Tag Archives: Hoagland Indiana

The Search for German Old-Time Music

More accurately, today’s topic is the old-time music played by musicians from German communities around Hoagland, Indiana. The question of how much of the music played for barn dances and house dances was actually German is a question I’ve never been able to answer fully. There’s no doubt that square dancing was very popular in these German communities as far back as the 1880s. But why? Daily life then was carried on in Plattdeutsch (low German),  Square dance calls were in English. My Great-Grandpa Flaugh was a caller, and Clara Franke, my grandmother verifed that he used standard English calls as ‘promenade’ and ‘allemande left.’ Amos Kline, who ran Kline’s Barn, a commercially successful dance hall east of Fort Wayne near Zulu in the 1930s and ’40s, told me that the crowds of dancers who kept him in business were all the German folk from down in the area between Hoagland and Decatur.  And by the 1980s, when square dancing around Hoagland had been supplemented with a self-consciously German revitalization of the polka, one of the favorite bands (from the equally German area around Napoleon, Ohio) regularly announced that it was now time for a set of “English square dances.”

First, a little background. German immigrants were the first European-Americans to settle in southeastern Allen County, Indiana, beginning in the 1840s. It was an area of wooded wetlands–swamps, if you will–and not a suitable location for villages of the locals, Indians of the Miami confederation. There was a well-worn Indian trail, later named Wayne Trace, that cut across the surveyed grid of roads legislated by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Wayne Trace was a dirt road that stopped about a half-mile to the southeast of Hoagland. It started up again at the Minnich road and ran northwest up through the Soest community and on into Fort Wayne. In my day, that stretch of Wayne Trace was only partly paved. The old Indian trail connecting these two stretches would probably have passed right through the Tyler property on Hoagland Road. In the 1950s and ’60s there was no obvious evidence of this earlier history, except for a historical marker placed near the end of our driveway by the Allen County Historical Society. It noted that Hoagland was platted in 1872.

A few Anglo-Americans established themselves in the area before 1872, but it was the huge earlier influx of Germans that made the dominant cultural imprint. Immigrants directly from Lower Saxony and other areas of northern Germany came to this part of Indiana and Ohio to claim homes, drain and clear the land for fields, and build communities. A circuit-riding German Lutheran minister (his great-great-great grandson was a college classmate of mine) helped establish several congregations in the 1840s: St. John’s Bingen (two miles south of Hoagland) and Emmanuel Soest (a few miles northwest) were the first, followed soon after by St. John Flatrock (two miles East). Flatrock, the church and school attended by the Franke family, and thus central to my story, was founded in 1849. Within ten miles of Hoagland, south in Adams County, are three more German Lutheran congregations formed at the same time, two of them even older. Zion Friedheim and St. Peter’s Fuelling were founded in 1838, with Immanuel Union Township coming along in 1849.

This account is intended to convey the depth of the German presence in Hoagland, or more accurately, the open country around Hoagland. That cultural presence extends beyond this core towards other rural German communities, such as Marquardts outside of Monroeville and Hessen Cassell, between Hoagland and Fort Wayne. The latter is the only German community centered around a Roman Catholic church. Even Fort Wayne must be regarded as one of the most German cities in the United States. I grew up in this arguably most German area of the country with a love for old-time square dancing and a curiosity about how these Good Germans came to have such a strong love for a social dance form with French roots, English calls, and a thoroughly American history.

Some of Hoagland’s older citizens in the period from 1976 to 1988 provided partial answers.  My grandmother’s memory stretches the furthest back into the 19th century. She told me a story related to her by her mother of an incident that happened before 1890, the year my grandma was born.  Here are Clara Franke’s words: “Mom would used to tell, it tickles me.  She used to tell about when she was a little school girl.  And the kids played. . . .  And she said that Uncle Duff Dauer. . . he was older than she was. . . and they used to play they was dancing.  And he’d call.  He’d call ‘Teleman left,’ he’d say; then ‘all a prom, all a pomay.’  ‘All promenade’ you know, ‘ all a pomay.’  She used to tell that.  It would always tickle me so.”

