The Anvil and the Rock

Anvil, a village six miles east of Meeker in southern Lincoln County, was named for a rock. Not just any rock, of course, but a stone god: ten feet long, five feet wide, shaped like an anvil, and standing eight feet high on its pedestal. The settlement had a post office between 1892 and 1914, and it had a school, a church, and a cemetery where the black settlers buried. What it never had, and the reason for its disappearance, was a railroad. The village has long since vanished, but it is said that the anvil rock is still there. Today, however, the area is so grown up with underbrush, the curious visitor would stand as much chance of finding the vanished village or even the farm where Cecelia Hiemer died as of finding the rock.

Frank Hiemer, a farmer convicted in the second year of the new century of killing his wife and subsequently sent to prison, was a man caught between an anvil and a rock. On the one hand the rock of rural poverty and of his wife’s intransigence, and on the other the inexorable anvil of the law.

Anvil rock

I. Foreground: The Death of Cecelia
Aristotle states that a narrative has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end--or it might be said a background, a foreground, and an ending. It is a peculiarity of this story that at first it seems all foreground. The newspapers, those brief and abstract chronicles of the time, supply the foreground and nothing but the foreground, giving the narrative the flatness of a Grandma Moses painting with nothing in perspective.
The primary report appeared in the Chandler News for 1 August 1901 and ran to a full-page column:
Mrs. Celia Hiemer was shot last Saturday night about 9:00 o’clock at her home in south Seminole township, three miles north of Bellemont, by her husband, Francis Hiemer, and died from the effects of the wound Sunday morning about 10:00 o’clock. An inquest was held Sunday afternoon by Justice of the Peace Vlasak, of Creek township, and . . . we gain the following facts which were brought out at the  inquest. 
That’s the essential happening, omitting only the weather. In central Oklahoma in late July, the temperature during the day had probably passed the 100 mark, and at 9:00 p.m. was still hovering in the 90’s. With no air-conditioning or electric fans, tempers too were overheated, certainly those of the old folks if not of the young. Frank was 61, Cecelia 53, and with them at home were their three youngest children, John 16, Frank Jr. 12, and Celia 7. 
The family were preparing to go to bed and the children were on a pallet in the west room of the house, the room in which the killing was done. The old man was in the east room and suddenly he took down his shotgun and loaded it, then got his pistol saying that he was going to the dance at Ladra’s, where his elder daughter, Mary, had gone to spend the evening with the young folks. Mrs. Hiemer was also in the east room at the time, and he asked her why she had had him arrested, referring to the time a year ago when she had had him arrested for beating her. She answered that, since that trouble was long past, she wished he would not refer to it anymore, and then she started to go into the west room where the bed was. 
Though the narrative is flat, already a couple of bumps arise show, suggesting suppressed questions. With what intention would a man take a shotgun and pistol to a dance? What sort of cruelty would it have required for a wife to file a complaint against her husband and get him arrested? 
As she reached the door between the two rooms he suddenly pointed the pistol at her and fired, the ball striking her in the left breast, just below the heart, and ranging downward and diagonally backward, lodging just above the top of the hip bone on the opposite side of the body. The pistol used was of the bull dog type and was of 44 caliber.
The details of the bullet’s path means that the inquest included a coroner’s report, getting the attention of the male reader. The weapon too is described. Handguns are never simply pistols--each carries a history and implies a personality. The Bull Dog was a popular British pocket revolver introduced by Webley & Son of Birmingham, England in 1872 and subsequently copied by gunmakers in Europe and the United States. It featured a 2.5-inch barrel, making it useless for killing anything further away than the opposite side of a card table or a kitchen. 

