The statue of George Bayer is proudly situated on the grounds of the Gasconade County Historical Society Archives Center. The town of Hermann widely recognizes Bayer as one of the founders at this point in history, but that was not always the case.
Not often publicized, the initial history of Hermann is marred with struggle. From the very onset, the rough terrain and isolation lent a solemn start to the river village. In some recollections, the settlers were unwavering and tackled hardship willingly—the solitude viewed as independence. The settlement of Hermann has truly overcome adversity when many communities might have failed. It is beneficial to remember the stories that are not always so hopeful and victorious. These ‘rise above’ occasions make for a greater celebration in the end. It is only through such stories that we can look back at the history of Hermann and fully see the will to survive.
The Story of George Bayer
George Bayer was no stranger to hardship. Bayer, a trained organist, came to Philadelphia from Germany. He established himself as a teacher of keyboard instruments and became grounded in a Pennsylvania community where his German ethnicity was preserved. A few years later, the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia deputized Bayer to scout the U.S. frontier. The specific goal was to populate the west with German-speaking people as life in the colonies was already starting to meld into a less distinguished ethnic harbor.
In 1838, Bayer and a group of frontiersmen and women, set out to create a new Germany west of the colonies. Bayer was granted the authority to divide up the land and assign parcels to the people. It is said that when they reached the land, the group asked too much from Bayer. He was placed in charge of surveying the entire area, assigning the residents their new lots, as well as supplying and distributing food. George was overwhelmed by these responsibilities and the new colony grew frustrated—their complaints eventually reaching the Society back in Philadelphia. Their lack of confidence moved the Society to release George from all his duties. In 1839, one year after his journey west, at the age of 39, George Bayer was laid to rest in the Hermann Cemetery. Many speculate that the people’s demands and his dashed hopes to provide a well-established community are to blame for his early demise.
History Rarely Favors the Weak
Bayer’s shallow reputation in Hermann was viewed with contempt and as a monumental failure, but his image began to be restored in the 1970s. The fallen leader’s contributions can’t be argued as his early settlement coincided directly with the timing and growth of the German-American wine industry. The plots of land he surveyed and relinquished were eventually successful vineyards and the community is still thriving today. The area around Hermann is known as the Missouri Rhineland, an ode to the German wine lands where viticulture is the predominant agriculture. All this considered, Bayer’s story cannot be erased from the history of Hermann. An unofficial community meeting in 1986 ceremonially cleared George of the charges of tyrannical incompetence that had shaded his reputation for more than a century. And now, his statue shares the town with an air of appreciation that might have been unexpected in the 1800s.
Some Elements of a Man in Bronze
George Bayer’s memory encompasses the early struggle of the town. Elements of his pain and vision resound throughout time as he marks a founding part of Hermann history. When you visit the Bayer statue, note his upward, visionary look in spite of all the distractions and trials of settling a wild land. George may have been in water-over-his-head with such a heavy responsibility, but he did accept the challenge willingly. The statue holds a map case that implies a certain authority—an honor was bestowed upon him this vast obligation. And finally, one can’t mistake the humble look of a man holding his hat in his hand. George admired the land, and though he was damned for his fallen duties, he has since regained virtue as a critical partner in setting the course for the town of Hermann.
For more Hermann history, check out our first post in this series on Hermann the German!