From log structure to ornate church, Immaculate Conception has plenty to celebrate over 175 years

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 10/14/21

Frankenstein native Dr. Gary Kremer, executive director of The State Historical Society of Missouri, said at Saturday’s 175th anniversary of Immaculate Conception Parish celebration that the …

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From log structure to ornate church, Immaculate Conception has plenty to celebrate over 175 years

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Frankenstein native Dr. Gary Kremer, executive director of The State Historical Society of Missouri, said at Saturday’s 175th anniversary of Immaculate Conception Parish celebration that the church stands today much as it always has, as a symbol of faith and hope, and a shelter and anchor in an ever-changing world.

“Think of what this church has seen, and the role it has played for multiple generations of parishioners,” he said. “This church has witnessed and hosted both the happiest and the saddest days of our lives. We have met and married here. Baptized our children and said our final goodbyes to loved ones here.

When this church was built, Ulysses S. Grant was president of the United States, and the American Civil War was a present and vivid memory. Countless Loose Creek residents came here to pray for health and healing through multiple pandemics, from cholera and typhoid to the Spanish Influenza, polio, and COVID-19.

“We are drawn here by faith and we are confirmed in that faith by our awareness of the countless ways in which that faith has been both validated and rewarded,” Dr. Kremer said. 

EARLY HISTORY OF THE REGION

Dr. Kremer noted that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled up the Missouri River, only a year or so after the United States acquired this territory from the French. 

“By the way, one of the things about that purchase that is rarely remembered is that the French sold land that they did not own to the Americans,” said Dr. Kremer, “The land belonged to the Indigenous Peoples who lived here at the time, most prominently, the members of the Osage Nation.”

This land was sparsely populated during the early 19th century. Settlers were mostly French trappers and traders. The first settlement in Osage County was French Village, just below the present-day location of Bonnots Mill. Some of the residents of French Village likely came from across the Missouri River, from a village known as Cote Sans Dessein (“Hill Without Design”). 

Cote Sans Dessein was the preferred site for the Missouri state capital in the early period of Missouri statehood but was abandoned because of disputes over land ownership in the area. 

“The Missouri legislature did not want to become embroiled in legal disputes over who really owned the land, so they moved to a much less desirable spot, the modern-day site of the City of Jefferson,” Dr. Kremer noted. “French Village was destroyed by a flood in 1844 that changed the course of the Missouri River, moving the confluence of the Missouri and the Osage downstream from modern-day Osage City to its current location, just below Bonnots Mill.”

There were some Anglo-Americans here in the area before the Germans began arriving. Like most early Missourians, they hailed primarily from the upper south, especially, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. 

Among those who settled in the area in the 1820s and 1830s, before the Germans came, were the Laughlins, Eades, Heatherlys, and Robinsons. 

The home of Thomas Robinson was designated by the Missouri General Assembly to be the meeting place for the first sessions of court when Osage County separated from Gasconade County in 1841 and became a county of its own. 

“Many of you, no doubt remember the log structure that stood in the Loose Creek Community Park for a number of years, after being moved from its original site, about two miles north of Loose Creek,” said Dr. Kremer.

Many of the early immigrants coming from Germany to central Missouri were responding to messages and articles published in German newspapers, encouraging the poor and oppressed to seek better lives in America with its abundant land and freedoms, including the freedom to practice the religion of their choice. 

“It would be impossible to overemphasize the value these people placed on the opportunity to own land,” said Dr. Kremer. “Increasingly, it was difficult to become a landowner in Germany at this time, but in the New World, land was available and affordable.”

One of the early land speculators who arrived in the Loose Creek area from Germany was Joseph Aretz, who first set foot on American soil in 1834. He traveled to central Missouri and purchased 1,388 acres in the Loose Creek area, primarily on the banks of the Maries River, not too far from the point where the Maries flows into the Osage. 

Aretz sent letters home to his parents, describing the area. He traveled in the company of carpenter Adolph Scheulen and his family from Lank, Germany. While the Scheulens were true immigrants, who came to stay, Aretz himself had no intention of staying in America, although he did commission the Scheulen family to build a large home near the Maries River, which he later sold to his nephews Christian Heinrich and Heinrich Jacob Porth, sons of his sister, Anna Marie Porth, who lived here for a short time before returning to Germany, leaving her sons to establish businesses for themselves in Jefferson City while selling the house to the Adolph Johann Boessen family. 

