Strieter Autobiography: The Accident
October 19, 2015 Leave a comment
Into the Ministry
In 1852 synod convention was in Fort Wayne at the end of June and beginning of July. A pastor came from Holmes County, Ohio, B[esel],1 a Basel student who colloquized and was taken up as a member of the synod. B[esel] came to Crämer and requested a preacher for a congregation by Coshocton which he had taken from a United preacher.2 Crämer sent for me and told me that I had to take my examination and go with B[esel]. Röder3 and I were actually slated to be missionaries to the Indians. Crämer even gave us private instruction. That was delightful! He had the book of Matthew in the Chippewa language. There Röder would sit on one side and I on the other, each with his Testament open. Crämer would read to us in Indian and we would repeat it. Then we would copy down the dreadful words in order to memorize them for homework. Chippewa had long, difficult [welsche] words. But the reason for that was because the language had so few words and everything had to be paraphrased. Miessler, subsequently a doctor in Chicago, who became Baierlein’s successor in Bethany, told me when he left us (much to our chagrin) that Chippewa had its roots in Hebrew.4 I asked Crämer not to send me away yet, but my pleading was in vain.
At eight o’clock I had to take my seat in front of my Crämer and Dr. Sihler. My schoolmates sat behind me. Crämer examined me until ten o’clock; then, after a short break, the doctor tackled me. His first question was, “Strieter, what’s in Matthew 13?” Fortunately I knew. But now I was also supposed to say what was taught in those parables. How that went I don’t remember any more, but I received a certificate saying I was sufficiently qualified for the preaching ministry [Predigtamt].5
On July 4 we headed out from Fort Wayne on the canal amid fanfare [mit Musik]. In Toledo we boarded the steamer to Sandusky; from there to Monroe; from there to Detroit; from there to Cleveland. At midday there was bloody beefsteak etc. Schaller and others did not want to eat the steak, but Schwan6 and I dug in. In the evening Schaller thought that if the steak was served again, he would eat it, but it did not return. In Cleveland B[esel] and I went with Schwan, who lived in a small little frame house; his son Paul was a small boy.
Soon we traveled a stretch on the railroad, then continued on the canal. We got off in Massillon. On shore stood an old, respectable Pennsylvania Dutch7 farmer by the name of Arnold. He received us joyfully and led us down the street to a small inn. A young man from the east, a baker, was with us, who was going to visit his mother. Arnold had a fourteen-year-old fellow with him who worked for him. Now the horses were retrieved – four splendid animals, the oldest eight years old – and harnessed to a wagon. The old father had brought a load of wheat to market. His wagon did not have a box, but planks on the side, with a small board across them on which B[esel] took his seat with Arnold. The baker positioned his trunk behind those two and he and I sat on that. Behind us stood a plow and a sack of salt. The back horse on the left had a saddle on his back, the front horse on the left had the reins, and the young fellow took his seat in the saddle.8 I ask, “Can the boy even drive?”
“Oh sure! He drove the whole way here.”
We start out; the horses are in a walk. When we went a little downhill, they trotted a little and then continued at a walk. Arnold had a lot of questions about the synod convention and B[esel] told him about it. Now we went uphill, probably for a mile or more. The path went up in snake turns. At the top it was level again, then downhill. It didn’t take long before the back left horse whinnied and fired out, and now we were off and running, all four as fast as they could.
B[esel] cried, “Hoh!”
Arnold cried, “Hoh!”
But the horses did not want to hoh!
Arnold called to the boy, “Hang on tight!” Arnold grabbed the pieces of wood in front of him and hung on and let the horses run as they wished.
At first I thought, “You go to the end and drop yourself down; it’s not too high.” But then another thought came to me right away: “You are the only one who can still maybe provide help. If the horse stops kicking out, then make your way out on tongue and get on the horse behind the boy and draw the front horses to the side.” But the animal wouldn’t stop kicking. You could always see the shiny horseshoes on the bottom of his feet flashing in the air. On the right the water had torn a deep ditch, in places at least six feet deep or so. The wagon often came so close to going in this ditch that I thought, “Now it’s going to tip over,” but it always kept going past.
Finally we came to the climax. There was just one man who wanted to get up the hill with his load. “Now,” I thought, “something’s going to happen!” I was right. He quickly got off to the side when he saw us coming, but his back wheel was still on the rut. Our back axle met with his, and just like that I was lying in the distance, not far from the fence. A small sandbank was there, runoff from the hill; I shoot like an arrow headfirst into the sand, making a hole in it as big as a hen’s nest. Right next to this hole, a handbreadth or so away, a stone is lying in the ground as large as a plate and protruding from the ground. I sit up and rub the sand out of my ears and think, “Well, our dear God has sure protected you from a sudden death.” For if I had landed on that stone, I would have bashed my brains out. My baker slid down fairly close to me without injury, ran to me right away and said, “Are you hurt?” and marveled with me at my good fortune that I had not hit the stone.
On the path stood the baker’s trunk, planks were lying there, and behind me, over there along the fence, were the back wheels, the plow, and the big sack of salt, with half of it spilled out from the bottom. The others were gone. We looked around, and here comes my B[esel]. He had hung on tight to the crosspiece on which the shaft sits that holds the front and back parts of the wagon together, thinking that the back wheels were still on and would run him over and kill him, and he let himself be dragged over the stones of the washed-out path. Finally he could not take it any more and let go. There he lay, untouched. He pulls himself together and runs toward us screaming, “O my head! O my shoulders! O my hips! O my legs!” The blood was already running into his shoes.
