Facts and Events
Uncle Charley, Story and Reality
Charles or Carl Kratz, born in Germany, possibly on the Isle of Rügen, probably about 1857, was known to younger generations in his family as “Uncle Charley”. For the men in his family, Charley was a person of romance and legend; to the women, a person of shame and disgrace. His story begins in Chicago, Illinois, just south of the small village of Winnetka, where Charley’s family moved about 1872. Many years after Uncle Charley died a great-nephew wrote his memories of Uncle Charley, summarizing in his own late years the stories he had learned as a child.
"Uncle Charlie stayed with us a while on the hill and on the farm in Day Creek and had many stories to tell - most of them embroidered according to dad, who was his friend; unfit for young ears according to mother, and disgraceful to the family according to dad’s mother Bertha (Grandma Phieffer), herself a formidable figure, as I recall."
"Uncle Charlie was our friend too. The only adult with whom we felt privileged to argue - usually at breakfast when we should have been getting ready for school. Uncle Charlie was not formidable. He was us."S6
Charley’s nephew George Knott and his family lived on a farm on Day Creek Road east of Clear Lake, Washington. George bought the farm in January 1920 and may have moved there within the next year or two, after (presumably) building the log house in which the family lived and clearing land for the farm. His three young sons attended school in Clear Lake.
In 1930 Charley was listed in the Census as living with his niece Anna Edzenga and her family in Clear Lake.S1 At that time he reported that he was 74 (giving him a birth date of about 1856 or 1857), and that he worked on a small farm, most likely the farm of his sister Bertha and her husband. Information on his Death Certificate suggests that Charley came to Clear Lake around 1923.S2 It’s entirely possible, then, that Charley stayed for a time with his nephew George in the mid-1920s, helping with the farm work and telling his stories to three young boys between the approximate ages of seven and thirteen.
As Charley’s great-nephew goes on to recount the stories he heard, their allure is obvious for impressionable young boys whose family was already experiencing the 1920s depression that hit farmers and working people before the Great Depression of the 1930s. Efforts to document Charley’s stories suggest that many of them were, indeed, heavily embroidered, certainly by the time they reached the present telling. They also offer a counter-point to the more familiar immigrant and western settlement stories of struggle and achievement.
"Uncle Charlie had come west with some Irish people whom he greatly admired and had picked up an Irish accent, which, although it went badly with name Kratz, he maintained to the end of his days."
"Soon after arriving here he joined the army (cavalry) and was stationed at Ft. Wallula. He had some skirmishes with the Nez Perce near Wallula gap where they came to pick off wagoneers winching wagons up the slope to get around Celillo Falls. When the soldiers came the Indians would take off and the "battles" apparently consisted of chases with the soldiers getting even once in a while."
"With the tedium of winter Charley became disenchanted with the army and deserted to trap beaver near the junction of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Next spring, of course, when travel was more comfortable, he was arrested and held for trial at Wallula - in Oregon Boot in lieu of being jailed - the jail either not having been built, or, more probably, full."
"Having during his "imprisonment" exercised his lifelong talent for making friends he was removed for Court Martial, along with other prisoners for whom there was some sympathy, to Portland. Desertion was a capital offense."
"Here he was thrilled by the stares and Oh's and Ah's and pitying remarks of the gentler people of that more civilized city. Being reminded that he was indeed very young for sudden death, he swallowed his pride and had his officers contact his father in Minnesota, who grumpily verified that Coronal Kratz was only 16 and should not have been in the army at all."S6
Soon after the Kratz family arrived in the United States the Panic of 1873 sent the national economy into one of it’s frequent tailspins, and the farm the family rented was small. The older children, including Uncle Charley, would have been expected to work. Most jobs for young immigrants were temporary or in service. On the 26th of April 1875, young Carl Kratz walked into an army recruitment office in Chicago and enlisted. The military was his heritage, and most likely the largest part of his education. And serving in the military provided at least some income. Charley gave his age as 22 (giving a birth date of 1853), his occupation as farmer, and was described as being five feet seven and one-half inches tall, with blue eyes, a fair complexion, and brown hair.S3.
