On Thursday May 19, 2011, local residents, and visitors from distant Missouri homes as well, gathered to discuss, celebrate and revisit the life of a German attorney that visited Missouri over 185 years before. Passages from his book, A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America were read, giving guests a glimpse into the author’s vision of a new Utopia that could be found in the far western United States. The original book, first published in 1829, was produced at the author’s own expense, and portrayed a place filled with everything from rattlesnakes to peaceful Indians. Many criticized Duden’s book, saying it painted far too rosy a description. But for many Germans in the 1830s, it was exactly the right words at the precise point they needed to hear them. Thousands of Germans emigrated to Missouri beginning in 1830s, filling its’ river valleys and eventually the entire midwest.
While Duden can be credited with inspiring several “emigration societies” both successful and unsuccessful, it was those early emigrant’s letters home to their friends and family that wrote “while all is not as Duden said, in some ways it is even better”. Duden was born on May 19, 1789 in Remscheid, Germany, and moved to Bonn in 1824. In 1824, he, his cook, and a “traveling companion” Ludwig Eversmann emigrated to Missouri, where they had purchased land, and established farms. Today, that farm is the RockyVine Camp, a beautiful retreat for young people.
Duden returned to Germany in 1827, with his cook, determined to inform his fellow countrymen, that a wonderful new life could be found, where food was abundant and unlimited land could be purchased, along the Missouri river. While Duden never returned to his beloved Missouri farm, thousands emigrated, and many visited his farm, a mecca for his admirers. He died in 1856, and is buried in Bonn, without ever returning to his cows and his Missouri farm again.
When revisiting history, one has to be careful not to wear those rosy glasses. Objectivity is needed, and it is only with the test of time, that we can achieve it. Duden definitely achieved his personal best in his goal of informing his fellow countrymen that the western (at that time) States of North America were an excellent place to build new lives. And, while it can probably still be said that all was not “as he stated” there were apparently quite a few that came, and stayed, and found it “even better.”