In the late 1970s Pat and I took a trip to Oklahoma to visit Renschler relatives in hopes of learning more about the Renschler family history. We visited Bud’s (Pat’s Dad) first cousin Lester Renschler who owned a typewriter and business supply store in Ponca City, Oklahoma. He told us some interesting stories about his aunt Pearl Renschler Boon but little about his Uncle Harley. Perhaps he was reluctant to talk about Harley because as we would later learn he was the black sheep of the family.
After visiting with Lester we drove on to Oklahoma City to visit Ida Mansfield Aument a niece of Harley’s. She allowed me to copy some old photos she had and told us that Harley was buried in the cemetery at Wheatland, Oklahoma beside his sister Pearl. Their sister Maggie and her husband James Mansfield are also buried there. She didn’t say much about Harley except that he had a pleasant personality, was an alcoholic and that he had been in prison. She didn’t know why, when or where. Well, the statement about prison certainly piqued my interest. But many years would pass before I learned “the rest of the story.”
Pat’s grandparents, Harley Joe Renschler and Clarice Sivilla Clark were married in March 1912 at the courthouse in Nelson, Nebraska. Clarice was 17 years old and five months pregnant. Harley was 25 years old. Their first child, a boy named William Frederick, died at birth. Merion Eugene “Bud” was born March 1, 1915. Clarice filed for divorce in April 1917 at Republic County, Kansas. In her petition for divorce she stated that “the defendant is guilty of habitual drunkeness, that he would come home drunk and curse and abuse her and would spend all the money he earned for liquor and compelled the plaintiff to take in washing and keep boarders to support herself and child. That on December 13, 1916 defendant abandoned plaintiff and their child, and since date has lived separate from them, and has contributed nothing for their clothes, support, or maintenance. The plaintiff has been compelled to work for other people to obtain money to support herself and child.” The divorce was granted in November 1917. Harley, whose whereabouts were unknown, never appeared in court. The court ordered $10 a month child support, but Clarice told me she was “never paid one cent.”
In October 1918 Clarice married a second time to William “Bill” Bugg at Hastings, Nebraska. Bud Renschler was three years and eight months old. Bill Bugg was the only father figure in Bud’s life, consequently Bud knew very little about his biological father. In fact he didn’t even know his own name was Renschler until he was about 10 years old. Thank goodness he learned and used his real name. I would have hated to spend my life named “Katie Bugg.”
As the years passed and I continued to research family history, the tidbit about Harley serving time in prison remained in the back of my mind. I wrote to the Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and South Dakota state prisons without success. Then recently Ancestry.com posted an index to prisoners in the Federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. And there I found Harley J. Renschler, case No. 49912. It had to be him. I’ve never run across anyone else with that name. I emailed the Kansas City Branch of the National Archives and received instructions on how to order the file using my credit card. First I received via email scans of the inmate file which was three pages and included mug shots. After determining it was our Harley, I ordered three scans of the Crimial Docket and then 14 scans of the actual case, US vs Harley Renschler.
This is what I learned: On January 4, 1936 at Chamberlain, South Dakota, Harley Renschler unlawfully and feloniously sold one-half pint of whiskey to Reuben Skunk, a Sioux Indian. On March 23, 1936 Harley pleaded guilty in the US District Court of South Dakota at Sioux Falls to the crime of “selling intoxicating liquor to an Indian.” He was placed on probation for one year and six months. But Harley, an unemployed stationary engineer, hadn’t learned his lesson. On October 23, 1936 he gave away intoxicating liquor to an Indian, Albert Crazy Bear, in violation of his probation. On October 29th a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested on the 31st, thrown in jail and appeared in US District Court on November 12, 1936 where he was sentenced to the US Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas for a term of one year and one day at hard labor.
Wow! That seems like an excessive sentence for something that isn’t even against the law now. However, today we have drug laws that are even more draconian. The 21st Amendment to the Constitution had ended the Prohibition on the sale or consumption of intoxicating liquor on December 31, 1933. So why was Harley in trouble? After the US Government succeeded in forcing the Native Americans onto reservations, it exercised “guardianship” over them. In 1897 an amendment to the Indian Appropriations Act had banned the sale of alcohol to Indians. The 21st Amendment did not apply to Native Americans. In fact, they could not legally consume alcohol until 1953.
Consequently, Harley, age 49, was sent to Leavenworth for selling alcohol to an Indian. He arrived at Leavenworth on November 13, 1936. His file includes this description: occupation: steam engineer; height: 5’ 7”; Hair: dark mixed with grey, balding; eyes: dark hazel; complexion: ruddy. On April 5, 1937 he was transferred to Federal Prison Camp #11 at Kooskia, Idaho. Prior to the Kooskia camp’s establishment, the location housed a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp from mid-June to mid-October 1933. Beginning in late August 1935, the site became a 200-man federal prison camp for inmates convicted of crimes against U.S. laws, such as mail robbery and selling liquor to Indians. The prisoners, all trusties, helped construct the Lewis-Clark Highway, now U.S. Highway 12, between Lewiston, Idaho, and Missoula, Montana.
Harley’s alcoholism plagued him the remainder of his life. He was often unemployed. After his release from the Idaho prison camp, which should have occurred in November 1937, he moved to Oklahoma City to be near his older sister Pearl who was divorced. Sometime in the mid 1950s he lived briefly with his son Bud in Juniata, Nebraska. However, his alcoholism was an embarrassment to the family, and Harley returned to Oklahoma City where he died on March 3, 1959 two weeks short of his 72nd birthday.
Engelbert Thomas Trausch known all his life as “Bert” was born in his parent’s home in Roseland Township on Thursday, March 22, 1906. He was the second son of Matt and Catherine “Kate” Kaiser Trausch. His older brother Edward was fifteen months old that day. Probably Mrs. Nick Theisen, Kate’s aunt and closest neighbor, attended the birth. The Roseland doctor was Dr. Fox. At that time doctors charged about three dollars to deliver a baby at home. Grandma would have been confined to bed “lying in” for ten days as was the custom. Matt may have hired a girl to cook, clean, do chores and care for Ed during her confinement, but more likely one of Kate’s sisters came to help. .
