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.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Wabash and Erie

Some readers may have noticed that not all of the sites listed on my Blogroll are actually blogs. A few are websites that I think are particularly worthwhile and might be of interest to people who aren't totally bored by the things I write about. Lately I've been checking out my mother's family tree, also known as the 'Descendants of George Steele', and trying to make some sense of the massive amount of information it contains.

When you have a relatively large family tree, some 20,000 individual names grouped among more than a thousand different surnames, one way to make sense of it is to look at the surnames on the list with the most entries. More than 800 entries are found on my tree with the Steele surname. After Steele, the surnames that occur most frequently are Conner, Hoover, Puderbaugh and Studebaker. While I am a distant relative of both Herbert Hoover and John Studebaker, the relation is distant enough so that neither of them are among the descendants of my great great great great great grandfather, George Steele.

I had not been aware of a relation to anyone named Conner until I examined the tree in this way. And I didn't know of anyone with the name Conner who was in any way famous. But that changed abruptly when I Googled up the name Conner a few weeks ago. I found a site called Conner Prairie - History Online which is now listed on my sidebar. The site has a tremendous amount of information on the early history of Indiana and the role William Conner played in it. I have no doubt that I am related to William Conner, but I can't say how exactly on the basis of my family tree alone. One thing that is clear, though, is that without William Conner, the Hoovers wouldn't have reached Iowa where Herbert was born and John Studebaker would have had to build cars in Pennsylvania instead of Indiana.

William Conner was quite directly involved in the process of removing Indians from Ohio and Indiana to reservations farther west so that pioneers pushing west from the eastern seaboard could settle in those states and beyond. He did so by raising two families, the first by his Indian wife and the second by a white woman who he married after his first family had been removed to the reservation. The article on William Conner is a must for anyone interested in knowing how the west was really won. Other articles on that site I find fascinating are those on the building of the National Road from Wheeling, West Virginia nearly to the Mississippi and a series of articles on the other half of the Erie Canal known as the Wabash and Erie, which opened vast tracts of densely forested land to settlement along the Wabash River between Fort Wayne and Lafayette. Those were America's first great public works projects and they aren't often mentioned these days because they are so closely associated with the process of Indian removal.

Another site I've added to my sidebar is the 'wea-indian-tribe', a site put together by Brenda Lindley with amazingly detailed recollections of American history and genealogy passed down by oral tradition among the tribes that were removed from Ohio and Indiana.

I suppose what I'm offering is just a little something to think about when the news media starts to square the events at Columbine High School in Colorado a few years ago with a more recent incident on a reservation in upstate Minnesota.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Yankee Doodle Dandy

My mother was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana. Her family had lived there since the Civil War, but they also had holdings downstate in Fulton County between the Wabash and the Tippecanoe where my grandfather was born. While not rich by any means, her family had been reasonably prosperous until the Great Depression, which began before my mother reached school age. All four of my grandparents were college graduates, as were both of my parents.

I've been to Indiana several times, but only twice that I remember. We went there on family summer vacations when I was six for about a week and again when I was thirteen to visit my grandparents and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws, but I haven't been back since. The last time I was there was almost forty years ago. My grandparents had a house in South Bend where my grandmother had run a nursery school for many years, on a street lined with elm trees that led directly to the golden dome at Notre Dame. They also had a cottage out in the country at Lake Wawasee where we went fishing with grandpa and waterskiing with my uncle. We also pulled mussels out of the creek, ate watermelons, shot B-B guns with my cousins up at the gravel pit and went swimming at the old hotel where my mother had worked summers as a lifeguard years earlier.

My grandparents came to visit us a number of times, once or twice while we were still in Kansas and several times in the '60s in western Washington. One of those visits was shortly after my grandfather died and that's when my grandmother told me about Welfley's Steele family genealogy. But I had never actually seen the family tree until just a few years ago when I found it online. The link to it is on my sidebar. If you'd like to have a look you can pull it up, but you have to fill in a few blanks to see it. Just type Steele on the surname line, George on the first name line, Bedford County PA for place of death and 1801 for year of death. Hit search and a page will come up. Scroll down to the George Steele posted by PA State Genealogy and click enter.

When I was nine years old we lived out in the country in the Skagit Valley, a mile or two from a mental hospital where my father worked as a project administrator. The nearest road was a quarter of a mile away, but shortly after we moved in my mother thought she saw someone peeking in a window at her through the curtains one evening. Probably just a harmless Peeping Tom, but my folks decided it was time to get a watchdog. So we went shopping for a German shepherd. We found one through a local dog breeder, a six-week old pup that we named Schar von Regental. My father claimed it meant Star of Rain Valley, but my New Cassell's tells me now that Schar was probably short for 'der Scharwaechter', which is German for sentry. Scharr with a double r means scratcher or scraper, which was aptly descriptive as our fierce guard dog would urinate and scratch furiously at the screen door anytime a visitor approached. But selecting a name was important as she was a pedigreed pooch, a direct descendant of Rinty von Rin Tin Tin, and the purchase price from the kennel was contingent on obtaining a pedigree and making her available for breeding at the kennel's request. Schar developed hip displasia, a genetic defect common in overbred shepherds and had to be destroyed. We exchanged her at six months for another pup from the same litter. The story I was told was that she'd chased after a bear one day and never returned. All I remember now is how fascinated I was by the extent of her very detailed pedigree.

