Read an Excerpt
The Baron in the Grand Canyon
Friedrich Wilhelm von Egloffstein in the West
By Steven Rowan
University of Missouri Press Copyright © 2012 The Curators of the University of Missouri
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Severed Bear's Head
Franconia, Bavaria, and Prussia, 1824–1848
Götz: Surrender unconditionally? With whom are you speaking? Am I a robber? Tell your captain that I have, as ever, due respect for His Imperial Majesty. But tell him he can kiss my ass. [Slams the window closed]
—Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand, Act 3, scene 33 (German text in Projekt Gutenberg).
In 1773, the young poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe (not yet ennobled with a "von") would celebrate the ambiguous freedom of the Imperial Knights, lords over paltry knots of subjects and destined to extinction, in his sprawling play Götz von Berlichingen. This consciously Shakespearean tale of a world of smalltime rugged individuals being ground into nothing by larger forces bestowed on the Knights the elegiac glow of a way of life both attractive and doomed, comparable to the Japanese samurai in the nineteenth century. In its last stage of decay, the Holy Roman Empire could be celebrated as the embodiment of freedom through confusion and complexity. The ethos of the Imperial Knights lived on even after the Empire's bathetic demise in 1806.
The barons von und zu Egloffstein have been associated with the crag-mounted castle of Egloffstein (illustrations 1 and 2) so long that they are known as Uradel, immemorial nobility. Today the region where Egloffstein is located is commonly known as Franconia, a largely Protestant area in northern Bavaria. The semimountainous landscape, punctuated with fine valleys and overawed with stone-crowned hills, is given the touristy name of Fränkische Schweiz, Franconian Switzerland. The region had once been home to Celts, who moved on to make way for Germans even before the Roman emperors constructed the limes, frontier fortifications that ran through the open countryside just to the south. The Franks gave their name to the region in the Carolingian era, and with the creation of an autonomous German monarchy in the early tenth century, Franconia became a pivotal territory in the new loosely federated post-tribal state.
Actual local control in the tenth century was in the hands of a warrior class that acted on behalf of the emperor or other great lords to defend and oversee a dependent peasant population. Earlier some of these Ritter (knights) had risen from the status of serfs themselves and been called ministeriales, but that era was far behind them by the late Middle Ages. The process of territorialization of lordship meant that the large "tribal" duchies broke up into tighter lordships, with confused spaces in between. Franconia suffered more than any other region of Germany from this anarchic confusion, which some called freedom.
The rank the Egloffsteins attained among the class that came to be known as the Reichsritter, Imperial Knights, was that of Freiherr or baron. This placed them above simple knights, who were at the bottom of the feudal hierarchy of noble society, and, in turn, below any Graf or count.
The ancestral castle was larger than most of the knights' castles of the region and was settled on a cleft of rock above a village also called Egloffstein. The name refers to an early holder of the castle, or Stein, named Egilo, otherwise obscure. The family that was attached to that much older castle is documented from the twelfth century. Next to the castle tower is a church, dedicated to Saint Bartholomew and eventually topped by an onion dome. Despite the steep climb required to reach it, it remains the Protestant parish church of the village today.
The arms of the family are brutally simple, as befits an ancient lineage: a severed black bear's head. This could be embellished to give the bear a long red tongue, and the bear was repeated as its own crest. The bear appears to have represented the ruined castle of Bernlapp, which produced the surviving branch of the Egloffstein family among several lines that were extinguished by time. The family was turnierfähig, entitled to joust, and there are heraldic images at the ancestral castle of an Egloffstein breaking a lance with a duke of Bavaria, no less, in the fourteenth century.
The region's stormy history was capped in the fourteenth century by a climactic struggle for sovereignty (suitably enough, in view of Goethe's celebrated lord of Berlichingen) initiated by one Götz von Egloffstein, but his capitulation to a grand alliance of surrounding authorities in 1389 condemned his descendants to mediocrity and subordination to the prince-bishops who bordered their hilly region. Some sons of these families became members of cathedral chapters and monasteries; a few even rose to become bishops, capable of bestowing a little nepotistic patronage on their own families.
