It’s time for a story from the Wymore side of the family. The people in this story are not in our direct line, but they are related.
William Jackson Marion, sometimes called Jackson, was born May 13, 1849 in Mahaska County, Iowa where many members of the Wymore and McMains families lived, and some still do. His parents were Tipton Marion and Margaret McMains Marion. Several members of the Wymore and McMains extended families, including Maxine Wymore Renschler’s great-grandparents, Eliot and Lavina McMains Wymore, moved to Gage and Pawnee Counties, Nebraska, in the 1860s.
William’s mother, Margaret McMains Marion died in Gage County in 1868. Her grave is unmarked. She left a family of ten children ranging in age from 20 down to 2 years. Along with six other area men, William joined Company A, First Regiment Nebraska Cavalry on June 22, 1869. All of the company was discharged on November 1, 1869. On the 1870 census William is living with his father and siblings at Liberty in Gage County.
William Jackson Marion and John Cameron, who boarded together in Clay County, Kansas, journeyed in May 1872 to Wild Cat Creek in Gage County, Nebraska to visit John and Rachel Warren, Marion’s in-laws. The day before they left Kansas, Marion purportedly signed a contract to purchase a team of horses from Cameron for $315, paying $30 down. It was agreed that Cameron would keep the horses until Marion paid the balance. Marion and Cameron left the Warren place in mid-May, saying they were heading west to work on the railroad. A few days later, Marion returned alone to Gage County with Cameron’s belongings. His wife, Lydia, quizzed him about Cameron’s whereabouts. He said he had bought out his friend who had left in a hurry.
The Otoe Indian Reservation was located in southern Gage County and extended into northern Kansas. In 1873 a decomposing body half-buried in the bank of a creek was found there. The skull had three bullet holes. A coroner’s inquest was called. William’s wife Lydia and her father testified that the clothing matched what Cameron was last seen wearing. The inquest issued the following statement: “The said John Cameron came to his death on or about the 4th of May 1872 by means of a bullet or bullets shot from a revolver in the hands of Jackson Marion.” The Beatrice newspaper, calling Marion as “a hardened and remorseless wretch thus to murder a friend for the paltry value of a team and an old wagon,” described a made-up murder scene. In 1880 Nathaniel Herron was elected sheriff of Gage County. He decided he would bring Marion to justice. In December 1882 Marion was in jail in Sedan, Kansas for stealing a wagon. Herron headed down to Kansas and brought Marion back to the Gage County jail at Beatrice where he would remain for the next four years.
A trial was held in May 1883 at which Rachel Warren, Marion’s mother-in-law, testified that she thought her son-in-law had killed Cameron. The jury was shown the ragged clothes and the remains of the body. Marion, when put on the stand, professed his innocence. But the defense, which had been hired by Marion’s uncle, William Wymore, was inept. The jury deliberated just a few minutes and returned a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder. Without any evidence but the testimony of a jilted wife and her parents, William Jackson Marion was sentenced to hang.
However, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial because Marion had been sentenced by a judge rather than a jury. At the time of the crime, the law required jury sentencing, although by the time of the trial the law had been changed to allow sentencing by a judge. Marion v. Nebraska, 16 Neb. 349 (1884). In March 1885 Marion, after a week long second trial was convicted, and sentenced to death, this time by a jury — a result that the state high court affirmed. Marion v. Nebraska, 20 Neb. 233 (1886). Meanwhile, public sentiment was changing and more than 1,000 persons signed a petition requesting Marion’s sentence be amended to life in prison. The Nebraska governor reviewed the case but ordered the sentence carried out. Marion, age 38, went to the gallows in Beatrice on March 25, 1887, proclaiming, as he had from the beginning, that he was innocent. The only member of his family present was his uncle, William Wymore, who shook Marion’s hand as he walked to the gallows.
Marion’s body was buried in an unmarked grave in potter’s field at the Beatrice cemetery. However, William Wymore was convinced his nephew was innocent. Four years later, Wymore heard that Cameron was alive. He traveled to LaCrosse, Kansas, where Cameron had been seen, and found him. Cameron explained that he had absconded to Mexico in 1872 to avoid a shotgun wedding in Kansas. Then he had traveled to Alaska. He had heard nothing of Marion’s trial and execution. When Wymore obtained a statement from Cameron, the Beatrice newspaper headline proclaimed “The Dead is Alive!” It was never determined whose body had been found in the creek.
William Jackson Marion was the seventh person to be executed in Nebraska. In December 1986, Marion’s great-grandson petitioned Governor Bob Kerry, who on March 25, 1987, the centennial of the execution, granted William Jackson Marion, posthumously, a full pardon based on innocence. A grave marker, containing a copy of the pardon, was erected on Marion’s grave by his grandson.
In honor of Memorial Day I am telling the story of another one of our ancestors’ military service. In May 1868, General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a declaration that May 30 should become a day of commemoration for the soldiers killed in the recently ended Civil War. The occasion was called “Decoration Day.” Americans should decorate the graves of the fallen “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” Supposedly May 30 was chosen because it was a day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle, and the date ensured that flowers across the country would be in full bloom.
Hiram Harvey Kimball is Maxine Wymore Renschler’s great grandfather, making him my children’s, 3rd great grandfather. Hiram was born April 3, 1843 at Indian Ford, Rock County, Wisconsin. In 1860, according to the Federal census, the Kimball family was living in the Rock County village of Fulton. Hiram’s father, Abraham Kimball, worked as a carpenter and Hiram, age 17, had attended school within the year. A description of Hiram was found on his military Certificate of Disability for Discharge. He was five feet ten inches tall, fair complexion, hazel eyes, light brown hair, and by occupation a carpenter.
On April 12, 1861 Confederates attacked Fort Sumpter at Charleston, South Carolina, and on April 15 President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 militiamen. The Civil War had begun. On April 20 Hiram, who had just turned 18 years old, enlisted in Company D, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry at Janesville, the county seat of Rock County.
Hiram was mustered into three years Federal service on June 11. The regiment was transported by railroad to Washington, DC, arriving there on June 25. They were assigned to the Third Brigade, 1st Division, Department of Northeast Virginia, commanded by General William Tecumseh Sherman. From July 16 to 20, the 2nd Wisconsin marched in sweltering heat from Fort Corcoran, Virginia to Manassas, Virginia. The 2ndWisconsin saw its first combat at the First Battle of Bull Run, which was the first major battle of the Civil War.
The First Battle of Bull Run, known as the First Battle of Manassas by the Confederates, was fought on July 21, 1861 just north of Manassas, Virginia, about 25 miles south-west of Washington, DC. The union troops were poorly trained and poorly led in the battle. After marching in sweltering heat, the Union Army was allowed to rest. While Union General McDowell hesitated, Confederate reinforcements under General “Stonewall” Jackson arrived at Manassas. During the battle Union troops under William Tecumseh Sherman, which should have included Hiram H. Kimball, managed to send the Confederate line into a retreat. However, Union General McDowell failed to press the advantage. The eventual Union defeat was followed by a disorganized retreat with panicked Union troops running in the direction of Washington, DC. Union casualties were 460 killed, over 1,300 missing or captured, and over 1,100 wounded.
Following the Union defeat at Bull Run, panicked efforts were made to strengthen the forts defending Washington, DC from Confederate attack. Many makeshift trenches and blockhouses were built. After Bull Run the 2nd Wisconsin was assigned to guard the National Capital from Fort Corcoran, a wood and earthwork fortification in Arlington County, Virginia overlooking the Potomac River. Hiram would have been among those digging trenches, throwing up breastworks, building blockhouses and palisades, and standing guard.
