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Tell It Like It Was - Chat with Walter Kamphoefner Part 2

TILIW - Walter Kamphoefner Part 2 - $300 a semester tuition – is that good enough English? – etudiantes en la biblioteca - Conrad Weinrich and Adolphus Frick - Chain Migration – bilingual education

Gentle readers, I continue to write again about my January 14, 2023 conversation with Walter Kamphoefner, professor of history at Texas A&M. We left off talking about Mizzou back in the day. (Remember, anything in parentheses is my addition.)

Walter: I actually had to borrow 300 bucks every semester against my tuition and pay it back 100 bucks at a time when I got my monthly TA (teacher’s assistant) checks. But just $300 a semester tuition sounds like a steal in this day and age.

Paul: No doubt, you were a more dedicated student than I was…’cause you probably wouldn’t have found the time to go playing rock and roll across the state…

W: Not to play, but I listened to quite a bit…like I said…the Mid-Missouri Hell Band was kind of my go to group. They played various places. For a while there was the Eighteenth Amendment on the main drag where they played sometimes too.

P: We didn’t play many of those bar jobs because they never paid well, and we had a booking agent who would just ship us (The Ovaitt Brothers ) all over…every prom, every homecoming, every fraternity toga party blow out. In those days the schools (country clubs, fraternities, and even dorms) saved up their money and they’d pay big bucks for a live band.

P: Let’s jump to who your wife and children are.

W: My wife is German. I met her…you know I worked on these German immigrant letters with a professor in Germany. I’d go over every summer, and work with him. And she had a student job there…and she got the job of correcting my German in one of my drafts for an introductory chapter…and started correcting me on my content as well my grammar.

P: And I bet she’s never stopped. (Maybe it was just me who laughed.)

W: …and one thing led to another. Yeah, I’m kind of out of sync with my generation…had my first child at 48 and my second at 50. They’re just recently pretty much out on their own. And we brought up our kids bilingual, in fact, we pretty much started them out in German…we figured they’d pick up English anyhow.

W: You know I always thought I’d get flak from some of these 21st century Know-Nothings, for speaking a foreign language in public. I actually had an answer all ready in case somebody got on my case, namely - kiss my ass – is that good enough English for you? But I literally never had to use it. I mean it’s very different if you’re speaking Spanish…and if you look Hispanic, from what my Latino friends tell me.

W: But it really took. In fact, our daughter has a regular German job in Berlin now…also did her Masters in Germany. And my son…he was not as good as his sister in the language, but got into it later, and really has improved his German recently. You know, when he went off to UT (University of Texas) …if you want to carry on a private phone conversation, he just carried on in German. He’s really gotten his German up to speed, as well. He just got married, and he and his wife just spent 3 weeks retracing the paths of his youth in Germany.

W: And my wife taught Spanish to Americans, in fact, even to some native speakers here in Bryan, because Bryan High School is majority minority, in fact, it’s majority Latino. You never know if a kid has a Spanish name, whether he’s really fluent in the language.

P: I guess you probably know quite a bit about Hispanic culture.

W: Yeah, I took 3 semesters in the summer when I taught at the University of Miami. I told the secretary I was taking a self-defense course. (We laugh.) It seems to have stuck pretty good. I can pretty much figure out written Spanish whenever I see it.

P: Yeah, I do okay with written Spanish, but I cannot understand it when it’s spoken to me. The reason I know Spanish at all is…for a while there were a lot of Mexicans working in Augusta, and I befriended some of them, and they started teaching me the language…and little bits about their culture.

W: Yeah. That’s right. Bob Knoernschild (Centennial Farm) had a guy that came regularly every year. Oh…and he was teaching Spanish. He was giving a Spanish course…at the library. (It dawned on me that this was mi amigo, Ivan. ¡And I was one of his etudiantes en la biblioteca!)

P: Let’s talk about some of your books. They’re up in front of me, on my laptop. I’ve read part of Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home. I realize that’s not exactly your book, but it wouldn’t have happened without you, so it really is your book.

