Updated: Mar 17
Adapted from the original email-letter from Paul Ovaitt.
Hello gentle readers.
You may have thought you’d heard the last of Tell It Like It Was, but we’ll be back when 19 subsides. Meanwhile, Dave Klaas and I are often walking in a neighborhood near you, far apart and masked. Often motorists stop to ask what we’re doing, and why?!! It’s hard to explain the business of a flaneur. (Look that up in your dictionary!)
Our curiosity about southern St. Charles County leads us around by the nose. And we want to share a recent outing in the Femme Osage valley. We needed a place to park our separate vehicles, and hence I obtained permission to park at the farm of Maynard and Ruth Heman. Better still, we were encouraged to satisfy our curiosity up and down the farm.
And how do I know them? Well, first I met Maynard’s sister at the Bank of Dutzow where she worked for many years, even after it was purchased by the Dierbergs. And in my work as a painter/carpenter, I was bound to meet Maynard and Ruth eventually. Thus they employed me a few times, and I found them and their farm much to my liking. But until recently, I never took the time to fully explore the grounds. Dave and I wish to share some highlights of our trip.
But first I’d like to call your attention to an early interview we did with Ruth Heman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzNkos1W554 Ruth was born in the Augusta Bottoms in one of the many homesteads that no longer exist in the floodplain. She is a Struckhoff, sister to Aloys, Richard and siblings I’ve never met. When I first came to Augusta in 1976, there were still several farmhouses along the river side of Augusta Bottoms Road. (There’s one left now, the home of Lisa Tucker, librarian at our Augusta Library. It’s also the childhood home of Vic Kuchem, who also granted Tell It Like It Was a fun interview.
You still with me? Take a look at the interior of their barn. The framing of a gambrel roof is a beautiful thing in my eyes. I guess we passed half an hour gawking up there, while the calves downstairs pondered human beings. The Hemans seem to agree that the barn and their house were built in the early 1920s, but the history of their locale goes back much further. In 1833 Johann and Elizabeth Duebbert, with five children, came to Femme Osage from Germany, and quickly bought this piece of land. They most likely built a log house.
The two massive millstones totally caught our attention and sent me on a week long investigation of their previous location. Ruth did tell me that there was a mill by the creek, roughly in front of where their house stands. But they didn’t know whose or the year of origin. Now to the rescue comes Volume II of Cracker Barrel Country, a compilation of the writings of J.W. Schiermeier. On page 99, article 5.28, I learned that in 1838, Johann Duebbert filed a petition in St. Charles to build a dam across the creek. Hmmmmm: an early dam, and 3 millstones (a fourth missing); sounds like a Duebbert mill to me, no doubt for grinding grain from that fertile valley. In the same article, I learned that Johann was a farmer, miller and distiller! Sounds like my idea of a good neighbor!
Now to the cemetery on their property. Looks like a peaceful place to compost. In 1979, Schiermeier reported that the cemetery was surrounded by giant cedars and there were 30-35 graves there, but only two were clearly marked. Ruth Heman said she was among those who kept the cemetery up. It always gave her great comfort to gaze at the newly cut grass, and she especially enjoyed the peonies there in spring.
And now the wooden plank bridge across Femme Osage Creek. Yes, it’s safe for average size vehicles, but we chose to inspect it further, and underneath we found steel and massive amounts of concrete. Maynard and his father built it in the mid-1950s in order to make it possible for Maynard’s daughter to still get to school when the creek was up.
Alright folks, I don’t wish to abuse your friendship with us any longer, so I’ll give it a rest for now, but know that Tell It Like It Was will be back, and we’ll even interview many of our contemporaries because someday they’ll be ancient history too. Feel free to forward this letter to anyone you wish, especially if they’d like to be alerted of future interviews. They can hit reply, (not reply all), and give me an email address.
Stay healthy and curious.
Paul and Dave