Fort Corcoran was one of 33 forts on the Virginia side of the Potomac River that made up an outer defense line for Washington DC known as the Arlington Line. On July 23, President Abraham Lincoln visited Fort Corcoran in an effort to revive morale after the defeat at Bull Run. Whether Hiram was present and saw President Lincoln is unknown. Apparently Hiram spent the following year manning the fortifications along the Potomac River.
From information contained in Hiram’s pension file, it appears he was in the Regimental Hospital at Belle Plains, Virginia from July 1862 until his disability discharge in February 1863. Belle Plains was a landing and unincorporated settlement on the south bank of Potomac Creek, off the Potomac River in Stafford County, Virginia. I haven’t found any description of the hospital; it may have been a field hospital composed of tents. Another pension file document states: “During the last two months the soldier has been unfit for service 50 days. Private Hiram H Kimball has been subject to fits during the last year and has been in Regimental Hospital for the last eight months. The officer commanding does not know whether the disease has been contracted in the service.” On the same document was the “Attending Surgeon’s Statement: I find him incapable of performing the duties of a soldier because of epilipsia [sic]. He has been afflicted with epilipsia ever since he came into the service, and had two attacks in one week. Said disease was not contracted while in the service of the U.S.”
Hiram, a private, served 22 months of his three-year enlistment, then was discharged due to disability. Union privates were paid $13 a month during his service. Hiram’s address after discharge was Edgerton, Rock County, Wisconsin. Five weeks after his discharge Hiram married Maria M. Phillips in Jefferson County, Wisconsin. In February 1874 Hiram applied for a pension stating his epilepsy was caused by his military service. He received a pension probably about $8 a month. By 1880 the Kimball family along with some of Maria’s siblings had moved to Kearney, Nebraska where Hiram was working as a blacksmith. By June 1885 they were living at Sweetwater in Buffalo County and Hiram was working in the mill there. The family moved to Harbine, Republic County, Kansas in 1886 where Hiram worked as a mechanic and blacksmith. He was also a member of the Harbine Grand Army of the Republic, the organization of Union veterans of the civil War.
Hiram died at Hardy, Thayer County, Nebraska on April 28, 1903 at age 60 years and 3 weeks. He and his wife Maria are buried in the Hardy Cemetery.
My parents, especially my Mother, were devoutly observant Catholics. Lent, the 40 day period of fasting and abstinence before Easter Sunday, was strictly observed in our house. Lent began on Ash Wednesday when we attended Mass and received ashes in the form of a cross on our foreheads. The ashes came from burning the previous year’s Palm Sunday fronds. During Lent we had only one large meal a day and two small ones with no snacks in between. We ate meat only once a day, except Ash Wednesday and Fridays when we ate no meat. Of course, during my childhood we abstained from meat on all Fridays as penance because that was the day Jesus was crucified. On days without meat we ate eggs, fish and cheese. Agnes and I were also required to give up something for Lent, usually candy and sweets. We lived a simple life, so there wasn’t much else to give up.
We strictly observed Holy Week, the days from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and Jesus washing his disciples feet and commanding them to “love one another.” Church bells were silenced and the organ not used from Thursday through Saturday. Also, all the statues were covered, the altar was stripped and the tabernacle stood open and empty. Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion, was observed with the Stations of the Cross. The 14 stations are images or sculptures usually on church walls depicting Jesus’ passion and death. Prayers are said at each station. I remember as a small girl kneeling and thinking the prayers would never end.
Many of the early settlers of Assumption, including my relatives, the Kaiser, Theisen, Hoffman, and Mousel families were from Saint Donatus, Iowa. The first outdoor Way (or Stations) of the Cross in the United States was erected at Saint Donatus in 1862, winding up a steep hill behind the church cemetery. Every Good Friday the congregation still climbs that steep hill stopping to pray at each station.
To a small child the six weeks of Lent were a long time. My Mother did not allow us to break our abstinence on Sundays. Her reasoning was “If you fill up on sweets on Sunday it isn’t a sacrifice to do without it during the week.” I always looked forward to Easter Sunday because that day we got to wear our spring clothing for the first time. Agnes and I usually got something new for spring–white patent leather shoes, or a new hat or purse or gloves. Mom made all our dresses so we usually had a new spring dress for Easter. Dotted Swiss, a sheer fabric with small fuzzy dots, was popular when I was a girl. I remember one year we both got new light weight spring coats. Whether they were purchased or Mom made them I don’t recall.
We set out our Easter baskets on Saturday evening and the next morning they contained colored hard boiled eggs and some candy. Of course we couldn’t eat any until we got home after Easter Mass because we had to fast for twelve hours before taking communion. The tradition of the Easter bunny and the Easter basket dates back thousands of years. In European folklore the hare and eggs are symbols of fertility and the rebirth of spring. These ancient spring equinox traditions eventually combined with the Christian celebration of the resurrection and were brought to the United States by early German settlers.
Ham is the traditional Easter meat because cured pork was about all that was left to eat by the end of winter. In a 1979 interview my great aunt Lizzy Pittz recalled “Easter was a special time for baking pies and cakes. For Easter Mother always took a big ham and boiled it. And we ate it cold [after Mass] with chicken noodle soup. We always had a big Easter. And we fixed colored eggs. Kate and Matt [Trausch] came over if they could.”
Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures taken on Easter during my childhood. I did find a picture of Penny and Pat Renschler with an Easter basket. Pat appears to be about three years old.
When my children were young, we observed Easter the same way I had as a child. We attended Mass in Assumption and then usually ate Easter dinner with my parents.
The Christmas celebrations that my parents and grandparents knew were nothing like the commercialized spree of shopping and gift giving we know today. The holiday was centered around the celebration of the birth of Christ. Christmas was (and still is) a holy day of obligation—a day when attending Mass was required. Families bundled into their carriages or wagons with bricks that had been heated in the oven to keep their feet warm during the trip to church. Some families with only a wagon filled it with straw for warmth if the weather was bitterly cold. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve was a special celebration that was looked forward to eagerly. The church was lighted with candles and decorated with greenery or evergreen trees. The crèche used at Assumption prior to the 1945 fire was a large impressive set, the tallest figurines about two feet tall. When it was purchased I do not know; possibly when the 1922 church was built. It was tradition that the crèche was set up before Christmas, but without the Christ child in the manger. At midnight Mass on Christmas Eve a child or children carried the Baby Jesus up to the crèche and placed him in the manger.
Grandma Trausch never had a crèche at home and as far as I know neither did Grandma Kline when my mother was young.
When my parents were children they received few Christmas gifts, and often not individual gifts but toys to be shared. In 1992 my Uncle Ed Trausch reminisced about his childhood Christmas gifts: “We got mostly clothes. We got tinker toys once, that was real enjoyable. We got a sand mill once. You filled the hopper with sand and it ran down a slant and then ran back and dumped it. We enjoyed that. We played checkers a lot. The first years I remember Santa Claus brought the tree and the toys. Dad went out and cut it. We went to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, then Christmas dinner someone always came over.”
In 1979 Great Aunt Lizzie Kaiser Pittz reminisced “I remember one Christmas Dad [Nicholas Kaiser] got each one of the boys [grandsons] a pocket knife, Oh, your Dad [Bert Trausch] thought that was great. Grandma and Grandpa always got all the grandkids Christmas presents. Kate always had a Christmas tree in the dining room in the corner and it reached almost to the ceiling. They had candles on it. Kate would go to 5 o’clock Mass and Matt would put the tree up. The next morning toys was under it.”
The Trausch grandparents (Thomas and Anna) did not give Christmas gifts to their grandchildren, probably because they had a lot of them.
In 1984 my Mother and I talked about her childhood Christmases. “The folks used to buy a wooden bucket of mixed Christmas candy, about ten pounds. Too bad we don’t have a few of those wooden buckets now. We used them to gather eggs in and things like that. My folks were always big on candy and nuts. We always got a lot of them. Mom made divinity. That was a treat. Sometimes we made taffy, but that wasn’t at Christmas. That was generally after Christmas.
