Monday, August 16, 2010

Matthias Stein

Matthias Stein is my 4x great-grandfather. I found this collection of anecdotes about him to be quite interesting - while I have my doubts about the veracity of his claims of hanging out with the President, Chief Justice and others, you have to hand it to the guy: he sure could tell a good story.

From the History of Milwaukee:

The full text follows, originally from Google Books: History of Milwaukee, City & County, Volume 3:

Matthias Stein, who in many ways left the impress of his individuality and ability for good upon the history of Milwaukee, was born in Germany, December 17, 1808. Like so many of his countrymen before and after him, he sought the new world as the theatre of his ambition. He arrived in Baltimore in August, 1831. He found employment in Norfolk, Virginia, as a mechanic, having learned his trade in the old country. One year later he went to Washington, D. C., finding work as an instrument maker. It was here that young Stein learned his lesson in the difference between social affairs in the United States and the empire of Germany. His experience in the capital of the new country was evidently impressed upon his mind, because in his old age it was recalled with a positiveness which did not characterize his recollection of his early life in Milwaukee.
It was Mr. Stein's custom for the three years he spent in Washington to take an early morning walk before going to work. During these strolls he met daily an old gentleman, who also enjoyed the morning air when the weather permitted. They became companions for an hour or so every day, during which the old gentleman questioned young Stein as to life and conditions in his fatherland. One day after his morning companion had left him at the entrance to the White House grounds, Stein asked a servant who had just come out who the old gentleman was. The answer was: "Andrew Jackson, the president of the United States." The next morning they met as usual and Mr. Stein was naturally embarrassed when he realized with whom he had been walking. The kindness and grace of the president soon reassured him and he asked how it was that the ruler of such a great nation would condescend to walk with a young mechanic.
"Young man, you don't understand this country. I am placed in this position by the confidence and trust of the people of the United States. My duty is to carry out the law and our constitution and to do right to everybody. When my time is expired I will go to my farm in Tennessee. At the present time I am no more nor no less than any other man."
President Jackson Invited young Stein to call on him and at one of the public receptions he did so. When he reached the president he was drawn to one side by that official, who introduced him to General Scott, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun and ex-President John Quincy Adams. As Stein was leaving, a white-haired gentleman spoke to him and asked him if he knew the president, remarking that it was noticeable that the president was especially cordial to him (Stein) and that this exception must be the result of a long acquaintance. The white-haired gentleman was the chief justice of the United States. Roger B. Taney.
Thus it was that young Stein learned that In this country all men are created equal. It was in Washington, too, that Stein heard of Chicago as a coming great city and In 1834 he left for the west, going to St. Louis. From there he traveled overland to Chicago. There were no roads and only one team to transport him and four others to their destination. It took six days to make the Journey. The prairie was wet and made a very uncomfortable bed at night. Crackers and ham were the food. A compass which Stein had made guided them. He reached Chicago the first week In March, 1835. Stein's high expectations of the place were doomed to disappointment. He found nothing but a collection of shanties—the abiding place of thieves and swindlers, with no laws to reach and punish them. Disgusted, he left for Detroit, Michigan. Here he became a gunsmith and from that city he came to Milwaukee in 1837, arriving on June 5th. He did not intend to stay, wanting to go farther south. He came on the steamer "Old Michigan" and his locating in Milwaukee was due to the fact that her engine broke down and it took three days to repair it. During that time he met Solomon Juneau and a friend, Louis Drayser. Juneau induced him to stay, and of all the western towns he had seen, Milwaukee's appearance impressed him most favorably. The result was that he remained and became identified with the growing town. He located on the east side, in what is now called the seventh ward, and built the first frame building on the east side. It was located on the hill overlooking old Market Square and was about where the St. Charles Hotel now stands. The market place had been filled with dirt taken from the hill. When Mr. Stein met Juneau, he asked the population of the place. The answer was: "Four hundred souls, mostly Indians." Stein kept bachelor's hall for some time, moving into his house on February 24, 1838. At his first breakfast he discovered he had no coffee mill and went to a hardware store kept by one, Green, on East Water street. Such an article was not kept in stock and Stein was compelled to tie the coffee in the arm of his shirt and beat it. Louis Drayser had a house on Martin street, near East Water, on a lot given him by Juneau. Drayser built a house in Detroit, but when he moved to Milwaukee he tore it to pieces and transported It to this city on the deck of an old English frigate which had been sunk in Lake Erie during Perry's time but which was afterward raised. A man named Pixley kept a general store on East Water street, which was then the principal business street. What houses there were (Mr. Stein called them "shanties"), consisted of one room, one window and one door. Mr. Stein's home was surrounded by the wigwams of the Pottawatomies and his house was a favorite lounging place for their Indian chief, Onangese. Mr. Stein said: "He was an Indian, but a gentleman." Stein learned to talk the language of the red men and taught the chief squaw to eat with a knife and fork.

For several years Mr. Stein was treasurer, before that being a trustee of the town. Later he became the first sealer of weights and measures. In speaking of his term of office as treasurer, Mr. Stein related an incident which appeared in the Sentinel, being written by Rufus King, a warm friend. When Stein's term of office expired, investigation showed that the town owed him two cents. The investigating committee worked for two days but could make no other result.
During the early '50s Mr. Stein kept the Deutsche House. This was Governor Barstow's stopping place whenever he came to Milwaukee. A few weeks before the death of Alexander Mitchell, former president of the Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul Railroad, he met Mr. Stein on the street. The latter related proudly what the banker said to him on that occasion: "Stein, how are you fixed?" asked Mitchell. "With reasonable management and economy, I have enough to take care of me for the rest of my life," was the reply. "Well, if you are ever in want, you know where to come, and if I'm not at the bank, just speak to Dave Ferguson or John Johnston."
Mr. Stein will be remembered by his efforts in other directions. It was at his suggestion that the German-English Academy was founded and he was the first to see the feasibility of the German Theatre. Thereby he contributed much toward shaping conditions as they exist in this city at the present time.

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