W: There are about a half dozen Missouri Germans in there, including Conrad Weinrich, who’s my great-great-grandpa…and Adolphus Frick who was in Franklin County, so those would probably be the 2 chapters that are most interesting to you…especially Conrad Weinrich who went on to be a Radical Republican state legislator in Jeff City. He boarded at the Bruns house there…like some of the other radical Missouri Germans. (Bernhard Bruns was mayor of Jeff City from 1862 to 1864, and founder of Westphalia, MO; his widow Jetta ran a boarding house which was located across from the capitol. As you know, gentle readers, I grew up in JC, and in my youth, I walked all these historical places…totally clueless.)

P: Yeah, and that requires a whole large paragraph of explanation, almost, if I were to start using terms like Radical Republicans. (We both laugh and start talking over each other…radical...I know what…doesn’t mean the…you mean…these days…) I’ve read enough now to know what you mean by that, but I don’t know if many of my readers would, or not.

W: Well, all you gotta do is quote him (Conrad Weinrich) there at the end of the letters. A St. Louis newspaper quoted him as saying that if…of his five daughters, if 4 of them married white guys…one of them married a black guy…he would treat all his sons-in-laws the same.

P: Okay, that’s radical.

W: That’s pretty damn radical for 1866. None of his daughters put him to the test, but…one did marry a Kamphoefner about 3 weeks before their first child was born. I wish I could get to the story behind that…

P: I also checked out The Westphalians and I’m sorry, Walter, but…uh…found it to be too dense. I…I… (I start stuttering nervously.) I would…I would go through the table of contents…I mean…rather the index…and I would pick out stuff…to read…uh. I’m not faulting you in any way. It’s more a reflection on my lack of knowledge, and sometimes you have to have some previous knowledge to draw yourself into a topic.

W: Yeah, and you got to have…you know, I needed tenure…I needed academic credibility. So, I was limited in the extent to which I could make this accessible to the general reader, although my mom did…and my dad read the whole damn thing…which I was quite impressed. Dad had a high school education; my mom, only grade school. Grandpa thought they would just get married anyhow, so there wasn’t any point in girls going to high school…although he did relent with Carolyn. She was what? I guess seven years younger than my mom. Mom was born in ’21; Carolyn in ’28.

P: Now, you talked a bunch in that book, The Westphalians, about chain migration. I did get, at least, that much out of it…

W: Yeah, I started out wanting to study trans-Atlantic social mobility (how easy it was for immigrants to get ahead), but that came to be a rather minor topic compared to chain migration. If I have a claim to fame, it’s documenting that chain migration for Germans. It really jumped out…the great bulk of the parishioners of Femme Osage Evangelical Church were from one county in…just one or two towns, really, in Westphalia.

W: And Melle and New Melle…you know, my dad kind of knew about that. I asked him where the New Melle Germans came from. When he said old Melle…and that really proved to be true, as well. What kind of got me on to this…there’s New Melle (MO)…and 6 miles down the road there’s Cappeln with German names. I looked them up on a map of Germany and saw that they were only about 20 or 30 miles apart… That was kind of what put me onto chain migration in the first place.

P: I don’t know if Anita mentioned that (term) or not in her writings, but it didn’t sink in if she did, so, when I read that…yeah, that was a revelation to me…at least I got something out of your book. Oh yes, I was going to say this, though…when I’ve heard your spoken voice, I totally understand you. Like with Avi…the Gilded Germans. (Avi’s Conversational Corner: A podcast on culture, history, and politics in a broad perspective. ) That podcast, yeah, you were just as clear as a bell. Is it okay if I provide a link to that?

W: Oh, by all means. Sure.

P: And your newest book is Germans in America?

W: Yeah. And that is kind of a summary of my life’s work, you might say. Three centuries of German Americans, and it’s nationwide, although, as I say in my introduction, Missouri and Texas, and also Westphalia, get more attention than the number of Germans...the percentage of the Germans…would justify. But I blame it on Booker T. Washington, who said let down your bucket where you’re at. So, those are the Germans I know the best, and I also try to indicate if they are exceptional, how they are exceptional. (Here’s a review of Germans in America.)

P: Let’s see…Preserving German Texan Identity

W: This is a memoir of the first Aggie (a nickname once common at land-grant or "ag" schools in many states) valedictorian who happened to be a Texas-German…who grew up bilingual…and went on to first teach in the bilingual schools in Texas, and then founded his own German language newspaper…and moved into Austin so his daughters could get an education, as well as his son. His first son went to A&M, which was all male until our lifetime. (He) got elected to the legislature, as well…nothing really for Missourians, but an interesting guy for Texans.

