Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Of Saints and Sinners

Before starting my first blog in 2009, I spent nearly a decade researching  and writing about our family history.   When Kim Shay recently presented the challenge Women tell your stories  and Persis shared her very interesting A window into the past, I couldn’t resist joining in.
My maternal grandfather’s side of the family was especially fun to research because it is diverse and colorful.   My grandpa was born in 1890 and I knew him well, having grown up in Sacramento where he and my step grandmother lived.   He lived to be 95 and had a memory like an elephant till the day he died. 
He was born in Leon Springs, Texas into a family of German immigrants.  The Toepperwine’s and Luckenbach’s were  notable pioneering families comprised of Texas Rangers, lawyers, writers, teachers, politicians, musicians, and sharpshooters.   
My grandpa’s cousin Ad and his wife Plinky were world famous sharpshooting exhibitioners for the Winchester Rifle Company who wowed the crowds for over 40 years.  And my great, great grandparents founded the little outpost of Luckenbach, Texas, made famous today by the Willie Nelson song.   My gg grandparents and their sons played traditional German oompah music there at the dancehall.  A few years ago we visited Luckenbach on a lazy Sunday afternoon and found people relaxing and playing music on the deck in back of the old post office.
Wilhelm (aka Herman) Toepperwine and Amalie Luckenbach and sons 
But family history would be not complete without the proverbial black sheep, and that’s where my great grandpa, the Outlaw, comes in.   He’s the one that got away...literally. 
Hilmar was noted for his temper and had gotten into a row with a relative over livestock that had gotten into his crops.  The man threatened to kill my g-grandpa the next time he saw him.   When they met on the road my g-grandpa grabbed his rifle out of the jockey box on his wagon, shot first and killed the guy.  This was in 1884. 
He was acquitted on self-defense but landed in the pokey again a few years later for stealing a cow.   Enter, my great-grandma to aid and abet by hiding a saw blade in a loaf of bread and smuggling it into the jail.   Her husband sawed his way out of the bars on the second floor, jumped, and R-U-N-N-O-F-T to California.   
The old jailhouse in Boerne, Texas is still standing, though the top floors are not in use.    My grandpa's brother had visited Texas in the 1920's and  saw the evidence where his father had escaped.  I wanted to find out if it was still there,  and when we were in Boerne the groundskeeper allowed us to go in and take pictures.    Yep.  It was still there.

When my great grandfather arrived in Sacramento he changed his name, got settled, and sent for his wife and the kids.  My poor grandpa lived his entire life under  an alias and as a child was in constant fear of getting busted.    His father, determined to keep his nose clean,  was a hardworking man and established a successful meat market.   Later he went into construction and laid many of the first sidewalks in Sacramento in the early 1900's, stamping his alias name on them along the way.   I remember seeing them when I was young and our daughter actually found one still in existence a couple of years ago.     The photo at the top was taken in 1898 in Sacramento and my grandfather is the boy on the right standing by the dog. 
My grandpa later served in the Great War, lost everything in the Great Depression, and his first wife (my grandmother) deserted him, leaving him alone to raise two children.  He followed in his father’s career path and was a butcher and owned  slaughterhouses and meat markets.    
When he was 60 years old my grandfather married his childhood sweetheart, who was a wonderful Christian woman. 
I was not raised in a Christian home and it was my grandparents who first shared the Gospel with me.  Through them I also learned about the five missionaries who were martyred in Ecuador in the mid 1950’s.   My step aunt and uncle were  Wycliffe Missionaries serving  in Ecuador closely with Jim and Elizabeth Elliot and the others.   The Lord used my uncle to bring a young Waodani (formerly referred to as Auca, meaning savage) woman named Dayuma together with Rachel Saint to learn the language and take the Gospel  back to the tribe.   Dayuma became a powerful witness to her people and  many were converted to Christ including those who had killed the missionaries.    
In 1957 Dayuma and several others including my step uncle, came to Hollywood to appear on the Ralph Edwards “This is Your Life—Rachel Saint” TV show.  That remarkable program is now on YouTube here:  Part 1, and  Part 2  My grandmother told me that Dayuma had visited their home during that time and watched with amazement that TV program in their living room.  
My grandfather experienced many hardships and tragedies in his lifetime but in the end the Lord blessed him with a peaceful and happy life.   He loved to quote  his favorite verse Philippians 4:11 "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am."
The Lord is so good.   If my outlaw great-grandpa had not been quick on the draw, I wouldn’t be here to write about it.   God uses both the saints and the sinners in our family trees to advance His kingdom, one soul at a time.


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