Thursday, July 18, 2013

Misfortune Befalls a German Vintner in Conway, 1894

In several previous posts, I have provided translated versions of "Pioneer Tales" that were published in the Arkansas Echo, a German language weekly newspaper published in Arkansas from 1891 until 1932.  The "Pioneer Tales" were mostly stories of misfortunes that had befallen German-speaking immigrants soon after their arrival in the state. Most stories were written by immigrants who had learned from their tenderfoot mistakes and had become successful residents of their chosen state.

Arkansas Echo ad for a Little Rock Saloon
The following newspaper story, published in the June 10, 1894 edition of the Arkansas Echo, shows that the lives of German-speaking immigrants did not always have a happy ending. It is about the murder of a German-speaking immigrant from Switzerland named Paul Loetscher, who had settled in Conway in 1870 when it consisted of a few dwellings and people. 

Loetscher made his living growing grapes and selling wine, apparently operating a drinking establishment at his farm. However, Arkansas had an active prohibition movement, and in 1871 the state had passed a law allowing local referenda on proposals to ban saloons within three miles of schools and colleges. Such a referendum had been held in Conway and it passed. 

This restriction of the sale of alcoholic drinks did not affect Loetscher until the first part of the 1890s when Hendrix College moved from Altus to Conway. Apparently, Loetscher's farm was less than three miles from the new college and it became illegal for him to sell his wine. As a result, he had a hard time making a living. 
Arkansas Echo ad for Fallstaff Beer 1894

On Saturday, May 26, 1894, two men living in the small town near Conway, drunk, decided to go to Loetscher's farm to get wine from him. He was not there when they arrived, but one of them, Joe Luke, ended up beating his wife with a hoe and then severely injuring him with the same hoe when he came a few minutes later. After that, Luke and his partner went to the local sheriff to tell him that Loetscher had sold him wine. The sheriff wanted to drag the severely injured man in immediately for a trial, but because of his severe injuries he could not go. The trial was postponed the trail until the following Tuesday. Loetscher, suffering from life-threatening injuries was brought to court and convicted of illegally selling an alcoholic drink. He was fined $200 and court costs. His assailants were not charged with any crime. 

Loetscher died from his injuries less than a week after the trial.  

The outrage of the person who wrote this story for the Arkansas Echo is clear. Perhaps as a result of the outcry following the death, the governor offered a reward for the arrest of Luke, who had fled to Texas. Another story in the Echo a couple of weeks later said that the Conway County Sheriff Wilson had tracked Luke down in Texas, near Decatur, arrested him, and brought him back. Apparently, according to the story, the sheriff was having a hard time collecting the reward money from the governor.  

I have been unable to locate information about Luke's trial and punishment. 

Here is the translated story:

Arkansas Echo, June 10, 1894, p. 1

Conway, Ark

Liebes Echo!

Last Monday, Peter Paul Loetscher died. The deceased was born in Canton Appenzel, Switzerland and had reached the age of about 50 years. He came with his wife in the year 1870 to Arkansas and settled a homestead which today lays inside the city limits of Conway. The region was then in a primordial state and hardly anyone had heard of Conway. Amid the many difficulties and hardships, he cultivated his land, but the worst problem was that he was not conversant in English and there were no Germans to be found in the vicinity.

When at the end of the 70’s more Germans settled in Conway, he was prepared to provide advice and help; he was long valued as an authority on many things, especially on the topic of wine making. He had  established a splendid wine garden and lived happily and contentedly in his own way with his family, until the College was built here, for which he himself was taxed a handsome sum.

Because without selling wine he could not feed his family with his farm income, he resisted desperately. He was hounded like a beast. Spies were on the lookout day and night. He was convicted every time he was accused, proof or no proof. The city mayor had no compunction (pangs of conscious) in dealing with him.

Through all of these inflammatory deeds, he came at last to the point where he was, according to what I observed, no longer responsible for his actions.  I will now report on his tragic end, which I followed here.

On May 26th, two men filled themselves with whisky: Thompson, a gentle old man and Luck [2] a young guy who was barely 20 years old. They said as they left the city that they were going to go to Loetscher because they wanted wine, and if he didn’t give it to them, they would beat him up. 

