Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Biography of George August Beck


George August Beck was the gggrandfather of the Barrett Brothers. George A. Beck had a son William Beck who had a daughter Alma Beck who had a son Hugh E. Barrett who was the Barrett Brother's father.

The following document was written by George C. Beck, oldest child of Lawrence Beck, the oldest child of George August Beck.

George August Beck was born at Hadstett, near Husum, Schleswig, (now part of Germany) May 8, 1838. The following account, in broken English, is substantially as given to me on several visits to him in Spokane just before his passing:

"The first thing I remember is running away from home and falling asleep beside a roadside gate. Here my folks found me during the night. I remember telling the boys at school that I would be six tomorrow--on the day before we moved to Ostenfeld. I had the St. Vitus Dance when I was eight and it was thought that I would never recover, but I became husky enough to do the hardest sort of work.

"I also recall singing on the way home from school while the others danced in an old empty building. I also played on the 'handharmonica (accordion) for them.

"As I grew up I became accustomed to hard work. I finished school at 16 and brother Fritz and I did all the work on the church lands of my father. We would cut hay along the river and bring it home as far as ten miles. We used to haul as many as 50 loads of manure a day.

"We were accustomed to buy logs at auction on the church lands and cut them into cordwood. We hauled them to Husum and kept for ourselves whatever we could make."

(When I saw Grandpa in Feb. 1929, he told me the following):

"Last night I dreamt that I was back is Ostenfeld as a boy. Fritz and I used to fish in a nearby creek where we had made pools of backwater by throwing up dams across the current. We had caught a big pickerel in the river and thought it would be a good thing to put him in one of our pools. When we couldn't catch any more fish from the pool we told our dad. He laughed and lightly scolded us about putting in the pickerel to eat all our fish. I dreamed that we were going out to look at the pickerel and the pools again--father, Fritz and Christian's brother-in-law.)

"This is how I happened to come to America. I didn't like the hard work on the farm without any prospects. I was sort of wild anyhow. An acquaintance of mine had gotten a job for himself and wife out at Davenport, Iowa. I asked him to see if he couldn't arrange the same thing for me. A lot of Germans had settled at Davenport and were sending back to the old country for their help. Soon I had word that everything was arranged. Fritz was not unwilling to see me leave and have the farm for himself. He bought out my interest in some sheep we had together, and also helped smooth out matters at home. We told dad that I was coming over in a very expensive boat with plate glass all over it, etc., and asked for enough from him to make the passage. He said he didn't know it was so expensive to cross over, but all right, he wanted me to go over like somebody.

"I had just enough money then to pay for (my future wife) Margaret's and my tickets to Davenport. The night before the boat was to sail Fritz and I went over to tell her and her parents that everything was arranged. My folks had no inkling that I was taking her along. Father wouldn't have consented to the marriage.

"In order to avoid being seen we went northward to catch a train, a neighbor driving us and the acquaintance who had gotten us our jobs. Everyone who saw us knew that we were eloping. At Hamburg we almost lost out for Margaret had no passport. Since father made out the passports for our district I would have had to get one from him. The inspector looked her over severely and I lost hope and began to wring my hands and cry. Finally the inspector gave her a shove through the line and said, "Let her go." Margaret's good looks had something to do with that. We came over by way of England and all I remember of our stop there is trying to make them understand that I wanted a cup of coffee and paying one dollar for it when they did get the idea.

"After eighteen days at sea--the very cheapest passage instead of a fancy stateroom and boat--we arrived in America, May, 1862. Our jobs as already arranged for us left us four miles apart. Margaret was milking eight cows and feeding pigs and chickens. I was cutting slough grass with a scythe, often knee deep in water. She was earning eight dollars a month and I twelve. At the end of the season we had twenty-five dollars saved with which to set up in a little shack out in the prairie. This cost us $18.00 per year with two acres garden. We had barely enough cash left to buy a cheap stove. In the meantime we had been married at Davenport.

"This was during the Civil War. Prices were getting higher and work was not plentiful. I was glad to get work at a dollar a day. Before the war was over I could have had $800 for taking a man's place in the draft, but Margaret said no. The fellow never say a battle field, and we needed money badly to get started.

