In a pig’s eye. Under no condition, not at all, as in “In a pig’s eye he’ll pay me back,” or “You think he’s competent? In a pig’s eye!” This expression, a euphemism for in a pig’s ass, is generally used as a strong negative. [Slang; late 1800s].
—From The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer, 1997.
Peter Stoltz was born in the town of Berg in the Pfalz (Palatinate) region on October 30, 1836 and was baptized in St. Bartholomew Church in Berg the next day. At the time, this area was part of the Kingdom of Bavaria; today it is part of the modern German state of Rheinland-Pfalz, in today’s Kreis (county) of Germersheim. The parish records indicate that he was illegitimate, although a notation in the record states that he was considered legitimate after the marriage of his parents one year later.
He was the first son of Jakob Stoltz, born November 12, 1814 and baptized one day later in St. Bartholomew Church, and Magdalena Bummer, born March 8, 1815. They were married at St. Bartholomew Church on October 1, 1837.
Jakob’s parents were Alois Stoltz, born July 10, 1782, baptized in St. Bartholomew Church the next day, and Barbara Knöll, born about 1773. Alois and Barbara were married on January 30, 1802 in that church.
Jakob and Magdalena had four children. Their second son, Anton, was born September 13, 1838 and baptized the next day; he died only a few months later, on November 7, 1838. A little more than a year after that, their third son was born on Christmas Eve, 1839. They also named him Anton. On March 25, 1841 their daughter, Barbara, was born. The Stoltz family had lived in Berg for many generations, and their history is closely intertwined with the history of St. Bartholomew Church there.
At the time, there was no concept of such a thing as Germany. The area that would eventually become the modern state of Germany was a patchwork of principalities, the borders of which constantly changed. It was only in the period leading up to World War I that Prussia united these various principalities into a German nation. Berg is a border town; France is only about as far away from Berg as Mexico is from El Paso. Napoleon had even annexed this area to France for a while. We should not be surprised if Peter spoke a little French as well as his native German.
The Stoltz family in Berg were farmers. It’s easy for us to forget that the majority of people prior to the Industrial Revolution were farmers; eking out a living for themselves and their families on small parcels of land. It was a difficult life, and inheritance laws in Pfalz and other German states made land scarce for growing families. Also, since 1848 European governments had faced widespread revolution, with stricter laws on the people being introduced as a result. Between 1848 and 1917, more than six million Germans immigrated to the United States.
Around 1852, Jakob and Magdalena decided their future was in the United States. Perhaps their neighbors thought they were crazy, and assessed their prospects with whatever the German equivalent of “in a pig’s eye” was at the time. Jakob and Magdalena packed up their family for the arduous passage across the Atlantic Ocean, and in December of 1852 they arrived in the port of New Orleans. The first transatlantic steamship, the S.S. Great Western, had been launched in 1837, cutting the journey from Europe to the United States down to about two weeks, but at the time steamship travel was relatively new and very expensive. The Stoltz family most likely took the cheaper sail option, a four- to six-week journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
Jakob and Magdalena may have also made the journey with two of Jakob’s brothers and their families: his older brother Peter and his wife Katharina (Kattus) and his younger brother Josef and his wife Katharina (Stephany). Both families are later recorded in the United States.
New Orleans must have been a most exotic place for Peter. The city at the time was run largely with slave labor, and he would certainly have seen hundreds of slaves engaged in hard manual labor everywhere; he may have even seen slave auctions in the port. One wonders if this brief and probably jarring exposure to the brutal slave economy had anything to do with his volunteering for the Union Army 10 years later.
From New Orleans Peter located to St. Louis, where a thriving German community was growing daily. Numerous books popular in Germany at the time promoted St. Louis as the new promised land for Germans; earlier some had even proposed a German-language state built around that city. As a result, St. Louis, as well as Saint Paul, were well-known among Germans and considered prime destinations for immigrants.
Peter found work in St. Louis as a ship chandler serving steamships on the Mississippi River. It was there that he married Appolonia Stricker, who was born in Berg on May 28, 1831. They exchanged vows in the historic Church of St. Mary of the Victories, the first German parish in St. Louis, built in 1843. We may suppose that Peter and Appolonia knew each other from Berg; it was, after all, a small village and it’s likely they already had a relationship. We do not know if they traveled together, or whether she agreed to meet him in America. They were married on June 19, 1859.
By 1857, Jakob and his brothers Peter and Josef and their families were living near each other in Saint Paul in the Minnesota Territory, recorded on the same census page.
The city began in the early 1800s as a settlement called Pig’s Eye around a tavern owned by the one-eyed French bootlegger Pierre Parrant, whose clientele included fur traders, explorers, fugitives and missionaries. In 1841, a tiny log chapel was established there named for St. Paul, and the priest had a vision of the settlement bearing that name rather than the admittedly pedestrian “Pig’s Eye.” He began to call this frontier outpost “Saint Paul,” and the name stuck. In 1851, this humble shack was proclaimed the new cathedral, and six months later a three-story multipurpose building was constructed that would be the second of four cathedrals of Saint Paul, which then numbered some 3,000 residents. The Minnesota Territory was established in 1849 with Saint Paul as the capital, and it was admitted to the Union as the 32nd state in 1858.
