Once Upon A Mattress


Since the dawn of recorded history, those who had the means slept on raised beds to avoid drafts, dirt, and pests.  Only the wealthy had the luxury of a mattress made of a cloth bag filled with straw, reeds, wool, etc.  Our European ancestors, who were mostly of the peasant class, probably slept on piles of straw possibly covered with coarse cloth or animal skins.   Some may have had a low-sided, wooden box, similar to a manger, filled with straw. By the late 1800s when our ancestors were pioneering in Nebraska, the mattress was a cloth bag filled with hay, corn shucks, or feathers.

Two terms that need defining are ticking and tick.   Ticking was a tightly woven, heavy, cotton fabric, usually blue, grey or brown stripped.  A tick was a bag, made from the ticking, used as a mattress or pillow.  Often the ticking was waxed, or rubbed with soap, to help keep it impenetrable.  Feather ticks were often laid over a firmer, non-feather mattress.

Typical ticking yardage.
Typical ticking yardage.

The earliest account I have of our ancestor’s bedding is of the Peter Schifferns family when they arrived in Adams County in 1873.  It was written by Margaret Eltz Schifferns in 1963.  “So they went by train to Juniata.  At that time Hastings had only four houses; Juniata was the county seat.  From Juniata they had a drayman take them out in the country.  He drove west; as they got to a big draw they had him stop.  It was in April, nice weather; they walked around in the sunshine and filled their straw ticks with [prairie] hay.”  It would be several years until they raised enough corn to fill a tick with corn shucks which are fluffier than hay.

In a 1982 interview, my great-aunt Lizzy Kaiser Pittz told about the Kaiser family’s mattress materials. “Corn shucks, that’s all we had [in the mattress].   Once a year when they shelled corn, we got new shucks.  Empty out the ticking, wash it and put in the clean shucks.  We put our shucks whole in the ticks.  We left a little opening where we could reach in and work them up when they got pressed down.” 

After the difficult pioneer years passed, my great-grandmothers raised flocks of geese and ducks for both domestic use and for sale.  Most people born before 1930 slept on feather beds, federbetten in German, and pillows in their childhood.  Great-aunt Lizzy had this to say:  “Mother made pillows and feather beds.  She had two feather beds, her and Dad used one and the girls used one.  I was the youngest, [born in 1900] things got better by my time.  I do remember the shuck beds.  They also covered up with feather comforters.  It would keep you warm.  It was almost like the mattress, made from ticking as big as the bed.   Fill it with feathers, put that on top of you, then the quilts, and that kept you warm.  Whenever she got enough she made one of those feather beds.  I don’t remember those days too well.  John [Kaiser] could tell you, he had to help pick the geese.  See, they could pick that down while the geese were alive and then they grew more.  They picked it a certain time of year, I don’t remember just when.  It took a long time to pick all the geese.  She had ducks too, but they didn’t have as much down.  The geese were those gray ones.  Those ganders get mean sometimes, you had to be careful.  We ate some geese, Mother sold most of them.”  She sold her poultry, eggs, and cream in Juniata, and in later years in Hastings.  The English wanted a fat goose for their Christmas dinner.

In 1911, the year my Kline grandparents were married, Sears and Roebuck Catalog advertised bed springs. I remember old beds with these springs under the mattress. Below is a mattress ad from the same catalog.



When Pat and I got married in 1964 we bought a double bed with a foam Sealey Posturpedic mattress and a separate box springs.  When the waterbed craze hit in the 1980s, we bought a king-size one.  That was the worst bed we ever had.  Pat was heavier than me, so I was constantly sliding down towards him.  Additionally, Pat coughed a lot which caused me to bounce up and down.  That bed soon went to the basement.


Aunt Katie Pressler

Aunt Katie Horschler age about eighteen.
Aunt Katie Horschler age about eighteen.

My mother called her “Aunt Katie,” but she wasn’t Mom’s aunt, she was her great-aunt, sister to her Grandma Kline.   On the Kline side of the family there was Aunt Kate and Aunt Katie. Aunt Kate was my Grandpa Kline’s sister, and Aunt Katie was my great-grandma Kline’s sister. Aunt Katie was Catherine C. Horschler, born December 29, 1854 in Mount Pulaski, Logan County, Illinois. (I do not know her middle name, but if I had to guess, I would say Cecilia.)  She was probably named for her mother’s sister, Catherine Jung Schick, who also lived at Mount Pulaski.   She grew up at Mount Pulaski where her father, Melchior Henry Horschler, was a shoemaker and farmer. In 1870, at the age of 16, Catherine was living in Mount Pulaski with a family from Kentucky and working as their maid.  She married Michael Pressler on December 31, 1874 in Logan County, Illinois.  It was not a good marriage for Catherine.  Mike Pressler was not a Catholic and he was a member of the Masons, anathema to the Catholic Church at that time.  However, as evidenced by a photo taken in Hastings he was a handsome man.

