The Characters in my Closet
We all have them. Some call them “skeletons”. Skeletons to me are scary and have no substance. Characters on the other hand, are lively, have meat on their bones and get into all kinds of shenanigans. If this story was about my “Shenanigan Ancestor” it would definitely be about my Grandma Hessie, she tops the list with the most. Although my great grandfather had fewer shenanigans, he had the grandest of them all making national headlines across the country in 1914.
Gerhard John (G J) Shoenbohm was born in Brehem, Germany in 1871. At just 6 weeks old his parents, Merhring J Schoenbohm and Margaret T Schroeder immigrated to the US through Galveston and settled in Alice, Texas. Gerhard married Carrie Matilda Gilplin Valls in 1892 and they had six children, four girls and two boys. My grandmother Grace Linn was the oldest, followed by Monie, Bubba, Lottie, Kakki and Johnny. Johnny died at two months old.
After Monie’s death, her daughter found a small auto biography she wrote of her life. In it, she talked of the love of her father, the distance between her mother, and how the circumstances surrounding their father’s death they were treated as though they had the plaque. The family eventually was run out of Alice, Texas and settled in Corpus Christi, TX to the end of their years and where I was born.
Aunt Kakki wrote a small history on the Schoenbohm Family stating Grandpa Schoenbohm was a telegraph operator. The railroads were coming and he had a profession that kept him gainfully employed. Another insight Aunt Kakki gave to me was that Grandpa Schoenbohm’s mother lived with them for 17 years until her death. She spoke fluent German, and very little broken English. Family folklore has it that German, Spanish and English was spoken in the Schoenbohm home, but not all together, the Spanish language coming from the hired servants. My Grandmother Grace and sister Monie made up their own language between the three languages. Before they could start school they had to learn English. Creative and lively bunch aren’t they? So just what did Grandpa Schoenbohm do that caused such a ruckus and run his family out of town?
From the Brownsville, Herald, August 17, 1014, “On a morning of August, 1914, a mysterious man arrived in Brownsville, TX from Alice on the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico passenger train. According to T. J. Shanahan, the manager of what is referred to as the Valley Hotel on Levee Street, the man asked for recommendations of somewhere to eat. Mr. Shanahan directed him to a place down the street and the mysterious stranger returned later to the hotel and registered under the name of “Emmett Burgess”. In registering he smeared his place of residence as if to hide it. He asked Mr. Shanahan for some stationery and retreated to his room for the afternoon.
At approximately 4:45 that afternoon, Mr. Shanahan had been speaking with Mr. Burgess and then settled down to his desk to take on the day’s tasks. Mr. Burgess sat on the balcony at the top of the stairs. Upon hearing footsteps coming up the stairs, Emmett Burgess walked to the balcony overlooking the stairs and began to shoot at the two men. In a matter of minutes two men were dead and one wounded.
On Monday August 17, 1914 the Brownsville Herald Newspaper Extra headline read:
H. G. Dubose Assassinated – Shot down by G. J. Schoenbohm of Alice.[i] An extra edition of the Brownsville Herald was produced on this day to cover the story that went around the nation. Stories also appeared in major newspapers across the country including Salt Lake City, UT[ii], Oakland, CA[iii] and San Antonio, TX[iv].
According to newspaper reports of The Brownsville Gazette, “H. G Dubose, Chief of the US Immigration Office and his brother E. (Ed) M Dubose, US Customs Inspector, were responding to a note that came from a mysterious Emmett Burgess. Mr. Burgess claimed on the note that he had some information regarding a case that Ed Dubose was working on. Ed Dubose questioned folks around town, regarding “Emmett Burgess” but when no one knew or heard of him, he acquired the assistance of his brother H G Dubose, and came prepared for a possible ambush. Ed Dubose escaped with a wounded leg but was charged with killing of G. J. Schoenbohm. He was later acquitted. H. G. Dubose had four bullets in him, and was killed. G. J. Schoenbohm held 15 bullets in his bullet ridden body. Schoenbohm was also disguised with brown hair die on his hair and eyebrows, was wearing brown gloves, shaved his moustache and wore shaded glasses to complete his disguise. It was only through a letter on his personage and a casual friend he was able to be identified”.
On Tuesday, August 18, 1914 the title read, Two Homes Mourn Fathers’ Loss[v].
This was my Great Grandfather G J Schoenbohm. I am not sure how I feel about all this. Do I label him as a murderer? Assasin? Scapegoat? I get the gut feeling there are some unanswered questions and more to the story than what the newspaper reported. Reports were that his wife was having an affair with Ed Dubose. I believe it has something to do with immigration. I have contacted some DuBose descendants who did not know of this story, but also said, “It does not surprise me. The DuBose brothers were scoundrels.” This I do know, it is a part of my history, that I feel needs to be told and most likely would have been lost had it not been for Aunt Kakki’s history.
In knowing this part of my grandmother’s history, it helps me to understand my life a bit more. Even in the few short years we were together in Texas, there was never a great bond. After leaving Texas, I occasionally heard from my grandmother, father and aunts, but years later I would learn that everyone claimed they did not know where we went after leaving Texas. There are tragedies and circumstances that plague our lives for generations and affect the generations to come. We do not get to choose the consequences of these actions, but maybe by learning their story we can have a bit more compassion, sympathy, and burning desire to know more than just the names of those who came before us.