I asked if Grandma Leona Kline ever cooked anything French for Christmas? “Not that I can remember. The one thing I remember was we always went to my Grandma Kline’s for Christmas and they had celery. That was about the only time of year we saw it. Aunt Kate thought celery was a big treat. Grandma generally had two or three roast chickens and bread dressing. Once I remember they had a turkey that Aunt Sill raised. They made good dressing. They made it in a pan separate from the meat. They took the juice from the birds and dipped it over the dressing while it was baking. Boy it was good, real flavorful. The chickens they roasted were hens and they are always more flavorful. They usually had pie.”
Grandma Kline [Bertha] actually didn’t do the cooking when I can remember, it was Aunt Kate and Aunt Sill. [Aunt Kate and Aunt Cecilia were old maids who lived on the farm with their widowed mother.] Grandma would help get the ingredients ready; if they had apple pie, she would peel the apples. Aunt Sill always made the pies and Aunt Kate always made cake. When Aunt Kate made cake, she always took Grandma the shortening and sugar and she whipped that up real good, then she put the eggs in and she whipped that up good. Grandma peeled the vegetables. She did that in her big rocking chair.
Did you ever spend Christmas with your Grandpa Bassett? “No. Well, it was too far to go into Hastings when the folks were first married, and then they just got the tradition started of going to Grandma Kline’s. Mom always had her family out for New Years if the weather was good. The folks generally took Mom’s folks some meat and eggs, something like that. They used to laugh. Grandma [Maud] Bassett always gave them a bath towel set. Grandma Kline gave them different things. One year Grandma Kline got them an ice cream freezer, a big kettle, something like that. I still have the sheet and pillow from the little doll bed I got when I was little one year from Grandma Kline. I still have those little sauce dishes that you got the big dish for. My big dish broke when hot pudding got poured in it. And I still have a little silver button hook, finger nail file and finger nail cleaner that Grandma Kline gave me for Christmas one time.
Grandma and Grandpa Bassett didn’t give us kids each one anything. They just gave the folks generally a bath towel set.”
Were the presents wrapped? “Yes. Years ago the stores wrapped everything with tan paper and string. At Christmas time they got big rolls of Christmas paper. The folks saved that. And Mom used brown sacks to wrap presents with. Everything was wrapped in the stores until probably in the ‘40s. Then they started using sacks for wrapping.
In the grocery store most things came in crates or boxes. I know when we were first married I would go to town and buy a 25 pound box of prunes. They cost about $2. I canned some and the rest we just ate. Flour came in 50 pound sacks.”
Did you have a Christmas tree when you were little? “We always had a Christmas tree. It was always a branch off an evergreen, ever a tree. Mom went to Grandma Kline’s and asked them if she could have a branch for a Christmas tree. We didn’t put it up very early. Our house was small. Mom generally put the tree in the churn and set it beside the cupboard in the kitchen and we strung up some popcorn and cranberries and paper stuff and put that on. We didn’t have any bought decorations.”
Did your Grandma Kline have a Christmas Tree? “They never had a big tree. She had a little tree, I think it was paper, that she put on the table. It was about two feet tall. A little artificial tree, the branches folded straight up. On the end of each branch she put a little candle holder and a little candle. She lay some cotton along the top of each branch, and they put some tinsel icicles on. Then Christmas night at supper she lit the candles on the tree. They always hung a red paper bell on their shades, and in the door between the kitchen and living room they hung some red paper roping and some tinsel, and a red paper bell. They never had a Nativity set.”
Did your Grandma and Grandpa Bassett have a Christmas tree? “Yes. They also had one of those little artificial trees that the branches folded up. It was about three feet tall. And she had it on a little stand in her front window. They lived in Hastings and had electricity. They had lights on the tree. They didn’t have a Nativity set either.
At Giltner church we had a crib set. They took one tree branch and hung it over the top of the set and put a little cotton and tinsel on that. That was a big deal for us kids.”
Did you have midnight Mass on Christmas Eve? “Not for a good many years. They started having midnight Mass when I was a teenager. We went in the morning on Christmas day. Giltner was a mission of Harvard and until the Priest got a car we didn’t have midnight Mass.”
In 1982 I asked my Grandmother, Leona Bassett Kline, about her childhood Christmas presents. Did you have toys when you were a girl? “No. I got an orange one Christmas; that’s all I got.” Was that because your Dad [Jule Bassett] didn’t have any money? “Ya. My mother died [Leona was only four years old when her mother died in October 1897] and he had to hire ladies to keep the house and to keep us kids. It just broke him. He only had a quarter [160 acres of land] and farmed all by hand. He just couldn’t make enough money. But we had a better living than I had in the thirties by far. I don’t remember how old I was when I got my first doll, pretty old. We’d take pie plant [rhubarb] leaves and pin ‘em on our heads [for a bonnet]. Kids them days never had toys. We didn’t know what they were.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t ask my Grandmother Trausch about her childhood Christmas traditions. Grandma Trausch was born in 1883, so she was growing up during the hard years of the 1890s depression. All farmers were very poor at that time. Mary Pigeon, Grandma Kline’s cousin, also told me that one Christmas all she got in her stocking was an orange. She sucked on it and made it last all day.
My French ancestors did not celebrated Christmas like the Germans did. For the French, Christmas was a religious holiday. They celebrated New Years Day with a special meal and exchanged gifts then. The families often got together on New Years and there was music and dancing, as well as French food and drinks.
Great Aunt Lizzie Kaiser Pittz reminisced about the Luxembourg custom of Saint Nicholas Day which is December 6th. “We had a special good meal and then in the evening Saint Nicholas would come to the door and roll in walnuts and candy. He never brought toys. We never got to see him, it was dark. He would knock on the door, then the folks went to the door and stood aside and he rolled in the candy and nuts. We kids would run and pick them up. I don’t know who played Saint Nick, probably Uncle Charley Theisen or some neighbor. All the Luxembourgers celebrated Saint Nicholas Day: Nick Konen’s and Nick Mousel’s had big parties. We never had a party, just the family. We had Christmas too.
During my parents and grandparents childhoods children’s wants were simpler. Communications were limited to the mail, seeing friends and relatives at church, and the neighborhood school. The weekly newspaper did contain advertisements from local merchants, and most families received the “Monkey Wards,” Sears or National Belles Hess catalogues. However, the first Sears “Wish Book” Christmas Catalog didn’t make its debut until 1933 when my parents were young adults.
Frank Nicholas Kaiser was born November 28, 1889 at his parent’s farm house located in Juniata Township, northwest of Assumption. He was the sixth child and second surviving son of Nicholas and Susanna (Theisen) Kaiser. The family was of northeastern France and Luxembourg descent and spoke German in their home. On the 1940 census he listed his education as Elementary, seventh grade. In 1917 Frank was almost 28 years-old and an unmarried, self employed farmer.
Ernest Jule Bassett, known as Ernie, was born February 17, 1895 at his parent’s farm house on what is now 12th Street east of Hastings. He was the first and only surviving son of Jule S. and Josephine (Bergeron) Bassett. His parents were of French and French Canadian descent and spoke French in their home. On the 1940 census he listed his education as being high school, two years. In 1917 Ernie was 22 years-old, single and employed on his father’s farm. Ernie’s oldest sister, Mary Fischer, lived at Fairbury. This photo must have been taken while he was on furlough visiting her.
The United States entered World War I on April 6th, and began the draft on June 5, 1917. Both Ernest Bassett and Frank Kaiser’s draft registration cards are dated June 5th. According to the Kenesaw Sunbeam of September 13th, Frank Kaiser had applied for a draft exemption based on his occupation as a farmer. It was denied. My father felt most exemption requests of German-Americans were denied because of extreme anti German sentiment of the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) population which controlled the draft boards.
