Thomas Trausch a Pioneer from Luxembourg

My great Grandfather, Thomas Trausch, was born 179 years ago on May 5, 1844, in the small village of Stolzembourg, Luxembourg located on the Our River which separates Luxembourg from Germany. His father, also named Thomas Trausch, operated the grist mill in Stolzembourg and Thomas was born in the attached residence.  His mother Marguerite Weiler, aged 36, was a native of the nearby village of Putscheid, Luxembourg.  Thomas was their tenth child, but four of his older siblings had died in infancy.

Thomas was baptized on May 6th.  His godparents were Thomas Weiler, his uncle, a farmer of Putsheid, and Magdalena Trausch, his sister age 12, of Stolzembourg.  Thomas was almost five years old when his father died in April 1849.  His mother remarried in March 1852 to Anton Scheiffen a farmer of Stolzembourg.

Very little is known about Thomas’s life in Luxembourg.  His stepfather continued the mill operation.  Sylvester Trausch, the youngest son of Thomas, told that his father’s job was to pick up grain and to deliver flour to surrounding areas.  Thomas hid a bottle of Schnaps under the sacks.  The best customers always got a “schluck” out of the bottle.

The mill at Stolzembourg.  The original of this photocopy belonged to Father Anthony Trausch.

In July 1870 war broke out between France and Prussia which controlled Luxembourg.  Thomas age 26 and unmarried left Luxembourg to escape conscription into the Prussian army.   He sailed from Liverpool, England on the Red Star Line in September and landed in New York City on October 14, 1870.  He then went to Aurora, Illinois which had a large Luxembourg settlement.

At least two families from Stolzembourg were living in Aurora in 1870.  The John Bausch family who are buried at Assumption and the Nick Rausch family whose daughter Elizabeth married Nick Konen and is buried at Assumption.  Thomas declared his intention to become a US citizen in October 1872 at Aurora.

The Peter Schifferns family was living in Naperville, DuPage County, Illinois in 1870.  Naperville is about 10 miles east of Aurora.  Apparently, Thomas moved to Naperville sometime after October 1872 as on his March 31, 1876 application to buy land from the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad he stated he had just arrived in Nebraska and his last residence was Naperville.

Thomas signed a contract to purchase the northwest quarter of section 17, township 6, range 11W (now Roseland Township) from the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad for $5.00 an acre, a total of $800 on ten years credit.  He paid $48 down, which included his railroad fare.  He requested that his contract be sent to John Bush at the Juniata post office.  The CB&Q  Railroad deed to Thomas is dated March 2, 1885.  He had paid a total of $1015.13 for the farm.   According to Thomas’s daughter, Mary Trausch Williams, he worked for Peter Schifferns his first year in Nebraska.

On October 29, 1876, Thomas married Anna Marie Schifferns, the oldest daughter of Peter and Susanna (Pauli) Schifferns.  She was 18 and Thomas was 32 years old.  They were married by Father Lechleitner from Crete in the Busch school house which was located one mile west of Assumption.  In 1876 Assumption church and village had not been established.  There are no known photographs of Thomas and Anna as a young couple.

After their marriage, Thomas and Anna set up housekeeping in a dugout that was excavated in the west slope of a draw near the northeast corner of the farm. Their oldest son, my grandfather Mathias, was born in the dugout on September 29, 1877.  He was baptized in Juniata by Father Lechleitner as the church hadn’t been built.   Between 1877 and 1905 thirteen children, eleven sons and two daughters were born to Anna and Thomas.  Their fourth child, a son Peter, was born and died in 1883 and is buried in the Assumption Cemetery in an unmarked grave.  Two other sons, Edward 1888 – 1896 and Anton 1898 – 1907 died in tragic accidents which is another story.

The 1880 Adams County assessment record gives us a glimpse of the Trausch farm operation.  Thomas had 130 acres under cultivation, 80 acres in wheat, 25 acres in corn, 11 acres in oats, and 2.4 acres in potatoes.  Inexplicably the Trausch farm is missing from the Federal 1880 and State 1885 Adams County Agricultural Censuses.  Roseland Township’s 1895 Assessment Book lists the following for Thomas: 6 horses, 4 cattle, 14 hogs, 2 carriages or wagons, and 1 sewing machine.

The newly constructed Assumption Church located in the southwest corner of Section 4, Roseland Township.

Finally in 1883 the Catholic farmers in northern Cottonwood (now Roseland) Township scrapped together the money and settled their differences about on which side of the lagoon to build their church.  It must have been a blessing for Thomas and Anna to have their church just one mile north and one mile east of their home.

On November 2, 1889, Henrietta and Abraham Loeb deeded the southwest quarter of Section 17 to Anna Trausch for $2,000.  That same day she and Thomas mortgaged the land for $1,000 apparently having paid half in cash.    The 1880s had been good years for Adams County farmers, rainfall was adequate and grain prices were profitable.  In 1889 wheat was around .40 and corn .18 a bushel.  Hogs were about $3.00 a hundredweight, and chickens were .07 a pound.

