ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Sesquicentennial Celebration

Forty-Eighters leave their mark on Watertown


An influx of settlers came distinctively from German heritage and Kiessling states, “In Watertown they outnumbered all other nationalities and were more influential than the others in determining the character of the town.”  This “peaceful penetration” slowly crowded many Irish, Yankee, and French farmers out of Watertown to make room.  Of course, it must be noted that the Germans were much more successful farmers because of their ability to bring over-cropped land back to fertility with fertilizers.  After fleeing from the revolutions of Europe, many of these “forty-eighters” were university men who were forced to take on common jobs as store owners and druggists when they arrived here. [Source]


Contributed by Charles Wallman


This was a two-part series about Watertown's earliest settlers that appeared in the Watertown Daily Times on 11/27/1998 and 11/28/98.


Some years after the murder of a French fur trader at Ka-Ka-Ree on the banks of Sin-Sip-Pa, Timothy Johnson settled permanently along the banks of the Rock River in 1836. His wife and seven children joined him on Dec. 12 that same year.


The following year, 1837, found other Yankees locating at Johnson's Rapids as the settlement became quickly known.


There was one foreigner among them, a German by the name of Jacob Wiedemann.


Five more Germans came to the fledgling community in 1843. It was from this nucleus that the German element rapidly grew.


As the tiny settlement of Watertown (formerly Johnson's Rapids) expanded, unrest was sweeping across Europe, especially in the 35 or so German-speaking states. There were many causes for dissatisfaction among the populace. Perhaps the greatest single factor was the huge crop failures of 1846 - the potato famines - and the resulting drop in industrial output and economic depression.


Craftsmen and their apprentices were anxious to get rid of the restrictions of the guilds on their professional freedom. Peasants wanted to be freed of their obligations under the old feudal system. There were intellectuals, lawyers, professors, students, who wanted freedom of speech, trial by jury, representative government, a German national state.


And there was almost total discontent among the enlisted men in the military, primarily at the elitist officer corps.


Among this wide-ranging discontent, it was inevitable that people would want to leave a situation they felt was intolerable. Many chose to follow that path. Some relocated elsewhere in Europe. Carl Schurz, for example, went to England. Some went to the New World, either Canada or the United States.


It is unknown how many of these unhappy individuals came directly to Watertown. Surely there were some. But it is known that a total of at least 62 Forty-Eighters did come to Watertown. The very first to arrive was a former student at Heidelberg, Schumann by name. Other than his name and university, nothing else could be determined about him.


The first cluster came over a three-year period, from 1848 through 1850. Christian Fischer attended the University of Gottingen; he used his medical training here as a physician. Henry Mulberger had a wide background in manufacturing and locally was a grocer who became a lawyer. Mulberger's family had a long tradition of service back in Speyer. He and three of his sons were each elected as mayor of Watertown.


Louis Ranis came from a well-to-do family and worked as an archeologist in Watertown. He was a professor at Northwestern College and he farmed. He died in the poor-house in La Crosse. William Wiggenhorn had been both a businessman and a postmaster. He came to the city with his wife and eight children. His role in Watertown was as the owner of the Buena Vista hotel.


Frederick Hermann was a former student who had also worked in a tannery. He was the first Forty-Eighter to be elected to public office in Watertown; he was chosen as an alderman. Later he served as city treasurer. He also had a saloon and beer garden. Jacob Karst had an unclear background in Europe, but operated a very popular local saloon in the city. It functioned also as a trading site for real estate deals and the like.


Arriving in 1849 were four more dissidents. Louis Bahr, once an economics student, had managed an estate back home. In Watertown he farmed, and later operated a saloon. Charles Grote also had a university education.  He first had a distillery here, but later moved north where he had a grocery store and subsequently became a judge.


Daniel Kusel had been a tin smith and a manufacturer. He followed those callings in Watertown as well as having a hardware business. Joseph Stoppenbach had been a lawyer and notary; he farmed here, had a distillery, later founded a title and abstract business.  He also became the register of deeds.


Theodore Bernhard


Prior to arrival in 1850, Theodore Bernhard had been a student and private tutor; here he first made cigars, then became an educator and conducted a private school.


Back in Bohemia Wenzel Quis was a railroad construction supervisor and a soldier. In Watertown he operated a saloon and a grocery store. He and his wife ultimately celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary.


Ernst Off served in the French army for several years. So it was not surprising that he rode with the union army's cavalry during the Civil War. After the war he resumed his work as city marshal in Watertown.  He later became sheriff of Jefferson County.


