A Short History of My Life

1820 up to 1873

By Charles Heer

Submitted by Matthew Siegmann


Note from Matthew Siegmann about this family history.  Charles Heer moved from Monroe County, Illinois to Springfield, Missouri.  This transcript was never in print but found in the local history museum.  In this transcript Charles Heer talks about his life from when he was born in Germany to immigration to St. Louis and the time he lived in Waterloo until 1871 when he moved to Springfield. 




1820 up to 1873



1820 up to 1873


            I was born in the Parish of Ostercappeln, East Chapel in English Province of Canabrück, Kingdom of Hanover, Germany, on April 30th, 1820, at 9:00 o'clock in the morning, of Christian and Catholic parents.


            My father's name was: Gerhardt Welmar Heer.  My mother's maiden name was: Mary Elizabeth Klecker, of very pious and Catholic parents, of same parish as above.


            I never saw my father; he died January 6th, 1820.  I don't know much of my father's history.  I was too young when we left Germany.  His original name was Meyer.  Father was married twice.  His first wife was heir to the Heer Estate, so he had to take the name of Heer.  All Estates in our part of Germany continue under the same name, no matter who occupies the Estate of who owns the same. 


            My father was loved and respected in the whole Parish.  He was Justice of the Peace and Church Warden for a number of years, till his death.  I often heard Father's tenants and neighbors speak of him; they could not speak well enough of him.  He was beloved by all who knew him in the whole Parish.  My Father had two children with his first wife, all that I know of.  I believe one was dead before I was born, a daughter; the second, a son, named after his father.  He was old enough to be my father; he was heir to the Estate as to Law.  I was the only living child left.  My portion of the Estate would be set aside according to law, when I became of age, payable in cash, but I have never called for it.  I thought I could make my living without it.  So I have done up to date.  While we were in Germany yet my half-brother was very kind to me; he loved me as a brother only could love; he wished to retain me at home and live with him, but my mother would not consent to it, as I was the only child she had by my father; my half brother died after we had been in America only a couple of years.  He was married and had children.  What was become of them I never have been able to learn, as I never have been back to our home; and did not know with whom to correspond.  My mother was father's second wife.  Three children preceded me; they all died while infants, so I was the only living child left to my mother from my father.  Father was about 72 years old when he died.  My mother married again; my stepfather, his original name was Ludwig (Louis) Schnider.  When he married my mother he took the name of Heer, after the name of my father's Estate, as per Law in Hanover.  Of my mother's history I know more; in part of my own personal knowledge and family Records, of which we had copies when we came to America, but were lost when my stepfather's dwelling was destroyed by fire in the winter of 1838 at St. Louis, Missouri.  Mother's family record reaches from the beginning of the 16th century, before the Reformation.  All the landed Real Estate owners in the village where mother's ancestors lived changed to the new religion; they alone remained faithful to the old religion and have remained so up to this date.  The family was formally very wealthy, but lost considerable during the Wars that followed the Reformation.  They founded several charitable institutions.  One Hospital in the city of Canabrück, two Catholic Schools and two Vicar-Benificess; I was destined for one, but coming to America changed the program.  My mother had eleven brothers and sisters; nine of them died when young.  One of her brothers, Charles, after whom I was named, came to America two years after we did, but in 1849 died of Cholera in St. Louis; her youngest brother inherited her father's Estate, of whom I have heard nothing since the last forty years; we left Bermen in Sept. 1835, on a Sailing vessl, the "Theodore Koaner," for Baltimore, U. S., and arrived there in Dec., being 8 months on the ocean; remained in Baltimore one week, engaged a large freight wagon to haul us to Wheeling; took us 3 weeks to make the trip, then took a steamer to Louisville, and then again to St. Louis, Mo., where we arrived in Jan. 1836.  After being in St. Louis a week, my Mother obtained for me a situation with a German dairyman a few miles north of the city, now North St. Louis, at four dollars per month and board; lived there one month.  My parents got a situation for me where I could do better, on board of the steamer Chariton, which run on the Missouri River; at Eight Dollars per month, to work in the kitchen; only staid with that bout one month, then took the steamer Rapids at Twelve Dollars per month, to go to Louisville, Ky., when I returned to St. Louis, I took my stepbrother's place in the City Hotel, the same day as Second Cook.  The first month I got Seven Dollars per month, the next Eight, next Nine, and for twelve months, Twelve Dollars per month.  I left there on Saturday evening to take employment in a wholesale and retail Glass and Queensware Store on Main St.  My Mother got me the situation.  She thought I was fitted for something better than make a cook at a hotel.  The firm's name was R. D. Watson – Irish and Catholic by birth.  My fist year's salary was $200 per annum.  It was increased $50.00 each year till I left latter part of Sept. 1842; was with the house six years.  On the first of Oct. 1842 I commenced a Retail Grocery and Provision Store with my old school mate, Rudolph Heithamp on North Side of Franklin Ave. between 8th and 9th Streets; joint capital about $500.  Dissolved pardnership in May 1843; came out $12 a head.  Opened business again immediately with my old friend Bernard L. Meyer, as a pardner, at South East corner of Franklin Ave. & Eight Street - joint capital $600 – all told.  The name of the firm was Heer & Meyer.  From the first day we opened we done a good business and increased from day to day.  We both worked hard and lived very economically and saving.  As we were doing a very good business and had it established there and could not leave to go and rent another place, all of which our Landlord knew, he made us pay him a whole year rent in advance.  We did so but at the same time resolved not to be caught that way again; so we determined to look for property, buy and build our own.  I bought a lot of 25 ft. front corner of Franklin Ave. & Eleventh St. for $35 per front foot and paid cash, commenced to build March 1st, 1844 – a two-story brick, 25 by 60 feet, cost at that time complete $2500.  Got the building finished Sept. 1st and started business in it immediately.  I took charge of the new quarters and Meyer remained in the old place till we could dispose of the stock, and unexpired rent to advantage.  Done in the start a very prosperous business at our new place of business. 