Grandma recalled in later years that Matt was building a kitchen cupboard the day Bert was born. I remember the cupboard, similar to a pie safe, standing in the basement of the farm house. By the 1950s Grandma used it to store her jars of home canned vegetables.
Engelbert Thomas Trausch was baptized 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 “Grosspop” Thomas Trausch and an unknown woman written as “Elizabeth Trausch” in the baptismal register. Grandma did not attend the baptism because she was “lying in.”
On March 30th in the “Assumption Neighborhood” column, the Adams County Democrat reported “Matt Trausch and wife have a little boy since last week.”
Grandma Trausch told me a few tidbits about my Dad’s first year. In the summer of 1906, when Bert was four months old, to occupy him while she worked in the kitchen, she put him in a high chair with pillows around him. Also, Bert was sipping coffee from a saucer when she heard his first tooth clicking on the saucer. Grandma also mentioned that Bert cried a lot as a baby, she described him as being “colicky.”
In a 1982 interview Uncle Ed Trausch recalled an amusing incident from his brother Bert’s childhood. “I remember when we were living in the old house yet, there was a big snowdrift between the house and barn and we took a scoop shovel and slid down on it. A turkey gobbler came along and got Bert down in the snow bank and hammered him into the snow. He cried and hollered and Mom came running out with the broom and saved him. He was a crybaby.”
Ed described the house they were born in. “It had a cave under a slanted cellar door on the south side. We used to get on there when we were small kids and slide down the door. Inside, the floors were just wide 6-inch boards. The first thing Mom was going to do was get a rug for the parlor floor. She was really pleased about that. The house was very cold; there was no heat upstairs. There was just one room upstairs. That was the room where Martha and I were playing. I was a Priest and we had Mass on the windowsill and the candle set the curtain on fire. Mom came running and put it out. That house stood right north of the brick house. The cellar door was right by Dad’s bedroom window. In the old house the basement had a dirt shelf all around the outside. We set fruit and beer there to keep it cool.”
When I inquired about the clothing they had as children Ed and Bert responded “Two or three overalls at the most, a jacket, shirts, shoes, a suit for church, made of blue or black wool. Probably two shirts and one pair of shoes that were wearable. Dad used to sit in the winter and take old thresher belts and resole the kid’s shoes. During the depression we used old tires for shoe soles.” Grandma made all the clothing, including the overalls.
Uncle Ed reminisced about spending time at his Kaiser grandparent’s home. Uncles John born in 1893 and George born in 1895 were unmarried and spent a lot of time with their Trausch nephews. Aunt Lizzie, born in 1900, was a playmate. Bert liked to go there, but would not stay away from home over night. He was too “timid.”
Birthdays were “just another day” in the Trausch household. If Grandma remembered and had the time, she made a cake. The Trausch children did not receive birthday gifts.
Christmas was a religious holiday and there were few presents, usually some candy and one toy for the boys to share. Uncle Ed remembered some of those toys “We got tinker toys once; that was real enjoyable. We got a sand mill once. You filled the hopper with sand and it ran down a slant and then ran back and dumped it. We enjoyed that. We played checkers a lot. The first years I remember Santa Claus brought the tree and the toys. Dad went out and cut it. We went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve; then Christmas dinner someone always came over.”
A combination of German and Luxembourgish was spoken in the Trausch home in 1906. Church services at Assumption were in German and the Assumption School held classes in German. One of the subjects taught was German grammar. All of that changed at the time of World War I, but that is a story for another day. In 1982 Bert reminisced: “I remember Grandma [Trausch] would call us on the phone and I’d talk German to her. She didn’t talk loud enough and I’d say “Nich verstehen.” They didn’t understand English very well. We talked German at home then too. When we visited [the Trausch Grandparents] the kids would talk in English and the folks in German. Mom and Dad would talk along and some words were in English and some, if they knew better in German, they said them in German.”.
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 traditional for boys to wear knee-length pants until they made their First Communion, which was to occur when they had reached “the age of reason.” The transition to long pants was an important “rite of passage” which Bert often mentioned during the many hours he spent reminiscing.
The United States President in 1906 was Theodore Roosevelt and the Pope was Pius X. The great San Francisco earthquake occurred in April. The Wright Brothers patented an aeroplane in May. The Panama Canal was under construction and President Roosevelt became the first president to leave the US when he went to inspect the progress. He also proclaimed Devil’s Tower the first National Monument that year.
We may look back on life a hundred or more years ago as idyllic, stress free and romantic, but for many of our ancestors it was a dreary round of poverty, grinding toil, and frequent illness. For our rural ancestors, the doctor was many long miles away by horseback. Those available were often lacking in medical education and probably did as much harm as good. They didn’t know or ignored basic hygiene and spread germs from one patient to the next. My father and his mother, Catherine Kaiser Trausch, often said “The further away you stay from doctors, the better off you’ll be.” Many times people made do by doctoring themselves with what they had on hand. If a doctor was called it was usually after all home remedies had failed and by then it was often too late. However, without modern drugs and surgical techniques, doctors could do little more than Grandma with her home remedies.
Most women used remedies that had been passed down from their mothers and grandmothers. Goose grease was an ingredient in many home remedies. It was smeared on hands and faces to prevent chapping, combined with turpentine or kerosene to be rubbed on chests and throats for colds and applied to burns and blisters.
