Barthélémy Bergeron d’Amboise is a 7th great grandfather of Catherine Renschler. He was an ancestor of Josephine Bergeron, mother of Leona Bassett Kline. The last post was about a Renschler ancestor who fought with the English during the early French and Indian Wars. This ancestor was on the other side in that conflict.
Barthelemy Bergeron d’Amboise was born about 1663 in Amboise, Indre & Loire, France. There is disagreement about his parentage. However it appears that he may have been a descendant of the medieval d’Amboise family for these reasons:
In Canada, most of Barthélemy’s best friends were young noblemen.
Barthélemy seems to have flaunted the king’s law that all young men newly arrived in the colonies had to marry within a year. He did not get married for ten years.
When he did get married, he married Geneviève Serreau de Saint-Aubin, the daughter of a legitimately landed noble whose lineage that can be traced back for centuries.
When he was captured by the English in 1692, Barthélemy was ransomed by Villebon, the governor of Acadia.
Barthélémy in the Troupes de la Marine
At this time in France inheritance was determined by the laws of primogeniture, the estate was inherited by the first-born son. Later-born sons could become tradesmen, join the military or join a religious order. Many chose the military.
The Compagnies Franches de la Marine was established in 1622 to serve on board war ships. The Département de la Marine was also given responsibility for French overseas colonies. In the late 1600s and early 1700s, these soldiers were the only permanent infantry troops in Canada. They began arriving in New France in 1683 to protect the fur trade and the colonists. The only other troops in the colony were the militia made up of men between the ages of 16 and 60.
We do not know at what age Barthelemy joined the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, but he arrived in New France with a company of them in1684 when he was 21 years old. Recruits signed up for six years after which they could re-enlist, return to France, or settle down in New France. Barthelemy and his comrades arrived too late in the year to do any fighting. Very few military maneuvers ever took place during the winter. Thus, from October until May, the troops were put up in the homes of local people. The locals were permitted to have their soldier cut wood, uproot stumps, clear land, or beat wheat in the barns. This was hard labor! In return, the soldier received ten sous per day, in addition to his food.
Barthélémy was by title, a common soldier, but he would have a much better life than the vast majority of soldiers. He did not live with any of the locals, but at the home of Pierre Lezeau, a “boat-master.”
The Hudson Bay Expedition of 1686
When the troops arrived in 1684 they brought a letter from the King of France to the Governor of New France which included this line. “I recommend you prevent as much as it will be possible that the English are not established in the Hudson Bay which was taken possession in my name several years ago….” There was a French fur-trading company in Canada at that time called the Company of the North. Their profits helped the French King pay for his European war against England.
A Company of men was assigned to protect the Company of the North. Among them was Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, an important figure in French Canadian history.
D’Iberville is of special interest to us. He started as the second lieutenant of the Hudson Bay expedition under the chevalier de Troyes, later became a frigate captain, a knight of Saint-Louis, the discoverer of the mouths of the Mississippi, the founder of Louisiana, and the commander of a naval squadron. He lead ten military campaigns and two voyages of discovery. For at least ten years Barthélémy was attached to D’Iberville as one of his special troops, and participated in the adventures of this illustrious Canadian leader. Throughout this period Barthélémy remained unmarried.
The Hudson Bay expedition of 1686 began at Montréal and went from there to James Bay (on Hudson Bay) by canoe, by following the courses of lakes and rivers. It was a rough trip for men in good physical condition. The expedition lasted four months, through the snow and the mud. After 85 days of exhaustion and extreme hardship, they arrived at Moose Fort (today Moose Factory) and completely surprised the English. They took all three major trading posts and several small houses, claiming them for the French fur trade. This left the English with only Fort Nelson, considerably farther north on Hudson Bay. Barthélémy stayed in the north with d’Iberville from 1686 to 1689, part of the crew left behind to guard the posts.
In September, 1688, a couple of English ships blockaded one of the posts and got frozen in the ice through the winter. Both sides were ruthless in their treatment of the other, but d’Iberville made a name for himself by refusing to let the English go out hunting for food without harassment, evidently knowing that the resulting scurvy would decimate the English crews. Then, when the disease was epidemic, d’Iberville invited the English surgeon to go hunting; and when the man had left the protection of his ship, the French commander took him prisoner. The English lost 28 men over the winter–25 of them to scurvy–and had to surrender. D’Iberville returned to Quebec on October 28, 1689, loaded down with English prisoners, booty and prize furs. He was credited with keeping the English out of James Bay.
After the return from Hudson Bay, Barthélémy again lived with Pierre Lezeau, and learned to be a sailor-merchant, a trade he would use for most of his life.
The Lachine, New France and Schenectady, New York Massacres
In much of the late 1600s the colonists of New France and the Iroquois Indians (acting on behalf of the English) engaged in a protracted struggle for control of the economically important fur trade. In August 1689, the Iroquois launched a devastating raid against the French frontier community of Lachine. The Iroquois, sent by the British, fell upon the small settlement of Lachine, near Montréal, awakening the settlers with war cries. Many were hacked down in their homes, others were killed as they tried to escape; some were captured. Of the 77 houses in the town, 56 were burned. The Iroquois warriors departed early enough to get away, but late enough so their campfires that night could be seen across the lake. They slowly burned a few captives to death that night to celebrate their victory. Men, women, and children (including babies) had all been killed.
This was the beginning of an eleven-year-long war. The French governor general quickly devised plans for revenge. There would be a three-pronged attack on the English colonies, two into Massachusetts and Maine, and a third into New York. They planned the attacks to show the English what the results of such Iroquois raids would be.
D’Iberville went on the expedition into New York. We know that Barthélémy was also on this expedition because he drew up a will before he left which said that he was getting ready to make a “very risky journey to go to the English and not being certain of being able to return considering that nothing is more certain than death and nothing more uncertain than the hour of it not wanting that to be reached before having provided for the salvation of his soul and for his temporal affairs not wanting to live intestate….”
D’Iberville and Barthélémy became part of a party of 210 men assigned to attack New York. They left Montréal in the middle of winter on snowshoes. Protected by their blanket-coats and mittens, each armed with a musket, a knife, a hatchet and a pouch of bullets. Each had also been issued a pouch of tobacco for his pipe. Frontenac, the governor of Canada, had left the choice of target to the expedition leaders and on the way, they decided to take Albany. Instead, they wound up on the path for Corlaer (Schenectady).
By this time the temperatures were warm enough that the men waded through knee-deep half-melted snow. It was slow and painful. Then it turned cold again, the wind picked up and the snow returned. After a long and arduous journey, the French forces reached Corlaer at 4 p.m. on February 8, pelted by a cold, windy snowstorm. They began to move into place, resolved to attack as soon as they reached the town. The men were so cold and hungry that some of them later mentioned that if any of the English had appeared and asked them to do so, they would have surrendered immediately.
The town had two gates, one facing east, used to get to Orange (Albany) to the southeast. The other gate faced west toward Mohawk country. This is where the French force came upon the town. Everyone was asleep and the Mohawk gate stood wide open.
The French split into two groups. They entered the town and made their way around the inside of the stockade wall. When the leaders met, they gave the signal and the attack began. They vented all their anger on the citizens of the town, and as the Iroquois had done at Lachine, they and their Indian allies did not discriminate in who they killed. Most of the victims were in night clothing and had no time to arm themselves. They killed sixty people, including 11 African slaves: 38 men or boys, 10 women, and 12 children. They captured another 80 or 90 persons. The killing and pillage continued for two hours. The French noted that about 50-60 residents survived and that they had spared 20 Mohawk, so they would know the fight was with the English, not the Indians. Of those who escaped from the burning stockade to seek shelter with families some miles distant, many died of exposure in the bitter cold before they reached safety. The raiders departed with 27 prisoners, including five Africans; and 50 horses..When it was all over, the French had not gotten revenge on their enemy, for Corlaer was a Dutch town, not an English one.
We have no way of knowing to what degree Barthélémy participated in this massacre. I would like to think that our ancestor was sickened by the slaughter. It is very interesting to note that, so far as we know, he never fought on land again.
Barthélémy went to Acadia with Iberville in 1696, while the war was still on, and, with his bride, Geneviève Serreau de Saint-Aubin, whom he had married the year before, settled at Port-Royal.
Col. Benjamin Church, who had pillaged and burned French settlements in 1696, led an expedition at the end of May 1704 to attack the French at Grand Pre and Port Royale. They pillaged, burned homes and churches, broke dykes to let water flood the fields, killed cattle, murdered some families and took hostages, including Barthelemy and Genevieve Bergeron and four children. They were held prisoners at Boston in Fort William on Castle Island, in Boston Harbor, for over two years, were exchanged for English prisoners in September 1706 and allowed to return to Port-Royal. A historian noted: “51 prisoners were received from Boston, at Port Royal, among whom were d’Amboise (Barthelemy Bergeron) and his family. They were in a condition of absolute destitution.” After his liberation Barthelemy lived in the section of town near the fort and owned a schooner. He made trading trips between Port Royal and other Canadian towns.
In 1707, Barthélémy lived on the south bank of Rivière-au-Dauphin, now the Annapolis River, next to Abraham Dugas, just below the village at Port-Royal. Barthélémy’s son Michael, our ancestor, was born at Port Royal about 1702 and married Marie Dugas, daughter of Abraham.
In the 1730s, the extended family moved to the Rivière St.-Jean valley, where they pioneered the settlement of Ste.-Anne-du-Pays-Bas, now Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick. Barthélémy and Geneviève had six children
Our Renschler ancestor of the week is Hopestill BENT (1672-1725) of Sudbury, Massachusetts. He is the 8th great-grandfather of Pat Renschler on his mother’s side. Hopestill married Nov. 27, 1701, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Brown of Sudbury, and died Aug, 18, 1725, aged 53. He saw service in the disastrous Canadian Campaign of 1690, which was during King William’s War, the first of the French and Indian Wars. On his tombstone in the old burial ground in what is now the town of Wayland he is called an ensign.
About 1710 Hopestill built a tavern or inn on the old path to Connecticut. (At this time a tavern was the equivalent of a modern hotel with a bar and restaurant.) This early tavern was an important rest stop for travelers from Boston to Connecticut and New York. It reportedly served as a tavern until about 1780. In 1710 the area was part of Sudbury, later became East Sudbury, and in 1835 was renamed Wayland.