In a 1992 interview my father, Bert Trausch, who was 11 years-old in 1917, talked about his memories of WWI. “Mom had a party for Uncle Frank before he left, he wasn’t married then yet. Al and Hank Theisen came. I remember we were setting out on the front porch drinking beer. About four of them got in the swing, there were screws up into the porch ceiling, and bingo, the swing came down.” While Uncle Frank was in Europe he wrote letters to his sister, Catherine Kaiser Trausch. Bert remembered his mother reading them to the family. Frank said “France was so dirty and the people didn’t give a damn whether they worked or not.” Unfortunately, those letters have not survived.
In another 1992 interview I asked my uncle Ed Trausch how his grandparents, being German speakers and identifying as German, felt about the war. His reply: “They were for America. In fact Grandpa [Trausch] left Luxembourg to stay out of the German army. They never mentioned being concerned about fighting their relatives in Europe. My uncles on both sides went to World War I, both Trausch and Kaiser.” [Uncle Joseph Trausch was drafted in 1917, went to Camp Funston, Kansas, may have been part of Company C, 314th Motor Supply Train, but did not go to France with them.]
The following information was taken from The Three Hundred and Fourteenth Motor Supply Train In The World War by Milton E Bernet, 1919
The 314th Motor Supply Train was organized in October 1917 at Camp Funston, Kansas, when the first two hundred men of the new National Army were assigned to it. It was a part of the 89th Division, the Middle West Division that came to be known as the “Fighting Farmers.” Of the 551 men assigned to the 314th, 297 were Nebraskans. My two great uncles, Frank Kaiser and Ernest Bassett were both assigned to Company E.
During the first weeks at Camp Funston the men if the 314th were drilled as infantrymen. In mid December instruction in mechanics, driving, running in convoy, and minor repairs was begun. At this time the only motor vehicle in the company was the touring car assigned to the Lieutenant Colonel. Soon trucks were obtained and classes of about 30 men each received two weeks instruction in more advanced mechanics. Eventually each man was given instruction in the driving and mechanics of trucks, touring cars and motorcycles. Yes, the men needed instruction in driving. In 1917 automobiles were still a luxury which few families owned.
In addition to their motor training, the men hiked to the firing range to learn proficiency with a rifle, and took their turns as military guards.
The Army had not been prepared for the thousands of recruits and in midwinter the members of the 314th were still wearing the blue denim overalls they had been issued upon arrival. During the severest winter weather, some men did not have overcoats and if men wore out their shoes there were no replacements.
On a bitter winter morning a portion of Company E was scheduled to go on trucks. During the night the damp clothes and wet shoes of some drivers had frozen. At 7:00 a.m. the First Sergeant asked the drivers if they wished to go on trucks that morning. As they were given a choice, they answered “No.” A report was sent to Headquarters that Company E had refused to go on trucks. The entire company was placed under arrest in quarters and the First Sergeant was reduced. After that incident, no man ever objected to any detail no matter how difficult.
Ernest Bassett was designated a “dispatcher” in Company E. A dispatcher rode a motorcycle carrying messages from Headquarters to the front lines and back. The Germans were “hot to kill” the dispachers as my mother said, to keep the orders from getting through. Ernie was one of the lucky dispachers; he survived. Frank Kaiser was a “chauffeur,” someone who drove a motor vehicle.
On February 1, 1918 the first practice drive in convoy was held. May 15th a convoy of ten Liberty trucks rolled into Camp Funston, the first to arrive there. The Liberty Truck was the US Army vehicle used in World War I. It had a 52-hp engine and a four-speed transmission, with a top speed of about 15 miles per hour.
During early March Frank Kaiser came home on furlough. The Hastings Daily Tribune of March 7, 1918 reported: “Frank Kaiser has returned to Camp Funston having been home on a few days furlough. Frank says Funston is alright. He is a truck driver at that place.”
The men of the 314th lined up in squads and marched to the Union Pacific Depot on the morning of June 4, 1918. They were bound for Camp Mills, Long Island, New York and ultimately France. The men spent 20 days in tents at Camp Mills, New York. They were given occasional night time passes and for the vast majority it was their first chance to see a major city.
On June 27th the men went by train to Pier 65 and checked onto the Belgian passenger liner Lapland. The ship was camouflaged because of the German submarine warfare which was attempting to halt the stream of American soldiers flowing to Europe. The Lapland, with 2200 military forces, sailed in a convoy of fourteen passenger ships and their naval escort. The second day out found many of the men ill with seasickness. Nevertheless, they were expected at boat-drill twice a day. As the ships approached England, the danger of attack increased, and the naval convoy was augmented by destroyers. On July 9th the Lapland docked at Liverpool, England. The Americans were greeted by a band playing The Star Spangled Banner and by cheering crowds. The 314th Supply Train was now part of the American Expeditionary Forces. They soon boarded a train which took them across England to Southampton where they boarded a ship for a night crossing of the channel to the French port of le Harve.
At le Harve the 314th was split with Companies A through D going by train to Bordeaux and Companies E and F by train to Marseilles. The men traveled in box cars that would soon become known by the sign on their side “40 hommes – 8 Chevaux” 40 men or 8 horses. About 32 men with their gear were loaded in each car, which was about half the size of American box cars. Obtaining drinking water was a problem on the trip. Occasionally at a train station a Red Cross canteen would be selling coffee and snacks. Companies E and F had some excitement while passing around Paris when they saw a German air raid on the French capitol.
Soon Companies E and F were ordered to Rimaucourt, in north-east France; traveling there by passenger train, and arriving on August 2nd. There the 314th was reunited and began serving the 89th Division. The 314th Headquarters were established in an old chateau said to have been one of Napoleon’s summer palaces. Gas masks and helmets were soon issued to the men, and 150 trucks of various makes to the Supply Train, which was given the task of moving the 89th division to the front line trenches. 30,000 men and all their equipment had to be moved 50 miles using an assortment of trucks. An immediate problem was the shortage of gasoline. On August 3rd the first convoy of 100 trucks headed to the front, surrounded by machine-gun trucks and ambulances. The following day the convoy returned carrying men of the 82nd American Division which the 89th was relieving.
For most of the men of the 314th it was their first time under shell fire, the first time they heard the rumbling of artillery a few miles away, the first time they saw observation balloons above, the first time they saw star-shells and flares at night, and heard the ominous purring of the bomb laden German planes as they circled above. On August 7th the supply train established its headquarters at Menil-la-Tour, France. It was the first sleep many of the drivers had had in four days.
Now the work of supplying the 89th Division began: ferrying barbed wire to the front, rock to the Engineers for repairing roads hit by shell-fire, rations to company kitchens and the hot food to the doughboys in the trenches, and ammunition up to the batteries.
On the eve of September 11th the supply train carried troops to the front all night. A steady downpour all afternoon and night made travel over the roads difficult, but also hid the troop movement from the Germans. At 1:00 a.m. on September 12th the St. Mihiel Drive began with a barrage of artillery that lasted all night. Many doughboys and Germans lost their lives that day, but the Americans successfully reached the Hindenbourg Line and dug in.
During the drive, Corporal Anton Pavelka of Bladen had an unusual experience. He had been given an order to take a truck load of medical supplies into Xammes. As he drove through Thiaucourt, he was warned not to go further. But he had received an order and was determined to comply. Continuing on, the machine-gun fire became heavy as he drove into Xammes. When he got into town, he realized the line of doughboys he had seen at the edge of town was the front line and he was in German territory. Possibly because they feared a rouse, the Germans did not fire on him. He calmly turned the truck around and got the hell out of town.
In the days that followed, the men literally lived in their trucks, carrying their rations with them and sleeping in the bottom of the trucks when given the opportunity. During heavy shelling they got out of the trucks and lay in ditches. By mid October the Supply Train was in the Argonne forest, and at the month’s end Company E was sent to Eclisfontaine.
