From this valley they say you are going.
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile,
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathway a while.
So come sit by my side if you love me.
Do not hasten to bid me adieu.
Just remember the Red River Valley,
And the one that has loved you so true.
—”Red River Valley,” folk song, ca. 1879
My great-grandfather Ludwig Josef “Louis” Stoltz would witness a vast change in the United States during his 92 years. Born shortly after his father returned from the Civil War, he was a settler in the Red River Valley of the harsh Dakota Territory, relocated as soon as the West was connected by railways, settled in a predominately Mexican frontier and raised children who spoke Spanish, suffered through the Great Depression and lived to see grandsons serve in World War II and the Korean War.
His parents, Peter Stoltz (1836-1921)1 and Apollonia Stricker (1831-1896)2 were born in Berg, in today’s Kreis Germersheim in Rheinland-Pfalz. At that time, Pfalz was a region of the Kingdom of Bavaria. In December 1852 Peter came to the United States with his parents, Jakob Stoltz (1814-1888)3 and Magdalena Franziska Bummer (1815-1893), his brother Anton (1839-1876) and sister Barbara (1841-1932).
They arrived at the port of New Orleans and shortly thereafter proceeded to St. Louis, where Peter married Apollonia Stricker at the Church of St. Mary of Victories, the local German parish, on 19 June 1859. Apollonia was also from Berg; it is likely they began their courtship there, although she appears to have traveled to America separately. By 1860 the young couple was living with the rest of the extended family in St. Paul in the large German community centered around Assumption Church.
Ludwig was the fifth child of Peter and Apollonia, the second born after Peter’s return from serving in the Civil War. He was born 18 May 1866 in Delano, Wright, Minnesota.
Some time before 1880, Peter, Apollonia and their seven children moved to the Dakota Territory, where Peter was employed as a cook at a large farm operated by the Dalrymple family in Cass County, with the Stoltz family apparently living in either New Buffalo or Tower City. This part of the Dakota Territory would become the state of North Dakota on November 2, 1889, and is known as the Red River Valley.
Oliver Dalrymple was a farmer with vast land holdings near Fargo, close to the Northern Pacific Railway. The first of the territory’s “bonanza farmers” whose wealth was facilitated by the railroad companies, he had purchased 45,000 acres in 1876 and became one of the wealthiest landowners in the territory, growing primarily wheat. By the late 1890s he owned 100,000 acres. His modest wooden house, built in 1876, is said to be the first wood-frame house built between Fargo and Bismarck.
If such a wealthy man could afford a wooden house, once can imagine how poor people such as the family of Peter and Apollonia lived. The most common type of accommodation in the Dakota Territory at the time was a sod house. It’s likely that’s how the Stoltz family lived.
If the living accommodations and the unending prairie isolation were not bad enough, it also appears Peter was a harsh disciplinarian. According to oral family history, his children feared his beating if he felt they did not work hard enough in the field. Louis would have been about 14 at this time. And there was no relief at school. The Stoltz boys attended a local Catholic school where the discipline from the priests was just as cruel. Louis’ brother Peter II would leave for school with the rest of the children, hide in the woods to avoid mistreatment, and then walk home with the others after school.
With such a dreary life it was only natural that around 1882, 16-year-old Louis would find solace and companionship in a girlfriend. Her name is unknown, but it appears that she became pregnant. And Louis either fled to avoid Peter’s wrath, was disowned by Peter or felt he had to leave in shame. If Peter’s anger was the cause of Louis leaving the Dakota Territory, that would be ironic; Peter himself had a child, Anthony, born in 1873 to his mistress, Mary Thiesen.
In 1881 the first tracks of the Southern Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railways had reached the tiny outpost of El Paso. The small town which had been the Mexican colonial outpost of El Paso del Norte for hundreds of years soon grew from a population of a few thousand to 10,000 by 1890. And one of those 10,000 souls was this son of German immigrants, Louis Stoltz.
Why did Louis choose to go to El Paso, of all places? Perhaps it was as far as he could get from his father. Or perhaps he had heard romantic tales of the Southwest. We don’t know. And it is unfortunate that the 1890 Census records were lost in a fire in the basement of the Commerce Building in Washington in 1921, so we have no record of where Louis lived or what he did until his marriage record of 1895, when he married Apolonia Luján on 4 June 1895. We don’t know how they met; one can imagine a conversation beginning over the fact that her name was the same as Louis’ mother.
