The First Brick Assumption Church 1903 – 1919

The first Catholic settlers in what would be called “the Assumption area” were the Schifferns and Bausch families, drawn here in 1873 by the chance to own farms under the Homestead Act.  Peter Schifferns and his wife Susanna Pauli, my great, great grandparents, brought their seven living children with them.  They were from Bettenfeld, Prussia (in an area that had been part of Luxembourg prior to 1815), by way of Aurora, Illinois.  Many people from Luxembourg had settled at Aurora, including a young man named Thomas Trausch.  Whether Thomas knew the Schifferns or Bausch families at Aurora is unknown.  However, he bought a farm on payments from the Burlington Railroad and settled down in the neighborhood.  In 1876 Thomas married Anna, the oldest Schifferns child, in the Busch School house.   In 1883 a small frame church was built at Assumption. By this time many people of Luxembourg descent were arriving in the area from Saint Donatus, Jackson County, Iowa.   The congregation soon outgrew the building, but feeling a Catholic school was necessary they constructed a large two-story frame school building which opened in 1900.

The congregation was blessed with a good crop in 1902 and they immediately made plans to build a large brick church. In June the Adams County Democrat, published in Hastings, reported that the “Catholic congregation bought an acre of land adjoining the west from Dim Wilmes for $1.10.”  In March 1903 Fred Butzirus and John Sauerman of Hastings were contracted to build the new church for a sum of $10,720. The parish was to furnish the glass, sand, and water and to do all the hauling of materials.  The building was to be completed by November 1, 1903.  There were no government regulations to slow down construction in those days.

During this time period, the Assumption settlement was called Walnut Hill.  Who gave it that name and why is unknown. It’s doubtful there were any walnut trees and the location certainly isn’t on a hill.  In fact, there is a lagoon just to the west.  In March 1903 a news article in the Adams County Democrat reported “Henry Schmitz has donated 100 loads of sand for the new church at Walnut Hill.”  In April 1903 it reported that “Twenty wagon loads of brick from Hastings crossed the Thirty-Two Mile Creek Saturday en route to Walnut Hill.”  That same month it reported that “Mrs. Klepper’s new house in Walnut Hill is going up.”  The little settlement was a bee-hive of activity that spring.

The first brick church at Assumption. The original of this photo is a postcard printed about 1910.
The first brick church at Assumption. The original of this photo is a postcard printed about 1910.  Notice the stained glass windows and the unusual front doors.

The church’s cornerstone was laid on June 11, 1903 by Right Reverend Thomas Bonacum, Bishop of Lincoln.  He also dedicated the building on October 28, 1903.  The building had an overall length of 117.5 feet, a width of 48 feet, and a bell tower 100 feet high.   The Hastings Daily Tribune printed an account of the dedication titled “New Church Dedicated, Big Day Among Catholic Residents in Vicinity of Roseland. The large handsome Catholic Church, located three miles directly north of Roseland, which has just been completed, was dedicated with impressive ceremonies Wednesday morning. …This building is, without exception, the finest and costliest country church in Nebraska and compares well with the best city churches of the middle west.  This large brick building was erected at a cost of $16,000 and was very nearly completely paid for on dedication day. … The tower, which is 100 feet in height, is surmounted by a large gilded cross which may be seen at a distance of ten miles….Father Engelbert Boll is the pastor.  The large parochial school, which was built near the church a year ago, employs a number of teachers and both German and English instructions are given.  The new church, which has a seating capacity of more than double the old one, was crowded full to the aisles and it is safe to say that 1,000 people were in attendance.  Five residences and a general store are in the vicinity of the church. … Father Boll assisted by the generosity of the 1500 [sic should be 500] members, resulted in the present handsome structure. This fine building will stand as a monument to those who gave their support toward building it long after the members are gone.”  Unfortunately, that prophecy did not come true.

Church Interior 1910
The beautiful interior of the Assumption Church about 1910. The altar, which was decorated with gold, cost $4,000. Matt and Catherine Trausch were the first couple married in this church.

