Wilhelm “William” Kirmse

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Wilhelm "William" Kirmse
Wilhelm “William” Kirmse

Source: Scanned from photographs shared by Donna (Kirmse) Martin, April 26, 2015.
Source: Scanned from photographs shared by Donna (Kirmse) Martin, April 26, 2015.


  • Wilhelm “William” Kirmse, son of Barbara Kraus and Julius Kirmse.
    Wilhelm "William" Kirmse
    Wilhelm “William” Kirmse


When I first saw a copy of this photograph, my impression was the man was sick and barely able to stand up.  He was slightly slumped over and he was leaning on the chair for support as if he needed to walk with a cane.  Later copies that I found of the picture noted that this was my grandfather, Wilhelm Kirmse, who I was up to then just guessing it was.  Possibly this picture was taken at a time when Grandfather Kirmse was a very sick young man[1].

Once when I asked my grandparents about how they came to Oklahoma, they related to me the following story.

My grandparents, had grown into adulthood during the lead up the various Oklahoma land rushes. The first of these was  April 22, 1889.  Other runs followed in 1891, 1892. 1893, and 1895. Then there were “land lotteries.”[2]

The newspapers of the time wrote many stories about the mad dashes that settlers made to claim cheap Oklahoma lands.  Each week when the weekly paper came, Grandfather’s  father, Julius Kirmse, would read the paper out loud by the light of an oil lamp to the family after the evening meal.  Grandfather said that he wished that he was old enough to make one of the runs and dreamed about going out to Oklahoma on his own.

At age 18, Grandfather took up the carpenter trade building houses and barns. He would walk to the construction site at the beginning of the week, be housed there during the week and then walk home on the weekends to get his clothes washed.  He later purchased a bicycle and rode it to and from work.

In 1901, he made a trip to the town of Alva in the Cherokee Outlet of the Oklahoma Territory to file a land claim.  He chose Alva because he knew people from Perry County, Missouri who had moved to Alva  during or after the land runs. However, he was too late as all lands had been claimed.  In 1902, he made a second trip to the Cherokee Outlet to locate a home.  He worked as a carpenter during the week.  And, on weekends, he walked through the countryside.  He said that fell in love with the Alva community and wanted to make it his home.

However, he became sick with scarlet fever about a month after arriving and returned to his family home in Farrar, Missouri to recover[3].   His return as a sick man put such a extra burden on his family that they brought in a local young woman to help.  This young woman was Martha Margaretha Cordes, who had been working during the past year in the home of her aunt in St. Louis.

It was at this point in the story that Grandmother gave me a big wink and said “And, that is when I caught him.  He was too weak to run.”

After recovering, Grandfather never drank milk because he blamed his getting scarlet fever on contaminated milk.  And for the same reason, he would not eat cheese.  However, I think I remember that he did use butter on those wonderful thick slices of warm homemade bread that Grandmother baked.


Circa 1903.


Cape Girardeau, Missouri – as per the photographer{1]


  1. If you lived in southeast Missouri, Cape Girardeau, Missouri was the place to go to get medical treatment in those days.
  2. For more details see: OKGenWeb, “Oklahoma Land Openings 1889-1907.” http://www.okgenweb.org/~land/
  3. Scarlet fever can cause severe complications and even today, it is considered essential to isolate persons with the disease to prevent its spread.  How Grandfather Kirmse was able to or even allowed to travel from Oklahoma to Missouri is a good question.