Grandma remembered well the time when barn dances and house dances were a most important social gathering in the neighborhood for all generations. The square dance, which they called a quadrille, was central, but not the only dance. “They’d dance three changes [of the quadrille].  Then they’d play a waltz, a three-step, a two-step . . . I  don’t remember whether they danced a foxtrot or not. Now I never did learn to waltz.  I tried a couple of times, but I just couldn’t learn.  And Daddy never waltzed.  Daddy never danced anything but a square dance.”

Grandma remembered some of the older musicians, but she could not tell much about the tunes they played.  Here’s another bit from my interview on December 28, 1976.

CF: Grandpa [Fred Franke, my grandfather] played the mouth harp, and Bill Ahlfelt–here this house, way back in the lane, you know, on the Hoagland Road, across from Ervin Koeneman’s, that’s where Ahlfelts live. Bill Ahlfelt played the guitar and Henry Ahlfelt played a mandolin. . . . For our wedding, we had the Rohrbach boys.  One played the violin, I know. . . . Bill Peppler, did you know Bill Peppler?
PT:  The name’s familiar.
CF:  Well, they belonged to our church.  He’s buried here on the cemetery.  Well,  she is too, she is too. They’re buried right close to where Dad and I have our lot.  And uh, Bill Peppler used to play the accordion. That was a little box about like this when it was closed up, and then, they could pull it way out, you know.  It was nice music. . . . Oh, if Lena Peppler was living she could tell you . . .Bill would play at a dance and Lena would go along.  She’d go along and she’d dance to beat the dickens.

I got a little bit more information about the old-time German musicians of the Hoagland area from the early years of the 20th century from a few other conversations.  My first attempt at an interview didn’t go so well.  Edgar Witte lived just down the road from us.  He knew my family, but I didn’t really know him.  When I showed up on his door step in December 1976, he didn’t know what to make of a long-haired college kid asking him about the old days.  He never invited me in, and I never got to ask about tape-recording his memories. I also regret that I never went back to try to establish a better rapport.  When I left his front steps, I sat in my car and wrote what I could remember into my notebook.  Here is a paraphrase of what he told me:

Talk to my brother. He would tell you more about that. He’s got my banjo. I played for about ten or 15 years. We played all over, even over in Ohio. We had a lot of different people in the band. One guy would have a clarinet, one a violin. This one would drop out, then that one would drop out. Once we played back in a platform back in the woods. Most of the time we played in barns. They were cold. We played the same kind of music they have on the records they have on TV. ‘Paw and Maw’ I think they call it. [Hee-Haw ?] We didn’t have any microphones in them days. You had to play your heart out to be heard. Now you just touch the thing. Stand close and you’ve got a good loud sound.  I played the banjo. Plectrum. One guy had a mandolin. A ‘bug,’ we called it.

I had become a much better interviewer by May 22, 1988, when I went to visit Elmer and Velma Grotrian in their farm house about a mile from the Franke homestead. They were avid dancers, starting with the old-time barn and house dances of the early 1900s through the rise of the polka revival in the 1980s. Elmer was born in 1904, and full of vivid memories.  In the old days, one of the most popular musical ensembles in the Hoagland area was Wilbur Scheumann’s orchestra, with Wilbur on saxophone, Gus Macke on concertina; Herb Milan on banjo; and Pete Hockemeyer on drums. Here’s an excerpt from that interview.

EG:    Now those boys, they went out and played for anybody  who wanted to give a public dance.  Anybody that had a barn . . . that was fit to have a dance on, that they wanted to entertain like their community or group or whatever it was, why they would put on a dance; and these guys would go and play for something like that.  That Wilbur Scheuman’s  gang was a pretty popular band at that time. . . .  Now, when you’re talking violin, Bill Peppler was a violinist.  Now him again and old Bushman Rohrbach and, either Bushman Rohrbach or Charlie Judt.  Charlie Judt played the concertina too.  Now Bill Peppler, he was got about, oh, about half shot, liquor or what have you.  He’d stand one leg out like this and saw, he would saw it off, by God.  And the more the people enjoyed it, the better he could play.  He had to get about half teed up first, so he could wheel her out.  Now the Thiele boys, now Fred Thiele, he was a violin player too [Paul Thiele was the caller, Coony Meckholt (or Thiele ?) played concertina] . . . Cooney Thiele was the one, he enjoyed drinking a little bit too.  And he got wound up.  Why he really enjoyed seeing people get out and dance.  And like I said, in those days it wasn’t a matter of what they was going to get out of it as the pleasure of seeing people entertain themselves.  That was the idea.

