In 1844, my great-great-grandfather, Charles Barlett Pflum, came to the land of opportunity from Germany, arriving in America at the New York port of entry. The port of embarkation was Le Havre, France. Records are in the St. Louis Public Library. Ship records are there also. Charles was 18 when he chose to leave his trouble-torn birth country. He was listed as a mechanic and blacksmith on the ship's record, and he worked for his passage on the ship. He brought with him a brother named John.
In New York City, the two brothers became separated and were never reunited.
My great-great-grandfather found various jobs and worked his way to the city of St. Louis, Missouri. There he found work as a cooper, making barrels for the breweries in the beer-making city.
He eventually became so fond of America that he felt compelled to return to his homeland to bring more of his relatives to the freedom and good life he found in this good land. His father and sister returned with him to make their home in St. Louis. In the course of time his father died. The sister, the brother and his city-born wife decided they wanted to leave the city and return to the country life from which they had come in the old country. They were farm people at heart.
They settled in northeast Missouri on a rural farm. It was a small farm of 40 acres. The family was listed on the United States Census in 1861 in Shelby County Communal Colony, Bethel, Missouri. The village of Bethel was noted at that time for its distillery. Corn whiskey was a product, thus, there was a need for the cooper and the barrels he made. Great-Great-Grandfather's occupation was listed as cooper or barrel maker and farmer.
Bethel, Missouri, is a place of interest today. It was the most successful and long-lasting communal colony in Missouri, and one of the most successful in the nation. It is now registered with the Missouri and National Historical Societies as a national historic site. The annual Bethel, Shelby County, Missouri, Harvest Fest held in October attracts visitors from all over the United States.
My great-grandfather was a working member of that colony and so accepted on the census record in the year of 1861.
At the time of the Civil War, my great-great-grandfather was living on his 40-acre farm with his wife and nine children. He surely must have been adding to his family income by also working as a cooper and barrel maker in the village of Bethel.
He did not participate in the Civil War. Perhaps he thought his first duty lay at home with his nine children and bedfast expectant wife. He was captured and taken to Palmyra, Missouri, to "join up" or "help participate." He escaped his captors, and, being a small man, he hid in a corn shock. He was not found and returned to his home.
Within a few days his wife died in childbirth. He was left with nine young children and an infant daughter. Charles' sister took the newborn daughter into her home, and foster homes were found for the remaining children. Life went on.
My grandfather and his younger brother, boys in their early teens, were taken into a wealthy farmer's home. I have often wondered exactly how this came to happen.
My overactive imagination suggests that the farmer may have become acquainted with the barrel maker when he went to Bethel for his winter's supply of corn whiskey, for that was the custom of the time. Whiskey was purchased and supposedly used for medicinal purposes.
The farmer raised the two boys with his three daughters. Eventually there were 10 double cousins from the two families, including my mother. She well remembered her parents, grandparents and all of the good and bad times that came to pass.
Today members of these families are scattered from coast to coast. There are farmers and teachers, factory workers and preachers scattered far and wide. Family members served as soldiers in several wars supporting America. Everyone in this family traces their roots to an 18-year-old immigrant who bravely set out in 1844 to search for a better way of life.
I think he found it.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.