The Germans of Gillett, Arkansas

 

 

 

Gillett, Arkansas is a town on the "Grand Prairie" in Arkansas County, Arkansas. This area is an area of prairie grass and bordered by the Mississippi and White Rivers. This area was populated prior to the American Civil War and a major battle for the control of the Mississippi was fought at Arkansas Post in this county. This area has a rich history and if you have history questions, just email John W. Cover, jwcover@futura.net, the Gillett historian.

Here is a 1895 map of the county.

Prior to 1900, the Grand Prairie area was not considered to be very good for farming and subject to destructive prairie fires. Thus, the southern part of the Grand Prairie was marketed to immigrants and other people outside Arkansas. This led to the Poll, Leverenz, Natho, Rook, and Richter families to travel from Danville IL to the lands southwest of Gillett to farm in the 1880ís; locals referred to this area as "Germany". And led the Lehmanns, Hoffmanns, and Jessweins who were Germans from Volhynia in Russia to locate northeast of Gillett in the mid 1890ís; locals termed this area "Russia." On the above map you can see Greenwald on the rail line to Gillett which was used mainly to move rice and other crops. The "Russians" were living near Greenwald; they had lived in Gruenwald (Green Forrest) in Russia prior to 1892. The Ludwig Hoffmann Family lived in Gillett (1893 to 1898) prior to the introduction of rice and life was not so good. Click here for details of life before rice. The Gottfried Hoffman Family (Ludwig's Cousins), however, did stay on.

The "Russian" and "German" often families intermarried. Both groups attended the St. Paulís Lutheran Church in Gillett. Here are pictures of the old church and its altar:

The local economy of Gillett really took off with the introduction of rice farming to the area around 1905. At the top of this page is rice harvesting in 2005. Below is a picture of rice harvesting in those early days.

Following is a picture of the first rice mill in the area and a picture of the current elevators; both are in Stuttgart just north of Gillett.

This town is particularly important to me as my mother was born here. She lived here until she migrated to St. Joseph Michigan in the mid-1930ís. Here is the house she lived in the 1920ís and in which her younger brother Erwin was born.

Her father Reinhold Hoffman ran a repair shop for cars and other mechanical things; her mother was Bertha Holzhauer. (Click here for an early picture of the Holzhauer Family including my grandmother Bertha in the top row left and my great grand father Henry Holzhauer in the middle row). (Click here for a picture of the high school that my mother graduated from in Gillett; it burned down in 1943). The Hoffman repair shop was the building in the picture below on the right side just before the (Catholic) church. To the right are my motherís brother Erwin Hoffman and his wife Betty. To the left are my mother's cousin John Holzhauer and his wife Marge.

The above painting was based on an early photograph of the main street of Gillett; click here to see that original photograph.

Here are Reinhold Hoffman and Bertha Holzhauer Hoffman, the parents of my mother Erma Hoffman and her brother Erwin Hoffman, in a picture created by Reinhold in the 1930's.

The Reinhold Hoffman side of the family was Germans from Volhynia in Russia and lived in Tigerton Wisconsin prior to moving to Gillett. Bertha Holzhauer's parents were Henry Holzhauer (from Hesse, Germany) and Christina Poll. Christina Poll's parents Johan Poll and Dorothea Leverenz were born in Vorpommern, Germany (the north coast of what was East Germany); they lived in Danville IL prior to moving to Gillett.

Here are some pictures of old Gillett.

Flagg Lake Fish Fry

 

What can you eat that will bring smiles to Gillett?

 

What can Germans and Russians do together in Gilett?

 

Please send any information and queries to Bill Remus at

Remus@hawaii.edu

October 12, 2005