To Avoid Conscription, Grandparents Head for Land of Opportunity

Great-grandparents travel by train, survive crash to arrive in Iowa, where they married.

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My great-grandparents on my grandmother's side came from Germany. Asmus Stoltenberg was born September 29, 1842, at Stackendorf, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Dorothea Weise was born October 18, 1837. Asmus became a naturalized citizen in Scott County, Iowa, on February 16, 1870. Asmus and Dorothea worked as servants or laborers in the same home. As I understand, he came to America to avoid forced conscription into the German Army.

Unmarried, they arrived in New York aboard the ship Neckar, then boarded a train of the Grand Trunk Railroad line. This train, which was scheduled to go through Canada and the western United States, carried 475 immigrants from different European countries.

On June 29, 1864, this train fell through the open Richlieu Drawbridge at St. Hillaire, near Montreal, Canada. Eighty-seven bodies were recovered from the ruins; 80 people were injured. Some of the train cars had landed on a barge below the bridge. Without the barge to prevent the cars from plunging into the river, more people would have drowned. The immigrants' various origins and virtual anonymity made it impossible to correctly identify the dead. Fortunately, Asmus and Dorothea were not injured. They continued on to Iowa and were married at Davenport on August 2,1864.

In 1876, a group of men bought 11,647 acres of land in Ida County, Iowa, from the Northwestern Railroad at $5.75 an acre. Asmus settled there and is referred to as the first settler in Ida County, Iowa – the German settlement at Holstein, Iowa. His wife and family arrived later. He eventually bought five more farms for his six living children.

I am proud of what is behind me, and I hope to learn more about my heritage. I know my ancestors would be proud of my family – four well-educated daughters, and a son who retired after a career in the army.

Marian B. Williams
Fair Oaks, Indiana


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.