That’s as far back as living memory has been able to take me.  The musicians named here were active in the first three decades of the 20th century.  I hope it is clear to the reader that all of their surnames are German names. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly what tunes they played, though they seemed to be of the same category presented by Hee-Haw fifty years later, at least in the estimation of Edgar Witte.  The violin and concertina were important. But a lot of instruments also had a place in the old-time German dance bands of northeastern Indiana.

More to come.

A Folksong Autobiography, episode 2 (not in chronological order)

I’ve been trying to remember, but I can’t locate the first seeds of my obsession with the fiddle. It must have had something to do with Hoagland’s passion for square dancing (see They didn’t know it yet, . . . below). But I can not recall a local wedding band at the Hoagland Hayloft in the 1960s that included a fiddler. Somehow, back then, I knew that square dancing, as fun as it was, would be even better with a fiddler in the band. In the lack of any clear evidence, I probably have to give credit to television–probably a Bugs Bunny cartoon–or perhaps the radio. Maybe I heard violinist Jack Carmen fiddle a hoedown with Nancy Lee & the Hilltoppers on the Little Red Barn show on WOWO.

There was a violin in our attic. My mom had played it in high school orchestra in the early 1930s. (BTW Hoagland High School had an orchestra in 1930, but only a band in 1960!) She admitted that she was never very good at it, and the instrument in our attic had no strings. Dad played the mandolin. He kept his Gibson A-model in its chipboard case on the floor of the coat closet by the front door (the door we never used). On the somewhat sporadic occasions he’d get it out to play, he also would bring out some sheets of music, some printed and others handwritten. I don’t remember where he kept his music. But a few years after his death in 1972, Mom gave me a big binder full of music from Dad’s days as a student in the Ted Barr Mandolin Orchestra in Fort Wayne before the War. It is a totally amazing collection of mostly handwritten mandolin parts, much of it for 2nd mandolin. But that’s a story for another time. Most of the music-making in our house centered around practicing for the lessons my sister and I took. Jean is three-and-a-half years older. She started first on piano, with lessons from Mom’s first cousin, Helen Reynolds. When I was in 3rd Grade I asked to take piano lessons too. (Helen’s importance in my musical development is yet another story.) Then two years later I started taking cornet lessons with Mr. Marr at the high school next door to our house. I believe Jean followed a short time later with trombone lessons.

But there was no fiddle music in the Tyler home on Hoagland Road. Again, I don’t recall ever seeing a live fiddler at a dance at the Hayloft. But I clearly knew there should be, or could be, or had been. At some point I began asking Mom about square dances and musicians from her earlier days. She had not been an avid dancer, but she had a thorough knowledge of who was who in the Hoagland area, especially the Good German Lutherans on the farms between Hoagland and Monroeville, six miles to the East. I knew that dancing in the old days often took place in the barn. Of course everybody knew that. The Hoagland Hayloft itself, at least the first one before the fire, was a regular bank barn converted into a commercial dance and reception hall. To my surprise, I found out that the before barns were used for dances, folks would clear out the furniture and have a house dance. My Grandpa Franke (Mom’s dad) played harmonica for some of those old neighborhood dances. And he got paid for it too. But after raising a family and struggling to keep the farm during the dark days of the Great Depression, Grandpa Franke saw little value in playing music anymore. I never heard him play. He died in 1961. A decade later, I asked Grandma Franke if he had kept a harmonica. She couldn’t remember having seen one for years.

Mom was able to tell me about a few of the local bands from back in the day when it was mostly the young folks who went to barn dances. The most popular dance band in the 1930s was Hilbert Holle’s band. I later found out they were called the Hoosier Eagles. Hilbert lived three doors to the west of us. His wife, Dorothy played the piano and was occasionally a substitute organist at church. She played in Hilbert’s band. In 1976, I went over to the Holles and talked to both Hilbert and Dorothy about the old-time dances. (I have notes from that conversation filed away, so the story of the Hoosier Eagles will reappear in the future.) Another surprise for me was that Hilbert and Dorothy did not remember their music as old-time. Hilbert played the saxophone, and the Hoosier Eagles saw themselves as playing the latest and most up-to-date sounds that people wanted to dance to. Of course they included some square dances in an evening’s program. But they weren’t that interested in the old-fashioned stuff.

