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Grandaddy Fischer


Part 1

Some years ago, I wrote some stories for “The Great Tennessee Valley Magazine.” It was formerly the “Morgan County News,” in Decatur, Alabama. I became a regular contributor for several years because my grandparents were from that area. My great grandfather Jakob Fredrick Fischer settled in Basham, Alabama, pronounced Bass-ham, soon after the Civil War. He homesteaded there and built a log cabin for his new wife, Mary Caroline Koeth Fischer, also from Germany and one who could speak little English. They met a year or two before 1852 when they were married near Iron Mountain, Illinois. They, like the original Fackler’s, of Meade County, came here in part because of the reorganization of the Prussian Empire, affecting Germany. One new rule prompted a German migration to the United States because it demanded a lengthier conscription into the army. Dad always told me Jakob Frederick bordered on being a draft dodger. Any way if that’s so, I’m glad, because that’s why I’m here.

Mary and Jakob, raised a family on the Basham homestead consisting of four girls and 4 boys. Two of the boys were Henry Christian Fischer, my grandfather, and Julius Fischer my great uncle. Both of whom were farmers for part of their life, and after serving an apprenticeship at the L&N and Southern Railroads, became Journeyman-Boilermakers. My father, Henry Christian Fischer Junior, followed in their footsteps and became a boilermaker. He plied that trade until returning from WW II when all the railroads switched to diesel locomotives. Boilermakers and boilers, became obsolete.

When Henry was five years old, in 1901, he was bitten by a Copperhead Snake, and in danger of death. As a rule, Copperheads have a weaker venom than Water Moccasins or Rattlesnakes, but can be deadly to children and the elderly. Today, young healthy adults usually survive but, at that time the only antibiotics were whiskey and coal oil, and the old saying that whiskey is good for snakebite, is just wrong and dangerous. Alcohol thins the blood and spreads the venom more rapidly throughout the body enhancing the chance of death. So, what were they to do for Henry?

Mary Caroline cleaned the wound exposing the two pin prick punctures made by the fangs. Jakob went to the yard and pulled Burdock weeds. We know it better as Cuckleburr. With the leaves of Burdock, she made a poultice and applied it to the bite. She changed this often as the natural components in the Burdock drew out the venom. Hunters were known to use the liver and heart of deer to do the same thing. Today we have antivenin, and that is the preferable treatment. By morning Henry was better, but with bedrest and time to get over the toxic effects of the bite, pain and swelling, he survived.