Aunt Katie and Uncle mike Pressler
Aunt Katie and Uncle Mike Pressler.  The dress sleeves date it to the mid 1890s.

The Presslers moved to Hamilton County, Nebraska about 1881 and purchased 80 acres in Section 32, Scoville Township, just a half mile north of the Clay County line.  In 1882 John J. Kline, made a trip to Hamilton County to view the farm across the section from his brother-in-law, and he purchased the 160 acres.  The following spring the Kline family moved to Hamilton County from Illinois and settled across the section from Aunt Katie and Uncle Mike Pressler.  Their farms adjoined in the center of the section.

Aunt Katie bore four sons, only one of whom, Bill, was kind to his mother.  The great tragedy of her life was the death of Bill in May 1900, caused by the kick of a horse.  He was only seventeen.

Hastings Tribune May 18, 1900
Hastings Tribune   May 18, 1900

These reminiscences by my Mother are from interviews conducted in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Grandma had a sister that lived across the section, Katie Pressler.  They took her along (to church) a lot.  Her husband wasn’t a Catholic; he was real obstinate.  She had a boy that took her, but he was killed, kicked by a horse. She was a little bit of a quiet woman.  She was very particular, everything was just so.  She wasn’t very healthy.  She had, she called it neuralgia, a pain in her face.  I think it was infected sinus.  Even in the hot summertime if she went out she put a handkerchief over the one side.

The Pressler house is no longer standing.
The Pressler house is no longer standing.

They had 10-foot ceilings in their house.  It looked like it was a long ways up there to a kid.  Her house was very clean; she had a white oak floor in the kitchen that was spotless.  She had lots of things around that were crocheted.  Her house was really Victorian.  She died in 1928 and after that it was kind of downhill.  The oldest son was always given everything he wanted and after he got married he was always home wanting more money.  Times got hard (1930s) and they lost the farm after she was gone.

Aunt Katie died at home from cancer of the stomach.  She couldn’t eat for a long time, several weeks.  Nothing would go through her.  They gave her a teaspoon or two of water and tried to give her a little broth and it wouldn’t stay down.  She would say “pan, pan” when her stomach was upset.   She wasted away to nothing and before she died the cancer broke through to the outside.

I went to her funeral.  I was 14.  It was one of the first funerals that I attended, that really struck home to me. It was a cold winter day.  I remember going out in the Case cemetery and seeing her casket sitting out there.  The thing I couldn’t forget the most was the priest took a shovel of dirt and said “Dust thou art and to dust thou shall return”.  He took some of that dirt and put it on the casket and that really shook me up.

In a 1996 interview my Aunt Dorothy Kline Myhrberg said:  “Grandma Kline never liked Uncle Mike Pressler, he didn’t go to church.  I remember Grandma taking Aunt Katie to church.”

Edna (Mom):  “Yes, and he was mean and didn’t let her go.  He was a Mason.  He was a blowbag. He talked loud, in a big voice.  The Kline’s never liked him. He got stubborn and wouldn’t let her go to church for a few years and she lost her mind over it.  After that happened, he let Aunt Kate [Kline] take her to church.  He could see what he was doing to her. Aunt Katie had four boys, the one that was always good to Aunt Katie was kicked in the chest by a mule and died.  He was just a young man.  That hurt her so bad.  He was the one that took her to church.

Her son, Walt, lived in Trumbull.  They called his wife “the Foxy one”.  She was always dressed up.  Walt could never make enough money; he was always borrowing from Uncle Mike (his father).  Dad told me when they were young men, he and Walt would go somewhere and Walt would have $5. (A large amount for a young man to have at that time.)  His Dad always favored him and gave him money.  Walt and his wife finally moved to California and they got a divorce.  Walt had three girls, one wasn’t very bright.”

Aunt Katie died December 20, 1928, and was buried in the Case Cemetery which is located in Section 22, Scoville Township, three miles northeast of the Kline farm.  Uncle Mike Pressler died in 1943.

Aunt Katie's dresser set given to my mother in the 1930s by her Aunt Cecilia Kline.
Aunt Katie’s dresser set given to my mother in the 1930s by her Aunt Cecilia Kline.