Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Emergence of Little Rock’s Community of German Speakers

In the decades before the Civil War, the few ethnic German immigrants who chose to live in Little Rock were unable to form social relationships like those they had enjoyed in their home countries.[1] The immigrants who spoke little or no English were isolated from the activities of native-born city residents and, because of their small numbers, they did not have – with minor exceptions – their own German-language clubs, associations, churches, or other groups, nor did they have their own spaces and events where they casually interacted with each other.[2] As a result, until they mastered English and adapted to the culture that surrounded them, these “small souls” had social lives that took place largely within families or a circle of German-speaking neighbors and friends.[3]

This situation changed during the 1860s after the Civil War triggered population movements that increased the city’s population from 3,727 at the start of the decade to 12,380 at its end.[4]  Among the newcomers were ethnic German immigrants whose numbers grew from 175 in 1860 to 494 in 1870.[5] By 1867, the count of ethnic Germans living in Little Rock was large enough for them to set up their own secular and religious organizations.[6]

The drive to establish German-language clubs and associations in Little Rock came in large part from immigrants who had settled there after the Union army occupied the city in September 1863. Most of these newcomers had moved to the city from other states, mainly in the East and Midwest, to which they had originally emigrated.[7] They quickly outnumbered the ethnic Germans who had lived in Little Rock at the start of the war.  By 1870, they comprised 138 of the 180 ethnic German families living in the city (about 77 percent) and 163 of the 173 single ethnic German residents (94 percent).[8]

Gun Store of A.E. Linzel

On average, the newcomers were younger than the immigrants who had resided in Little Rock before 1860, and they had different life experiences and expectations for their futures. One expectation, stoked by living in larger U.S. cities with active ethnic German enclaves, was that they would have social lives beyond the boundaries of the English-speaking society, enjoying familiar activities such as singing, shooting, dancing, and drinking ­with their fellow German speakers. Toward that end, many of the newcomers led an effort to replicate the social life in clubs and associations (the Vereinswesen) that was pervasive in the German states from which most had emigrated.[9] 

The city’s first German-language association, created in late 1866 or early 1867, was the Men’s Choir (Männerchor), a singing group long popular in the German Confederation.[10] A few months later, ethnic Germans opened a Turnverein, followed during the next few years by marksmen clubs and the German-language lodges of two secret societies, the United Ancient Order of Druids and the Independent Order of Red Men.[11] Numerous additional secular German-language clubs and associations would spring up in the years that followed.[12]

While a few old-timers joined the newcomers in establishing secular clubs and associations for German speakers, others led an initiative to enable Lutherans, who comprised a majority of the city’s ethnic German population, to have their own ChurchSeveral prominent German-speaking immigrants, most of them long-time residents, met in the home of Charles and Fredericka Reichardt Miller in Fall 1868 to plan the new church. On December 15, 1868, this group with a few additions adopted a constitution creating the German Evangelical Lutheran Church.[13] The new congregation quickly constructed a church building, dedicated in March 1870, and then erected a building for its German-language school.[14]  After an immigration surge beginning in the late 1870s that swelled the number of German speaking Catholics in Little Rock, local church leaders built St. Edward Catholic Church, dedicated in 1885, to host German-language services and a German-language school.[15]

Among the German speakers in Little Rock were Jews, whose numbers surged in the aftermath of the Civil War. Unlike observant Lutherans and Catholics, Jews were not expected to avoid secret societies or the Turnverein, and many – both old timers and recent arrivals – were active in them even as they helped assemble the B’nai Israel congregation (chartered in 1867) and build a synagogue (opened in 1872). Soon after the congregation formed, several Jewish merchants started the Concordia Association (1868) to hold social and cultural events, and they founded a local chapter of the International Order of B’nai B’rith (1871), a secret society.[16] Although these organizations were not exclusively for German speakers, more than ninety percent of the early members of the synagogue and the Jewish clubs were ethnic Germans.[17]

These Jewish groups in which German was commonly spoken joined Little Rock’s new German-language secular and Christian religion-based organizations as the core of the active community of German speakers that emerged in the late 1860s. Other elements of the community included a German language newspaper providing community members with relevant news and the different spaces and events where German speakers regularly came together.[18]

Among the spaces where German speakers often encountered each other were the city’s many ethnic German-owned businesses, including a disproportional share of Little Rock’s grocery stores, dry goods stores, and liquor stores.[19] Other important spaces for them were the City Garden, Papa Geyer’s Beer Garden, and Jacobi’s Grove, where German speakers socialized while enjoying family outings, and saloons owned by ethnic Germans where hard drinkers shared shots. German speakers also assembled at beer gardens, the Concordia Hall, and, after 1884, the Turner Hall for their own dances, dinners, and balls, and they attended concerts, plays, and lectures at the latter two venues.[20] Also, a few of them staged, and many took part in, an annual Maifest celebration and an annual masquerade ball, both of which ethnic Germans held in Little Rock well into the twentieth century.  

