Prussian Hero Grandfather Adapts To Wabaunsee County

-by Dean Gladow

[Note: Second in a series concerning the Heidemann/Bock/Gladow family.]

Normally, a generation is thought to be about twenty-five years.  However, there are exceptions, including my maternal grandfather being 91 years older than I!  Gustav Wilhelm Bock was born May 7, 1847, in what is now northwestern Poland.  I suspect there are relatively few people who can say they and two previous generations have spanned more than seventeen decades!

Gustav’s birthplace was near Charbrow (Laurenburg area) — which is now known as Charbrowo (Lebork area), due to widespread name changes to locations which were no longer German after WWI.  At the time of Gustav’s presence near Charbrow, it was actually a portion of Germany then known as Pomerania, Prussia.  As evidenced by minimal church records not destroyed during the later WWII, several other surnames familiar in western Wabaunsee County were also present at, or near, Charbrow at that time, including Gnadt, Schmanke, Schulz (Schultz?), Fink, Maike, Redemske, Duball (Dieball?), Muller (Mueller and/or Miller?), Banka, and Palinske (Palenske?).

Bock Family

Bock Family– Gustav Sr. & “Mina” seated; children from left: Otille [Maike], Edward, Caroline [Kietzman], Gustav Jr., Minnie [Gladow], Hulda [Fink]

But what about those words “Prussian hero” in the above title?

I learned that although “Grandpa Gus” had been reluctant to speak of it, there was a family story that he had served in the German/Prussian army and had “achieved high honors in the Franco-Prussian War” prior to his immigration.  Could this have been true, despite his deference and no known evidence such as medals or a uniform?

At the time of the war (1870 – 1871), the country of Germany was still rather unorganized.  However, the “Northern Confederation”, led by Prussia and its Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, was encouraging the independent southern German states to join into an alliance.  France, on the other hand, with territory adjacent to those states, had fears of a potential shift in the European balance of power.  Quite probably provoked by Bismarck’s declarations, the French parliament voted on July 16, 1870, to declare war on Prussia and hostilities began three days later with their invasion of the southern German area.  Interestingly, the entire war took place along the border of France and the southern German states, rather removed from Prussia.  But in any case, the Prussians rapidly retaliated, had better training and leadership, and made more effective use of what was then modern technology, particularly railroads and artillery.  They were clearly the victors after a short, but rather vicious, war of just over six months.  It ended with the Treaty of Frankfurt which included the German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, and also resulted in Bismarck’s desired unification of Germany.

Prussian Officer

Prussian Military Officer, Franco-Prussian War

Evidence of Grandpa’s participation was initially uncovered in something only documented much later.  It was in his “Registration Affidavit of Alien Enemy” of 1918, during World War I.  These documents supposedly were to be collected throughout the U.S. via post offices, but participation was rather spotty and most of the records have since been destroyed.  However, in Wabaunsee County, the German immigrants, including women, were largely registered and the records still exist. In his registration, Gustav indeed indicates “4 years military service in Germany”.

Registration 1

Gus Bock’s “Registration Affidavit of Alien Enemy”, Page 1.

Registration 2

Gus Bock’s “Registration Affidavit of Alien Enemy”, Page 2.

More recent evidence was obtained via communication with Mr. Martin Tomczak, a German citizen and expert on the war, and proficient in the English language.  His findings included:

“I was looking at the “Anlagen” (Appendices) in Lehmann, “Die Mobilmachung von 1870/71″ (Berlin 1905) and in “Anlage 28″, a long list of officers and officials of the Prussian War Ministry I came across “Geheimer Registrator” Gustav Bock.  He was with Abteilung (Department, or Section) AKD 1b in the Ministry and it states that between 28th September 1870 and 20th May 1871, he was “Feld-Intendantur-Sekretaer” and subsequently “Kriegszahlmeister” with Siege Corps at Strasbourg, then with the 14th Army Corps and finally with 15th Army Corps.  He will have been decorated for his work in the supply and administration side of things;  in particular the 14th Corps had a problem with supply early in January 1871 when the advance by Bourbake forced to corps to fall back towards Belfort with the supply line having to be rerouted into southern Alsace, a difficult process carried out at short notice.”