On October 31st the doughboys “went over the top” in the second phase of the Meuse-Argonne offensive and the supply train followed. As they advanced the road sides were strewn with dead men and horses. The 89th Division progressed rapidly against the exhausted and discouraged Germans. Company E was sent on special duty with the Sanitary Train. On November 8th the troops heard rumors that the Kaiser had advocated and fled to Holland.
About 11 o’clock on November 11th the guns fell silent. Several hours later the men were informed an armistice had been signed putting an end to the fighting. After the armistice, all companies of the Supply Train gathered at Remonville, and on November 22 they learned they were to be part of the Army of Occupation and would be moving into Germany. The Supply Train moved to Montmedy, a French railway town near the Belgium border, and on the 26th they moved into Belgium.
When the Americans crossed into Belgium the population welcomed them as saviors of the country. As the convoy of trucks rolled through towns, men, women and children waved, saluted, and threw flowers. Thanksgiving Day was spent in Chatillon in southeast Belgium near the Luxembourg border. On Nov 30 the convoy arrived in Arlon, Belgium and took over a barracks that had been recently evacuated by the Germans. On December 5th the convoy moved into Luxembourg, and established temporary headquarters at Echternach on the Sauer River, which forms the border with Germany. Late on December 7th the Supply Train of the Army of Occupation crossed into Germany. They made their way to Bitburg where they were billeted with the inhabitants of the town. Frank Kaiser, being fluent in German, would have been able to converse with the townspeople. During this time convoys of trucks transported supplies from railheads to occupation troops.
During the months in Germany the soldiers were given leave to tour France, Luxembourg, Belgium and to Trier in Germany. It is known that Frank Kaiser took the opportunity to visit the area in northeast France, very near the border of Luxembourg, where his Kaiser grandparents had lived prior to 1847. Where Ernest Bassett, who was conversant in French, traveled on leave is unknown.
In February 1919 the announcement came that the 89th division would sail for home in June. The first weeks of May the Supply Train was busy moving the battalion to their entraining points at the German towns of Prum, Erdorf, and Trier. On May 13th supply train personnel boarded a troop train at Erdorf. They arrived at Brest, a port city in northwest France, on the 18th and boarded the ship Rotterdam on the 19th. They stopped at Plymouth, England where several hundred American civilians boarded the ship which sailed into New York Harbor on May 30th. The mayor sent a special delegation, including a jazz band, on a launch to welcome the soldiers home. The 314th went to Camp Upton, New York from which each detachment was sent to its home base for discharge.
An appendix to the history of the 314th lists the members who were killed and wounded. Frank Kaiser is not listed. However, his 1941 obituary stated he was “injured while in service in France and never fully recovered.” I called Frank’s granddaughter, Mary Gerloff, and she told me that her understanding is that “a vehicle was backing up to hook onto a trailer. Frank was in between, probably to guide the tongue onto the hitch. He was pinned between the truck and trailer injuring his hip and leg.” When he returned from the war Frank went back to farming. In 1923 he married Margaret Trausch in the Assumption church. They farmed northwest of Roseland until Frank’s November 1941 death from colon cancer at age 51. His pall bearers were all men with whom he had served in the 314th Motor Supply Train.
After the war Ernie Bassett never returned to farming. His father had been forced to quit farming and move to Hastings after Ernie was drafted. In 1920 Ernie was living with his parents on North Minnesota in Hastings and managing a grain elevator. In 1930 he was part owner of the Standard Station at in Hastings. In 1940 Ernie was back to managing a Hastings grain elevator. His father, Jule Bassett, died in 1941, and in 1942 Ernie and wife Mary were living in Long Beach, California where he worked in the Douglas aircraft factory. Ernie died at Long Beach in 1957. He had no children, so any stories of his war experiences died with him.
Luckily for Ernie and Frank, while they were in Camp Funston the 314th Motor Supply Train was organized. That saved them from the trenches of World War I.
Members of the 314th Motor Supply Train from the Adams County area of Nebraska.
Chauffeurs: Corporal William Graneman, Glenvil
Corporal James J Kluver, Glenvil
Corporal Walter C Nowka, Inland
Corporal Walter F Rhodes, Trumbull
Private Anton Mohlman, Glenvil
Mechanics : Corporal Fred Flesner, Inland
Chauffeurs: Corporal John F Hinrichs, Glenvil
Pvt. Frank Lolling, Glenvil
Chauffeurs: Corporal William E Brune, Blue Hill
Corporal Alfred O Buschow, Blue Hill
Corporal Alfred G Engelhardt, Blue Hill
Corporal Millard Marymee, Bladen
Corporal Anton Pavelka, Bladen
Asst. Chauffeur: Pvt. Peter Koch, Campbell
Pvt Virgil I Walburn, Bladen
Dispachers: Corporal Ernest J. Bassett, 816 N. Minn., Hastings
Cook: Fred Eckhardt, 302 S Bellevue, Hastings
Chauffeurs: Corporal Martin G. Goldenstein, R.F.D. Glenvil
Corporal John L Goldenstein, R.F.D. Hastings
Corporal Lester L Ground, 3428 East 6th Hastings
Corporal Frank N Kaiser, R.F.D. Juniata
Corporal Axel T. Peterson, Holstein
Corporal Onno Valentine, R.F.D. Pauline
Private James E Gallagher, R.F.D. Ayr
Private Elmer E Grothen, R.F.D. Juniata
Private Henry Kimminau, R.F.D. Lawrence
Chauffeurs: Corporal Fred Eckardt, Campbell
Asst. Chauffeur: Pvt. George C Porterfield, Heartwell
Harriet Imler was born June 1, 1843 at Deer Creek, Pickaway County, Ohio, the tenth of twelve children of her parents, George and Sarah Betz Imler. Her parents, both born in Pennsylvania, were “Pennsylvania Dutch” and spoke the German language. Exactly when the Imler family moved to Allen County is not known, but they were living in Shawnee township by the September 1850 agricultural census.
The Imler family was members of the Saint Matthews Evangelical Lutheran Church in Shawnee Township, Allen County. The first church was a log structure, and the church services were conducted in the German language. The earliest records of the church are lost, except for an 1844 list of founding members. George Imler is not on this list, indicating the family was still in Pickaway County. In 1851 a frame building was erected and George Imler appears on the donor list for that building.
Allen County was heavily wooded when the first settlers arrived and most families lived in log houses. The following was taken from a history of German Township written by S.D. Crites in 1909 and printed in the Lima (Ohio) News on May 29, 1909. The Crites and Imler families were neighbors.
“The typical cabin was built of round logs, chinked and daubed, enclosing one room fifteen by eighteen feet. There was but one door and opposite it a window. The door was of split plank, hung on wooden hinges with a wooden latch which was fastened within to a string. The string in day time protruded without through a small hole but at night was withdrawn within. Hence the old saying when inviting friends to call: ”You will find the latch string out.” On the interior the floor was of puncheons, the hearth was of rock usually of nature’s own hewing. The fireplace was wide, and deep enough to receive logs eight or even ten feet long. There was an iron crane or wooden pole in the chimney to which was attached a chain which ended in a hook. From the hook was suspended a pot which was used for various purposes. The other cooking utensils were a skillet, iron teakettle, a dutch oven and a wooden tray. A chest contained the linen and wearing apparel of the family. Over the door rested the indispensable flint lock, on a rustle rack. In the rear of the room stood a bed with a curtain around its legs to conceal the trundle bed used by the children. The loft was reached by means of a rough ladder at the rear of the room. The loft served the purpose of dormitory, larder and tool house. It was a private bedroom. It also contained the winter supplies: hominy, corn, pumpkins, seeds of all kinds, jerked venison, dried corn and fruits, hickory nuts and walnuts. The tools were a maul and wedge, crosscut saw, drawing knife, an auger, a frow and a broad ax. The roof of the cabin was covered with clap-boards held in place by ridge poles.”