Younger sons set off to make their fortunes elsewhere, particularly turning to the "Wild East" of Germany, which included Prussia. Egloffsteins joined the lay nobility in Brandenburg and Prussia. Two brothers would be promoted to the rank of Prussian counts in 1786, their new arms quartering the bear's head of Egloffstein with the black royal eagle of Prussia. Despite the family's elevation, some members retained an attachment to the original homeland in Franconia so that the incorporation established for the family castles at Egloffstein and Kunreuth still embraces common ownership by the Counts and Barons von und zu Egloffstein (first incorporation 1557, most recent 1911).
The lords of Egloffstein and Kunreuth gained rights of jurisdiction over many villages in the region, and their hunting and property rights survive in some form to the present day. To preserve their properties from fragmentation they incorporated as a family to share in the properties at the core of their sovereignty. Still, this did not provide adequate employment for a numerous family, and the Egloffsteins were to be found in positions as administrators and military officers all over the old Reich.
In the last centuries of the old Reich, the Barons von und zu Egloffstein were members of two of the cantons of Reichsritter, Gebürg and Steigerwald. The natural magnet for the region was Bamberg, where Gebürg had its seat. When the institutions of the old Reich were rationalized in the early nineteenth century and many closed down, the impact on middling towns such as Bamberg was sudden and negative. A lament over the termination of the institutions of the old Reich in the early nineteenth century describes the disappearance of "a numerous nobility, which largely consumed its revenues here...." The knights had also involved themselves in collective institutions of the Empire, particularly in the Franconian Circle (Kreis) set up for pooled defense.
Despite their long ties with the Catholic bishoprics of Bamberg, Eichstätt, and Würzburg, however, the Franconian knights would choose largely for the Protestant Reformation, providing pastors to their parish churches of Protestant conviction. The great imperial city just to the south, Nuremberg, would create its own university in the small town of Altdorf immediately to its east to provide ministers for its version of Protestantism.
Middling secular powers were also found in Franconia, particularly the princely Hohenzollern, who would become mighty lords in Brandenburg and Prussia. Their duchies of Ansbach and Bayreuth would snake through Franconia, building on the Hohenzollerns' ancient position as lords of the imperial castle at Nuremberg.
The rules of the game had been drastically altered in the course of the eighteenth century, when the War of the Spanish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession brought major European forces into Franconia, barely recovered from the depredations of the Thirty Years War. The general European crisis precipitated by the French Revolution, however, proved terminal for the Old Reich. First the rulers whose lands had been incorporated into France on the left bank of the Rhine were compensated by the mass seizure of ecclesiastical and municipal estates in 1803. Then Napoléon forced the Holy Roman Empire entirely out of existence in 1806, consolidating its 360-odd sovereign entities into thirty-odd states in the League of the Rhine. A major loser in this reshuffling was the former Estate of Imperial Knights, but another loser in Franconia was Prussia, which the French had recently humiliated at the Battle of Jena. Bavaria, under the Machiavellian leadership of the Savoyard Count Maximilian von Montgelas (1759–1838, chief minister 1799–1817), became a kingdom and absorbed the ecclesiastical, Prussian, and knights' territories in both Swabian borderlands and Franconia. Wounds from such surgery are not healed overnight, and the attempts of the Bavarian government in Munich to incorporate the new territories into a modern state still had achieved only partial success in the decades after Napoléon's final fall.