Little Rock Turnverein, 1892

The elements of the community that brought German speakers together helped overcome deep divisions within the German speaking population caused by differences in country of origin (see footnote 1), religion, wealth, social status, education, political views, and other characteristics.[21]  In spite of the many differences, Little Rock’s German speakers were able to create their own “Little Germany,” in which ethnic Germans, regardless of their English proficiency, could live comfortable lives among people who shared their language and values. In their ethnic enclave, they were no longer “small souls,” but a group that enjoyed their own culture and customs, promoted their own values, and, when needed, protected their own interests.


1. “Ethnic German immigrants” were first-generation German-speakers who had similar cultural characteristics and values whether born in one of the states of the German Confederation (before 1871), Germany (after 1870), Austria, Switzerland, or German communities within Denmark (Schleswig-Holstein), France (Alsace), Poland (Galicia), or elsewhere. When asked their “country of birth” as part of the 1870 U.S. Census, the 589 ethnic Germans living in Pulaski County named, among others, Prussia (227 persons), Baden (76), Bavaria (42), Saxony (33), Hanover (31), Württemberg (31), Austria (25), Switzerland (22), Bohemia (15), Poland (13) and Hesse (11).

2. The exceptions included the Little Rock City Garden, also later known as the Dutch Garden, opened by ethnic German immigrant Alexander George and his brothers in 1840 where guests could sit outside and enjoy various drinks, including beer brewed by the George brothers. Also, German speakers could attend German-language religious services conducted by Reverend William H. C. Yeager in the 1840s at the Christ Church (Episcopal). In addition, an ethnic German “Singer Bund,” formed at least briefly in the late 1850s. See “Little Rock City Garden,” Weekly Ark. Gazette, Apr. 23, 1840, p. 3; “Brewery,” Weekly Ark. Gazette, Feb. 3, 1841, p. 2; and “Ball at James’ Hall,” Ark. True Democrat, Feb. 2, 1861, p. 3.  Also see Michael Dougan, Arkansas Odyssey, Rose Publishing Co, 1994, p. 137.

A few ethnic Germans who spoke good English and became successful businessmen joined the city’s leading citizens as members of English language secret societies. For example, William George, Francis Ditter, Henry Fisher, and Charles Krebs were pre-Civil War members of the United Ancient Order of Druids. "Tribute of Respect," Ark. True Democrat, Aug. 18, 1858, p 4.  

3. According to an editorial in the Anzeiger des Westens, a newspaper published in St. Louis, "small souls” was what Americans called Germans who lived as isolated individuals rather than as part of an organized group. “Anzeiger des Westens, 22 October 1857, Germans and the Crisis,” in Steven Rowan (editor and translator), Germans for a Free Missouri: Translations from the St. Louis Radical Press, 1857-1862. Univ. of Missouri Press, 1983, p. 57.

4. During the Civil war, insecurity caused by guerilla operations in rural areas forced many farmers and their families to move to Little Rock. Also, freed slaves moved to the city in large numbers. After the war, the city’s economic prospects attracted new residents from other states, including former Union soldiers who had been stationed in Little Rock.

5.  Using 1860 and 1870 U.S. Census data, I counted the number of ethnic Germans living in Little Rock in each of those years. For counts of the German-born population of Pulaski County from 1860 to 1890, see Shirley Schuette, Strangers to the Land: The German Presence in Nineteenth-Century Arkansas, Master’s Thesis, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2005, p. 35 and Johnathan Wolfe, “Background on German Immigration,” Ark. Historical Quarterly, 25(4), Winter 1966, p. 377.

6. Historian Carl Wittke observed, “Wherever Germans settled in sufficient numbers to support group activities, they introduced the social patterns of the fatherland, for like all immigrant groups, they did not shed lightly the customs of the Old World.” Carl Wittke, Refugees of Revolution, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1952, p. 280.

7. Using the household data in the 1870 U.S. Census, I identified each ethnic German family living in Little Rock that included a son or daughter who had been born in another state. I assumed that the birthplace of the oldest child was the family’s previous state of residence. My count of the previous states of residence was as follows: Tennessee 13, New York 13, Missouri, 11, Ohio 10, Illinois 4, Pennsylvania 3, Indiana 3, California 2, Louisiana 2, Alabama 1, Kentucky 1, and North Carolina 1. Only one ethnic German family with children had moved to Little Rock from a German state in the 1860s. Comparable data on previous states of residence are not available for ethnic German families without children or for single individuals who settled in Little Rock during the 1860s.