Some immigrants who were encouraged to travel to America arrived in ports on the east coast but most disembarked in New Orleans, La., and took the Mississippi River north to central Missouri, following the Missouri and Osage rivers, in addition to smaller tributaries. 

Many of the Loose Creek Germans came as part of what historians call a “chain migration.” 

Dr. Kremer explained that is a term historians use to describe a migration from a particular community that results in others from that community moving to a specific place. In the case of so many early German immigrants who came to Loose Creek, the place of origin was Lank, Germany. 

A perfect example of this sort of migration occurred in 1850, when John Dohmen, who already lived in the Maries River Valley in a house probably built either in the late 1830s or early 1840s, southwest of modern-day Loose Creek, led a large group of German immigrant families to the area. 

According to Hubert Bescheinen, this group included “the John Jaegers family, the Ruettgers family, Peter Schmitz and Paul Schmitz with his large family. This large group boarded the ship, Ocean Queen, at Bremen, Germany, and landed on Oct. 23, 1850, at New Orleans. From there, they came up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, then traveled northwest by boat to what was called Kramer Landing near Osage City.

THE FIRST MINISTERS

Early records indicate that the first Catholic priest to minister to Catholic settlers in the Loose Creek area was Fr. John Henry Meinkmann. He appears to have come to the United States in 1835 with some of the early Westphalia settlers. 

In 1837, he was appointed pastor of what was called the “New Westphalia” territory, Dr. Kremer said, which generally included the southern portion of the present Immaculate Conception Parish, with the Maries River as the southern boundary. Fr. Meinkmann built a small chapel in honor of St. John the Baptist on the north bank of the Maries River on a farm later owned by Charles Haslag. At the time, this land was owned by the Dohmen family, whom Fr. Meinkmann accompanied to America from Rhineland. They came aboard a ship called the Charles Ferdinand in either 1834 or 1835.

By 1845, there were enough Catholic immigrants living in the Loose Creek area that their presence attracted the notice of a Jesuit priest who had been in central Missouri for the better part of a decade. His name was Fr. Ferdinand Helias, a native of Belgium, who had originally wanted to come to this country to serve as a missionary among Indigenous Peoples. His father was reluctant to see him move to the United States, and so, Fr. Helias did not arrive in America until after his father passed.

Fr. Helias first traveled to the state of Maryland and then began moving west. He made it to St. Louis by 1835 and spent two years teaching German at St. Louis University and ministering to German immigrants in north St. Louis. 

By the late 1830s, there were enough German Catholics in central Missouri that the Jesuits in St. Louis felt warranted to send a full-time priest here. Thus, in 1838, Fr. Helias traveled upriver to Osage County and settled in the tiny village of Westphalia, where a German community was growing. Soon after his arrival, Fr. Helias established “stations” at Cadet Creek, French Village, and Loose Creek, among other places, where he conducted services.

Fr. Helias brought with him to all of the communities he served, including Loose Creek, the Jesuit’s almost militant hostility toward Protestants. 

Dr. Kremer noted that the Jesuits were the religious order founded by Ignatius of Loyola as a Counter Reformation force whose aim was to fight and subdue the heretical followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin. 

Fr. Helias was tireless in his efforts and travels. Already in his mid-forties by the time he came to America, he rode and walked to communities within a 70-mile radius of Westphalia establishing parishes and building churches wherever he went. 

“And always he was unrelenting and uncompromising in his dealings with the ‘Anabaptists’ and the Methodists,” said Dr. Kremer. “His memoirs are filled with pointed stories about God’s revenge on an unfaithful people, such as the time he reported that on one of his travels on the sabbath he witnessed an ‘unbeliever’ chopping firewood in violation of the Lord’s Day. Not long afterward, he noted, word came to him that the violator had been killed by a felled tree. Proof positive, he exclaimed, of ‘God’s working in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.’”

Fr. Helias also brought with him to America a profound understanding that the European conflicts raging in the Old World during the first third of the 19th century were transported to America with the immigrants. 