On February 5, 1861 Harriet, aged 17 years and four months, and William Clark, aged 27 years and four months were married by the Justice of the Peace at Allen County, Ohio. Eight months earlier on the June 1860 federal census, widower, William Clark and his two small children were living with his former in-laws, the John Searfoss family. William, who was illiterate, had no real nor personal property. Why would a 17 year-old girl marry a penniless, illiterate, widower, ten years her senior and with two small children? Was it love or a means to get out of her parent’s home? I doubt we will ever know. Whatever the reason, Harriet remained close to members of the extended Imler family throughout her lifetime.
Harriet’s first child, James William Clark, (grandfather of Bud Renschler) was born October 5, 1863 in Allen County. He was followed by Genetta, born after the Civil War in 1867.
In September 1864 Harriet’s husband, William Clark, along with three of her brothers, Amos, James and William Imler enlisted in the 180th Ohio Infantry.
William Imler died on 28 Mar 1865 at New Bern, North Carolina. He left a widow and four small children. He is buried at Amanda Baptist Cemetery in Allen County, Ohio. Amos Imler died of disease on 12 June 1865 in McDougall General Hospital at New York Harbor, leaving a widow and one small son. He is buried in Cypress Hill National Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.
Harriet’s husband William Clark, and her brother James Imler both survived to return home. However, William, who had contracted diphtheria and bronchitis while stationed at Camp Stoneman, Washington, D.C. and was treated at Douglas Hospital, later received an invalids pension for the damage to his health.
For many years I was unable to locate William and Harriet Clark on the 1870 federal census. It wasn’t until Familysearch.org indexed the 1870 census that I located them at Compton, Kane County, Illinois. William Clark, age 37, owned no real estate and only $200 worth of personal property. Mary age 18 and Abraham age 12 were listed as having attended school the previous year. James was age 6 and Genetta age 2. All were born in Ohio, so the family hadn’t been in Illinois long, and they didn’t remain there much longer. Why they went there and why they left no one knows. It is not on the route from Allen County, Ohio to southern Nebraska where the family moved next.
Clarice Clark Renschler Bugg told me stories about her grandparents which I wrote down. (She would not allow me to tape record her reminiscence.) This is her story. “The Clarks homesteaded in Nemaha County, Nebraska. They brought two covered wagons filled with possessions, William drove one and Harriet the other. A cow was tied behind each wagon. One of the wagons was lost along the way while fording a river. It turned over and sank with all the goods and one horse. This was a terrible loss to the family.”
William built a sod house on the Nebraska homestead. “The roof was constructed from slabs—the first piece of wood cut from the side of a tree with the bark still attached. A heavy screen was placed over the slabs to hold straw, and over the straw a layer of sod was placed. The window frames were wood and the floor was packed clay. One day William and Harriet were out milking and the two boys, Abe and James, were studying. Nettie, a small pre-school child, about 3 years-old, had often observed her father light his pipe by sticking a piece of straw into the stove and using it to light his pipe. She took a piece of straw, lit it in the stove, then touched the burning straw to a piece of straw hanging down from the low ceiling. The entire ceiling was soon ablaze and the children barely escaped with their lives. The house was completely gutted leaving the family with only the clothes on their backs. Needing shelter, they immediately cleaned the interior, plastered the walls, replaced the windows and installed a wood floor to cover the clay one.”
The family lived in Nebraska about a year after the fire. The land in Nebraska was hilly and the soil clay. There was no source of water nearby. Grandma Clark later said she would never again live on a farm without a creek running through it.
Dissatisfied with the Nebraska farm, the family moved to Jewell County, Kansas in October 1871, where William Clark filed for a 160 acre homestead in Section 2, Township 3 South, Range 6 West. This land is located in Grant Township, Jewell County, 2 miles north and 1 ½ miles east of Formosa, Kansas. There were few trees on the prairie, so they built another sod house.
On April 1, 1878 William filed his homestead proof at the Jewell County courthouse in Mankato. In it he stated that he had a wife and four children; he had settled on the land on the 2nd day of October 1871 and built a house thereon 16 by 24 feet, with 2 doors and 3 windows, dirt roof, dirt floor and had lived in the said house since October 1871. He had plowed and cultivated 40 acres of land and made the following improvements: “built a stable, hog pens, granary of pine, broke hedge rows, peach orchard, and dug a water well.” He received his patent one year later and filed it in Volume 15, page 28 of Jewell County deeds. It is unknown when the Clark family built a frame house to replace the soddie.
Pioneering in Kansas was just as difficult as pioneering in Nebraska. However, during the decade of the 1870s rainfall was sufficient to raise reasonable crops. On the 1875 Jewell County agricultural census William, age 41, has 160 acres, 127 of it prairie. In 1885 120 acres are still uncultivated indicating poor quality land. The Clark family was barely making a living. In 1881 William Clark applied for a pension because of disability suffered during the Civil War.
In 1885 both Harriet’s step daughter, Mary Elizabeth Clark, and her daughter, Genetta Viola “Nettie” Clark, married Harriet’s nephews who had followed the Clark family to Kansas. Mary Elizabeth Clark married George Christian Imler, son of Harriet’s older brother William Imler, who had died during the Civil War. George was 24 years old and Mary was 31 years-old when they married at Mankato in April 1885.
Nettie Clark married, on June 27, 1885 at Mankato, her first cousin, Elijah B. Imler, son of Harriet’s brother, Amos who had also died during the Civil War. “Lij” as he was called, was a widower with a 4 year-old son. And, he was ten years older than 17 year-old Nettie. But she didn’t have many choices as she was four months pregnant.
The 1890s were hard years for farmers on the great plains, commodity prices were low, and railroad freight rates were unreasonable because farmers had no other way to get their grain to market. And, the country was in a depression. Then a severe drought struck in 1894 and farmers raised nothing. In the fall of 1895 William and Harriet, along with their son James and his family, Nettie and Elijah Imler, Mary and George Imler and an unrelated Roy Jones family formed a small wagon train and moved to Van Buren, Arkansas. The story is that a nephew of Harriet’s living there wrote describing how good life was there.
On the way down to Arkansas they were floating across a river and one of the wagons floated so far down river the bank was too steep to get out, so they threw some things out and kept floating until they found a low bank.
On April 19, 1897 William Clark, aged 64 years and two months, died at his home on Crowell Mountain in Van Buren County, Arkansas. He had gone out to the barn to lift up a colt that was down and he dropped dead from a heart attack. He is buried in the Crowell Cemetery in an unmarked grave. When Pat and I went there many years ago, the cemetery was in timber, hidden from the road which was merely a path up the mountain. Most of the graves were marked with fieldstones. Clarice told me that the day of his funeral it was raining heavily, the grave filled with water, and the casket, which floated, had to be weighted down with rocks.
On November 27, 1897 in Clinton, Arkansas, Harriet answered questions for a widow’s pension application. She stated “There was no public record kept of my husband’s death. He died very suddenly and I had no time to get a doctor to show the cause of his death.” She received $12 a month pension until her death.
When the Clark family returned to Jewell County, Kansas in 1898 Harriet moved back to the Clark farm which had been rented out. To settle William’s estate, his children, Abraham Clark and Mary Imler, by his first wife, and Harriet’s children James Clark (our ancestor) and Genetta Imler conveyed their interests in the farm to their mother for her lifetime. Upon her death the four heirs were to divide the estate. Nettie, a widow and her children lived with Harriet. They are shown in her household on the 1900 federal census of Jewell County. On March 13, 1901 Harriet’s granddaughter, Lulu Imler, aged 15, died at Harriet’s home and was buried in the Balch Cemetery between the Clark farm and Formosa, Kansas. I do not know her cause of death and the brief item that appeared in the Formosa New Era newspaper did not give the cause of death.