8.  My analysis of 1860 and 1870 U.S. census data for Little Rock showed that forty-two (nearly two-thirds) of the sixty-five ethnic German families living in Little Rock in 1860 were still there in 1870.

9. According to Annette R. Hofmann, “In the German states, the Vereins movement began at the close of the 18th century and developed during the first decades of the 19th Century into a mass movement that permeated all strata of the population.” Annette R. Hofmann, The American Turner Movement: A History from its Beginning to 2000. Max Kade German American Center, Indiana University and Purdue University, 2010, p. 47. Wittke (1952, p, 280) noted that “in urban centers [of the United States], large and small, Germans nurtured social organizations of many kinds to perpetuate the life they had known at home.” The noun word “Verein” has multiple translations depending on the context of its use. It can refer to, among other things, a social club, association, society, or organization. I translate, as others have, Turnverein as the “Turner Society.”

10. The existence of the Männerchor was mentioned in local newspapers when it sponsored the city’s first German Maifest celebration. See “May Festival,” Ark. Gazette, May 19, 1867, p. 3 and “Festival,” Ark. Gazette, June 12, 1867, p 3. In the latter article, the author wrote, “The Maennerchor is an association of our German citizens, banded together for social purposes; and periodically they observe the customs of the fatherland, suggestive to the aged of the happy hours long since gone, and affording innocent amusement to their descendants.”

11. Untitled Item, Ark. Gazette, Dec. 16, 1868, p. 3; “Attention Sharpshooters,” Ark. Gazette, Dec. 12, 1872, p. 4; and “Our Schuetzen Gilde – 1875,” Ark. Democrat, Oct. 25, 1878, p. 4. Grove No. 5 of the United Ancient Order of Druids (UOAD) was founded on April 12, 1870. Although many of its members were ethnic Germans, German may not have been its main language. Aurora Grove No. 6 of the UOAD, formed in 1871 or 1872, was populated exclusively by German-speaking members. The Arkansas Stamm No. 162 of the Independent Order of Redmen first convened on October 15, 1871. A second lodge, Hermann Stamm No. 163, opened on Feb. 6, 1872. See the Little Rock, Arkansas, 1872 City Directory, p.18 (accessed on Also, “U.O.A.D.,” Ark. Gazette, Apr. 12, 1870, p. 4. 

12. Among other German-language groups formed in the 1870s were the Germania Lodge of the Knights of Honor, another secret society, and the Casino Club, a group that sponsored frequent social events for its mostly Lutheran membership. “City and General Items” (Casino Club), Ark. Gazette, Nov. 22, 1876, p. 4 and “City and General Items” (Knights of Honor), Ark. Gazette, Feb. 24, 1878, p. 4.

13. Del Schmand, Heritage of the First Lutheran Church. Horton Brothers Printing Co., 1988, pp. 9-11 and Goodspeed Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Central Arkansas, 1889, p. 411 (accessed on Google Books). Schmand, citing Church records, listed 22 “charter members” of the Lutheran Church. Of those, 14 were living in Pulaski County – most in Little Rock -- before 1860 and another was living in Benton. Seven lived outside the state in 1860. 

14. “A Model Church,” Ark. Gazette, Apr. 7, 1888, p. 5; “German Lutherans,” Ark. Gazette, Sept. 9. 1888, p. 3; “Corner-Stone is to be Laid Today,” Ark. Gazette, July 7, 1907, p. 11; “New Lutheran School,” Ark. Gazette, Sept. 15, 1907, p. 4; and “Lutheran Church is 55 Years Old,” Ark. Gazette, Dec. 15, 1923, p. 17.

15. “St. Edward Catholic Church,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas, accessed at

16. The history of Jews in Little Rock and the rest of Arkansas is covered comprehensively in Carolyn G. LeMaster, A Corner of the Tapestry, University of Arkansas Press, 1994. Also see, “I.O.B.B.,” Ark. Gazette, May 30, 1871, p. 4; “The New Synagogue,” Ark. Gazette, Sept. 28, 1872, p. 4; and the listing of “benevolent and secret societies” in the 1872 Little Rock City Directory.  Although the Concordia Association board and its members were Jewish, the Concordia Hall was a popular venue for events sponsored not only by the Association but also by diverse non-Jewish organizations.

17. According to LeMaster (1994, p. 22), over ninety-nine percent of the Jews who settled in Arkansas before and during the 1850s were from German states.