Bulldog, 1900 Model

Charles J. Guiteau used a Bulldog revolver for his close-up killing of President James A. Garfield on 2 July 1881. Reportedly, he wanted a British Bulldog revolver with ivory grips instead of wooden ones, as he believed they would look nicer when the gun was displayed in a museum. After Guiteau's trial, the revolver was indeed placed in the Smithsonian Institution but thereafter disappeared. Frank Hiemer and his family arrived in the United States in July of 1881, just in time to read about the assassination in the newspaper. Perhaps the clamor made Frank think the Bull Dog would turn him into a better American.
After shooting the lady the murderer asked her where some of his clothes were, saying that he was going to kill himself. Shortly after he lighted a match and held it over her so that he could see her, saying as he did so, “This is just what you should have had long ago.” Then he went out of the house and fired his pistol off three times and the old lady died believing that her husband had killed himself She was conscious up to the last and spoke frequently, saying that she would soon be gone. . . . She averred that the shooting was maliciously done, saying that her husband had no just cause for his act. 
What we can gather from this reported conversation is that Frank believed there was malice on Cecelia’s side. She had accused him of cruelty. Now he was returning the accusation. “This is just what you should have had long ago.”
The children corroborate the statements of their mother in every particular. The little boys saw the whole affair. They heard their father’s remarks after the shooting and were ordered by him not to go for the doctor. About half an hour after the shooting occurred they went to Bellemont for the doctor, leaving the little girl with her dying mother.
Though children’s testimony may have been accepted in a coroner’s inquest in pre-statehood Oklahoma, this seems a bit naïve. Their testimony could not corroborate the statements of their mother when the children themselves were the source reporting what she had said. What they were corroborating was each other. John at sixteen was old enough to tell the others that their stories had to agree. Naturally they took the side of their mother, as any child under such circumstances would have. They had time to correlate their stories in the half hour that passed between Frank’s exit and the departure of the boys to fetch the doctor. 
The neighbors soon heard of the tragedy and a great crowd gathered and posses of men at once started in search of the murderer. He was found at daylight at the home of F. D. Satterlee, four miles from the scene of the shooting. He was placed under arrest . . . and hustled to the county jail for safe keeping. The community seemed very much aroused over the killing and threats against Hiemer’s life were freely and publicly made by the people. The jury at the inquest returned a verdict that the deceased had come to her death from the effects of a pistol shot and that her husband, Francis Hiemer, was responsible.
On their ride to get the doctor, the boys must have informed the neighbors, who otherwise would not have known or gathered. The shooting took place on Saturday night. Cecelia died the next morning and at about the same hour Frank was detained by the posse. On Thursday, a preliminary hearing was held by Justice of the Peace Frank Vlasak at the village of Dent. The accused was held without bond and sent to the county jail at Chandler. As reported in the Anvil column, on the 16th of August a grand jury rendered a verdict that Frank Hiemer should be tried, and the trial was set for October first. 

The law, as is well known, is subject to delay. It was the third of April 1902 before Frank withdrew his plea of not guilty and pled to manslaughter in the first degree. He was sentenced to fifteen years reduced to seven and a half. Since the Territory of Oklahoma had no prison, a week later he was taken to Lansing by Sheriff Bill Tilghman with a group of nine prisoners to serve their time at the Kansas State Penitentiary.

To understand how a man with so much evidence logged against him could plead not guilty, would require a different account of the death. Significantly, there is one, or rather one that at least adds a luminous detail. The two Chandler newspapers openly copied each other’s important local stories, and the account from the Chandler Publicist for August 1st repeats the Chandler News story quoted above almost word for word, but it adds a final paragraph:
Hiemer’s account of the affair is that on going into the room he found his wife with the pistol and that he attempted to take it from her and in the scuffle it was discharged. He claims that he had given himself up to Satterlee before the men who took him arrived on the scene [but] these men testified that he was hidden outside the house when they demanded his surrender of Satterlee.
The armchair detective must feel skepticism about the testimony of the posse men. It makes no sense for Frank to have ridden four miles to Satterlee’s farm in order to hide, but the contrary notion is reasonable: he went there to give himself up to a man of property and prestige. Satterlee was the postmaster at Anvil, a political appointment. In June of 1900 a Chandler paper called him "well known and influential throughout the southern part of the county."

II. Background: The Anvil Chorus
According to their Find-a-Grave memorials, Frank and Cecelia Hiemer were both from Salzburg Austria, the birthplace of Mozart and the setting of The Sound of Music. But probably Salzburg was merely the nearest important city, as the passenger list shows they came from the village of Althutten (present day Horní Stropnice) in the South Bohemian Region of Austria, now part of the Czech Republic. They arrived in New York in 1881 with four children, all of whom are designated as being Austrian by birth. Within ten years, if not sooner, The Sound of Music would give way to the hammering of the Anvil Chorus.

There had been a massive migration of Czechs into the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, at which time the mother country was known as Bohemia and its people as Bohemians. Farmers looking for land came first to the midwest and then into the plains states, prominently Nebraska, which boasted several thriving Czech communities. Frank and his family were there between 1892 and 1898 in Polk County in east-central part of the state, before moving to Oklahoma for the opening of the Sac and Fox Reservation by the land run of 22 September 1891. Their homestead was located about ten miles west of Prague, or about four miles from the village of Anvil to the north and an equal distance from Bellemont to the south.

The four children who arrived with the family in 1881 were Anton (8 years), Alfred (4), Florian ((infant, no age given), and Vincent (infant, no age given). The next four known children all seem to have been born in Nebraska: Mary (1882-1954), John (1885-1978), Herman (1887-1901), and Frank (1889-1978). The youngest, Celia (1893-1991) was born in Oklahoma. These figures should be compared with the 1900 census, which gives the number of children borne by Cecelia as 14, and the number still living as 7.