Between 1909 and 1913 Harriet mortgaged her farm four times for a total of $4,540. What she did with the money I do not know, but suspect Nettie’s family got it. On August 18, 1913 Harriet signed a Last Will and Testament willing to “Janetta” Viola Imler all her interest in the farm. To Hugh Imler, “Janetta’s” son, she willed all her personal property. She gave her son, James Clark, $1. Harriet died five days later on August 23, 1913 and was buried in the Balch Cemetery.
But the story doesn’t end there. In November 1913 Genetta V. Imler petitioned for letters of administration for her mother’s estate. The farm was valued at $7,000, the house at $300, and personal items, including three cows and two calves, at $182.
Well, Mary E Imler, and Abraham Lincoln Clark, children of William Clark by his first wife, and James Clark, son of William and Harriet Clark weren’t going to give up their share of their father’s estate. On December 2, 1914 they sued “Jenette” Imler in Jewell County District Court and won. The farm was divided four ways. But of course the mortgages had to be paid, the lawyers, and the court fees had to be paid. Each of the four received about $500. Grandson, Hugh Imler, received his grandmother’s personal property, including a new $98 top buggy that hadn’t been paid for and was part of the bills paid by the estate.
Grandma, Clarice Clark, Renschler, Bugg reminisced about her grandmother at various times and some of the stories she told me were: Grandma Clark had asthma and the doctor advised her to smoke a corn cob pipe twice a day, which she did. Harriet never returned to Ohio to visit her family, but several of them came out to Kansas to visit her. Harriet could speak German but didn’t want anyone to know that. One time a German immigrant was traveling through the country and stopped at the neighbors. The neighbors didn’t understand German, so they brought the immigrant over to Grandma Clark and she translated. Harriet was ill about two weeks before she died. Her skin turned yellow. The family thought her gall bladder ruptured a couple days before her death. Clarice was unable to attend her Grandmother’s funeral because she had just born her first child, a still-born boy and she was in poor health.
And the last story. When I first visited Balch Cemetery in the 1970s I took Grandma Bugg along. I was surprised to find that several family member’s graves had markers, but Grandma Harriet Clark’s grave was unmarked. Clarice admitted nothing, but I was later told by other grandchildren, all now long dead, that Harriet’s grave had been marked by a stone ordered by Nettie. When she lost the court case, Nettie refused to pay for her mother’s grave marker, the other children refused to pay because they hadn’t ordered the stone, and eventually the stone mason removed the marker from her grave. In 2002 a great-granddaughter placed a stone on Harriet’s grave and although William is not buried there, his name is engraved on the stone as well.
On January 6th each year, Luxembourgers celebrate Dräikinneksdag, literally three kings day, or the Feast of the Epiphany also know in English tradition as Twelfth Night.
This Christian celebration dates back to the 14th century and commemorates the three kings, Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who traveled from the Orient following the star that led them to the foretold Christ child in Bethlehem. Originally, the festival was a pagan celebration of Light; since about January 6th the lengthening of daylight begins to be noticeable.
Like most holidays the rituals vary from country to country. At the start of Twelfth Night the Twelfth Night, or Epiphany, or Draikinneksdag cake was eaten. This was a rich cake made with eggs and butter, fruit, nuts and spices. A dried pea or bean was cooked in the cake. Whoever found it was the King of Misrule for the celebration that followed.
In modern Luxembourg Kings’ Cake (in French ~ la galette des rois) is eaten on Epiphany. It has a flaky top and a dense almond filling called frangipane on the bottom. In modern times a trinket, usually a baby or a king, replaces the bean baked inside the cake, and the cake is accompanied by a golden cardboard crown. Whoever finds the trinket in their slice of cake gets to wear the crown and is “king for a day.”
It seems likely that our Luxembourg ancestors of the immigrant generation, the Theisen, Kaiser, Lux, and Even families, who lived at Saint Donatus, Iowa and near Galena, Illinois, celebrated Epiphany in the Luxembourg tradition. Unfortunately, I do not know if, beyond attending Mass, our Luxembourg ancestors, children of the immigrants, continued the draikinneksdag traditions after moving to Adams County.
Since the dawn of recorded history, those who had the means slept on raised beds to avoid drafts, dirt, and pests. Only the wealthy had the luxury of a mattress made of a cloth bag filled with straw, reeds, wool, etc. Our European ancestors, who were mostly of the peasant class, probably slept on piles of straw possibly covered with coarse cloth or animal skins. Some may have had a low-sided, wooden box, similar to a manger, filled with straw. By the late 1800s when our ancestors were pioneering in Nebraska, the mattress was a cloth bag filled with hay, corn shucks, or feathers.
Two terms that need defining are ticking and tick. Ticking was a tightly woven, heavy, cotton fabric, usually blue, grey or brown stripped. A tick was the bag, made from the ticking, used as a mattress or pillow. Often the ticking was waxed, or rubbed with soap, to help keep it impenetrable. Feather ticks were often laid over a firmer, non-feather mattress.
The earliest account I have of our ancestors bedding is of the Peter Schifferns family when they arrived in Adams County in 1873. It was written by Margaret Eltz Schifferns in 1963. “So they went by train to Juniata. At that time Hastings had only four houses; Juniata was the county seat. From Juniata they had a drayman take them out in the country. He drove west; as they got to a big draw they had him stop. It was in April, nice weather; they walked around in the sunshine and filled their straw ticks with [prairie] hay.” It would be several years until they raised enough corn to fill a tick with corn shucks which are fluffier than hay.
In a 1982 interview my great-aunt Lizzy Kaiser Pittz told about the Kaiser family’s mattress materials. “Corn shucks, that’s all we had [in the mattress]. Once a year when they shelled corn, we got new shucks. Empty out the ticking, wash it and put in the clean shucks. We put our shucks whole in the ticks. We left a little opening where we could reach in and work them up when they got pressed down.”
After the difficult pioneer years passed, my great-grandmothers raised flocks of geese and ducks for both domestic use and for sale. Most people born before 1930 slept on feather beds, federbetten in German, and pillows in their childhood. Great-aunt Lizzy had this to say: “Mother made pillows and feather beds. She had two feather beds, her and Dad used one and the girls used one. I was the youngest, [born in 1900] things got better by my time. I do remember the shuck beds. They also covered up with feather comforters. It would keep you warm. It was almost like the mattress, made from ticking as big as the bed. Fill it with feathers, put that on top of you, then the quilts, and that kept you warm. Whenever she got enough she made one of those feather beds. I don’t remember those days too well. John [Kaiser] could tell you, he had to help pick the geese. See, they could pick that down while the geese were alive and then they grew more. They picked it a certain time of year, I don’t remember just when. It took a long time to pick all the geese. She had ducks too, but they didn’t have as much down. The geese were those gray ones. Those ganders get mean sometimes, you had to be careful. We ate some geese, Mother sold most of them.” She sold her poultry, eggs, and cream in Juniata, and in later years in Hastings. The English wanted a fat goose for their Christmas dinner.
My mother called her “Aunt Katie,” but she wasn’t Mom’s aunt, she was her great-aunt, sister to her Grandma Kline. On the Kline side of the family there was Aunt Kate and Aunt Katie. Aunt Kate was my Grandpa Kline’s sister, and Aunt Katie was my great-Grandma Kline’s sister. Aunt Katie was Catherine C. Horschler, born December 29, 1854 in Mount Pulaski, Logan County, Illinois. (I do not know her middle name, but if I had to guess, I would say Cecilia.) She was probably named for her mother’s sister, Catherine Jung Schick, who also lived at Mount Pulaski. She grew up at Mount Pulaski where her father, Melchior Henry Horschler, was a shoemaker and farmer. In 1870, at the age of 16, Catherine was living in Mount Pulaski with a family from Kentucky and working as their maid. She married Michael Pressler December 31, 1874 in Logan County, Illinois. It was not a good marriage for Catherine. Mike Pressler was not a Catholic and he was a member of the Masons, anathema to the Catholic Church at that time. However, as evidenced by a photo taken in Hastings he was a handsome man.