In 1860, Peter and his wife Appolonia were still living in St. Louis with their first child, Frances, who was born there about 1860 and died as an infant. Peter was working as a cook. He must have heard favorable reports of Saint Paul from his father, Jakob; there was a thriving German community nestled in the shadow of Assumption Church at 51 West Seventh Street, a German parish that was the city’s first parish church, established in 1856. No doubt Jakob described the congenial atmosphere in this city that was growing quickly and had numerous opportunities for a hard-working German, where one could do business in German and enjoy free time in German establishments, whiling away Sunday afternoons in large beerhalls enjoying German music, flirting and socializing in the mother tongue.
We don’t know exactly when Peter moved to Saint Paul, but we do know his first son Peter was born there on January 4, 1862 as was his second daughter, Josephine, was born about 1863. The Civil War had already begun in 1861. On September 21, 1864 Peter volunteered for the Union Army as a private in Company B, First Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment. He served as a musician, probably in a military band. He formally completed his service on June 17, 1865.
The First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment had played a major role in the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, where more than 80 percent of that regiment’s 262 soldiers lost their lives—20 of them German-born. There is a monument at Gettysburg to this regiment, which ceased existence on April 29, 1864. Veterans from this regiment along with new recruits such as Peter were mustered into the new First Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment, which was garrisoned at Chattanooga, Tennessee and saw no combat action. But certainly Peter would have heard hair-raising stories from the old-timers about what they had experienced at Gettysburg, Antietam and Bull’s Run. His daughter Barbara was born while he was in the army, on March 4, 1865.
Just nine months after Peter returned to Saint Paul from the army, his son Ludwig Josef “Louis” was born, on March 18, 1866. Then came George Anthony, born March 30, 1868, and Charles Alois, born July 10, 1870. Another son, John, was born in 1872 but died as an infant. The ninth and last child of Peter and Appolonia was Elizabeth Appolonia Rosely, born in Saint Paul on May 8, 1874.
Sometime before 1880, Peter and Appolonia purchased land in Cass County, Dakota Territory, and moved there with their seven children to farm it. The territory was very sparsely populated; it would not be until later that the railroads came and marketed land there widely. This was nine years before the admission of this area to the Union as the state of North Dakota, and land for settlement had just been made available due to treaties with the Native Americans of that region.
It could not have been an easy life on the frontier, and the stress wore on Peter and Appolonia. Certainly a contributing factor could have been Anna Maria “Mary” Thiesen. Apparently she had been a long-time mistress of Peter’s. It would have been difficult to hide the affair; about 1873 in Saint Paul, Mary had borne him a son, Anton.
Whatever the contributing causes, Peter and Appolonia separated. Peter left the farm in North Dakota to his son George, and Appolonia remained, as did their daughters Barbara and Josephine, who had already married Jeremiah McCathy, and their son Peter Jr. Peter took the younger children with him to Saint Paul. There he became a naturalized U.S. citizen on November 2, 1892.
To say that Appolonia was soured on Peter would be an understatement. In her will, she disowned Peter with harsh language:
I furthermore declare it as my positive will and order that my husband, Peter Stoltz, Sr., living in St. Paul, State of Minnesota, shall in no wise receive anything belonging to me, be it real or personal property for the reason that he has embittered my life by his immorality and prodigality, and that he has left me for years unprovided for and unappreciated. May God have mercy on his soul.
Similarly, while providing for the children of Peter Jr. and the children of Josephine, she wanted her son-in-law Jeremiah McCarthy to have no part in the upbringing of his children.
Considering the frank language expressed in her will, we have the puzzling fact of the 1895 Minnesota State Census, which shows Appolonia and Peter living with their son Charles (who is employed as a barber) at 176 W. Ninth Street in Saint Paul.
Appolonia died on January 9, 1896 and was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Saint Paul, despite the fact that her will stated she wished to be buried in Casselton, North Dakota, near her daughter Josephine. Perhaps she had a change of heart toward the end.
On July 15 of that year Peter married Mary Thiesen before a justice of the peace. By 1900 they were living together with their son Anton, who was at the time 27 years old and employed as a clerk. Mary was 52 and Peter was 69; he gave his occupation as “retired.”
By this time Ludwig “Louis” had already moved to El Paso. Of all the children of Peter and Appolonia, only Charles remained in Saint Paul. Peter and Mary lived out the rest of their lives in the house at 1936 Carroll Ave.; it was there that Peter died of cerebral apoplexy on August 6, 1921 at the age of 84. His funeral was August 8 at Assumption Church. Mary died in Saint Paul on May 17, 1933 and her funeral was May 19 at St. Mark Church.
Peter was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Saint Paul in a family plot purchased by Jakob and Magdalena. They are buried there along with Peter, Appolonia, Mary and other family members.
We may never know exactly why Jakob and Magdalena left Berg with their young family and eventually settled in a place once called Pig’s Eye. There are many such unanswered questions. But throughout their lives and the life of their son Peter, one family trait does appear consistent: the willingness to take risks. We also learn that our family has historically gravitated toward frontiers and border towns, where cultures mixed freely.
Perhaps the townfolk of Berg shook their heads at Jakob’s decision to cross the Atlantic and begin a new life in America; maybe they doubted the young family’s prospects. But their dream did come true—in Pig’s Eye.
Peter Stoltz is my great-great-grandfather.