18. A weekly German-language newspaper was published in Little Rock starting on June 1, 1866, with an unknown final date; from Oct. 1869 to January 1871; and from Oct. 1874 to March 1876, with a suspension from January to March 1875. The first two newspapers were named the Arkansas Staats Zeitung and the third was the Arkansas Freie Presse. In October 1877, another version of the Arkansas Staats Zeitung began publication. It continued until 1917. An additional weekly German-language paper, the Arkansas Echo, began publication in 1891 and continued until 1932. See "The Press Gang," Ark. Gazette, June 10, 1876, p. 2 and Kathleen Condray, Das Arkansas Echo. The University of Arkansas Press, 2020.

19. The 1872-1873 Little Rock City Directory listed businesses by category with their owners’ names. Using that information and the 1870 census, I identified businesses owned or co-owned by ethnic Germans. The count showed that 16 of 25 “Dry Goods – Retail” businesses were owned or co-owned by ethnic Germans, as were 15 of 30 “Grocers-Retail” businesses, 5 of 15 “Liquors;” and 8 of 22 “Saloons.” See “Little Rock Business Directory, 1872–1873,” Pulaski County Historical Review, 9(1), December 1961, pp. 57-67. In 1870, ethnic Germans made up about four percent of the total population of Little Rock and in 1880 the percentage peaked at about six percent.

20. Each of the German-language secret society lodges had its own meeting room. Also, of course, the German Evangelical Lutheran church had its own meeting space for the activities of its members as did St. Edward Catholic Church after it was constructed in 1885.

21. Because of their differences, ethnic Germans often disagreed with and sometimes disliked each other. Nevertheless, in the decade or so following the Civil War, increasing numbers of Little Rock’s ethnic Germans came to view themselves as “Germans” who shared a common heritage. Eleanor Turk observed, “The process of trans-Atlantic migration … changed Prussians, Hessians, Bavarians, and Palatines from Central Europeans into “Germans” as well as “Americans.” Eleanor L. Turk, "Germans in Kansas," Kansas History, 28, Spring 2005, p. 48.


Monday, March 7, 2022

Growing up in Turn-of-the-Century Mondovi, WI: Life in the City

Grace Reese Adkins
“Leaves from Childhood’s Diary,” Part 4

As I mentioned in the first post on growing up in turn-of-the-century Mondovi, the town was a small one with 503 residents in 1890 and 1,207 in 1900. It is in Buffalo County, which shares a border (the Mississippi River) with Minnesota. It is named after the Buffalo River, which cuts through the southern part of the county. The city of Eau Claire lies about twenty miles to the northeast, and Minneapolis is about 100 miles to the northwest. Of course, given its northern latitude, Mondovi has long, cold winters.

Map of Wisconsin,
Buffalo Co. in Red

In the following poem, Mrs. Adkins recalled those winters:

Winter (Published May 6, 1937)
When winter came
To our town,
All the men declared
That their families
Would starve to death
Before spring.
But if, by any chance,
They should survive,
They vowed that they would never
Spend another winter
In Wisconsin.

Uncle Walt [Lemke], the author and editor of the Ozark Moon column, who also grew up in Wisconsin, commented, “That’s winter in Wisconsin all right. Thirty-five and forty degrees below zero. Snow so deep in the cuts that trains didn’t run for days. And shoveling snow, a daily job for youngsters, snow shovels were made in various widths and designs and of various materials, wood, tin, and steel. Last winter a Fayetteville man tried to buy a snow shovel, but such an article was not to be had in this town.”  

1911 Map Showing Cities in
Buffalo Co., Wisconsin

In a letter to the editor published in the
Northwest Arkansas Times on May 6, 1969, Mrs. Adkins told of her family’s move to Washington County, Arkansas, in 1902, a few months after her mother’s death, to escape “the rigors of Wisconsin winters.”

 [I recall] when our family first came to this charming place, in 1902. There was my father, an older sister, myself, and seven young motherless stairsteps. We had long wanted to escape t h e rigors of Wisconsin winters, and our father came to Fayetteville on a homeseekers' excursion.

On his return he said, "Girls, I've found the garden spot of the world." In a month we were moved. We came in on a midnight train, and the air was redolent with apples, which were shipped in large quantities in those days. The picturesque courthouse stood in the middle of the Square, with a dog-trot running through it. Old men wore long white beards, and spoke courteously to all strangers, as was not customary in the north. My sister and I saw our first dogwood, lining a ravine of East Mountain (Mt. Sequoyah) and it took my breath away, as it does still. 

Before making the move south, Grace Reese had spent eighteen years of her youth in Mondovi, and she remembered some of the locals who made an impression her when she was growing up:

A Town Character (Published May 1, 1937)
He lived just up the block
From us,
And everybody said
He was the biggest liar
In the county.
It was his children,
Who broke our windows,
And quarreled with us,
And stole our hazelnuts.
They could not play at home
Because their mother
Had headaches.
They quoted their father
Even in the schoolroom,
But they always added,
“If you don’t believe papa,
Just ask Uncle Richie.”