In the midst of all this work and excitement, Matt Trausch and Katie Kaiser were planning their wedding.  We do not know when they became engaged.  Many years later Grandma Trausch said they met when she was helping her aunt, Anna Theisen, after the birth of her son Edmund in December 1902.  The Nick Theisen farmstead (where Chad Trausch lives now) was located just a quarter mile north of the Matt Trausch home.  It seems strange that Matt and Catherine didn’t know each other as their families attended the same church and their parents’ homes were only three miles apart.  However, there was a six-year age difference, the families attended separate school districts, and the church congregation was so large that two Masses were held every Sunday.

In those days everyone got married on Tuesday.  When Matt went to make arrangements for the wedding, Father Boll said “Everything is out of the old church. Why don’t you wait until we dedicate the new church and get married the next day?”   Both families were well known in the community and it would be a large wedding.  So they chose Thursday, October 29th, the day after the dedication, which was also the 27th anniversary of Matt’s parent’s marriage; although Grandma said she didn’t know that at the time.  Thus Matt and Catherine Kaiser Trausch were the first couple married in the new church.  Their six oldest children, Ed, Bert, Martha, Charles, Albert (born and died in 1910), Elmer, Alfred, Laurine, and Vern, were all baptized in the beautiful church which was the pride of the community.

Engelbert Thomas Trausch was baptized on March 25, 1906 at the age of three days.  His name is written Thomas Engelbert in the church baptismal register.  He was named for the priest, Father Engelbert Boll who was well-liked by his parishioners, and for his grandfather Thomas Trausch.  Bert’s baptismal sponsors were his grandfather Thomas Trausch and an unknown woman written as “Elizabeth Trausch” in the baptismal register.

Bert made his First Communion on June 7, 1914, at the age of eight.  Twenty-eight children were in his class that year.  It was the tradition for boys to wear knee-length pants until they made their First Communion; then they began to wear long pants.

The Sacrament of Confirmation was administered to Bert by Right Reverend Henry Fisher, Bishop of Lincoln on Thursday, October 19, 1916.  The weather was very bad that day.  The temperature was below 20 degrees, the wind was blowing strong from the north and sleet followed by snow had fallen.  The roads were badly drifted.  Nevertheless, 80 children were confirmed at Assumption.  The group included Bert, Martha, and their uncle Sylvester “Vet” Trausch.  Grandpa Nick Kaiser served as one of the sponsors.  At that time the confirmands did not have individual sponsors.

The congregation always stood outside the church after Mass to visit. Notice how the men and boys are all dressed in suits with hats. This photo was taken about 1918 when people took pride in their appearance.
The congregation always visited outside the church after Mass.  Notice how the men and boys are all dressed in suits with hats. This photo was taken about 1918 when people took pride in their appearance.

During the years prior to World War I, church sermons, readings of the epistles and gospels, and announcements were given in German.  The Mass, of course, was in Latin.  German and English were both taught in the school.  Then during the war, over-zealous WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant) “patriots” who controlled the government, decreed that German could no longer be spoken in schools, churches, on the telephone, or in public.  Those restrictions eased after the war, but German was no longer taught in the school and the knowledge and use of German was gradually lost.

On November 20, 1919 disaster struck when the beautiful church was destroyed by fire.  On Friday, November 21, the Hastings Daily Tribune carried an account titled “Church Was Afire While Couple Wed”

“At 10 o’clock in the morning Louis Hoffman and Miss Stella Beiriger were married by Father Merkl.  He then attended the wedding dinner at the M. G. Beiriger home two miles east.  The fire was discovered at 12:15 by Albert Hoffman, who lived just south of the church.  Mr. Hoffman at once gave the alarm.  A telephone message was sent to the home of the bride’s parents, where the wedding guests were at dinner.  Meanwhile others, seeing the blazing church, came in cars from the farms around.  In a short time 500 people were gathered about the church.  Buckets were brought from nearby farms.  Dominic Willmes threw the first bucket of water on the burning church, but little could be done.  The Hastings Fire Department was called, but because there was no water system they replied they could do nothing.