During the next several years a small scattering of Forty-Eighters drifted into the community. They cannot be ignored. Emil Rothe came in 1851, a former University student who made cigars when he first came to town. He later became a highly successful lawyer and newspaperman.  After living in Watertown for 17 years, he went to Cincinnati where he gained wide acclaim as editor of the local German paper, Volksfreund.


William Bieber


Henry Bieber [probably should be William Bieber], an 1852 arrival, was once a university student of theology; here operated a saloon and served long as Watertown's city clerk.  He was the most involved in local politics of any of the Forty-Eighters.


Leopold Kadish, another 1852 arrival, had once been a soldier. He turned into a local merchant and lumber dealer. He originated Watertown's Fair Day in 1860. It continues as a street market in the city today.


The next three years brought a surge of Forty-Eighters to the community.


David Blumenfeld had been both a soldier and printer back home. After his arrival in 1853, he was first a printer, later a highly regarded newspaperman who founded the local German press. Another 1853 arrival was Hugo von Bredow who had been a baron and cavalry officer. Here he was first a farmer, then later a hotel proprietor. The cockfights he had on Sunday afternoons were quite popular. Also a newcomer that year was Ernst Grossmann, a former medical student and postmaster. His calling here was first as a cigar manufacturer, later a land agent.


Joseph Salick


Rounding out the newcomers list that year was Joseph Salick, once a soldier, in Watertown a watchmaker and jeweler. When he retired at age 85 he was the oldest active jeweler in the state. He had been a co-founder of St. Henry Catholic Church.


Five more of the former dissidents came in 1854. Frederick Brandt had been the "mechanical director" for composer Richard Wagner. Brandt gained a strong reputation in the city as a grocer and later a general store owner (which had a saloon in its basement). Frederick Hoeper had served as the business manager to Dutch nobility, but after his arrival in Watertown he farmed and functioned as a music teacher and director.  He later was a bookkeeper in a brewery.


Charles Palmer's European background is unknown, but locally he was a lawyer and newspaperman. He left Watertown to edit a Milwaukee newspaper and later operated a government paper factory in Massachusetts. For Henry Steger there was little transition needed in America. He had been a construction engineer and a soldier, and in Watertown he was a civil engineer and surveyor and county surveyor. Henry Bassinger was a mason in Prussia; locally he was still a mason as well as a soldier during the Civil War. After seeing dead mules in a stream during the war, he vowed never to drink water again.  He kept that promise.


There were seven Forty-Eighter arrivals on the local scene in 1855.


Back in Holstein Peter Bodien had been a lawyer; here he became a newspaperman and a grocer. Charles Jacobi, once a law student and government official became a farmer, a grocer, then a liquor wholesaler and a bedstead manufacturer. He also was the president of the local gas company.


Henry Peters continued as a tailor in America, just as he had worked previously. He was a co-founder of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Oconomowoc. Phillip Schmidt, once an analytical chemist, switched careers and did fresco painting and manufactured soap. Most prominent among those Forty-Eighters who came to the city was Carl Schurz. He had been a university student. In the United States he was basically a politician, served as alderman of Watertown's Fifth Ward, was a U.S. Senator, Secretary of the Interior of the nation, minister to Spain, newspaperman, His wife, Margarethe, founded the first kindergarten in the United States in Watertown.


Johann Strauss had once been a soldier and shoemaker; in Watertown, he was a farmer and continued as a cobbler. William D. Sproesser had been a watchmaker in Wurttemberg; he continued that calling here and was a jeweler as well.


Clemens Eger had attended several universities and had been a physician in Europe; he continued as one locally. He came in 1856. The following year was marked by two more arrivals. Hermann (von) Lindermann had been actively involved in the revolution and was condemned to death. He had been a newspaperman and soldier. His Watertown career was as a newspaperman, he followed that same career in St. Louis. Adolf Strodtmann was a former university student. In America he worked as author and translator and lived with Carl Schurz and his parents in Watertown.


Carl Feld Sr. came in 1858. The former soldier became a pharmacist and came to America before the revolution. He returned to Europe and studied medicine, then came to Watertown and practiced as a physician. John Kube, once a judge in Poland, had a very strong legal background; in Watertown, he functioned as a justice of the peace and deputy sheriff. He had frequently brushed with the law, primarily because of erratic behavior.

Emil Gaebler


During 1859 Emil Gaebler, formerly a student, came into the community. He became a highly regarded organ manufacturer and music director. His wife was the former Baroness Charlotte von Beust, one of the few members of nobility to come to the city during these heady years.


An 1862 newcomer was Fr. Max deBeck, a Hungarian-born priest who had been a military chaplain. In Watertown he was the pastor of the German-Catholic Church, St. Henry's.