So indeed, the tale of Grandpa being (at least somewhat of) a “Prussian hero”– if only due to his ability to organize and make things happen quickly, appears to be valid!  Those same traits, along with being logical and always looking for ways to improve things, also served him well in later life.

Evidently, he lived in Prussia for another eight years before immigrating (on the ship ‘Herder’) to the U.S. in March 1879, and thence on to western Wabaunsee County, where others from the Charbrow area had settled.  He initially moved into a single-room log cabin, northwest of Templin and about five miles north of current Alta Vista.  This old cabin (see photo) was later moved to the Ag Heritage museum on the south edge of Alta Vista and restored by the museum owner and semi-distant cousin, Everett Zimmerman and his wife Hazel.  During the restoration, it was discovered that Gus had cleverly provided a secret hiding place for his valuables.

Log Cabin

Dean & Diane Gladow at Gus Bock’s Restored Log Cabin, Ag Heritage Park, Alta Vista, KS.

It seems that Gustav immediately took a liking to America and Wabaunsee County, perhaps partly due to the countryside being similar to his earlier home.  Within four years he had convinced sisters Henrietta and Augusta, along with niece Johanna, to also immigrate to the area.  All three women eventually married area Zimmerman men!  Further evidence of his appreciation of his new home was his becoming a naturalized citizen, renouncing “forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty” via the District Court in Alma.

Later, and although then nearly 41 years of age, Grandpa courted and then married, in 1888, a young area widow, Wilhelmina [Heidemann] Soelter.  (See my previous article, “Great-grandfather’s Civil War Rifle”.)  “Mina”, as my grandmother was known, had previously married Conrad Soelter of the northeastern area of  Wabaunsee County, known as Wells Creek, and had a single child by him, both of whom unfortunately died, probably of the measles, in 1887.  Her marriage to Granddad Bock took place at the new Zion Lutheran Church in Templin, where services were held in his native German language.

Granddad made a success of farming and ranching in his adopted country and in 1896, he was able to purchase 292 acres of land on the West Branch of Mill Creek between Templin and Volland.  Thereon, he built a nice home (including one of the first indoor bathrooms in the area) and farm buildings, and it became locally known as “Walnut Farm”.  The 1919 Wabaunsee County Atlas states: “Walnut Farm, residence of G.W. Bock, farmer & breeder of Hereford cattle, mules, draft horses, Duroc Jersey hogs, and poultry”.  There, he and Grandmother raised six children– Minnie [Bock] Gladow, Caroline [Bock] Kietzman, Edward, Hulda [Bock] Fink, Otillie [Bock] Maike, and Gustav Jr.  Life was enjoyable on the farm– riding the horses, fishing in Mill Creek, and developing various friendly associations with the neighbors in those days preceding radio and television.

Walnut Farm 2

Bock Home at “Walnut Farm”

However, life on the farm was not always an ideal situation.  Walnut Farm had a major early-day railroad track running through it, and it became the scene of the all-time worst train accident in the area, and perhaps the state of Kansas– occurring on New Year’s Day of 1907, and resulting in the death of 37 people.  My mother, then nine years old, remembered waking up to the fire, helping with the injured and, for years afterward, finding evidence– such as broken crockery– at the wreckage site less than a hundred yards from their home.  See related article, “Derailed”, elsewhere within this website.

Train wreck 06

Three Volland women, (left to right)  Louise Ditman, unidentified, and Mary Buttenhoff, pose for a photo in front of the locomotive that was involved in a head-on crash between Volland and Alta Vista, killing 37 passengers and crew.

At age 83, Gustav and Mina retired to a house on Kansas Avenue in Alma.   He died there three years later, in April of 1933, and she passed away only four months later.  Both are buried in the Alma cemetery.

Because of the large age difference, I never knew my maternal grandparents.  Unfortunately, and probably due to him being a somewhat serious and quiet man, as well as English not being his native language, relatively few of Grandpa’s adventures were passed on to our family.  I would dearly love to have heard those tales, including his participation in the Franco-Prussian war and his love for his adopted country!