Lavina Clark, wife of Silas “Doc” Clark of Juniata, (brother of Grandma Clarice Clark Renschler Bugg) told me that her mother used goose grease because it was “greasier’ than lard. Her mother combined goose grease and turpentine for a chest rub to loosen congestion. She also remembered her mother making a cold medicine by combining raw onions, lots of sugar and a few drops of turpentine, placing it on the back of the cook stove and letting it set until it turned into a syrup. This syrup was good for colds and coughs.
Then, like now, there seemed to be more remedies for the miseries of colds and chest congestion than any other ailments. If my Dad felt a cold coming on he rubbed his neck, chest and back with Mentholatum, took a good shot of whiskey and went to bed to “sweat it out.” There was a firm belief that the stronger or more unpleasant the remedy, the better.
Mustard plasters, strong enough to take off the skin, and substitute a new pain for the original, were often used. To make a mustard plaster, take a small amount of ground mustard, combine with a little flour and water to make a paste. Spread the paste on a cloth, cover with another cloth and put on the chest until the skin turns red. If left on too long it will blister the skin. My Grandmother, Leona Bassett Kline, told me that when Grandpa Dan Kline broke a rib he thought a mustard plaster would help relieve the pain. The heat felt so good he left the plaster on too long. When it was removed the skin came with it, leaving a big sore. Grandma Leona Kline also remembered onion poultices. Fry onions in a small account of lard, spread between cloths and lay on the chest why hot. Cover up, leave on until cold, and repeat. She remarked that the onions stunk. “We put up with a lot.” She also remembered her father, Jule Bassett, making a cough syrup. In the fall he would take a bottle of whiskey, add to it rock candy and “some kind of oil” and shake. “We took a couple spoonsful whenever we had a cough.”
On can imagine a desperate mother, whose baby is ill using what she had on hand trying to cure her sick child. Home made cough medicine, onion or mustard plasters, goose grease; whether it was the remedies, the mother’s tender loving care and prayers, or just luck, if the baby survived, from that time on, the mother swore by her remedy. If someone wasn’t feeling well, many mothers would remark, “All he needs is a good physic.” A physic is any medicine or medicinal herb and the word was often synonymous with laxative.
In addition to being an ingredient in cold medicines, whiskey was also used as a pain reliever. In a December 1984 interview of my Mother, Edna Kline Trausch, she told this story. “Just before prohibition began my Dad bought a quart [of whiskey] and he sealed it with wax and put it in the attic in case somebody got sick. And somebody did, the neighbor’s boy got real bad and the doctor said if they could find some whiskey it might help. The neighbor came over and asked Dad and he went up in the attic and dragged the bottle down, melted off the wax, broke the seal and gave them some. The boy died the next day. He had real bad sinus infection. They gave the whiskey to him to kill the pain.
In a 1982 interview my great-aunt, Elizabeth Kaiser Pittz told me about the remedies used by her parents, Nicholas and Susanna Theisen Kaiser. “For colds she used goose grease; Mother raised geese. She rendered the fat from the geese, and put that on our chest; put a cloth over it. I think she put a little turpentine in the grease. We didn’t like it, that goose grease had an awful smell to it. It warmed a little; I think the turpentine did that. Mother made onion plasters. Fried onions put them between cloths and put them on. My Dad took half whiskey and half sugar, shake that up so the sugar dissolved, we got a tablespoon of that for a cough. If you had an upset stomach, they had spirit of peppermint, fix that with sugar and water. That was good for diarrhea. Mother used to raise a plant that she dried and made a tea out of for a physic. It was a little bush that got little white flowers on. In German she called it Cinna Blatter. (Cinna leaves) If you didn’t feel good, that was the first thing she would think of, a good physic. My Mother’s sister and brother died from diphtheria or scarlet fever when they [the Peter Theisen family] were in Minnesota, but she never talked much about it. Some said they used kerosene on a feather and put it down the throat for diphtheria. My Mother never did that. Mrs. Peter Eltz would do that. She used to get the kerosene and take a chicken feather and swab the throat with that. My folks knew the Eltz family from St. Donatus. Grandma and Grandpa Theisen used to visit Eltz when they came out from Iowa.”
Most families had a recipe for a medicinal salve. The Ron Wright family still uses a salve they call “Grandmother’s Salve” which has been handed down in his family for four generations. According to family tradition, Great Grandmother, Adeline Schnase, had a goiter. She consulted an Indian Doctor who gave her the following recipe. Mix equal parts bees wax, sheep’s’ tallow and castor oil. To this add 1/3 part resin. Place the mixture in the top of double boiler with water in the bottom part. Melt together over low heat. Bottle. Whether this helped the goiter is unknown. The salve is still used to this day for slivers and stickers as it has a good drawing quality. Another drawing remedy is the skin of an egg. Break an egg, remove the skin, place on splinters, boils, etc. Leave on until dry, repeat. Bread and milk were also used to draw.
Clarice Clark Bugg recalled a remedy used by her mother for burns. “When I was very small I was badly burned. My parents feared I might die. We were in a wagon train going to Arkansas and no doctor was available. My mother found some cattails, pulled off the fuzz, mixed it with castor oil and bound it to the burn. It healed, but I had a scar for many years.”
Some mothers also attempted not only to cure disease but also to prevent it. Many children wore asafetida bags. These were a cloth bag on a string worn about the neck. The bag contained one or more foul smelling substances. These were thought to ward off disease. They may have worked to a small degree as they stunk so terribly no one could get close. Leona Bassett Kline recalls “They were put on in the fall when we put on our winter underwear. Oh how we hated that sack! We covered it up as deep with our clothes was we could – it stunk so!” She recalls that most of the children in her school wore one. One can’t help but feel sorry for that teacher.
My Dad, Bert Trausch, reminisced about a remedy for poison ivy. He had gone to his Dad’s farm two miles north of Holstein to get prairie hay. He was up on top of the rack tramping the hay down and he got poison ivy on his legs from the dry hay. Bert went to Dr. Mace at Roseland and his remedy only made the poison ivy worse. Mrs. Ben Theisen told him to use permanganate of potash liquid on his legs and it dried the poison ivy right up. During the 1920s permanganate of potash was used as a remedy for chicken cholera. It is a water soluble salt which when dissolved turns water purple. It is a strong oxidizing agent that was used as a disinfectant and a water treatment.
