Charley Aultman’s father, Anthony, died at the age of 74, just down the road in Black Creek. Aultman was 8 at the time.
Now 70, Aultman is working to piece together details of his father’s life, which he feels he missed losing him at such a young age. From what he remembers, and what he has found in genealogical archives, Aultman has learned his father was a lively and colorful man.
Born around 1875, Anton, or Anthony, Aultman, or Altman, depending which genealogical and war records you search, was a first-generation American of Austrian parents. He left his childhood home in Wisconsin at the age of 12, and headed for Texas. This may seem extreme, but Charley Aultman says that’s just the way things were.
“It was a different world then,” said Aultman.
In 1898, 23-year-old Anton Aultman answered the call to join the U.S. Army as a member of the Texas Volunteer Guard in the Spanish-American War.
Details of his military service are foggy, but family lore has it that Anthony Aultman may have served under — and known — Teddy Roosevelt, who led the famed Rough Riders in the war. According to records, Aultman narrowly missed the boat, as the Rough Riders left the Tampa port for Cuba June 13, 1898, three days before Aultman signed up in Cleburn, Texas, June 16.
He was, however, on the military payroll before the Rough Riders’ greatest victory at the Battle of San Juan Hill, just east of Santiago de Cuba, July 1, 1898.
Aultman has no records to confirm his father’s involvement in that famed battle, but “a lot of the information about those soldiers was lost in a fire,” he says.
What he knows was learned while sitting with his father and talking about his life and military service.
“I remember asking questions back then,” said Aultman, such as, ‘What did you fight?’ He vividly remembers his father’s reply: “Mosquitoes, mostly.”
His son related the anecdote with a laugh, but at the turn of the 20th century, mosquito-borne illnesses were no laughing matter.
“Of all of the mortalities, 95 percent of those were mosquito-related,” said Aultman of the widespread malaria and yellow fever.
The Spanish-American war was the shortest conflict in U.S. history at little more than three months, but it was significant to U.S. imperialism.
“The Spanish-American War set America up to be a world power,” said Aultman, of the conflict that led the United States to establish holdings in the Philippines, among other places.
His father did not see that part of the world during his service, but he did see Cuban soil — though not for long. The war ended when the Treaty of Paris was signed Dec. 10, 1898, with the U.S. acquiring former-Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, in addition to the Philippines. The treaty also gave Cuba independence from Spain.
Anthony Aultman and the rest of the volunteer cavalry were quickly discharged from U.S. service after returning from Cuba.
“Once Cuba was done, they discharged all of the soldiers to get them off the payroll,” said Aultman, whose own father was discharged at Fort Ringgold, Texas.
Anthony spent years living in Texas before a twist of fate would bring him to Northwest Florida.
“Somehow he married a woman from here,” said Aultman, himself a lifelong resident of Freeport.
Anthony followed his first wife to the area, but his son Charley was not born until 17 years later, and not to father and his first wife, but of his father and his first wife’s sister-in-law.
After the death of his first wife, Anthony married his brother-in-law’s wife, who had been widowed after the death of her own husband.
Charley Aultman was the product of that relationship and 8 years after his birth, he lost his father.
Today Anthony Aultman is remembered as a great man by his surviving family, and as the only Spanish-American War veteran on the Veterans Wall at the DeFuniak Springs courthouse.