At the time of Cecelia’s death, the newspapers make it clear that only the three youngest were at home, while a fourth (Mary) was still living at home but had gone to a dance. Mary, let us say, represents the first bump in the flat canvas of the Hiemer home. That Frank is about to go to the dance as well, not with his dancing shoes but carrying his pistol and shotgun, speaks loudly that something is amiss. The obvious inference is that he opposed Mary’s presence at the dance and intended to bring her home, by force if anyone opposed him. In fact, the girl was eighteen and would marry Albert B. Frost on 9 May1902, one month after her father was taken to prison. The Anvil column in the Chandler Publicist reported,  "a dance was given in honor of the occasion at the home of the bride." If I understand the English language, the home of the bride means the Hiemer home. This is repeated the next week in the same column: “A dance was given in honor of the occasion at the home of the bride. Refreshments were served at midnight and a nice time was enjoyed by all.” This makes the reader wonder what occasion is being honored here, the marriage of bride and groom or the carting of the cantankerous old man off to Lansing. Both, we might suspect. The interim between the two events was not as short as in the case of Hamlet’s mother, but the use of the Hiemer home does suggest that the funeral meats did coldly furnish forth the wedding feast.

Though the events are murky, the wedding feast in the Hiemer home reflects earlier family turmoil. At the start of the century, the first sparks had flown upward not from the rock striking the anvil but from two rocks striking each other. Together they suggest that Frank Hiemer was a hard man, perhaps even a mean one, but that his wife’s intransigence was a match for him.

The Chandler Publicist, 5 January 1900
Upon complaint of his wife Frank Hiemer was arrested Tuesday on the charge of cruelty to his family [family!] and was taken before Justice Lewis. On change of venue the case was taken to Justice Riley’s court. S. D. Decker appeared for the plaintiff but after interviewing her witnesses he dismissed the case.

It is surely remarkable that in an age when the suffrage movement had not reached Oklahoma
Cecelia had the independence of spirit to lodge a formal complaint against her spouse. She had a sense of her own dignity, it must be supposed, and she had endured enough of Frank’s guff to have her belly full. Normally, such a complaint would not have reached court. She would have lodged it first with the Constable, the township law officer, and he would have persuaded her to go back home and try to get along with her husband. In effect, that is what happened, when Chandler attorney S. D. Decker interviewed her witnesses and dismissed the case. 

The Chandler Publicist, 4 May 1900
Frank Hiemer and his wife dissolved partnership last week. Frank took $450 and left for Nebraska turning all his personal property over to his wife and children.

In fact, Frank did not go to Nebraska, unless so briefly as to go unnoticed by the gossip columnists, and he can’t have turned over his property to his wife, for a year and three months later he sold a substantial parcel of it. The “Real Estate Transfers” column in the same paper for 9 August 1901 reads:

The Chandler Publicist 
Franz Hiemer to Frank S. Satterlee ne 21-12-5, $600.

Which means that Frank sold Satterlee a parcel of the homestead in section 21 of N12-E5 for $600. The acreage is not given but judging from the price it would have about 40 acres.

In summary, between 4 May 1900 and 9 August it would appear that $1050 passed through Frank’s hands, a very substantial sum for the day. What did he do with the money? A couple hundred may have gone to pay debts, since a farmer in this time and place was always in debt. The debt started when Frank had to pay $1.25 an acre for the 160 acres he proved in 1896: $200 with at least 10% interest added yearly. This was a burdensome debt and had been the ruin of many a farmer in the area covered by the Homestead Act. (The inalterable law of debt--high credit costs, low cotton prices--meant that the mortgaged homes would soon go the banks and merchants.) Some of it may have gone to pay for Herman’s medical treatment in a sanatorium, when the boy developed the pneumonia that would take his life in February of 1901, but the lion’s share is unaccounted for. Cecelia’s probate may cast some light into this darkness.

