The First American Klammers

Presentation by Martin (The Younger) Klammer
June 1998 Klammer Family Reunion
Luther College--Decorah, Iowa

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The first American Klammers were George and Elizabeth (Krautz) Klammer and their two sons, Wilhelm Friedrich and Friedrich F. Klammer.

George Klammer
b. Dec. 13, 1809, Pulsberg, Brandenberg, Prussia
d. Dec. 26, 1890 (age 78), Maynard, Iowa

Elizabeth (Krautz) Klammer
b. Nov. 12, 1812, Pulsberg,
d. Dec. 10, 1878 (age 66), Fremont Township (Westgate)

George and Elizabeth Klammer are buried in Greenwood Cemetery, just to the left (south) of the war memorial in rural Westgate, Iowa (V-68 near C-33)

Wilhelm Friedrich (in America: William) Klammer
b. March 1, 1842, Pulsberg,
d. Nov. 12, 1917 (age 75), Westgate.

Buried in St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Cemetery, rural Westgate. He is the uncle who raised Albert C. Klammer along with “Pa’s” four siblings and William’s own five children.

Friedrich (in America: Frederick--or John!) F. Klammer
b. Sept. 27, 1844, Pulsberg,
d. Feb. 26, 1923 (age 78), Independence, Iowa.

Buried in Wilson Cemetery, Independence. According to the county’s records, he died of a “ureamic coma;” the attending physician was J.H. McGready. He is “Pa’s” father, grandfather to the 10 Klammer kids, and great-grandfather and great-great grandfather to the rest of us--though (I think) perhaps no one ever met him??

The big mystery to me is why this person--Frederick Klammer--went by “John” for, apparently, most of his adult life. The 1868 purchase of land lists him as “John” as does the 1870 county census. Albert Carl’s 1902 confirmation record lists his father as “Johann Gottfried.” When was he Fred or Frederick, and when did he change his name to John, and why? (Note: Mark Knoll’s historical research has turned up the church records of his baptism, where he is listed as Johann Gottfried; “Frederick” then is the aberration from his birth name.)

For my portion of the program, I would like to answer three questions:
1) When and why did the first American Klammers come to America?
2) What did they find when they got here; in other words, how did they live here in this new land?
3) What do we know of this family that helps us better understand “Pa’s” early life?

George, Elizabeth, and their two sons arrived in this country in 1860, landing in New York harbor on December 1. (Notes from “The Klammer Family Tree” have them leaving Germany in 1858, but the crossing of the Atlantic at that time took only 6-8 weeks, so perhaps they left in 1860.)

As German immigrants, these Klammers were part of the largest European immigrant group to America. In no decade between 1830 and 1890 did Germans constitute less than a quarter of all arrivals; and in the 1850s and 1860s they made up over a third, rivaled only in the 1850s by the Irish who were driven out by the potato famine. More specifically, in the decade of 1851-1860, 952,000 Germans came to the United States, compared to 914,000 Irish, 424,000 British, and only 25,000 from the Scandinavian countries combined.

The reasons for German immigration are fairly complex and cannot be attributed to a single cause. “Political unrest, economic deprivation, crop failures, overpopulation, marriage laws, letters from America, and religious persecution” all played a part, but “Each adult had his or her own complex of reasons for wanting to leave” (Luebke 161).

Interestingly, immigration, then, was not so much a bold or risk-taking move, but a conservative attempt to “sustain Old World family and economic habits.” Along with the rest of Europe, Germany was industrializing, and combined with rural overpopulation and poor harvests due to bad weather, many farmers, craftsmen, and small shopkeepers came to America as the best way to sustain familiar habits and values in the face of these pressures.

Most Germans came as families, most were not the poorest of the poor but had enough means to at least finance the trip, and most came to the Midwest, especially Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Missouri. Iowa was also dominated by German immigrants. The 1870 Iowa Census, the first one which lists the George Klammer family, counts 66,000 German-born residents in Iowa, compared to 40,000 Irish, 25,000 British, 18,000 Norwegian, and 11,000 Swedish.

The earliest Germans, those who came before the Civil War, came to the free farmlands of the Midwest and created hundreds of mostly rural, small agricultural communities “often bound together by common religion, family, or place of origin.” Frankenmuth, Michigan is repeatedly mentioned by historians as one such community--in fact, as the model of such a German community in America--and there are others as well, such as New Ulm, Minnesota. These small communities were largely defined by their church. Farmers and craftsmen focussed heir lives around the church, as opposed to urban Germans who formed German culture clubs and tended to be more liberal in their politics.

George and Elizabeth Klammer and their son Johann Gottfried (Frederick) settled in Defiance County, Ohio, while William, the eldest son, apparently came to what was then called Fremont Township (Westgate) in 1860. The township had only been established seven years earlier in 1853. William enlisted in the Union Army, 38th Iowa Infantry Corps, in August 1862, at the age of 20. Johann, Pa’s father, enlisted December 21, 1861 in the 68th regiment of the Ohio infantry--he was then just 17 years old, and only 5 feet 8--by the end of the war he had grown to 6-1.