The Hopestill Bent Tavern is a historic tavern (now a private residence) at 252 Old Connecticut Path in Wayland, Massachusetts. The oldest portion of this 2-1/2 story building was built about 1710, and consisted of two rooms with a central chimney. Around 1800 a second structure was moved to the site and attached to the first, giving the building most of its present form. The building is also unusual for the period in that some of its rooms have no fireplace, and that the upstairs shows evidence of significant reuse of older building materials, a practice that was generally restricted to the attic or basement. The building exhibits modest Federal styling, in keeping with the c. 1800 alterations. Its builder and first proprietor was Hopestill Bent (1672-1725). The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
The following article is an excerpt from the book “Wayland A-Z: A Dictionary of Then and Now” by Evelyn Wolfson and Dick Hoyt, published in 2004 by the Wayland Historical Society.
“Two rings, a large gold one and a small copper alloy one, each engraved with a death head, now in the possession of the Wayland Historical Society provide a fascinating story about a nearly forgotten 18th century custom. These gloomy ornaments were given to all the chief mourners at funerals and nearly all people of any social standing had one. One of these rings may have originally belonged to Hopestill Bent, who later operated the Bent Tavern in his home on Old Connecticut Path.”
The Bent Family in America by Allen Herbert Bent, 1900 contains the following: “That he was kind and just in his dealings with the original owners of our soil is proved by the following extract from the Middlesex [County] deeds: Isaac Nehemiah, Indian, of Natick, in consideration of the love, good will and affection for my kind and loving friend Mr. Hopestill Bent of Sudbury, for his Great Care of me and kindness to me in time of my Sickness, when I was at his house by ye Space of about Seven years during which time I was Tenderly Nursed and Instructed in the things yl Concern my Soul * * * deed to Hopestill Bent * * * my lands in Natick and Magunckog, April 7, 1714.”
What was the Canadian Campaign of 1690?
King William’s War was part of an extended war between England and France. The war was basically over religion and greed. England was protestant and France was Catholic. The royalty of both countries wanted the riches from dependent colonies and from the lucrative fur trade with Native American tribes. Both countries had colonies in America; France in New France (Canada), and England in New England. The colonists on both sides and the Native Americans were used as pawns by the European royalty.
There had been several raids back and forth between the French in Canada and the English in New England. The Campaign of 1690 was a Massachusetts expedition, under the command of Sir William Phips, who had sacked Port Royal (capital of New France) previously. It consisted of about 32 ships (only four of which were of any size) and over 2,300 Massachusetts militiamen. The expedition was delayed until quite late in the summer because it was waiting (in vain) for the arrival of additional munitions from England. Consequently, when Phips’ expedition set out on August 20, it was inadequately supplied with ammunition. Bad weather, contrary winds, and lack of pilots familiar with the Saint Lawrence River hampered progress, and Phips did not anchor in the Quebec basin until October 16.
Frontenac, the French commander, a shrewd and experienced officer, had nearly 3,000 men to defend Quebec. The New Englanders had been “quite confident that the cowardly and effete French would be no match for their hardy men”, but in fact the opposite was the case. Frontenac’s force of colonial regulars were superior to Phips’s amateur militia companies. In addition Quebec was “sited on the strongest natural position they [the English officers] had likely ever seen.” Not only did it have impressive cliffs, but the eastern shore was so shallow that ships could not approach and landing craft would be needed.
On October 16 Phips sent Major Thomas Savage as an envoy to demand the surrender of Frontenac. Savage pulled out his watch and told Frontenac he had one hour to surrender. Frontenac was enraged and it was only the Bishop of Quebec who prevented him from hanging Savage in full view of the New Englanders.
The battle was a disaster for the English who spent most of their ammunition bombarding the city from their ships. On October 20 the English attacked the French earthworks and lost 150 men. They made a retreat in a state of near panic on October 22, even abandoning five field guns on the shore. On the 23rd and 24th an exchange of prisoners was made and Phips set sail for Boston. Phips defeat was complete and disastrous for the Massachusetts militia who lost about 1,000 men, many from small pox, freezing weather and ship wreck.
In 1694 Sir William Phips was summoned back to London where he died in 1695 at the age of 44. No account survives of Hopestill Bent’s actions and suffering during the campaign.
A note of interest: My children’s ancestors were fighting each other during the French and Indian Wars. My grandmother, Leona Bassett Kline’s, mother’s ancestors were French Canadian, making me 1/8th French Canadian. Some of their stories will be told as this blog progresses.
Adams County, located in the region known in the nineteenth century as the Great American Desert, was established in 1867 when Nebraska became a state. The first permanent settlers arrived in 1869 and on December 12, 1871 the county was organized and Juniata chosen as county seat. By the end of 1872 when the Burlington Railroad finished construction across Adams County, settlers, attracted by free homestead land and railroad advertisements of cheap land available on credit, began to pour in.
William Beach purchased the northeast quarter of Section 12, Township 6, Range 11 from the United States on May 6, 1873. He paid cash, $2.50 per acre, a total of $400. It is unknown if the Beach family lived on the land or if it was held for speculation. William and Mary Beach of Van Buren County, Michigan sold the quarter section on February 14, 1877 for $3,000. This sum indicates that improvements had been made.
On November 20, 1886 referees for the estate of Melissa L. Vansickle sold the quarter section at a public sale “in front of Farrells Stone Block in Hastings.” Jacob J. Kindig, a prosperous farmer of Woodford County, Illinois, purchased the land for $3,000. Jacob’s cousin, Absalom P. Kindig had moved to Adams County in 1879 and perhaps advised him of the opportunities available. Jacob’s only daughter, Mary Ann, was engaged to marry a promising young man named Basil M. McCue. Both the Kindig and McCue families were formerly from Virginia. Jacob and his wife Phebe, of Woodford County, Illinois deeded the quarter section of land to Mary Ann Kindig on December 18, 1886. “According to Mennonite custom the bride’s parents provided a farm to the young couple, who had the choice of 80 acres in Illinois or a quarter section in the less expensive lands of Nebraska.” They chose Nebraska and moved to the farm shortly after their marriage in 1887.
Basil M. McCue was born March 15, 1863 near Afton, Nelson County, Virginia. His formal schooling was limited to three five-month terms. He left home at 15, worked at a country store for three years then moved to Woodford County, Illinois where he married Mary Ann Kindig.
Adams County was enjoying one of the greatest boom times in its history in 1887. ‘Land is King! Owners Are Princes!’ the newspapers proclaimed. People believed them. Real estate activities became feverish. From January to March 1887, land transfers entered in the courthouse books ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 per day. Hastings was filled with speculators from the East. Later in 1887 the boom collapsed, land values plummeted and the crowds of speculators left the area. Farmers who had made long term investments in land were little affected, but 1888 was a poor crop year and in 1889 commodity prices were low. Even so by 1890 Basil McCue had prospered enough to built a large barn. The 100 by 50 foot barn, which stood on the highest hill around, was painted yellow, trimmed in green and immediately became a landmark.
By 1893 the McCue family had grown to include three children. The original square, four room frame house became too small for a growing family. Despite the fact that in 1893 Nebraska along with the rest of the nation was in the grip of a depression, Basil McCue began the construction of a large two-story frame house, reminiscent of a Virginia plantation manor. The Juniata Herald made this observation: “B. M. McCue, south of town, has his fine new farm mansion completed now and it is a home good enough for anybody. Mr. McCue has a large barn and other buildings, showing that there are at least some farmers who can make a living in this country. The present hard times will probably not reduce such hard working, thrifty, honest farmers as Mr. McCue to the starvation point.” Basil’s favorite color was yellow and the house was painted to match the barn, bright yellow trimmed in bright green.
Jacob J. Kindig and his wife, Phebe came to live with the McCue family sometime after the large house was constructed in 1893. Jacob Kindig was born in Augusta County, Virginia and moved to Woodford County, Illinois as a young man. His father, Martin Kindig, was a Mennonite minister at the Springdale Church in Augusta County. Jacob followed in his father’s footsteps and also became a minister, serving the Panther Creek Church of the Brethren in Woodford County. After his move to Adams County, he served as a minister to the German Baptist Brethren (commonly called the “Dunkers”) congregations near Roseland and at Juniata. The “Dunkers” did not have a formal clergy, but chose members of their congregations who showed true Christ-like living and had the ability to preach. The “Dunkers” were farmers, usually of German heritage, who lived a simple life as opposed to worldly. This meant jewelry and stylish clothing were not accepted. Gambling, taking of oaths, dancing and swearing were all forbidden. They were family and community oriented, the large families usually intermarrying. Unlike some other “plain” religious groups, the “Dunkers” were advanced in their farming methods and accepted useful household improvements. Jacob Kindig was involved in the establishment of the German Baptist Brethren congregation in Juniata and a church building was erected there in 1893. Jacob’s grandson, Elbert McCue, remembered hearing his grandfather preach in the little frame church in Juniata. The congregation disbanded in the 1930s and unfortunately its records and those of the Roseland congregation are lost.
Basil McCue was a large-scale farmer for the latter 1800s when most farm labor was accomplished by the muscles of men and beasts. His large barn contained stalls for 16 head of horses. In addition to the quarter section where the farmstead is located, he purchased 80 acres adjoining to the south, and a quarter section a half-mile north. With this large amount of land Basil needed hired hands. He didn’t have to look far to find them. The Adams County Poor Farm was located across the road to the north.
One of the earliest acts of the county commissioners had been the selection of a poor farm site on the south half of Section 1, Township 6, Range 11, five miles south of Juniata, in the 32-Mile Creek valley. The commissioners ordered a road built straight south out of Juniata, the county seat, to the poor farm. The road, now known as Juniata Avenue, remains today, dead-ending at the northwest corner of the McCue farm.
Because McCue hired Poor Farm inmates to work on his farm, the farmhouse was built in an unusual configuration. A wall running front to back through the center of the house separates the second floor. Two stairways lead to the second floor, one to each half. Basil’s son, Elbert recalled the house had been constructed so the hired men who slept on the north side upstairs had no access to the family quarters on the south side upstairs. Only the family had access to the second story front porch, which is entered from the south side upstairs hall. Elbert remembered the inmates from the County Poor Farm who lived with the McCue family and received their room and board plus a small amount of money for their labor. One of these men, Philip Wagner, became a permanent member of the McCue family, moved to Finney County Kansas with them, and lived in their home until his death.
