Sunday, March 27, 2005

Black Duck

I only met my Great Uncle Leonard once that I can recall. He was married to my grandmother's younger sister, Aunt Ethel. My father's mother died the year I was born so I never met my grandmother. And by then my grandfather had been dead for twenty years. He had been an Evangelical minister in lower Wisconsin during the Prohibition era. His parishes were in several small towns in south central Wisconsin, towns like Lomira, Jefferson and Juda, Wisconsin, where my father was born. My grandfather wrote his sermons in German and delivered them twice, first in German then in English.

My grandmother was raised in a small town called New Richmond, near the stateline between Wisconsin and Minnesota. I'm not sure where Aunt Ethel met Leonard, but I suspect that the fact that my grandfather was a minister had an influence on Leonard's career choice. He had driven a truck for my grandmother's brother, Aaron, during the Prohibition era. Leonard was German, of course, a Markwitz, so it would have seemed natural for him to hook up with German Evangelicals like my grandfather, but for some reason Leonard decided he would rather be a Presbyterian minister. I'm not sure I've ever heard of any other German Presbyterians.

When I met Uncle Leonard about forty years ago he was recently retired. He'd been serving the church in a small town in Arizona where they lived then and he and his wife were touring the west coast to see some things while they could still get around well enough to visit their various relatives and in-laws. They visited my Uncle Roy and his family in Moses Lake and then crossed the mountains with Roy and his wife in tow to visit us in western Washington. Uncle Roy owned a Mayflower moving van then and our family was seriously contemplating a major move from Washington to the Texas gulf coast.

I learned then that Uncle Leonard had spent much of his ministerial career with my grandmother's sister in a small town in upstate Minnesota called Black Duck. I hadn't thought about my Uncle Leonard for quite awhile, but last week when I heard on the news about the shooting on the Indian reservation at Red Lake High School, he came to mind. I ran a Google search on Black Duck and sure enough, it's about fifteen miles southeast of Red Lake. I imagine it's the sort of place where families from the Twin Cities like to go for a weekend or maybe even a week or two or a month during the summer to rent a cabin for some fishing on Black Duck Lake. Red Lake is a much bigger lake and quite close by, but all of the lakeshore on that end is on the reservation. Black Duck is as close as you can get to the reservation without being on it.

Readers who have visited my homepage know that my father's family settled near Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, not far from the Minnesota border about ten years after the American Civil War. They were Germans from the area around Berlin who came to America shortly after the failed 1848 Revolution. Some people view German participation in the American Civil War as an attempt to realize the aims of the 1848 Revolution in America. If that Revolution had succeeded, Germany would have been established as a nation-state operating on the principles laid out in the Communist Manifesto, written specifically for that purpose in 1848 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. But events unfolded a little differently so that Germany didn't became a nation-state until two decades later under Bismarck. The ideology Marx developed for Germany went east and finally took hold in Russia early in the 20th century.

Now when I heard on CNN about a teen-age Chippewa Indian with a German surname shooting his grandparents and going on a rampage at his high school ala Columbine before killing himself, I was in the process of writing my previous post. In fact, I mentioned it in that post as it fit right in with the train of thought I had meant to pursue. I gather that the boy who did the shooting got his German surname, Weise, from his mother who was injured in an automobile accident that happened a year or two after the boy's father, who had a French surname, Lussier, committed suicide following some kind of stand-off related to his duties as a law officer on the reservation.

I have not heard any reports indicating if the boy's mother is white or part-Indian or why the boy had his mother's surname and not his father's. If, as it seems, the couple had planned to raise their son in the Twin Cities, an Indian with a German surname might have been thought to sound a little more mainstream among all of the countless German surnames in downstate Minnesota. I suspect, however, that a German surname may have proved less advantageous when circumstances placed him under his grandfather's care in school on the Red Lake reservation.

Be that as it may, the boy acted out his darkest fantasy, committing suicide but not before taking with him a number of people he perhaps viewed as contributers to his state of torment. He needed help and didn't get it. None of his victims deserved to be the object of his wrath. The anguish and the grief of their families and friends must surely be unbearable. The community has become the focus of unwanted national and international attention for an incident that doesn't reflect what that community is about anymore or less than the incident at Columbine, which happened in the prosperous white middle-class suburb of Littleton, Colorado.

