I was wondering if any knowledgeable person could give me some historical context and perspective on the story of my great great great grandfather.
The tales that have been passed down orally to myself and my various cousins over the years about our ancestor, Karl Georg Schmidt (1864-1933) say that he was born in Machtlos, Hessen-Kassel, then moved to Essen (possibly to attend a school), and then as a teenager, avoided conscription by fleeing to France on a train, where he worked in coal mines, and then stowed away on a ship to America in 1881 or 1882 (and that he was caught mid-journey and forced to shovel coal into the ship's furnace to pay his way across the ocean). He went first to Kansas, then up to Tama county, Iowa (where, in 1887, he was naturalized as a US citizen and married Anna Margaret Lindemann, born in Machtlos, Hessen-Kassel), and then ultimately settled in Palo Alto county, Iowa. Once in America, he became a lifelong farmer.
Things I am wondering are -- is this a common story? Did a lot of young men in the 1870's and 1880's flee Bismarck's draft? How did the draft work? How aggressively did the German authorities pursue draft dodgers? What happened if a draft dodger was caught? Did a lot of kids from Hessen-Kassel go to school in Essen? What is the most likely school in Essen that he would have attended? Would he have had to have been from a moderately wealthy family in order to attend a school like that? Was it common for Germans to go take blue collar jobs in France? Would they have had to speak French? Is it probable that he learned English or French or another language at school? Did a lot of Germans stow away to America? Was there some sort of wave of German immigration to America around 1881, caused by some historical event in Germany? Would he have already known people or families in America who came from his home region, and would he have immediately gone out to those parts of America to join up with these other German communities? Was Kansas-Iowa a common route of travel for Germans coming to America during this time? Would he have, or would he have even been able to, communicate with his family/friends back in Germany (particularly if he was a wanted draft dodger)?
What kind of events were going on in Europe during all this, and how ordinary is my great great great grandpa's story?
I will greatly appreciate anyone taking the time to help me better understand any of the times/places that my ancestor was a part of. Thank you!