Ruben Ferdinand Martin
Submitted by: Douglas M. Frye
Ruben Ferdinand Martin served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The dates of service are: Known Aug. 11, 1918 to Dec. 9, 1918.
First Lieutenant Dr. Ruben F. Martin
Ft. Riley, Kansas
Dr. Ruben Ferdinand Martin (pictured in approximately 1893) served the United States during both World War I and World War II. He adjusted his birth date and first name to facilitate this service by mitigating any prejudice against age and German heritage. His grandparents had fled Prussia at a time when heightened conservative values were crushing individual freedoms. Ruben became a doctor to alleviate suffering, but found that his skill was used to send a family that included young children back to Germany during the final period of WWII when Germany was being destroyed.
King Frederick William IV of Prussia, (1795-1861) instituted conservative policies that helped spark the Revolution of 1848. In the aftermath of the failed revolution, Frederick William followed a reactionary course. Family legend has it that a clandestine political meeting was taking place in the Martin/Goettel household when soldiers entered the house. The group’s plans were stuffed into a baby’s diaper. Although the plans were not discovered, one family member was arrested and the rest of the family decided to emigrate to America in 1858.
Ruben’s parents, Ferdinand Martin and Johanna Louise Goettel were born near Soldin, Brandenburg, Prussia to large families in 1842 and 1845 respectively. Soldin is the current Polish town of Mysliborz. Both families located near Lansing, Iowa to farm and on May 13, 1866, Johanna and Ferdinand were married. In 1870, the young couple located in Ackley, Iowa and in partnership with his brother-in-law, William H. Goettel, Ferdinand became engaged in the hardware business, in which he continued later with Leonard Faust when William Goettel decided to open the Goettel & Son General Store in Ackley. The hardware business, “Martin & Faust Hardware Store”, expanded to include a coal business as well as operations in both Ackley, Iowa and in Wellsburg, Iowa. Mr. Faust undertook to manage the Wellsburg operation which involved a long daily commute from Ackley. Leonard died in 1897 due to health issues that arose from this commute. In 1899, the Wellsburg operation was sold to Ferdinand’s sons, William and Ruben, and was known as “W & R Martin”. The Ackley operations were sold to Ferdinand’s son-in-law, Gustave Maune. Ferdinand’s brothers Frank and Julius also moved to Ackley in 1870 and by 1872 had established a large dry goods store known as “The Martin Bros.” or “Martin & Martin” (Frank married Mary Faust, Leonard’s sister). The brothers had at least one additional location in the village of Cleves.
On September 10, 1903, there was a big family reunion at Ferdinand’s house in Ackley which was fondly remembered by all who attended. The six surviving Martin brothers had not been together in one place for over 30 years. With their families, August came from Lansing, Fred from Cedar Falls, Charles from Carbondale, Il., Herman from New Albion, and Frank from Omaha, Nebraska. Ferdinand served sumptuous meals to 21 for dinner and 23 for supper. Julius Marten’s son, Frank, hosted dinner at the main hotel in Ackley the next day for 16. Guests included Ferdinand’s son-in-law, Gustave Maune, and his family. After Ferdinand Martin died in 1905, his wife made her home in St. Louis, Mo., with Mr. and Mrs. Gustave Maune at 2249 University Ave. Both Mrs. Martin and her son Ruben lived at 2249 University Ave. while Ruben attended Marion-Sims Beaumont College of Medicine in St. Louis.
Ruben was born on August 11, 1876 (his military records indicate a birthdate of August 11, 1882) in Ackley, Iowa. From 1889 through 1900, Ruben worked for his dad and then his brother in Wellsburg. During this time, Ruben graduated in 1894 from Ackley High School. The fire that consumed the Wellsburg store probably factored heavily in Ruben’s decision to join the Kirby Lumber Company in Kirbyville, Texas around 1901. John Henry Kirby, a lawyer, lumberman, and financier, formed the lumber company in 1901 in his native East Texas. He also owned the Houston Oil Company. The failure by Kirby and his eastern financiers to determine clear title to their various properties, as well as Kirby's overestimate of the worth of the timber, resulted in litigation. The Maryland Trust Company, the primary backer of the scheme, forced Kirby’s companies into receivership between 1904 and 1908. The lumber company continued its operations and it passed into the Santa Fe Railroad's control in the 1950’s.
By 1906, Ruben and his mom were living in St. Louis, MO, where Ruben attended what became the St. Louis University School of Medicine. Reuben graduated in 1910 with a doctor of medicine (school records have his birthdate as Aug. 11, 1880). During this time, he was a founding member of the local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Kappa fraternity. The chapter’s founding banquet was held at the Planters Hotel in St. Louis in 1910. A catalogue for the fraternity states that Ruben was made an honorary member in 1912. The Illinois State Board of Health issued a medical license to Dr. Martin in 1910 to practice medicine in Illinois. Maybe Ruben practiced just over the border to stay near St. Louis since his sister, Louise Maune, may have been ill as she died in December 1912. Or he may have practiced in Chicago where there were several family friends. Ruben’s brother, Will, honeymooned in both Chicago and St. Louis in 1898.