Basil McCue’s farming operation was financially successful and in 1901 and 1902 he purchased 560 acres in Silver Lake Township, about 10 miles southwest of his home. He paid a total of $5,800. His hard working and thrifty wife, Mary Ann, contributed to this success. In addition to raising a growing family of children and performing the everyday drudgery of a housewife, she did all the interior varnishing and painting on the new house. She also raised geese, which she butchered and sold to the German families in the neighborhood. The McCue family planted a large orchard of apple and cherry trees on the three acres north of the house and preserving the fruit would have been Mary Ann’s job.
In 1902 Mr. McCue was forced to stay overnight in Garden City, Kansas because of a derailed train. While waiting he looked at land and purchased 4,800 acres. The cost averaged $3.73 an acre.” Basil returned home and began the task of moving his family and farming operation to Kansas. The livestock, household goods and farm implements were shipped in nine rail carloads. The Adams County Democrat announced, “Basil McCue and family are packing up farm implements and household goods, preparing to move to Kansas. Basil has been a long time resident here, and we will miss him and his family very much but wish them all success in their new home.” Prior to leaving Adams County Basil rented his home farm to George Dority.
Basil McCue became active in the land business and advertised Kansas land in the Hastings newspapers. He ran the following advertisement in December 1905:
“A FARMERS EXPERIENCE. In the spring of 1887 I moved from Woodford County, Illinois and located in Adams County, Nebraska. My friends and neighbors said I was foolish and a good many more things not so nice, for leaving a sure-crop-state like Illinois and attempting to make a home and farm in a drouthy desert like Nebraska, but I made up my mind to try it and my good wife said she would stay with me and we came.
We bought land here in Adams County at that time for $7.00 per acre, for real choice land we paid a little more. During the terrible years of drought and panic that followed we nearly lost heart but we never gave up. Every year we would seed our land and then turn our eyes toward Heaven and pray the good Lord to bless our efforts with timely rains. Some years our labors were richly rewarded and other years our efforts availed us naught….
But every spring would occur that feeling away down, just a little spark of fear that would magnify as the spring passed and the hot dry months came on, that we might not get rain and then all our efforts would be in vain. Somewhere there must be a land with a reserve of water sufficient to mature our crops and we would find that place. We stopped at Garden City, Finney County, Kansas and here found just what we had been looking for 20 years. When the rain does not come millions and millions of gallons of water were running to waste that could be turned over this land. We bought 4200 acres of this paradise immediately and moved our family to this wonderful land. We thought of our neighbors and friends up in Nebraska so secured about 200 quarters of this land for them. They can have for $7.00 to $15.00 per acre.” In the same newspaper was a news item “B. M. McCue and a party of seven left last night for Garden City, Kansas. The men who accompanied Mr. McCue were selected by the Russians of Lincoln and Hastings to investigate conditions at Garden City and nearby.”
In 1907 Basil McCue established the Garden City, Gulf & Northern Railroad, one of the few private railroads in Kansas. The town of McCue, on that line, was named for Basil. He later sold the railroad to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe for $500,000. In June 1907 Basil and Mary sold their old home in Nebraska to William M. Dutton for an undisclosed amount.
William M. Dutton was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa in 1859, son of Basil T. and Mary A. Dutton. He moved to Hastings, Nebraska in 1886 to start a harness manufacturing business with two boyhood friends, William McKey and J. H. Haney. The new business, called the J. H. Haney Company, began as a manufacturer of horse equipment. It prospered and grew into the respected Dutton-Lainson Company of today. Although W. M. Dutton never lived on the farm he owned from 1907 to 1917, he was closely involved in the farming operation. During the years 1905 to 1919 agriculture in Adams County prospered and Mr. Dutton made many improvements to the farmstead. In 1911 the Adams County Democrat announced: “Mr. Dutton of Hastings who owns the former Basil McCue farm is having the place fixed up so the former owner would not know it any more. The barn has new doors and otherwise repaired, also painted the regulation red. The house is snowy white with a light gray trimming and if you drive by these premises on the east road you will agree with the writer that everything looks different and for the better.” And in 1913: “A fine hog house is going up on the Dutton farm occupied by Rudolph Huckfeldt.” During the Dutton years the entire farm was planted to rye, which was cut with a binder, shocked, then topped to remove the seed. The straw bundles were hauled to the J. H. Haney Company factory in Hastings and used to stuff horse collars. Other improvements included two cement pit silos 25 feet deep, cement walks and large cement horse tank, new well with steel towered Aermotor windmill and water piped from the well to cisterns near the house, barn and hog house, and a new creamery built next to the windmill. All these improvements remain except the hog house, which blew down in a tornado in the early 1950s and the two pit silos, which were filled when the center pivot irrigation system was installed in 1976.
The farmhouse, like all buildings that have been inhabited over long periods of time, has witnessed the full spectrum of human emotion: quiet family life, the joy of weddings and childbirth, and also great tragedy. Basil McCue, like his father-in-law, J. J. Kindig, was a minister of the Roseland Dunkard Church and performed several marriages during his years in Adams County. Two of those weddings took place in the McCue home. Harry S. Hoffman and Laura Snively were married in July 1901, and Frederick S. Hoffman and Clara Davis were married in May, 1903.
The James Peterson family lived in the house during 1909-1910. The November 17, 1909 Hastings Republican told this tragic story. “The home of Mr. And Mrs. James Peterson who live about 11 miles southwest of Hastings near the county poor farm, was the scene of a most horrible accident yesterday. A shot gun in the hands of a farm hand was accidentally discharged, the entire charge literally blowing the head off the 3-year-old son, Lloyd, who was standing near, scattering the brains and portions of flesh all about on the walls, ceiling and floor. The facts are as follows: Mr. Peterson had been hunting the day before and had set the gun down in a corner of the kitchen. The hired man picked the gun up to examine it and in raising the hammer his fingers slipped off and when the hammer dropped the gun was discharged. All members of the family-father, mother and two other children-were witness of the dreadful tragedy. The grandfather, J. S. Peterson, who makes his home with his son, had gone upstairs to get ready to go to town. The father and mother are almost crazed with grief. Undertaker Livingston called in the case says he never looked upon a more sickening and heart-rending scene. He says the walls and ceiling in the room were all spattered with brains and blood.” Elizabeth Kleier, the closest neighbor, living one-fourth mile east, often told Edna Trausch of hearing the shot and the anguished mother’s screams. Elizabeth was the person who washed the spattered remains from the walls and ceiling.
In 1916 W. M. Dutton advertised the farm for sale. The ad (which covered a half page in the Adams County Democrat) contained the following description: “The Huckfeldt farm (known as the old McCue farm.) Without any doubt this is the very best stock and grain farm in Adams County, one of the most productive counties in the state. It is gently rolling and the drainage is perfect, good water in abundance, the soil is dark loam rich in crop producing qualities, every acre is in intense cultivation and the crops now on it demonstrate its great productiveness. The 6 hog-tight pastures are so arranged that hogs can be turned into any of the pastures directly from the hog house by an ideal arrangement of lanes leading from the hog house to the pastures. The house and barns are built upon a very beautiful site-one of the highest points in the county from which at night can be seen the lights of the city of Hastings, 9 miles away, the county seat with a population of 11,000, and also those of Roseland and Juniata five miles away.
Large 10-room house in excellent condition inside and out. Cement walks in front yard and from kitchen to creamery, fruit and shade trees, cistern in house, wire fence all around house, large stock and grain barn with numerous cribs and granaries and extensive hay lofts, large calf barn, large hog house, cistern in hog house, windmill, 2 cement pit silos 25 feet deep, substantial well-built creamery, sheds and other out buildings. Possession March 1, 1917″ Matt Heuertz purchased the farm in July 1917. The Adams County Democrat announced the sale. “Matt Heuertz has disposed of the fine Hastings property he recently acquired on Eleventh and Kansas, the Babcock house, to William M. Dutton and takes on the deal the old McCue farm of 240 acres in Roseland township at a consideration of about $125 per acre. This is a fine improved farm and will give Matt and his boys plenty of land to look after.” Matt Heuertz owned the farm from 1917 until 1921.
The beginning of World War I increased demand for food products and resulted in higher prices for grain, horses and mules. With the entry of the United States into the war in April 1917, however, the drafting of young men reduced farm labor and resulted in farmers looking for mechanization. Among the developments of these years were corn harvesters, binders, threshers, improved steam engines, and the growing use of tractors. Wheat was in such short supply that flour was rationed and marginal land was plowed, the repercussions of which would be felt during the Dust Bowl era.
With higher commodity prices came an increase in land values. The Federal Land Bank, Production Credit Association and other lending agencies were formed. Farmers forgot the lean years of the 1890s and assumed debts in excess of the earning capacity of the land. When the war ended grain prices fell dramatically. In the fall of 1919 wheat dropped from $2.15 to 33 cents a bushel in less than 90 days, corn from $1.50 to 25 cents a bushel. A recession had begun on the farm that would culminate in the Great Depression of the 1930s. The stock market crash of 1929 was barely noticed by farmers, but it presaged what was to come. During the early 1930s there was a deficiency of rainfall in Adams County and commodity prices remained low.
During the 1920s and early 1930s the Bill Utecht family rented the farm and four Utecht children were born in the house. LaMoine Utecht recalled how cold the big old house was in winter. His folks couldn’t afford coal and burned wood for heat.
Ownership of the farm changed hands five times during the 1920s; each time the land was heavily mortgaged. Finally in March 1930 the mortgage was foreclosed and the Sheriff auctioned the land. First National Bank of Hastings became the owner, purchasing an unpaid mortgage of $10,500 on a farm that had sold for $35,000 in 1921. On March 6, 1933 President Roosevelt called the National Bank moratorium, and the First National Bank went into receivership, its debts were greater that its assets. The receivers advertised farms for sale, the terms-cash. June 26, 1933 Matt Trausch purchased the old McCue farm from the receiver. His son Bert recalled “Roosevelt closed the banks and a lot of farms around went into receivership. We went to the bank in Hastings and made the deal. We gave them cold cash, no check. We got the deed and the abstract.”
