August 22, 1935 – My Trip to Colorado and Nebraska in 1906

This article by Rev. G. Birkmann first appeared in German in a series of article in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, 22 Aug 1935, 29 Aug 1935, and 5 Sep 1935. It is presented here translated by his grandson Ray Martens.


Trip to Colorado

My [step-]son J. W. Behnken finished his studies at the seminary in St. Louis in June of 1906 and accepted a call to be a missionary in Houston. First he visited his relatives in Wisconsin and at the beginning of August came to us in Fedor, Texas, in order to spend the rest of his vacation here.

            That suited me very well, for I wanted to take a recuperative trip to Colorado and Nebraska. I hoped to get well in the mountain air of Colorado, and in Nebraska I had a number of good friends with whom I could stay for a few weeks and so enjoy the favorable climate of Nebraska.

            So that my son Behnken could represent me at home in all situations which might arise, he needed to be ordained, and this occurred in August. (I do not remember the date.) Rev. Buchschacher from Warda preached and assisted with the ordination, at which I presided.

            So I laced up my bundle and first of all allowed myself to be brought to Lincoln, where my brother-in-law, Rev. Wunderlich, was at the time, and he sent greetings with me to Rev. Ernst and Rev. Hofius in Nebraska. The train on the SA&AP Railway then brought me to Cameron, where a number of hours later I used the Santa Fe Railway to reach Fort Worth.

            When I arrived, I hurried to the depot for the train which was to take me to Colorado. It was called, as I believe. the Fort Worth and Denver Railway. Its motto read, “The road you do not have to apologize for,” which is to say, “If you use this line, no apology is necessary.”

            We left Fort Worth at about three in the afternoon and soon arrived at Wichita Falls. Emil Deffner served the congregation there at the time, and I knew that at that very moment probably he would be driving a wagon across the prairie to reach Rev. Obenhaus in Olney, forty miles distant, for a conference that was to be held there the next day. I allowed my gaze to stray out in the direction of Olney, and it was almost as though I saw Rev. Deffner driving there with a fellow pastor at his side. It must have been a kind of hallucination, a fata morgana [Italian for a kind of mirage named for a mythical sorceress]. Then our train set out on its way to Vernon and soon came upon a colony of prairie dogs, where I saw a whole crowd of these lively creatures, how they sat there erect and observed us travelers, and perhaps for them the appearance of humans on a train was just as funny and strange as they were to us.

            It is said that prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, and a certain variety of owl peaceably take up residence next to each other [i. e., share a burrow]. That seems quite natural, for the ground owl seeks a hideout as does also the rattlesnake, but the peace is often disturbed from the side of the latter if it gets hungry and attacks the young prairie dogs and devours them. We went through Vernon toward evening. The name of the county is Wilbarger, a man who was scalped by Indians in Bastrop County and lived through this frightful ordeal. The name is obviously German. The Pease River is also in Wilbarger County, the place where so many of our Lutherans have large cotton fields that the river bottom is praised as exceedingly productive. Sixty years ago, a naturalist and collector from Dallas, Jakob Boll, loaded his wagon with fossils of giant turtles and other prehistoric animals which he found along the Pease River. Then he sent these things to Philadelphia and to other cities, where they are preserved in museums and have been described by scholars. The finds of Jakob Boll are especially valued as interesting and important. Later this man made another trip to this place (Pease River) and there met his death and was brought back to Dallas on his wagon by his driver. That was in 1879.

            Night fell as our train crossed the Pease River, and I saw nothing of what is called the Panhandle, except for what was lit up in the stations and cities through which we came. I also slept a while and was awakened only when the call of the conductor resounded “Amarillo” or “Plainview,” etc.

            The next morning we were in New Mexico. At daybreak I saw before me what I assumed were clouds on the western horizon. Yet, as they were lit up by the rising sun, I saw that they were mountains. The first mountains in my life. I was fully enthused and looked around me to see whether the other people in our coach also saw what I saw and were happy. There were not many people in the car, and they noticed me and saw my astonishment and then were also seized by it.

            We drove always higher. There in New Mexico we had already climbed to four thousand feet. The trip proceeded on and on and constantly higher, when first we came into Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. By about noon we were in Pueblo, a moderate sized factory city on the Arkansas River. It was said that five thousand men worked in one factory.

            We have a congregation in Pueblo, where Rev. Fritsche (a Texan from Serbin) serves. Already at the beginning of the 1870’s, Rev. Hilgendorf from Omaha visited this city. At the time, Hildgendorf seldom found anyone who wanted to hear him preach. He was told on one occasion that, if he came back, he would be hanged. Hilgendorf answered, “One does not hang anyone unless he first has him in front of him.” That was more than sixty years ago and the residents of the state at that time were often of unpleasant character. North of Pueblo on the way to Colorado Springs, I saw large fields of vegetables, especially cabbage caught my attention. The fields were laid out in terraces, and one could see thousands of heads of cabbage, not just once, but again and again.

