Highland News Leader

Early leading citizen of Pierron has final wish completed by great-grandson over a century later

German Buchmiller
German Buchmiller

German Buchmiller was one of Pierron’s early leading citizens.

His obituary described him as one of Pierron’s “substantial and highly esteemed citizens… frugality, diligence and economy being the factors which in course of time led to quite a competency and enabled him to retire to Pierron to live on the fruits of well spent life.”

Buchmiller, the oldest of 10 children, was living with his family in Östringen, Baden, Germany in 1847. At the time, political turmoil, war with Prussia, famine and over-population afforded little hope for a bright future. That year, he was drafted into the Baden military. For unknown reasons, he wanted to avoid the war known as the “Baden Uprising.”

One morning, soldiers showed up at the family home to arrest him for not reporting to the draft office. Having been warned ahead of time, he had prepared to escape out the back of the house and embark on his journey to America.

He would make his way the Highland area, where his aunt Caecelia (Buchmüller) Walter was living on a farm south of Highland. In an arranged marriage, he wed Ludwina Klein at St. Paul Catholic Church in 1854.

In December 1855, he established the base of his permanent farming operation on a tract of land north of what is now Pierron, about  ½ mile east of the Madison-Bond county line.

By the time of his death in 1912, German had acquired more than 1,000 acres of farm land around Pierron, two commercial and six residential properties in the village. He made it possible for several of his children to earn their living by owning and operating businesses in Pierron, including the Headquarters Saloon and the Buchmiller Hardware Store.

He also designed and built a unique granary in about 1873-75. It utilized a mechanism which wrapped a rope around a large spool which was turned by a horse walking in a circle, known as a whim. (One of the original handmade wood pulleys from the original structure is now on display at Willoughby Farms in Collinsville.)

He embraced changes in technology, many of which he witnessed at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. He imported machinery made in Germany by the Lantz Co., the largest company of its kind in the world at the time.

German crossed the Atlantic Ocean at least nine times in his life. He made at least four trips back to Germany. His first was after his father’s death in 1873. His last was in 1906 at age 78.

The years of 1861-65 are a mystery when it comes to German.

Family members always believed he served in the Civil War, but there are no Union or Rebel military records of him for that time.

No one knows where or what he was doing during the Civil War. It is possible he was an undercover spy for either side, or spent the Civil War years back in Germany. Somehow, I have to believe he had some type of government connection that would help explain why he made so many trips back and forth to Germany, which was unusual at that time.

He enjoyed playing cards and the accordion in the Headquarters Saloon during his retirement years. According to family members, one Sunday, the priest came to the saloon his daughter and son-in-law owned and operated to confront German about missing Mass earlier that morning. (He had been playing cards). They had a serious argument and German either quit the Catholic Church or may have even been excommunicated later. Either way, he never attended Mass again.

German died on Nov. 4, 1912 and was cremated on Nov. 7 at the St. Louis crematory. In his last wishes, he directed his son, Robert, to throw his ashes in the Atlantic Ocean. In those days, cremation was not allowed by the Catholic Church and cremains could not be buried in Catholic cemeteries.

Robert did get German’s body cremated at the Missouri Crematory, now called Valhalla’s Hillcrest Abbey. The Buchmiller family was told by Robert that he threw German’s ashes in the Mississippi River on his way back to Pierron, because he didn’t believe he would ever go to the ocean.

Perhaps Robert, being a devout Catholic, didn’t carry through with German’s wishes because he would have believed German’s soul went to hell (the Catholic belief of that time) and his remains should be abandoned, or he simply could not deal with dumping the ashes. It’s also possible that the priest had an influence on Robert’s decision.

In August 2014, an organization known as Missing Americans, which searches for the remains of missing military, contacted me. They had had conducted a search and inventory of the cremains stored at the Valhalla Crematory in St. Louis.

When “Buchmiller” showed up in their computer records as a missing World War II airman, they did a complete Internet search of the name. The missing airman was Norman Buchmiller, who perished over the North Sea in 1944. Their computer search for relatives of him came to my Ancestry website. It was there they came across the matching information of German at the crematory and my records. They contacted me, and after I double-checked the records, I made arrangements to retrieve German’s cremains.

On Sept. 2, 2014, I went to Valhalla Memorial Chapel, located on St. Charles Rock Road in St. Louis, Mo. When I was handed the box, I experienced the same feeling I did when I first gazed at German’s portrait 63 years earlier. We were finally united.

After I returned home, I took the paper wrapping off. I had been told the cremains were in a wooden box and was surprised to see it was a rusty metal one.

I used a Dremel metal cutting blade to cut through the back of the box, which I kept as a family heirloom. I slowly emptied the cremains. I decided not to bring the cremains with me on my flight to Florida, as cremains can only fly in carry-on baggage. Shipping cremains can only be done through the U.S. Postal Service. I mailed them to my daughter-in-law’s grandfather, David Lyon, in Duck Key, Fla. He took my son, Dane, and I out into the Atlantic Ocean where we spread the cremains on March 12, 2015.

Editor’s Note: This story was excerpted from a larger article written by Dennis Buchmiller of Chesterfield, Mo., the great-great-grandson of German Buchmiller. Dennis Buchmiller has done extensive genealogical research on the Buchmiller family, which has many members in the Highland area.

About German Buchmiller

Born: Dec. 5, 1828

Hometown: Östringen, Baden, Germany

Arrived in America: 1847 or 1848

Settled in: Pierron

Became a U.S. Citizen: Nov. 3, 1882

Died: Nov. 4, 1912

Cremated: Nov. 7, 1912

Ashes spread in Atlantic Ocean: March 12, 2015