The fire had started in the floor above the furnace, and destroyed the altar first.  The altar had cost $4,000.  The chalice, ciborium (a covered cup for holding hosts) and monstrance, (a decorative vessel used to display the consecrated host) all made of gold, were destroyed.  Among the church decorations destroyed were five valuable statues.  The pipe organ, donated by Miss Anna David, was only two years old.  The church with contents was insured for only $10,000, a fraction of what it would cost to replace it.  Father Merkl was quoted “I can’t say what we will do about rebuilding.  Our farmers have been unfortunate.  For three years we have raised practically no crop in this community.  This is going to be very hard on the church.”

Bert Trausch was thirteen years old when the church burned.  Sixty years later he reminisced “We saw the smoke in the sky, got in the car [Matt bought his first car in 1918, a 1914  Model Overland] drove over there, but all we could do was stand and watch it burn.

The old frame church, which had been moved west of the school and used as a hall, was again used for worship.  But, it was much too small to hold the 600 church members.  Despite the financial hardship, plans were immediately made to rebuild.

Once it was determined that the walls and bell tower were still structurally sound, reconstruction began with the congregation furnishing much of the labor. This photo was taken in 1920.
Once it was determined that the walls and bell tower were still structurally sound, reconstruction began with the congregation furnishing much of the labor. This photo was taken in 1920.

George Frederick Renschler in the Civil War

In the early 1970s Pat and I visited his father's cousin, George Renschler, at Superior, Nebraska. He had in his possession many items which had originally belonged to his grandparents, George Frederick "Fritz" and Lottie Renschler. Among them were this photo of "Fritz" Renschler taken during the Civil War. The photo was in a Gutta-percha case common in the 1800s. The Civil War, or The War Between the States, or The War of Northern Aggression as the Southerners called it,  ended 150 years ago on April 9, 1865.  This seems like a good time to tell you about one of your ancestors who fought in that conflict.

In the late 1960s, Pat and I visited his father’s cousin, George Renschler, at Superior, Nebraska.  I was gathering family history and Pat’s father, “Bud” Renschler knew very little about his father’s family.  His parents, Harley and Clarice Clark Renschler, were divorced when Bud was about two years old.  George Renschler told us about their grandfather’s service in the Civil War.  He recounted that he had fought at the Battle of Gettysburg and that he had been a POW.  George had in his possession many items which had originally belonged to his grandparents, George Frederick “Fritz” and Lottie Renschler. Among them was this photo of “Fritz” Renschler taken during the Civil War. The photo was in a Gutta-percha case common in the 1800s.  Unfortunately the image did not photograph well.

The story George told us piqued my interest and over the years I filled in some of the details.  How I wish someone had written down Fritz’s experiences before his death in June 1917.

This biography which I found in The History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri 1886 gave me more information, including his father’s name.

History if Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri 1886
History if Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri 1886

George Frederick “Fritz” Renschler enlisted in Company I, known as the “Towanda Rifles,” 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, 35th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on October 17, 1861 at Towanda, Bradford County, Pennsylvania.  The enlistment was for a term of three years.  He participated in the battles of Dranesville, Second Bull Run, White Oak, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg.  Below is information on the battles, and in italics an account of the actions of the 6th Pennsylvania.

The Battle of Dranesville was a small battle that took place between Confederate forces under General J.E.B. Stuart and Union forces under General E.O.C. Ord on December 20, 1861, in Fairfax County, Virginia.  The two forces on similar winter-time patrols encountered and engaged one another in the crossroads village of Dranesville.  The battle resulted in a Union victory. “The Sixth marched down the Leesburg road, near the town of Drainsville, where it halted just before the enemy’s battery opened fire.  The shot and shell of the rebels flew around in all directions. Had their guns been managed by experienced artillerists, the slaughter in our ranks would have been terrific, as the position held by this division of the Sixth was immediately in front of the rebel battery.”            The Indiana Democrat, January 1, 1862

The Battle of White Oak Swamp took place on June 30, 1862 in Henrico County, Virginia as part of the Peninsula Campaign.

