The noted American prize-winning author Conrad Richter was, for a time, a neighbor
of the Minskers in Clark's Valley, Pennsylvania. At the beginning of Richter's novel
The Trees, he acknowledges his debt to, among others, John Minsker, Sr.,
for "help, counsel or first source material".|
John Minsker, Sr., born in Clark's Valley, Pennsylvania, on 8 August 1867, was the son
of Moses Minsker, the grandson of Ludwig Minsker III, and consequently the great-great-grandson
of the immigrant Ludwig Mäintzger (see the
John Minsker was prominently featured in a Richter article, "
Valley from the Past",
which appeared in Country Beautiful Magazine in April 1963. The article is an
ode to the simple life that Richter found in Clark's Valley in the 1920s, and in it he
described John Minsker's "indolent farming" as legendary in the valley. John would plant
his potato crop as late as July, and dig it out a step ahead of the first big freeze in
November, and his corn would often be cut that late as well, with the bunched
shocks sticking up through the snow all winter. But if his farming was lacking,
he made up for it in other areas. He was also legendary as a hunter, and as a
weatherman. A glance at the sky would be sufficient to predict, with better
accuracy than the forecasts coming out of what passed for meteorologists
those days, what the weather would be like.
Richter said that John "talked copiously, anything to put off his work in the fields".
It isn't hard to believe that old John filled the young writer's head with any number
of family stories, Clark's Valley legends, and tall tales. In understated but obvious
reverence for the old man (John was in his sixties, which must have seemed ancient
to the youthful writer), Richter sums him up by saying he was "the ultimate of what
folks used to call ‘good company'."
According to Minsker family legend, one of the title characters in The Grandfathers
is based on John Minsker.
Conrad Richter was born on 13 October 1890 in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, the son and
grandson of preachers. He grew up in several central Pennsylvania towns, where he came
into contact with any number of pioneer descendants. Their stories became the basis for
much of Richter's work. One can imagine the youthful Richter, scribbling copious notes
while he listened to the "tall tales"spun by John Minsker and others as he prepared to
embark on his career as one of the country's preeminent chroniclers of the
Early American scene.
What is arguably Richter's best-known work, The Light in the Forest, was
made into a Disney movie in 1958 starring James MacArthur, Fess Parker and
Carol Lynley (in her film debut). The Trees (1940) was Richter's second
novel (after 1937's The Sea of Grass) and was the first volume of the Ohio
Trilogy, followed by The Fields (1946), and The Town (1950), for
which Richter won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The 1978 television miniseries, The Awakening Land, was based on the Ohio
Trilogy. It starred Elizabeth Montgomery as Sayward Luckett and Hal Holbrook as
her husband, Portius Wheeler. A strong supporting cast included Jeanette Nolan, a
young Jane Seymour, and future Academy Award nominee (for Fargo) William
H. Macy. Emmy nominations went to Montgomery, Holbrook, and Nolan for acting, Michael
Hugo for cinematography, Fred Karlin for the musical score, and Bernard J. Small for editing.
The miniseries was directed by Boris Sagal (the father of Married...
With Children's Katy Sagal).
Unfortunately it is not yet available on videocasette. Watch for it in rerun on TNT.
Another movie based on a Richter book, The Sea of Grass (1947), starred
Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, along with Robert Walker, Edgar Buchanan
and Phyllis Thaxter.
And finally, One Desire (1955) was based on Tracy Cromwell.
It featured Rock Hudson as a gambler and Anne Baxter as the woman in love with him.
Richter died in 1968, leaving a legacy of stories that lives on after him, an authentic
chronicle of frontier Americana. The Trees, especially, is a rich tapestry of
legend, folklore, and vernacular American speech that captures like nothing else what
life must have been like on the frontier of the late 1700s. It is all the more satisfying
to the Mansker-Minsker reader to know that part of our family heritage is wrapped
up in this tale of pioneer American life.
(Be sure to check out the Early Americana: A Tribute to Conrad Richter page;
you will find a link to it on The Mansker Chronicles
Books by Conrad Richter:
Note: The books marked with a
can be ordered from Amazon.com through the Mansker Chronicles
Be sure to check out the
bookstore for many other interesting, informative and entertaining selections.
Early Americana & Other Stories, 1936
The Sea of Grass, 1937
The Trees, 1940
Tracey Cromwell, 1942
Happy Land, (with McKinlay Kantor) 1943
The Free Man, 1943
The Fields, 1946
Always Young and Fair, 1947
The Town, 1950
The Light in the Forest, 1953
The Mountain on the Desert: A Philosophical Journey, 1955
The Lady, 1957
The Waters of Kronos, 1960
A Simple Honorable Man, 1962
The Grandfathers, 1964
A Country of Strangers, 1966
The Awakening Land, 1966
Over the Blue Mountain, 1967
The Aristocrat, 1968
Brothers of No Kin & Other Stories, 1973
The Rawhide Knot & Other Stories, 1978
Writing to Survive: The Private Notebooks of Conrad Richter, 1988