Tell It Like It Was - Turn Turn Turn Ep. 4
Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date 7/24/21
Meet the Koenigs
Hello again, gentle readers. Once upon a time…but not so long ago…in a not-so-distant land called Matson…lived a royal family…the Koenigs. Okay, I jest, but Koenig is, after all, derived from the German word, könig, which means king or royalty. In 1958, Barbara and Frank Stanley Koenig moved their family to Matson, to live in a land dripping with history. Matson belongs to the history of Native Americans, Spain, France, the United States, the Boone family, the Darst family and the Matson family.
To my memory, the first Koenig family member I met in the early 80s was Roy, now deceased, a son of Stan and Barbara. Another son, Frank Jr. says we met also, but I don’t recall any interactions with him. I do recall often hearing the names of a daughter, Kim, and her husband, Joe Beer, but I don’t think we ever met.
Here’s what I do clearly remember: on March 10, 2021, Dave Klaas and I met Chris Koenig, a rugged, handsome chap in his late 30s, with an infectious laugh. Chris does fine woodworking for a living at a company in St. Louis called Ambacht. Among other things, he reproduces historical wooden trim, such as shutters, windows and door casing. He lives somewhere on the Koenig farm with his wife, Jessica, and daughter, Lea.
We met in front of the yellow-painted brick house which his father, Frank Jr., owns. This is the same house to which Frank Sr. (Stan) brought his family in 1958. After asking around I learned that Lisa (Fulkerson) Carmon knew Chris and she described him as a good guy with children in the Augusta school. She agreed to contact him and let Chris know that even though I’m somewhat nosy, I’m basically harmless. Whatever she said worked, and before long I was gazing upon the 11-acre lake known as the Katy Reservoir. In the early 1900s this lake fed water by gravity to the thirsty MK&T steam engine trains that stopped at the Matson station. Chris also showed us outbuildings with Boone fingerprints all over the logs. Next, he showed us the stone spring house which contains the famous-to-some, Boone Spring. Dave and I were bowled over, but Chris told us we needed to consult with his Aunt Kimberly if we wanted some real history.
Ultimately, we did meet up with Kim, but allow me to relay some more of our conversation with Chris. And even though I don’t fact check my interviewees, I will alert you that a certain person, contemporaneous with this tale of Koenig history, advises you and me to take Chris’ oral history with a grain of salt.
Chris: ``My grandfather purchased this property when he sold his property in Arkansas in the 1950s. The reason why he sold his property in Arkansas was because my grandmother lived in Clayton, and she didn’t want to move to Arkansas (laugh), and so they compromised, and they found this farm.” Chris went on to say his grandfather, in the 1970s, bought the other brick house in which Kim currently dwells. (Previously she lived in the “Darst house”, a double, one and a half story log house with a dog trot running through the center. This log house was covered with wooden siding somewhere in the past. If you look at the hill above Matson, it appears as a blue frame house.) Chris’ brother Alex, with his wife and two daughters, now currently live in this historic building which was once the home of Isaac Darst according to Boone historian Ken Kamper.
Even though there is some more Boone mystery regarding the log house on the bluff, Kamper says, “I am convinced that Isaac Darst did live there because the Isaac Darst cemetery, or some cemetery with Isaac Darst and wife…buried in it…was close to the house.” I am condensing Ken’s email to me, and I haven’t explained the mystery or any of the history of Isaac. But I should at least tell you, gentle readers, that Isaac was the son of David Darst, the man for whom the Darst Bottoms is named. David Darst left Kentucky in 1798 to settle near Daniel Morgan Boone, basically between Defiance and Matson.
Now that I have mentioned Ken Kamper again, I must reveal that Ken made me aware that I may have passed along a few possible falsehoods in my last episode of Turn, Turn, Turn. One blatant error was my referring to writer Lynn Morrow as a she. Sorry, wrong gender! Also, Ken advised me that there is not enough documentation existing to make the claim that Daniel Boone had slaves in Kentucky, (but Daniel Morgan Boone brought some slaves to Missouri, for sure.) Again, my apologies. Perhaps I’ll stick to interviews of living people, whereby they are responsible for their own version of the truth. Which reminds me, Lucian Dressel, who reopened Mt. Pleasant Winery in 1966, and Donna Shortt Meinershagen, have both recently agreed to do an interview. Step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.
