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Paisley Shawl

Paisley shawl, ca. 1850.This paisley shawl's journey from Virginia to Kansas to Oklahoma tells an American story of westward expansion.

Some objects are passed down because of their connection to an important event in a family's history—usually a wedding, a war, or death. This paisley shawl was preserved because of its association with two events, both of them somewhat atypical.

The story of this striking paisley shawl begins in pre-Civil War Virginia, where Edmund Ruppert's wife died shortly after the birth of their daughter Elizabeth. When Edmund learned of his in-laws' plans to raise Elizabeth themselves, he wrapped up the four-month-old in this shawl and fled for the frontier, eventually landing in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1854.

Close-up of paisley shawl.Edmund evaded his in-laws but decided he shouldn't avoid the Civil War, enlisting in the Eighth Kansas Volunteer Infantry where he served from 1861 to 1864. During his absence, eight-year-old Elizabeth was left in the care of the Catholic Sisters of Charity Convent in Leavenworth, where the shawl must have comforted her during the years she prayed for Edmund's safe homecoming. Thankfully, he survived the war and returned to Kansas to see his daughter grow to adulthood.

When she reached the age of 19, Elizabeth married German immigrant Henry Voigt. The couple had ten children. Their eldest daughter, Mellitta, married immigrant Gustav Ebert when she came of age. Elizabeth's grandson, August, was born in 1893, the same year Gustav decided to stake a claim in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Thus began the shawl's second great adventure.

August Voigt as a toddler, shortly after his grandmother wrapped him in her shawl for the trip to Indian Territory.The Cherokee tribe had agreed by treaty to sell over eight million acres to the federal government, which then made a portion of the land—known as the Cherokee Strip—available for settlement on Sept. 16, 1893. Tens of thousands of eager settlers nicknamed "boomers" lined the border for days, waiting to rush into the area the moment it officially opened for settlement. September 16th was the largest land rush in United States history. Roughly half of all boomers originated in Kansas, among them Elizabeth's son-in-law Gustav who acquired land in what became Garfield County, Oklahoma. Gustav returned to Kansas for his family, and as they left Leavenworth for Indian Territory, Elizabeth wrapped up her grandson August with the same paisley shawl that had enfolded her as a baby 39 years earlier.

The paisley shawl was donated to the Kansas Museum of History in 1976 by Paul Voigt, August's nephew and Elizabeth's descendant.

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Entry: Paisley Shawl

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2011

Date Modified: January 2019

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.