The Second Battle of Bull Run or Second Manassas was fought August 28–30, 1862 in Prince William County, Virginia.   It was the culmination of an offensive campaign waged by General Lee’s army against  John Pope’s army, and a battle of much larger scale and numbers than the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) fought in 1861 on the same ground.

On the morning of the 30th, the sun rose cloudless, and everything was quiet and calm upon that field soon to be made the scene of carnage and death. Troops began to move early, preparatory to the day’s work. The Reserves marched to the left of the Warrenton pike, near Groveton, where the Sixth was ordered to the support of Cooper’s Rifled Battery, of the First Pennsylvania Artillery. A brisk artillery duel lasted for some time, when the enemy in well dressed lines started forward, evidently intent on securing the road which lay between the contending forces. Immediately the word “forward” was given, and the Reserves swept down the hill with headlong impetuosity, reaching the bank at the upper side of the road, as the enemy was approaching the fence on the lower, and sprang down the bank into the road before them. The rebels, dismayed at the rapidity and success of the movement, turned and fled in confusion, under a terrific fire from the charging column. Thus was the enemy repulsed, and an important position retained. In this charge, the flag of the Sixth was shot from the staff, while in the hands of Major Madill. It was instantly taken by the gallant Reynolds, who, holding it aloft, dashed along the line, the wind catching it as he turned and wrapping it about his noble form. The sight inspired the men to deeds of greater valor, and for an instant they paused in the midst of battle and gave a tremendous soul-stirring cheer for their commander. Returning again to the hill, after resting an hour, night coming on, the division marched towards Centreville, and bivouacked at Cub Run. The loss in this sanguinary battle, extending through three days, was six killed, thirty wounded and eight missing. On the 31st, it moved to Centreville, where, for the first time since the 24th, full and adequate rations were issued. The regiment was placed on picket near Cub Run, and remained through the following day. At five P. M. of September 1st, it was relieved and followed the division to Fairfax Court House.  

The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac commanded by Major General  Ambrose Burnside. The Union Army’s futile frontal attacks on December 13 against entrenched Confederate defenders on the heights behind the city was one of the most one-sided battles of the war, with Union casualties more than twice those of the Confederates. On December 15, Burnside withdrew his army, ending a failed Union campaign.  

The movements preliminary to the battle of Fredericksburg began December 8th, when the Sixth marched from Brook’s Station and reached the hills on the north side of the Rappahannock, overlooking Fredericksburg, on the 11th. On the morning of the 12th it crossed the river on a pontoon bridge about three miles below the city. A line of battle was formed at right angles with the river. This position was held until daybreak of the 13th  when the pickets became engaged, and the brigade, the Sixth in advance, crossing a small stream, under a dense fog, marched through a cornfield to the Bowling Green road, where the line was re-formed. The regiment advanced and drove the enemy from the crest of the hill and from his shelter behind fences and the railroad embankment. The battle now raged furiously. The enemy’s second line proved a formidable obstacle, but soon yielded to the impetuosity of the Reserves. Moving along up the hill, followed closely by the brigade, it reached a road running along the brow of the hill near which a third line was encountered and a terrific fight ensued, ending in the discomfiture of the rebels. The regiment had now lost more than one-third of its entire number, the brigade had suffered heavily, and Colonel Sinclair had been borne from the field wounded, when the enemy was detected moving through the woods to the right in large numbers. At the same time a terrific fire of musketry was opened on the left of the brigade. The line began to waver and no supporting troops being at hand it finally yielded, and the regiment, with the brigade, fell back over the same ground on which it had advanced. In this battle, of the three hundred men who went into action, ten were killed, ninety-two wounded and nineteen missing. Moving to the opposite side of the river on the 20th, the regiment went into camp near Belle Plain. After having participated in the celebrated “mud march,” it returned to its old camp, and remained there until the 7th of February, 1863, when it was ordered to Alexandria to join the Twenty-second Corps. It did guard and picket duty until the 27th of March, and then moved to Fairfax Station, where it remained until the 25th of June when it moved to join the Army of the Potomac and participate in the memorable Gettysburg campaign.