In the distance stood a house; from there the residents saw everything. The man of the house came over and took B[esel] with him, hitched up his buggy, loaded B[esel] up, and went home with him.
My baker and I bring the trunk and planks to the side and go wandering after our cart. Below ran a small brook with a little bridge. On the other side the bank went straight up at a steep angle. At the top it’s dug out and the path bends off to the left a bit. There the wheel ran up and flings the old father over the side,9 so hard that his shoulder turns yellow and black, and he had to carry his arm in a sling. But he still went after his horses.
The path went through the valley and back up the hill in the distance. There the saddlehorse tumbled and the boy fell, right between the horses, who dragged him by the saddle strap over the stones up the hill. When they reached the top, the strap ripped, and my boy lay there. A house stood close to the path. The people come out and carry the boy inside. The man hitches a horse to a stone drag; they lay the boy on it and bring him to the inn, several miles or so further.
In front of the inn, where the horses usually stopped for a midday rest, stood a post and a water trough. The horses ran through between the post and the corner of the building. They still had the axle and one wheel on the tongue and they ran against the corner of the building with such force that they tore out a large stone at the bottom. The inn shook so much that the ladies inside thought that there was an earthquake and ran outside, but they soon saw what had happened. The one lady ran to the field to get the men; it was harvest time. The other one ran around the stall and grabbed the front horses by the head so that they would not run any further. They had run from the watering hole across the street alongside the stall towards the fence.
When my baker and I also arrived, the boy was lying on the floor. His mother was with him, a widow who didn’t live too far from there. The doctor was next to him. The others were standing around him, including old man Arnold, and were holding his arm. The poor boy! His back looked like a piece of raw flesh, his arm was crushed, his shoulder was dislocated, his leg was broken, and several ribs were cracked.
When the doctor was finished, he said he did not know what he looked like on the inside, but everything seemed to be all right, and the external injuries would heal quickly. I comforted the wailing mother as well as I could. —
After six to eight weeks the young man was all right again. —
B[esel] brought the bad news home and now all the sons of the old father – I believe there were four of them – went together on horseback to see what had happened to “Dad.” They gathered up the parts of the wagon and loaded everything back up. The old father said to me, “Jack will stay here” – his youngest, a handsome young man, eighteen years old – “and I will too, and you take Jack’s horse and ride home with the others.”
I said, “No, Father Arnold, you take the horse and ride home, and I will stay with the wagon.”
Arnold got on and off he went. My Jack took his four horses out of the stall and hitches them up, takes his seat in the saddle, but brings along his blacksnake. My baker and I sit on the trunk again. Jack heads out. Right away the path goes somewhat downhill and my horse on the right whinnies again and starts to cut loose, but my Jack lashes him around his body, so that it whistles. The horse jumps forward. Jack turns his whip around and whacks the animal on the forehead with the thick, yellow10 knob so hard that I expected the animal to collapse. If the horse jumped forward, it gets one one the forehead; if it jumped backwards, it gets one around the body. “Just wait, I’ll run off on you! [Wart, ich will dir weglofen!]” Jack said. He put them into a strong trot, called out, “Hoh!” and bump, they stopped, and he repeated that a number of times. It didn’t take long and the horses were like lambs.
1 Here we encounter the first of Strieter’s many name abbreviations. The 1852 convention proceedings for the Missouri Synod list among the voting preachers a Friedrich Besel in Holmes County, Ohio. Besel left for the Iowa Synod in 1881.
2 “United” refers to the Prussion Union, which merged the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Prussia.
3 Ernst Gustav Hermann Miessler (1826-1916) worked with Baierlein at the Bethany mission station from 1851 to 1853, when he succeeded him. He left the preaching ministry in 1871 to study and practice medicine in Chicago, which he did from 1874-1899.
4 Strieter received a “satis” diploma. This is a classic sentence in Strieter’s autobiography, and many pastors can doubtless relate to it when recalling their seminary education.
5 Heinrich Christian Schwan (1819-1905) had been taken up as a member of the Missouri Synod in 1850. He served as pastor of Zion in Cleveland, today the second oldest church in the synod, from 1851-1899. He helped to popularize the use of the Christmas tree in American churches by placing one in Zion in 1851. He was known as a staunch, tactful, sharp, wise, modest, and refined Lutheran pastor.
6 The Pennsylvania Dutch were early German immigrants to America in the 17th and 18th centuries from what is today western and southwestern Germany. Many were refugees of war. Usually Dutch refers to the people of the Netherlands and their language, but in the label Pennsylvania Dutch it is an Americanization of Deutsch, meaning German. Since they also had their own dialect, the label was also used to refer to their descendants.
7 I.e., on the front left horse. The saddle on the back left horse remained empty, as will be made clear.
8 If I’m imagining this correctly, the horses turned left with the path on the other side of the bridge, but were going so fast that the wagon ran up partially onto the bank, thus tipping to the left, with the right front wheel higher than the left front wheel, and knocking old man Arnold out onto the path on the left side of the wagon.
9 Carl Strieter translates gelben as brass.
[Read the next part here.]