One of my favorite headstones is that of Walter Brandt. At nearly six feet tall, his impressive Woodmen of the World headstone stands above all others in the Jaeger Witte Cemetery. But who was he? What made his life notable? And what led to his death less than two months before his 24th birthday? Unfortunately, Texas did not officially start recording death information until 1903 and there is limited information available in the Texas Deaths 1890-1976 database.
Let’s see what we can piece together of this young man’s life.
Walter was born to William and Marie (née Witte) Brandt on November 11, 1876. He was the oldest of five children. The 1880 census lists his father as a farmer and shows the family living on a farm in Washington County, next to the Schlick family. The family moved to Austin county sometime between then and 1900.
The June 1900 census lists Walter as a “general merchandise salesman” boarding with the Pophanken family in New Ulm,Texas. The Pophankens were a prominent New Ulm family, of which Robert E. Pophanken a was notable member. Walter presumably worked in Robert’s well-known General Store, along with Robert’s brother Theodore.
Unusual for the time, Walter was unmarried at 23. Like many details of his life, the reason for this is unknown.
Walter was a member of Woodmen of the World, a fraternal organization founded in Omaha in 1890 by Joseph Cullen Root. Root founded the organization after hearing a sermon about “pioneer woodsmen clearing away the forest to provide for their families.” He wanted to start a fraternal society that would help its members clear away problems of financial security by providing them with life insurance. The organization’s life insurance policies provided a grave marker, and members could select from a variety of monuments. These included headstones in the shape of a tree stump with the limbs sawed off to indicate a life cut short. Others, such as Walter’s, were tall, stately pillars. All bore the Woodmen’s insignia and their motto, Dum tacet clamat (“though silent he speaks”).
Walter died on September 26, 1902. Had he lived longer, perhaps he would have gone on to open his own business like that of Robert Pophanken. Though we may never know why Walter’s life was cut short at the age of 23, we know that he was loved and respected by his community. He is buried in the Jaeger Witte Cemetery next to his parents.