|St. Mary's Church in Altus, Open in 1902|
Between Christmas and New Years, we came here by means of a free ride secured for us by the helpful philanthropic land agent Joseph Stutzer of Morrilton, now deceased.
After arriving in Altus, we took lodging with a fellow countryman by the name Jak. Zeiher, whose farm was located a good mile from the land we purchased, until 6 March 1882, when we could move into the crudely constructed house made out of boards stuck in the middle of the woods.
Now we enthusiastically proceeded to clear the surrounding land, and since everyone including the women ably joined in, we soon had about 10 acres in such condition that we could plant it with maize.
In the meanwhile, we also built a block stable, put in a garden and planted it with vegetables, and in the Fall also planted a few fruit trees. During the next year, an emergency cellar was made and additional necessary buildings were constructed. In addition, we did not forget the expansion of the orchard and the beginnings of a vineyard; in short, there was work without end, and to be sure, hard work; also there were shortages and privations of all kinds to put up with, because aside from the down payment on the land, the construction of the house, the purchase of the necessary cattle, buildings and tools for the field -- all of which were very expensive -- the food for ten people for the time until something was grown cost a lot of money, so that the couple hundred dollars that we brought with us soon dwindled to nothing. The supplies also were very expensive because of the partial crop failure caused by the drought in the proceeding summer, such that a bushel of corn meal cost $1.50, 1 pound of bacon, 18-20 cents; 1 gallon of molasses 75 cents and other supplies cost a corresponding amount.
Also, for the purchase of a mule, although very necessary, we had to wait as long as possible since feed was so rare that people could not procure it in the whole region, and when at last we bought a mule in May, we had to obtain corn and hay out of the store in Little Rock, what, as one could well imagine, did not come cheaply.
Until the purchase of the mule, we had hard work in that we either had to carry or drag on a home-made type of cart, among other things, the necessary fence posts for the enclosure of the land, as well as the logs needed for the stable and other buildings, stakes for the garden and wood shingles. The women folk helped with this and it was done -- at that -- for a small cost.
For a long time, we had to live on almost nothing other than cornbread made with water and, as long as we had no cow, black coffee without milk or sugar. We were on guard (as Germans gladly are) against going into debt.
Once while clearing land, one brother said to another in a joking way as he pointed to the house with the smoking chimney: See that house there? That is our corn bread factory.
Joking aside, cornbread was nourishing and also tasted good since the hard, fatiguing work stimulated a hearty appetite. However, the small, unchanging diet gradually weakened us a little at our work and produced a languid, tired feeling, and when we at last obtained some money through our sweat, we could obtain some different food.
All of the privations and hardships did not scare us off, chiefly because the people in the old country did not have a bed of roses. We saw that better times had to come and we could succeed in obtaining our independence, something that would never have been possible in the old country.
Also, we enjoyed good health, outside of a few cases of indisposition and exhaustion in the early days, the result of not being used to the climate, none of us have so far caught malaria or the chills, except two brothers who in the previous March had gone to Pocahontas and from there to Little Rock and Memphis, to the places that are distribution points for the plague. They had soon after we arrived been pushed back to us, spending some time fighting this fever until it was gone. The healthy location of our place had much to do with our good health; our farms lie on a direct line 4 miles east of the church in Altus and 3 1/2 miles north of Coal Hill, on a type of sugar loaf mountain with a rather beautiful view, like the Swiss love.
(End of letter published on February 23, 1894, beginning of letter published on March 2, 1894)
As years passed, the privations and scarcity naturally ended; the cattle herd grew. A vineyard with about 2000 vines is tolerable; a peach orchard of approximately 800 trees is located next to the apple and pear orchard and other types of fruit. And always more is being planted.
Two years ago, we built a good solid cellar 26 by 30 feet in the interior space and 10 feet deep in the ground. Johann Mueller, a countryman from Caton Thurgau built its walls. In one or two years, we will build a correspondingly beautiful house on top of it according to plans already created.
Also the family relationships have changed with us. One brother took his own land and got married. Mostly he works at the coach building and blacksmith business. Another brother manages beehives. Two sisters got married; another sister is a nun in the Cloister St. Scholastica, Arkansas.
The way things went for us is also just about how it happened to all the other settlers who came before and after us, for example: Jakob Zeiher, Louis Hug, Jacob and Adolf Elser, Johann and Sigmund, Jos Bachmann, all fellow Swiss; and also Jacob Post, L. Ziegler, H. Hoing, Johan Leding, Ferd. V. Raumana, Karl Eschbach, F. J. Nummeli, B. Micheli, Wilh. Borengasser, and still others from Germany.
