Tag Archives: Sondersdorf

Two Brothers from Sondersdorf

When immigrant Joseph Lutz died in 1887 the age of forty-two, only one line in a Minnesota newspaper made note of his death. His brother Paul, however, survived him by more than fifty years, and when he died in 1939 he was ninety-three years old. A lengthy obituary in a Minnesota newspaper documented his death, but what is more, his birthday several years prior had warranted an informative and colorful tribute to his life both in his native Sondersdorf, a village in eastern France, and in southern Minnesota. As Joseph and Paul, only two years apart in age, both served in the Franco-Prussian War and then immigrated to America, many of Paul’s recollections relate what must have been shared experiences.

The brothers were born to François Joseph Lutz (1801-1881) and Marguerite Meister (1801-1876), Joseph on 31 May 1844 and Paul on 07 August 1846, both in what is now Sondersdorf, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. Their father was a farmer, and this was his second marriage; their mother was a native of the nearby border village of Roggenburg, Switzerland. Joseph and Paul were raised to work hard, although they also had the opportunity to attend school, as related in the Blue Earth County Enterprise in 1935:

“Alsace Lorraine at that time belonged to France, as it does now, although for many years between it was Germany’s. And so young Paul was born a French citizen. His father was a farmer and when Paul was still very young he was put to work. How young? Well, he says, laughing, that he thinks he began to work before he was born. He worked in the field, in the town, anywhere where there was work to be had.

“French was taught in the schools, but his family, like many others in Alsace, spoke German at home. So he grew up with a knowledge of both tongues. However, today and for many years since, it is German that he speaks fluently. There are, he says, no Frenchmen around to give him practice in that language.”

In 1866, Joseph and Paul, by then twenty-two and twenty years of age, appeared in a census in a household in Sondersdorf with their parents and younger sister, Philomene. Just a few years later, the brothers served in the Franco-Prussian War, which broke out in the summer of 1870:

“Like every other French citizen, [Paul] entered military training when old enough. His memories of that period are clear and vivid, for while he was still in the army, the Franco-Prussian war broke out. That was in 1870 and one of the causes of the bitter enmity between France and Prussia was that same Alsace Lorraine where he was born, a strip of territory at the eastern edge of France coveted by both nations and snatched first by one, then the other. When Prussia whipped France in that war of 1870, she took Alsace Lorraine as one of the indemnities and from then on France never rested until the World War brought it back again to the French.

“There wasn’t so much to the war so far as he was concerned, says Mr. Lutz, except horse meat to eat and being taken prisoner at the battle of Metz. Asked how that happened, he drolly repied [sic] that the Germans took the whole army prisoner so of course he went along. Speaking of horse meat, Mr. Lutz remarked that it wouldn’t have been so bad had they been given some beer, or at least enough water to wash it down with. But there was none of the first and little enough of the second. To make it worse he says it was tough meat with no pepper or salt. You stuck two sticks up on each side of a fire and hung the meat on a third stick laid across. After it had toasted a bit, you ate it – if possible.

“Because Germany considered Alsace her own, and to gain the good will of its people, she released the French prisoners from Alsace earlier than others. That was in 1871. Between horse meat, fighting and being a prisoner, Mr. Lutz says he’d had enough […] and straightaway came to America.”

Although comparatively little is known about Joseph Lutz’s experiences, his grandson once related that after serving in the Franco-Prussian War and coming out on the losing side, Joseph immigrated to America because he wouldn’t live under Prussian rule. It seems the brothers were allied in their feelings after having fought and been imprisoned by the Prussians—and having been forced to survive on horse meat during the Siege of Metz, which has been documented. A passenger list has been located that may indicate that the brothers immigrated together, arriving in New York aboard the Nevada in May 1871, mere months after the war’s end.

Lutz_Joseph

Joseph Lutz (1844-1887), circa 1875-1885; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2021.

Although the Blue Earth County Enterprise recorded in 1935 that Paul and his wife Josephine Lutz married in Sondersdorf and immigrated together, settling first near Burlington, Des Moines County, Iowa before making the move to Minnesota, records indicate that the couple actually married in Des Moines County, Iowa, in 1872. “Asked if they came by train to Burlington, Mr. Lutz chuckled and said, ‘Well, you needn’t think I walked.'” Perhaps the plan all along had been that Paul and Josephine would reunite and marry once in America and free of the strife of their homeland. Joseph, it seems, had not made any such promises to any young women from their home village; he instead married a Silesian immigrant, Hedwig Cichos, in Faribault County, Minnesota, in 1875. 

The brothers’ paths diverged to a degree in Minnesota; Paul farmed, as their father had before him, whereas Joseph lived in town, making a living first as a butcher and then as a saloon keeper. Of farm life, the Blue Earth County Enterprise shared that Paul owned one hundred and twenty acres “two miles west of Bass Lake,” and noted, “Memories of early days in southern Minnesota come to [Paul] as he talks. He tells of hauling grain to Delavan and Easton in the winter, using oxen-drawn sleds. Many a time, he says, blizzards would spring up and there was nothing for it but to give the oxen their heads and trust them to find the way home. They never failed.” Of Joseph, the newspaper shared, “Joe Lutz, early Mapleton butcher, was [Paul’s] brother. His shop was on Second Street just back of where the Wiedman drug store stands today. The frame building that housed it is the same one that stands there still, says Mr. Lutz.”

Joseph was indeed known to have been a butcher in Mapleton in the early 1880s; in the 1870s, however, he had operated a one-story frame butcher shop in Minnesota Lake, behind which were rooms where his family lived. After his stint as a butcher in Mapleton, he returned to Minnesota Lake but this time kept a saloon. Family lore notes that Joseph was a generous-hearted man who was known to give away cuts of meat to new immigrants in his community—to the occasional dismay of his wife, who chided him that these newcomers would not even have a pot with which to cook the meat!

Joseph would succumb to tuberculosis not quite sixteen years after his arrival in America; it seems especially tragic that he was stricken with this disease as he might otherwise have enjoyed as many years as his brother. At the time of Paul’s eighty-ninth birthday, the Blue Earth County Enterprise wrote, “Paul Lutz feels much younger than his years. His mind is far keener toward what is going on in this world than that of many a younger man. Age has as yet brought little failing to his senses. His speech is filled with humor that indicates his cheery optimism and enjoyment of life. His hearing is good. He walks up town every day. He administrates for himself the affairs of the farm he owns near Bass Lake. Paul Lutz has enjoyed and is still enjoying a full life with a clear memory that is truly remarkable.”

Copyright © 2021 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

Continue reading