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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

The War Protest

by Bob Bowman

Bob Bowman

At the peak of another war ninety years ago, a small East Texas sawmill town made a statement about American soldiers being killed in a distant land.

Angry over Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany for sending soldiers to France and killing Americans, sawmill workers at Oakhurst in San Jacinto County gathered to burn an effigy of Wilhelm in front of a local church.

In an era when people seldom did anything so drastic, it was a memorable event to eight-year-old Iva Arden, the daughter of Richard and Julia of Snowtown, a community near Oakhurst. Richard was a train repairman and Julia ran a restaurant in Snowtown.

One morning, as Iva walked to Oakhurst to pick up the family's mail and, she noticed something that frightened her. She ran to the post office, where the postmistress tried to comfort her.

"What's wrong," she asked Iva. "Who hung the scarecrow in front of the sawmill church?," asked Iva.

"Why, Iva, that's no scarecrow," said the postmistress, "Bob Andrews (who worked for the lumber company) hung an effigy of the Kaiser on the pole. You must come tonight and see Bob burn the Kaiser."

That night, Iva and her sister Etta went into Oakhurst. As they neared the church, Iva clasped Etta's hand. They could see the arms and legs of what appeared to be a person dangling in the moonlight.

A rope harness was tied around the body and fastened to a well pulley so the body could be drawn up and down. A black hat hid the effigy's face from view. On the ground, beneath the effigy, was a pile of cardboard boxes.

The mill company's preacher opened the program with a prayer, followed by a song, "The Yanks are coming. The Yanks are coming over there." The crowd applauded vigorously.

John Niederhofer talked about the Germans and how they were killing American boys in France. For most Americans, it was the first time they knew of American soldiers dying in a war far removed from their nation's shores.

"We will win this war," concluded Niederhofer. The crowd applauded.

After lowering the effigy, Bob Andrews drenched it from top to bottom with kerosene, and again raised it into the air. The cluster of cardboard boxes on the ground were also soaked with kerosene.

In one swift move, a lighted match was tossed on the boxes and, as flames shot into the evening air, Andrews lowered the effigy to the flames. In a few minutes, the effigy of the Kaiser was burned to a crisp.

Oakhurst residents, seemingly satisfied they had done something to support American boys in far-away France, applauded vigorously.

The next morning, Iva Arden went back to the scene to shoot a photograph of what was left of the Kaiser, but Andrews had removed the debris.

In its place, American flag and Confederate flags were flying in the morning breeze. Iva snapped a photo of the scene--and kept it for years to remind her of the day the Kaiser was burned in effigy.

With America's help, Germany lost the war and an Armistice was signed in 1918. The Kaiser fled to Holland, where his sister lived, and spent his remaining days in exile.

All Things Historical >
September 4, 2006Column
Published with permission
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a former president of the Association and the editor of more than 30 books about East Texas.
 
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