Volume 1, Number 5
Shortly after the close of the American Civil War a series of happenings in far-flung parts of the world culminated in adding a new family to the growing population in a newly-formed county in Southwest Missouri named Christian. This family in turn wrote a pleasant chapter in local history.
We start this story in Western Germany, near the Rhine and Ruhr Rivers, where two crimping circumstances created dissatisfaction in the minds of the region's young men. It was a time of revolutionary turmoil in Europe. Those young men able to find work were forced to labor long hours at bare subsistence wages. At the same time they were always subject to conscription into military forces seeking either to aid or to thwart Bismarck's nationalistic strategies. During the aborted revolutions of 1830 and 1848 many young men had already fled to the shores of free America.
One such young man, named Ferdinand Frank Kentling, lived in the town of Ahlen near the industrial cities of Munster and Dortmund. He heard tales of the new land, and with others planned and saved for his own trip. The city of St. Louis on the Mississippi had a large concentration of German emigres, some of them from Frank's home town. Thither his party headed, and in the late 1860's young Kentling was putting his early training to use as bookkeeper for a fellow country man who had become established here.
In Germany's neighboring states of France and Austria Bismarck's aggressive actions aroused apprehension. Former enemies, pompous Napoleon III of France and Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria composed their differences in their mutual fear of warlike Prussia.
Across the sea in Mexico another revolution had overthrown the dictator Santa Anna and severely restricted the medieval privileges of the propertied classes, including a corrupt and greedy church. The revolutionary leader, Benito Juarez, had been recognized as president by the United States in 1859.
This studio photograph of Frank and Katie Kentling was made in Springfield not many years after they settled in southwest Missouri, probably 1875. Frank would have been 34 at that time and Katie, 39. (Photo courtesy Mable Kentling Campbell.)
Dubious claims against Mexico by France, Great Britain, and Spain were unpaid, and Juarez had ordered payments suspended for a period of two years until the country's chaotic finances could be unjumbled. This provided a thin pretext for intervention, and all three powers signed a convention and dispatched armed men to enforce and collect on their claims. When customs proved inadequate France was in favor of moving inland; but Spain and Britain withdrew for fear of the reaction in neighboring United States. France then ordered its forces to proceed toward Mexico City, the capital.
Meanwhile, the clerical and landowning classes took advantage of the country's difficulties to approach the governments of France and Austria for a restoration of the monarchy in Mexico, together with their special privileges.
III, an incompetent soon to suffer the disaster of the Franco-Prussian War of
1870, and influenced by his Spanish wife, went along with the emissaries
arguments. He agreed that the United States was probably too deeply occupied with its own Civil War to intervene. Napoleon desired to establish French hegemony in Latin America; above all he wished by his own efforts to add to the luster of his name. He enlisted the support of Austria by agreeing to accept the emperor's brother, the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, as the new emperor of Mexico. Thus in April of 1864, Maximilian was induced to renounce his claims to the Austrian crown and to accept the offer of the Mexican throne. He began to recruit a court for the new world; and that is where the other party to our particular little drama enters upon this stage of history.
Katie Schetz was born in Hungary April 28, 1836, to an Austrian army officer and his wife. In the troubles of 1848, Katie's father lost his life in a battle with French forces, ironically enough. Her family then moved to Vienna, and in the Austrian capital Katie grew into womanhood. Here in 1862 she married a young musician named Heide. Young Heide's musicianship at the Austrian court attracted the notice of Maximilian, and when his Mexican venture was forming he offered Heide the post of bandmaster to the court. Heide accepted on condition that his bride be made a member of the party. Thus Katie came to the new world as lady in waiting to Empress Charlotte, high-strung daughter of King Leopold I of Belgium.
It was a gay party, composed mainly of eager young aristocrats, which arrived at Mexico City in May of 1864. None of them could assess their situation realistically enough to realize that their venture was doomed. Dependent entirely upon French troops and French finances, deficient in judgment and averse to the harsh necessities of his position, Maximilian was soon in trouble on all sides.
His troops succeeded in driving Juarez northward to the vicinity of the Rio Grande, only to alarm the United States government. Attempting to placate the liberals, Maximilian only angered the conservatives whose creature he was. The court was crawling with intrigue.
After Appomattox in April, 1865, U.S. Secretary of State Seward the following December demanded of Napoleon that French troops be removed from Mexico. This was followed in February, 1866, by an ultimatum, backed up by troops across the border. Napoleon got the point and a gradual withdrawal of the French began. This was the signal for the final push of Juarez and his aides, Including Porfirio Diaz, later long time dictator of Mexico.
In a desperate attempt to save the regime the Empress Charlotte in 1866 sailed for Europe to plead with Napoleon for a reversal of his order, with Pope Pius IX for his assistance, and with Francis Joseph for aid. She was put off in each court, and her accumulating frustrations completely unhinged a mind already unstable. Eventually she was placed in one of her father's castles, where she lived out her life until her death In 1927. Maximilian, meanwhile, gallantly turning down an opportunity to flee, was tried by a revolutionary tribunal and executed in June, 1867.
