Sharing a common language and customs was important to people far from the land of their birth, and the Germans, never more than a small percentage of Idaho’s population, are a good example of those who formed organizations to keep their culture alive.
This advertisement in the Idaho World of Idaho City appeared on Nov. 11, 1869: “Germans, Attention! A meeting will be held at the Idaho Brewery at 7 ½ o’clock p.m. on Saturday evening, November 13th for the purpose of organizing a German Literary Club. All Germans feeling an interest will please attend.”
When news of the outbreak of war between Prussia and France on July 19, 1870, reached Idaho City in August, the Idaho World reported, “Off for the War. Our Teutonic friend Louis Reid, of the Miners’ Brewery, caught the war fever and started a few days ago for the Fatherland to join the Prussian army. He takes with him the best wishes of his friends who hope to see him return here safe and sound when the war closes.”
However, Reid died in Mountain City, Nev., before reaching the new transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad, completed just a year earlier. It was reported that shortly before his death Reid had acted strangely and was thought to be insane.
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In August 1870, the World ran an ad for a German Relief Fund. “Subscriptions will be received in aid of the wounded soldiers, widows and orphans in Germany, at the Miners’ Brewery and the St. Charles Restaurant, or by any member of the undersigned committee.” Those listed were S.G. Rosenbaum, C.J. Bernstiel and C. Lautenschlager. In September the paper noted, “Charlie Bernstiel, a ‘true blue’ Prussian, who has been quite enthusiastic of late over the news of Prussian triumphs, dumped a little champagne into our sanctum a few days ago, which, with the assistance of a few friends, we managed to get away with.”
The Germans in Boise City had a “Grand blow-out” that week, and when a number of men gave speeches of celebration over German victories, brewers John Lemp and Charles Bernstiel were among them. When the Boise City stage pulled into Idaho City with its horses decorated with Prussian flags, Bernstiel, who was on board, was believed to have had a hand in it. “He is bound to find vent for his enthusiasm in some way,” said the World.
When news arrived that the war was over, “The enthusiasm of our citizens of Prussian birth and German sympathizers was demonstrated in a lively manner. Considerable champagne was indulged in, but the reliability of the news was doubted by some of our French residents and others whose sympathies were with the French. Numerous bets were made that Napoleon had not surrendered. Quite an amount of money and a quantity of jewelry was staked upon the correctness of the news.”
In September 1870, the Idaho World noted, “The Committee of the German Relief Fund informs us that they raised the sum of $370 in coin, which was immediately forwarded to the proper authorities at Berlin. This speaks well for the liberality and love of Fatherland on the part of the Germans in our city, as the sum is quite large, considering the number of Germans in our midst.”
The war ended on May 10, 1871, with an overwhelming victory for Prussia and the North German Confederation, led by Otto von Bismarck of Prussia, in what is now known as the Franco-Prussian War. French Emperor Napoleon III was captured and forced to surrender after the Battle of Sedan on Sept. 2, 1870, but other French forces continued to fight until the following May. French casualties totaled 138,871, compared to 28,208 Germans.
Bismarck dictated the terms of peace in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles and proclaimed the formation of a new German Empire that included the south German states of Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Baden.
Old antipathies never die, and after Germany lost World War I, the terms of peace were imposed upon it in that very same room in Versailles.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.