I have been going through photos and stories, trying to decide what will be my first family history post. I can’t believe how difficult of a decision this has been. I have decided to start with my husband’s great grandfather, Johann Leonhard Besendorfer. My admiration for Johann goes back to when my husband and I first got married 23 years ago. I remember hearing stories about Johann and I have tried to pass those stories on to my children so they might want to learn more about him. Not a lot is documented about Johann before he came to America but there are a lot of family stories. I would like to start my post with information that my husband’s father shared with us. I know that family stories are most often times embellished or not complete but I feel that stories, true or not can tell us a lot about our ancestors and their families. Plus they are usually a lot of fun to listen to! That being said keep in mind while you read this story that even if the information doesn’t sound like it could possibly be true, it hasn’t be proven or dis-proven at this time. So sit back and enjoy a tale of long ago.
The following was written by Joseph Leon Besendorfer.
Johann Leonhard Besendorfer was born August 3, 1858 in the small town of Burglein, Furth, Bavaria, Germany. He was the son of Georg Leonhard Besendorfer and Walburga Gloessinger. Johann was the 5th and last child born to his parents.
At age 12, Johann was indentured by his parents to an acquaintance who owned a gristmill. This was not uncommon for German society; Johann was the second living son and would not be able to inherit his father’s farm. Custom required the family to provide professions for such sons. After a few weeks Johann ran away from the mill and returned home, his father returned him. The second time Johann stayed for two years of the required seven.
At the mill, the farmer’s would unload their unsacked wheat into chutes, which directed it into bins located in the basement. The miller required the “trainees” to sleep in the wheat bins and to eat the unground wheat. Johann’s work included filling 100 pound sacks with wheat from the bins in the mill basement then carry them two at a time on his shoulders upstairs to the fourth floor, where he would empty them into bins.
After two years of the required seven, Johann ran away a second time. This time he did not return home but went instead to a sizeable city where he indentured himself to work in a mirror factory and learn that trade. His artistic skills soon allowed him to cut the decorative borders and designs into the glass as part of the mirror making process.
Johann later joined the military of the Austrian Empire, which was under the control of Kaiser Wilhelm. Johann was quite short, 5’1″(his passport application says 5′ 4″), but possessed great strength and quickness. The officers in charge of his basic training offered Johann the opportunity to join Kaiser Wilhelm’s elite body guard troop and the rank of Corporal. Men of this special Corp were officers of the highest regard and were unrestricted in their official responsibilities throughout the entire Austrian Empire. Only 200 men were assigned to this Corp. One requirement was “Assignment for life”. The honor was unequaled in military service so Johann accepted.
In order to make this post not so long I will take the liberty of shortening the rest of Johann’s story, at least the part before he immigrated. He had the opportunity while working as bodyguard for the Kaiser to intercede on behalf of a group of people listening to missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was interested in what they had to say and was eventually baptized into the LDS Church. Johann wanted to immigrate to America but remember he was “Assigned for Life” to be a bodyguard.
This next paragraph is again in the words of Joseph Leon Besendorfer.
An additional responsibility of the bodyguards was to act as a valet to Kaiser Wilhelm in an assigned rotation. This included pressing clothes, polishing boots, shoes, traps, belts, brass, buttons, etc.; laying them out for dressing, assisting in anyway directed by the Kaiser, as well as numerous other courtesies. He decided to use the next valet assignment to present his desires of wanting to go to America, to the Kaiser. When the day came, he became bold enough to tell the Kaiser that he had become a member of the American Mormon Church. He told the Kaiser of many of the teachings and finally that he would like to leave the bodyguard Corp and immigrate to Utah as the missionaries encouraged. Kaiser Wilhelm listened and asked questions as Johann presented his desires. The Kaiser had a definite liking and respect for this outstanding member of the Corp. As Johann concluded, the Kaiser asked, “You must have very deep convictions for this new religion?” “Yes Sir,” responded Johann. The Kaiser went to his desk, took a piece of his personal stationary and pen. He wrote an official release for life from the bodyguard Corp. for Johann. He then signed the document and affixed his official ribbon with melted wax and pressed his official stamp into the warm wax. Johann was handed the document, which was now law. Johann was now free to immigrate to America.
Wow what a story! Maybe someday we will be able to prove that it really happened for now we can just enjoy and imagine what life must have been like for this wonderful man that left an amazing posterity. I will leave the story here for now but I will be back with the story of his life after coming to Utah.