For the real old-time music, I had to talk to some of the remaining members of the generation before my mother’s. There were older musicians in some of the local families with names like Fuelling, Koeneman, Schoemann and Thiele. You can tell they were Good Germans, and mostly Lutheran. Again I have notes from conversations with some of these men. But the one name Mom gave me that struck me as greatly significant was Peppler, George Peppler, I believe. I could have the story wrong, or maybe Mom’s memory was only approximate, but Mr. Peppler was a fiddle player and a relative. Or maybe he was related to the Frankes by marriage, perhaps a distant cousin of my Aunt Dorothy who married Mom’s brother Edward. To be fair, Mom knew exactly who was related to who and how. That’s where my memory is fuzzy. I was more interested in who played fiddle and who played which accompanying instrument.

So this is about as far as this story goes. I’ve long thought that there was one known fiddler in my family, and his name was Peppler. I never knew him, and, as far as I know, I never laid eyes on him and certainly never heard him play. Still, he looms large as an image or symbol for my chosen path through life. If Mr. Peppler was not a fiddler, then he played what has been called variously the concertina or accordion. If the latter is true, then he played regularly with a man named George Judt, who was the fiddler. And whichever of these two men was the fiddler also played for a time with Gus Koeneman, who played the squeezebox. As I began my quest to uncover the story of the real old-time music around Hoagland, I went to Gus Koeneman’s door right after Christmas in 1976. Mr. Koeneman was ill that day, and was not in good shape those last years of his life. I was never able to interview him or find out for sure whether he played a concertina or an accordion.

I learned from other sources that the Chemnitzer concertina, a big square squeezebox with buttons on the faces at each end, was favored by a number of German musicians in the area around Fort Wayne. The Thiele Brother Orchestra in Yoder (ten miles west of Hoagland, where Hoagland Road is known as Yoder Road) played for dances for years. Early on they featured fiddle and concertina. The first Chemnitzer concertina I ever remember seeing was played by Herman Fox of Fort Wayne. In his retirement years, he teamed up with fiddler Hugh Sowers from Arcola, a small town as far northwest of Fort Wayne as Hoagland was to the southeast. After discovering him at a fiddle contest at the Allen County 4-H Fair in 1976 (my sister helped organize it and I was a judge, because I’d been to a fiddle contest a few years earlier when I lived in North Carolina–another story), Herman Fox was one of the first old-time musicians I interviewed formally with a tape recorder running. I’ll upload some more concertina playing from that thoroughly delightful visit in coming weeks. But to hear the sound of fiddle and concertina, what I like to think of as the old-time Hoagland sound, you can follow this link for some 1980 recordings of Herman Fox at the Indiana Fiddlers Gathering in Battle Ground. I’m the fiddler. At the time I had been playing for four years. Herman had been playing for seventy. Plus, here’s a link to Herman’s story (click the Hoosier Folklore Society Newsletter).

N.B. If any of my Franke cousins read this, especially from Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Edward’s family, perhaps you can help clarify for me the identity of Mr. Peppler and some of the others. My mother was good at knowing who was related to who in the community, but Aunt Dorothy was a true master of the art. She passed away in September of 2009. As in the case of my mom and dad, I have a lot more questions I wish I had asked.

Good German Lutherans

On the home page of this, my website, I wrote “it is right and fitting” at this time to tell my story.  What I really wanted to say was “it is meat, rice, and salad dressing,” but that would take some explanation.  Here it is.  If, like me, you grew up in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in the 1950s and ’60s, you might recognize the above menu as a parody of the Order of Service with communion from the Lutheran Hymnal published by Concordia Publishing House in 1941.  Every Sunday, the minister would announce that “it is truly meet, right and salutary that we should in all time and in all places give thanks to thee, O Lord.”  As a young Good German Lutheran, I understood what was right and could guess at what might be salutary.  But I hadn’t a clue how something might be meet.  The list of food objects made more sense.