The Presslers moved to Hamilton County, Nebraska about 1881 and purchased 80 acres in Section 32, Scoville Township, just a half mile north of the Clay County line. In 1882 John J. Kline, made a trip to Hamilton County to view the farm across the section from his brother-in-law, and he purchased the 160 acres. The following spring the Kline family moved to Hamilton County from Illinois and settled across the section from Aunt Katie and Uncle Mike Pressler. Their farms adjoined in the center of the section.
Aunt Katie bore four sons, only one of which, Bill, was kind to his mother. The great tragedy of her life was the death of Bill in May 1900, caused by the kick of a horse. He was only seventeen.
These reminiscences by my Mother are from interviews conducted in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Grandma had a sister that lived across the section, Katie Pressler. They took her along (to church) a lot. Her husband wasn’t a Catholic; he was real obstinate. She had a boy that took her, but he was killed, kicked by a horse. She was a little bit of a quiet woman. She was very particular, everything was just so. She wasn’t very healthy. She had, she called it neuralgia, a pain in her face. I think it was infected sinus. Even in the hot summertime if she went out she put a handkerchief over the one side.
They had 10-foot ceilings in their house. It looked like it was a long ways up there to a kid. Her house was very clean; she had a white oak floor in the kitchen that was spotless. She had lots of things around that were crocheted. Her house was really Victorian. She died in 1928 and after that it was kind of down hill. The oldest son was always given everything he wanted and after he got married he was always home wanting more money. Times got hard (1930s) and they lost the farm after she was gone.
Aunt Katie died at home from cancer of the stomach. She couldn’t eat for a long time, several weeks. Nothing would go through her. They gave her a teaspoon or two of water and tried to give her a little broth and it wouldn’t stay down. She would say “pan, pan” when her stomach was upset. She wasted away to nothing and before she died the cancer broke through to the outside.
I went to her funeral. I was 14. It was one of the first funerals that I attended, that really struck home to me. It was a cold winter day. I remember going out in the Case cemetery and seeing her casket sitting out there. The thing I couldn’t forget the most was the priest took a shovel of dirt and said “Dust thou art and to dust thou shall return”. He took some of that dirt and put it on the casket and that really shook me up.
In a 1996 interview my Aunt Dorothy Kline Myhrberg said: “Grandma Kline never liked Uncle Mike Pressler, he didn’t go to church. I remember Grandma taking Aunt Katie to church.”
Edna (Mom): “Yes, and he was mean and didn’t let her go. He was a Mason. He was a blow bag. He talked loud, in a big voice. The Kline’s never liked him. He got stubborn and wouldn’t let her go to church for a few years and she lost her mind over it. After that happened, he let Aunt Kate [Kline] take her to church. He could see what he was doing to her. Aunt Katie had four boys, the one that was always good to Aunt Katie was kicked in the chest by a mule and died. He was just a young man. That hurt her so bad. He was the one that took her to church.
Her son, Walt, lived in Trumbull. They called his wife “the Foxy one”. She was always dressed up. Walt could never make enough money; he was always borrowing from Uncle Mike (his father). Dad told me when they were young men, he and Walt would go somewhere and Walt would have $5. (A large amount for a young man to have at that time.) His Dad always favored him and gave him money. Walt and his wife finally moved to California and they got a divorce. Walt had three girls, one wasn’t very bright.”
Aunt Katie died December 20, 1928 and was buried in the Case Cemetery which is located in Section 22, Scoville Township, three miles northeast of the Kline farm. Uncle Mike Pressler died in 1943.
The Juniata mill was an important fixture in the lives of our Assumption area ancestors, for it was here that they hauled their wheat and corn to be ground into flour and cornmeal.
The original mill, erected in 1875, was owned by D. H. Freeman and others. It was a steam roller mill, which is a type of grinding mill using a stationary steam engine to power its mechanism. The mill did not use the huge grinding stones associated with older mills, but rather cylindrical rollers, either in opposing pairs or against flat plates, to grind grain.
Farmers brought their grain to the mill and received back ground meal or flour, minus a percentage called the “miller’s toll.” The mill also purchased wheat from local farmers which was ground into flour and sold in 100 pound cloth bags.
The Freeman enterprise went bankrupt and the property was sold by the sheriff in February 1878. A sad story connected to this bankruptcy was that of Catherine Nerminger, who was born in Prussia about 1839. Along with her husband, John and three small girls, she arrived in Adams County about 1874. Like all new immigrants, the Nermingers were searching for a brighter future. What Catherine found instead was poverty and an early death. John Nerminger, unable to speak English, lost his money in a mill investment. This was most likely the Juniata mill as it went bankrupt about this time. His girls remembered in later years that the only English word they ever heard him speak was “swindler.”
Looking for better opportunities after the loss of his money, John abandoned his wife and daughters on their homestead. When neighbors discovered Catherine and her girls were starving, they were taken to the County Poor Farm. There Catherine became ill and eventually the little girls were placed in the homes of local families.
Years later the oldest daughter, Mary, recalled her mother’s death and burial. Poormaster, Timothy May, realizing Catherine was dying, brought the girls to see their mother for the last time. She admonished them to be good girls and told them good-bye. The following day Catherine died and was buried in an unmarked grave in the County Farm cemetery where she remains today. Her husband, John, was never located.
Nordyke, Marmon & Company of Indianapolis, Indiana, manufacturers of roller mills, purchased the mill at the 1878 Sheriff’s sale. Probably they had furnished the milling machinery and had a lean on the mill. S. W. Clark operated the mill until 1888 when it was again sold by the Sheriff. Adams County purchased the mill for back taxes and sold it to O. R. Palmer in January 1890 for $2,100.
The Juniata Milling Company was organized in March 1890 and purchased the mill for $5,000. O. R. Palmer continued to operate the mill until disaster struck September 30, 1892 when the mill and contents, as well as the Sewell Grain Elevator which stood north along the Burlington tracks, burned down. The flames were seen over eight miles away.
The mill was rebuilt and Edward G. Collins was proprietor in 1894. In 1901 the mill was sold to W. H. DeSanno. The building was struck by lightning in August 1907 and again burned to the ground. The insurance was insufficient to rebuild, but the citizens of Juniata, realizing the importance of the mill in drawing farmers into the village, quickly subscribed stock to build a new mill.
In July 1908 the village passed an ordinance authorizing H.C. DeSanno to construct and operate an electric light plant in Juniata. DeSanno agreed to erect the transmission lines in the village. The light plant was housed in a brick building attached to the mill and electricity was generated by the machinery which powered the mill. Lights in Juniata were turned on for the first time in October. The Juniata Herald newspaper observed “Juniata now has quite a cityfied air.” However, modern residents of Juniata certainly would not be happy with that light plant. The electricity came on at dusk and was turned off at 11 PM, excepting Saturday when it remained on until midnight. The Juniata Light and Power Company operated for ten years until Hastings Utilities connected with Juniata in August 1918 and supplied 24-hour service.
In March 1925 an era came to an end when the Juniata mill burned down for the third time. By this time many farmers had automobiles and housewives were buying name-brand flour at grocery stores. The mill was not rebuilt. In 1927 the lots were sold to Daniel Bittner and in 1951 the Juniata Farmers Co-op purchased the vacant lots. The Co-op eventually built an office and storage building where the old mill had stood.