It appeared in the Chandler Daily Publicist, and as required by law ran for four weeks in July and August of 1903. 
Publication Notice
A. J. Cain, plaintiff, vs. Franz Hiemer, L. W. Clapp [a lawyer working for the firm of Hoffman & Embry], Alfred Hiemer, Mary Frost, formerly Mary Hiemer, and Susie Hiemer, John Hiemer, Frank Hiemer, Celie Hiemer, minor children of Cecilliye Hiemer, deceased, and William B. Hudspeth, administrator of the estate of Cecillye Hiemer, deceased and guardian of the minor children of said Cecillye Hiemer, deceased, defendants.
The defendant Franz Hiemer is hereby notified that he has been sued . . . and that unless [he] answers ...on or before the 17th day of September 1903, said amended petition will be taken as true and a judgment according . . . will be rendered thereon against the defendant . . . for the sum of $350.00 with interest thereon at the rate of 10 per cent per annum from the 17th day of January, 1902, together with an attorney’s fee of $38.50 and the foreclosure of a mortgage given by the said Franz Hiemer to John Embry to secure the same on the north east quarter of section No. twenty one (21) in township No. twelve (12) north of range No. five (5) east in Lincoln County, Oklahoma territory; and for the sum of $118.00 with interest thereon at 12 per cent per annum from January 18, 192 and an additional sum of $25 attorneys fees and the foreclosure of a mortgage on the above described real estate which was given by the defendant Franz Hiemer to J. H. Wright . . . 
To cut through the legal cackle and reduce this to one simple sentence, it sounds like the lawyers got the money and the kids got the farm. Or the lawyers got both.

One final way to view the background of the uxoricide is to look at what becomes of the children, since their fate necessarily reflects their upbringing. We recall that in 1900 Cecelia had seven children still alive of the fourteen she had borne. A 50% average may trouble some readers, but in fact it reflects the late-19th century infant mortality rate, with half of the children born not reaching the age of ten. The loss of seven children over the past decade would have created a heavy burden for both parents, and doubtless there were mutual recriminations.

The fates of the known children may be summarized:
1. Alfred, born in Austria in 1877: beside his immigration list for 1881 and the reference to him in the 1903 probate, no records have been found for him, except for the inexplicable fact that he has a gravestone in Meeker’s New Hope Cemetery dated 1952, which forms part of the Welch family plot. It is impossible to understand why there should be no records on him or newspaper references between 1900 and 1952 unless he was in an institution.
2. Florian, born in Austria in 1800: Florian is also on the 1881 shipping list, but without further records. Again, he does not appear in the databases. It is assumed that he died before the 1900 census. 
3. Vincent, born in Austria in 1881: the evidence for Vincent is exactly the same as for Florian.
4. Mary, born 1882 in Nebraska: as mentioned above, she married Albert Benjamin Frost in 1902. They had five known children and are buried in Gable Cemetery, seven miles east and south of Meeker.
5. Susie Annie, born 1884 in Nebraska: married Richard Frank Welch in Pottawatomie County in 1905. They had four known children and are buried with Alfred in Meeker’s New Hope Cemetery.
6. John, born 1885 in Nebraska: married 1) Cecil Hester Hall in Payson, Lincoln County, 1917, and 2) Yarmila Moucka in Pottawatomie County, 1925. He may have had one child with his first wife, though this son was reared by his Hall grandmother and family tradition holds that the child was not John’s; and he had one child with his second wife. Husband and wife are buried near Albuquerque NM.
7. Herman, born 1887 in Nebraska: died of pneumonia in February 1901 and is buried in Shawnee’s Fairview Cemetery, probably in what may have been at the time a pauper’s grave but was more likely paid for by unknown kinfolk. It may have had a temporary marker, but a record was kept. In 2010 a new tombstone was set, though by whom is not known. Herman’s sickliness may have been a factor in darkening the domestic atmosphere that resulted in the fatal shooting.
8. Frank, born 1889 in Nebraska: married Mamie Rachel Haase in 1911 and had six known children. Frank registered for the draft in both WWI and WWII but is not known to have been called up. The 1910 census shows him in Pueblo Colorado, the 1920 back in North Seminole Township, near Sparks, and the 1930 in Yavapai County AZ. Mamie died in 1937 and is buried in Warwick’s Star Valley Cemetery. Frank died in 1978 in Oklahoma City but is buried beside his wife.
9. Celia, the only child born in Oklahoma, 1893: married Robert Winfield Sargent and had three known children.  She died in 1991 and is buried in Meeker’s New Hope Cemetery. Her stone reads “Cecelia Hiemer Sargent,” employing both the full form of her mother’s given name and the old -ei- spelling of Hiemer.

A rough pattern emerges from this summary. The boys seem to have had more difficult lives than the girls and either died early or left home as soon as possible. This suggests conflict with the father, though whether he was a hard-hearted man or just an authoritarian and hard to live with, the evidence from the children’s lives doesn’t say.

