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Friedrich Gerstäcker and Cincinnati

Charles Adams and I are very pleased to publish this month a guest post by Dr. Tolzmann, an expert on German-American relations especially with regard to the history of Ohio. Dr. Tolzmann was inspired by our new translation of Friedrich Gerstäcker's The Arkansas Regulators, out this month from Berghahn Books. To get in touch with Dr. Tolzmann, consult his homepage at www.donheinrichtolzmann.net.


Gerstäcker and Cincinnati


Guest Post by Don Heinrich Tolzmann (Cleves, Ohio)


Anyone interested in Friedrich Gerstäcker will welcome the new edition of his novel The Arkansas Regulators, translated and edited by Charles Adams and Christoph Irmscher. Gerstäcker embarked from Bremerhaven, arriving in New York shortly before his twenty-first birthday on 10 May 1837, and then: "Over the next four years, he spent about thirty months in Arkansas, including two extended periods in 1839-40 and 1842." (1) And, in 1843, he returned to Germany.


Cincinnati References


While reading The Arkansas Regulators, I recalled that several of Cincinnati's German-American historians had mentioned Gerstäcker's visits to the Queen City of the West.


The first author to mention Gerstäcker was Emil Klauprecht, a Dreissiger who came to America after the 1832 Hambacher Fest. In his history of the German element in the Ohio Valley, published in 1864, he writes that Gerstäcker was interviewed for a position as a German teacher in the newly established German-English public schools in Cincinnati. Although he does not mention the date, this must have been by mid-1840, as the schools opened that fall. According to Klauprecht: "The schools filled so rapidly that it soon became necessary to hire more teachers. Among those candidates for a teaching position and who had passed an examination before a committee was a young man from Hamburg, whose intelligent appearance along with his garish clothes aroused attention. He wore a blue coarse striped jacket, fastened with a belt, into which were stuck a hunting knife and a tomahawk, wide trousers from the same material, and a weather-beaten, rolled-up straw hat." (2)


Klauprecht goes on to comment on Gerstäcker's arrival in Cincinnati and subsequent activities: "With a musket on his shoulder, he had hunted and hiked the entire distance from New York. During the years 1837-41, one after the other, he was a pharmacist's helper, a silver smith, a fire stoker on a steamer, a keeper of horses, a speculator in Arkansas cane, and he was known as one of the first to help in case of a fire. His favorite haunt was among the prairie dogs, raccoons, porcupines and owls of a small private zoo, with whose aromas, its owner, a German optician by the name of Gerhard, had filled his workshop as well as the house of the lawyer Fox on 5th Street, where the zoo was located. That candidate for a teacher's position in the local German free schools later became the famous travel writer and novelist, Friedrich Gerstäcker." (3)


The next Cincinnati reference to Gerstäcker comes from an article about him by H.A. Rattermann, editor of the German-American historical journal Der Deutsche Pionier. Published in 1874, his article recounts a social get-together with Gerstäcker that took place in Cincinnati on 21 August 1867, where Rattermann got to know the author. Meeting with several others who must have known him, Gerstäcker remarked on how beautiful the Queen City of the West had become, and that had he not family in Germany, he might possibly succumb to the temptation of moving to Cincinnati. (4)


Even though Rattermann's article is not mentioned, it no doubt provided the basis for Max Burgheim's discussion of Gerstäcker in his local history, Cincinnati in Wort und Bild, which appeared in 1888. Both provide some additional details not reported by Klauprecht, which are summarized as follows. (5) 


Both Rattermann and Burgheim indicate that when Gerstäcker first arrived in 1837 he stayed at Jakob Schweizerhof's hotel on Sixth Street, which was a gathering-place for the German notables of the area, including Klauprecht. Social and political topics came under discussion, and Gerstäcker soon became a favorite due to his observational skills and satirical tongue. Although he originally planned on taking up farming, he gave that up and ventured out instead on hunting trips in Ohio and nearby Indiana. Hides and pelts were then sold in Cincinnati, but since sales did not cover expenses, he began manufacturing chocolate in the basement below the Backhaus Apothecary on the corner of 7th and Main Street. As this was not profitable, he worked with Max Wocher on Walnut Street, between 4th and 5th streets, making surgical instruments. We are even informed that his lunch consisted of a few rolls and some cheese, which he obtained from Eiteljörg's bakery on 5th Street. (6)


Influenced by Sealsfield's writings about the rich plantations along the Red River, Gerstäcker and Peter Ruhl traveled there in fall 1838, but Gerstäcker returned in fall 1839, working as a fireman on a steamer from New Orleans. (7) In 1840, Wocher and others encouraged him to take the examination in application for a teaching position in the public schools. Although he passed the examination, he did not apply for the position, but traveled down the Mississippi in the summer of 1840, returning in the fall with a load of cane. However, the sale thereof did not go well, as there was no need for it. In the meantime, he had his clothes made by the tailor Steinberg on Main Street and also courted his daughter, later Frau Grönland. His need for new clothing was apparently due to comments about his disheveled appearance.


In spring 1841, he traveled to Louisiana, returning with a variety of snakes, scorpions, etc. in bottles, which he sold to local apothecaries. In winter 1841, he worked with the silversmith Kinsey on 5th Street, and earned enough to return to Louisiana in the next year. Thereafter, he did not return to Cincinnati, but went back to Germany in 1843. Years later he did return in August 1867, staying at Pfeiffer's Hotel at 9th and Vine Street. He remained in Cincinnati for four weeks, and then went to California and to the South, finally returning to Germany, where he died on 31 May 1872. (8)


The Cincinnati Connection


According to the writings of Klauprecht, Rattermann and Burgheim, Gerstäcker came to Cincinnati in 1837 and from there went on hunting trips. He traveled in fall 1838 to the Red River, returning to Cincinnati in the fall 1839, and then went south again in summer 1840. His extended stays in Arkansas in 1839-40 would overlap with this trajectory. In spring 1841, he traveled south, and returned to Cincinnati by winter of that year. He then headed back south in 1842; he did not come back to Cincinnati, which fits with his stay in Arkansas in that year. Although Klauprecht is the only Cincinnati author who mentions Arkansas, the references to Louisiana might also be taken as referring to the Louisiana Territory.