Some of these remedies undoubtedly worked, some were useless and some many have been harmful. The sight or smell of some home remedies must have been enough to work a miraculous recovery even in a really sick child. The primary ingredient in many remedies was tender loving care. In the days when doctors knew little more than the general population, remedies were an important factor in the family’s health. The remedies themselves stand as a testament to the ingenuity of our ancestors.
Ash Wednesday this week brought to mind a long-forgotten tradition of our Luxembourg ancestors who settled at St. Donatus, Iowa in the 1850s and then in Adams County, Nebraska in the 1880s.
Pre-Lenten carnival (“Karneval” in Luxembourg) is a Catholic tradition and is found almost exclusively in Catholic countries. We are all familiar with Mardi-Gras, the French pre-Lenten celebration at New Orleans, Louisiana. However, Luxembourg also has a tradition of pre-Lenten Karneval celebration, known to our ancestors as Feusend.
In our grandparent’s time the 40-day Lenten period of fasting and abstinence was strictly observed. People refrained from drinking alcohol or eating meat, milk products and eggs. Of course all sweets were forbidden during Lent. No parties could be held and no weddings solemnized during Lent. The English word “fast” (to refrain from eating) is related to German fasten. Another word for the pre-Lenten season is Fasching which dates back to the 13th century. In modern German: Fastenschank is the last serving of alcoholic beverages before Lent.
Since the Middle Ages, in the small villages of Luxembourg, young men have dressed in costumes during the week before Ash Wednesday and gone from house to house collecting eggs, fat and flour that was then used by the women to make pancakes (Paangecher), waffles (Eisekuchen, Wafelen), fried dough balls (Nonnebréidercher, Fuesbréidercher) and fried pastry knots (Verwurrelter). The pancakes were eaten on Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday), also known as “pancake day.”
In some Luxembourg villages, the end of the Karneval period each year was marked by the burning of “Stréimännchen” (straw man) late on Shrove Tuesday. This tradition dates back to pre-Christian times and symbolized the end of winter. The Christian religion adopted customs it could not suppress and changed the meaning. The modern meaning of the straw man burning is a symbolic burning of the sins committed during Karneval.
During the 1970s and 1980s I interviewed many of my older relatives asking them about the lives and customs of my ancestors. In January 1982 I interview, my great-aunt, Elizabeth Kaiser Pittz, youngest sister of my Grandmother, Catherine Kaiser Trausch. Elizabeth was born in 1900. Following is what she told me about the Luxembourgers pre-Lenten parties in Adams County.
“Before Lent they went masquerading. Like they do now for Halloween. People would give them money and then they would go celebrate somewhere. Get a keg of beer with the money and have a party for the families of those that went masquerading. If the house was big enough they would have a dance. We went to several of them. Just the Luxembourgers, the Theisens, Konens, and Mousels, and some Germans around did that. They would go to all the houses. They called it “Fuesends Boken.” [sic] We didn’t know who they were when they come; we tried to guess. George and John [Kaiser] used to go masquerading. Some girls went too, but mostly boys.
When they came to the door, they said they wanted a treat. They would come in and pull jokes around the house. We’d give them a treat and then they would go. When I was around 18 or 19 years old they still went, then we got together and had the parties, just before Ash Wednesday. There wasn’t any certain day; for a couple weeks before Ash Wednesday you could expect them (at the door) any time. They wore regular masks and old suits and ladies dresses. Some people wouldn’t let them in, but we always did; we kids always looked forward to that. Then in later years you couldn’t trust to let people in any more and it all fell apart.”
Next year when you read about Mardi-Gras, remember that our ancestors once held similar parties in Adams County.
Today, February 2, 2016 while I am snowbound by the blizzard of 2016, I am reminded of my parents’ stories of the winter of 1948-49. That winter Nebraska residents struggled through the worst winter in memory. Ironically, the first blizzard, which began on Thursday, November 18, 1948 followed the warmest November 15th on record—71 degrees. On the 18th the Hastings Tribune under the heading “Winter Bearing Down On City” reported cold, gusting wind, but no snow fall at 3 p.m. Bert Trausch was picking corn by hand on his farm six miles south of Juniata. When the wind changed and clouds moved in, he decided to make a trip to Juniata to purchase coal, a fortuitous decision as it would be weeks before he reached town again.
Thursday’s forecast called for clearing skies, scattered showers and colder temperatures. Thursday evening, Bert drove his small herd of cattle, including the family milk cow into his large barn. The loft was filled with hay. Unlike many thousands of other cattle, they would survive the winter well fed.
Edna Trausch still had lettuce in her garden west of the house. She was covering it with a canvas at night and the days were warm and dry. On November 18th the weather changed; a cold wind came up in the afternoon and it began to snow. She decided to cut the last of the lettuce about 4 pm, but it was so cold and snowing so much that she couldn’t protect it from freezing as she picked it. They also still had watermelons stored in the corn crib and that was the end of them.
When the snow started they carried in cobs from a ring in the yard west of the house and wood from a pile in the yard, plus a little coal from the coal shed. It was all stored on the back porch and lasted a few days until the weather cleared. The only source of heat in their old farmhouse was a large, round heating stove in the kitchen.
By Friday, November 19th Adams County was in the grip of a severe blizzard, just the first of the winter ahead. Forty mile-per-hour winds whipped snow into drifts as high as ten feet.
Transportation came to an abrupt stop. The last bus to reach Hastings arrived from Omaha late Thursday. The Burlington passenger train was stranded at Hastings. It was Monday before trains were again operating. All hotel rooms in Hastings were filled and the lobbies were packed with people for whom there were no other accommodations.