The San Antonio Express, a newspaper, reported on May 27, 1913, that Reuben was already located in Crystal City, Texas and was a member of the Travis Club upon the recommendation of Mason Williams. Mr. Williams was a lawyer in San Antonio and a member of the Board of Directors of the Orange and Northwestern Railroad, Orange, Texas. In 1914, Reuben was the chief surgeon for the San Antonio, Uvalde, and Gulf Railroad. Please note that in 1912 the San Antonio, Uvalde & Gulf Railroad Company established a hospital department to furnish medical treatment to its officers and employees and that Ruben may have been its first surgeon and served in this capacity for the railroad until his enlistment in the Army in 1918. The Texas State Gazetteer & Business Directory listed Dr. R. F. Martin as a County Health Official based in Crystal City in 1914 through 1915. The 1916 Annual Report of the Dairy and Food Commissioner of Texas reported that Dr. Martin was one of 73 Special Deputies appointed by the Commissioner to ensure good health. These deputies served without a salary to make sure relevant health and safety laws were enforced. These efforts saved money and ensured better food and sanitation in Texas.
It is not clear when Ruben met Sida Simon. However, the San Antonio Express reported on March 7, 1915, that Sida from New Braunfels, Texas visited Crystal City, Texas (the town where Ruben lived). In May 1915, it was reported in the press that Reuben visited his sister, Henrietta (“Etta”), in Aledo, IL (perhaps for some advice relating to an engagement ring). Afterwards, it was reported that he spent a few days in Chicago, IL (perhaps to buy the engagement ring), before returning to Crystal City, Texas. Ruben and Sida were married in 1916. Sida, born in 1889 in New Braunfels, Texas, was the daughter of Louis Alexander Simon and Anna Lindheimer. Her maternal grandfather, Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer, was known as the father of Texas botany.
Mr. Lindheimer lived in New Braunfels and collected plants in central and southern Texas. He sent thousands of specimens to noted botanists at Harvard University and abroad. Lindheimer was born in Germany in 1801 and came to the United States in 1834 and served in the Texas Revolution. Lindheimer’s home, where he and his wife, Eleanor, raised four children, is a museum today. The tiny house at 491 Comal Ave. pictured below is on the National Register of Historic Places. A Comanche chief is said to have visited Lindheimer’s home and it was in this home that Lindheimer published a newspaper. Rioters who disagreed with the paper’s pro-Confederacy stance threw the printing press into the river. Lindheimer simply retrieved it and resumed publication. He died in 1879. In the 1960s, his granddaughter, Sida Martin, gave the home to the New Braunfels Conservation Society. Adjacent to this house is a small garden which is landscaped with many plants that bear his name, such as Lindheimer’s muhly, a grass frequently used in landscaping.
Reuben was called up from the Officer Reserve Corps as a 1st Lieutenant in 1918 and served with the medical corps stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas. In 1918, Ruben was succeeded by Samuel Preston Cunningham, M.D. (1875-1930) as chief surgeon of the San Antonio, Uvalde, and Gulf Railroad. Ruben’s enlistment record reports that his residence was 714 Gibbs Building, San Antonio. This address was Dr. Cunningham’s address from 1918 through 1922. As Cunningham succeeded Ruben as the railroad surgeon, this address may have been associated with the railroad. Alternatively, Ruben may have wanted to spare Sida any bad news until his friend Cunningham could deliver it to her. It may have been a disappointment to Ruben that he sacrificed his railroad job for a short tour of duty from Aug 11, 1918 to Dec. 9, 1918, that never allowed him to serve on the front lines. Ruben may have been with the 10th Division at Ft. Riley. The 10th was planning to ship to France just as the armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918. Ruben’s brother, William Francis Martin (1874 – 1941), registered to serve in WWI on Sept. 12, 1918, when he was 44. Will was living in Eldora, Iowa at the time and working as a traveling salesman.
Fort Riley was a sprawling establishment housing 26,000 men within its 20,000-acre boundaries. Soldiers often complained about the inhospitable weather of bone-chilling winters, sweltering summers and blinding dust storms. Within the camp were thousands of horses and mules that produced a stifling nine tons of manure each month. The accepted method of disposing of the manure was to burn it, an unpleasant task made more so by the driving wind. On Saturday, March 9, 1918, a threatening black sky forecasted the coming of a significant dust storm. The dust, combining with the ash of burning manure, kicked up a stinging, stinking yellow haze. The sun was said to have gone dead black in Kansas that day. Some say that the origin of the so-called Spanish influenza that would eventually take the lives of 600,000 Americans was that day in Kansas. “Shortly before breakfast on Monday, March 11, the first domino fell signaling the commencement of the first wave of the 1918 influenza. Company cook Albert Gitchell reported to the Ft. Riley infirmary with complaints of a “bad cold.” Right behind him came Corporal Lee W. Drake voicing similar complaints. By noon, camp surgeon Edward R. Schreiner had over 100 sick men on his hands, all apparently suffering from the same malady.” It is possible that Dr. Martin treated similar cases during his four months at Ft. Riley later that year.