On March 26 Dave and I returned to the land of Koenig to meet with Kimberly Beer, but our meeting was delayed for a while, so I called Chris, and he gave me directions to the graveyard closest to Frank’s house. Well, we took a few wrong turns (perhaps intentionally) and instead ran into Frank Jr.’s son-in-law, John Stephens, who is married to Frank’s daughter, Ashley. Very shortly Kim’s son, Ryan, joined us. Again, we were treated to the same friendliness that we encountered in our initial meeting with Chris. De riguer for me, I whipped out my cell phone and started recording. We learned that US Senator George Williams was responsible for, in John’s words, “all the cool barns and outbuildings. He wanted to make it a premier cattle farm slash dairy farm. He put all the money in for the infrastructure.” After we talked about some previous owners of the farm, he added, “I would say the Koenigs have owned it longer than anybody. So maybe we should rename it; instead of the Matson Farm, maybe… the Koenig Farm.” Sounds reasonable to me, the Koenig clan has owned the farm 63 years
After Dave and I wasted a sufficient amount of their time, Ryan and John turned the conversation to loading hay and seeding. It looked like the interview was over, but I blurted out another question about their schooling and learned that John went to St. Charles West because he grew up there. (He’s been living in Matson since 1999.) Ryan attended high school at Chaminade. Before I could learn about their higher education the conversation drifted to the new kid in town who seems to hate trees. Did I just say that?
Oh well, now I’ll tell you a little about our visit to Richard Matson’s cemetery. We walked back in the general direction of Frank’s house, crossed a creek, hopped a fence, skirted cowpies and eventually saw the amazing concrete wall surrounding the cemetery. I have never seen such a massive, well-constructed and artful enclosure before on a private cemetery in a rural setting. (See photo of the wall taken within its border.) And as I told you in part 3, we were unable to identify any gravesites of slaves outside the great wall due to cattle damage and the elements. But there’s certainly a bunch of tombs within its borders.
Eventually, in the graveyard, pondering my own mortality, I received a phone call from Kimberly, saying she was on her way to her brother’s house. Dave and I exited the cemetery, again failing to identify any possible grave markers of slaves on the outside the wall. We walked through pastureland and found Kim in Frank’s front yard. I recorded our conversations that day, but I have already shared the highlights of it in past episodes of Turn, Turn, Turn.
What I haven’t shared is an earlier one hour and 21-minute, phone conversation I had with Kim on March 22. I was up on Duke Road, and Kim was in her 19th century brick house which is also the current home of her two sons, Craig and Ryan. (I’ve included a photo of her house, which by the way, was purchased at the same time as the whole farm, in other words, not in the 70s.)
I record these conversations by using speakerphone on my cell phone, and then ask my interviewee if I can turn on Voice Memo on my iPad. Interviewee generally says yes, and so I activate VM and repeat my request to record, thereby capturing their consent before the fun starts.
Hence, I learned Kimberly was born on St. Patrick’s Day, 1947 in Town and Country, MO. But that’s not where she was living right before she came to Matson in 1958. Not hardly. You may recall Chris described a marital compromise by his grandparents that landed the Koenigs in Matson. That might have been a Reader’s Digest version of the story. Now I’ll try to flesh it out a bit more, but I still think I’m looking through a glass darkly; thank you Ingmar Bergman for the catchy phrase which you borrowed from Corinthians 13:12 KJV.
Paul: Kimberly, can you explain how you came to live in Matson?
Kimberly: After WWII, my dad was in construction supply sales in St. Louis. We were living in Clayton when he decided to go back to Arkansas to run his father’s farm. His father was only 29 when he died, and dad’s mother was having trouble keeping the family farm going, so he uprooted our family from Clayton, and we went to Arkansas. We raised cotton, rice and cows. But a family friend had told mother about this farm (Matson), and she told Daddy over Christmas one year that she was going to buy a farm in Missouri, and he could decide if he wanted to commute or not. (Laugh.) Barbara’s father and mother were retired and lived over in the High Ridge/Fenton area. She wanted to be closer to her parents. (So, gentle readers, the Koenigs bought the farm, so to speak, including both sides of Matson Hill gravel road in 1958. Kim’s current home was purchased at the get-go.)
K: Incidentally, my dad was a civil engineer. During WWII he was in the Panama Defense Command. And he would go into South America, build bridges, and the army would come through and blow them up. Well, they were building the types of bridges that they were meeting in the field and trying to decide how to blow them up most effectively. So, when they got over into Europe to demolish a bridge, they didn’t have to practice.
P: How about your mom?
K: Mom was a legal assistant in St. Louis until she married Dad.
*I see now I need to work harder to gather more information on the maternal side from interviewees!
P: Can you tell me about the Matson you encountered in 1958?
K: When we moved here this was a very close-knit community, a long way from the industrial nation we had become, but they had tractors and things like that. When Mom and I would walk into the little general store, which is where the furniture store is now…the Knoernschilds were running the store…we would walk through the front door and there was a potbelly store there. And the men had chairs…and after they had done their morning work, they would come into the store and purchase sandwiches…and when we walked in, they would become absolutely silent. They were speaking in German.
On the right-hand side was like a little hardware store. Back on the far right was the old post office. On the left-hand side were the counters for the meat and produce and canned goods. And he (Reinhold) was the postmaster, and he and his wife (Lorene), they swapped off on hours in the store. It was a long time before we were greeted and welcomed into the community. It’s much more open now than it was then.