The Amen Corner (Published, May 13, 1937)
The men who sat
In the Amen Comer
Had long beards,
And most of them
Were a little deaf.
One of them
Always stood on his toes
When he shouted.
Mondovi Congregational Church,
Built 1870, Now Demolished

Mrs. Adkins did not mention in her poems which church she attended as a child in Mondovi. Where did she encounter “the Amen Corner?” Most likely, her family belonged to the city’s Congregational Church.  After she moved to Washington County Arkansas, she joined the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and during the rest of her life, she was a zealous advocate of the American Restoration Movement.  In 1938, she started her own church, the Central Christian Church in Fayetteville, and was the pastor of that church for a decade. 

Thirty-five years after she left Mondovi, Grace Reese Adkins still remembered details of the places that were part of the city, including the school library and the city fairgrounds.  She wrote these poems about them:

The School Library (Published, May 4, 1937)
There weren’t many library books,
Because a mean boy
Had burned the schoolhouse down
At night.
The school, each year,
Gave a big entertainment
In Borst’s Hall.
To buy more books.
They had Lyceum Courses,
I liked to go,
But our family was large,
And we had to take turns about
Using the tickets

It is interesting to note that even though Mondovi was a small town, it was on the lyceum circuit. Thus, its residents had an opportunity to attend lectures, debates, class instruction, and dramatic performances.  Of course, Mrs. Adkins liked to attend them but had to take turns with other members of her family.

The Old Fairground (Published, April 21, 1937)

It wasn’t much of a fairground,
And the buildings were strewn around
Location of the
Mondovi Flats
Almost at random.
The chewing gum man
Was the main attraction,
For he had plush albums
Displayed as prizes –
Although most of those who bought
Got needle cases.
One year the merry-go-round
Was operated by manpower,
But after that they had an old horse
To turn it.
There was a phonograph
That you could hear
By paying a dime
And putting tubes in your ears.
In the exhibits
Were flowers made of feathers,
Seeds and hair,
Pieced quilts, handwoven rugs,
And fancy work galore.
The morning after the fair,
We children hunted
Underneath the grandstand
And where the chewing gum man had been
And sometimes found a nickel or a dime.

Uncle Walt [Lemke] commented on this poem, “We recall the … fairground thrills that Pricilla mentions, especially poking around among the litter under the grandstands and finding nickel or a dime. But the best place to find coins was in the cracks of the board sidewalks. It required two sticks expertly manipulated to draw out the coin. And when workmen replaced the rotten boards in the sidewalk, we kids were there to pounce on any coin or other valuables that might be revealed.”

“The Old Fairground” was in an area known as the Mondovi flats, in the southwest part of the town (bounded by Alma Ave, Water St., and State St.), not far from the Buffalo River. In the 1890s, it was replaced by a new fairground located north of the old one. The Buffalo County Fair is still held there on land with a Harrison Street address. The city’s middle school is not far to the east of the fairgrounds with a good view of it. Likely that spot is where Grace Reese’s high school was located. 

The New Fairground (Published on June 2, 1937)
They abandoned the old fairground
Down on the river road,
And acquired a new one
Adjoining the school grounds.
There weren’t many trees,
And it was dusty
At fair time,
But the legless Hokey Pokey
Chewing Gum Man
Was still on hand,
Barking his wares.
Our high school windows
Opened toward the fairground
And meadowlarks sang
In the clove field
Inside the racetrack
On May mornings,
While I was studying
The Present-Day "New Fairground" in Mondovi

My geometry.

It’s a relief to know that the “legless Hokey Pokey Chewing Gum Man” survived the move to the new fairground. For more on the history of Buffalo County fairs, go to this website:

This poem, “The New Fairground,” was the final one in Mrs. Adkins's series titled “Leaves from Childhood’s Diary.” Uncle Walt wrote about those poems:

We hope our readers have enjoyed today’s column. Priscilla has the trick of making half-forgotten events live again. The younger generation, of course, won’t know what it’s all about. They’re too sophisticated. They can’t imagine paying a dime to hear one of the crude first gramophones play. Or playing tag in a yard surrounded by a picket fence. Or swimming in a quarry hole Those were thrills that only the initiated can understand. And they can’t be matched by such modern thrillers as hitting 40 in a streamlined car or listening to Kenny Baker on the radio. They were the good old days.

