With all the recent controversy about immigration, legal and illegal, it is instructive to look back a century to another immigrant group – Germans.
Almost 100 years ago, on February 12, 1918, when the United States of America had been engaged in war with Imperial Germany for ten months, a young man named Walter Drawe raised the kaiser’s red, white and black flag on a pole outside the two-story Germania Club in Fayetteville, one of many small towns in south central Texas settled by German and Czech immigrants in the mid-19th century.
Although the flag had customarily been raised to signify meetings or activities at the club, since the beginning of the war its raising had become a subject of dissension in the town. On more than one occasion, it had been taken down by townspeople who regarded its display as unpatriotic, if not treasonous.
The Alien Enemies Act, still in force today, gave the government the power to imprison or deport anyone born outside the United States who was not a naturalized citizen if their activities or presence was considered a threat to the government of the United States.
Certain members of the Germania Club, which included several prominent members of the community, had given public notice that the next person to take down the flag would be shot. In addition, the flag had been nailed to the flag pole, and the rope for raising it had been removed.
According to newspaper accounts from the time, “Bohemian residents objected” and alerted the authorities. Deputy Federal Marshall E.T. Herring and Special Agent E. B. Sisk, having been previously alerted to the controversy, rushed to the club and in front of a small crowd of townspeople gathered to watch the activity, climbed to the gallery, chopped down and splintered the 30-foot mast and tore the German colors off the pole.
Then the agents arrested six men and after further investigation, issued warrants for five more, including mayor W.C. Langlotz.
In addition to the mayor those arrested and charged were: Frank Mazel, president of the German Club, Hermann Von Minden, William Kurtz, Mike Langlotz, Ernst Pagel, W.L. Drawe, O.A. Vetter and Frank Piwetz. One man, wealthy landowner Charles Meitzen, was charged with violation of the espionage act by “conspiring to curtail the enlistment in the United States Army in advising registrants not to enlist.” Another man, James Zdaril, told the court he “is a Bohemian, doesn’t speak a work of German and was not a member of the Germania Club.”
The men were arraigned before U.S. Commissioner A. L. Jackson. Bonds were set at $5000, except for Kurtz who was said to have bragged that he could make a $100,000 bond if necessary. His bond was set at $10,000. Altogether, bonds for the 11 men totaled $69,000.
Mayor Langlotz told magistrate A.L, Jackson that the young clerk of the club had raised the banner “by mistake.” Agents Sisk and Herring refuted this by describing the pains that had been taken to secure the flag.
During the hearing, club minutes for January 7 of that year were presented showing that the club would only display the United States flag. District attorney John E. Green then moved to dismiss charges against the Fayetteville men, saying he was convinced that the flag’s display was “not due to disloyalty, but to thoughtlessness and ignorance.”
The judge also admonished German-Texans generally that “This incident will be a lesson to Germans throughout Texas, whether they are naturalized citizens or alien enemies ... and will in future avoid all acts which will raise the presumption that they are disloyal.”
H.H. Howze © 2017
Not a boomer. H.H. Howze is a writer/photographer and disruptive political presence in deep red Round Top, Texas.