W: It’s also important to…as I tell people…you may think that bilingual education is an innovation of the 60s, and in a way you’re right…BUT it was the 1860s, not the 1960s. There was an awful lot of bilingual education in German-English that people have forgotten about.

P: By the way, after reading your work, I’m starting to think that we might have lost the Civil War were it not for the Germans. Is there any truth to that? Am I way off base?

W: Nationally…you’re off base, but as far as Missouri is concerned, Germans were definitely the most decisive Unionists in the state (he laughs). In fact, I sometimes say jokingly, they drug the state, kicking and screaming, back into the Union. You know, the governor (Claiborne Fox Jackson) claimed to be a Douglass Democrat, or a northern Democrat, but turned out to be a secessionist after all. But the Germans thwarted him there, and as late as the battle of Pea Ridge, which is just south of the Arkansas border…at least a third, and by some accounts, close to half of the Union Army there that defeated the Confederates and secured the state, were Germans.

W: In St. Charles County it was Krekel’s Dutch for which Conrad Weinrich raised the New Melle company. (Prussian born Arnold Krekel was not only important for the Union cause, but also was a U. S. district judge and lecturer for the University of Missouri School of Law in Columbia, Missouri from 1872 to 1875. What’s more, he even shaped my hometown of Jeff City. As an example, he was a founding member of Lincoln University. And as a bit of trivia, he’s even credited with naming O’Fallon, MO.)

P: Let’s get a little philosophical. Can you give me a brief explanation why any of this matters? Why history? In some ways it’s so obvious why it matters, but it never hurts to…repeat the reason.

W: Well, you know, I teach immigration history…it’s kind of my bread and butter, and I’d like to say that I was smart enough when I started grad school in ’71 to know that with the new immigration law that kicked in…1968…that immigration was going to be a hot topic for the foreseeable future. But that was just dumb luck. I was interested in my heritage and wanted to put my German skills to work, and that’s why I got into immigration history.

W: Nonetheless, what is important, I think…in fact I’ve got what I call a corollary to the laws of migration that sociologists or economists came up with a hundred or so years ago…namely, the good immigrants are always the old immigrants, and the bad immigrants are always the new immigrants. Even though various groups and individuals move from one category to the other…our ancestors didn’t look as attractive coming off the boat as they did a couple of decades or a couple of generations later.

W: And like I said with bilingual education…people think, why are we trying to meet these Latinos halfway? And I say, well, it’s not the first time. There is precedent for that in American history. Up till WWI, of course, none of your ancestors immigrated illegally because unless they were convicts, or prostitutes, or anarchists…all white people were welcome. You didn’t even have to know English to become naturalized until 1906 or something like that. So, those kind of things are important for people to know. If there’s anything I hate, it’s double standards. I’ve been known to get up on my high horse on that more often…you can look at my op-ed there. ( )

P: I read that op-ed, and I had to agree with you.

P: Do you think, because of your background, that you even see the world differently than most people?

W: Oh, I’m sure I do…socialized medicine…hey, I lived under it for 7 years in Germany, and came off very well. You know, I have diabetes, and Germans were doing the hemoglobin A1C test for several years before any… My German doctors were doing it when I was a guest professor there in 1986, 87… Came back to Texas and asked them about it; they kind of gave me excuses and gave me the runaround.

P: Well, the daily physical world…do you see it differently? Like if you walk through a city or town, is your mind already analyzing…just seeing stuff that no one else is seeing?

W: That’s a good question. I mean, I’ve also been reading the Missouri Conservationist since I was a grade school kid…saw that you could subscribe to it free…that’s another of my interests that has little or nothing to do with academia. So, I’m always very aware of the natural world…and the need to preserve it. It really has very little to do my history background, although the Germans were appalled already in the 19th century by the way the Americans wasted their forests, and the way they hauled away the Indian mounds…not realizing what archaeological treasures there were. So, there are aspects of it that overlap.