The breadth of the Egloffstein clan is reflected in members who made their marks outside the traditional callings of government service and the military. Prior to Baron Friedrich, however, the sole noted artist had come from a rare joining of two branches of the family. Henrietta Baroness von Egloffstein (1773–1864) married a Count von Egloffstein-Arkliten but separated from him and appeared in Weimar at the height of Goethe's reign there. Her three talented daughters (Karoline, a musician; Julie, a painter; Auguste, a poetess) took the place by storm. Countess Julie von Egloffstein (1792–1869) was a protégée of Goethe himself from 1816 on; she became a lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Saxony-Weimar in 1824, with her own atelier at the palace. She made her name with her wit and beauty as well as her capacity as a sketch artist and portraitist. The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, has exhibited a lithograph showing the ancestral castle of Egloffstein in 1814, differing only in detail from what can be seen today.
Baron Wilhelm von und zu Egloffstein's13 complex life included service in the Prussian infantry (where he attained the rank of captain) and brief but prestigious service in a Freikorps unit of Franconian hussars during the Wars of Liberation against Napoléon. It is in his black hussar's uniform, covered with silver braid, that he is portrayed in oils at Egloffstein castle. After his retirement from the Bavarian forestry administration, he would go on to rebuild the ancestral castle in 1850, joining its two towers with a stairway structure (Treppenhaus) to create the building seen today. He was born in 1775 at Egloffstein and would die there in 1859. In the early years of the new century he was serving the Margrave Karl Friedrich of Baden (after 1803, prince elector, and after 1806, grand duke) along the southern bend of the Rhine, immediately prior to the revolutionary expansion of Baden as a result of the dynamic efforts of Baron Sigismund von Reitzenstein (1766–1847, Baden's minister to France, 1796–1803, chief minister only 1809–10, 1817–18, 1832–42). Reitzenstein was the German southwest's analog to Bavaria's Count Maximilian von Montgelas.
In 1802 Baron Wilhelm married Amalie Marquise de Montperny, of a Huguenot noble family serving the margrave at Karlsruhe (Camill Friedrich Marquis de Montperny was supreme chamberlain and serving privy councilor (wirkliche Geheimrat) to the prince). Amalie would die in childbirth at Egloffstein in 1808 after having born her husband two sons. Baron Wilhelm immediately replaced Amalie with her younger sister, Karoline Marquise de Montperny, who would bear him three more sons. She would outlive her husband and die in 1874. Egloffstein castle today preserves a stained-glass window with the arms of Montperny. On May 18, 1824, Baron Wilhelm von Egloffstein was serving as a Royal Bavarian forestry administrator in the university town of Altdorf, east of Nuremberg, when his wife, Karoline, bore his fifth and last son, who was baptized as Friedrich Ernst Sigismund Kamill von Egloffstein, the sixteenth of that first name in the family chronicle. The "French" name "Kamill" reminded the lineage of the Huguenot tradition of his mother.
The family tradition has it that Baron Wilhelm never got along with his youngest son, Friedrich. However that might be, it is known that Friedrich entered the Prussian army, perhaps via a cadet school, and served as a lieutenant in the Fifth Jägerbataillon (Ranger Battalion) before resigning his commission in 1847, at the early age of twenty-three. The Fifth Jägerbataillon was known as the von Neumann Battalion, also as the First Silesian (Schlesische) Battalion, and it was garrisoned from 1830 to 1849 at Görlitz in Prussian Silesia. The battalion had been part of the Prussian forces that fought Napoléon at Waterloo in 1815.
The Jäger ("Rangers" or "Rifles") were "special forces" within the Prussian army, light infantry operating outside the usual regimental structure for assignments such as scouting, sniping, and infiltration. A Jägerbataillon consisted of a bit more than eight hundred men divided into four companies. Unlike the troops of the line, uniformed in Prussian blue with the famous "spiked helmet," the Jäger were uniformed in dark green trimmed in red with gilt buttons and wore a leather shako. Also unlike in troops of the line, units signaled one another using hunting horns rather than bugles, recalling their ultimate origin as irregulars drawn from huntsman and foresters. Whatever Egloffstein's degree of involvement with Prussian military service, he must have received basic training in surveying, mapping, and drawing there.