Matt Trausch, son of Thomas and Anna Schifferns Trausch, was born in a dugout on the prairies of Adams County, on September 29, 1877. His father had immigrated from Stolzembourg, Luxembourg to Kane County, Illinois in 1870. Attracted by the advertisements of cheap land, Thomas arrived in Adams County in March 1876. He purchased a quarter section of land from the Burlington Railroad for $5 per acre on a ten-year contract. On October 20, 1876 Thomas Trausch married Anna Marie Schifferns, daughter of Peter and Susan Schifferns. The Schifferns family was among the first settlers in what would become Roseland township, arriving in March 1873. The Trausch and Schifferns families were of the Roman Catholic faith, but there was no Catholic Church in Adams County at that time so Thomas and Anna were married in the Busch schoolhouse just west of the later location of Assumption. They endured all the hardships of the pioneers: blizzards, grasshopper plagues, prairie fires, droughts, isolation and poverty. Settlers who were less determined relinquished their claims and returned to the east, but the Trausch and Schifferns families persevered. Soon a small colony of Luxembourgers had settled in Roseland and Juniata townships. In April 1883 a five-acre tract of land was purchased in Section 4, Roseland township and a small frame church, named the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was erected. The area surrounding this rural church is known as the Assumption community.
Matt Trausch grew to manhood in the Assumption community and in 1902, with his brother John, purchased a 160-acre farm in Section 10, Roseland Township, two miles east of Assumption. In 1903 he married Catherine Kaiser, daughter of Nicholas and Susan Theisen Kaiser, and they raised a family of eleven children. Matt was well known in the community. He served on various Assumption church committees, he was an officer of the Roseland Farmers Union store, and served as road overseer in his township. Matt worked as a carpenter in the winter months, constructing several buildings in the neighborhood, some of which still stand. About 1905 Matt purchased a Joliet corn sheller and shelled corn throughout the community. In 1924 he purchased a steam engine that he used to power a threshing machine. For the next decade he and his son Bert did commercial threshing throughout the area. The threshing ended with the drought of the 1930s when few crops were raised.
Bert Trausch was born March 22, 1906 on his parents’ farm two miles east of Assumption. He received his education in the Assumption parochial school and at an early age began helping his father with the farming and the commercial grain shelling and threshing business. On March 1, 1934 Bert moved into the old McCue farmhouse along with his brother Charles and sister Martha. He would live there for 36 years, the longest of any of the farm’s owners. The house, which was white trimmed in dark gray, needed painting and repairs. At that time paint pigment cost extra so the house was painted all white. It would remain white for over 60 years.
1934 was a devastating year for farmers in Adams County. 1933 had been the driest year in 57 years resulting in depleted subsoil moisture. January through May 1934 saw almost no moisture and in May unusually high temperatures began. Nebraska’s highest May temperature, 102 degrees, was recorded on May 29. In early June rain fell, but it was followed by high temperatures. From June 19 until the end of the month the region sweltered. July opened with a 103-degree day that was to be followed by the hottest month in Nebraska history. For 18 consecutive days from July 8 through July 25, temperatures over 100 degrees were recorded. On July 15, the mercury soared to 112 degrees, establishing a new record that didn’t last long, for on July 19 the official high was 113 degrees. Adams County was declared an emergency drought area. August brought ten consecutive days over 100 degrees with August 5 reaching 110 degrees.
For the Trausch family the unrelenting heat was almost unbearable. Hopes of raising a corn crop were gone by mid June. After that it became a matter of survival of both livestock and humans. Bert recalled the conditions: ” Martha raised chickens, the young ones survived but the hens died from the heat. They just set on the nest panting from the heat and then keeled over.” Rural Adams County was without electricity to power fans, refrigerators or water systems. “The heat continued day and night. The humidity got so low, furniture and wood in the house cracked. We couldn’t stand it in the house at night. We went out by the windmill where we had run water on the ground, sat on the ground, and drank cool water. We wet cloth and put it over our heads to let the wind blow through.” He also reminisced about small animals-skunks, raccoons, rabbits, even rats, drowning in the horse tank. Desperate for water, they jumped in during the night and couldn’t get out.
As bad as it was, the effects of the heat were surpassed by the miserable dust, which gave the “Dirty Thirties” their name. There had been small dust storms in 1932 and 1933, but in 1934 huge swirling blizzards of dust blew across the country. Bert recalled the April 1934 dust storm that “came up from the northwest about 5 o’clock in the evening. My brother Charles and I were in the barn when the dust hit, we couldn’t see the house from the barn. We had a radio aerial on the house and the friction of the dust blowing past it made so much static electricity, the static shot off the aerial and lead-in wire all the way along the roof, down the side of the house and inside by the radio.”
By 1934 there were no living trees on the farmstead, so that fall Bert and Charles obtained elm seedlings through the Clarke-McNary program and set out rows of elm trees to the north of the house. They carried buckets of water to the trees during the drought and some of those trees remain alive today. The drought continued throughout the decade. Bert did not raise a corn crop until 1940. When asked if he had considered leaving Nebraska during the 1930s Bert replied: “Where to? We owned our farm. If you could hang onto the land you stayed. We always had hopes better times would come.”
October 28, 1937 Bert Trausch married Edna Kline, daughter of Dan and Leona Bassett Kline who farmed in southwest Hamilton County. Bert’s sister Martha, who had been cooking and keeping house for her brothers, moved to Hastings. When Edna moved into the house there was no electricity, no running water, few window screens, and the kitchen plaster was crumbling. One week after the wedding Matt, Bert and Charles removed the woodwork from the kitchen and knocked the old plaster down. New plaster was put up and the woodwork reinstalled.
Charles Trausch continued to live on the farm with Bert and Edna until October 1942 when he sold his farm equipment and horses and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was discharged in November 1945 and moved to California in May 1947. During World War II all building materials were difficult to obtain. When the Naval Ammunition Depot near Hastings announced the availability of free surplus lumber for farmers, Bert obtained the lumber to build a large chicken house and a small brooder house across the driveway south of the house. The chicken house is still standing.
In 1935 the Rural Electric Administration (REA) was created to bring electricity to rural areas. In May 1938 the REA wired its first farmhouse in Adams County. But it wasn’t until late 1949 that REA lines reached the Trausch farmhouse and in early 1950 it was wired by Matt and Bert. At that time a pressure tank, attached to the cistern, which was filled by the windmill, was installed in the basement. A white metal sink was installed in the southwest corner of the kitchen. That sink is the only “modern” item in the kitchen, which still contains the old Hoosier style cabinet with metal flour bin. About 1940 a large cast iron bathtub had been placed in the pantry. The tub was filled with buckets of water heated on the cook stove and it drained through the wall onto the ground outside. The conversion of pantry into bathroom was completed in 1950 with the addition of a stool, sink and water lines.
Bert and Edna Trausch raised two daughters, Catherine and Agnes, and continued to live on the farm until 1970 when they moved to Assumption. From 1970 until 1998 the farmhouse stood unoccupied. In 1976 a center pivot irrigation system was installed on the farm. At that time the huge McCue barn, built in 1890, was torn down by Bert Trausch. Only the limestone foundation remains. The house and other outbuildings escaped a similar fate because they are located in the pivot corner. The exterior weathered; windows were shot out and boarded up; thieves broke in and stole most items of value left by the Trauschs. It appeared the story of the old house had reached its final chapter.
In 1997 Catherine, dismayed by the deterioration of the house, convinced her husband Pat Renschler to make weather-proofing repairs to the exterior. During the repair process, the Renschlers were captivated by the charm and serenity of the old house and by the magnificent prairie view from its windows. Repairs became restoration of both the house and the outbuildings. Pat and Catherine moved from Juniata to the old farmhouse in 2000.
The McCue-Trausch farmhouse is historically significant because of its association with early rural and agricultural development in Adams County and because it is an example of vernacular architecture influenced by the southern origins of Basil McCue. The side gallerie type porch, transoms over all exterior doors, and room arrangement that gives every room two or three outside walls reflect his Virginia origins. This design, appropriate for warm southern climes, allowed cooling breezes to flow through the house. However it does not adapt itself well to the harsh windy winters of the Nebraska plains. All exterior ornamentation remains intact, including cut shingles and sunrise detailing on the gable ends, ornamental window caps, and detailed turnings on the original screen doors and balcony balustrade. The house still stands on its original limestone foundation and retains its four brick chimneys. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.
The old McCue house still stands, a testament to the endurance of Nebraska farm families. It is one of the few 1890s farmhouses remaining in Adams County, and the only one in nearly original condition.
This history was written by Catherine Trausch Renschler in 2000 for the National Register nomination form. Since 2000 some alterations have been made to the house. A bathroom was installed in a large upstairs closet. The house was insulated and two furnaces installed. For the first time the house has air conditioning. In 2007 Catherine decided something had to be done with the back porch which was badly rotted. Also a kitchen which could accommodate modern cabinetry was needed. The original kitchen has two long windows, six doors and a cabinet-style pass-through into the dining room, but no wall space for modern cabinets. The old back porch and storage room were removed and a kitchen plus a sun room were added. If the house was to survive another hundred years it needed to accommodate modern living. Kitchen and dining room cabinets made by Matt Trausch in 1913 for his new house, were installed in the addition. When Catherine Kaiser Trausch moved to Assumption in 1963 they had been moved to her basement. After Edna Kline Trausch’s death in 2004 but before the Assumption house was sold, the cabinets were removed and put into storage. It is my hope that the old house will stand another hundred years and be occupied by my descendants.
Post-mortem photography, also known as memorial or mourning portraits, is the practice of photographing the recently deceased. This was considered a normal part of the grieving process in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
These photographs also documented floral arrangements and the coffin. It was the custom to photograph funeral flowers with or without the body of the deceased. The floral arrangements often contained photographs made while the deceased was alive. In addition to flowers, memorial photos also documented other items symbolizing the life of the deceased person. Religious items, crucifixes, statuary, Bibles or holy books represented the person’s faith.
Every photo contains a story. The photo of Anna’s floral arrangements shows us her parlor. Notice the photograph on the wall. It appears to be WWI soldiers at a camp. Her son Joseph was drafted and trained at Camp Funston, in Fort Riley, Kansas. On the left are two statues, one appears to be Mary holding Jesus. The white dove in the floral arrangement on the right is a symbol of a gentle, loving spirit and also of the Holy Spirit.