In the back part of the lot we built stables, fitted up the 2nd story into bed rooms, attached dining room and kitchen to main building, so that we could keep farmers at night with their teams, and boarded them while they remained in the city, disposing of their produce and doing their trading.  In early days Farmers from all the adjoining counties, both Missouri and Illinois, had to come to St. Louis to sell their produce and do their trading.  By taking care of the Farmers we had the first chance to buy their produce, in which we done a large business and had the farmers' trade; we sold them all the groceries they needed and assisted them to buy all such other goods we did not keep.  By doing so we gained their good will and custom.  We were both single.  We carried on the whole business, store and tavern, with hired help, in which we were very successful.  I took charge of the house, did the buying for the store, and assisted my pardner in the store as much as I could.  For the yard and stables we charged the farmers nothing, and only 10 cts. per meal.  By adopting this course we made money, for we got all the farmers' trade.  In 1845 we bought the adjoining lot – 25 ft. front, for $40 – per front foot, and erected a two story brick business house at a cost of about $2500, which we rented for business purposes.  On Jan. 6th, 1846, I got married to Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Bunnemann, the widow of my personal friend, Caspter Bunnemann.  I never saw his wife until after his death, when business relations made me acquainted with Mrs. Bunnemann.


            In June, 1846 I took sick through excessive work and care.  I got the best medical help that I could procure, but found no relief.  In the fall I was advised by my doctor to go south to New Orleans –- the mild climate and rest would make me allright, but it did not help me.  My wife went with me, to take care of me; she would not let me go alone.  Returning to St. Louis in the spring of 1847, I did not improve and could not attend to business… I then got Dr. Beaumont, a French Navy physician, the very best in the city, to examine me.  We all thought I had consumption; after he examined me thoroughly he told me to be of good cheer, that I had no consumption, that I would regain my health again, but I would have to leave the city, or I would not get well.  When the doctor told us this it gave us great relief, as I had a chance yet for my life.  We made a visit to my parents in Illinois, to see if the country air and retirement from business would do me any good.  As soon as we crossed the river and inhaled the country air I began to feel better.  We staid with my parents about a week.  I felt so different that me and my wife concluded to go back to St. Louis and sell our interest in the store to my pardner and stay over summer with my parents in Illinois till I recovered…  I improved gradually during the summer, and by fall I was so far improved that I thought I could take care of a farm, but not to go into business in St. Louis again, as I would certainly get my old trouble back again; I sold my interest in the store, but not the real estate, to my pardner, B. L. Meyer, and bought a farm 2½ miles from Waterloo, Ill.  133½ acres, 25 acres of which was cleared, a two-room dwelling, stables, orchard, and a span of horses and wagon, for $1600.00.  What else could I do; to leave a very prosperous business was certainly very hard, but to sacrifice my health and die, at an early age, was certainly a great deal worse.  I had the very best of offers from wealth friends to come back to the city and to go into business again, dissolve business with my pardner and resume business again on my own account, but I declined for fear that I could not do successful business on account of my bad health.  We removed on the Farm in the fall of 1847.  We went to work as best we could.  My wife assisted me all in her power.  