Dr. Kremer alluded to an unpublished memoir in which Fr. Helias expressed the challenge this way: “Since the numerous immigrants who came from diverse provinces and different nationalities, and who by antipathy or natural prejudice could not live in peace, I had to separate them into different congregations.” 

Thus, he tried to segregate his followers into homogenous communities made up of people who shared the same ethnicity. The French at Cadet Creek, Bonnots Mill, and St. Isidore near Linn, Rhinelanders in Loose Creek, for example, Bavarians in Rich Fountain, and Hanoverians, and Belgians in Taos. 

“The consequence of this settlement pattern was long-lasting,” said Dr. Kremer. “That, more than any single factor, made for the basic conservatism of these communities and their historical resistance to change. So, at least a part of Fr. Helias’s legacy (and our inheritance) was a number of communities that were characterized by religious zealotry and even, frankly, intolerance, cultural and intellectual conservatism, and resistance to, and even hostility toward, outsiders. This is an important point to understand. This is a major reason why so many of these central Missouri German Catholic communities were so isolated for so long. We are the way we are because we were the way we were.” 

KEEPING THE FAITH

Nothing has been more important to the Loose Creek community than its Catholic faith, Dr. Kremer said.

A log church was constructed by settlers under the supervision of Fr. Helias after the church property was bought for a consideration of $5 from Louis Auguste Pequignot and his wife, Josephine. The tract was six acres and began “at the North Side of the State road of St. Louis to Jefferson City …” 

The church was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception on May 1, 1845, and Mass was celebrated in it for the first time. But, even with the church and grounds, Loose Creek remained a mission station attended from Taos until Oct. 10, 1848, when it became a separate parish. 

Fr. James P. Buschots, S.J. was appointed the first pastor in 1849. Conditions were primitive in those days, and, although a one-room cabin provided shelter for Fr. Buschots, he boarded with the Thora (pronounced Tora) family, whose property lay north of the church and is presently owned by the Glenn Robertson family.

Immaculate Conception Parish has had the privilege of receiving pastoral help from many fine priests in addition to Fr. Meinkmann and Fr. Helias. 

Dr. Kremer noted that Fr. William Niederkorn is remembered particularly as the man who guided and united the parishioners to build the present church structure. Fr. Van Haza Radlitz was notable for bringing the Sisters of the Precious Blood to the parish and building the combination convent and school that was later replaced by a modern convent when Fr. Raymond Weiss was pastor during the early 1950s. 

Before that time, a log building had been constructed in 1852, with the first teacher being Mattias Stieferman, and, until 1874, the school was conducted by lay teachers. The school building included two classrooms and four rooms for the sisters. In 1880, a new school was built — a frame building with two large classrooms. 

Fr. P. A. Krier was instrumental in the building of the rectory. Fr. John Fruender was the first secular priest to serve as pastor following the Jesuits. During his tenure, many of the accessories of the church such as the altars, large bell, and Stations of the Cross were installed. 

Fr. Gruender’s generosity in willing a sizable amount of money to the parish made it possible to construct the original part of the present-day school building in 1927 when the cornerstone was laid. This construction was undertaken by Henry Stieferman and Bruno Muenks. 

“The priests who eventually followed in the steps of the early shepherds to Immaculate Conception Parish were no less important in helping keep the faith alive in the parish,” said Dr. Kremer.

SELF-ISOLATION

Charles van Ravensway, the author of a classic work titled “The Arts and Architecture of German Settlements in Missouri: A Survey of a Vanishing Culture,” published in 1977, wrote this about Osage County: “Although many areas settled by the Germans were remote from the main routes of travel, and consequently from the outside world, perhaps none of the counties were as isolated for as long as Osage County. The statistics for 1900 indicate that the county’s population was 14,096, only double what it had been in 1860, and its exports still included game, tallow, hides, furs, and lumber — products more typical of a frontier economy than a developed one of the twentieth century.”

Van Ravensway’s point, in part, was that Osage County’s isolation, combined with its pervasive homogeneity, served to help it preserve, longer than many other parts of the state, traditional customs and values, Dr. Kremer added. Included in this pattern of preservation were traditions of Old World architecture, as well as other cultural traditions, and even language. 