This photo of the floral arrangements shows Anna in her coffin. Notice the statues have been moved to the head of the coffin and a crucifix added. Anna was only 63 years old. She died from cancer of the stomach. Her father, Peter Schifferns, also died from stomach cancer at the age of 80 years.
Thomas was also “laid out” in the parlor. The wallpaper and the rug are the same. The photo on the wall has been replaced with a large Sacred Heart drawing. A crucifix was placed on the cabinet between two candles. Thomas has fewer floral tributes.
In a 1982 interview Bert Trausch recalled the photos being taken. “What I remember is that Williams took pictures of them in their coffin. Years ago when they took a picture they set off about a pound of powder to make a flash. I remember the double doors even puffed out on that room from the flash. Williams, my uncle, [husband of Mary Trausch] took those pictures; he was a photographer in Hastings.”
The flash Bert remembered was made with flash powder, a fine magnesium powder mixed with potassium chlorate. It was eventually replaced by the flash bulb.
In the 1920s, when Anna and Thomas died, most people died at home. The undertaker was called to take the body for embalming and placing in a coffin. The coffin was then returned to the deceased’s home for the wake.
Friends and relatives gathered in the home, and in the presence of the body, prayed for the soul of the departed and offered condolences to the family. It was the custom that someone watched beside the body through the nights until the funeral. This was the origin of the “wake” or “watching.” Prior to the use of embalming, the wake also served the purpose of making sure the body was deceased, thus assuring the person wasn’t buried alive.
Below is a poignant post-mortem photo of a man and his two small sons all in one coffin. The newspaper story about these deaths listed the cause of the deaths as “Cerebral Meningitis.” They are buried in the Doniphan, Nebraska Cemetery. The white oval was for a portrait that was not inserted into the photo.
Timothy and Lois Bemis are the 5th great grandparents of Pat Renschler on his mother’s side.
Timothy Bemis, son of Timothy Bemis and Martha Wesson, was born at Weston, Middlesex County, Massachusetts on July 19, 1776, fifteen days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He married Lois Rhodes on June 3, 1795 at Marlborough, Cheshire County, New Hampshire.
Timothy is recorded on the 1800 Census of Marlborough, New Hampshire, and the 1820, 1830 and 1840 Censuses of Malone, Franklin County, New York. He died May 24, 1848 on his farm near Malone. He and his wife are buried in the Webster Street Cemetery there. This information can be found on several family history web sites.
However, there is much more to Timothy’s story than just a recitation of dates and places. Timothy moved his family, a wife and seven children, to Malone about 1812. It is not known how they traveled, but many settlers from the New England states crossed Lake Champlain when it was frozen solid. Franklin County is located in upstate New York on the Canadian border. The area is rugged and mountainous, and in 1812 it was nearly uninhabited. The Bemis family must have suffered many hardships while establishing their 130 acre farm in the wilderness.
Timothy is one of our patriot ancestors, serving in the War of 1812 as a private in Stephen D. Hickok’s Militia on its march to Plattsburg, New York on September 11 to September 20, 1814. The Battle of Plattsburg, also known as the Battle of Lake Champlain, occurred when British troops converged on Plattsburg which was defended by New York and Vermont militias and US Federal troops. The British were defeated and retreated into Canada. Hickok’s militia, which was raised in Franklin County, New York, responded to the alarm of the battle of Plattsburgh, but didn’t reach there in time to participate in the engagement. Timothy’s pay as a Private was $2.66. The only record found of his service is in the Historical Sketches of Franklin County and Its Several Towns With Many Brief Biographical Sketches. By Frederick J Seaver, published in 1918. The militias were local organizations and many of their records have been lost.
Timothy built a saw mill on Branch brook near his home. It was successful and he was considered wealthy at the time of his death.
The Franklin Telegraph of March 9, 1826 printed the minutes of the Annual Town Meeting. Timothy Bemis was named a Fence Viewer. The job of fence viewer was to inspect fences, notify owners of needed repairs, and to settle fence disputes. Fence viewers were also called haywards.
Timothy’s wife, Lois, bore him thirteen children. Our ancestor, Hiram, was born in 1798. She was 42 years old when her last child, Charles, was born in 1817. Lois died August 2, 1856 at the age of 81 years.
No biographical research project is complete without searching probate records. Many years ago, before PCs and the internet, during a research trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, I located microfilm copies of Timothy Bemis’ will located in Volume 2, page 212 of Franklin County probate files. That’s when Timothy’s story became interesting—a blind man changing his will shortly before his death, a will kept in a hat, the previous will burned in a stove, a housekeeper who was the mother of two illegitimate children, and a legitimate son challenging the validity of the second will.
The second will is dated November 14, 1844. In it he leaves very small amounts to most of his children, sons Varanes and Hiram (our ancestor) received $25 each; the heirs of daughter Nancy received $5; daughters Eunice Story and Mary Perry received $20 each; son Ebenezer received 28 acres and use of the saw mill for five years. To son Charles Bemis he gave half the saw mill and two houses, and half of 136 acres of land with equipment, tools, etc. Now comes the interesting part, to Harry Bemis, son of Olive R. Bradish he left half of the saw mill and two houses, and half the 136 acres, equipment, tools, etc. Also one bed and bedding, a brass fancy clock also his brass bed and bedding and schooling till he arrives to the age of twenty-one. He also left his pew in the Baptist church and a horse stall “marked T B” in the shed attached to the church to Charles Bemis and Harry Bemis. To Olive Bradish’s daughter, Josephine Bemis, he left a bed and bedding, $400, and her maintenance, clothing and schooling until she reached eighteen years. He directed that Olive R Bradish receive her support and maintenance during her natural life or as long as she remained unmarried. After Timothy provided for the housekeeper, and near the end of the will he directed that his “beloved wife” Lois Bemis be supported equally by Charles and Harry Bemis. Lastly, he directed that grave stones be erected on his and his wife’s graves.
Timothy & Lois’s son Varanes contested the will. The testimony in that suit included: Timothy Bemis was blind, he could only see some light. Olive Bradish was in the room when the first will was destroyed. She had lived in Mr. Bemis home for fifteen years, until the day of Mr. Bemis death. (Olive would have arrived at the Bemis household about 1833. Harry was born in 1834 and Josephine in 1840.) Olive Bradish admitted that she and her daughter had read the first will which was kept in a drawer. The executor stated he put the second will in his hat, what happened to it after that isn’t stated. One of the persons who signed the will as a witness stated the will was not read and he did not know what it contained.
In December 1848 the county judge found that the will was duly executed by Timothy Bemis. Olive Bradish never married and lived until 1877.
For more than thirty years, a Catholic boarding school and academy for young women existed in Hastings. In fact, there were two schools, one superseding the other. The first one, known as the Academy of the Visitation, included the usual course of study in the primary, intermediate, and academic departments, according to the Hastings Independent Tribune of August 23, 1895. The school functioned for six years. The second one, the Immaculate Conception Academy, was a preparatory school and academy. In the 24 years this school existed, it provided an education from the ninth through the 14th grades for several hundred young women, both Catholic and Protestant, from communities in Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa.
The original school had its beginnings in 1889 when Thomas Farrell, a leading Catholic layman in community, transferred a ten-acre tract at Pine Avenue and 14th Street to the Sisters of the Visitation, an order whose Mother House was in Chicago. Construction began immediately, and the building was opened on January 6, 1890. The three-story structure was of Colorado red sandstone from Thomas Farrell’s quarries, with ground dimensions of 80 by 184 feet. The east wing was the convent for the Sisters in charge of the school, and the west wing was for the accommodation of students and the reception of visitors. A ten-foot high wooden fence surrounded the school. A newspaper story in later years said that the entire construction cost had amounted to $100,000, a large sum at that time.
The first classes began on February 5, 1890. The course of instruction included vocal music, the harp, piano, guitar and mandolin; and in the art department instruction in oil, water colors and china painting. Lessons were also given in all kinds of needlework. French, German and Latin were taught. Students were also taught bookkeeping, typewriting, stenography, and telegraphy. Some pupils were boarding students from rural areas or communities which did not have high schools. Parents who wished their children to have a full high school education had to send them to boarding schools. Protestant academies, including those at Hastings College, Franklin, Fairfield, Crete were for both boys and girls. Many families hesitated to send young daughters to non-segregated schools, and although there was a rigid divide between Catholics and Protestants, some Protestant parents decided that exposing their daughters to an alien religion was a lesser evil than having them in contact with unknown boys. Some pupils were day students from Hastings, who took the horse drawn streetcar which went up Pine Avenue and stopped at the entrance to the school.
The 1890s were years of drought, heat, crop failures and bank closings. All institutions on the Great Plains were in precarious financial condition. After the Order had paid the initial $10,000 toward the construction of the school, it could pay no more nor could it pay the interest on the mortgage. In 1896 the Visitation Academy was forced to close. The Sisters abandoned the property in December. However, Sister Margaret and Sister Anastasia, left the order and remained in Hastings to spend the rest of their lives as nurses in the community.
For a dozen years, from 1896 to 1908, the building was unoccupied save for a family that moved in as caretakers for the creditors. By the turn of the century, after the drought and depression were over, businessmen in Hastings began to consider what use could be made of the structure. A building so large, subject to deterioration if it were left unused and unrepaired, could prove damaging to property values. Rats were infesting the building, the roof was leaking and each succeeding year of non-use depreciated its usability and value.
In 1908 Bishop Thomas Bonacum of Lincoln and the Sisters of St. Dominic, known as the Dominican Sisters, from the Convent of St. Catharine of Siena in Springfield, Kentucky, made an offer to the Commercial Club of Hastings. If Hastings would raise $8,000 and turn over the old convent building, the Sisters would repair the building and establish a school for young women. Father William McDonald, local parish priest, and the Hastings Commercial Club began the job of soliciting subscriptions, and by January 6, 1909, the funds had been raised.
Mother Magdalene arrived from St. Catharine, Kentucky on April 30 to supervise the final preparations. Eight Sisters arrived mid-summer to scrub and equip the building, investing about $30,000 in the renovation. The west half of the building was the convent and the east half was the school. By September, everything was in order. “The Sisters had planned for an initial enrollment of about 75 pupils,” the Hastings Daily Tribune of September 15, 1909, reported. “Facilities were provided for a larger number, but when the registration passed the 100 mark, it was necessary to send out for more desks for emergency use until others could be obtained.”