But her background was very different. Apolonia Luján (b. 6 March 1872 in San El Paso, d. 9 June 1929 in El Paso) was descended from a family that had deep roots in San Elizario, the Spanish mission that would later be part of today’s El Paso. Her grandfather, Jesús Luján, was a well-to-do dry goods merchant and a civic leader in San Elizario; his adobe house just off the plaza was documented by WPA photographers in the 1930s as a historic monument of El Paso. Further back, it is likely her ancestors were among the first Spanish colonists of Nuevo México who accompanied Don Juan de Oñate in 1598, and before that she was probably descended through the Pueblo Indians from the ancient Anasazi people, famous for building the Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde and the monuments of Chaco Canyon in Colorado.
Apolonia’s parents were Juan María Lujan of San Elizario (1835-1914) and María Emiteria Bersabe Cuaron of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua (1849-1898). She was baptized in the mission church of San Elizario on 8 May 1872. She was 23 when she married Louis, most likely in that same church, and he was 29. Louis’ father and ancestors had lived in the border town of Berg for hundreds of years; now he found himself in another border town, he and his descendants became assimilated into the city’s predominant Mexican culture.
We first encounter Louis and Apolonia in records in 1910 (they do not appear in the 1900 U.S. Census). They are living at 518 Tays St. Louis is employed as a cigar salesman and they have seven children: Charles Richard (1895-1999), Louis Gustave (1897-1928), Jennie Lilla (1901-1952), Peter Anthony (1902-1943), Alfred George (1903-1997), Ralph Samson (1907-1985) and Maybelle Margarete (1909-2001). Charles (15) and Louis (12) are employed as newsboys, with their work location being “street.” They owned their home.
Prior to this, Louis and Apolonia had faced a searing emotional ordeal; Apolonia gave birth to twin sons, Henry and Edward, on 26 February 1905. Apparently born very prematurely, the two boys faced difficulties that were practically insurmountable in those days. Henry would last less than two weeks; Edward clung to life for a year and a half. They would later face similar heartbreak. After the birth of their 10th child, Viola Julieta (1912-1988), Apolonia would on 14 July 1913 give birth to a girl who lived only four days, and on 17 June 1915 she gave birth to a stillborn baby boy.
In 1920, Louis has a new trade; he is a butcher in a meat market. Jennie, Peter, Alfred, Ralph, Maybelle and Viola are living with their parents on Tays Street. Louis is the only member of the household employed. But what happened to Charles and Louis Jr.?
Charles and Louis Jr. struck out on their own sometime after they submitted their draft cards in El Paso in 1918. We find them in 1920 living in downtown Los Angeles, at 514 Towne Street near Fifth Street, apparently working for a furniture manufacturer and living in a boarding house. Charles is employed as a cabinetmaker and Louis as a springmaker. They are 24 and 22. By 1930, Charles is back in El Paso, working at a printing shop but Louis Jr. died 31 October 1928. We don’t know the circumstances of his death at the age of 30.
Apolonia died on 9 June 1929 at the age of 57 of chronic endocarditis (an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart), complicated by being overweight. She was buried in Evergreen Cemetery. Louis appears to have sold or lost his home by this time; he is living at 2321 Copper Street when he gave the information for Apolonia’s death certificate. By 1930 he is living at 250 St. Vrain Street (still a meat cutter) and paying $27 a month in rent ($349 in 2010 dollars). Charlie, Jennie, Ralph and Maybelle are living with him. Ralph is a salesman at a barber supply company and Maybelle is working as a stenographer at an auto supply company.
Four months after Apolonia died, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 occurred and ushered in the Great Depression. It took a while for the effects of the Crash to reach Texas, but when they did they were disastrous. Louis, now a widower, renting and employed in a low-paying job, soon found himself out of work along with tens of thousands of other Texans.
The El Paso Herald-Post of 13 April 1933 contains a list of 120 men in El Paso who were to receive relief cards entitling them to work on projects funded by the Texas Relief Commission. Among them was Louis Stoltz.
