Strieter Autobiography: Life in Frankenmuth
September 15, 2015 2 Comments
There was a young man my age there [in Frankenmuth], Kundinger, Crämer’s sister’s son, who was supposed to be trained yet and and then become Kühn’s schoolmaster in Frankenhilf. Old man Moll of Frankentrost said, “Help the Franconians [Hilf den Franken] is what we want to call it.”14 Crämer gave the two of us daily instruction in the Augsburg Confession. Teacher Pinkepank lived with his wife, Moll’s daughter, across the street on the north side in a long log house that was half residence and half schoolhouse. After he was done teaching school, he instructed us in reading, writing, singing, etc. We also did some scraping on the violin. Kühn gave me a Book of Concord and a small little book called Luther’s Life [Luthers Leben].15
Since I was not happy with how I was doing, I was expecting my dismissal from Crämer every day. But look at this! One morning after the class hour he clapped me on the shoulder: “Cheer up, my dear Strieter. You are doing quite well. You, sir, are going to the seminary.” Now I was filled with joy.
Crämer’s house stood on the south side of the path, north of the Cass River, and was a log house. A kitchen took up the entire width on the west side of the house. The eastern side was divided – a small section toward the road was a combination bedroom and study. I can just see the diligent Crämer sitting there at his small, simple desk in front of the window. The other section was a living room. There the stairs went up. The space beneath the roof was also bisected. In the back room toward the west slept the maid and the children, and we slept in the front room – Kühn, Kundinger, and I. There were bedbugs galore.
Every day there was service in the morning and in the evening. We would sing a hymn, then Crämer would mount the low, small pulpit and preach. Later we took turns singing; the men would sing one line and the women would sing the next. It was incredibly lovely. Every Friday there was private confession and every Sunday there was Lord’s Supper. The log church stood somewhat uphill from the parsonage to the west. Next to the church was a framework in which two bells hung, one larger and one smaller, which the dear Franconians had brought along with them from Germany. Every day the prayer bells were rung. Then everybody would stop what they were doing on the path, in the field, in the house, the men would remove their caps, hands were folded and everybody prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,” and so on. It was just too lovely!
But the dear Franconians had their fun too. One time I was sitting by a dear man who was telling me how it was in Germany, how the light afternoon meal [Vesperbrot] had been brought out to the field and there had been beer with it. When he came to the part about the beer, he paused, turned his face upward and called out, “O, a good beer – I could go for one now! [O, a Bierla, wenn i hätt!]”
There were two tall, handsome men there, the Hubinger brothers. The older one ran the farm, the younger one the mill that they had constructed on the Cass River. Everything was built very solidly and laboriously. Because of that the water could do nothing but drive either the saw or the milling gear. A fine, strong dam was there, which had a swing-gate and an exit chute. Off to the east of Frankenmuth lay Tuscola, several miles away. The people there sued the Hubingers because of their dam, for the Tuscolans were floating timber downstream. One day Crämer said to me, “You, sir, are going with the Hubingers to Tuscola today. You will appear with them on their court date and take what is spoken in English and make it German.” The two men and I went up there. We had to wait a long time. Finally we headed out of town to a schoolhouse. Hubingers had arranged for an attorney from Saginaw, who arrived on horseback. His pants were torn up at the bottom. Now the affair was underway. The attorney gave a lengthy speech and read from a book that he had brought along under his arm. The judge reached his decision: “Not guilty!” We went home in cheerful spirits, and the Tuscolans left the Hubingers in peace.
One time Crämer sent me to Frankentrost to fetch Pastor Gräbner. I don’t remember what the deal was. It was Sunday afternoon. I go through the beautiful forest and come to an opening. There a path stretches out and small log houses are standing on both sides. In the middle was a long log house, partitioned: The western half was the pastor’s residence and the eastern was the church and school. I went inside. Pastor Gräbner was actually in the middle of Catechism instruction. I whispered in his ear, but he calmly went on teaching until class was over. Then he went over with me into the little parsonage. It was one room. In the one corner stood an oven, in the other a bed with a curtain around it, and next to it a desk in front of the window. That was the living room, bedroom, and study. Gräbner put on his long boots, slipped into a coat, lit up a German pipe with a porcelain bowl, hung his tobacco pouch on his coat button, took his large walking-stick in hand, and now we headed to Frankenmuth.