The Battle of Gettysburg  was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg , Pennsylvania.  The Battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and is often described as the war’s turning point.  The Union Army defeated attacks by Confederate General Lee’s  Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee’s attempt to invade the North.    The two armies suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties. Union casualties were 23,055, while Confederate casualties are more difficult to estimate. Many authors have referred to as many as 28,000 Confederate casualties.

Marching via Dranesville, Edwards’ Ferry and Frederick, the regiment joined the army on the 28th, and was again assigned to the Fifth Corps, which was commanded by General Sykes. Continuing the march through Uniontown and Hanover it reached Gettysburg at two o’clock P. M. of July 2d, and made a charge from Little Round Top with but small loss. Remaining in front during the night, on the morning of the 3d skirmishing commenced which continued through the entire day. Towards evening another charge was made, capturing a number of prisoners, re-capturing one gun and five caissons and relieving a large number of Union prisoners. In this encounter the Sixth remained on the skirmish line until two P. M. to the 4th, when it was relieved and bivouacked on Little Round Top. It sustained a loss of two men killed, and Lieutenant Rockwell and twenty-one men wounded.

Pursuing the retreating rebels to Falling Waters, constantly skirmishing on the way, it encamped on the 14th, after having captured some prisoners near Sharpsburg, when it was ascertained that the rebel army had escaped across the river. Marching and an occasional skirmish and reconnaissance occupied the time until August 18th, when the regiment arrived at Rappahannock Station, and remained until the 15th of September. Leaving Rappahannock Station on the 15th, it reached Culpepper Court House on the 16th, and went into camp two miles beyond the town, where it remained until October 10th. Returning, it re-crossed the river on the 12th, and encountered the enemy at Bristoe Station on the 14th, having three men wounded by his shells. On the 19th, it crossed Bull Run and bivouacked on the old battle-ground. The march was continued on the next day through New Baltimore to Auburn, and from thence, on the 7th of November, to Rappahannock Station, crossing the river on the 8th, and on the 10th taking possession of rebel barracks, where it remained until the 24th.

In later years Fritz told how the streams ran red with the blood of men and horses during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Copy of Frederick's reenlistment document. In 1971 I ordered copies of his military and pension files from the National Archive.
Copy of Frederick’s reenlistment document. In 1971 I ordered copies of his military and pension files from the National Archive.  Notice the physical description: Blue eyes, Brown hair, Light complexion, Five feet, seven inches high.

Fritz was reported at Kettle Run, Virginia in November and December 1863.  He was discharged from the 6th Pa. Res. to reenlist on Christmas Day, December 25, 1863 at Nokesville, Virginia.  This time he was in Company E, 191 Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment organized in the field from Veterans and Recruits of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps.

The Battle of Globe Tavern, also known as the Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad, fought August 18–21, 1864, south of Petersburg, Virginia was the Union’s second attempt to sever the Weldon Railroad during the Siege of Petersburg.   The Union force destroyed miles of track and withstood strong attacks from Confederate troops.  It was the first Union victory in the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign and forced the Confederates to carry their supplies 30 miles by wagon to bypass the new Union lines that were extended farther to the south and west.

On the 18th of August, 1864 the 191st  moved upon the Weldon Railroad, capturing and destroying a portion.  Colonel Hartshorne, who had just previously returned to duty, was in command of the brigade, which was early ordered upon the skirmish line. It continued to advance, over heavily timbered ground, driving back the enemy until it came in front of his breast-works, where a line was established and fortified. This advanced position was held, without supports, until four o’clock on the afternoon of the 19th, when it suddenly found itself completely surrounded, and was forced to surrender.

Frederick Renschler’s Civil War battles were over;  he along with 27 others, was taken prisoner by the Confederates.   They were sent first to Richmond and then to the Salisbury North Carolina prisoner of war camp on October 9th.