            At about four in the afternoon our train arrived in Colorado Springs. I had become hungry, but saw above me a melon which had been forgotten. Colorado cantaloupes have a good reputation, which I can now confirm.

            In Colorado Springs I immediately looked for a suitable hotel and found one near the train station. The landlord was a friendly man, one with whom I developed a mutual trust, and the landlady was a talkative Irish woman who obviously had the trust of all her many customers who sat on stools at the lunch counter and wanted to eat. Workers or people from the train were the ones who were taking their meal here, and they were all taken care of plentifully and well. She knew them all and knew what each person at her lunch counter wished to have. I observed this scene with interest and then talked with the landlord about my intention to take my lodging here for at least a week. He offered me a room with a bed for two dollars a week and said that for meals in the dining room, not the counter, I would have to pay thirty-five cents each. Because everything here seemed clean and neat, I decided to stay.

            Then we went outside and my host told me the names of the mountains that one could observe nearby and farther away, and I was so enthused by the consideration of this region that I immediately sent letters, or at least cards, to friends in Texas and Nebraska with the invitation, “Come and let us examine this wonderland more closely.” I wanted comrades, friends, with me here because I would have liked to express myself about what moved me, and yet was here among nothing but strangers.

            It is not my interest here to describe the wonder of the landscape, for that is not at all possible. Only with really good colored pictures could one to some extent create the impression of this mountain region. After I arrived back home from Colorado, I took pains to acquire from an acquaintance in Colorado an album with images in color, but he wrote that there were no such albums. Best, naturally, is that anyone who possibly can do it go there himself with his wife and children and see for himself what there is to see. A number of my children have followed this advice and have been in Colorado Springs and other places.

Colorado Springs, Colorado City, and Manitou

            Colorado Springs is connected by a streetcar line to both of the other more westerly located places. Colorado Springs, I would like to say, is fashionable, elegant, aristocratic. No factory there, no saloon or the like. All the streets, houses, gardens, and residents make a favorable impression.

            Different, at least in part, is Colorado City, where factories, some of them large, are at work. Finally, Manitou lies, as it seemed to me, somewhat dark and low at the foot of the massive Pike’s Peak. Here are the famous hot springs used by the Indians already more than a hundred years ago, the waters of which now are used to promote healing and the like, and large and expensive inns are also to be found there.

Pike’s Peak

            This mountain is a little over 14,000 feet tall and is named after a Colonel Pike, who already in 1806 made an exploratory trip through the wild west. He actually never came to the mountain named for him but had merely seen it from afar, as Moses saw the promised land from Mount Nebo, but he (i.e., Col. Pike) had reported his discovery, and so the mountain was named for him. As I was in Colorado Springs, this man was on the minds of many because his visit was exactly one hundred years ago. A colonel Long visited the area in 1820, and a certain James has attempted to climb the mountain at that time, but did not get it done, with the result that Long reported in his account of the trip that the mountain could not be climbed.

            Since then, however, it has been climbed by thousands. I was told that on summer nights whole bands of mostly younger people march up the approximately twelve miles to the peak of the mountain in order to see the sunrise and to enjoy the wonderful views.

            Today thousands of automobiles drive up the road, which certainly could not have happened thirty years ago when I was in Colorado because at the time this roadway was at the first stage of its development. Back then I looked at ten such motor vehicles at the depot in Colorado Springs, for me a rare sight because I am from an area where there were few automobiles, and it made an impression on me.

            I did not go up Pike’s Peak. I could not make the way on foot, and to ascend on the cogwheel railway cost five dollars, much more than I wished to spend to do it.

            It is also not advisable for everyone to ascend to this height. A young, strapping man in my hotel went up on the railway one morning, and in the evening told me that at the top he had felt ill, as nausea and vomiting set in, and it was not until toward evening that he began to recover somewhat.

I Visited Rev. Luessenhop

            I could inquire easily about the Lutheran church, and in the sacristy I found Rev. Luessenhop. Back then he was still single, and the rather roomy sacristy sufficed also as a residence for him, sparing him the rent he otherwise would have to pay. Luessenhop told me that it certainly was not rare that he was visited by brothers in ministry from the Synod desiring advice and information. Even professors from St. Louis, Metzger and Stoekhardt, recently were with him, and he had invited them to preach the sermon for that Sunday.