In 1886 the village of Roseland was established just two miles south and one and a half east of the Thomas Trausch farmstead.   Many of Thomas and Anna’s descendants have lived in and near Roseland ever since.

On 24 June 1891,  The Juniata Herald newspaper copied the following from The Roseland Reporter:  “Thomas Trausch who lives three miles northwest of town, met with a serious accident yesterday afternoon.  While digging a cellar under his house, the wall caved in and broke his leg in two places above the knee and upper third of the thigh.  Dr. Bacon of this place and Dr. Ackley of Juniata reduced the fracture.”  Later, his crutch slipped on a potato peel on the kitchen floor, and he fell and broke the leg again.  Complications from the break disabled Thomas for several years.  While he was incapacitated, Matt age 14, and John age 12 did the farming.  That is also a story for another day.

Rather than Gay Nineties, the term Grim Nineties better describes the decade in Adams County.  The financial panic of 1893 was caused by speculation, silver from new mines flooding the market, and the failure of large banks causing runs on smaller banks.  The price of corn dropped so much that it was cheaper to burn corn rather than coal for fuel.  Then the devastating drought of 1894 struck.  Almost no crops were raised in Adams County, farmers couldn’t pay their mortgages, and local banks failed.   Those who could left going either back east or to the west coast.    My ancestors didn’t leave.  The Trausch and Schifferns families had no one back east to take them in and they didn’t have the money nor the desire to return to Europe.  The Kaiser and Kline families didn’t want to give up their homes and managed to scrape by paying only the interest on their mortgages.

This photo was taken in the fall of 1897 or spring of 1898. Back left to right: John, Matt, Will. Front: Joseph, Thomas, Anna holding Maggie, and Mary.  The view was taken looking northeast.  The one-story section of the house was built first and contained two rooms.  The dugout was about 20 rods east of the house.

By 1900 the economy was turning around.  In January 1902 Thomas purchased the Oscar Wood quarter section two miles east of Assumption for his sons Matt and John who were working in the Burlington railroad shops in Aurora, Illinois.  The boys came home, repaid their father for the land, and went into farming.  In March 1902 Thomas sold 2,000 bushels of wheat to J. H. Pope in Roseland.  The market price was about  .60 a bushel.  In early 1904 Thomas built a large addition to his farmhouse, then painted it green, and in December he surprised his children with an organ.  In 1905 Thomas and Anna took a trip to Canada to see the country and visit her brother Matt Schifferns who had moved to  Windthorst, Saskatchewan.  Their last child, Sylvester, was born in November 1905.  Anna was 47 and Thomas was 61 years old.

The 1904 addition to the farmhouse is on the left of this 1962 photo taken shortly before the house was demolished.

The Roseland Brickyard was established by Thomas’s sons John, George, Peter, and Will. In November 1911 Thomas bought lots in block 10, of Roseland for $500.   In January 1912 Thomas retired from farming and sold his livestock and machinery at an auction.

Sale bill that appeared in the Adams County Democrat newspaper on January 19, 1912.

In March 1912 the construction of a new house for Thomas and Anna was begun using brick from their sons’ brickyard.  In June the Roseland correspondent to the Adams County Democrat called it the “most beautiful residence in town.”

The Thomas Trausch house built in Roseland in 1912 is still standing. The brick was manufactured at the Roseland Brickyard.

A disastrous fire in August 1913 destroyed a block of business buildings on the west side of main street.   Thomas and Anna’s brick house was west across the alley and they were afraid it would catch fire.  Their sons threw water on the roof and hung wet blankets over the large east window to keep it from breaking.

In May 1914 Thomas and Anna traveled by train to Aurora, Illinois where they spent several weeks visiting friends and relatives.

The U.S. entered World War I in April 1917.  The war was devastating for older people like Thomas and Anna who did not speak English well.  There was a lot of anti-german sentiment and their thick accents made their nationality obvious. Speaking German in church, school, or over the telephone was outlawed.  Additionally, they worried about their son Joe who was drafted and about the sons of relatives and friends.

Thomas and Anna sit surrounded by their children and grandchildren. My father, Bert Trausch, sits directly below his grandfather. The photo was taken in the fall of 1915.

On August 24, 1921, after 45 years of marriage, Anna Schifferns Trausch, aged 63, died at her home in Roseland.  The cause of her death was colon cancer.  Thomas continued to live in the Roseland house with his sons Joe and Sylvester and daughter Margaret.

Thomas died at his home in Roseland on February 19, 1926, at the age of 82.  The body was prepared by the undertaker, then laid out in the parlor for the wake which traditionally involved family and friends keeping watch over the body of the dead person.  His funeral was held in the Roseland Sacred Heart Church and he was buried in the Assumption cemetery beside his wife and children.

As was the custom at the time, Thomas was “laid out” in his parlor for the wake. Friends and family came to express condolences, keep watch over the body, and to pray for the deceased.