Juniata, with a population of 300, hosted about 1,000 stranded travelers by Saturday. Some had been in their cars since Thursday night. Cars, trucks and buses packed Juniata’s main street. The Juniata gas station sold over 1,000 gallons of gasoline to stranded motorists. The two Juniata grocery stores were stripped bare of anything that could be eaten uncooked. A group of truckers built a fire on main street–which was a gravel road at that time— to warm themselves and the cans of beans they had purchased.
Juniata lost its electric power, which was supplied by Hastings Utilities, about midnight Thursday and did not regain it until Saturday about noon. Despite their own troubles with the storm, Juniata residents strove valiantly to aid the stranded motorists. The school auditorium, located on main street, was opened to the travelers and a soup kitchen set up.
Saturday a caravan of about 25 cars and trucks pulled into Juniata behind a bulldozer owned by Kansas-Nebraska Natural Gas Company. Their cross country trip from Minden had taken nearly 24 hours.
Autos were stalled in the streets all over Hastings, including one on the Union Pacific tracks at Fifth Street. No damage was done to the car as the only train that left Grand Island that morning was stuck in drifts just outside the city. The weight of the snow caused one entire block long greenhouse owned by Davidson’s to collapse. None of the plants in the building could be saved.
The area began digging out from the storm on Saturday, November 20th. Most roads in central and southwest Nebraska were closed. Kenesaw was without electricity and water for two days.
At the Trausch farm the drifts were six feet deep in spots, but the back and front walks were swept clean. The top front porch was full of snow and Bert went up to the balcony during the storm to scoop snow off because he was afraid it would collapse under the weight. Rural roads remained impassable, in some cases most of the winter. Trausches were without mail for at least two weeks. When the mailman got through he came from the east and went back that way. The drifts were above the car roof and Bert had to scoop out the mailbox which was on the west side of the road then.
Assumption Road going west along the County Farm shelterbelt was drifted ten to twelve feet deep. Three miles east the big draw by Kothes was drifted level across and was closed until spring. There was no equipment big enough to move that amount of snow.
REA electric lines wouldn’t reach the Bert Trausch farm until mid-1950, and they never had a telephone on the farm, so the fact that many electric and phone lines were down in the country did not inconvenience them.
December was colder and wetter than normal. New Years day 1949 dawned bright and clear. But another blizzard howled into the western plains on January 2nd, and on the 3rd it began to sleet in Adams County. The snow already on the ground absorbed the moisture and turned to ice. On January 4th more snow fell and sun spots, caused by the reflection of the sun on ice crystals in the air, appeared. Some people considered them a bad omen. The temperature plummeted and on January 9th the high was only zero. Winds whipped the snow and refilled cleared roads and farm yards. January 11th the Tribune printed a plea for area farmers to feed starving game birds.
On Saturday, January 22nd, in freezing temperatures, volunteer firefighters battled a blaze in the Bud Renschler home in Juniata. Both Bud and Maxine smoked and left cigarettes and matches laying around. The younger kids, Pat who would turn five on the 29th, and Donis age 3, were playing with matches, throwing them, lighted, into a crack in the closet floor. Mike, age 6 months, was too young to be involved. The fire began under the floor and gutted the closet and bedroom. The rest of the house was damaged with smoke and water. Many of the family’s possessions were lost, but no one was injured. The six Renschler children shared the closet and all their clothes were lost. Bud, an avid hunter, owned several long guns. Neighbors had helped carry furnishings out of the house and set them in the snow. Following the fire, Bud noticed a stranger carrying his guns away. He accosted the man and retrieved his guns. Years later as an adult, Pat still felt guilty for his part in starting the fire.
Snow and ice continued through January and into February. On January 26th Operation Snowbound, conducted by the Fifth Army, was born to assist ranchers in the sandhills. On January 28th Adams County was staggering under another four inches of snow driven by high winds. Highways were again blocked; Burlington trains were stalled both east and west of Hastings. Those rural roads that had been opened were again drifted shut.
Uncle Will and Aunt Lena (Kline) Wunderlich lived in the sand hills five miles north west of Burwell at that time. It was so bad there the National Guard was called out to help feed starving cattle. Caterpillars were used to dig out hay piles and make paths to the hay for the cattle. The National Guard arrived at the Wunderlich farm with a caterpillar and drove right into the yard. The guy driving it said “Where do you want me to dig?” Will Wunderlich answered “Well, not there—you’re on top of my barn.” (Lena Kline Wunderlich was a sister of Grandpa Dan Kline). Dan and Leona Kline missed the terrible blizzards; they were in California visiting relatives that winter.
In February Adams County received its first rotary snowplow, and immediately began the task of widening narrow lanes that had been scooped through drifted roads. Toward the end of February a new menace was added—mud and standing water made rural roads and unpaved streets impassable. The first week of March the rural roads were so bad Roseland’s school buses were unable to make their rounds. Some students were forced to walk in the mud as far as five miles to school. One rancher quipped “The army got us out of the snow, now it’ll take the navy to get us out of the mud.”
Bert Trausch recalled the many cars he pulled out of the mud that spring on the Assumption Road, an arterial east-west road running from Assumption to Glenvil. Snow had drifted ten to twelve feet deep across the road and when it melted the road became a quagmire with ruts 15 inches deep. Cars became high centered and almost impossible to extricate. Each time someone came to the door for help he spent several hours working with his team of horses and was covered with mud from head to toe, overalls, coat and all. His wife, Edna had to wash these mud encrusted clothes in a gas powered Maytag. She was tired of all this extra work and instructed him to take money if it was offered. He hitched up four horses and worked until after dark on the third stuck car of the day. When Bert returned to the house he had 50 cents for several hours’ effort and Edna had another batch of muddy clothes to wash.