 Anyone who would like to read more of the “Leaves from Childhood’s Diary” poems can find them in the Fayetteville Daily Democrat, whose name changed to the Northwest Arkansas Times on July 8, 1937. These papers can be accessed in the database, which requires a paid annual subscription. Most are also available in the database, available through or through a separate subscription.  The following list includes the titles of the poems and their dates of publication:

Theme: Leaves from Childhood’s Diary. Thirty-one poems: The Aspen (Apr 3), The Alder Slough (Apr 6), The River (Apr 8), Flowering (Apr 13), Our Front Yard (Apr 21), The Old Fairground (Apr 21), The Quarry (Apr 21), Home Theatricals (Apr 21), Hazelnutting (Apr 26), Memorial Day (Apr 28), A Town Character, (May 1), The Party (May 3), The School Library (May 4), Shaving (May 5), Winter (May 6), Going After the Cows (May 6), Company (May 6), Playing School (May 6),  My Room (May 6), Sunday School (May 11), Amen Corner (May 13), Books (May 17), Evenings (May 18), Patchwork (May 20), Echoes of ’98 (May 21), Cowslips (May 22), The Burr Oak (May 24), An Embarrassing Incident (May 25), Violets (May 27), Childhood Grief (May 29) The New Fairground (Jun 2).

Monday, February 21, 2022

Growing up in Turn-of-the-Century Mondovi, WI: Grace’s Pa

Grace Reese Adkins 
“Leaves from Childhood’s Diary,” Part 3

Mrs. Adkins's father, Edwin Frank Reese (1852–1924), was a stonemason but had interests far beyond his work. In her poems, Mrs. Adkins tells us about his love of books, providing some insight into her own bookish nature. She also lets us know that her pa played the fiddle, and she sometimes accompanied him on the organ. From the poems, we learn that Grace's pa at times got exasperated with the kids underfoot and could be a bit absent-minded.

"Ozark Moon," Fayetteville Daily Democrat,"
May 17, 1937, p.2
Books   (Published May 17, 1937)

Grandma said
That pa bought books
When there was danger of his children
Going hungry.
The books had titles
That were hard to read.
I like to dust
And arrange them.
And feel the texture
Of their bindings
Under my fingers.

Mrs. Adkins inherited her father’s love of books. I learned that when I was about eleven years old in 1958 and went for the first time to a Bible study class that Mrs. Adkins conducted in her home next to the Christ’s Church building on Rock Street in Fayetteville. I was astounded by the library/study where we assembled. The walls were lined with stuffed bookshelves and every flat surface in the room had piles of magazines, clippings, and newspapers. I had never seen such a room; my parents and relatives we often visited had no such bookshelves because they kept few books other than the Bible and those with recipes.  

Mrs. Adkins's parents grew up in Pennsylvania, but got married in Buffalo County, Wisconsin on September 20, 1879. They must have made many good friends in Mondovi. In one poem, we learn from Mrs. Adkins that friends who played the fiddle sometimes congregated in his home for an evening and her father joined them playing the instrument.

Evenings   (Published May 18, 1937)
Folks used to come
And spend the evening
With us –
Particularly folks
Who played the fiddle,
I often seconded
On the organ.
Pa’s fingers were stiff
From laying rock,
But mother liked
To have him play
As he used to do
Before they were married.
When the younger children
Got in the way of his arm,
He scowled
And tapped them on the head
With this fiddle bow
The pieces had queer names
Like Irish Washerwoman,
The Devils’ Dream,
And Sailor’s Joy.

Mrs. Adkins not only inherited a love of books and reading from her pa, but also must have acquired her love of music from him. She learned during her childhood how to play the organ and piano, and after she moved to Arkansas, she often composed music and wrote songs. During her life, she produced six songs that appeared in one or more of ten hymnals, the first published in 1914 and the last in 2011. One of her songs, “I’ll Wish I Had Given Him More,” is still sung. The most popular version of it is sung in an expansive Dutch cathedral, and it features soprano Maria Kemler backed by the huge Waddinxveen (Netherlands) men’s choir and accompanied by an ornate organ. As of February 2022, nearly 400,000 viewers had watched that performance, which can be viewed at this link: 

Once a week, Mrs. Adkins’ pa would shave, likely using a straight razor that would punish his face if he didn’t pay close attention to what he was doing. 

Walter Lemke, 
Fayetteville Daily Democrat,
April 9, 1935, p. 6.

Shaving   (Published May 5, 1937)
Pa shaved
On Sunday morning,
While we children
Dodged around
Under his elbow.
It made him cross
And nervous,
And when he cut himself,
Anything could happen.
Sometimes he only set us in a corner
Till we quieted down.

Lemke, the column editor, commented on this poem: “This leaf from Priscilla’s childhood diary calls attention to one of the most significant contrasts between then and now. Pa was the big boss. The razor strop was put to other uses than honing the razor. [Yikes]  Imagine pa trying to get into the bathroom to shave on a Sunday morning nowadays. Why there wouldn’t even be room for his old shaving mug among the creams, lotions, and other preparations that decorate the bathroom of today.”   