During several interviews with my Uncle Ed Trausch, Thomas’s oldest grandson, and my father Bert Trausch we talked about their grandparents.  These are their memories of their “Grosspa” Trausch.

What do you remember about your Grandpa Trausch?

Ed:  “He was short, I’d say about 5 feet, 7 inches. We got our height from the Schifferens. He grew a beard. He liked kids. He was quiet and friendly, but not aggressive in carrying on a conversation. You ask him a question; he’d answer it. But he wouldn’t take the initiative. Grandma talked more.

Bert:  He lit his pipe in the morning and it was red hot until he went to bed.  He smoked from morning to night.”

Ed:  “I remember Grandpa telling that he had lived in Illinois for a little while, then he came to Juniata and traveled, I don’t know how out to Schifferens farm.  He worked for old Peter Schifferens the first year. I remember Grandpa telling that when they first came here food was so scarce they made a trap to catch snowbirds to eat. They set up a board, put seed under it, then when the birds came to eat, they pulled the string and caught the birds. The first winter they lived on birds and rabbits. They lived in a dugout when they were first married.  Later they built a frame house. After the house was built Grandpa dug a basement under the house. That’s when he broke his leg. Then Dad had to do the farming while Grandpa was laid up.”

Did your Grandparents talk to you in German or English?

Ed.  “Grandpa Trausch couldn’t talk English until during the first world war some time.  When he was forced to talk English he would stagger through it.  At home he talked German.  We did too for a long time.”

Bert.  “I remember Grandma Trausch would call us and Mom wasn’t in the house and I’d talk German to her on the phone.  They always talked German, they didn’t understand English very well.  We talked German at home too.  When Grandma talked on the phone I’d say “Nicht Verstehen” (I don’t understand).  She didn’t talk loud enough.”

What did your Grandpa Trausch say when he cussed?

Bert.  “I never heard him cuss.”

Ed.  “He would say “verdammen.”

Could he read and write?

Ed: “Ya, in German. In Luxembourg, he worked in the family flour mill, carried sacks of grain, and dumped them in the mill. He came to America to stay out of the German army.”

Thomas’ German script signature from his 1872 declaration of intention to become a citizen indicates he had some education.

Did your Grandparents go to Hastings much?

Bert.  “Not that I know of, everything was in Roseland then, grocery store, shoe store, doctor, everything.”

 Were there dances around the community?

Ed:  “Oh yes, In the early days there were barn dances. I remember going to Grandpa Trausch’s to a square dance.  John Pittz did the calling.”

Did your Grandma and Grandpa Trausch have a car?

Bert.  “No, Grandpa used to come over to our house driving Daisy.  He had a pretty good buggy.  Grandpa Trausch never owned a car.  Pete and George and Joe had cars over there, but not Grandpa.”

Do you remember when they built their house in Roseland?

Bert  “Ya, don’t remember the year, it was bricks from the Roseland brickyard. The kitchen was on the south side, dining room in the northwest corner, living room on the northeast. I think the stairway was enclosed. They had a bathroom; I don’t remember where it was. They had a well and a pump jack. Aunt Maggie lived at home until she married Frank Kaiser. She was older when she got married, it was after her mother had died. Pete’s first wife died and Maggie raised Marcella. Vet, Maggie and Joe lived there with Grandpa. Vet was only fifteen when his mother died.”

You were old enough by World War I to be aware of politics. What did your grandparents say about the war?

Ed: “They were for America. In fact, Grandpa left Luxembourg to stay out of the German army. They never mentioned being concerned about fighting their relatives in Europe. My uncles on both sides went to World War I, both Trausch and Kaiser.”

Did they ever mention the bad feelings against them because they were German?

Ed:  “Oh, ya. Mostly the Ku Klux Klan. They were active here. They had meetings in the Kendall draw that runs through south of the Schiffler place. [One mile south of the Matt Trausch farmstead.] There was a lot of persecution against the Germans, mostly Catholics. They never attacked us physically, just through pamphlets and publicity. They burned the Kaiser in effigy around here. We weren’t permitted to speak German. We had to quit having German services in church and German grammar in school. The old folks who couldn’t talk English had to have their children do their trading for them. All German newspapers were banned. It was difficult for the folks. They felt persecuted.”

Bert:  “The old folks were scared to go to town. If they spoke German they got beat up. Grandpa couldn’t speak English until the First World War when he was forced to stagger through it. You know when Grandpa Trausch got here, he could have picked out level ground, but he picked out draws and hills because of the water in them. The poorest farm ground was settled first on that account.”

What did your Grandpa Trausch die from?

Bert.  “I don’t know, he was old. I remember going to the wake at the house in Roseland.  The funeral was in the Roseland church then they brought him to Assumption to bury him. The hearse was an auto one.”

Do you remember your Grandparents’ funerals?

 Bert:  “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 doors even puffed out on that room from the flash.  Williams, my uncle took that picture; he was a photographer

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