I improved gradually and we were getting along quite well and my health was getting better, from day to day, till the summer of 1849, when the Cholera made its appearance in Waterloo, and spread over the country.  I got a mild case of it, but I had to use a doctor constantly till it lastest and have suffered every summer more or less up to this day.  I could never leave home unless I was provided with medicines, to stay the disease.  On August 28th, 1849, our first child, Charles, was born.  In the fall my wife and myself took the chills and fever, which neither of us ever had before.  She had it 15 months, and I for 12 months.  We had it more of less in all that time, could not get rid of it in spite of all the medicine we used.  In the winter following we concluded to quit farming as my health was so far reestablished that I thought I could attend a mercantile business again, as I was better fitted for business than farming.


            We rented the farm and I went to Waterloo and rented a business house from my friend, Jesse Wiswell, including a residence in the upper part of the building.  Opened store March 1st, 1850.  My wife assisted me nobly; she done all she could when I would get dispounded as my health was feeble, yet she would encourage me, bid me to be of good cheer, that all would be well in time.  Oh noble woman, what hast thou not all done for me!  God reward you and bless you forever!  We done well from the first day that we opened, considering that we were strangers in town.  We hardly knew anybody when we came to town.  Our business increased from day to day.  When we saw that we could do a good business in Waterloo, we sold our interest in the real estate in St. Louis, which we had not previously sold to my pardner, B. L. Meyer, and invested the proceeds in the business.  We had by this time both got rid of the chills and fever; we wore it out, as we were both young and had a good constitution.


            In the Spring of 1851 we bought the lot adjoining our business place – 38 ft. front by 150 ft. deep, for $500.00 cash, from Miss Moore, afterwards Mrs. Hoener.  Commenced building immediately a two-story, brick business house, with residence, on second floor, 34 by 60 ft.  Cost about $2500 – building in early days was much cheaper than it is now.  We removed to the new quarters in Sept. the same year.  As we had now plenty of room we increased our stock.  We kept everything that is called for in a country store; kept the stock full, and as the largest portion of our daily sales was on time, I had the capital that I could afford to give my customers time to make their payments, and by doing so I soon had the largest trade in town.  In 1853 I bought 100 acres of unimproved land from Capt. Eckert, 2½ miles from Waterloo, adjoining my first farm on the west, for $21– per acre.  I improved the land, erected a good, substantial brick residence and all the out-buildings necessary for successful farming.  After I had made all the improvements, the cultivated land free from all stumps and dead trees, for the land was heavy timbered, the whole cost me about $75– per acre, including the buildings.  In the fall of 1855 – in Oct., moved on to it and farmed successfully 8 years, the happiest and contented of all my life.  In the morning after I had set all the hands to work for the day, I would go to town to attend to the store, and in the evening after most of the business was over, I went home and looked over the work my hands had done.  In 1860 I sold the store to Louis Eilbracht, all on credit, for he had no means of his own; but I trusted him, knowing that he was honest.  My reason for doing so was I wanted to collect up as I had a large amount of outstanding debts due me, which I could not do if I remained in business; besides I liked farming so much better, that I did not care much any more for active mercantile business.