Lemke’s reference to “Priscilla’s childhood diary” reminds me that I have failed to mention that Mrs. Adkins’s poems in Ozark Moon were published under a pseudonym.  In fact, almost all poems in Lemke's column were signed with either pseudonyms or initials. Hers was Priscilla, a name drawn from the Bible. Even Lemke used a pseudonym, calling himself "Uncle Walt."  

One of Mrs. Adkins’ memories of her father was the time he absentmindedly stole a dinner napkin from a preacher’s house. It was probably a family joke for the years that followed.

An Embarrassing Incident  (Published May 25, 1937)
Pa liked to visit
With preachers;
And after he
Had dined
With the Congregationalist minister
Ma found
A dinner napkin
In his pocket.

Uncle Walt offered his irreverent comment on this poem: “And of course pa said, ‘Now how do you suppose that got there?’” You didn’t have any Pullman towels or Delmonico silver around your house, did you Priscilla? And another thing – what was ma looking for in pa’s pocket.”

Priscilla may have been amused by Lemke’s comments, but she was not known for her sense of humor.  

Growing up in Turn-of-the-Century Mondovi, WI: Play Time

Grace Reese Adkins, 
Leaves from Childhood’s Diary, Part 2

In the poem “Our Front Yard” (see part 1), Mrs. Adkins recalled four games that she, her siblings, and neighborhood kids had played in turn-of-the-century Mondovi. Of course, such physical games were not enough to fill up a weekend or whole summer.  So, in addition to those games, the kids found other ways to engage their imaginations and fill up their days. In two of her poems, she recalled such activities, playing school and putting on shows.   

Grace Reese Adkin
Northwest Ark. Times, Nov. 6, 1948

Playing School (Published May 6, 1937)
We played school
In the back yard,
And I was the teacher,
But my brothers
And Cousin Ray,
And the neighbor children
Often made trouble
So that mother
Had to call the boys in,
And sometimes send
The neighbor children

Home Theatricals (Published April 21, 1937)
Every summer vacation
We had home theatricals.
I was master of ceremonies
Mother was patient
And let us string sheets
Across the living room,
And decorate
We invited our grandparents,
And all the neighbors,
And when our uncle was home from college
He liked to come.
We spoke pieces
With much gesturing
And staged impressive tableaux.
It was hard work
Cleaning up the living room

Note that when playing school, Grace Reese was the teacher and when putting on shows, she was the master of ceremony. That she took on those roles provides a good clue about what she was like in her childhood: She was clearly a “take charge” girl. Playing school was probably fun for Grace Reese, but quickly became boring for her “students.”

 Nevertheless, the game was good preparation for Grace’s first job. After she arrived in Arkansas in the middle of 1902, she began teaching schools in rural Washington County schools. She taught a couple of years in Prairie Grove and later two more years in Oak Grove, near Winslow.   

 The “home theatricals” were no doubt more fun than playing school. Much effort was spent in preparing for the production, and the audience was appreciative. Later in her life, Mrs. Adkins wrote and directed various programs, plays, and celebrations for her churches, including the one she founded in 1938.  She orchestrated Mother’s Day, Easter, and Christmas shows featuring young folks singing, reading verses, and reciting poetry. 

Fun was not only to be had in games and play but also could be found in celebrating special occasions. Grace Reese recalled one “nice” birthday party where the birthday boy found a way to impress all the girls in attendance.              

The Party (Published on May 3, 1937)
One of the boys
Had a nice birthday party in his front yard.
We wore our best clothes.
He got lots of presents,
But he drank one of the bottles
Of perfumery –
An act which profoundly impressed
Us girls.
Proposed Logos for the Ozark Moon Column

Lemke was not impressed with the boy who drank perfume. He commented on the poem, recalling:  “We didn’t do anything sissyish like that. Up in Wausau when we wanted to impress the girls we bit off a big chew of Mail Pouch. Or maybe it was Battle Ax. Perfume – pooh!"

More serious and educational fun was to be had in exploring nature around Mondovi.  Mrs. Adkins recalled an annual event that took her into the nearby wilds to find spring plants.

Flowering (Published April 13, 1937)
In early spring
We went flowering –
An oft-repeated pilgrimage,
Fondly anticipated
During the winter.
Disagreeable winds
Blew sand in our eyes,
But we trudged down the road
That paralleled the river.
Our first objective was a low fill
Where something we called nervine grew.
The green leaves carpeted the ground,
And dainty, bell-like flowers
Peeped out.
Then there was a wind-swept pasture
Where, springing at our feet,
We would find the pasque-flower.
There were patches of buttercups
By the roadside,
And deep in the woods
Beside a creek
A spot where bloodroot grew.
And Dutchman’s breeches,
Snowy white.
We picked the flowers,
Because we did not know
They should be left
To bloom for others.