Dr. Kremer noted there are many things that seem to belong to the place called Loose Creek, including the German language. 

“There are still people here who speak the ‘Rhinelandish,’ which is still understood by old-timers who remain in the German communities from which our ancestors came,” said Dr. Kremer. “In a March 2020 interview with Hubert Bescheinen, Hubert told me he started school at the age of seven in 1928. And, he told me, ‘I couldn’t speak English when I started school. Everybody spoke German.’ Hubert’s wife, Pauline Kremer Bescheinen, had only a slightly different experience. She recalled, ‘They spoke a lot of German at home,’ although, as she remembered, ‘I did know a little English when I went to school, but they mostly always spoke German.’” 

Pauline added that she was not sure if her Grandmother Kremer, also named Pauline, ever learned English. She added, “That’s how come I remember my German now because we always had to talk German to her.” 

Many, many others of the Bescheinens’ generation, and even younger, did not speak English until they went to school.

LOOSE CREEK GROWS

Throughout the pre-Civil War period, indeed, throughout most of the 19th century and well into the 20th century, Dr. Kremer said that most area residents were farmers who engaged primarily in subsistence rather than market farming. 

“They were largely self-sufficient, raising what they needed to sustain themselves and their families,” he added. “Corn was a major crop, along with a few cows, hogs, and some horses or mules, and some hay to feed them. Some chickens, vegetables, and fruits they grew in their gardens and orchards. They sold or bartered eggs, butter, and perhaps some meat so that they could, purchase or otherwise acquire the things that they could not make [such as] salt, coffee, perhaps shoes.”

Some businesses grew up to serve the community. One of the oldest was Lock’s Mill, established in 1848 along the Loose Creek by Theodore Lock, one of the scores of Rhinelanders who came to the Loose Creek area during the early 1840s. Theodore Lock and his wife, Christina Scheulen, were from Bosinghove, near Duesseldorf. 

Initially, Lock’s Mill was powered by oxen that walked on a treadmill. The mill greatly stimulated the local economy, providing a market for local wheat, corn, oats, and barley. Area residents could store their grain with the mill and have it ground into flour and livestock feed. The mill also provided employment opportunities for millhands and for blacksmiths and carpenters who were needed to maintain the mill equipment.

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY

Loose Creek and Immaculate Conception Parish have not been without their crosses to bear through the years. Dr. Kremer noted that cholera was an especially devastating scourge from 1853 through 1855, with the dreaded disease claiming 78 victims in 1855 alone. There were many victims among the Irish railroad workers who were working then on the Missouri Pacific Railroad and were attended by the Immaculate Conception pastor. In recognition of the services of the priest, the Irish workers contributed generously to the interior decoration of the church and donated the two side altars in honor of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin in 1855, long since removed when the current church structure was built.

Following closely on the heels of the cholera epidemic came the American Civil War, which brought tension to the area. The predominantly German population in the area of Loose Creek was mostly pro-Union and anti-slavery. The 1860 federal slave schedule, compiled in July 1860, shows no slaves in Linn Township that year. Abraham Lincoln, the presidential candidate for the Republican Party, who came in last in the voting in Missouri in 1860, garnered 32 of the 37 votes cast in Linn Township in 1860. 

Dr. Kremer noted that while there were no major Civil War battles in the Loose Creek region during the war, Home Guard units defended against rebel and guerrilla activity, including the prevention of bridges from being burned.

Surviving historical records suggest that at least 67 men from Loose Creek served in some military capacity during the war.

Individuals and store owners were victimized by Confederate soldiers, with the greatest threat coming in 1864 when Gen. Sterling Price and 20,000 men were traveling from Ironton through this region on their way to attack Jefferson City, an attack that never came.

Lock’s Mill was also victimized by Price’s men as they were moving through the area on their way to Jefferson City in October 1864. Confederate soldiers slept in the mill and took 300 bushels of wheat with them when they left, paying Mr. Lock with worthless Confederate money.