Salisbury Prison was a Confederate military prison in Rowan County, North Carolina.  The prison was a field of about six acres surrounded by a seven-foot-high stockade fence.  A stream that ran through the area was the prisoners’ source of water.  By October 1864 the prison held 5000, and soon increased to 10,000 prisoners. With the increase in men came overcrowding, decreased sanitation, shortages of food, and then disease, starvation, and death. Overwhelmed by a population four times larger than intended, the prison quartered prisoners in every available space. Those without shelter dug burrows in an attempt to stay warm and dry.  Rations and potable water were scarce. A day’s ration per man was a half loaf of bread and two to four ounces of meat in a pint of soup.  Sometimes, for the bread a pint of flour or cornmeal was substituted.  Then the men added it to the soup to make a gruel.  The meat ration was often missing, sometimes for several days at a time.  Adding to the poor conditions was an unusually cold and wet winter.  Disease and starvation began to claim lives, and all buildings within the stockade were converted to hospitals to care for the sick. Each morning, the dead were gathered from the grounds and placed in the “dead house.”   During November, rations were so lacking that the men thought they were to be starved to death so they attempted an escape.  As many as 75 prisoners were shot during the breakout attempt.

In February 1865 a prisoner exchange program was approved, and prisoners were moved to other locations. Those who could do so marched to Greensboro to be taken by train to Wilmington, North Carolina.  1420 who were unable to march were transferred to Richmond, Virginia.  Of the 27 taken prisoner with Fritz Renschler at Weldon Railroad, seven died at Salisbury Prison. Of the buildings that constituted the prison, only one house still stands.

Over 5,000 unknown Union soldiers are buried in 18 trenches, each 240 feet long, dug in an abandoned cornfield outside the Confederate Prison stockades.   Salisbury National Cemetery encompasses this mass grave site, now a grassy expanse marked by a head and footstone for each trench.


After his release from Salisbury prisoner of war camp, Frederick was sent to Camp Parole at Annapolis, Maryland.

Camp Parole was established in June 1862 by the War Department.   The facility was a camp where Union prisoners were sent following their exchange and release from Confederate prisons. Their next stop after Camp Parole was either to return to their unit to fight again or to be sent home.  Clara Barton, a Civil War nurse and later founder of the American Red Cross, had her headquarters at Camp Parole. Part of her mission while she was there was to set up a registry of missing Union soldiers.
While at Camp Parole Frederick was given 30 days leave to travel to Towanda, Pennsylvania.  Furlough (512x640)
Notice that Frederick is now described as having a dark complexion and brown eyes.  Judging from his photographs, this is probably the correct description.
Frederick had survived three years of war, and four months of cold and starvation in a prisoner of war camp.  Now he was going home to visit Charlotte Hanna who he would marry in August 1865.  He was probably ill and certainly in terrible physical condition when he left Salisbury prison.  While at Towanda he became sick with “acute pneumonia,” and his furlough was extended another thirty days.  He was mustered out at Annapolis, Maryland on June 12, 1865.

Frederick later joined the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) an organization of Union veterans of the Civil War.  That membership must have been important to him because his tombstone in the Webber, Kansas Cemetery displays a small, round metal GAR insignia just above his name.

Charlotte and George F. Renschler tombstone in the Webber, Kansas Cemetery.
Charlotte A. and George F. Renschler tombstone in the Webber, Kansas Cemetery.


During the 1920s the KKK was active in Hastings and even little towns like Roseland and Giltner.  There wasn’t a black person nor a Jew in Roseland or Giltner, and very few in Hastings.  How could a hate organization attract hundreds of members in this area?  No one knows when the local chapters were organized nor by whom.   They sprang up following the militant patriotism and extreme anti-German, anti-immigrant sentiments aroused by World War I.  They called their gatherings “Patriot Meetings.”  They believed in Americanism–White, English-speaking, Protestant, Americanism.   And for a time in the 1920s, several hundred local men, many of them prominent business and professional leaders, were members.

Dentist C. A. Phillips was the kleagle of the Hastings Klan, and he proudly displayed a sign in his waiting room.  “If you’re not a loyal American, get the ____ out of here.”  He wanted everyone to know he was the exalted savior of local purity and patriotism, and seldom wore a hood during parades.  The other members weren’t so brave; they kept their hoods on during cross burnings and parades.