The infamous winter wasn’t over yet. On March 12th winter did an encore. Then many area creeks and rivers flooded from the melting snow. March went out like a lion with heavy snow and high winds on March 31st. South Central Nebraska saw the last snow of the winter on April 14th, when a combination of rain and snow fell. It would be several more weeks before all rural roads were passable.
The winter of 1948-49, an almost continuous series of blizzards, was the worst winter in Nebraska history. It is estimated that 500,000 head of cattle perished on the plains that winter. Six Nebraskans died, none of them in Adams County. The Burlington railroad called the blizzards the most prolonged, intense, widespread and costly in the line’s history.
The death of my Uncle, Arthur Kline on November 25, 2015 brought to mind the faith of the Kline family. Arthur is the latest of the family to rest in the St. Joseph’s Cemetery at Giltner. I wrote this story about the Kline family’s deep faith and their connection with the St. Joseph’s Church at Giltner for the 2002 centennial of the parish.
This is a story about one of St. Joseph Church’s founding family’s perseverance in the face of adversity and of the faith that made that perseverance possible. However it could be the story of any of the founding families of St. Joseph Church.
John and Bertha Kline were married in 1875 at Lincoln, Illinois where John worked as a carpenter. Bertha was dissatisfied because the work of constructing buildings through out the area kept John away from home a lot. Bertha’s sister and her husband, Katie and Mike Pressler were already located in Scovill Precinct, Hamilton County, so John Kline came out by train in 1882 and bought 160 acres in Section 32, Scovill Precinct. The farm cost $1,800. He paid $900 down but because of drought and depression it took him 16 years to get the second $900 paid off.
The Kline family, consisting of John, Bertha and four children under the age of six, arrived in Nebraska via the Burlington Railroad in early 1883. They had rented a box car in Illinois to carry their household goods and they got off the train at Harvard.
Shortly after arriving in Hamilton County, John Kline set out to find other German families. He drove around the country and when he came to a farmyard with dandelions growing he stopped. They were Germans—the John Shafer family.
When the Kline family arrived in Hamilton County there was no Catholic Church in the area. The priest from Aurora occasionally held Mass in the homes of various Catholic families. On the Sundays when no Mass was available the Kline family read from their German language book of Epistles and Gospels.
In 1889 the Saint Ann Church was built at Doniphan, which is located 13 miles from the Kline family farm. A horse drawn wagon travels about four miles an hour so the Sunday trip to Mass involved about three hours on the road each way. On Sundays John and Bertha arose very early to get the chores done, the lunch packed, the children fed and dressed, and the horse hitched up for the trip to Doniphan. Those who were going to take communion did not eat breakfast as the fast was then from midnight.
During the cold winter months the three-hour trip was grueling. The family was already in the wagon on their way when the sun came up. Their son Dan remembered that they heated bricks in the oven and put them in the wagon to keep their feet warm. The kids rode in the wagon until they were cold and then to warm up they got out and ran alongside for a ways. How many of us would attend Mass if we had to endure that much hardship to get there?
During the decade of the 1880s rainfall in central Nebraska was adequate for good crops. However the winters were cold with frequent blizzards. The worst blizzard of that decade was the Blizzard of 1888.
The morning of January 12, 1888 was calm and warm. School children played outdoors in shirt sleeves. Then literally without warning, a storm roared down from Canada at 50 miles per hour. When the front hit the temperature dropped almost 40 degrees. Furious winds swirled snow into a blinding, life-threatening blizzard. Early that day John Kline had ridden a horse to Trumbull and taken the train to Aurora to conduct business. The two older boys, Tony and George were at school nearly two miles away. After the blizzard struck the boys walked with a schoolmate to his house a half-mile from the school and stayed there all night as they could not see to walk further in the swirling snow. When John Kline got off the train in Trumbull he got on his horse and headed home into the wind. He arrived home nearly frozen with clothes wet through from the damp snow. By the grace of God everyone in the neighborhood survived the blizzard. However, over 1,000 people on the Great Plains perished in what was later known as the school children’s blizzard.
The three-room house on the Kline farm was inadequate for the growing family. By 1892 there were six children sleeping in two beds in the small bedroom. In the living room were the parent’s bed, a wardrobe and a cradle for the baby. Most family activities occurred in the kitchen. During the good crop years of the 1880s John Kline had saved money to build a larger house for his family. Construction began in 1892 and took almost a year. The house he built still stands and is owned by his grandson Edward Kline. [Now by Edward’s heirs.]
The 1890s, known in song and story as the “Gay Nineties”, were anything buy gay in central Nebraska. At the decade’s beginning commodity prices were low, property taxes were high and railroad freight rates were exorbitant. In 1893 the nation was gripped by a severe depression—called a panic then. 1892 and 1893 were dry years and crops were poor. The drought peaked in 1894. Spring temperatures were abnormally high, reaching 105 degrees in May. Some rain fell in June, but it came too late for the small grains.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and the cities of Grand Island and Hastings hired rain makers. No rain fell. But some farmers still had hopes for a corn crop until July 26th when the recorded temperature reached 112 degrees, and a southerly wind for two full days literally baked the countryside. By night fall of the second day, brown withered corn leaves were blowing in the roads and the air was filled with the odor of parched corn.
It was a disaster of immense proportions. It was said that not enough wheat was raised in central Nebraska to winter a chicken. The Grand Island paper predicted that “farmers would starve before many weeks pass.” Covered wagons headed back east became a daily sight. But the Kline family managed to hand on.
John Kline had worked up the ground in a draw on his farm and on the 23rd of July he broadcast onto the dry ground turnip seed saved from the prior year. In early August a small rain wet the draw and the seeds grew and produced bushels of turnips. That winter all the Kline family had to eat was ground corn left from the year before, a beef they butchered and those providential turnips. And they considered themselves lucky. Their neighbors the William Frasier family had only corn to eat; so the Klines shared their turnips with them.