Another tragedy struck the parish with the onset of a typhoid fever epidemic in 1890 in which many parishioners were sickened and several died, among them Theodora “Agnes” Ehren Boessen, the young wife of Peter Henry Boessen. She was found dead, holding her newborn son, John. Fr. Julius Reichmann, who came to assist Fr. Muckerman at this time in visiting the sick and administering the last rites, fell victim to the disease and died on Sept. 5, 1890. He was only 30 and was the first priest to be buried in the old cemetery.

Following the Civil War, parishioners began to realize the inadequacy of the old log church. Under the leadership of pastor Fr. Niederkorn, S.J., parishioners started the construction of the present church structure. 

“This is one of the oldest churches in the area and is a testimony to the faith, foresight, and determination of the Loose Creek Catholics those many years ago,” said Dr. Kremer.

The cornerstone of the church was laid by the Most Rev. Archbishop Peter Kenrick in the fall of 1868 when he also administered Confirmation. The church was completed far enough to use by the fall of 1870 and was solemnly dedicated on Oct. 10 that year. 

According to an old inscription above the entrance of the church, it was completed by 1877. The inscription read as follows: “D.O. M. Virginique Immacular. Haec Aedes Sacrae. Inchoat. MDCCCLXVIII; Fin. MDCCLXXVII,” which means, “To the Highest God and to the Blessed Virgin Immaculate this temple is sacred. Started in 1868, completed in 1877.”

Dr. Kremer noted that the church was largely built by members of the parish. The bricks were baked locally, some on the farm of Gerhard Muenks (now owned by Ted Muenks), and some on the farm of William Muenks (now owned by Ben Haslag). The lime was burned by Jacob Kliethermes, Sr., on his farm that lay at the bottom of the Grapevine Hill, now owned by Dale Kliethermes, his great-grandson. The stonework was done by local stonemasons, probably the Niekamps and the Schmitzes. Other local craftsmen did construction work; only the bricklaying was contracted out to outsiders. 

“Everyone did their part, even the older children, who helped by carrying bricks,” said Dr. Kremer. 

The church is said to have been designed by the same architect who designed St. Francis Borgia Church in Washington, and structural similarities suggest that this was the case.

In 1884, the present rectory was built, replacing the two-room log priest’s house. For a time, the pastor lived in a room above the old sacristy in the church. The money for the rectory was raised by popular subscription, and by the time the building was completed, only a small debt remained.

Three altars were installed during the time of Fr. Gruender (1885-1909), about the time the large bell was installed. The high altar was donated by the Married Ladies Sodality, the two side altars by the Young Men and Young Ladies Sodalities. 

Regarding the side altars, Dr. Kremer said that Ann Backes Williams recalled that for many years, until the early 1940s, “The married men sat on the right side (St. Joseph’s side) toward the middle and the unmarried men sat on the outside of the pews. The ladies did the same on the left side (Blessed Mother’s side). The school children sat in the front pews in front of the nuns.”

The set of Stations of the Cross was given by various sodalities and members of the parish in 1896. The stone wall, still surrounding most of the parish property, was also built about 1896. In its early years, the church was heated by wood stoves, as evidenced by the chimneys that appear in early photographs. A hot-air furnace was installed in about 1900. A steam heating system was installed when the church was remodeled in 1942. 

The present stained glass windows were donated by various parishioners and installed by Henry Stieferman and Jake Ebert in 1918 to replace the older windows.  

One of the big changes that occurred in the school in 1918, in the wake of World War I, when Germany was the leading opponent of the U.S., was that German ceased to be spoken in the school. 

Dr. Kremer explained that instruction occurred in English, although German continued to be spoken informally among the students. Another thing that happened as a result of World War I is that Loose Creek residents, then a generation or two removed from Germany, ceased contact with their family members back in the Old Country. That contact would not be restored until roughly seven decades later, during the late 1980s, thanks in large part to the efforts of Joe Muenks and Hubert Bescheinen.

In 1938, the new cemetery was started on land purchased from Frank Bonnot. The first parishioner laid to rest there was Hubert Nilges, Jr., a farmer and a native of Loose Creek, born there in 1879 and the son of German immigrants [Hubert] Joseph and Elizabeth Scheulen Nilges.

