Der Squire: Ein Bild aus den Hinterwalden Nordamerikas
Der Squire: Ein Bild aus den Hinterwalden Nordamerikas (The Squire: A Picture from the Backwoods of North America) by Albert von Halfern was published in 1857 by Hoffman and Campe of Hamburg, Germany. The novel presents the story of Squire Russel, a squatter (or pioneer) in western Arkansas near the Indian Territory. Von Halfern’s novel was never translated into English and therefore did not achieve the popularity in the United States that fellow German author Friedrich Gerstäcker’s novels did. Nevertheless, his description of western Arkansas in the early 1840s, like Gerstäcker’s work, offers insight into the daily experiences and the social life of Arkansas’s early settlers.
Von Halfern, born about 1816, came to America in 1838, landing in New York and making his way west and south. In June 1839, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in New Orleans, Louisiana, under the name of Albert Marino. Reported a month later as a deserter, he was apprehended on December 19, 1839, when he attempted to enlist again, this time under his real name. What he did in the interim is unclear, but he returned to Germany around 1845. He settled in Sassnitz, in Pomerania, where in 1848, he opened a chalk factory. He died there on January 31, 1882.
Although documentation remains sketchy, von Halfern likely spent time in western Arkansas. His descriptions reflect familiarity with Van Buren (Crawford County), Dardanelle (Yell County), and the Mulberry Creek in Madison County. Similarities exist, in fact, between characters in his book and actual residents of the area.
Von Halfern describes the conflict between the squire, who was a squatter, and the so-called “civilized” people coming into the area. The word “squatter,” synonymous with pioneer, referred to someone living on land to which he could eventually earn title. Squire Russel was one of those often restless pioneers who moved on when civilization caught up with him.
Reviews of the book classify von Halfern with those German authors who wrote with an anti-American attitude. In actuality, he simply took a more critical look at the events of the movement of Americans to the west. In this book, and in a later one about the Seminole Indians, von Halfern describes the building conflict between settlers and their “red neighbors,” pointing to the stark contrast between the official position of the government and the way things actually were. He attributes the growing tension to the greed of the white settlers and merchants. Scholars reading von Halfern’s work today might applaud his honesty, writing as he did at a time when few, if any, were giving Native Americans a voice.
For additional information:
Hollyday, G. T. Anti-Americanism in the German Novel, 1841–1862. Las Vegas, NV: Peter Lang, 1977.
Hollyday, Guy Tilghman. “Albert von Halfern’s Der Squire, a Novel about Life in Early Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 27 (Autumn 1968): 226–245.
Von Halfern, Albert. Der Squire: Ein Bild aus den Hinterwalden Nordamerikas. Hamburg, Germany: Hoffman and Campe, 1857.
Shirley Sticht Schuette
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies
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