Food was important to Good German Lutherans, whether it was church potlucks or big family dinners on Sundays and holidays.  Eating together creates community, especially when it extends the bonds of family out into the neighborhood and beyond.  Community is another strong point of being a Good German Lutheran.  Lutherans know how to create community and how to maintain it, even in the face of disputation and disagreement.  Say what you will about parochial religiosity, but do not underestimate the bedrock value of belonging when it is connected to shared beliefs and the commitment to break bread.

DrDosido claims goodgermanlutheran (my sister and I were convinced it was single word) as his ethnicity.  Those are my people.  It is from them that I learned what is important in life.  It is hard to help an outsider fathom the amazing power of a visit back to Hoagland (see earlier post on “They didn’t know it yet”) when some member of any generation will recognize me as “Wade and Mildred’s boy” and then converse about people and places as if I haven’t been away for forty years.  It was there in Hoagland that I learned the strength of face-to-face community, the integral values of compassion and humility, and the vital importance of collective celebrations.

As I entered my teenage years I expressed several life goals that grew out of those values. As I got ready to go off to college, I announced that I intended to become a teacher.  I fulfilled that objective, but in a way I never could have imagined in 1968.  A few years before that, I told my mom that when I got to college I wanted to be a Freedom Rider or go south to register Black voters if the Mississippi Summer of Freedom could last a few more years.  Mom approved. Whether I have made a substantive contribution to the cause of justice and social change is subject to debate.

Finally, in a summary statement of the values I learned growing up in Hoagland, I also announced that a life goal was to play in a wedding band (see earlier post).  I have met this goal many times over.  But not in my hometown.  Though every time I play for someone’s wedding or celebration, most often involving the simple joys of old-time square dancing, I know I am extending the Good German Lutheran values of Hoagland into neighborhoods beyond my home community. This is most certainly true.

They didn’t know it yet, . . .

. . . but 60 years ago this coming Friday, Mildred Franke Tyler gave birth to Dr. Dosido, the only son and second child of Wade Edward Tyler.  They named him Paul Leslie. They brought him home to a warm and comfortable house at the very eastern edge of Hoagland, Indiana.  Only the school, Madison-Marion Consolidated School, better known as Hoagland Elementary and Hoagland High School (all in one) stood between the Tyler house and the flat, fertile farmland that stretched east about a dozen miles to the Indiana-Ohio state line and beyond.

Fields of crops, mostly corn and soybeans, were visible across the road and right behind the long back yard of the Tyler house.  Hoagland was not very big in 1950.  And even when Paul left for college, beginning the trek through higher education that would transform him into Dr. Dosido, the town’s population numbered only 500.  However, Hoagland itself was always bigger than the houses set within the limits of the unincorporated entity known as Hoagland.

If you measured Hoagland by the public school, two whole rural townships were Wildcat territory.  If you measured it by the rural postal routes covered by the Hoagland post office, it was a  bit smaller, as some “Hoaglanders” addresses were Rural Route 10 from Fort Wayne (the big city), or Rural Route 2 from Monroeville (home of the rival Cubs).

Hoagland was and still is, in fact, a community of feeling. It encompassed a large open country network of farm families, former farm families turned to factory work and other occupations, and new arrivals, mostly escapees from Fort Wayne. Many people identified their networks as Hoagland, because of the draw of the school or Three Kings, the local tavern with a family room that enjoyed a near monopoly. The world of officialdom did little to define the boundaries or even recognize the importance of Hoagland.  But people did.  Hoagland was a community enacted through regular assemblies that met the peoples’s needs for local organization.  It could be the Volunteer Fire Department or the Hoagland Area Advancement Association or the baseball diamonds filled every summer evening with youth games or church league softball. An important nexus in all these networks was the Hoagland Hayloft, a bank barn refurbished as a reception hall.

The Hoagland Hayloft is where many wedding receptions, anniversary parties, and club socials were held.  The first floor of the Hayloft had a large kitchen and plenty of long tables for the feeding of guests.  The whole upstairs was a sprung wooden dance floor with a raised platform for the band set in the middle of the long east wall. The bands who were booked to play the Hayloft had to be good for three kinds of dances: slow dances (for the older folks), fast dances (for the young folks), and square dances (for everyone).

This is where Dr. Dosido’s journey began.  To be continued.