CHURCH RENOVATIONS

In the early 1940s, when Fr. Thoen Schoen was pastor, a number of extensive renovations were made to the church and other parish grounds. The present spacious sacristy was added to the back of the church at that time, and the old sacristy on each side of the sanctuary was opened up and expanded to accommodate the side altars. The front steps of the church were also changed at that time, and a grotto was built into the steps. The grotto was donated by Miss Bertille Haslag, who soon entered the convent as Sister Marie Leonard, S.S.N.D.

In the early 1970s, following the Second Vatican Council, opened by Pope John XXIII on Oct. 11, 1962, and closed by Pope Paul VI on Dec. 8, 1965, extensive renovations were made to the church with the removal of the altars and murals. Other changes included the construction of a new altar that allowed the priest to face the congregation while celebrating Holy Mass. 

Additionally, lay ministers began to distribute Holy Communion, lay lectors began to read the Epistles at Mass, and a “parish council” became more involved in parish decision-making. 

“The goal was to return the church to a simpler time with less focus on architecture and more on the presence of the Blessed Sacrament on the altar,” said Dr. Kremer. “Today, in 2021, the church has returned somewhat to its former beauty with new altars and murals.”

New entrance doors were added and a porch was added.

Arguably, one of the biggest changes that occurred as a result of Vatican II was that the Latin Mass was abandoned in favor of English.

CHANGES IN THE COMMUNITY

Apart from changes in the church, the school, and liturgy over the past century, Loose Creek as a community has also undergone changes. 

“Loose Creek was an isolated, homogenous community that changed very little during its first century of existence,” said Dr. Kremer. 

During that century residents remained largely apart from and unaware of the changes that were occurring around them.

The change was slow at first, increasing with the decline in isolation of the community. There were many causes of that decline in isolation. One was the paving of Hwy. 50 during the early 1930s. “The simple but important act of paving that highway increased local residents’ contact with the outside world and made them aware of alternative lifestyles,” Dr. Kremer added. “More important was the exposure to the world that community men gained when they went off to join the CCC in the late 1930s or to join the military when World War II occurred.”

Most Loose Creek men who served in the military during World War II had been farmers who had rarely been out of Osage County. When those men came back from the war, back from their experiences in England, France, Italy, Spain, the South Pacific, Africa, the Far East, or wherever they had been stationed, they brought with them their knowledge of those experiences and different ways of life with them.

“I think the closing of the high school in the early 1950s here had a tremendous impact on the community,” said Dr. Kremer. “It chipped away at the isolation. It exposed Loose Creek teenagers to different kinds of people, different ways of thinking, and different ways of life. Television changed us tremendously. It unsettled us in many ways by giving us glimpses into the glamorous and gadget-filled lives of others. Whether or not those lives were better than the ones we lived, we thought they were better, and our view of those other lives through television made us feel less satisfied with our own.”

Arguably one of the biggest changes that occurred in this community during the course of the 20th century was the transition from subsistence to market farming, and nothing played a bigger role in that transition than the introduction of poultry production into the community. 

THE TURKEY CAPITAL OF MISSOURI

No one played a bigger role in the development of poultry production than Aloysius Peter “Aloys” Muenks and his wife Alma Porting Muenks. 

Aloys was born in 1897 on a farm in Cadet Creek, the grandson of German immigrants who were among the first to come to Loose Creek from the Old Country. When Aloys died in 1959, the Unterrified Democrat hailed him as “The man who pioneered the turkey-growing business [in Osage County]. According to the paper, “Turkey production started in Loose Creek in 1938 when Aloys Muenks bought … turkey eggs … and set them in an oil-lamp-heated incubator, where the eggs were turned by hand every day. One hundred and eight poults were hatched [from the original 250 eggs].”

“Aloys and Alma Muenks were simply trying to survive the Great Depression,” said Dr. Kremer. “Their efforts encouraged others to venture into the turkey business, and the growth of turkey-growing in the community ultimately inspired them to branch out into other, related and productive businesses, in addition to the continued operation of a hatchery.” 

Aloys purchased a used truck that he used to transport chickens and turkeys to St. Louis markets. He also developed a business around the concept of providing feed to local farmers who were raising chickens and turkeys.