W: In terms of cultural landscapes, I guess I do always have my eye out for ethnic traces, be they German or whatever. Ethnic cemeteries is one of my big hobbies…mixing business and pleasure, particularly German ones… One of my articles is Doughboys of Deutsch…that’s another thing, that language and loyalty are almost totally unrelated to one another. There were doughboys in WWI writing home from France in the German language…guys in the US army…and published in German language newspapers. Some guys who were killed in action in American service are commemorated on tombstones in the German language. There’s a great one in Taos, MO that’s…

P: Oh yeah, I know Taos.

W: It’s worth looking up. It’s 3 guys who all were killed in action, local boys, and the bottom of their tombstones along with their life dates…Herr, gib ihnen ewige ruhe…Lord grant them eternal rest. (On Find a Grave: I’ve found gravestones in about close to ten other languages beside English that commemorate soldiers who died in US service. So, Teddy Roosevelt had it totally wrong when he was saying we have one language, the English language, blah, blah, blah.

Gentle readers, after a good laugh I migrated to a slightly different theme.

P: You know what? All the things you just said…it kinda shows up to me in the observations you make on my writing…because you’re seeing stuff that I’m sure most of my readers (and I) are not. As a matter of fact, you see patterns…you pick up on who I am. Also, you connect who I am, to what I’m writing, whereas, I don’t think a lot of people do that. You realize that who I am, might affect how I write, or who I even choose to write about. You definitely see trends and patterns.

W: Yeah, it’s really interesting, and maybe a little ironic…that somebody like you and also Bob Brail (, who both moved into the community, rather than having generation long roots there, are doing the most to preserve the local history. You know, Bill Schiermeier and Mallinckrodt were the opposite of that. Here lately, you’re doing more than any of the people with longer local roots. And future historians are going to really appreciate you social historians, I’ll tell you that.

P: My notes are jumbled here, but I’m going to jump into the next thing in line, which is…my readers, are predominately women, I’ve noticed. Are you finding that in school…the women are more interested in history, or something clicks more with them than with men right now?

W: That is quite interesting. You know, genealogists have been good sources for me…ever since my dissertation, and not seldom it’s the woman who has married into a family, rather than the man who has roots in the family, who does the research. Not always…the guy that wrote the Meinershagen family stuff was male, but often there are women who do the family histories. The other thing is longevity. Women tend to live longer than men so, if you get the oldest people in the community, chances are they’re going to be majority women.

P: Jumping to another topic…we are doing a live interview of Norbie Struckhoff, and it’s going to revolve around, not just his career, but also the history of the American Legion (in Harmonie Verein). Anything just pops into your mouth that you want to say?

W: Yeah, again, the irony of history. You know this was a German verein, the Harmonie Verein. They built the hall…maintained it up till WWI, and then…you would think that’d be contradictory…German and American Legion, because they were fighting the Germans, but…they first rented, then sold or deeded their hall to the American Legion. But…it got a name just as German as the original one because they named the post after a local boy who paid the ultimate sacrifice (Harry Haferkamp).

W: And this gets outside Missouri, but again, ironies of history…in what was then Germantown, Nebraska, they decided the town needed a more patriotic name, so they decided to name it again after the first local boy that died in the war. But the first casualty report comes in, and it’s a name about as German as Kamphoefner, so they passed that over. Same thing happens with the second guy…I think it was Riebling, or something like that, and so…it was a fairly short war as far as America’s concerned. They end up naming it after some poor devil that caught typhoid fever on the ship over and never saw a shot fired in anger…but he had the good Anglo name of Garland. And if you don’t believe it, you can look it up on your road atlas.

Gentle readers, I could tell you about a few more topics we touched upon, but I’ll stop here. I’m sure the omissions will surface at a later date. I hope you enjoy the two extra photos I’ve thrown in. The first depicts Patsy Kemner and Kimberly Koenig horse riding on the Diederich/Kamphoefner farm. Walter said he remembered that occasion.

The other photo is a Holt smithy photo I had never seen…Walter in a red t shirt, stands behind Olie Thilking…Wilbert Holt is in the background…and maybe one of you can identify the seated man wearing glasses (taken ca. 1975).

W: Great talking to you. Glad this finally worked out.

P: Thank you so much. That’s generous of you…actually even following my stories…and you keep encouraging me. I’m glad we got to talk.

May you have abundant curiosity, my dear readers.


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