Above, Gertrude Reuter’s autograph book 1892-1896
At noon On April 19, 1892, the thunder of a cannon announced to the twenty-five thousand land-hungry “boomers” lined up at Fort Reno, Oklahoma Territory, that the race was on for parcels of free land on the former Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian reservation. My mother’s mother was one of the many Germans there that day. I know this because she had with her an autograph book, inscribed Gertrude Reuter, Fort Reno, Indian Territory, April 5, 1892. Gertrude had just recently arrived from Bremen, Germany, with her sister Emma. It would seem she came with a group of other young people, perhaps led by a pastor. She was unmarried, only 17 years old, and what, exactly, she expected to accomplish out there in Indian Territory, I have no way of knowing. My frustration at this unknowing is shared, I’m sure, by many of us who never talked to our immigrant grandparents about their early experiences in the United States.
I do know that Gertrude liked to collect autographs. There are two especially interesting ones from Fort Reno soldiers. “To my Friend Gertrude, I am ever your Friend, Joseph M. Wusthoff, Band 5th U.S. Cav.,” dated April 12, 1892, is one of them. Wusthoff penned, in addition to his signature, a two page, maudlin poem, written in a tight hand:
“Oh the love of that Heart forever
Shines over our life like sun
And makes us forget earthly losses
In the light of a Heaven won.
As grey mists rise up from the meadows
In the dawn of a summer day
In the love of that Heart our sorrows depart
And our trials and cares fade away.”
William Rider, also a member of the band, was more laconic in his entry, dated May 30, 1892:
Gertrude liked singing hymns, evidenced by references in her autograph book. Perhaps the band played concerts that she attended; or perhaps there was some mild flirtation going on.
Gertrude collected some 50 autographs. Almost all of them have the date and place where they were signed, but few give any hint of what was going on in Gertrude’s life. The entries, some in English, others in German, are mostly sentimental and religious. The dates and places, therefore, have to carry my imagination along.
The 1892 land venture must not have worked out, because the last 1892 entry from Fort Reno is dated June 23. By the 14th of July, 1892, Gertrude was in Evanston, Illinois. From Illinois, in a most telling move, she next went to Ocean City, Maryland. Ocean City was then, and still is, a resort town with a long stretch of sandy beach, facing out on the Atlantic Ocean. Here, on July 25, 1892, Gertrude wrote a page in the autograph book herself. Quoting poetry and hymns she must have known by heart, Gertrude unburdened herself:
Oh! Many a shaft at random sent
Finds marks the archer little meant,
And many a word at random spoken
May soothe or wound a heart that’s broken.*
What is Friendship but a name
A charm that lulls to sleep
A shade that follows wealth or fame
But leaves the wretch to weep?**
My heart is like the ocean
With storm and ebb and flow
But many a costly pearl
Lies hidden in the depths below.***
Though Satan should buffet
Though trials should come
Let this blessed assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And has shed his own blood for my soul.****
When temptations almost win thee
And thy trusted watchers fly
Let this promise ring within thee
I will guide thee with mine eye.*****
Across the lengthwise of the page, Gertrude added “I will never leave thee or forsake thee.” Whether this promise was directed at person, place, or faith, I do not know.
By October 1892, Gertrude had left Ocean City and traveled to Washington D.C. In January, 1893, she was again headed West, stopping in Atchison, Kansas, and going once more on to Fort Reno in April of that year. In 1894-1896, she backtracked to Ottawa, Kansas, where she attended college. Several of the autograph signers there say “your fellow student.” The entries leave off in 1896, while she is still in Ottawa. but by 1898, she was married and living in Washington State. A lot of travels for one so young!
As to the fate of the group of young people with whom Gertrude had originally gone West, there is evidence that they scattered. along the way. This entry in the autograph book tells that story [note, all the towns mentioned are in Kansas].
December 24, 1894:
Ottawa via Wellington [Kansas].
With one dozen we gladly started.
But at Garnett we sadly parted.
We again started on our solemn way
And continued on our most innocent play.
When Darnell left us he looked pale.
While three more left us at Cherryvale.
After we had left Moline,
Another one could not be seen.
And when at Burden two more said goodbye.
Nothing could keep us from wanting to cry.
Then at Winfield when we left Reese.
Our troubles changed to perfect peace.
E. L. Avery.
A note on the poems: Gertrude did not indicate any provenance for the stanzas which she strung together into a single train of thought, but I have tracked them down and list them below.
* “Lord of the Isles,” Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
** “Edwin and Angela, a Ballad,” Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1744)
*** “Homeward Bound,” Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
**** “It is Well With My Soul,” Horatio Spafford (1828-1888)
***** “I Will Guide Thee with Mine Eye,” Nathaniel Niles (1835-1917)
Books we keep!
Gertrude entrusted me with several of her favorite books when I was a teenager. I have recorded one of them, The Friendly Road, New Adventures in Contentment, which she received as a Christmas present in 1919.