"The children began to come right away, too many, too soon, and we were in a very difficult situation. Finally upon our very earnest appeal and the intercession of my mother, father overlooked our elopement sufficiently to send over my inheritance--$400--with which to buy forty acres that I had my heart set upon. (It always bothered me that father never fully forgave me for the trick I had played upon him in bringing Margaret with me--he considered my marriage much below my level--and before I could return to Schlesswig to obtain his pardon, he was gone.)

"The forty acres was 20 miles northwest of Davenport and several miles south of Dixon, half timber and quite hilly. The money from home helped build a small house. We ran our scrubby cattle in the surrounding timber and I had to work out to keep things going. To make things more difficult Margaret's folks suddenly appeared on the scene.

"When the timber became settled so that we had no more free pasture we traded for the Barnhardt place south of Wheatland. I still had to work out, so I finally decided to quit the farm. We traded for a business house and a dwelling in Wheatland. The store building was rented to a harness maker. I worked on the gravel train on the Great Western Railroad, westward out of town. I got $1.25 a day and sometimes we loafed all day playing cards, when the foreman was off the job.

"Then we went back to the farm north of town. In 1878 a fellow got me onto his place near Wall Like. In the meantime we had had seven children in nine years, none of them twins. In '81 we bought 160 acres of prairie at Remsen for $6 per acre. This was the beginning of better times for the family. We bought a bunch of scrub cattle from William Ever's brother on shares. Later I bough a half section more.

"Now I was able to take a trip back to Ostenfeld to see my people. A neighbor and I set out together and in New York my companion was cheated out of his money by a bunco artist, and I had a hard time raising enough for both our fares. The stranger posed as a German who was being robbed out of his inheritance in the old country, and if given his passage to Germany would more than repay the loan. He would go on the same boat, but of course didn't show up.

"Mother was now staying in the widow's house provided at Ostendfeld by the church and government. Her servant told me that she was worried about us in America with such a large family. They arranged a big dinner at Thiesen's for us when I arrived. Mother, seeing me for the first time in 27 years, said, "Now I can die happy." We were at Thiesens and I was helping with the harvest. Mother had been chatting happily at the table. I noticed that she had stopped and said "Thiesen, what is the matter with mother, she doesn't say anything?" He reached over and found her inert. They ran to the minister's for help and he suggested a little wine. This partly restored her but she passed away the next noon, 1888. I don't recall anything of her girlhood other than that her father was a glass repairer and painter, who carried a box from place to place.

"My brother showed me the fine picture of father, the minister, as hung up in the Ostenfeld church and we were all very proud of him. It is a fine granite building put up in Luther's time excepting the tower which was added in 1802.

"I helped Christian build a fine new house while over there. Since Christian had no children I talked him out of father's watch and his ring. Christian said I might just as well have the watch as it was only fit for the jewelers--it was always there for repair. It never would run so when back at Remsen I traded it in for $40 on a new watch.

"Fritz was also gone--he had survived his marriage by but a few months. This was the saddest part of my visit, for he and I had been the two pals of the family. Christian's farm was just out of the town, it having come as his wife's dowry. Fritz's mill came in the same way. Father had wanted me to marry the sister of Christian's wife, who likewise had a $1000 dowry to go with her. (But she wasn't anything to look at and Margaret was a beauty.) The sisters were from the wealthy farmer class.

"About 1890 we moved to Alvord. Will had settled there and ran a dance hall, which he rented. He talked me into putting up a building and we rented half of it as a store. When the store went out of business I decided to reopen it, and Emma was to help me."

Added later by GFB:
In 1901 George August Beck moved to Spokane to live in retirement. He became a pathetic figure after the death of his wife Margaret in 1925. Almost blind, but with very acute hearing, he preferred to stay at the Pedicard Hotel. He died in 1930 from complications following a fall occasioned by his failing sight. He lies buried in the Riverside cemetery in Spokane beside Margaret and with their children Charles, Anna, Fred and Lawrence.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

What a nice addition to the info you have!!!