            Later I was also in the church on Sunday and heard him (Luessenhop) preach. In the entrance stood a desk with a large book, and everyone who came as a guest was requested to enter his name in the book as some friendly words were spoken to him.

            Earlier the congregation consisted chiefly of those who stayed there for a while on account of their health, or those too who stayed for a longer time if they failed to recover.

I Walked in a Frequently Visited Canyon

            I forgot the name, but it was a place that everyone who came to Colorado Springs wanted to see. One first entered a nature park, very well maintained. There were trees there of a variety of species, especially also Radelhoelzer[?]. In this park I saw a happy group, a number of young people, who approached and inquired in a very friendly way from where I came, and when I said, “From Texas,” there came a happy “Hello,” for they were also all from Texas, high school and college students.

            One of them obviously had pursued the study of history, for he started right up telling the story of Texas, especially about the time when Texans laid claim to the territories which lay north and northwest, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado. We left each other again, and I went farther into the canyon. There is a gorge or opening in the mountains, an entryway through which one can reach the space which lies behind it. The mountain here makes enough room to allow a stream with fresh, clear water to find its way to the Arkansas River or some other place.

            In the stream you see trout swimming merrily along, and safely, for they cannot be endangered by fishermen. Luxuriant vegetation strands at the edge of the water, a glorious framework for what I have just described.

            To the right and left cliffs rise up to unbelievable heights—it is said that one is five thousand feet tall. I gazed upward, certainly having to bend my head as far as it would go in order to look up.

            At the moment, in the middle of the day, the lovely sun shone brightly into this gorge with its lively beams, but most of the time the canyon lies instead in shade and darkness.

            Deeper in the canyon a fairly tall waterfall appeared. It poured out a glistening column of water in a number of rapids in the stream already mentioned. This wonder of nature is called Seven Falls. Nearby is a high and wide shelf which leads to a flat space where the grave of a famous American woman author is located. He father was a Professor Hunt from Massachusetts, and her husband, also a learned man, was named Jackson, so she went by the name Helen Hunt Jackson. She had traveled to Italy and became well acquainted with it and wrote a number of books which relate to Italy. In this country, she chose California as her home, but wanted to be buried in Colorado, that is, at the place where she now rests. When she chose this place, it was surely solitary and quiet enough, but is now one of the most visited places in our country, and the name Helen Hunt Jackson probably became better known through her grave than through her writings, which were read only by the more educated public.,

Excursion to Cripple Creek

            Afterward, I desired to go deeper into the mountain chain, and the opportunity for that was made known to me by an item in the newspaper: An excursion by train from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek. On a certain day one could travel there cheaply, while, otherwise, in the state of Colorado travel on the train was expensive, namely, five cents a mile. The excursion train offered many advantages, even stopping at places in the mountains where there were many flowers, and the riders could get out and look at the beautiful flowers, even take some along on the train. Cripple Creek may have been fifty miles distant from Colorado Springs. The railway there was a wonder of railroad engineering, and its construction was said to have cost $5,000,000, which makes it $100,000 for each mile. At times one rides through tunnels, often for a number of minutes, which makes them about a mile long, and then the train again climbs up in spirals, as a person in one of the rear cars can see the locomotive and the front part of the cars of the train as it moves along the circular railway, and, as it approaches the top, it proceeds on the side of another mountain where the surface on which the rails lie first had to be hewn out. Not far from Cripple Creek, other villages where gold was being acquired (as also in Cripple Creek) are to be seen, and branch lines run to these. One of the towns is said to the highest in the United States, namely, ten thousand feet above sea level. When I looked out of the window of our train, I saw precipices below me, a number of them certainly several thousand feet tall, and the view to the east and west brought before my eyes mountain heights and frequently, as said, little towns, and the big heaps of rubble which now showed where the gold mines were located.

            Upon arrival in Cripple Creek, I walked around energetically. I was somewhat disappointed, for I expected to find a fine city. This seemed to me to be more of a village, where the houses lay rather isolated, and sidewalks and orderly streets were few to none. I searched up and down the hills looking for the business district without finding it, apart from a few small stores. But the place gained its significance from the successful mining for gold. For a dollar one could be taken down into one of the mines, but I preferred to stay on top and listened to others tell me about it later. The gold-rich ore is chopped loose or perhaps loosened by blasting, then transported to the surface and brought on the train to Colorado City, where the large stamping mills which crush the ore to powder are located, and then the gold is separated chemically.

            At the time I visited Colorado, about $200,000,000 worth of gold already had been taken from Cripple Creek. Cripple Creek, outwardly quite poor and needy, inwardly down deep immeasurably rich. The ride to Cripple Creek will remain unforgettable to me.