Henry Pritzlaff came to the growing community in 1864. He had been a soldier but in Watertown he became a hardware merchant, operated a flour mill, and was a grain and produce dealer.


Henry Colonius participated in the revolution at the age of 17. He served as the editor of the Staatzeitung in Wheeling, Va. (now West Virginia), eventually came to Watertown in 1865, after a brief return to Germany on family business. He farmed for several years near Richwood then came to the city where he and brother Carl conducted a commission business. He later became a judge of Jefferson County for 17 years. Two more Forty-Eighters came in 1867. lgnatz Jahna arrived from Austria after service as a soldier. He   settled near Richwood where he farmed the rest of his life. George Hugo Licht came from a very wealthy family and had studied law. He was an art and music teacher who came to the city because of his uncle, Emil Rothe. He dissipated his wealth and was widely recognized for his eccentric behavior.


There were a large number of other Forty-Eighters who came to Watertown at times that could not be determined. One was Adolph Beurhaus who was both a hotel keeper and saloon owner. He died an unfortunate death when cleaning his pistol which accidentally discharged and put a shot through his heart. William Biebermann had been a university classics student. When in our city he thrived as a shoemaker. Also arriving in the community was a virtual unknown, a former artillery officer named Boenig. What work he pursued here could not be learned. Once a professor of chemistry, Paul Creydt became one of the community's "Latin farmers," and remained in that work the rest of his life.


Cross Reference:  Brilliant bakers at Watertown: a Watertown native recalls the sudden influx of German intellectuals following the German revolution of 1848: “. . . it was no uncommon thing to hear on Main Street a tavern-keeper, a grocer or a cobbler disputing vigorously on certain dissertations of ancient men of different schools of philosophy. It was a strange and fascinating mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous.” (from the Appleton  PostCrescent, August 02, 192


Charles "Squire" Ducasse came from France and had been a civil engineer. Locally he first became a farmer, then later a hotel owner and did surveying. In the latter work, he also was Watertown's City Surveyor. Joseph Engelmann had been a theologian and may have been a clergyman but in Watertown he was associated for a time as a newspaper editor of the Anzeiger. Franz Graefe was another of those who had been a university student. With a brother and two others, he operated a distillery near the Rough and Ready dam. He later returned to Germany. Louis Hillmantel had been a schoolteacher, back in the old country.  In Watertown, he tuned pianos, later was the calliope player for a circus that came to town. When he died, he was a high school principal in Milwaukee.


Locally it was believed that Emil Honerjaeger had been a professor back in the old country. But he made his livelihood here as a tinsmith who also sold ovens in his store. Otto Linde pursued life in Europe as a poet and sculpture. Once he arrived in the city, he opened a bakery and a confectionery shop that were very popular; he often delivered well-accepted orations at the funerals of other Forty-Eighters. M. D. Marx had once been a Catholic priest, but was defrocked. He married, had several children. He farmed for a time, was a saloon operator, later taught school elsewhere, and was Assistant Register of Deeds for Dodge County. Bernard "Gentleman" Miller operated an elegant local saloon, was once a cigar wholesaler and had a flouring mill. He had been a student prior to the revolution. His nickname came from his elaborate manners and elegant dress. Charles Paraski dropped the "von" portion of his family name when he got to America. His European background is unknown.  In Watertown he functioned as an insurance agent, travel agent, money exchange specialist.


Franz G. L. Struve farmed south of Watertown.  He was also the Jefferson County Register of Deeds for a time, later a member of the State Assembly. He was also Consul General for the United States in Quebec, Canada, where he died.


Another of the many university students was Henry Tigler. He was the co-owner of a distillery in Watertown with other Forty-Eighters, but returned to Germany where he became the owner of a large brewery. Although he lived in nearby Waterloo, L. H. Trayser seemed to have identified with the Watertown community. He had been a cabinetmaker in Hesse and continued that calling here in America. He was also a furniture dealer. Hermann H. Winter had been a university student who was also a philologist and theologian. He farmed south of Watertown and became a member of the State Assembly. On occasion he was a temporary "leader" of the local Freie Gemeinde, a "free" congregation.


Watertown's Forty-Eighters were freedom lovers by their very nature. They had involvement in various ways in the great revolutions which so dramatically affected Europe. They had come to our city to start new lives. They contributed in a wide range of social, political and personal ways. But perhaps the greatest end product of each Forty-Eighters new life in Watertown was the personal freedom he was able to find and the satisfaction that came with finding it.


Well, done Forty-Eighters !!!