Also in Frankenmuth both bells were rung every Friday at 3 o’clock, to signal the suffering of Christ. I often rang the large bell, even one time with Crämer. —
It was time to start Frankenhilf. A carpenter was there from Huntington, Indiana, who was, I believe, acquainted with the Franconians. Out there in the virgin forest, seven miles or so northeast of Frankenmuth, tree trunks were felled and rolled on each other in square, about the height of a man, and soon it was time for dedication. Kühn went out there and took me along to sing. They still did not have any Missouri hymnals there. They had brought along a thin little book from Löhe, as big as a Fibel,16 which had beautiful songs in it. I had to sing, “The Lord Hath Helped Me Hitherto.”17 Kühn delivered an address on those words [1 Samuel 7:12] to the carpenter, a handful of young fellows, and Father Ammann, the only head of household with a family. Kühn cried a lot as he gave it and I felt deeply sorry for him. His Frankenhilf must have weighed very heavily on his heart. Now we headed back home through the thick virgin forest on the Indian path. —
It was time for the synod convention, I believe in St. Louis. My sister in Sebewaing had a maid from Frankenmuth, a gem of a child. She had to go home to get married. My brother-in-law mounted one horse, the maid the other, and they rode some forty miles to Frankenmuth through the woods. I was supposed to go down with him to keep my sister company until the pastors came back. We rode off to Frankentrost. On the other side of Frankentrost we met up with an old path and continued on that. We came across a pole bridge that looked suspicious at the end. The wood was rotted, you could see some water there, and it looked very marshy. “We’ll get stuck there,” said my brother-in-law.
I had the young horse. “I’ll get over,” I said. I turned my horse around and got a running start— I was over on the other side. Like a fox my horse easily cleared the spot, which was perhaps three paces wide. My brother-in-law came after me, but his horse didn’t quite jump far enough and his back legs sank all the way down into the muck; but he was out in a jiffy. When we were close to the bay we came to a river, which was deep, not very wide. Fortunately a canoe was available in front of us. We take the saddles off, each of us takes his horse to the side and off we go. The horses pulled that little boat across splendidly. On the other side saddles back on and we continue on our way.
My brother-in-law now traveled to the synod convention. Back then you went up around the lake and then down on the Mississippi; it took a long time.
We had an Indian – he was hard of hearing – who would go up to the prairie very early in the morning and shoot a young buck, and every time his daughter of twelve years would bring us a nice piece, a leg or a loin. We were not able to stow it. I tell my sister, “Just tell the child that she shouldn’t bring us any more.”
“Yeah,” she says, “I don’t dare do that, otherwise the old woman will be insulted.” We ate what we could; the rest we secretly gave to the pigs.
While I was there I had another ride too. I’m taking a young horse out of the stall, on which no one has ever sat, but like a dummy I leave the door open behind me. I swing myself up on it, but just like that it wheels around and goes inside to its stall. I tried to keep myself steady with my heel in the back and with my hand on its neck, but I fell on my back against the threshold and the horse goes right over me. It stepped down at my waist between my legs and scraped me badly, and came down with the other foot at my neck and also took the skin with it there. My back was in considerable pain and the scraped skin stung, but I went and got my horse out again, but closed the door this time, and got on again. But now it went like mad. I let the animal run as long as it pleased; then I rode home slowly, and from then on the horse went fine. —
One evening my sister looks out the window and cries, “Oh boy, here comes the crazy doctor.” An old bachelor lived in Scio, a conceited, learned, and widely traveled man. They said that he had gone out of his mind due to a failed love affair. When he was alone, he would chatter away to himself, otherwise you couldn’t notice anything strange about him when he was with someone. He was already in the area from early on and would trade for rarities from the Indians and send them to Germany. He came and brought a box with all kinds of small and sundry items for exchanging. He took off every morning and returned in the evening. One time it was cold and wet, and my doctor comes home and has a wound on his hand; he said he had scraped himself. The hand was swelling up. My sister says, “Mr. Doctor, let me bandage your hand, sir.”
He replies, “Oh no, Mrs. Missionary, it has to heal that way.”
He comes home again; his hand is even more swollen and the wound looks bad. Then he takes a sharp knife, pricks around in the wound over and over. My sister says, “Mr. Doctor, you are really aggravating your hand. Let me tie something on it, sir.”
He replies, “Oh no, Mrs. Missionary, there is already rotten flesh in it, which has to be cut out,” and he keeps working around on his hand with the knife. Then he takes off again and when he comes home he goes upstairs and doesn’t eat any supper. In the morning he doesn’t come down. I go up there and call him, but he doesn’t want to come down. We eat and then my sister goes and gets him down and makes him a bed in an adjacent room, but by now she has to undo his coat and shirt with the knife, because his hand and arm were so swollen and were more black than white. “Mrs. Missionary,” he cried out, “I have the black gangrene. The hand or the whole arm must come off. Please fetch a doctor.”
I mounted the horse, took another one next to me, and went down to Shebeyang to fetch Jacob Graverad. When I arrived, a squaw told me that they were over yonder on the island. I jumped into a canoe and went over. There I found him. He went with me, borrowed Nage Dschickamik’s (the great chief)18 pony and rode to Frankenmuth to fetch Dr. Koch. Scarcely was our Jacob gone when my brother-in-law comes home, sniffs around in the air and asks, “What smells in here so noticeably?”