The first local account of Klan activities appeared in the Hastings Daily Tribune on August 17, 1923 announcing a “Big Meeting at Prospect Park.”  The speaker was a Rev. Bates from Salina, Kansas who wore the white robe, but not the hood while he spoke about protecting women, limiting immigration, full-fledged Americanism, and law and order.  The attendance was “large” according to the Tribune.  A year later in September 1924 there was an even larger Klan gathering at the park.  It was estimated that between 3,500 and 4,000 attended, many from surrounding towns.

Why would people join a hate group?  Some thought it was a patriotic organization, some enjoyed the secrecy and intrigue, some thought they were “saving their way of life from foreigners,” some were coerced.  Local businessmen feared they would be boycotted if they didn’t join—although the Stein Brothers, proprietors of the largest mercantile firm in Hastings, refused.  Some of the members were ministers, especially Baptist ministers.

Sunday, May 11, 1924, Rev. A. P. Renn was closing a series of evangelistic meetings at the First Baptist Church in Hastings when the door swung open and a couple dozen white-robed, hooded and masked characters marched in, single file, to the pulpit where they asked the Rev. to lead a prayer.  “All knelt reverently” the Hastings Democrat reported, although Baptists ordinarily don’t kneel during church services.  Before leaving they gave the church a nearly $180 offering.  The congregation cheered as the Klansmen marched out.  The Democrat, a weekly newspaper, came out on May 15th.  That night the church burned to the ground.  The Klan offered a $500 reward for arrest and conviction of those responsible.  The state fire inspector never charged arson, the reward was never collected, and the Baptist minister left town.

Joseph Daugherty died from a hunting accident in March 1925.  His fellow Klansmen held a full-dress funeral at the Methodist Church in Hastings.  Robed Klansmen were pallbearers and about 250 robed Klansmen escorted the body to the cemetery.

Hastings Klan meetings were held in the Armory at First and Lexington, in the Odd Fellows Hall on Second Street, and in the Brandes Building at Second and Burlington.  The Imperial Wizard visited Hastings in July 1925.  Welcome flags were displayed along streets, and windows displayed cards welcoming the Wizard.  About 600 to 700 Klansmen paraded down Burlington Avenue to the fairgrounds (located where Hastings High School currently stands).  The parade was lead by a masked horse and hooded rider.  The Hastings Drum and Bugle Corps, and bands from York and Franklin marched in the parade.  A large cross was burned in front of the crowd of 5,000 in the grandstand.  The Wizard spoke against Catholics and the Pope, a foreigner.  He went on to say “The foreign born are not 100 per cent American as long as they retain their own societies and practice old world ways…Those who will not be American must be sent back to where they came from.”  He also spoke against parochial schools, Jews, Negroes, and unions.

The Klan appears to have reached its peak membership about 1926, controlling politics in many communities, even electing state officials.  However, in 1926 the Klan Grand Dragon in Indiana was sent to prison for murder; and Klan politicians were indicted for corruption.  Bad publicity caused national membership to decline from three million in 1926 to 30,000 by 1930.

In this area there were few blacks or Jews, and few labor unions.  That left only the Catholics for the Klansmen to hate.  The cross burnings that weren’t symbolic were against Catholics, to cause fear, to warn them not to get into politics, nor to marry into “Decent Protestant American Families.”

Following is a November 1986 interview of Bert and Edna Kline Trausch concerning their memories of KKK activities in their neighborhoods.

You mentioned memories of the Klan from your childhood.

Bert.  I grew up on the NE1/4 Section 10, Roseland Township.  I remember the Klan had a big meeting one and one half miles south of where we lived.  It was in the fall of the year, about October.  I don’t remember the year.  It was in the 1920s.  Dad and I drove down around the west side of the section; we were going to see what was going on.  They were all dressed up in their sheets and hoods.  We tried to crawl up where we could hear, but they had guards posted all around, so we couldn’t get close enough.  They talked and then they burned a big cross.  It was out in a pasture.