I've never been to Ohio or to Pennsylvania. In fact, I haven't been to any of the states east of Michigan and north of Virginia. But I've been to all the rest except for Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee. I flew over Ohio on a flight from Detroit to Atlanta three years ago, less than a month after 9-11. I drove from Georgia through both the Carolinas to Virginia and back on that trip. All the pick-up trucks on the highway still had shotguns mounted in their cab windows, but they were flying Old Glory instead of the Southern Cross. I visited the monument at Stone Mountain, a place that I've since learned was where someone wounded in battle one hundred and forty years ago may have been my great great grandmother's brother. Union sacrifices, though, aren't usually associated with Atlanta. For those you have to go to Pennsylvania.

I spent some time today looking at Pennsylvania. But I wasn't looking at Gettysburg or even at the Civil War. When you aren't from the east coast and haven't ever been there, the battlefields of the American Revolution seem pretty remote. You learn in school about the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill, "one if by land and two if by sea" and "don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes", but when you come from the western U.S. the landscape and the timeframe of the revolution is all just a blur. At least it is until you start looking at the pedigree and realize that one of those ancestors may have fought in one of those countless battles in one of those obscure places that can't be found anymore because the landscape has been so drastically altered over the past 230 years and the names of all the places have been bent, twisted, stretched and mangled into so many other times and places that it is all just a hopeless tangle. But then perhaps it's not all that hopeless after all. Nowadays we have computers.

My pedigree, 'The Descendants of George Steele', says quite plainly, "George served as a private under Captain Charles Maclay in the 1st Battalion of Cumberland County, Pennylvania Militia during the Revolutionary period." Nothing beyond that or at least not much. But how much more do you need with a computer at your fingertips. Who was Captain Charles Maclay? Google him up. His brother, William, was the first U.S. senator ever elected from the state of Pennsylvania. His other brother, Samuel, was also a senator. Charles didn't get involved in politics because he got killed along with many of the men in his company at the Battle of the Crooked Billet, fought near Hatboro, Pennsylvania, on May 1, 1778, about halfway between Philadelphia, then occupied by General Howe's Hessian mercenaries and his British regulars, and Valley Forge, where General Washington and his troops were recovering from a long, hard, cold winter by doing close order drills under the the expert tutelage of our new 'Old Europe' allies, the Marquis de Lafayette of France and the Baron von Steuben of Prussia.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

On A Roll

Last week I threatened all of my reader(s?) with the possibility that I might start rolling my blog. Picture me rolling a tire down an empty highway on my way to repair and/or replace a tire that has left my vehicle stranded miles from nowhere along the shoulder of the road. This, in fact, was the second time I have leveled this threat, so lest readers start to suspect that I am all bluff and no bite, I made an effort to follow through. Pasting the code onto my template took a dozen tries before I met with even limited success and I still haven't figured out how to give it a proper heading with 'Blogroll' written out in that snazzy Verdana cursive script as I had wanted to do, but at least it's functioning. Hubcaps are overrated. The links are there and they work.

Some of the links are to bloggers who have posted comments on my blog. Others are to blogs on which I've been known to leave comments. Several links are resources I visit frequently and make use of as a mine for materials to fashion posts for my blog. A few are sites that inspired me to begin writing my blog or have contributed in some way to the shape it has taken.

Last week I began looking at the family tree on which I am listed only as 'Living Lubach'. My mother's brother, John Steele, was the last in my branch of the Steele tree to carry the Steele surname. He was the seventh generation in the Steele line to carry that name, directly descended from George Steele, colonial era immigrant and Son of Liberty . An English teacher at a military academy, my uncle was an only son's only son, who never married and suffered the progressively debilitating effects of MS throughout the latter half of his life. A church organist for many years and a chaplain's aide on a supply ship in the navy during WWII, his middle name, Richard, became my youngest brother's middle name. Needless to say, the past half century has not boded well for American males whose chief inheritance is an incumbent, unspoken onus to find a way to preserve the family line.

Families now are much smaller than they were a century ago when most Americans were farmers and farmwork was nearly always a viable option. A family then couldn't have enough sons to handle all the chores. Fathers who were still alive and able to work productively at age 50 were not yet the norm, so oldest sons often owned or had primary responsibility for the family homestead by the time they were old enough to need a spouse. Creating possibilities and opportunities for younger siblings was part and parcel of managing the farm.

Family trees are inherently conservative and thus able to nurture the excesses of liberalism. They are an engine for maintaining a sense of continuity between the past and the future by means of the present. My mother's line has dead-ended and my branch of my father's line faces extinction as well, though both names through other lines will continue well into the future. No matter how much I might like to think that the collective gene pool needs what I could contribute, the fact is the gene pool will get along just fine without my seed. But I feel as though one thing I do have to offer the future is a sense of history. It may be that my sense of history, and its capacity for embracing diversity, is enough at odds with the official version to have compromised my willingness to make my genes available for future use.