My sister opens the door to the doctor’s room and says, “See for yourself!” My brother-in-law, the missionary, was an okay doctor. He puts olive oil19 in a receptacle, makes it hot, soaks a rag in it and covers the doctor’s entire arm with it and stays up with him through the night. In the morning the arm is fine again, and nothing bad can be seen on the hand but the wound. Here comes my half-Indian [Jacob Graverad] on horseback, along with the doctor. When he enters, my doctor calls out from his bed, “Mr. Doctor, you come too late. You see, sir, I am an old, widely traveled physician. I have even doctored the wives of the sultan in Turkey, and I am unable to help myself. Mr. Missionary here knows more than I; he has cured my hand for me.” Koch ate, we foddered his horse, the doctor gave him ten dollars, and he rode back home.
My brother-in-law transported me back with the boat. By Lower Saginaw we took a little jaunt out of our way. By an island in the river we turned right and went into a tributary20 to go to Frankenlust. The river was full of tree trunks and one could scarcely get through; there were also a lot of reeds and grass in it. We came to a clearing. In the distance stood a little log church and not far from that a frame house that was still not quite finished, the parsonage. It was the pastor’s property. His wife received a fortune from her father, as she told me, and dear Sievers used it to build himself a house over in the forest and to help many people out of their distress. When we entered the house, a handsome, very friendly, endearing man stood before us, Pastor Sievers. From the side door stepped in a nicely dressed young lady in the prime of her youth, a half-year older than I, and introduced herself to us as Mrs. Pastor Sievers. —
From there we headed back to the Saginaw River and up to Upper Saginaw. There my brother-in-law bought me some black cloth for a suit. I marched to Frankenmuth and felt very happy about my fine, handsome cloth. In Frankenuth lived a Bernthal family on the lower street (two streets led to Saginaw, the upper and the lower)21 along the river, where the church was also located. The old father was a wagonmaker and worked diligently in his workshop. He had several sons and a few daughters. The second son, if I’m not mistaken, was a tailor, and he made me my suit, the handsomest one I had in my life, and also the best; I had it for a very long time. I worked off the tailor’s fee with the cradle in the wheatfield.22 Things were definitely still tight for the people. As soon as possible the wheat was threshed. The sound of it would carry up to us in bed very early in the morning: 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4.23 It was a splendid thing to hear! Women came from Frankentrost, each one with a small sack of grain on her head, three or four in a row, to go to the mill and then back home. It was so nice in Frankenmuth and our dear God let me experience a tremendous amount of good there. May he reward everyone for everything! —
Crämer never stopped concerning himself with the Indians either. In an old shanty not far from the church lived an aged chief and his old wife, who was pushed to the side though, with a few of her youngest boys and the chief’s young wife and a few of her small children. On Sundays all of them would come to the parsonage after church and Crämer would give them a speech. His son Heinrich had to translate; they called him Wabshkentip, White-Head, because he had very light-colored hair.24 The old chief would justify himself though, wherever he could. After the service they would get a bowl full of corn soup with bacon, which they were mighty glad to eat.
14 In other words, they had named the settlement Frankenhilf – (God the) Helper of the Franconians – but the way things were going, they thought a better name would be Hilf den Franken – (God) Help the Franconians.
15 This was possibly Luthers Leben für christliche Leser insgemein (Luther’s Life for Christian Readers in General) by Moritz Meurer (Dresden: Justus Naumann, 1850). This was an abridgement of Meurer’s more scholarly multi-volume work.
16 A German primer
17 This three-stanza hymn was penned by Ämilie Juliane (1637-1706), Countess of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. It was sung to the tune, “All Glory Be to God on High.” Juliane’s hymn was translated into English by August Crull and is, for example, hymn 71 in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.
18 Rf. endnote 31 in Youth.
19 German: Baumöl. Carl Strieter renders it “oil of turpentine” here.
20 Dutch Creek
21 The upper street would be Genesee Street, which turns into Junction Road, and the lower street would be Tuscola Street, which turns into Tuscola Road, and eventually joins with Junction Road several miles west of town.
22 The cradle is also called the grain cradle or cradle scythe. It consists of an arrangement of fingers attached to the handle of a scythe, such that the cut grain falls on the fingers and can be cleanly laid down in a swath for collection.
23 Representing either one person threshing in sets of four strokes with a flail, or four people threshing together, each taking a stroke in turn.
24 According to “The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary” online, waabishkindibe means he has white hair (ojibwe.lib.umn.edu; accessed 15 September 2015). Heinrich was about 10 years old at this time and was not Crämer’s natural son, but the son of his wife Dorothea, whom Crämer had met on the ship during the voyage to America and had married shortly after landing.
[Read the next part here.]