All the buildings that are currently here in Matson were there then.
P: Was the grain elevator still there?
P: And I guess you were there when Buemer had his sawmill business. Do you remember when George’s son got killed on the job?
K: Oh, that was tragic. They had loaded a truck, and they were chaining it down, and one of the logs came dislodged. The whole thing crashed down on him.
P: Where were you in school when you moved here?
K: Fourth grade. I went to school at Augusta. For junior high I switched to Francis Howell. They had the old buildings that had been barracks during WWII. They were converted into the junior high. I went to high school where the existing building is now. Of course, they’ve added to it. I went to school with Kaye Reinwald (now Coates.) Her parents lived at the corner of 94 and F.
P: Did you make any buddies at the Augusta grade school?
K: Yes. Elaine Nadler (now Rutherford) and Patsy Kemner (now Baravik.) The classes were small, so we were relatively involved with many ages. Patsy and I rode horses together; she taught me how to play softball.
P: Did you go to college?
K: I went to Stephens College (Columbia, MO) for two years, got an associate in arts degree. Then I went to Mizzou, and I have a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and personnel management.
P: Tell me about other ways your family connected to Augusta. Did you participate in anything at the American Legion/Harmonie Verein?
K: Oh, sure! Weddings…music at the gazebo.
P: Did your family have any business connection to Augusta…through your farm?
K: Well, we used the feed store constantly. Chub Bade had it. Dad had them truck in cattle feed. (*This is the building that became Johann’s, and is now a Hoffmann property.)
P: Did you own bottomland at that time? And were you farming it or renting it out?
K: Dad farmed it. He raised corn, soybeans, and he wanted to raise sorghum because our cow herd had grown so large that he needed the food supply. And he planted it according to the company’s recommendations, and none of our equipment would harvest it. So, he ended up buying equipment, and he told them, “First thing, you need to bring someone here to operate it from one end of my field to the other before I agree to keep this thing for 30 days. If you can’t make it to the end of the field, you can just pack it up and take it home.” And we went through five or six units before they found one that would harvest that sorghum. That ground was so rich, it really got thick and heavy, and taller than most sorghum that you see.
P: Was your husband, Joe Beer, from around here?
K: No, he was from Carlyle, Illinois. When I was an underwriter at Fireman’s Fund, he was on one floor and I was on another, and a friend got us together. I was commuting to work at the time. It was on 4th St., downtown St. Louis. Traffic wasn’t as bad then; it would take me maybe 35 or 40 minutes to get to work, park and walk in. Joe was an insurance underwriter for a marine unit of Fireman’s Fund America. He passed away in 1987.
P: And what can you tell me about your work career?
K: I started out in insurance, then I retired to raise our two kids. And I was a horseback instructor for years…and active in Boy Scouts. I had a few Girl Scout units, but predominantly I was active in Boy Scouts. I have a silver beaver.
P: Say what? I don’t even know what that is.
K: Okay, that means I have to toot my own horn! It’s the highest award in scouting at the local level. There are others at the national level. I was approached by a troop in Webster Groves to teach the boys horseback riding when I was eighteen. I taught horsemanship…I’m still a merit badge counselor for horsemanship. Then I had children and I started as a Cub committee chairman, and as they moved up, I moved up. I served as troop committee chairman and then became active on the district level. I only taught boys until 1991 when I formed the Explorer Post here on the farm. Then I had girls and boys, 14 to 21 years old.
P: What did you see growing up here to remind you that you were living in Boone territory?
K: Well…the logs, the old smokehouse, and the old garage with logs from the old fort…the springhouse…the natural rolling hills…the constant supply of wildlife. Both houses are contained in valleys and it kind of isolates you from the building spree which the rest of the world is going through. It kind of keeps you in the 1800s.
P: At the top of Matson Hill gravel road, on your brother’s side there’s an attractive new house. Is that a Koenig?
K: That is my brother Franks’s daughter, Ashley. She and John Stephens, with their sons, Crew and Case, have that house. It’s pole and beam construction. There’s a huge, beautiful fireplace in it as you walk in the front door.
P: Is it okay to include that? I never quite know the limits of what people want me to say or not say in print?
K: If I don’t want you to say it, I won’t tell you! (We both laugh!) You can find that information anywhere, and they’re running a horse operation on that side, so they’re very public.
Our conversation drifted to the Civil War, Matsons and their barge lines, and other interesting things, but I think it’s time to wrap up the final episode of Turn, Turn, Turn. I’m getting anxious to write about Augusta again. I’m also quite anxious to return to live, public, Tell It Like It Was interviews at Harmonie Verein. But with Covid cases rising again in Missouri, and so many unvaccinated arms in our state…well, you get my drift. Please, everybody, roll up your sleeves!
And stay curious.