When they arrived, Loetscher was not there. His wife told them that she could not sell or give them any wine. They saw in the corner a Krug (a type of mug) that held wine. Luck grabbed it and began to take off. A small boy, one of Loetscher’s sons, tried to stop him from taking the Krug, so Luck grabbed him and held him against his side with one hand and carried the Krug in the other, taking both about 100 yards away.

Loetscher’s wife ran after him and told him to let the boy go. He kicked her in a leg that had been aching for years.

Meanwhile, the boy grabbed the Krug and ran with it to the house. Loetscher’s wife told Luck that he ought to go away and leave them alone. Then he grabbed a cotton hoe and hit her in the head with it so that she collapsed, and he also hacked both arms down to the bone.

Meanwhile a farmhand working nearby came and tried to tackle the guy, but Luck turned to him with the raised hoe, so the man turned tail and ran. Luck chased him for a quarter of a mile. Loetscher’s wife washed the blood off her face and screamed for her husband. As Luck returned from his hunt, Loetscher appeared on the scene armed with a dragoon saber that he waved around, cutting through the air.  
But Luck hit his arm with the hoe, breaking it, and then struck him on his head with the sharp edge of the hoe.  Loetscher fell on his face.  Luck hit him again and again in the back until the hoe broke into five pieces.

After the heroic deed was done, the two men went into the city and it informed Major Martin that they had procured wine from Loetscher.  He immediately sent the Marshall to bring Loetscher to stand before the court. But Loetscher was in no condition to go on his own and wanted to wait until Tuesday.  Then they dragged the half-dead man to court. He stood there with his fractured skull, broken arms, and badly bruised back asking for mercy. And what was the verdict?  A two hundred dollar fine and costs. But the murderers were let go.  Loetscher appealed to the Circuit Court and posted bond.

Here is what the local “Populist” has to say about it [the paragraphs below were written in English]:
As reported in last week’s issue, Joe Luke assaulted P.P. Loetcher last Saturday a week. Loetcher took to his bed shortly afterward, and died early Monday morning. Coroner Phillips assisted by assistant Prosecuting Attorney Geo. Shaw held an inquest Monday and the Jury returned a sealed verdict the effect of which can only be guessed at as the officers and jury would not say what it is.
A post mortem examination was held and the autopsy made by Drs. Brannon and Voris showed that Loetcher’s skull had been severely fractured on the left side, there was also a severe bruise on the right side of the spine just over the kidney and the small bone of the left arm was broken. The testimony showed that the wounds were inflicted with an old hoe in hands of Luke.
Loetcher was a native of Switzerland and he had lived here for over twenty years being one of the oldest citizens here. His remains were buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.
Luke is a young man who lived at Mayflower. He has not been apprehended although the presumption is that the coroner’s Jury by its verdict found him guilty of the murder.”

After he died, the Deputy Prosecutor sent his body to the coroner and for a postmortem examination. The result was: a fractured skull, smashed ribs and collapsed lungs, along with a broken arm. Only then did they want to arrest the young man, but he was already over the mountains. If a good reward is not offered for his arrest, he will never be caught.

So justice will be measured when such fanatics come to power.

J. L.

[1] The Arkansas Echo spelled his name as Loetscher, but the English language article quoted below spelled his name “Loetcher.” 

[2]  The Arkansas Echo article calls the young man “Luck,” but according to the English language article his name was “Luke.”


  1. I was pointed to this article just this last year, so I apologize for this very late comment. Thank you so much for the history! Peter Paul was my great great grandfather. He is listed as a signer for creating the town of Conway. He is listed as P.P. Loetscher in the book, "Faulkner County: Its Land and People."

  2. Thanks for your comment. I noticed that Conway has a street named after Loetscher, so I assumed that P.P.'s relatives had made their mark on the city. Just in case you might have some lore passed down through the family, I want to tell you some questions that I had that I was unable to answer: (1) Why did P.P. Loetscher leave the family business in Switzerland? (2) How did he choose Conway as a place to settled (his Cousins were doing quite well in Dubuque Iowa), (3) Was he a Lutheran? and (4) Does anyone know that happened to Luke, his killer, after he was brought back to Conway for trial? Quite an interesting family history you have.