Charley was assigned to Company B of the 1st Cavalry. From Chicago he was sent to St. Louis, Missouri, where he and eighteen other new recruits were picked up by 2nd Lieutenant Willis Wittich, 21st Infantry, of Fort Klamath, Oregon. They arrived at Fort Klamath on the 30th of May, and Charley was officially entered into the Company register on 31 May 1875 as Private Carl Kratz.S4
The men at Fort Klamath included Company B of the 1st Cavalry, and men from the 21st Infantry. In 1872-73 Company B had taken part in the Modoc War, but by the time Charley arrived, their lives were spent in much more mundane activities, described in Fort Returns as “Garrison Duties”.S4 Daily routine included standing review and cleaning the stables both morning and afternoon, and drill and more drill for recruits. Road building may have been one of the more exciting of their other duties. 
Desertion was common among the enlisted men. When Charley arrived in May as one of nineteen new recruits, seventeen men were listed on the Fort Returns as deserters.S5 The Army did make an effort to locate deserters, as when one unfortunate man disappeared on an approved hunting trip in August of that year. Both soldiers from the Fort and nearby Indians were called upon to locate him, but without success.S4
Two months later, on October 16th, Charley and two other men appeared on Fort records as deserters. Their escape from routine and drudgery lasted only four days, for they were apprehended and returned to the fort on October 20th.S4 They had been found nearby, at the Rogue River Bridge, at a cost of $30 paid to bring them in.S9
The Court Martial was held a month later on 22 November 1875 at Fort Klamath, not in Portland. Charley was charged with desertion and with stealing a Springfield Carbine, the property of the United States. He pled guilty to both charges. His only statement was that he “went across the river with the other two men and had no intention of deserting but got under the influence of liquor and the first thing I heard was Reveille and I was afraid to come back.” His defense pointed out that the Carbine had been returned when Charley was brought back. Charley and the other two men were found guilty as charged.S9
Charley’s sentence was “to forfeit to the United States all pay and allowances that are or may become due him, except the just dues of the laundress; to be dishonorably discharged the service and thereafter to be confined, at hard labor, in such military prison, as the Commanding General may direct for the period of four (4) years wearing a ball, twelve (12) pounds in weight, attached to one of his legs by a chain three (3) feet long.”S9
Imprisonment in the Guardhouse with leg shackles was the most common punishment for desertion at that time.  Death was and is the maxium sentence for desertion during times of war, but is seldom imposed. Charley remained in the Fort through April 1876, most likely wearing shackles for a part of that time, but not in an Oregon Boot. By 16 December of 1875 even the requirement that he be shackled was remitted.S9
How did Fort Walla Walla and the Nez Perce War end up in Uncle Charley’s stories? The Nez Perce War occurred in 1877, when Uncle Charley would still have been serving his sentence. Not surprisingly, he was not among the men listed in the Walla Walla Fort Returns for that time.S8 It's possible that Fort Walla Walla and Nez Perce War were better known and more exciting than reality. It’s also possible that Charley, after leaving Fort Klamath, went north to Wallula and vicinity, experienced the War at second hand and learned the stories of earlier times, all of which he wove into his own stories.
"After being discharged (dishonorably) and, once again having disgraced his father, a former German officer, he followed the trek to Alaska where he trapped & back-freighted, being large, and did the usual things of that time & place -- about which he was always loudly interupted by mother & we never did get to learn much in detail."
"Uncle Charlie, altho very active, seemed to have cautiously avoided work which in any way resembled drudgery - like mining. In the fishing business he joined two other men in a voyage to Hawaii but didn't enjoy the trip because in getting ready for the Venture, he had contacted gonorhea, from which the other two, fortunately, were spared. He arrived in Honolulu pretty much a basket case."
"Here he somehow regained his health & returned, somewhat cowed, to Alaska to join with an Indian partner in fishing along the coast & in coastal streams."
"They owned two quite large boats & did well until the Indian killed a white man & they had to sell out to get money for his defense."
"In the meantime Uncle Charlie had accumulated an Indian "bride" ("probably a Princess" according to his sister Grandma Bertha Phieffer) and had a son of whom he was very fond. The boy, however, was sickly & died of tuberculosis in his teens."
"The Indian, incidentally, altho freely admitting to having done old whitey in (he deserved it) was aquitted - the scales of justice, seemingly, having been tilted by the weight of two boats & considerable cash."