By the following year there were 125 boarding and day students enrolled. Although there was considerable emphasis on the study of art and music, the school had laboratories for physics and chemistry and a new gymnasium. Miss Marguerite Higgins of Boston was the physical education instructor, teaching Swedish and German American systems of gymnastics, basketball, social, aesthetic and folk dancing, fencing, club swinging. The program included a special corrective department for children with spinal curvature, round shoulders, and dropping head. In later years tennis courts were added.
Among the students in 1910 was Leona Bassett whose father and step mother lived east of Hastings on the road now named 12th Street. Leona, dressed in white, is the fourth person in the back row of the photo. She was able to attend the academy only one year because her step mother did not want money spent on Leona’s education. The original of this photo is a post card.
There were three members of the first graduating class in 1911. At that time the school had 12 grades; the two junior college grades were added in 1925 with Sister Leonardo as dean. The annual Educational Directories of the Nebraska Department of Public Instruction indicate that sister Mary Louis was the principal until 1916; Sister Aloysius, 1916-1917; Sister Mary Virginia, 1918-1924; Sister Eleanor, 1924-1926; Sister Rose de Lima, a graduate of ICA, 1926-1927; Sister Clara, 1927-1928 and 1929-1930; Sister Henrietta, 1928-1929; and Sister Mary Rose, 1930-1931. Among the teachers were Sister Bonaventure, Sister Helen Marie, Sister Columbo; Sister Thersa in music; Sister Geraldine in gymnastics; and Sister Veronica in art. There were usually four or five faculty members.
During the early years of the academy there were about 125 boarding students at a time. The girls lived on the third, or top, floor of the academy, either in large barracks-like dormitory rooms, or in smaller single or double rooms, which were usually saved for the senior girls. The schedule for the boarding students called for them to arise at 6:30 a.m., attend Mass at 7, then have breakfast and be ready for classes which started at 9 a.m. The girls were carefully supervised; daily walks were part of the schedule, the girls walking two-by-two down Academy Avenue, sometimes over to the cemetery on Elm Avenue, always chaperoned by one of the Sisters. The mail of the boarding students was carefully scrutinized, particularly that from home-town boy friends, and some of the students went to great lengths to arrange mail-drops with friends in town.
The girls wore school uniforms of white middy blouses and pleated navy blue skirts during the period of the 1910’s. At a later date, according to pictures in the annuals of 1925 and 1926, they wore long-sleeved navy blue dresses with white Peter Pan collars and long satin bow-ties. For Mass, they wore chapel veils or mantillas.
The numbers of day students varied from time to time. Included among them, particularly among the lower graders, were a number of local Catholic boys, Joseph Kealy, Leo Coffey, Mark Cantwell and Paul Kernan among them. Few boys were ever graduated from the academy, however, transferring instead to the public school.
After 1912, there were no further elementary classes at the academy because St. Cecilia’s established a parish school in Hastings. The teaching staff was Dominican Sisters who lived in the Convent part of the Immaculate Conception Academy. When boarding students in elementary grades were in residence at the academy, they went into town with the Sisters who taught at St. Cecilia’s, taking their class work there. The academy was especially strong in its instruction of both art and music, and had special classrooms on the first floor for each of those subjects. Sister Veronica, the art teacher, was an accomplished painter and in addition to teaching fine arts also taught craft-style art. The school had its own kiln for firing ceramics.
The music department had a gramophone on which students could listen to records, and every time there was a opera or some other outstanding musical program at the Kerr Opera House downtown, academy students attended, under close chaperonage. From time to time, the music department presented operettas and participated in early-day radio broadcasts at station KFKX.
Students were given academy diplomas at graduation exercises, and most of the girls also received teaching certificates and/or letters of admission to the University. In fact by 1918 the headlines in the Tribune referred to the school as the Catholic Normal. (A Normal School trains students to be teachers.) According to Nebraska State Education Directories the academy was an approved normal training school from 1911 through 1931; and from the school year 1925-26 onward, graduates were accredited automatically for entrance to the University of Nebraska.
Disaster struck on May 8, 1930, when a tornado swept across Hastings. When the winds died down, the Sisters discovered that the third floor of the building was almost entirely demolished. Mercifully, no one was injured. Clearing away the rubble, the Sisters made plans to rebuild, “The gabled room and top story of the building will be removed and a flat roof will be put on.” the Tribune of July 12th reported. The interior of the building was redesigned to accommodate the necessary 17 classrooms, the library, reception room and offices in the now two-story building. And the Sisters discovered that there was enough salvaged brick to build a long needed gymnasium. The 30 by 65 feet building included a stage, flanked by dressing rooms, at one end.
But the depression that was to destroy the economy of the country in the 1930s had already begun. Money for tuition to send girls away to school was no longer as plentiful as it had been in earlier years. With fewer boarding students and less tuition money coming in, and with a new debt to cope with, the Dominican Order reluctantly decided to close the academy. On May 9, 1932 Bishop Kucera of Lincoln announced that the buildings and grounds had been sold to the Crosier Fathers. The graduating class of 1932 was the last one. The building that had been a girls school would now become a college and seminary for men. Some of the Sisters remained in Hastings and taught at St. Cecilia’s school where tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades were added.
The three youngest daughters of John and Bertha Kline attended the Immaculate Conception Academy. All three became Dominican nuns influenced by their teachers at the academy. In a 1988 interview Sister Frances Kline talked about the academy. “I was in school at Immaculate Conception Academy when Father died. [14 March 1914] Uncle George Pressler—he had a car then and we didn’t have one—came down and got us. They didn’t tell us that he was dead, just that he was sick. The Sister in charge there she said “Well now, take your black dress because you will need it to go to Mass tomorrow.” We wore blue during the week and black on Sunday. So we didn’t know until we got home. We just went home at vacation time–Christmas and in the summer. The first year I was there was when Father died. I was out of ICA for two years before I went to the convent. I taught school the second year at Skunk Hollow School. I drove a horse and buggy from home. It was four or five miles.”
In the early 20th century, the Immaculate Conception Academy served its purpose, providing quality education for upwards of a thousand young women. Some graduates became teachers, some went on to the University of Nebraska, and some graduates went into religious vocations. Sister Leonardo, formerly Clara Kline, a graduate with the class of 1913, returned to the academy as the dean of the junior college as soon as it was established in 1925. Among the other religious were Sister Theodore Kline, Sister Mary Louise Helmann, Sister Ernestine Choquette, Sister Francis Kline, and Sister Celestine Waltham. All the school records seem to have disappeared, being neither at the Mother House in St. Catharine, with the Dominican Sisters who still provide educational instruction at St. Cecilia’s, nor in any parish nor diocesan archive in Hastings or Lincoln.
Today the building is an office complex named Crosier Park.
The great blizzard which struck the northern plains on January 12, 1888 has acquired almost legendary status. Over a thousand people are said to have perished, about 100 of them in Nebraska. The blizzard came to be known as the “School Children’s Blizzard” because of the many children and teachers caught in little one-room schoolhouses scattered across the plains. But Adams County was spared, no citizen of the county is known to have died in the storm.
The morning of that fateful day was unseasonably warm and clear. Children had walked to school wearing light-weight clothing and carrying only their lunch. They would later reminisce about playing outside at noon in their shirtsleeves. While the residents of Adams County went about their daily activities unaware, a massive Canadian cold front was descending on them at a speed of 45 miles per hour. The front’s leading edge was a wall of blowing dirt, snow, and ice particles. The temperature behind the front fell by twenty to thirty degrees. By nightfall the temperature was well below zero–in some places by as much as twenty degrees below. Anyone caught out in that mass of howling winds, blinding snow and subzero temperature was in severe trouble.
H. O’Gara collected stories of the blizzard and in 1947 they were printed in a book titled In All Its Fury. The following stories, which illustrate the blizzard’s impact on the rural residents of this area, were excerpted from that book.
Lulu McGaw Cunningham lived on a farm four miles northeast of Hastings and attended school district 15. “During the noon hour, while we were enjoying our lunch, we heard a loud roaring that sounded like a train passing nearby. In a few minutes we knew what caused the noise for the blizzard struck the building and tore a shutter from one of the windows. The wind whirled dirty snow and ice against the panes, completely covering them so that we could not see out anywhere and it became very dark. The storm came with the force of a cyclone.
The temperature began to go down and by two o’clock it had fallen to about twenty below. The wind continued to blow, drifting and blocking the country roads. Our teacher said that unless our fathers came for us we would stay right there all night, as we had plenty of coal in the bin. But very soon our father’s did begin to come, one rode a horse, another had a top buggy, another a sled. My father drove a team of horses hitched to a double-box wagon. We sat in the bottom covered with blankets while father stood in front to drive. It was very hard on us, as we had to face the bitter, cold wind. Ice formed on the horses’ faces and father frosted his ear and face. A willow hedge fence was the only guide he had to keep the horses in the road. We were half an hour driving the short distance home.”
Josephine Bergeron Donnelly, daughter of Jule & Eleanor Bergeron, and a first cousin of Leona Bassett Kline, lived nine miles southeast of Hastings and attended school district 48 in Clay County. “Our teacher was a young man of nineteen and he boarded at our house. His name was Bert Stevens of Ohiowa. There were forty-five children in the school that day and he did not let one leave unless called for. The school board had delivered coal the day before and so he could keep a good fire all night.
About four in the morning the storm began to slacken and some of the parents came to see how we were getting along. Then Mr. Stevens took four dinner-pails over to our house to get food for the little ones. Mother filled all the pails and gave him milk for them too. People all over the country praised him for his kindness and wise care of the children.
When my father came to guide the three of us home he brought warm wraps along. The morning had been just like a spring day and we were lightly dressed. It took us an hour and a half to walk that one mile, for the wind blew so hard and the snow was so fine that we could not see our way. Fortunately we had a wire fence to follow. The snow was so fine and blown with such force that it went right through all our clothing and mother found it on our cold skin.
The next morning the weather was bitter but the sunshine was bright and there was no wind. The snow had drifted into high banks and was packed so hard that horses walked across it without breaking the crust.”