The usual pattern was for a youth of about seventeen years of age to pass a first examination to become a "Swordknot Ensign" (Portepée-Fähnrich) in a regiment, serving in the ranks for six to nine months before standing for a second examination to become a candidate for a vacancy among the officers. As the noble son of a Prussian officer, Egloffstein would have had an advantage in the competition for a position as lieutenant. The examinations demanded demonstrated proficiency in Latin, French, and German, as well as mathematics and history. Drawing lessons to improve skills of observation were part of the formal training of any officer. Secondary sources repeatedly assert that he served in an engineering unit of the Prussian army, but there is no confirmation in official documents. A noble in a "technical" area usually reserved for officers of non-noble origin would have been very unusual. What is clear is that by the early 1850s he was already an accomplished artist, surveyor, and cartographer.
The Prussian army was generally regarded as a fine institution by connoisseurs of such things, but its function after the Napoleonic Wars was similar to that of the armed forces of modern Chile or Argentina, namely to overawe, even oppress, its own diverse population. Other than its splendid marching music, it was not regarded as a positive example for other militaries. Only the Wars of Unification in the 1860s, followed by the Franco-Prussian War in 1870–71, would make the Prussian army and its technical services an ideal to the armies of the world.
Although born in the Kingdom of Bavaria (and there is no record of his ever receiving royal permission to enter a "foreign" army), Baron Friedrich would always be known in America as a Prussian. The only contemporary German in America to call him a Bavarian was a real Prussian subject, Balduin Möllhausen. It is also significant that he chose to add "Wilhelm" to his baptismal name of "Friedrich," emulating the then-reigning Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, and overlooking the several additional baptismal names from which he could have chosen.
He was built like the heraldic bear that symbolized his family. He appears not to have been very tall. When he was mustered into the New York Volunteers in 1861 he was described as being five feet, seven inches with "eyes blue, hair, light." Still, stories about him told by others remark about his unusual girth: he would be unable to find a suit of his size in Great Salt Lake City in 1854, which caused him to miss the Winter Ball to which he had been personally invited by no less a personage than Brigham Young. As his commander on a later expedition said when describing his fall into the depths of the Grand Canyon, he was "of solid weight."
Details of his army life are currently obscure, but there is one tantalizing fact that seems to show that he had an early commitment to America and perhaps to adventure as well. On August 31, 1846, during the first phase of the war of the United States with Mexico, he is listed among the passengers on the Elise of Bremen, which had sailed from Bremen to Baltimore. The passengers were divided into three classes: those in the cabin (eight on this passage); those in "steerage" (seventeen); and those "between decks"(one hundred sixty). It is obvious that in this context "steerage" was effectively "second class." At the top of the steerage list stand one "Fritz von Egloffstein" from "Girlitz" (Görlitz in Prussian Silesia) and Ernst von Riesenwetter, certainly an erroneous transcription for Kiesenwetter, of Bautzen (Kingdom of Saxony), soon to be Egloffstein's brother-in-law. Egloffstein is given his correct age of twenty-two, Kiesenwetter, twenty-four. Egloffstein's baggage consisted of ten "cases," the only such description in a manifest replete with "chests" and "trunks." The ultimate destination for the two young men, whose profession was given as some form of the word "particular" (agent) was said to be Texas, while the other passengers were mostly bound for Ohio or Kentucky. Not much can be built on such thin circumstantial evidence, but the use of the term "cases" inclines one to think of firearms being transported in bulk to a Texas that probably could have made good use of them in time of war. Egloffstein would resign his commission in the Prussian army the following year, and the commencement of his American adventure in mid-1846 shortens his possible time of active military service even further.
Excerpted from The Baron in the Grand Canyon by Steven Rowan Copyright © 2012 by The Curators of the University of Missouri. Excerpted by permission of University of Missouri Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.