            In the winter of 1860 & 61, the War broke out, and as I sold to Eilbracht a full and complete stock, and left all the money in the business, he had the best chance in the world to double and quad-double his capital stock, for merchandise rose from 50 to 400 per cent.  I told him to stock up all he could and not worry about paying me, and if he had not means enough to do so, I would back him.  This was the making of Eilbracht, for in a short time he made money enough to pay me off.  He then bought a lot and commenced to build a business house of his own; when completed, he moved into it and vacated mine.  As goods got very high, and business, on account of the war, got very dull, I could not rent the store to other parties; and also on account of so much drafting for the army that took the laboring element to the war, I could not get hands enough to work the farm; and as our business house was at that time the best stand in town and always a first class business was done in it; by standing idle it would naturally depreciate and take the business away from it, it was known all over the country as the Heer business place.  So I concluded to resume active business again.  I rented the farm to my Brother and opened Sept. 1st, 1863, and removed my family back again to Waterloo in Nov., 1863.  In 1864 I was drafted in the Army and furnished a substitute for $600-; when I got my discharge.


            After we resumed business again, we did more business then before.  I soon had all my old customers back again and an increase of new ones.  I also increased my stock.  I dealt in all kinds of farm machinery; in fact everything there was called for.  In the latter part of March, 1868, I, in company with John Wall, made a trip to Springfield, Mo. to visit Mr. John Walker, near Ash Grove.  It was at the time when the South West Branch, now San Francisco, changed ownership and commenced at once to complete the road from the Gasconade to the state line.  Springfield had a first class boom.  The city was full of strangers, seeking new homes and making investments.  The merchants were crowded with business – money seemed to be plenty.  I certainly thought I had struck the Eldorado this time.  We arrived by the stage about sundown, and by next day at noon I had bought the Southwest corner of Olive and Boonville St., 43 feet front, running to Alley now called Arcade, for $100- per front foot.  After visiting Mr. Walker, I went home.  Mr. Wall remained in Ash Grove.  In the fall of 1868 I returned to Springfield to make arrangements for building.  I contracted with Capt. Lee, Architect, for a two-story brick building 43 by 90 ft., to cost $12,000- but when completed it cost me $18,000- The building was completed Sept. 1, 1869, two store rooms, the corner room I rented to J. G. Aumoth & Co. for $125.00, the other to Victor Summors, for $110.00 per month – a higher rent then I could have got every since.  At that time I did not contemplate to remove to Springfield.  I bought and improved it as an investment; it paid me good interest.  I concluded in 1870 to remove to Springfield, Mo., there being a better chance for my children in Springfield than in Waterloo, South West, Mo. being a new country, my children could grow up with the country and in future could do a larger business than we could ever expect to do in Waterloo, being too close to St. Louis.


            Some very unpleasant things happened to us in Waterloo about that time, that I made up my mind that I would remove to Springfield as soon as I could sell out and collect the outstanding debts.


            In the Spring of 1871, I sold out to Meyer & Sam Erhagen, and left Waterloo with my family April 16th, and arrived in Springfield April 18th, in the evening.  We had already opened the store in Springfield March 1st, 1871, managed by my son Charles, and Samuel Horine, and my son Henry followed a short time after.  I had also bought, in the early part of March, a residence on Boonville Street, corner of Chestnut, for $3800 –- the building was a two-story, frame structure, which in the Spring of 1873, I sold for $50-; that is, the old frame, and built the present residence for a little over $5,000.  In all whatever I did my wife never opposed me.  She always said that I must know best; where I would live, she would live; if I was satisfied, she would be.  A true wife indeed!