DWU December 2006
AUSWANGER UHRIG FAMILY IN THE “NEW WORLD”
In the spring of 1831 a young man from Frankish-Crumbach, Georg Uhrig, age 29, his wife Eva Katerina (Weyrich), age 27, some seven months heavy with child, and their two small children, Peter, age 7 , and Margaret, age 5, embarked on the voyage of no return to the “New World “ of America. The reason is described in family legend as an escape from the Baron von Gemeinden for the penalties of illegal poaching of deer, and even worse the wounding of a game keeper in the process. Some three kilometers east of Frankish-Crumbach, Johan Christian Uhrig, the father of Georg, had been master miller of the old Dornmuhle on the stream, Gersprenz. Built from the ruins of the ancient Rodenstein Castle, this mill (also now in ruins) was owned by the Baron von Gemeinden, whose descendent of this historic family still resides in Frankish-Crumbach. At the time of Georg’s departure, his uncle, Phillipp Bock was the miller of Dornmuhle.
Considering the family condition of the time, there must have been strong motivation to leave the ancestral land, since Georg was the only member of the Uhrig family to emigrate; the others of the Uhrig family remained in Germany, including the sister of Georg, Maria, the great-great grand mother of Eric Wille of Frankish Crumbach. Accompanying the Uhrig family was Peter Weyhrich (Weyrauch, Weyrich, Wyrick), the brother of Eva, and possibly other Weyhrichs. The widowed father of Eva, Jacob Weyhrich, would also eventually make a new home in America. The record shows that there had been three other children born to Georg and Eva in Germany, but who died in infancy. Certainly, there was the opportunity of a new life with easily available land in the new world of America, but the risks of such a family venture were considerable.
The Uhrig mill in Frankish Crumbach, Odenwald, Germany (early 1900s)
Family tradition says that the Uhrigs journeyed from the village of Frankish-Crumbach to the German port city of Bremen, a distance of 500 kilometers north, where they embarked by sailing ship for America. Again, legend gleaned from family members take over the story. The voyage was a trying time lasting some 67 days across the storm tossed Atlantic. The family landed, probably in early summer, at Baltimore, Maryland in America. There a new son, Jacob, was born on 29 July, 1831. After a rest period of perhaps two weeks, the Uhrigs were on their way to the prairie lands of the American Midwest, some 1600 kilometers away! The journey was first by wagon over rough roads from Baltimore to Pittsburg, and then down the Ohio River, probably by steam boat, but possibly by crude flatboat, a journey of perhaps two weeks, to Saint Louis on the mighty Mississippi River, which was the boundary of the developing United States at that time. From here it was 250 kilometers upstream, again probably by steam boat, for at least another week, to the landing site, “Town Site”, that was later to be known as Pekin, Illinois, a town on the Illinois River at the edge of the great fertile black-earth prairies. Here they landed August 22, 1831 with little more that the shirts on their backs and a few meager belongings, but with great determination and vision.
Leaving his family in the small emerging town of Pekin, Georg set off in the wilderness to make a home. The chill of fall was in the air, and with a cold Illinois winter coming on the need to build a home was urgent. The recent hardships of the “great snow” of the winter of 1830-31 was fresh in local settlers minds, and the forest was still covered with the bones of deer that perished in that extraordinary winter. The land selected was the fertile river bottom of the Mackinaw River, covered with forest, and some 10 kilometers to the south of Pekin. With one ax, a strong back and an iron will, Georg provided a first home for his family and they survived that critical first cold winter. Legend has it that he first had a man assisting him, but they argued over who would use the one axe, and Georg was left to his own efforts! The forest provided firewood which, when cleared, was to become the farm fields for grain and cattle.
At the time of the arrival of the Uhrig Family, there were still native American Indians, the tribes of the Pottawatomies, the Sauks, and the Fox, living in Illinois. The final resistance of these Indians to the pressure of the “white man” culminated in the Black Hawk War of 1832. With Chief Black Hawk on the war path, crude forts for protection from the Indians were constructed at Pekin and at a site known as Circleville, only some 2 kilometers from the Uhrig log cabin along the Mackinaw River. While there was concern as the hostile Indians roamed the Illinois land, most of the battles took place further north, The Indians, after a noble resistance, were forced west across the Mississippi River. The land became “public land”, available for purchase by pioneers, such as Georg Uhrig. Less than two months after arrival, Georg walked to the State of Illinois capitol at Springfield, about 60 kilometers from his cabin and purchased 80 acres at $1.25/acre of virgin land for farming.
But additional real cash money was needed, so in 1834, when the crops were established, Georg took a team of oxen to the burgeoning lead mines of Galena, Illinois, some 200 kilometers north along the Mississippi River, leaving Eva and her three youngsters to fend for themselves. The venture was profitable and George returned before the fall harvest with money both for the necessities of life on the frontier, as well as for future investment. Georg, with the hard cash in his pocket from his sojourn to the lead mines of Galena, went again to Springfield to buy additional land. This was the beginning of many acquisitions of rich farmland that was ultimately to make Georg one of the wealthiest men in Central Illinois. The first land cultivated in the wilderness land was the river bottoms, both because it was enriched from the nutrients of periodic floods, but also because the trees of the bottom lands were useful and much easier to clear than the prairie grass of the uplands, which had tough roots extending deep into the soil. As old Georg was wont to say in his later days, “I have found the land of milk and honey”.
Tombstone of Georg & Eva Uhrig , Old Sand Prarie Cemetary, Tazewell County, Illinois
The Uhrig family prospered, as did their close kinfolk from the “Old Country”, the Weyhrichs, in spite of many hardships, and were blessed with five more children, Phillip , Maria, Georg, John and Henry, all of whom became prominent citizens of the new land in their own right. Henry, the youngest, would carry the family name on further west to Kansas in the days after the great Civil War. The region of settlement, with its isolation, was a healthy environment, with no further records of child death in the family, though cholera brought by travelers up the Illinois River was to decimate the little town of Pekin the summer of 1834 and again in 1840s. Georg and Eva lived to “ripe old ages” of 69 and 67 respectively, both departing this earth within one month of each other, in the spring of 1871. Their eight children grew healthy and prosperous. Forty years later their descendents in the immediate region of the original homestead, Sand Prairie Township, numbered 65, and today are many hundreds.
The records and old family tombstones show various spellings of the original name of Uhrig: Ourish, Urich, Urig, and Urish, the name which is dominent in more recent times. But the grand tombstone of Georg and Eva, who both died in 1871, is in old German with the original family name of Uhrig. The German language (hoch deutsch) would continue to be spoken in the homes of the descendents of Georg and Eva for three more generations. To a large extent the children married other immigrant Germans, many from the Odenwald area: Weyrich, Lautenschlager, Goeken, Vogel, Horn, Volk and Thierolf. The ancestral given names of Georg, Henry, Phillip, Maria, Eva and Margaret, were perpetuated in new members of the family in the new world as in the old. With time the descendents of Georg and Eva dispersed across the United States, but still with a substantial core of the original Uhrig (Urish) Family remaining in the Tazewell and Mason Counties of the rich central Illinois prairie country, “the land of milk and honey”, as do the remains of the valiant Georg and Eva.
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