Interestingly, both brothers served with distinction, but not without some controversy. At the end of William’s first year of service, he received a furlough but was two months late in returning to duty. He was court-martialed and fined one month’s pay. His civil war pension files contain no record of any battle injury during his army career. Frederick (John) also forfeited one month’s pay in 1862, the reason not stated in the pension files. Unlike William, however, John was seriously injured, and had the bullet been a few inches to the left, none of us would be here today. On July 22, 1864, during the battle of Atlanta, John was shot through the right shoulder. He was treated for a fracture of the right upper arm, the right clavicle, and the right shoulder. Eight months later he returned to duty in March of 1865 and was discharged July 18 at Columbus, Ohio.

Following the war, the four Klammers came to Fremont Township (later Westgate, Iowa) and in May of 1866 George, Elizabeth, William, and John all signed the deed of purchase for 220 acres of land from John and Sophia Dickman. They bought the land for $2200--or $10 an acre--on a site we will visit later today. County histories record the George Klammer family as being the first German Lutherans in the area. There were three other German families in the area--the Messerers, Edels, and Guidas--though they were not Lutheran (presumably Catholic).

Two years later, on October 24, 1868, George Klammer became a citizen of the United States by declaring before the Clerk of the District Court of Fayette County in West Union that he would “renounce forever all allegiance to any foreign Prince, Potentate, State, or Sovereignty, whatsoever and particularly to The King of Prussia of whom he was heretofore a subject.” The language of this form is all standard except for the particularity of “the King of Prussia.” He furthermore “declared on oath, before the Court, that we will support the Constitution of the United States.” So if we are looking for any anniversaries to celebrate at this reunion, it’s worth noting that this year marks 130 years of Klammer citizenship in the United States.

The Klammers apparently lived well and prospered. The 1870 Fremont Township census lists two separate Klammer households--one with George age 60, Elizabeth age 58, John age 24, and a 28-year old farm-hand named John Meier. Another household lists William--or Wilson--age 27, with his own farm. The value of George and William’s farms is each 1800, and John’s is 1140, making for a total value of 4740. If this figure represents dollars, could it be that in the four years since they purchased the land they more than doubled its total value? Two other items of interest: First, Elizabeth is the only person listed on this page under the category of “cannot write.” Second, about half of the people listed were born in the U.S.--but the other half were all German-born--from Prussia, Bavaria, or Darmstadt.

The census was apparently taken in the summer of 1870, before William turned 28 and before he married Sophia Knief on Sept. 11, 1870 in Bremer County, just west of Fremont Township. As we know, these two people would raise not only their five children but the five children left them by their brother John.

John married Louise Friedman on February 14, 1876. She was born in Wuerttenburg, Germany, date unknown. They had six children, first three girls--Susan (1877), Christine (1878), Bertha (1880)--and then a fourth girl, Louise, who died at the age of two months in 1882. What sort of repercussions did this child’s death have? We don’t know, except that it’s interesting that the following year the John Klammers moved to Chicago, and then later to Shabbona Grove, Illinois where Grandpa--Albert Carl Klammer--was born in 1886 (four years after Louise’s death). Frederick was then born in March of 1888, and less than one year later, on January 29, 1889, Louise Friedman, pa’s mother, died--she was likely only in her 40s. The five children of John Klammer were sent to Iowa to be raised by William and Sophia, together with their five children, on the farm at Westgate.

John Klammer, Pa’s father, is a bit of a mystery man. We know that in March of 1890 in Chicago and at the age of 45 he remarried, marrying Alice Jones Kennicutt, 37 years old and born in Wales, and divorced from a John Kennicutt. He gave his age as 42, and they were married by a Methodist minister. From that time until his death John was either possessed of wanderlust or just down on his luck--he and Alice moved about quite a bit, leaving Shabbona Grove in 1895 to live in Athens, Alabama, and then to Rockbridge, Ohio, then back to Athens, then for a brief time in Westgate, then to Yellow Pine, Alabama, and finally to Independence, Iowa, where he died apparently in the care of his eldest daughter Susie Retland. At various times he gave his occupation as farmer, telegrapher, and merchant. In the end he had partial paralysis, was unable to feed or dress himself, and could walk no more than a few steps at a time. The cause of death I found in county records was listed as “ureamic coma.” He was 78.

Why did this person live under two names at different points in his life? He was listed as Frederick Klammer in all civil war records and pension reports, and his newspaper obituary makes no mention of his given name, Johann, or John. Could it be that he was given the name “Fred” in the army, and that he took it up again in his old age? And why did he leave all his children with his brother when his first wife died? Was that customary? And finally, why did he move about so much--going to live in Alabama seems especially curious to me. We’ll never know.

His brother William, who raised pa, seems like more of a success story. William was an early trustee and founder of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Westgate. More than that, he was an important civic leader, as this old newsclipping shows. So Pa seems to have been in good hands with Uncle William, and in that light John’s apparent abandoning of his children may now be seen as a wise, and for us, beneficial move. I wonder, for example, how differently pa’s life would have turned out had he been raised by his father. Would he have found a vocation in the Lutheran church? I think not. It’s just one of these accidents of history that makes us feel fortunate for who we are, and where we come from.

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