To mark Missouri Statehood Day, we present an excerpt from “My Missouri,” the prologue of Gary Kremer’s forthcoming This Place of Promise: A Historian’s Perspective on 200 Years of Missouri History, due out this November, and available now for pre-order. Gary Kremer is the Executive Director, Secretary, and Librarian of the State Historical Society of Missouri. He is the author, coauthor, or coeditor of 12 books.
“All that goes to make the me in me began in a Missouri
village. . . .”–Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)
As I began to think about writing this book commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of Missouri statehood, I began, also, to think about my own Missouri history, and the countless ways in which this state has shaped me. I am who I am because of where I was born, and when and where I grew up. The way I experienced the world over the past seven decades and more was largely determined by the timing of my birth, my gender, my race, my religion, and my parents’ ethnicity and socioeconomic standing. My personal story is a Missouri story, tied intrinsically to this state’s history. Without it, I would not be me. The same is true for all Missourians.
Missouri is a place that I have always called home, as have four generations of Kremers who preceded me, and two (and counting) generations who succeed me. Like so many Missourians past and present, I am descended from immigrants. My great-great grandfather, P. Gustav Kremer,came to Osage County, Missouri, from Krefeld, Germany, during the early 1840s, shortly after the county was established in 1841. As a young man in his early twenties, he came to Missouri in search of greater opportunities, a chance for a better life. He settled on a 103-acre farm, purchased from the federal government, near the village of Loose Creek, about 15 miles east of Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City. Soon thereafter (1844) he married a fellow German immigrant by the name of Agnes Dahler. The couple started a family the next year, with the birth of my great-grandfather, Joseph, in 1845.
Like too many men on my father’s side of the family, Gustav died young, not yet fifty years of age, in May 1865, soon after the end of the American Civil War. Four years later, his eldest child and only son, Joseph, married Anna Koenigsfeld, who lived several miles north of her husband’s birthplace, a farm along Cedar Creek, a Loose Creek tributary only a few miles from the Missouri River. Within a year of the marriage, Joseph and Anna purchased that farm and began their own family.
Between 1870 and 1885, Anna Koenigsfeld Kremer bore six children and was pregnant with a seventh when forty-year-old Joseph died of double pneumonia. Fifteen-year-old Henry, my grandfather, became the man of the house upon his father’s death, and with the help of his younger siblings continued to try to make a living on his parents’ farm. Over time, as he reached adulthood, he was able to purchase a farm adjacent to the one owned by his widowed mother.
Like so many Missourians during the mid-to-late nineteenth century, these three generations of Kremer men were farmers whose crops and livestock were largely consumed by their families. The 1880 federal agricultural census indicates that Joseph owned twenty acres of tilled land, two acres of “Permanent Meadows,” and eighty acres of “Unimproved” land—woodland and forest. The value of his farm, including land, fences, and buildings totaled $1,500. His farming implements and machinery were worth $80 and his livestock was valued at $250. The livestock consisted of two horses and two mules, four “Milch” cows, whose milk allowed the family to produce twenty-five pounds of butter. He also had four “other” cows. Three calves were “dropped” during the preceding year. Joseph sold five head of cattle during the previous year and slaughtered one for his family’s food. He also had sixteen head of swine, and his poultry flock numbered 100. The latter produced 100 dozen eggs over the course of the year. Presumably, the few cattle that were sold provided cash that allowed the family to acquire basic commodities that they could not or chose not to produce: salt, sugar, coffee, tobacco, and some limited clothing, including shoes. It is likely that butter and eggs were bartered for some of these commodities as well.
A Historian’s Perspective on 200 Years of Missouri History
Gary R. Kremer
$40.00 . hardcover . 302 pp. . 45 b&w photos