Schaefers Help Preserve Oklahoma History

When Ferdinand Rudolph Schaefer was born on February 13, 1866, his parents would certainly not have predicted that their son and his future wife would be so instrumental in the preservation of Oklahoma history.

Heinrich and Maria (Hopfer) Schaefer had their newborn baby baptized at Grace Lutheran Church in Uniontown.  Here is the church record of his baptism.

Rudolph Schaefer baptism record Grace Uniontown
Rudolph Schaefer baptism record – Grace, Uniontown

The German Family Tree says there were ten children born into this Schaefer family, but several of them died rather early.  In this family photo, Rudolph is standing in the back on the left with the mustache.

Henry Schaefer family
Heinrich Schaefer family

Heinrich was both a merchant and a farmer in Old Appleton, which is located just across the Apple Creek from Uniontown.  When you cross the creek you are in Cape Girardeau County.  Heinrich had a general store in Old Appleton.  He and his family became quite prominent citizens in Old Appleton.  Heinrich was a tax collector, a judge, and the postmaster over the years.  I may have to do a more detailed story on his life someday, especially because he was a driving force behind the building of the Old Appleton Bridge, which is now an official historic landmark.  When Rudolph was older, he was the postmaster for a year.  In this 1880 census, we see that Rudolph was a clerk in his father’s store at the age of 14.

Rudolph Schaefer 1880 census Appleton MO
1880 census – Old Appleton, MO

In the 1880’s, Rudolph first attended what was then called the South East Normal College, which is now Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau.  Then he moved up to St. Louis, where he received training in the medical profession at Washington University.  He graduated in 1892, and it appears that he became a doctor in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Although I could not find an official record, it is said that he was married in 1897 to Agnes Karau.  Agnes was the daughter of Gustav and Johanna Karau, who in the 1880 census were living in Carlinville, Illinois.  Gustav was a school teacher.

Agnes Karau 1880 census Carlinville IL
1880 census – Carlinville, IL

At about the time when Rudolph was graduating from college, Agnes was also attending college.  She attended Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.  We see her listed in this roster of students in 1894.

Agnes Karau Illinois State Normal IL
Illinois State University yearbook – 1894

In a 1910 census for Oklahoma City, we find Gustav Karau living there and serving as a music teacher.

I have this sneaking suspicion that the Karau family moved to Oklahoma before 1897, when Rudolph and Agnes were married, and that is how they met each other.   Here are photos of both Rudolph and Agnes

However, shortly after their marriage in 1897, the Schaefers moved back to Old Appleton.  We find them there in the 1900 census, and Rudolph was listed as a physician.

Rudolph Schaefer 1900 census Appleton MO
1900 census – Old Appleton, MO

They are living with Rudolph’s mother.  His father had died in 1893.  Agnes is shown there too, but not next to Rudolph.  While they were in Old Appleton, their oldest daughter was born in 1901.  Her name was Johanna Maria Schaefer.  She was baptized at Grace Lutheran Church in Uniontown.  Here is that record.

Maria Johanna Schaefer baptism record Grace Uniontown
Maria Johanna Schaefer baptism record – Grace, Uniontown

Some other children were born not long after this one, and they are not recorded in the Grace Lutheran books, so this family must not have stayed here long.  In the 1910 census, we find them back in Oklahoma City.

Rudolph Schaefer 1910 census Oklahoma City OK
1910 census – Oklahoma City, OK

That leads us up to an important event that took place in 1912.  First English Lutheran Church constructed their first (and only) permanent church building that year in Oklahoma City.

First English Lutheran Church Oklahoma City

When that church was built, some members recognized the need for a pipe organ.  A group decided that they would have a fundraiser which involved burying a time capsule in their church basement.  People who wanted to put items in that capsule were asked to pay for the privilege.  That project became known as their Century Chest.  It was buried in the center of their church basement on April 22, 1913, and the intention was for that chest to be brought out again on April 22, 2013.  That was indeed done, and it was quite a celebrated event in the state of Oklahoma.

Agnes Schaefer was on the committee that organized the original event in 1913.  When the Century Chest was opened in 2013, there were several items connected to the Schaefer family inside.  Here is a photo of how the items were situated in that chest when it was opened.

Century Chest
View inside the Century Chest as the lid is removed at First Lutheran Church in Oklahoma City Monday, April 22, 2013. The Century Chest is a time capsule put together and buried April 22, 1913 by the church. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman

Here we see that the Schaefers decided to have their name listed in what was called the Book of City Builders. 

Dr. Rudolph Schaefer message Century Chest

Their daughter, Johanna Marie Schaefer, the child that was baptized at Grace in Uniontown, contributed a poem to the chest.  It is reported that she wrote it when she was 8 years old, but she would have been 12 years old when the chest was buried.  I do not have the original image of the poem, but here are the words.

Marie Schaefer poem

This portrait of Johanna Maria was also in the chest.

Maria Johanna Schaefer
Johanna Maria Schaefer

A piece of art done by the same child was included.  There was also a photograph of the three children of Rudolph and Agnes.

Schaefer children Century Chest

A quilt was hand-stitched with names of people involved in the Century Chest project.  Dr. Schaefer can be found on a circle showing several men that were in the medical profession.

Century Chest doctors Dr. Rudolph Schaefer

I cannot begin to show in this post all the items included in this interesting collection.  I have already spent several hours being entertained by the items you can find online.  The Oklahoma Historical Society has part of their website dedicated to showing these items.  You can find it here.

If you click on the Collections tab at the top of the page, just be ready to spend some time.  I think it is fascinating.  There are many other stories and videos about the Century Chest online.

You also may want to view this video which was done by a local news organization which gives more background into the story of the Century Chest.  It’s about three and a half minutes long.

Dr. Rudolph Schaefer died in 1917, just 3 years after the Century Chest was buried.  Here is a record of his medical career.

Rudolph Schaefer medical record

This record says he died of diabetes.  I find it interesting that his mother’s death certificate in Missouri states that she died of that same disease.  Dr. Schaefer was only 51 year old when he died.  Agnes did not die until 1961.  They are both buried in the Fairlawn Cemetery in Oklahoma City.

The Schaefer family was a very well-educated one.  It is not often that you find both a husband and a wife in that time period who both had a college education.  I also found evidence that one of their daughters was described as a bacteriologist.  Dr. Schaefer was also a professor in the first college that trained doctors in the state of Oklahoma.  I am still amazed at the kinds of stories that can be found in our museum’s German Family Tree.



2 thoughts on “Schaefers Help Preserve Oklahoma History

  1. Exceptional! Hope to meet you in the spring when we plan to visit from SE New Mexico. Part of my family (Klaus, Mueller) settled in Perry County. My brothers Karl Klaus & Paul Klaus still live on Perryville and Jackson, respectively. Your postings are so well researched and so well written.


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