In 1988, Sister Frances Kline retold the story her mother had told her about the blizzard of 1888. “Father had rode a horse to Trumbull and went on the train to Aurora for some business. The two older boys, Tony and George went to country school. In the morning it was all right. Some time around noon this terrible blizzard came up. The two boys and the neighbor boy walked a half mile or so and the neighbors there said they would keep them all night because they had a mile to walk yet. And an older boy, I forget his name, he came by and told Mother where the boys were. Father got back on the train, he had tied his horse out in the yard some place and the people around there saw it and they put the horse in a barn. So Dad got on the horse and rode home from Trumbull. He had to face the wind. Mother said his clothes were just wet”.
Surprisingly a storm of this magnitude received very little mention in the two 1888 Adams County newspapers for which copies still survive On January 18th the weekly Hastings Gazette-Journal, carried stories of death and heroism from other areas of the state, but nothing about the storm’s local impact. On January 25th its Inland column mentioned livestock driven south by the storm and not yet found. That column also penned “We noticed a prairie schooner wending its weary way westward and we thought as we saw them shoveling through snow drifts that the lot of a homesteader is a hard one in midwinter.”
That same issue also carried a notice to local county superintendents from the State School Superintendent saying “Owing to the fact that numerous cases of freezing teachers and pupils of the public schools of this state during the late storm have been reported” it was requested each county report the number of children and teachers that perished, and the number who had limbs amputated from freezing
On January 12, 1943 a Hastings Daily Tribune writer quoted from a now lost issue of the Hastings Gazette-Journal.: “Once the storm struck it was apparent that Hastings was in for a bad time. School teachers quickly bundled their pupils up and sent them home in squads. Citizens hitched up carriages and helped deliver the children to their homes. Street cars were driven off the streets, stores closed early and all public meetings were cancelled. A committee from the county board of supervisors which had set out on an inspection trip to the county poor farm got caught there and had to spend the night at the institution, which probably gave them a better insight into the way the place operated.”
All trains from the east were held up at Lincoln, and the first one did not pull into Hastings until 1:30 p.m. on the 13th. The Hastings Tribune quoted a Gazette Journal writer who extended himself in describing the storm as “a desperate, howling, demoniac conglomeration of atmospherical wrath and fury.”
The Blizzard of 1888 was not notable because of its unusually low temperatures, nor its heavy snowfall, nor its exceptionally high winds. Rather it was a combination of a rapidly moving storm, a sudden drop in temperature from a balmy winter day to well below zero, gale force winds, and blinding snow which caused such hardship and claimed many lives.
Why did Adams County escape the loss of life and limb suffered in other areas of the state? Perhaps the storm was less severe here, although later accounts reported the same swift moving storm that brought howling winds and blinding snow, and the extreme temperature drop to twenty degrees below zero
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Adams County had a much denser rural population than many other counties. The number of farmsteads in 1888 is estimated to have been about 3,700 or over six farmsteads per square mile. Adams County people lost in the blizzard were more likely to stumble upon a farmstead than those in more sparsely populated areas. Also by 1888, wire fencing, which served as a life line to many people during the blizzard, was heavily used in Adams County. These two factors probably explain why Adams County lost no lives during the Great Blizzard of 1888.
It is difficult to compare the blizzards of a century or more ago with today because of the changes in technology. In 1888 people were caught unaware by the swiftly approaching storm. Today radio and television warn us well in advance of changing weather conditions. The pioneers had constructed their buildings as quickly and cheaply as possible. Wind and snow blew through the cracks, and the entire roof structure often blew off sod buildings. Our well built, well insulated buildings protect us against winter’s fury. The pioneers had no telephones to communicate with loved ones, causing some to venture out into the teeth of the storm because their family would be worried. Today’s heavy equipment clears the roads quickly; the pioneers had only the muscles of men and beasts, and the sun when it came out, to clear snow.
If the hardships and heartbreak of our Nebraska pioneer ancestors have any influence on us beyond the retelling of interesting stories, like this one, it may be that we inherited a strength and determination not found everywhere.
In simplest terms, a threshing machine is a device that beats (threshes) ripened kernels of grain from plant stalks and separates them from husks and straw. Because of this process they were also called “separators.” Although the first machines were small and hand operated, they represented a step forward from using hand flails or animals to trample grain on a threshing floor.
The first threshing machines used in the United States were imported from Scotland and England in the 1780s. The first American made thresher was built in 1792 in Philadelphia, and by the 1830s the two processes of threshing and fanning (separating chaff from the grain) were combined. But technological progress in threshing was limited by the means of power, which was primarily horsepower. The two most common ways of converting the linear motion of animals to the circular motion of machines were the treadmill and the sweep horsepower. The treadmill was limited to the power of one or two horses and dissipated much of that power with its many slats, chains, and belts. The sweep horsepower used horizontal beams, the outside ends of which were hooked to a team which walked in an endless circle. The axle transferred power through a series of gears to a tumbling rod which ran to a gear box on the thresher. Some horsepowers were attached to the thresher gear box by a long belt.
History credits “Wild Bill” Kress with planting the first wheat in Adams County on his homestead along the Little Blue River. W. S. Mont marketed the first wheat in Hastings in 1873. The settlers raised spring wheat (planted in the spring, harvested in the fall) which was often taken to a grist mill to be ground into flour with the miller retaining a portion for his pay. About 1888 winter wheat was introduced in this area, and was immediately popular. It is planted in the fall and matures in early summer before winter and spring soil moisture is lost to the heat of a plains summer. Abe Benedict of Ayr is credited with being the first to raise winter wheat in Adams County. Farmers flocked to his place to see and buy the seed.
Before the wheat could be threshed it had to be cut. Obed Hussey and Cyrus McCormick both patented reapers in the 1830s, and by the 1850s reapers began the mechanization of agriculture. Even after the invention of the reaper, harvesting wheat required several people: a man to drive the reaper; another to rake off the cut grain; and several more to bind and shock the grain. By the 1870s reapers which could bind the grain (called binders) came on the market, further reducing labor in the harvest fields.
In 1873, Merritt and Kellog of Battle Creek, Michigan, became the first company to manufacture self-propelled steam traction engines which moved from farm to farm under their own power. The first known steam powered thresher in Adams County was reported by the Central Nebraskan in 1878 as being operated on the C. C. Ingalls farm near Hastings. Two men were kept busy feeding headed wheat into the separator, and six men pitched it to them. It was reported that the machine threshed much faster than the ordinary horsepower resulting in saving the boarding of additional hands and teams. The steam engine required about $2.50 worth of coal per day. From 1900 to the 1930s, steam traction engines were the primary power source for grain threshing. The 1905-1906 tax schedules for Adams County list 55 farmers who owned a steam engine and a threshing machine, and 13 farmers who had only a threshing machine–apparently the old horsepower type.
There were many dangers associated with agricultural machinery. Boys usually stood on a platform in the center of the horsepower and employed a whip to urge the horses to walk faster. Standing on this platform with the exposed gears in the center was very dangerous. Eight year old Anton Trausch, son of Thomas and Anna Trausch, died in 1907 from shock and loss of blood after his foot and lower leg were ground in the gears of a horsepower. He is buried in the Assumption Cemetery.
However, the dangers of the horsepower were replaced by the steam engine’s risk of explosion and scalding by escaping steam. Pressure in the boilers could reach one hundred pounds per square inch and explosions were common. Also the fire under the boiler caused straw fires which could destroy the entire crop and escape to farm buildings. In 1897 William Lipps of Hastings was scalded to death when a steam engine exploded southeast of Pauline. The Hastings Daily Republican reported the gory details: “The rushing steam cooked the very flesh on his bones.” In 1884 J. A. Smith was killed northwest of Juniata when his steam engine exploded. He had owned the machine three years. In the tradition of the times, the Juniata Herald reported that his body was “horribly mangled. The engine was blown to atoms, the only piece of any size left being a portion of the boiler weighing perhaps 600 pounds which was hurled over thirty rods, landing in a neighbors wheat field.” (A rod is 16.5 feet) Because of the lurid newspaper stories and because the machines were huge and very noisy, the public was justifiably afraid of them.
In a 1985 interview Albert J. Trausch reminisced: “In 1925 my Uncle Joe [Trausch] bought a used steamer in Ragan [in Harlan County]. We drove it clear to Roseland; took us two and a half days. I was steering and Vet [Trausch] was shoveling the coal. Tony Seiler was the water jack. When we got west of Norman we couldn’t get any water, so we drove up into a farmyard and Tony went up to the house and asked if we could get water from the horse tank. The woman said “No.” Vet said “You go back and tell her we have to have water or the damned thing will blow up.” “Take all you want.” she replied.” And there were other dangers, in 1914 Emil Johnson of rural Juniata fell from a load of wheat bundles onto a pitch fork and died an agonizing death a few days later. He left a wife of one year and an infant son.
World War I increased demand for food products which resulted in higher grain prices. (The US entered the war in April 1917. The war ended November 11, 1918.) Farmers’ sons and farm hands were drafted resulting in a scarcity of laborers for the wheat harvest. The Council of Defense organized Hastings men to work in the harvest fields, and on June 21, 1918 it was announced that 100 men had registered to shock wheat.
The introduction of winter wheat had resulted in a great increase in wheat acreage. In central Nebraska farmers formed cooperative neighborhood threshing rings which provided the teams, hayracks and labor needed for the harvest. Local contract thresher men provided the machinery and some skilled labor. Each spring neighbors got together to organize their threshing ring, which usually included eight to ten farmers.
There were two types of threshing runs, shock threshing and stack threshing. Shock threshing was done shortly after the grain had been cut by a binder and shocked by hand. A shock is a group of grain bundles stood together to dry. Farmers’ wives and daughters often helped shock grain in the harvest field.
Wheat was cut with a binder in July and shocked grain was threshed as soon as it had cured because it was easily damaged or destroyed by rain and hail storms. If the bundles were to be stacked they were thrown onto a wagon and hauled to the stacking area, usually on high ground. The bundles were laid in a circle around a shock, with the wheat heads in and the butts out. Stacks were shaped like a mushroom, bulging a few feet off the ground and tapering to the top. This shape shed water away from the base. Stacks were as high as fifteen feet. Constructing a stack that would shed water and not blow over was considered an art form. Stacks were usually set in groups of four so the separator could be set between them and bundles pitched in from both sides.
