A letter from William “Old Bill” Wagner to Frank Funkenbusch regarding his journey to America.

"Old Bill" William Wagner
“Old Bill” William Wagner

Frank Funkenbusch


Canton, Mo, Feb 22, 1927

Dear Nephew Frank,

I think letters Father got from friends in American influenced him somewhat and he also thought he could better himself and family by coming to America as I have frequently heard him express himself so to Mother and others.

Father owned a fair sized house and several small pieces of land just outside of the town which the family planted in various crops. His trade was a locksmith and he done other blacksmith work and was always busy.

I know of no governmental or financial conditions of Germany which would have caused father to leave Germany and come to America as he done much work for the government on locks etc. and were on the best of terms.

Elleringhausen was a small town located on a fine turnpike that went to Arolsen I think is the name, the government seat of the jurisdiction in which our town was located, don’t know the number of inhabitants at that time, they most all had their little home and small pieces of land around the town which they cultivated. They were very industrous and had some trade or occupation. many of the farmers had their homes in the town and their land was outside of the town. The land surrounding the town was fairly productive. There was a large stream or creek that went through part of the town. I recollect it had a wooden high arched bridge across it one side of the town. The hills and timber was government owned. The people got the firewood and building material from the government. There was a water powered mill that had a great overshot wheel. It was but a short distance from town. it done the grinding for the country and I often saw the pack asses with sacks of rye or flower going back and forth. The miller owned the pack animals and got the grain and delivered the meal or flour.

Father was a good provider and hard worker and was very strict in everything and strictly honest, had no use for any that would not pay their debts when they could do so.

Mother was a hard worker and a good house keeper and more gentle and sympathetic with the children. They always went to mother first when anything was wanting and they dearly loved her as she did them.

The bunks of the ship for the passengers was sold built several tiers high in the hold on both sides.

About the second day on the sea the ship’s cook served a goodly supply of rice for dinner and that night we had quite a storm which made most of the passengers sea sick and they commenced to throw up the rice and other food. In the morning there was quite a sight. One group of passengers had wooden shows which they left on the floor when they went to bed and when vomiting they would turn their heads over the edge of their bunks and let her fly filling their wooden shoes and anything on the floor so in the morning some of the sailors had to clean up. they gathered up the wooden shoes and anything else took them on deck and threw them overboard. This was quite amusing to me. I watched the wood shoes float away like little canoes as long as I could see them. We had one death and burial on the trip, a man. I recollect when he was brought on deck he was sewn in something like a sack with a bundel at the feet filled with rock I think to make him sink. The slipped him overboard feet first and he was out of sight. This interested me and I will always remember the incident. We had a very stormy trip, were over 11 weeks on ship. Our food and water was reduced to make it last for the long trip. We had sailed part of a day into the English Channel and in the night a terrible storm came up and the ship was blown back to sea near Dils and Dover I think are the names. in the morning we were anchored near these towns and we could see the chalk hills nearby. In the night storm one of the large crossbooms on one of the masts was broken and some of the riggin was badly damaged. The ship was near being wrecked in the Channel. The ship stayed at anchor until some repairs were made. There were several other ships anchored in sight of our ship that had been damaged in the storm, some with part of their masts blow away.

We finally got to New Orleans [Louisiana]. The ships there are landed close together at the wharf and the sail ships must turn their long cross booms slantwise nearly back and forward so as not to entangle in the rigging of other ships already landed. Well, one of the large booms on our ship that was broken in the storm caught in the riggin of another ship and broke and fell. All passengers were on deck to see the sights and made a rush to save themselves from the falling boom. They were packed so close together they just tumbled in a heap on the deck. Part of the boom hung in the rigging and one end hit on a coop and neither part came near enough to the deck to touch anyone, but made quite a scare and excitement for a little while. But no one was hurt.

We were landed alright and finally got a boat for St. Louis [Missouri] The trip was uneventful. it was getting rather cold when we got to St. Louis. There was some ice running in the river. We got the last boat leaving St. Louis for the season. It was a stern wheeler, don’t recollect the name. The boat made rather slow headway as the ice in the river became thicker. The boat had a pile of nice yellow corn on the ear laying on the deck. It was the first corn any of us had ever seen and was quite a curiosity to use. Of course we were deck passengers. The boat had a few cabin passengers. They got their means in the cabin. We had our own food. There was generally a lot of good food left over after every meal in the cabin and was thrown overboard. Some of the passengers asked the waiter if they could have it and it was given to them. Some of it was the very best roast beef and other food of the best kind. In those days food left over means was never taken back to the table or kitchen on boats.

When we got to Quincy [Illinois] the ice was solid some distance from shore. The boat would butt into it to get a little close and get stopped and back up and butt in again and kept this up till she broke the ice to shore and put out her stage and planks and we were landed.

The first year as a little longer we lived in a small rented house on the north side of Main Street between 9th and 10th Street. Father then bought a lot on the south side of the street between 9th and 10th Street and built a 4 room house of his own. The material was of oak, sycamore, maple timber, but in the bottom near Quincy by a saw mill at the river the front two rooms were about 14×16 feet and about 9 or 10 feet height to ceiling with a shed or lean to of two room about 12×14 feet in a few years afterwards father bought another lot nearby which needed a good deal of filling up in the meantime he bought a 4 room brick house near where the gas works were built father in the meantime had the lot next to our first home filled and graded up. He had sold the first home and finally built a more roomy brick house on the lot on Maine Street and let the house near the gas works to a renter. he finally sold the house to an employee of the works. Father had built a shop on the home lot and ironed wagons and done all kinds of smith work. I had been helping him in the shop from the time I was 13 years old as I did not get to school after I was 13. We lived there until 1855 when Father bought 160 acres of land about 24 miles east of Quincy and we moved to the farm. I was then 15 years old. When I was nearly 19 I left home and worked on a steamboat between St. Louis and New Orleans until the Civil War broke out in 1861.

I then came back to Quincy and enlisted in Co. H 2nd Regiment Illinois Light Artillery and served 3 years and 11 months until the end of the war in 1865. Was at Fort Donelson and various other engagements with the enemy. Kolker was our first Captain. He finally resigned and we had Stenback for Captain a short time. We then had H. C. Whittemore, until the end of the war. He was an American quite young and a fine officer.

Well, after I got out of the army I came to Canton [Missouri]. Your mother and Klein were on the Smoot farm and induced me to work with them on the farm which I did for three years. I then came to Canton and worked at the carpenters trade until August 1916 when I had the fall and broke my hip. You know all about me since that time.

As I recollect John was married three times. The last time to a Texas widow. Charles Hetzler died April 20, 1906 and his wife sister Mary 1906.


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