Dan Kline recalled that during that winter his mother cooked corn many ways, hominy, corn bread, corn mush, fried corn mush, etc. In later years their daughter, Kate, who was 12 years old in 1894, blamed her foot problems on the fact that she had worn two left shoes, each from a pair that the right shoe had wore out, until the next season’s crop came in.
The first resident priest at St. Ann’s in Doniphan was Fr. Dunphy who was assigned there in 1896. During his seven years in Doniphan he encouraged the Giltner area Catholics to build a church. But the crop failures and depression of the 1890s made that impossible. They did collect money for a building fund and by 1901 they had $1,500 saved. On October 10, 1901 a meeting was held for the purpose of making definite plans to erect a church. Those present were Joseph Hegenbart, William Luby, Owen McMahon, John Kline and John Shafer. John Kline was elected head of the building committee. The parish was formed from outlying portions of the Doniphan, Aurora and Harvard parishes.
John Shafer donated the site for the church and Frank Wanek, Sr. donated the land for the cemetery. A 28 by 40 feet church was built by John Kline, with assistance from the men of the parish. The building was dedicated on July 15, 1902 by Bishop Bonacum of Lincoln. By 1905 there were about 150 members representing 30 families.
The first wedding in the church was that of Lena McMahon and James McNeff in 1912 and their daughter Florence was the first child baptized. Henry and Jack Wanek were the first altar boys.
John Kline died suddenly from heart failure in March 1914. He was 66 years old. He is buried in the St. Joseph Cemetery along with his wife Bertha, who would survive him for 32 years, and several other members of the Kline family.
In 1916 the church, which had become too small, was enlarged and a sacristy was added. James McNeff was the carpenter.
The beginning of World War I in Europe increased the demand for food products and resulted in higher prices for grain, horses and mules. With the entry of the US into the war in 1917, the drafting of young men reduced farm laborers and resulted in farmers looking for mechanization. Among the developments of those 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 increased land values. 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; and 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.
In March 1918 the church’s Altar Society was formed. The first President was Mrs. Joe Heganbart. The society met once a month in the homes of members. During the ‘20s and ‘30s, despite the poor farm economy, the altar society managed to raise money by holding raffles, card parties and dances. Each year the ladies made a quilt and other items and sold raffle tickets. The money they raised was used to pay the yearly coal and light bills, furnish the altar boys surplices and cassocks, and to purchase all the regular altar supplies. In addition they purchased four sets of vestments and a vestment case. In 1932 the altar society provided $373 to redecorate the church.
Edna Kline Trausch remembers altar society meetings held at her parents home during the ‘20s and ‘30s. The women had a study club and at each meeting they read and discussed a Bible passage or an article which had appeared in the True Voice newspaper. Some of the ladies worked on their mending or on fancy work while they participated in the discussion. At other times during the year the ladies worked on the annual quilt made for the fund raising raffle.
From 1902 until 1920 the parish was a mission of the Harvard church. Mass was held every other Sunday. In 1920 Giltner became a mission of Aurora. Edna Kline Trausch remembers Father Hennessey being driven to Giltner by the Aurora liveryman. The wagon was sometimes pulled by a team of mules. In 1933 Giltner reverted back to being a mission of Harvard.
1934 and 1935 were years never to be forgotten by anyone who lived through them. 1933 had been the driest year in 57 years resulting in depleted subsoil moisture. In May 1934 unusually high temperatures began. In early June some rain fell, but from June 19th on the region sweltered. One-third of June’s days topped 100 degrees. July opened with a 103 degree day which was followed by the hottest month in Nebraska history. On Sunday July 15th the mercury soared to 112 degrees, establishing a new record, which didn’t last long as the official high on June 19th was 113 degrees. For 18 consecutive days in July the high was over 100 degrees. But the heat wave wasn’t over yet. August recorded 10 consecutive days over 100 degrees. In all 46 days that summer topped 100 degrees.
The unrelenting heat was bad for those in town but on the farm it was worse. Most farms were without electricity to power fans, refrigerators or water systems. Edna Kline Trausch remembers conditions on her parent’s farm “The house was so hot it was almost unbearable, and it didn’t cool down at night because we had to cook with a cook stove. We slept on the board sidewalk which ran from the house to the wash house”.
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 and 1935 huge swirling blizzards of dust blew across the country. No matter how well constructed, houses could not keep out the fine wind-driven dust. Housewives stuffed wet cloth and newspapers around doors and windows but the dust still blew in.
In an 1982 interview Leona Kline, wife of Dan Kline, recalled one of the worst dust storms. “Dan was in the field and he saw the black cloud coming. He galloped the horses home and turned them loose in the yard. He yelled “Get the kids in the cave”. Then I saw the storm coming, the black clouds were just rolling. We all ran to the cave, we thought it was a tornado. It was so hot and dusty in the cave we could hardly breath. Dan held onto the cave door while we all ran down and before he got down it turned black as night. He couldn’t see and we reached up and pulled him down into the cave. Once it was letting up a little bit and Dan looked out and said “The house is still there”. When the storm passed everything was a mess. There was so much dust in the house we couldn’t see the color of the floor. Edna had been cooking supper and left the potatoes in the skillet on the stove. They were completely black.
We didn’t raise anything and we had no feed for the milk cows. That year we sold the biggest milk cow we ever owned for $18. Nobody now knows what we went through”.
Many businesses and most banks closed. Many farmers lost their farms to mortgages or to tax foreclosures and moved away. But even in the face of the worst disaster this area has ever known the Kline’s faith did not waver. Leona recalled that in the evenings they read the Bible and prayed. The church remained a constant in their lives.
By 1939 the dust had settled and the economy was improving, but a war that would soon involve the United States had begun in Europe. Five grandsons of John and Bertha served their country during World War II. Perhaps because of the prayers of their family and community, all returned home safely. Bertha Kline died in 1946 at the age of 89. She was among the last of the Giltner area pioneers.