On a shock run each member of the ring furnished a man, a team and a hayrack. When your wheat was threshed you furnished one or two grain scoopers and sometimes an extra man for the hayracks. If the grain was scooped into a bin, a man was needed for that. If it was hauled to an elevator, an extra team and wagon–often driven by boys–was needed. If there were only eight farmers with hayracks an extra spike pitcher was needed in the field to help pitch bundles onto the hayracks so the separator could be fed continuously. When a rack was loaded the driver got into line by the separator, pitched the bundles into the separator and then got back out into the field and loaded again. To be fair to all in case of a storm, they threshed one day at each farm and then went on to the next. If someone wasn’t finished they went around again. After a rain the wait was usually two days because the ground was wet and the grain too soft. Neighbors kept the same threshing ring for years; whoever was last to thresh one year was first the next.
Stack threshing required fewer men because the work of picking up the bundles and hauling them to a central location was already done. Grain could remain in the stack several months. Stack threshing usually began after plowing was finished and continued until as late as October.
In a 1984 interview Bert Trausch told of his experiences as an engineer with a threshing crew. The engineer, because of his technical knowledge of the steam engine, was regarded as the lead man of the crew. “Dad [Matt Trausch] began custom threshing in 1924 with a used Baker steamer and a wood frame Rumley threshing machine. I was eighteen years old. We furnished the engine, the threshing machine, a tank wagon which held eight barrels of water and a team to pull it, and the three man crew to run the outfit–the separator man, the engineer and the water jack. I was the engineer. I drove the engine to the farm pulling the separator, put on the belts, scooped coal into the engine–about a ton a day– kept the steam up, and watched for signals from the separator man. Our threshing runs were all the way from two miles south of Assumption to within a mile of Juniata. I wasn’t paid; I worked to help support our large family. In those days kids were considered assets.” The engineer’s hours were long. He was up early to set the fire which built up the necessary head of steam in the engine before the threshing crew arrived.
In the mid-twenties Albert J. Trausch worked on his Uncle Joe’s threshing crew which served the area around Roseland. “I ran the separator, kept it oiled and adjusted, watched the grain, moved the pipe that throws the straw onto the pile. You start out building the straw pile a little on each side then fill in the center. The separator man had more work than the engineer and a dirtier job. I was paid about three dollars a day.”
Bert remembered how hard the water jack worked to earn his three dollars a day. “He had to start early to get his mules ready, scoop the coal the farmer had piled in his yard, haul it to the engine and scoop it into the tender. After the engineer had fed it into the firebox that ton of coal had been scooped three times in one day. Our water wagon held eight barrels (a barrel was about 40 gallons). It had a hand pump on the top and a hose on one end. The water jack laid the hose into a horse tank or cistern and then he got on top of the barrel and manually pumped the water. If he was pumping up out of a cistern he had to work a lot harder. Each water tender on the back of the steam engine held four barrels of water. A hose underneath connected the two tanks equalizing the water. When the water was getting low the engineer tooted the whistle for the jack to come with a load. The engineer siphoned water from the tank wagon into the tenders, then turned the injectors on as needed and siphoned it out of the tenders into the boiler.
We charged four or five cents a bushel for threshing wheat. We could thresh 1,500 bushels in a day if there were several stacks together. Oats we threshed for two cents a bushel. It went faster because it only weighs 32 pounds a bushel while wheat weighs 60 pounds. Oats came out twice as fast so we made about the same amount in a day.
When Dad needed extra help he went up to the courthouse lawn in Hastings and picked out the best looking hobo–they rode the rails following the harvest. He picked one that was sunburned and had calloused hands–a guy with white hands would last about two hours scooping coal or pitching bundles. They worked for maybe a dollar a day.”
Edna Kline Trausch remembered how hard the women worked feeding the threshing crews. “Before noon Mom (Leona Bassett Kline) took a bench, a wash basin and some towels out by the windmill– we didn’t have water in the house. The men were so dirty they washed up out there. The women worked like slaves in the house over the hot cook stove fixing dinner for fifteen hungry men. A large platter of fried spring chickens, butchered early that morning, made one round on the table. Fresh picked green beans and of course potatoes and gravy were served. Pies, cakes, and bread had been baked the day before.” After the men left the house the women and children ate and then the tedious job of dishwashing began. There was no electricity on the farm in those days, so all the water had to be carried in by hand and heated on the cook stove. Afterwards the slop was carried out. No electricity meant no modern appliances. No mixers or blenders or grinders. Everything was done the hard way–by hand. If it was going to be a long day of threshing, as soon as the dishes were done preparations for the crew’s evening meal began.
Threshing machines and their large crews were common on the plains for more than 50 years, but the tradition could not withstand the onslaught of the combine, so named because it combined the work of all other harvest equipment in just one machine.
In the 1920s, the internal combustion tractor began to transform American agriculture, and tractor-drawn combines started to replace binders, grain separators, and steam engines. A. P. Murray operated the first combine in Adams County west of Hastings in June 1921. The days of the large, noisy steam engines were numbered and along with them the neighborhood threshing runs.
In less than a hundred years, the nature of grain production in America had changed from intense hand labor to almost total mechanization. The reason was economic. A farmer who hired a contract threshing crew faced costs of between $80 and $100 a day. Even if neighbors worked together to harvest each other’s wheat, that labor had to be repaid in kind. One man with a combine was a lot cheaper than an entire crew with a threshing machine.
After the advent of the combine the term “threshing” gave way to “combining.” Yet combines didn’t take all the risk out of harvesting. While combines dropped less grain in the field and drastically cut labor costs, wheat cut by a combine had to be dead ripe. Timing was critical because the longer wheat stood in the field, the greater the risk from rain and hail storms, diseases, and pests. Consequently, farmers bought their own machines rather than share with neighbors.
The amount of work one farmer could do exploded in the twentieth century due to power machinery. Technology, however, was both a blessing and a curse. New machines and plant varieties yielded more grain through less work. But the value of grain decreased as the supply increased, causing farms to grow larger and forcing many families off the land. Large farms and expensive machinery often led to large debt loads, sometimes resulting in foreclosures and still fewer farms. In 1950 the Farm Equipment Institute called the development of the one-man combine “one of those occasional milestones which upset the old pattern completely and changed the very course of agriculture itself.” The colorful community threshing days had come to an end.
1984 interview of Bert Trausch by the author.
1986 interview of Albert J. Trausch by the author.
Moored on the Nebraska prairie one mile east of Hastings, the Showboat was a familiar site to travelers along the DLD (Detroit-Lincoln-Denver) Highway which became Highway 6. During its forty year history it served as a service station and portions were at times a café and souvenir shop. An auto court (later called a motel) was located directly east and operated in conjunction with the service station.
During the 1920s and 1930s, highways improved and speeds increased. In Nebraska the speed limit was raised to 35 miles per hour in 1921. As the motoring public began traveling cross country on the new highways, auto campgrounds began to appear. During the 1930s the demand for more comfortable lodging was met by the auto court or tourist court, which featured identical cabins often arranged in a semi-circle.
In April 1930, newlyweds Guy and Helena Miller purchased an acre of ground east of Hastings on which to build a gas station and tourist court. The acre was located on the south side of the DLD Highway which had been graveled in 1924 and was the primary highway from Omaha to Denver. During this time service stations were built in whimsical shapes to attract customers. Helena has seen a showboat in a magazine and she chose that shape.
The first Showboat tourist cabins were built in 1931 and rented for two dollars a night. Travelers had to supply their own bedding. Later an office with round port-hole style windows was built next to the highway.
Edgar and Ida Marshall leased the service station in 1936 and purchased the complex in 1944. During World War II the entire motel was rented to married air corpsmen stationed at the Harvard Army Air Base. A café operated in the showboat. In 1952 the Marshalls closed the café and operated a gift and antiques shop there.
In September 1960 the Marshalls sold the Showboat complex to Morrison-Quirk Grain Corporation, which owned the surrounding farmland. M. E. “Bud” Renschler was operating Juniata Roofing Company. He needed a winter job so he and Maxine, along with their four children still at home–Penny, Pat, Donis and Mike–moved into the managers cabin to operate the gas station and motel for one winter. They stayed for seven years. Bud ran the “station” as we called it and Maxine the motel. The manager’s residence was located on the north end of the west line of cabins, next to the highway. The rooms were small and the walls were covered with varnished plywood paneling. There were three bedrooms and two very small bathrooms. A cement walk ran from the kitchen door to the station.
The motel operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or until the “No Vacancy” sign was turned on. The station was open about twelve hours a day from 7 am to 7 pm, seven days a week. The Renschler children who were still at home helped their parents; Pat in the station and Penny and Donis cleaning motel rooms and doing the laundry. Mike, the youngest, was still attending school. During the 1960s many of the motel’s clients were construction workers who rented rooms by the week. At that time there was a lot of construction in Hastings, including the anhydrous fertilizer plant east of town.
Bill Kindig, a nice old man from Juniata, ran the station during roofing season. He suffered a heart attack and died there. When Pat wasn’t roofing he often operated the station which sold Mobil oil and gas. Those were the days when there was service at service stations. When a customer stopped for gas the attendant pumped the gas, cleaned the windshields, checked the oil and sometimes the radiator and the tire pressure. All of this work for a dollar or two worth of gas.
While we were dating I spent many Saturday afternoons at the station with Pat. This was during the era of professional wrestling matches at the Hastings City Auditorium. The wrestlers were good actors who put on quite a show. During their performances they were bitter enemies, but when they stopped at the Showboat to gas up on the way out of town they were all riding in one car, friendly as could be. I remember one of the villains called Otto von Krup portrayed a big, mean German with a thick accent.
After Pat and I were married in 1964 we lived briefly in Cabin 16 which had a kitchenette. Occasionally I ran the motel and Pat the station so his parents could get away. Often, if there was a vacancy people rang the bell for a room in the middle of the night. There was little rest for a family running a motel and service station.
When Bud and Maxine retired in 1967 and moved back to Juniata, the motel and gas station were closed. Eventually the Showboat was demolished and some of the cabins were moved away for housing. It was the end of the era of Mom and Pop motels and independent gas stations. The Interstate Highway system drew cross-country travelers off the local highways, and large chain motels with their swimming pools and meeting rooms drew the tourist and business trade. Today all that remains of the Showboat is the name of the road which ran along the west side of the station, and memories of days gone by.