It is assumed that Dr. Martin had a private practice in Crystal City for the next 20 years as Ruben and Sida resided there as indicated by census records. The Texas State Journal of Medicine reported that Dr. Martin was a member of the Medina-Uvalde-Maverick- Val Verde-Edwards-Real-McKinney-Zavalda County Medical Society in 1921 and 1922. Sida was active in several organizations. In June 1933, she attended a convention in the Texas Hall of Representatives where delegates and alternate delegates were selected to represent both prohibitionists and anti-prohibitionists. Sida was nominated as an alternate delegate representing the anti-prohibitionists. The delegates then attended the Texas Repeal Convention in November 1933, when the State’s formal vote to repeal was cast. Sida participated in planning the Texas Centennial Celebration in 1936 and was active in events organized by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The San Antonio Light reported on August 4, 1940, that during a contentious Republican Party meeting where competing factions could not agree on a slate of county candidates, Mrs. Sida Martin charged some delegates of not wanting a “real Republican Party in Bexar County” and urged nominations of an entire slate from “congressman to dog catcher”. Mrs. Martin was nominated that day to be a delegate at the state convention in Beaumont.
During WWII as a private contractor, Ruben managed the medical staff at the internment camp in Crystal City, Texas. Both Japanese and German families were held in this camp due to fear of espionage during the war. Because of his German heritage, Ruben went by the name “Robert”. Years later, Robert F. Kirchner recalled that he was named after Dr.Martin. Mr. Kirchner noted that medical care was very good under the direction of Dr. Martin and his public health staff. Internee doctors, Kappus, Mori, and Furuzawa augmented the public health staff. When needed, Dr. Martin procured the assistance of medical people from Crystal City and San Antonio. Mr. Kirchner said that he would really have liked to have become a doctor, “…particularly after I saw this Dr. Martin at Crystal City. He was a really wonderful man. He didn't care if you were an enemy alien or from the United States or if you were Japanese. If you were sick, he was going to make you well.”
Jan Jarboe Russell, a former Neiman Fellow and a contributing editor at Texas Monthly among other accomplishments, worked for Scribner's between 2011 and 2015 and wrote, “The Train to Crystal City”. In that book, Ms. Russell highlighted how a young American girl, her American siblings, and her legal resident German parents were rounded up and dumped into this internment camp before being traded for a young Jewish girl and her family and shipped to Germany during the closing months of the war when Germany was being fire bombed. This family, “the Eisenlohs were part of the sixth and final trans-Atlantic sailing of “repatriates” for American prisoners of war and civilians. They and 428 other German nationals sailed from New York in January 1945 on the Swedish liner Gripsholm for war-torn Germany. Shortly before midnight on Jan. 7, the repatriates, 183 German prisoners of war and 856 civilians from internment camps across the country, were on board the ship.” The mission undertaken to safeguard America against individuals who might commit espionage and other acts in support of the enemy was implemented without much due diligence to ensure a swift result. As a result, law abiding, legal resident parents with young American children were maligned without due process and forced to suffer cruel punishments. Ruben was caught up in this machine. While his primary concern was the welfare of his patients, he could not stop the deportations into the war zone.
In her book, Ms. Russell wrote, “Dr. Martin, a camp physician, signed a medical release certifying Mrs. Eisenloh was fit to travel by train from Texas to New York City and then by boat to Germany, even though she was nine months pregnant. She gave birth to a boy, attended by Martin and a nurse, on the train. Martin tried to convince the Eisenlohs to give their new baby boy, named Guenther, up for adoption.”
“Don’t take this infant into a war zone,” Martin said. “He might not survive.” Dr. Martin then offered to adopt the baby. “I understand the risk,” Mr. Eisenloh said, “but I have to keep my family together.”
I met Ms. Russell on September 5, 2015, at the 2015 National Book Festival in Washington DC, and told her that Dr. Martin was my great, great uncle. She gave me a big hug and told me how much Dr. Martin was liked and respected by the people in his care at the internment camp.
According to the 1940 Census, Ruben was a resident of the Veterans Administration Facility that is known today as the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Waco, McLennan Co., Texas. In May 1957, Ruben died at the McCloskey Veteran’s Administration Facility in Temple, Bell Co., Texas, after a 7 and 1/3-year residency. His address prior to this residency was 500 East Ashby Place, San Antonio. Ruben’s death was primarily due to shock. It appears that he was in shock for two days after having suffered multiple traumatic fractures in both legs and ribs (some ribs may have punctured the lungs). A horrible death which makes me think that his last years were difficult. Ruben is buried at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. Sida died in 1973 and is buried in Comal Cemetery, New Braunfels, Texas. Her tombstone is inscribed with her name and “wife of R. F. Martin”. Ruben and Sida did not have any children.