What of the Heide family in this debacle?
Heide had not been identified in the popular mind with the glittering life of the court. He had been seen only as the leader of the band whose music was liked by the people. In the final days of the regime he had been gravely injured in an earthquake which toppled many of the capital's public buildings. Now Katie took it upon herself to arrange for their flight. In this, she was helped by Juarez and by his young aide, Diaz, who provided a coach- and-four to carry the Heides to the seaport of Vera Cruz. They were followed, however, by mounted revolutionaries, who stopped the carriage and relieved all passengers of their gold and other valuables. Thus the Heides were left without means when they reached Vera Cruz. They were fortunate enough to find a kindly ship's captain who agreed to take them to New Orleans. At the U.S. port Heide arranged to work their passage upstream on a river packet to the German colony at St. Louis.
Maximilian and Carlota in coronation robes. (Paintings by Albert Graefle, Munich, now hang in the National Museum of History, Mexico City.)
the river port the Heides were befriended by kindly Germans; but Heide's injuries
grew progressively more serious and six months after their arrival he was dead.
Twelve days later Katie gave birth to a daughter, Annie. Thereafter, no call
for the skills of a lady-in-waiting having come in, Katie supported herself
and her infant by work as a domestic. It was in these circumstances
Now for a little we shall have to piece out fact with imagination, for neither Frank nor Katie left a record of their most inmost thoughts. We do know that Frank had made a trip to the region around Springfield. We know further that he met there a man named Keysser from his own Rhineland. Keysser was a runaway from a German noble family who had acquired much cheap land in Christian County, in the hills below the village of Nixa. Kentling had explored the area on horseback and afoot and Keysser had agreed to sell him a tract upon which Frank proposed to start a trading post.
Kentling realized that his most immediate need was a wife, a strong-bodied, industrious woman of his own race and language who could aid him in his project. Once at the house of a friend, Frank had come upon Katie down on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor with Teutonic thoroughness. She was five years his senior; but the practical German assessed Katie as both attractive and capable and asked her to marry him.
Katie for her part was no less practical. She realized that her gay days at court were in the past. Moreover she knew that she was getting along in age and that a widow with a young child was not the most salable asset on the marriage market. Furthermore, although he was young, Kentling appealed to her as a handsome man with prospects. She was not afraid of the challenge of the frontier; it was a way to provide for her own as well as her daughter's future and to get away from menial labor.
So, when he was 27 and she was 32, Frank and Katie were wed and moved to the log cabin arranged for them on the Wilderness Road at a high point in the hills 25 miles south of the trading center of Springfield. At this time, 1868, Springfield was a growing town of 7,000 population, soon to become the railhead of the Pacific Railroad pushing west from Rolla.
The cabin had been erected on the banks of a large, shallow pond (now drained). Just to the north of the cabin Frank built a log store, and when it was completed, stocked it with a tradesman's assortment of the staples needed in a pioneer region.
Kentling had astutely reasoned out his location. There was a scattering of settlers, mainly living along the rivers and creeks. Frank had calculated also that his store would be a welcome stop for wagoners at the end of a day's push from the supply center at Springfield to their destinations on the White River or in Arkansas beyond. He had determined that these wagoners in their northbound trip would make an extra effort to reach his trading post for a night's rest before ending their journey the following day.
The venture prospered in a modest way. For industrious people who like to be busy during all their waking hours, as Frank and Katie did, it was a good life.
There was a garden to tend, canning to be done, cows to be milked, steers and hogs to be fed, butchered or sold. The store's economy was based chiefly on trading rather than cash; thus Frank had furs and wild plant roots as well as the usual agricultural produce to dispose of. Regular trips for this purpose as well as to pick up supplies had to be made to Springfield. At the same time Frank acted as post master to the settlement, delivering and picking up mall. Then there was a constant procession of travelers to provide for and put up. Many of these were wagoners hauling cotton or driving livestock to the railhead at Springfield and carrying supplies back to their respective settlements.
Children came with regularity: Amelia, Frank Jr., Ben, Joseph, Anthony, Willie, Johanna, Charley; eventually a family of eleven, including Katie's first daughter, Annie. If either Frank or Katie had any inclination to brood, neither had time for such self-indulgence.
Mrs. Katie Kentling, about 70, wearing her hand-crocheted fichu. (Photo courtesy Mable Kentling Campbell.)
The log cabin soon became inadequate. Seasoned lumber was hauled in and a more commodious frame house arose beside the pond to house the growing family. The log store also gave way in time to a long, two-story frame structure, its shelves loaded with every item - from pins to neckyokes- salable in an isolated community. Across the Wilderness Road, still on Kentling land, the empty spaces gradually filled with barns, warehouses, stock pens, a wagon yard with sheds for the travelers' use, a drive-on scales. Eventually a huge apple orchard brightened the scene with spring bloom and autumn fruit sold to settlers from miles around. Sometimes, when spring floods had swollen the creeks, travelers would be encamped in the wagonyard for days at a time. Then Katie's huge hunks of savory gingerbread, at five cents the piece, sold along with crackers and cheese and meats from the store's supply.