Granted that these Cincinnati accounts are rather sketchy, they do shed some light on Gerstäcker's travels. As to their accuracy, they might now be compared with the biographical data available on Gerstäcker to see if they correspond to other sources. Hopefully, this will result in getting a clearer picture of Gerstäcker's time in Cincinnati.  In addition to biographical data, references to Cincinnati elsewhere in Gerstäcker's works might also be examined. For example, he does discuss Cincinnati in his 1844 travel account that appeared in translation in 1860 as Wild Sports in The Far West. (9) And he also mentions Cincinnati in a novel published in 1847, which appeared in translation in 1848 as Wanderings and Fortunes of Some German Emigrants. (10) Other sources that might be checked are the English- and German-language press of Cincinnati. (11)


A final question: Following Gerstäcker's zigzag excursions and hunting trips is complicated enough, but it is noteworthy that he repeatedly returns to Cincinnati, leading to the unavoidable conclusion that he may have regarded it as a home base for his travels. This would not be surprising, since he did call it "the El Dorado of the German emigrant." (12)





1.      Friedrich Gerstäcker, The Arkansas Regulators, translated and edited by Charles Adams and Christoph Irmscher (New York: Berghahn, 2019), p. 1.

2.      Here and elsewhere I cite the English-language editions, as they are more readily accessible than the German-language editions, which are now rare book items. See Emil Klauprecht, German Chronicle in the History of the Ohio Valley and ts Capital City Cincinnati in Particular, translated by Dale V. Lally, Jr. and edited by Don Heinrich Tolzmann (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc., 1992), p. 176.

3.      Ibid.

4.      H.A. Rattermann, "Zwei, verstorbene, ächte deutsch-amerikanische Pioniere: 2. Friedrich Gerstäcker," Der Deutsche Pionier 6 (1874): 42-53. A previous article dealt with Charles Sealsfield. Rattermann's article on Gerstäcker was reprinted in his collected works: H.A. Rattermann, Gesammelte Ausgewählte Werke (Cincinnati: Selbstverlag des Verfassers, 1911), Vol. 12, pp. 67-79.

5.      Max Burgheim, Cincinnati in Wort und Bild (Cincinnati: M. & R. Burgheim, 1888), pp. 82-84.

6.      According to Klauprecht, August Eiteljörg was a baker who came to Cincinnati in 1829. See Klauprecht, German Chronicle, p. 171.

7.      Gerstäcker refers to his travel companion elsewhere as Uhl, not Ruhl, and he writes that he was a Berliner whom he had met in Cincinnati. See Frederick Gerstaecker (i.e. Friedrich Gerstäcker, Wild Sports in the Far West (Boston: Crosby, Nicholas and Company, 1860), p. 125.

8.      On news of his death, the local newspaper reported: "Herr Friedrich Gerstacker, the great traveler and novelist, to whose pen Germany is indebted for so many sketches of American scenery, life and manners, died last month. He had several warm friends in Cincinnati, and, had it not been for his recent illness and death, he would have returned to America this summer. His friends here expected him to arrive in Cincinnati in September at the latest. They were prepared to give him the warmest welcome, and we sympathize in their grief for the loss they, and, indeed, we ourselves have sustained." See "Herr Friedrich Gerstacker," Cincinnati Enquirer (11 July 1872). His death was also noted in another article: "The Closing Year: Brief Record of Important Events During 1872," Cincinnati Enquirer (28 December 1872). 

9.      Gerstäcker, Wild Sports, pp.  117-49.

10.  Frederick Gerstaecker [i.e. Friedrich Gerstäcker], Wanderings and Fortunes of Some German Emigrants (London: David Bogue, 1848), pp. 84-133. For my commentary on this novel, see Don Heinrich Tolzmann, German-Americana: Selected Essays (Milford, Ohio: Little Miami Publishing Co., 2009), pp. 265-73.

11.  See, for example, the following article: "Spirit of the German Press," Cincinnati Enquirer (12 October 1868). It reports that "Frederick Gerstaecker, the famous traveler returned home from this country, writes to the Leipzig Gartenlaube" and then goes on to provide translations from two of his articles in that journal.  One of the articles is entitled: "Why Persons Abroad Send Discouraging Letters Home." Gerstäcker advises: "Therefore, I would give all those who have sons or relatives abroad – and what family has now-a-days not a kinsman in some other part of the world – the well-meant advice, for God's sake not to trouble themselves when they receive such a sadness-tinged letter. There is no truth in the whole thing, and if they could only, at the time they read the letter, see the poor 'lonely one' in reality, they would soon discover that in truth they have not the slightest ground for anxiety." He also writes: "Through my frequent transactions from one part of the world to another, I have several times – not unfrequently in consequence of the earnest request of parents – met such unfortunates abroad of whom it was feared here that they were either afflicted with some dangerous malady, or were destitute. But in all these cases I found these anxieties not only unfounded, but the young gentlemen hale and hearty, with a large competence, and in the best of spirits." The fact that the paper would publish translations of two of Gerstäcker's articles would seem to reflect a local interest in the author.

12.  Gerstäcker, Wild Sports, pp. 119-20.

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