Mrs. Adkins loved flowers, both wild and the ones she grew, and she became quite knowledgeable about them. In 1936, she submitted seventeen short poems to Ozark Moon on the theme ofBotanical Notes.” The poems had the following titles: Houstonia Minima (March 12), Anemone Patens (March 12), Ranunculus Fascicularis (March 12), Amelanchier Botryaplum (March 12), Quercus Alba (March 12), Pyrus Malus (March 12), Trillium Grandiflorum (March 18), Aquilegia Canadensis (March 20), Draha Verna (March 23), Sanguinaria Canadensis (March 24), Viola Blanda (March 26), Thalictrum Anemonoldes (March 27), Anemone Nemorosa (March 30), Caltha Palustris (April 13), Taraxacum Bens-leonis (April 15), Anemone Nemorosa (April 16), Hepatica Triloba (April 17).

Growing up in Turn-of-the-Century Mondovi, WI: "It was a Great Life"

Grace Reese Adkins,
Leaves from Childhood’s Diary, Part 1

Grace Reese, born in 1884, spent the first eighteen years of her life in Mondovi, Wisconsin, a town with 503 residents in 1890 and 1,207 in 1900. It is in Buffalo County, which shares a border with Minnesota, about 100 miles southeast of Minneapolis and 20 or so miles southwest of Eau Claire.

Photo Published in the
Christian Standard, June 4, 1921

Grace was a precocious child (“Before I started to school I had learned to read, though no one knew how or when”). As a teenager, she enjoyed writing poems and songs, and she kept a diary, which she took with her when she moved in 1902 to Washington County, Arkansas with her father and eight siblings. (The move came soon after her mother passed away.) Thirty-five years later, Grace Reese Adkins (she married Ary Adkins in 1909) consulted her diary to recall important aspects of her Mondovi childhood. The memories were written as poems published in 1937 in the Fayetteville Daily Democrat. In one poem she remembered her bedroom in Mondovi.

My Room (Published May 6, 1937)
My bedroom was upstairs,
Overlooking the river
And the alder slough.
I liked to sit at the window
In April dark
And listen to the frogs sing.
I had a dry goods box desk
In the corner
Draped with bleached and embroidered
Flour sacks.
Hidden in the desk
Was a cigar box
Containing my first poems –
Effusions about spring
Such as are still being
Above the desk was a shelf
With a few battered books
And an early edition of Riley
Which my uncle sent me from college.
The window curtains
Were made from a dress
Of my great-aunt’s.
But mother said
I must not explain that
To anyone.

The river mentioned in this poem was the meandering Buffalo River, which forms the southern border of Buffalo County. This river is fed by a couple of creeks that flow south through the county, and its shifting channel has over the years left behind several sloughs. The river, the two creeks that flow into it, and the sloughs created a habitat for diverse flora and birds that inspired many of Mrs. Adkins's poems.

Grace Reese shared her house with two older sisters and seven younger siblings, four boys and three girls. The house had a big front yard that, she reports, was a popular place for the youngsters and neighborhood kids to play games. She recalled the yard in this poem:

Our Front Yard  (Published April 21, 1937)
It was the gathering place
For all the neighbors’ children.
Box elders managed to grow
Around it
And morning glories
At the windows,
But the grass
Had a hard time.
For there were games to play
Pom pom pull away,
Pussy wants a corner,
One ole cat,
And town ball.
Sometimes the windows got broken
And dad sent the neighbor children
But it was a great life.

The Adkins kids and the neighborhood kids played games with names that we no longer recognize: pom pom pull away, pussy wants a corner, and one ole cat. I can guess what “town ball” was. Probably that game was the one that most often resulted in a broken window. 

The man who edited the column in which Mrs. Adkins's poems appeared also grew up in Wisconsin. His name was Walter J. Lemke and he was just a few years younger than Grace Reese, born in 1891 in Wausau. He had moved to Fayetteville in 1928 to start a journalism program at the University of Arkansas, and his column “Ozark Moon” was one of his many extracurricular journalistic activities. His column appeared in the Fayetteville Daily Democrat starting in January 1935, and he had issued an open call to his readers to send him their poems. 

Fayetteville Daily Democrat, Jan. 1, 1935
Often Lemke commented on the poems in his column, and he did so on this one, noting that he and his friends in Wisconsin had played “pump pump pull away,” not “pom pom pull away.” He also wrote that when windows got broken at his house, his father – a German immigrant – not only sent the neighborhood kids home but also “gave us a touch of that torture instrument of his own invention – seven leather thongs attached to a handle grip.” Yikes! Nevertheless, Lemke agreed, “It was a great life.”