Denver

From Colorado Springs, my travel took me to Denver, following a course at the foot or along the foothills of the mountain range, but yet at considerable altitude. Denver, like Colorado Springs both lie at about 5,000 feet above sea level.

            I arrived in Denver on a Saturday evening, but needed to inquire at a number of hotels before I found an accommodation, because just at that time there were very many visitors in the city. Finally, I came to a hotel that had some room. The man in the office bore a striking similarity to my teacher earlier in Fort Wayne, Professor Rudolf Lange, who lectured later at the St. Louis Seminary and died in 1892. The man in the hotel had not only the same appearance as Professor Lange but also a similar voice and way of speaking. I could not soon rid myself of the impression I received from this, the memory of my former, good teacher. My “Prof. Lange” helped me to a lodging, but I had to pay two dollars for the night.

            The nest day I visited the Lutheran church in Denver, served by the Rev. Joh. Her at the time. The building was rather spacious, but the crowd of listeners was also considerable, and the service was one of confession and communion. First came a lengthy confessional address, then a long sermon, and, with communion included, the service lasted three hours. And even at that it was not all over; there was still a Bible Class, or something like that.

            After the three-hour service, I went back to the large depot, where one could get something to eat. A stew with a number of sides cost only ten cents. That was philanthropy. Then I bought picture post cards of Colorado and its mountains in bright colors, and immediately wrote on them from memory the addresses of relatives and friends all over the country. The man selling the cards watched as I wrote, and it seemed to interest him greatly that I found an immediate use for a couple of dozen cards.

            The train which was to take me to Nebraska came at about four o’clock. It was a large and fine train of the Union Pacific, which then completed the five-hundred-mile long distance to Fremont, Nebraska, by the following morning.

Back and Forth in Nebraska

            My intention was to visit my friends Hofius and Ernst and to stay with each of them for a few weeks. At the time it was true that one was happy if he could spend a week or two with relatives and friends. One did not count the small expense—life was simpler and more reasonable than in our present day, and was it not a desirable change to visit with others once again for a longer time? First, I wanted to visit Hofius, whom I knew from Texas, and who was counted among my relatives.

            His wife, a Wunderlich and sister of my wife, had admittedly died a number of years earlier, but he had several grown daughters who took care of the household for him in an excellent way. He was pastor of a congregation in Pierce, in the northern part of the state, after he had previously worked at other places in Nebraska for more than twenty years. The month of August was at its end, and September there in northern Nebraska already became quite cool. One uses a number of covers at night, and one cannot get through well during the day with the light summer clothes that one wears here in September, so I bought a warmer suit of clothes before I left Fremont. Upon arrival in Pierce, I met Hofius at the train station, and that was a happy reunion after twenty years.

In addition to his congregation, Hofius served a flock which he had gathered in a small town in the country. One of the most active members of the congregation there was at the same time a well-known business man in Pierce, named Pohlmann. Hofius told me about him. He had once been my fellow student in St. Louis and also already at the college in Fort Wayne. He also went into the ministry, but soon left it and went into a secular calling. In Nebraska he became a realtor, did good business, and became wealthy. He owned a pharmacy in Pierre, a jewelry business, and was a bank manager. I sought him out after not having seen him for thirty years, and we had a happy reunion.

In the 1880’s many from Germany emigrated to this land, and Nebraska received a considerable portion of these. So it happened that those who sold land had good success and also that at the time the number of our pastors there increased so much.

Hofius did not have very much room in his house, for he had five children at home, including three grown daughters, as reported. At night I had my bed in an attic room, but the bed was good and warm. During the day, we two spent most of our time in his study. One son was a teacher in a parochial school and another still enrolled at Concordia, Missouri, the one who is now the Rev. Emil Hofius in St. Louis. Two sons were about confirmation age, and they too are now in the ministry, if I am correctly informed.

            For the following Sunday, Hofius had promised to preach for Rev. Holstein for a mission festival. The trip amounted to more than thirty miles in a carriage. I expressed my misgivings, but Hofius said, “If you have the nerve, you must also use it.” So we drove there on Saturday and back on Monday. It struck me how much corn was raised there, one field after the other was filled with it, and for miles nothing was to be seen but corn.

From Rev. Hofius to Rev. L. Ernst in Howells, Nebraska

Even though the distance did not amount to more than a hundred miles, the trip claimed the whole day. First, I traveled by train from Pierce to Stanton, where Ernst then met me with his carriage. We had to travel quite a long way before we reached his church. The area is still a part of northern Nebraska.