All of these in addition to Father Ziswiler and our small contributions are to be considered as the pioneers of this colony.
For almost all of these people, things were not any easier because they also had little money, sometimes their children and often even their wives had to go to Little Rock or Ft. Smith to work in order to be able to raise desperately needed cash, and almost all of these settled in the woodlands, building their homes in the midst of sorrow, pain and sacrifices, often plagued with sickness and fever.
It is often right interesting to listen when these people describe their difficulties and hardships during that time. Now, of course, they are all in good shape and feel satisfied and happy. For myself and others, it would make us very afraid to start all over again, and therefore we would not be tempted to give up our safe existence and take off for the open land of Oklahoma or the Indian territories.
In the same way that the existence of the pioneers gradually improved, the matters of the church and school continually moved forward. In the Spring before our arrival, a frame church was built, as was a small, plain school house. Then a person could easily count the number of church goers on their fingers. Soon the community grew through new arrivals so that the church was soon much too small, and Father Ziswiler significantly enlarged it through an addition to it and provided it with beautiful wainscoting, with chairs, a pulpit, etc.
In the course of the Summer of 1891, a beautiful, spacious school house, as well as housing for the Sisters, was constructed, and since Christmas, the Church school has been run by the Benedictine sisters from Scholastica.
Things have changed quickly in these ten years.
For the church and school house, a beautiful place was chosen; it has a beautiful view over the city of Altus, a beautiful view over into Logan County to Mt. Magazine and to whatever the names of the other beautifully formed mountains may be; also one can see the Arkansas River. Yes, it is a beautiful, fortuitously chosen place.
The community also is not adverse to club life. It has a St. Josephs Unterstuetzungsverein, a women's and youth club, and a Farmers Union, already in existence for six years, which contribute greatly to the community's entertainment and good fellowship.
I believe I have given you in this letter everything important about the German pioneer days of this colony. If I can help you in this matter further, please let me know and I will gladly do it, that is if is within my power.
Altus, Franklin Co, Ark.
Note: From a book by Brett Pritchard identifying people buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Altus, here are the birth and death dates of several of the German-speaking settlers mentioned in this letter:
Rev. M. Beatus Ziswyler ( ? - 7/26/1887)
Joseph Glanzmann (? - 11/11/1918)
J Louis Hug (? - 3/24/1911)
Jacob Elser (3/3/1840 - 12/15/1904)
Adolph Elser (5/6/1865 - 12/14/1938)
F.X. Bachmann (7/20/1821 - 1/9/1885)
Jacob Post (8/22/1845 - 5/5/1928)
Lawrence Ziegler (12/2/1830 - 6/10/1895)
Herny Hoing (8/26/1840 - 12/28/1927)
John Henry Leding (7/27/1846 - 12/08/1902)
Charles Eschbach ( ? - 5/19/1923)
William Borenbasser (1/1/1850 - 8/16/1910)
For more information and pictures of St. Mary's Church, see this entry in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas:
Introduction to the Pioneer Tales
This pioneer tale is one in a series published in 1893 and 1894 by the Arkansas Echo, a German-language newspaper in Little Rock. The stories are intended to show the challenges and adventures facing German-speaking immigrants when they came to settle in Arkansas. So far, the following posts have introduced the Pioneer Tales and provided translations of several of them:
Pioneer Tales of Arkansas' German Immigrants (background of the newspaper series)
Arkansas Echo, November 3, 1893
THE GOOD OLD DAYS?
Arkansas Echo, November 10, 1893
MERRY MÄT, OR A TRIP TO THE BATHS, Part 1
Arkansas Echo, November 17, 1893
MERRY MÄT, OR A TRIP TO THE BATHS, Part 2
Arkansas Echo, December 1, 1893
A JUICY ROAST--OR--WHO WANTS TO EAT WITH ME?
Arkansas Echo, December 8, 1893
ANOTHER PIECE ABOUT "AUGUST" --OR -- LONG FENCE RAILS
Arkansas Echo, December 22, 1893
HOW FRANK, WITHOUT POWDER AND LEAD, ONCE SLEW A MAGNIFICENT DEER
Arkansas Echo, December 29, 1893
ERNST'S BAD LUCK
Arkansas Echo, January 5, 1894
THAT'S THE WAY ITS DONE IN HUNGARY -or- A PERSON WHO WILL NOT ACCEPT ADVICE CANNOT BE HELPED
Arkansas Echo, January 14, 1894
HOW ONE CAN LOSE ONE'S WAY IN THE PRIMEVAL FOREST
Arkansas Echo, January 19, 1894
BILL’S TRIP TO THE MARKET
Translations by Dan Durning, all rights reserved.