Did you know who any of the people were who were involved?

Bert.  No, how would you know, they all had hoods on.  They came out from Hastings.  It was on Schifflers farm.  Maybe Schifflers were members of the Klan.  I don’t know.

How many people were involved?

Bert.  Hundreds it seemed like.  Lots of them drove by our house on the way out.  They needed a big open space because there was so many of them.  I think they came out by Roseland because they wanted to scare the Catholics.

Did the Klan make any threats to the Catholics in your area?

Bert.  I don’t think so, but we were always uneasy about them.  The Catholics didn’t like them burning crosses, the symbol of Christ.  The cross they burned was big, maybe ten feet high.  It was wrapped in burlap so it would burn.  They lit it at the bottom.

After this cross burning, did the Priest mention it in church?

Bert.  I don’t remember that he did.  The people were all talking about it.  The neighborhood was riled up about it.  It was mostly Catholics around here.  Some of the neighbors said “We should have had a big mean bull to turn loose down there in that pasture.”

Did anyone get the license numbers off the cars?

Bert.  Not that I remember.  They came out there and it was dark when they left.  It was just getting dusk when they came out.  The whole meeting lasted maybe an hour and a half.

Was there any chanting, yelling or cheering at the meeting?

Bert.  We couldn’t get close enough to hear.  The guards were all around.  They had the road blocked with their cars so no one could drive down past where they were meeting.  We drove up from the west around the section, parked at John Schmitz’s place and walked up towards the meeting.  We could see the guards, they didn’t see us. I suppose if they had caught us, they would have beat us up.

Edna, when you were growing up in the 1920s between Trumbull and Giltner were there Klan meetings there too?

Edna.  Yes, at Giltner and around there.  I don’t know of any right in Trumbull. Grand Island had big meetings too.  I remember Valentine Smith was our neighbor.  He went to some Klan meetings and then after that he wouldn’t talk to Dad anymore.  He was mad at the Catholics.  In a few years, he got over it and was friendly to Dad again.  That was after the Klan fell apart around there.

At Giltner the Catholic Church had the main building and on the back was the sacristy built on.  Well, the Klan members told around that the back room was full of guns and ammunition.  They said the Catholics were going to try to overthrow the government.  It was so absurd that only an idiot would believe it.  But the Klan members believed it.

Were there cross burnings near where you lived? 

Edna.  Yes, but I never saw any.  I don’t know the locations.  My folks would talk about it.  When I was little I listened to the adults talk about the Klan and I was scared.  We didn’t know why they had to wear hoods and burn crosses.  I think they were ashamed to admit who they were.

Why did they lose their membership?

Edna.  I don’t know.  Maybe the people got smart to what they were.  I do know that when they had those meetings, they wanted money from their members.  I know that one of my friends at school told me her father went to the meetings.  He didn’t really want to go, but he went.  They wanted money from him.  He didn’t want to give them money or to belong, but he was pressured into it.

Do you know the names of any Klan members around Trumbull?

Edna.  Ray Arnold, Velky, can’t think of his first name, and Valentine Smith.  Smith didn’t have any money; I don’t think they bothered with him too much.  They wanted money.

Sister Theodore Kline [Edna’s Aunt] taught our school [before she went to the convent], Happy Hollow School,  before I went when just Josephine went to school.  They had trouble that year.  The Ku Klux Klan moved in there, and they hated the Catholics.  They had a meeting right in the middle of the school year and voted her out.  We were the only Catholics in that school.

Bert.  I remember they said around Roseland that the Catholics had guns in their church basements.  The Catholics were supposed to be going to start a revolution.  Maybe they thought we were going to shoot the Klan.  (laughs)

Do you know the names of any Roseland area people who were members of the Klan?

Bert.  Well I don’t know if I should say.  I know Hoylman was in the Klan.  When Hoylman lay dying, Frank Tolksdorf, our neighbor, said “Hoylman is going to hell on a hay stacker.”  The only other one I heard was in the Klan was Dan Snyder.