Among other things, Ernst told me that his brothers in ministry who wished to install him would not have fit in the passageway that leads to the altar, and so had to struggle back over the fixed pews in their robes.

Shortly before my arrival, God had given our Rev. Ernst a son, the second of his second marriage, who was baptized on the following Sunday. I was one of his sponsors, as was Rev. Leimer, who came to Ernst the same day. Leimer invited me to visit him too, but first I wanted to stay for a week with Ernst. It went by fast enough, for, although Ernst would otherwise have had to teach school, as back then did most pastors in Nebraska, just then a little vacation time was left. We drove out almost every day, for Ernst has a large pair of horses, which were elegant in appearance and which he had purchased for a modest sum, but which clearly became quite asthmatic if they had to run. Fast trips were quite ordinary and also necessary to save time. Hofius drove, as he told me, ten miles an hour on good roads, and others drove just as fast. In fact, a Rev. Rittamel said when he was with Rev. Wunderlich at almost midnight one night that he would be home in one hour—he had twelve miles to drive.

I observed that many feed crops were cultivated there, and there were large barns for the cattle in winter and to store the feed. But corn cribs were scarce or very small, for one often saw tall piles of ears of corn right out in the open without protection from the weather. That fall was dry, and so at that time the season may have come and gone without damage.

There were elevators at the train stations to which the farmers brought their wheat. I believe that wheat farming in Nebraska plays as large a role as does corn or alfalfa.

At the end of the week, Ernst brought me to Rev. Oelschlaeger in West Point, who had six children, mostly girls, quite small at the time. I find the name Oelschlaeger in the list of mission workers in China.

Then I likewise spent a week with Rev. Leimer. I shall never forget how refined and gentle it was in this home. The good mother, the devoted father, the well-behaved children, mostly still young. Their friendly demeanor and the like—all of this made my stay with the Leimers very pleasant, and the week went by quickly, especially when we visited with several neighboring pastors whom I knew from earlier, for example, Tegeler in Beemer. Tegeler has previously been a pastor in Texas (Austin).

I remember that we had milk and butter and cheese in plentiful amounts at the Leimers. The cow or cows were cared for ably with feed. Alfalfa was cut a number of times a day, and I also tried my hand with the scythe in order to get some physical exercise. I achieved very little, however. You have to be accustomed to something like that. In Texas I needed to cut neither alfalfa or other feed. The cows went into the pasture.

After a week, Rev. Leimer drove me to Rev. von Gemmingen, with whom a gathering of neighboring pastors had been announced. Otto van Gemmingen was a cheerful soul, full of life and humor, and the four or five families who were entertained by him that day were entertained splendidly. It has become quite cold by that time, already about the middle of September. On one occasion ice froze four inches thick, and, consequently, during that cold night, what corn was in the field not quite ripe was badly damaged. Von Gemmingen loaned me an overcoat – he had a number of them in his wardrobe – and on another occasion I pulled on a fur coat, which I could very well use in the wagon when we drove late at night.

It was said, however, that such cold weather came only extremely rarely. As a rule, also in Nebraska one can count on mild weather and sunny days in the fall almost until Christmas, during what is called Indian Summer.

Then Rev. Ernst had me with him again for another week. Then I traveled to Hooper, where Hofius had served previously and where the Rev. Tobias Lang was now the pastor. A daughter of Rev. Hofius lived in Hooper, married to a Mr. Mosel. He was Low German, and, when he spoke in his dialect, it became clear to a person why the language is called low. At his place I watched as he fed his many cattle and horses. Whole sections of rather tall troughs were filled with corn still on the cob, and then the horses were admitted to where each of them had a generously measured meal.

The next day I went to church. It was Sunday, and I was edified by a good sermon and Christenlehre [a period of instruction in Christian doctrine during the service]. The churches and many houses were heated by furnaces, though in the homes in which I lodged, for the most part, by a very practical, even if not entirely inexpensive, special kind of heat stove. It burned coal. A householder told me that he had burned sixty dollars’ worth of coal during the previous winter. The expense for warm clothes for the family is likewise considerably higher than on the average in Texas.

The houses, including the parsonages, are of two stories with eight rooms, four below and four above, and the windows are double, not single like ours in Texas. In general, one must build solid houses up north if you do not want to let in what often is Siberian cold. The same applies to the buildings which house the livestock in the winter. At Rev. Leimer’s church I saw a whole group of sheds which could offer shelter against the bitter cold for the horses during church.

At the beginning of October, I came back to Texas and found everything in a state of well-being and satisfaction, and my son had already begun his work in the mission in Houston. He had served the Fedor congregation in a very satisfying way during my vacation in Nebraska.