Among the other early poultry producers in Loose Creek were Carter and Louise Haslag Peters, he a native of Frankenstein, and she of Loose Creek. Late in the 1930s, Carter Peters partnered with Martin Backes and the two of them began transporting chickens to St. Louis markets. Ultimately, the family names of Peters and Backes, Muenks and Haslag, and Robertson and Boessen would become synonymous with turkey-raising in Osage County and help to nurture the notion of Loose Creek as the “Turkey Capital of Missouri.”

Dr. Kremer noted that even before poultry production became an important part of making a living in Loose Creek and Osage County, Martin Backes and his brother Lawrence launched a chicken-butchering business as a way of trying to help their family through the Great Depression. It all began in the summer of 1932, when the brothers, both in their early 20s, began butchering chickens on the family farm about three miles east of Loose Creek. The operation was crude in the beginning. The brothers killed as many as 20 chickens at a time, cleaning them with water heated in a cast-iron kettle placed over an open wood fire. 

Sometimes, water was drawn from a nearby spring; other times, when the spring ran dry, the water came from a pond. In the absence of ice in the summer, the Backes brothers cooled the butchered chickens in a horse-watering trough filled with spring water.

The brothers met with success from the very beginning. In November 1932, the Unterrified Democrat carried the following news from Loose Creek: “Martin Backes is certainly doing a land office business in Jefferson City dealing in springers. If he keeps on at this rate he will own a Packard by 1933.”

The business continued and thrived. In 1944, despite the fact that he was married, in his mid-30s, and the father of three small children, Martin was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Germany to fight against the descendants of his German ancestors. Chicken processing stopped until after Martin returned safely in October 1945. In the middle 1950s, Martin temporarily halted his business again when he and many of his neighbors began raising broiler chickens in 100-foot-long brooder houses, although it didn’t take long until he returned to the chicken processing business, and then on a larger scale. “Backes chickens” were prized commodities for multiple generations of central Missouri families until the fairly recent past.

MAINTAINING TRADITIONS

E. V. Walter, in a 1988 book titled “Placeways: A Theory of Human Environment,” tried to get at what he called the “feelings of a place.” 

Although Walter was not writing about Loose Creek or Osage County, Dr. Kremer said his words are an instructive starting point for developing a conceptual framework for analyzing the traditions and customs that are inseparable from “the place” called Loose Creek: “A place has no feelings apart from human experience there. But a place is a location of experience. It evokes and organizes memories, images, feelings, sentiments, meanings, and the work of imagination. The feelings of a place are indeed the mental projections of individuals, but they come from collective experience and they do not happen anywhere else. They belong to the place.”

Another thing that belongs to Loose Creek, and this part of Osage County, is the card game called Preference. 

“We all learned to play it as children, and we played it every chance we got, at school, during recess, on days when the weather kept us indoors, at family gatherings, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, at church and school functions, and wherever we gathered, whatever the occasion,” said Dr. Kremer. “Preference is part of our heritage, our inheritance, being able to play the game is part of our self-definition of who we are. Our food, the way we prepare it, and even eat it are among the things that belong to this community. Where else are you going to go to find the art of cooking Apple Kroot, and the people like the Muenkses who have the knowledge and patience to produce it? And the making of panhas, a breakfast staple that most of us have never not known.”

Panhas was served at Saturday’s celebration.

Dr. Kremer said there is a work ethic in Loose Creek and in Osage County that cannot be found in many other places. 

Some years ago, when Dr. Kremer was doing some work for St. Mary’s Hospital in preparation for their celebration commemorating the centennial of their founding in 1905, he struck up a conversation with a man who had come to Jefferson City from another state. He was in charge of hiring for the hospital. “He told me that when he received an application from someone from Osage County with a German surname, he hired them automatically because he knew that they would be a good worker,” said Dr. Kremer. “He had seen abundant evidence of that reality, a reality that we have all experienced.”

Dr. Kremer praised the efforts of all involved in planning the parish celebration and said he is hopeful future generations will continue to preserve Immaculate Conception’s history.

“As we gather today in this church, in front of God and each other, remembering the richness of our history, and the many blessings we have inherited, we ask that our descendants may one day gather here again, perhaps in another 175 years, to bear witness to our faith, our resilience, and our endurance, even as we gather here today to honor those who have made our own lives possible,” he said.

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