In an earlier essay I wrote about another Bohemian family of Prague. Anna Burda was convicted of the murder of her husband in 1897, and the quarrel between the spouses was over the marriage of their daughter. The prospective groom was a recent immigrant and not financially well established. In the case of Mary Hiemer’s beau, Albert Frost, the man was neither an immigrant nor of immigrant extraction. His parents came from Missouri, and theirs from Illinois and Ohio. The father had homesteaded in the very area where the Hiemer’s lived, and thus financially there can have been little to choose between the two families. The reason for Frank’s opposition to the marriage remains a question, except perhaps for the natural reluctance of fathers to let go of their first daughter.

Thus, the shooting was over-determined. Many factors were in play, none of which can be called the chief. The friction between husband and wife was severe and of long standing and included the deaths of seven children. It would have been exacerbated by the besetting poverty and debt of farm life, making Franz doubt his ability as a provider, a defect which his wife may have habitually thrown in his face. Mary’s betrothal may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Then the presence of the handgun in the house was incendiary.

If it was Frank who first pulled the pistol, we should reflect that men who kill their partners may have both an unconscious dependence on their wife and a resentment of her. They wish to leave the relationship, but find themselves helpless to do so, which results in a belief that killing the wife is the only way to be free of her. This interpretation is reinforced when the man commits or threatens immediate suicide, as Frank supposedly did. The man ends his life not due to guilt, but due to his perceived helplessness and dependency.

We can’t establish who picked the handgun up first. The children said it was Franz, but their orchestrated testimony inspires little confidence. Franz and Cecelia may have wrestled for it. After the fatal shot, both spouses are culpable in their mutual animosity and desire to make the other suffer for the consequences. He does not want a doctor called (again, according to the children), and she wants to make sure the children believe that the shot was intentionally fired. Finally, an important note. In the final trial, Frank was not charged with murder but with manslaughter, and that is the crime he was convicted of. In the U.S. definitions can vary among jurisdictions, but manslaughter is invariably the act of causing the death of another person in a manner less culpable than murder. However it was, If Frank and Cecelia had met in hell, the devil would have been laughing at them both.

III. Ending: The Wretched Old Man
Franz and Cecelia may have been destined to destroy each other, but hers was the easier death of the two because it was quick. On the day before Christmas 1903, a pathetic follow-up story appeared in The Chandler News:
A Wretched Old Convict
Franz Hiemer, aged about 70 years, who was sent from Lincoln county to the Lansing penitentiary for life for having murdered his wife in South Seminole township, is one  of the most wretched convicts in that penal institution. He is forcibly and sadly finding out that “the road of the transgressor is hard” to travel on. Sheriff Tilghman says: “When I took the last consignment of prisoners to the Lansing prison Old Mr. Hiemer shed bitter tears and asked me if he never more could go home and visit his children. He looked haggard, wild-eyed and like one utterly forlorn and extremely miserable.” The old man does little, if any work. He is supposed to work in the toy shop, where some of the more artistic prisoners make some toys, canes and other articles that are sold as penitentiary-made curios. Hiemer, like Cain, feels the murderer’s load which he can not throw off. His punishment is almost more than he can bear much longer. He is still a living, suffering example for all those who propose to or shed innocent blood.
Prison life must have been hard on Frank. At the time of this report, he was 64 not 70 and had been imprisoned only eighteen months. But grief can take a toll on a man, and his tears may have started even before the trip to Lansing that Sheriff Tilghman describes. His spirits may have fallen still further if he learned the results of his wife’s probate, decided just three months before. All his years of farm labor had come to nothing.

Our hearts may lift when we read about Frank’s making things for the toy shop, if we imagine him engaging in traditional Bohemian crafts the way that Anna Burda did, but no. He may be anticipating the birth of his grandchildren, but he’s not making craft items for them. 

The penitentiary in  Lansing had been accepting out-of-state federal prisoners for decades, and the arrangements was a profitable one. A succession of wardens, appointed for political reasons, concentrated on maximizing financial advantage from prison industry. The penitentiary received a per diem rate for each prisoner, while simultaneously increasing its pool of income-producing labor. There may have been artisanship in Frank’s work, but it was work done for the market, not for his family. 

It would be possible to point out other faults in the writing of this column. Frank was not sentenced for life but for fifteen years reduced to seven and a half. That term might in effect prove to be a life sentence, which it did, but the author couldn’t know that. Also he has mangled Proverbs 13:15, “The way of transgressors is hard.” And the comparison with Cain doesn’t fit because Cain killed his brother, not his wife. For Biblical wife killers he might have cited King Herod and for secular ones King Henry VIII, but those wouldn’t have fit either because they are royal examples not humble ones. More importantly, the load of guilt a man would feel for manslaughter would not have been as heavy as for murder. Still, it was a long road and a hard one to travel. Frank would live another five years.

Entrance to the Lansing penitentiary, c. 1900

Available upon request to the author.

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