Much has been made of the shooter's 'Goth' getup and posts he placed on neo-Nazi websites where he vented some of his distresss and attempted to express the feelings of alienation he experienced. What is sad is that even with the powerful tool of the internet at his disposal he wasn't able to establish any real sense of connection with the outside world and to find enough glimmers of hope to overcome his sense of alienation.

I figure that through my mother I'm roughly about three per cent native American by volume, but so far I still can't prove it. Her family never acknowledged the fact that we have Indian blood, although my mother was quite certain of it. I am still hopeful that some day I will find proof. I'm fifty years old at this point and still trying to come to terms with what it means to have a German surname in America. That's what my blog is about and I do it hoping to overcome some of the same kind of alienation Jeff Weise was dealing with, but at a much more manageable level of intensity.

How is a Chippewa Indian teenager supposed to sort out his German heritage when German-Americans, the mainstream of American culture, have gone to such great lengths to subsume their ethnic identity into the myth of the American melting pot so that all that remains is a few pretzels and polka bands at one end and neo-Nazi skinheads at the other? Aren't Christmas trees a German tradition? Halloween? Walpurgisnacht? And all those fairy tales by the brothers Grimm? America's holiday calendar is laced with German paganism. Even the English language itself is predominantly Anglo-Saxon which is essentially a bastardized low German. The Germanic tribes that invaded Europe three thousand years ago and brought the Roman Empire to its knees also invaded North America. The Spaniards wanted gold, the French came for fur and the English found their contentment in tobacco, but the Germans, they wanted land.

When you look at American history from the perspective of the Native Americans, you find that the Indians, despite being almost constantly at war, managed fairly well for a century and a half, negotiating their differences and conducting trade with representatives of the French, English and Spanish crowns. Germans who came to America in the 18th century, however, were a bit unwieldy. Those who settled in Pennsylvania had to anglicize their names and swear allegiance to the governor of the colony and to the British or in the case of Penn the Dutch crown, but because they spoke German and generally lived on the frontier among the outlaws and the Indians, they played by a different set of rules. They didn't come to America to make a quick fortune so they could go back to England and take a seat in the House of Lords. They came to stay, permanently. And they kept coming until there were enough on hand so that the colonial rebels could field an army, one substantial enough to send the Redcoats running, all the way to the Straits of Molucca.

My dad tells me he went to Black Duck once on a bus when he was ten years old. That would have been 1937, shortly before Hitler invaded Poland. He went there with his mother to tell Uncle Leonard about her plans to manage a motel down in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She planned to go with my dad and her brother, Aaron, who wanted to start a trucking company there. They needed to know if Uncle Leonard could take a few weeks from his busy schedule as a Presbyterian to drive them down to Pascagoula in his truck.

The first moving picture my father ever saw was a Shirley Temple movie. The second one was the classic 'Gone With The Wind'. Both were movies that he saw in Mobile, Alabama, with his mother and his uncle during the two years they spent in Pascagoula. Strangely enough, he didn't learn that his great grandfather died in the Civil War and took part in the siege of Mobile until I told him about it within the past year. People in the south remember the Civil War like it happened the day before yesterday. By the time Grant got elected, Germans from up north had already learned that for them it was better to try and forget that the Civil War had ever happened.


Angie said...

Hello. Came across your page through BE - my husband's family is from New Richmond and they all still live there - good to see a familiar town in your post.

Enjoyed reading your blog.


Craig said...

Hi Angie
Thanks for stopping in and dropping a line. It's great to know that someone else knows where New Richmond is and even better to know that they found my blog and read my post. Hope the weather warms up soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Craig, I'm sitting here Karly and Kaye, who is visiting for the night.

Its impressive and cool to see your research here. Kaye looked at the main document before, but has not seen the blogs.

Take Care,


Craig said...


I guess that must mean that Kaye got the e-mail I sent her six months ago, shortly before I started blogging. This is a new experience for me. I've never had a comment from someone I know.

Denise said...

hi craig... i too have family history in Minnesota and Wisconsin. From the Duluth/Superior area to the Twin Cities and over in to New Richmond and Hudson, WI. we have mostly german and french but finding other misc in the mix. i came across your blog as a search for Black Duck... trying to research this native american as a possible ancestor.