The Texas Relief Commission was an odd marriage of a peculiar Texas phenomenon called “Fergusonism” and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Fergusonism was the product of the political machinations of two Texas governors who were husband and wife, James Edward Ferguson (1871-1944) and Miriam Amanda Ferguson (1875-1961), known as “Pa” and “Ma” Ferguson.
Pa Ferguson, governor of Texas 1915-1917, was an unscrupulous populist who claimed to represent the poor as he lined his pockets with public money. He was impeached by the Texas legislature on 21 counts of corruption and contempt, convicted and forbidden to hold any public office in Texas.
Although barred from holding Texas state positions, Pa Ferguson could not be legally barred from running for the United States Senate, which he did in 1922 against Earle B. Mayfield, who was hand-picked by the Ku Klux Klan (the Klan was quite popular and powerful in Texas at that time). Thus voters were presented with the choice of voting for a Klansman or a convicted grifter. The Klansman won, dashing Pa’s hopes of a return to power.
Since Wyoming first gave women the right to vote in 1869, the woman’s suffrage movement had gained ground throughout the West, with various states allowing women to vote. But no Southern state had yet done so, and Pa Ferguson has famously derided the suffrage movement in 1916 by saying “Woman’s place is in the home.” But once women were granted the vote in Texas in 1918, Pa changed his opinion in 1924. He decided to run Ma for governor against another Klansman, Felix Robertson, who declaimed, “America and Texas have forgotten God” and could stop their drift to ruin by returning to “the rugged cross of Christianity.” The Klan had been declining in popularity in Texas, so in 1924 Ma was elected governor, with Pa’s promise that the people of Texas would get “two governors for the price of one.” Ma and Pa then renewed their feeding frenzy on the Texas treasury.
But here’s where Louis comes in again. The work card he received from the Texas Relief Commission in April 1933 was a result of Ma Ferguson’s distribution of funds from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a federal program set up by the Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932 under the Hoover Administration. Ma’s distribution was generous but selfish; she expected anyone who received aid to vote for Pa’s agenda.
We don’t know what sort of work Louis did to earn the relief funds. When he was again offered a work card in June of 1933, Louis may have been among the thousands who then worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal agency established 31 March 1933. In Texas, CCC workers typically worked on improvements to the new network of state parks, usually earning $30 a month, of which $25 was sent home to their families.
By 1936, Louis has found work again as a meat cutter, living at 3416 Riviera with Ralph and Viola.35 His son Peter Anthony, my grandfather, lived since before 1930 at 3322 White Oaks St., a house he owned, married since about 1926 to my grandmother Consuelo Marín Chávez (1904-1969), and employed as a mailer at a newspaper. This was most certainly the El Paso Times, where he worked his entire adult life from 1919 until his untimely death at the age of 41 due to hypostatic pneumonia complicated by peritonitis. Alfred, already married to Hortencia Miramontes (1905-1990) lived a block away at 3430 White Oaks and was employed as a machinist’s helper at Southern Pacific.
Louis still lived at this address on Riviera in 1939, when no employment is listed for 1938 or 1939. Ralph and his new wife Amalia Moreno (1904-1992) are living with him during this time, with Ralph employed as a laborer.In 1940 Louis is employed in just the sort of job he loves, manager of El Paso Billiards Club, living at 606 Poplar. By 1944 he is living at 3212 Alamogordo, a few blocks from Alfred and Hortencia at 3019 Alamogordo. Ralph, living in 1942 at 414 S. St. Vrain, is a janitor at Hotel Dieu, the hospital where Louis will one day die.
By this time Louis is 78 and retired. The reckless teenager who fled a harsh landscape of sod houses for El Paso, sold cigars and managed a pool hall now spends his days bowling; family members accompany him to the Red Rooster and the White Elephant, two El Paso legendary bowling establishments. The local newspapers are filled with his bowling scores in various leagues. The family still retains a photograph from the El Paso Times of Louis bowling on his 90th birthday.
On November 3, 1958. Louis died at Hotel Dieu Hospital in El Paso of cerebral thrombosis—a stroke, just as his father Peter died. A contributing cause was generalized arteriosclerosis, or heart disease. At the time he lived at 424 Pecos Street. Most likely his funeral was at Guardian Angel Church; we was buried in Evergreen Cemetery next to Apolonia.