma Chase Cafe in Cottonwood Falls. After June’s passing in 2007 the tune became known as June’s Schottische. It wasn’t until recently it was identified as an old Civil War era song The Captain With His Whiskers.

There are many more interesting anecdotes and history that could be shared about Henry Rogler and his family. However, the focus of this article is to examine the part he played in the fiddling traditions of Chase County and the Flint Hills of Kansas.