Local people called it "the Dutch store" because of Frank's and Katie's fractured English, heavy with German gutturals. But Frank, ever generous, and with, a thought for its high and wide horizons, named his settlement Highlandville. He did not, as did so many other founders, seek to glorify his name by calling it "Kentlingville," even though the settlement was made up chiefly of Kentling kin.
Kentling came from the old country to the land of promise as word reached there
of the Kentling prosperity, and as
Frank sent passage money: Brother Franz, whom Frank saw educated as a doctor and started on his career. Then, with a wife and two children as hostages to fortune, some dichotomy in his makeup caused Franz to take his own life. Thereupon the children, Rex and Maude, were added to Katie's charges in the already crowded house on the Wilderness Road.
Thus life proceeded for the busy Kentlings through the decades of the '70's, '80's, '90's, into the Twentieth Century. The children grew up, married, and soon Katie be came Grandma and Frank, Grandfather. With a German's high regard for the value of scholarship, Frank saw to it that each of his children had an opportunity at college. One son, Joseph, became a physician in Bloomington, Indiana; Anthony, a California accountant. Frank and Charley, after their father's retirement, each had a store on separate streets in Highlandville; Frank's was to continue 40 years until his own retirement in 1947. Ben and Willie liked the open spaces; they came back from college to be successful farmers. Johanna married a man named Stephens and settled with him in Colorado, where she still lives. Amelia became Mrs. Alfred Forrester and now, at 91, lives in Springfield. The other of three surviving children, Charley, now is 76 and retired in Highlandville.
For all that, only one great- grandchild now lives to carry on the Kentling name. Some of the Kentlings were childless; others had only girl children. The name now devolves upon Billie Karl, son of Karl, who was the son of Frank Jr.
Frank Jr.'s daughter, Mable Campbell, following the example of her father and grandfather, be came postmaster at Highlandville in 1921, the year of the elder's death, and has continued in the postoffice to the present. Like her grandfather, she is pleasant, friendly, forward - looking. She has a hospitable greeting for each patron of the postoffice; all of them are her friends and neighbors. Her husband is deceased; but she has two sons of whom to be proud: Paul, a Highlandville businessman; and James Wayne ("Cookie"), a scholar after his great-grandfather's heart. A PhD in zoology, he is an assistant professor in the subject at Rice Institute in Houston. Another granddaughter of the elder Kentlings also lives at Highlandville: Roma Holmes, daughter of Willie Kentling.
An historian has a duty to record the gloomy along with the bright. Into the
relationship of this wonderful couple, Katie and Frank, came eventual discord.
In 1913, when with the children gone they most needed each other's companionship
to compensate for the echoing silences of their once
crowded home, In the twilight of their lives, they discovered a basic and unbridgeable incompatibility.
Again a record of the "why" is absent. We can only hazard an informed surmise. These things we do know: Frank had been reared in the Nineteenth Century German tradition which relegated women to a servile role in the home. They were the dominant male's ego-supporters, the bearers of his children, the regulators of his household. Katie was not formed to fit this subsidiary position. At all times she had much about her of the grande dame, the imperious equal of man in physical, mental and moral strength. She never forgot that at one time she had held a favored position in an imperial court, how ever fragile that position had been.
Whatever the cause, Katie went before Judge John T. Moore in Christian County Circuit Court and, pleading general indignities, prayed for a divorce, with alimony and costs. Frank's attorney filed an answer denying all allegations; and when the hearing came Judge Moore found the aggrieved party to be the defendant, Frank. He could thus have held Katie to her marriage contract, but, generous to the last, he asked the Judge to grant Katie the decree and to give her all her costs and alimony. In a humble, heart-tugging statement he said:
"Judge, I want Kate to have whatever she wants and whatever she needs, including our home. She's a fine woman. The only thing is, we just can't get along together."
Frank moved a few personal belongings into a small house he owned across the road to live in loneliness the remaining eight years left to him. He kept occupied tending his big orchard and minding a roadside stand after the apples were ripe. He died May 16, 1921 at the home of his son Ben in the 79th year of his age.
In the big house Katie entertained her many friends as well as her children and grand children. Newspaper reporters sought her out for interviews as word of her colorful past got around. She maintained a rather large correspondence, with her children who had settled at a distance, even with her former mistress, the mad empress, Charlotte. She survived her husband by twelve years, dying at the home of her daughter Amelia, April 18, 1933, just ten days short of her 97th birthday.
In death, the couple was rejoined by their sorrowing children. Frank and Katie lie side by side in the family plot in Odd Fellows Cemetery at Highlandville, their names sharing a common stone.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly