This article has been updated on April 10, 2021 with new information since the original publication.
Ohlrich Kucks was the father of Elizabeth Kucks who married Charles Aleck. As mentioned in Ellis Island, Castle Garden, or bust, he is our immigrant ancestor for this branch of the family. But, then so is his father…read on.
What we knew about Ohlrich came from Elizabeth. He supposedly told her a story once that went a little like this:
He left Germany to avoid conscription into the military (he may have been in the German Cavalry). He arrived in America at New York City. He came with maybe two friends. He was hungry when he arrived but didn’t speak English. He found a line for food that was selling these “strange looking pancakes”. He stood in line for one and thought they were pretty good. Years later, he came to learn that those “strange looking pancakes” were in fact fruit pies.Grandma Aleck
Elizabeth told the remainder of this story to her granddaughters, my grandmother and her sister:
Now, at that time, the city was bustling with immigrants and there were many lines for many things. Ohlrich, accustomed to standing in lines for food by this time, stood in one such line and managed to get himself drafted into the Union Army. The Union Army sent him to Texas where the troops were subsequently forgotten. Supplies hadn’t been sent in some time and the troops were starving so they abandoned post and went their separate ways. This made them deserters in the eyes of the military, so Ohlrich changed his name.
Some years had passed and Ohlrich had eventually settled in Harrison Township, Iowa. He had since married and had several children. Right before the wedding of Elizabeth Kucks, he read in the newspaper that all deserters from the Union Army had been pardoned. He jumped up and exclaimed to his family that his real name was Ohlrich Kucks and that he was a deserter who had just been pardoned.Grandma Aleck
Elizabeth’s siblings claimed the pardon and name change stories were all lies. My grandma and her sister were never sure, but suspected maybe Elizabeth’s siblings were worried about the family reputation relating to German affiliation (this would have been around WWII when the stories were told).
One of Ohlrich’s grandsons (Max) told a story that Ohlrich had to serve time in the German Army. Either Max’s father, John, or Ohlrich himself, had told Max that the training conditions in the German Army were horrendous. They would be trained so vigorously that there would be blood in their boots. This was supposedly the reason he left Germany. And then he ended up in the Union Army! History research tells us that Prussia fought for a united Germany at the time of Ohlrich’s immigration and had a mandatory military conscription for all men of age. At the age of 17, when he came to America, Ohlrich would have been “of conscription age”.
What can genealogy teach us about Ohlrich and the stories we’ve heard?
Ohlrich Kucks was born 22 August 1853 in Sassenholz, Prussia is Lower Saxony. On his immigration papers he listed Ostereistedt as his residence and in later census, he reported Hanover.
A little history and geography lesson here: As with much of European history, Prussia and Germany’s exact story is complex. The quick and easy is…Germany was formed in 1871 from the Prussian empire. So, Ohrich was born in Prussia (before 1871) in a region that became Germany. Both Hanover (Hannover) and Selsingen are located in Lower Saxony about 30 miles apart, with Ostereistedt somewhere between them. It is earlier records that state Selsingen and Ostereistedt and later records that just state “Hanover”. Hanover was also the title of an area that covered the two previous locations and was more widely heard of.
He was the son of Ohlrich Kücks and Mary Schröder. Ohlrich the elder had quite a large family through two wives. Mary Schröder died in Prussia and the elder Ohlrich remarried. The elder Ohlrich, his second wife, and many of Ohlrich’s siblings immigrated to America several years after Ohlrich, also settling in Iowa.
Ohlrich arrived by himself on the steamship Hansa which departed Hamburg (via Liverpool England) on 13 May 1870 and arrived in New York shortly after (still looking for the arrival records). The passenger lists have his age as 17 (b. about 1853), his profession as Blacksmith, and his residence as Ostereistedt, Prussia. Another boy named Johann Detjen, aged 19, and also a Blacksmith, was on the same ship coming from Selsingen, Prussia, enumerated right after Ohlrich on the passenger list.
- The claim that he arrived with “maybe two friends” is plausible.
- The Franco-Prussian War was taking place in Prussia at this time. The claim that he left Prussia to avoid conscription and that he may have been conscripted breifly is plausible.
He somehow made his way to Chicago, Illinois where he enlisted on 9 October 1872 in the U.S. Army, giving his age as 21 (he was actually 19) and was assigned to the 2nd Calvary, I or J Company as a laborer. At this time, the 2nd Cavalry had posts at Fort Riley, Kansas (really?!), Fort Omaha, Nebraska, and Ft. Sanders, Wyoming. Its regimental mission was to protect the frontier from Indian uprising during the westward expansion. Ohlrich deserted by 6 May 1873.
My grandma and her sister thought Ohlrich deserted from Texas. Some units of the 2nd Cavalry did have documented time in Texas, but not during the time Ohlrich was enlisted, so I don’t think Ohlrich was ever in Texas. Desertion was rampant in the U.S. Army at this time. When Ohlrich deserted, if he was still a laborer, he was likely underpaid if paid at all and did not have ready access to a horse (many cavalrymen stole their horses when they deserted), so making a trek from Texas to Iowa seems unlikely, though not implausible. I think he was in garrison near Omaha when he deserted due to its proximity to Iowa. There is not much documentation on I or J Company’s actions, so I am only guessing.
- Place of desertion as Texas is unlikely. I need to see if there is a full military record for Ohlrich.
Let’s not be disheartened by his desertion. I read an excellent paper from the Nebraska State Historical Society that describes the hardships of military life at that time and the government’s attitudes on desertion. In short, the military was defunct and facing many growing pains after the Civil War, especially on the frontier. Reasons for desertion were varied from a harsh lifestyle, short lifespan fighting Indians, and poor pay, etc. Military leaders understood the issues faced by the men and briefly stopped trying to find, prosecute, and incarcerate men who deserted until they could find long-term solutions to the issues causing the phenomenon.
It is more likely that he deserted from Ft. Omaha, Nebraska or Ft. Sanders, Wyoming as that is the last known whereabouts for the companies Ohlrich was associated with.
- The claim that he served in the U.S. Army and deserted is proven.
- The pardon is inconclusive. There is no record of a mass pardon for this time period. But the military did decide not to prosecute deserters for a certain period. He may have read an article about that.
Ohlrich married Margaretha Hinkel after his military service (ahem) ended. They were married on 25 January 1878 in Mondamin, Harrison County, Iowa. He and Margaretha remained in Harrison County for the rest of their lives. He is found in state and Federal census between 1885 and 1930. He is listed as a farmer in most census’, but later in life, he became a saloon proprietor.
- The claim that he lived under an assumed name
can be debunkedis plausible (see The Kucks Tangled Web). Even if his children were kept in the dark as to their real name, Margaretha knew it since he married her as Ohlrich Kucks, not an alias. Also, he openly lived from 1878 to 1930 as Ohlrich Kucks. UPDATE: If he did use an alias, it was during the years between his desertion and his marriage.
- Interesting note: This alias story must exist in another family line as one Ancestry.com researcher has his alias as Henry Brandt. One of the captains of the steamship Hansa was named Brandt. I have not found evidence of a man named Henry Brandt living in Harrison County, Iowa that would match our Ohlrich. The Ohlrich records I find are all in the right area, for the right aged man, and matching all known facts about him. He doesn’t appear to be hiding his identity. The other Ancestry.com researcher does not publicly share the basis of their alias claim. UPDATE: Ohlrich had family associations to various Brandt branches both in the United States and in Germany.
Stay tuned for part 2.