When I think about our organized military system, both during the years of the draft and now with our military being voluntary service, it occurs to me just how fortunate we, as a people, are to live where we do. There are so any evil leaders in countries who are not only enemies to the rest of the world, but in reality, enemies to their own people. In those countries, the military forces are not only not voluntary and not draft either, but rather they are forced into service, and often taken forcibly from their homes in the middle of the night, never to be seen again. Those taken are often children…even very young children, who are taken from their families and trained to be soldiers, or rather, trained killers. Their lives are viewed as unimportant. They are simply there to do the bidding of their evil government, and die doing it if necessary. They are expendable, because to replace them, the government simply goes out in the middle of the night and takes another child from another family by force. This was the position my great great grandfather, Stephan Beier found himself, his wife, Anna Maria Meier Beier, and their family in, one night in Russia. It was the reason that his family left Russia, and it was the reason my grandfather, Cornealius Byer was in the United States when he met my great great grandmother, Edna Fishburn in the Dakota Territory in the mid 1880’s.
The family had been asleep and suddenly, they were awakened to the most horrifying event any family could ever imagine. Their son was taken at gun point, by soldiers. It was the Russian draft of the day. They did not care what his age was, nor did they care about any other qualifications, or the lack thereof. They needed more soldiers, and he had been chosen. I’m sure they had watched him for some time, along with watching many other young men his age. I don’t know how old he was at the time, but I do know that he was probably not out of school yet. What I do know is that my great great grandparents never saw their son again. My guess is that he probably lost his life in a battle somewhere within a year. The Russian leaders did not care about the soldiers…they were expendable…a dime a dozen, so their safety was unimportant. They were most likely sent into the worst battle zones, to fight the most likely to be lost battles. In that way, they government could keep their best officers and soldiers, the ones who had chosen to be there…if that was possible, safer from the worst battles. Or maybe, they put all the soldiers in the same harm’s way.
My great great grandparents were very distraught at the events of that night and they knew that they were not going to go through it again. The decision was made to secretly make their way out of Russia and go to the United States where their children could grow up safely, and if they were drafted into military service, they would be treated with dignity, and they would be able to stay in touch with their families. No parent is completely comfortable with their child going into military service, because if there is a war, their child will be in the middle of it. Nevertheless, they are proud of their child’s service…when it is done in the right way. To come into their home in the middle of the night, and forcibly take their child, knowing that they will never hear from that child again, is simply and horribly wrong. My great great grandparents decided that they were never going to go through it again. That is what made their decision to immigrate to the United States a move that was much less scary that the thought of staying in Russia. They never knew what happened to their son, and I’m certain that was something that stayed with them all their lives, but they knew they had done the right thing when they saw the rest of their family grow up and lead good lives in the United States.
My great grandmother, Henriette Schumacher came to the United States reluctantly, with her sister, brother-in-law, and their two young children. Henriette’s mother had insisted that she go to help with the children. She was worried about the immigration to a new land so far away, and she figured that if both girls went, they could protect each other, and be company for each other. I think my great great grandmother knew her girls pretty well, and thought that the loneliness might be too much for either of them alone, and so going together would help to alleviate that loneliness. It was in the United States that my great grandmother would meet and marry my great grandfather, and would never again be sorry that she had come here.
When the family moved from Minnesota to North Dakota, they bough some land, and would later move to a better piece of land, with a wonderful artesian well, that worked so well, that it formed a ten acre lake right near the family home. During his courtship of my grandmother, Anna, my grandfather, Allen Luther Spencer stocked the lake with a dozen small catfish from the river. For some years, the catfish were forgotten, until Carl and Henriette’s son, Fred noticed them. My great grandfather, Carl Schumacher built a flat bottomed boat for the three youngest children, who were the only ones living at home then, and they went fishing. By this time, the lake was teeming with catfish, and they practically jumped into the boat voluntarily. Great Grandma Schumacher would fry up those fish, and the family would have a feast. It was catfish that was fed to the threshers when they came too and Aunt Bertie says they tasted so good, that she can them from memory. Great Grandma rolled them in cornmeal and fried them in country butter, like only she could do. Aunt Bertie said she has never had catfish that could beat her mother’s. Great Grandma Schumacher was also the first one in the whole countryside to make fried chickens from young chickens. Before that everyone used mature chickens, which can be tough, they were stewed with dumplings.
When my great grandmother was in her early fifties, she got rheumatoid arthritis. Before very long, she was unable to do the things she used to do. A very short time later, that she was no longer the person who did the cooking, and while the girls tried to make those most loved foods taste the same as their mother had done all those years, they could never match the taste. It’s always sad when that happens. You can follow the recipe, but somehow, it just doesn’t taste the same. I think that is because, try as they might, most of those great cooks didn’t use a recipe, and writing it down is really their best guess at the quantities they used, and the person following the recipe is hard pressed to figure out the exact combination. I feel sorry for my aunts, uncle and great grandpa, because they remembered the way things used to be, but knew that they could never be that way again.
I never knew my Great Grandpa Byer, because he passed away in 1930, long before I was born. Most of what I know of him comes from my genealogy research, pictures I have found, and the stories I have heard from my mom. The first time I remember hearing about him was when I gave birth to my oldest daughter, Corrie. My mother mention that I might want to name her Cornelia, so that it would be after her great great grandpa. I was not willing to go so far as to change the name I had chosen, but the name did attach itself to Corrie anyway, in the form of a nickname…that I loved, by the way.
My research told me that my great grandfather was born in Russia, which very much surprised me, as I thought that part of the family came from Germany. My mother filled in the blanks there, by telling me that in the 1780’s, my 6th great grandfather, who was concerned because of wars in Europe, and wanting to keep his family, and especially his son safe from the increasing German interest in jumping into the war. So, he moved his family to Russia, where my part of the family would live until, my great grandfather’s family immigrated to the United States. He eventually settled in South Dakota, where he married my great grandmother.
Picture documentation, at the point, places my great grandparents on a homestead in Nebraska. During his time in South Dakota and Nebraska, he befriended many of the Indians in the area. He was well respected by them and was invited to their Pow Wow’s. It is at this point in the family history that I came across another picture that made me wonder about its inclusion in the other family pictures. It still seems odd to me, but my mom assures me with her story, that it indeed fits in the family history. The picture is of a group of men in a pool hall. When I asked mom about the picture, she told me that she didn’t know the men in the picture, but the pool hall had belonged to her grandfather. I am still trying to figure out how he went from homesteading to a pool hall owner, but that is what he did. I’m sure that like most career changes, the decision was based on the income possibilities, because the main thing is to be able to support your family. The pool hall is not surprising to me because of what it was, but because of the fact that he had been a homesteader and farmer by trade for so long. Things change, as the needs change, and that is as simple as that. He saw a way to make a living, or even supplement the family income, and he did it. It is an interesting twist to my history.