Arnold Krekel, who served from 1865 to 1888 as a US judge for the Western District of Missouri, was born on March 12, 1815, in Langenfeld, near Düsseldorf, in Prussia. In 1832 he immigrated to the United States with his parents, two sisters, and three brothers. On the journey from New York to Missouri, his mother became ill and died in Louisville, where the family had stopped to get medical help.
His father, Francis Krekel, settled near Augusta in St. Charles County, and Arnold worked as a farmhand, splitting rails to pay for his schooling. Learning English from neighbors, he studied Latin, French, and mathematics under Julius Mallinckrodt. At age twenty-six, Krekel was elected justice of the peace, and two years later he entered St. Charles College to study surveying. Upon completing his studies, he served as the St. Charles County and US deputy surveyor. He married Ida Krug, a native of Bavaria, in 1843 and began the study of law the following year.
Although from a Catholic family, Krekel’s liberal views and intellectual interests drew him to the company of the German “Latin farmers” and former revolutionaries who had settled in St. Charles and Warren Counties in the early 1830s. When the Verein der Vernunftglaübigen, the Association of Rationalists, was founded in Augusta on April 9, 1844, Krekel was one of the thirty-six charter members.
Krekel was admitted to the bar in 1845, and from 1846 to 1852 he served as the prosecuting county and city attorney of St. Charles. In 1852 he established the St. Charles Demokrat, a German-language weekly that reviewed literature and the arts as well as politics and business. Elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1852, he was an advocate of railroad development, voting for the first railroad appropriation granted by the state. In 1854, having acquired considerable landholdings in St. Charles County, he sold the North Missouri Railroad (later the Norfolk and Western) rights-of-way through his property in Dardenne Township. He laid out the original town of O’Fallon in 1855, naming it for John O’Fallon, the St. Louis businessman who was president of the North Missouri Railroad.
A Thomas Hart Benton Democrat of considerable influence among his German compatriots, Krekel was nominated as attorney general in 1856. Later, his opposition to slavery led him to join the Republican Party, and in 1860 he was one of the delegates to the Chicago convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for the presidency.
After the May 10, 1861, capture of Camp Jackson in St. Louis, Krekel organized Home Guards in St. Charles County and neighboring counties made up almost entirely of German immigrants. Serving as provost marshal of St. Charles, Lincoln, and Warren Counties in 1861–1862, he proved an able administrator in dealing with civilians and former Confederates. “Krekel’s Dutch,” encamped near Cottleville, were credited with effectively discouraging Confederate enlistment in the counties north of the Missouri River. The unit was officially accepted into the Union army in July 1861, and though not involved in any of the major battles of the war, they protected vital communication lines and safeguarded lives and property in the area against guerrilla attacks.
Krekel was elected as a member of the 1865 Missouri State Constitutional Convention, and as president of the convention united the members in their deliberations. On January 11 “An Ordinance Abolishing Slavery in Missouri” was signed, making Missouri the first border state to abolish slavery. On March 31, 1865, President Lincoln appointed Krekel as US district judge for the Western District of Missouri.
Throughout his public career, Krekel was a strong proponent of education. He served on the first St. Charles School Board, and as a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, he supported the bill setting aside 25 percent of state revenue for the support of organized schools, which became law in 1853. After the Civil War he joined Richard Baxter Foster in efforts to found a school for Blacks in Jefferson City. Lincoln Institute was opened on September 17, 1866, and for more than ten years Krekel lectured without charge to the students, served as a member of the executive committee of its board of trustees, and in 1883 was elected president of the board. From 1872 through 1887 he taught at the newly established School of Law at the University of Missouri, delivering an annual series of lectures on federal courts and federal law, including bankruptcy and maritime law. Bankruptcy became his specialty, and his rulings in this area had a substantial impact.
Krekel’s twenty-three years as a federal judge covered the period when Missouri was evolving from a pioneer to an industrial state. Almost one-third of his cases from 1867 to 1878 dealt with defaults on municipal bonds and private bankruptcies. Other cases involved Civil War pension claims, theft from the mails, extortion by tax collectors, tax evasion, and in 1885 one of the earliest cases in the area of labor law.
In poor health, Krekel resigned from the court on June 9, 1888, and on July 14 he died in Kansas City of Bright’s disease. He was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in St. Charles County, eulogized in German and English by his colleagues and compatriots.
Efford, Alison Clark. “Race Should Be as Unimportant as Ancestry: German Radicals and African American Citizenship in the Missouri Constitution of 1865.” Missouri Historical Review 104, no. 3 (April 2010): 138–58.
History of St. Charles, Montgomery, and Warren Counties, Missouri. St. Louis: National Historical Company, 1885.
Juern, Joan M. More than a Sum of His Parts: Arnold Krekel. Augusta, MO: Mallinckrodt Communications Research, 1999.
Kamphoefner, Walter D. “Missouri Germans and the Cause of Union and Freedom.” Missouri Historical Review 106, no. 3 (April 2012): 115–36.
Larsen, Lawrence H. Federal Justice in Western Missouri: The Judges, the Cases, the Times. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994.
Sachs, Howard F. “Missouri’s Gilded Age, as Viewed by Judge Arnold Krekel.” Kansas City Bar Journal (June 30, 1955): 13.
Savage, W. Sherman. The History of Lincoln University. Jefferson City, MO: Lincoln University, 1939.
Westhoff, Mary J. “Nicholas Krekel.” In O’Fallon Centennial, 1856–1956. Warrenton, MO: Bilmac Press, 1956.
Published April 24, 2023
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