The Golden Jubilee of the parish was celebrated on September 26, 1952 with Bishop Kucera offering Mass. In 1966 construction of the present building began. Members of the building committee were Art Kline, Donald Larmore, Eugene Lienert, Clyde Obermeier, Joe Priessler and Ray Wanek. It was completed in May 1968 at a cost of $90,000.
St. Joseph’s parish has been blessed with five religious vocations. Father Don Larmore was ordained for the Diocese of Grand Island in 1963; and three daughters and a granddaughter of John and Bertha Kline entered the religious life: Sister Leonardo Kline, Sister Theodore Kline, and Sister Frances Dominic Kline became Dominicans of St. Catharine’s, Kentucky. Sister Irmina Wunderlich became a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas. Sister Theodore and Sister Frances Kline celebrated their golden jubilee in 1970 at St. Joseph’s Church. Both sisters spent most of their religious life serving in Nebraska Catholic schools. They also taught Vacation School in Giltner and Doniphan for many years. The combined years of religious service of these four women is over 200 years. This is a record few families can equal.
Without the women of St. Joseph’s parish this centennial would never have been possible. During the poor years of the 1920s and 1930s they worked sewing, cooking, selling raffle tickets, and praying to raise the funds for the operation of the church. They purchased coal and paid the light bill. They purchased the altar supplies and cleaned the church. But more important than the finances, the women raised the next generation of the faithful and instructed them in the Catechism. For many years, Kate Kline and Clara Bassett LaBrie taught catechism classes immediately after Sunday Mass. To illustrate how the women of the parish influenced their children, even as adults, I will tell you a story about my Grandfather, Dan Kline, and his mother.
Sometime in the 1920s Dan had just purchased a new car. Back then you had to “break the motor in” by driving carefully for the first 500 miles. Well the roads back then were not graded and graveled and after a rain it was hard pulling through the mud. While he was till “breaking the motor in” up came a heavy rain so Dan decided he couldn’t risk driving to church that Sunday. As soon as Mother Kline got home from Mass she called up Dan to see why his family wasn’t in church. Dan told his mother he was afraid to ruin the motor in his new car. Mother Kline’s response was “Is that car going to take you to heaven?”
The history of St. Joseph’s Church is much more than the story of buildings or a recitation of names. It is the story of a community of people and of their faith, which enabled them to face and overcome adversity.
Fifty-two years ago on Friday, November 22, 1963, the political landscape in our country changed forever. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. It was an event that anyone old enough to understand will remember all through their lifetime. I was 17 years-old, and a senior at Juniata High School. As soon as the faculty heard of the shooting in Dallas, which occurred shortly after noon, high school classes were dismissed and the student body was sent to their desks in the assembly room.
Perhaps some explanation about Juniata High School is needed here. It was a small high school, about 65 students. All the students knew each other, many having lived all their lives in that small town. I, having attended a small one-room country school through eighth grade, and being one of a small handful of Catholics in a Protestant community, was somewhat of an outsider. There was a great deal of anti-Catholic sentiment among the parents of many of my classmates. Some good friends told me many years later that their mothers forbid them from dating me because I was Catholic. My outsider status was accented by the fact that we had no telephone so I was unable to chat with my girl friends, and boys were unable to call me for a date. It was a real social disadvantage for a girl in the ‘60s. But, I digress. The Assembly room was a large room in the north east portion of the second floor of the building. Every student had a desk in assembly. The desks had space under the seat for our text books. We did not have lockers. Freshmen were seated on the west, progressing to seniors along the east side of the room. We assembled there in the morning, pledged allegiance to the flag, listened to any announcements, and then went to our first classroom. Study hall was in the assembly room. On Fridays the last item of the day was a pep rally, led by the cheerleaders, in the assembly for the team playing that evening.
When we all were seated in assembly, wondering what was happening, it was announced that the President had been shot. A television was brought in, where from I don’t know, perhaps Coach Jones’ house across the street. There normally was no television in the building. At about 1:30 Walter Cronkite announced that the President had died a half hour earlier. Some girls began to cry. I don’t recall if we went back to classes or spent the remainder of the school day watching the TV, but I think we watched TV.
As soon as school was dismissed, I drove out to District 35, one mile east of our house, where Agnes was in the 8th grade. I do not recall which car I drove. I usually drove my folk’s ’49 Plymouth to school, but sometimes got to drive the ’59 Plymouth with push-button drive. Mildred Grabil was the teacher. She had been my teacher at District 28 for several years, and also had given Agnes and me piano lessons at her house. She had not heard about the assassination and was shocked when I told her. Agnes remembers that on the way home from her school I said to her “You will remember this day the rest of your life.”
We spent the next three days glued to the television. On Saturday the President’s body lay in state in the East Room of the White house. On Sunday his flag draped coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson to lie in state in the rotunda of the Capitol building. The procession included a riderless horse with boots backwards in the stirrups. Mrs. Kennedy, holding her two children by the hand, led the public mourning. In the rotunda, she and her daughter Caroline knelt beside the casket, which rested on the Lincoln catafalque. I remember her kissing the flag which draped her husband’s casket. Mrs. Kennedy, the most beautiful and dignified First Lady in my memory, maintained her composure as her husband was taken to the Capitol to lie in state, as well as during the memorial service.
The state funeral was held on Monday, November 25th at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Monday was a national day of mourning; schools, government offices and many businesses were closed. We spent the day watching the unfolding events on television.
A funeral procession, on foot, from the White House to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, was led by Jacqueline Kennedy, wearing a long black veil, and the president’s brothers, Robert and Edward Kennedy. This was the first time that a first lady walked in her husband’s funeral procession. The two Kennedy children rode in a limousine behind their mother and uncles.
Following the funeral Mass, the casket was borne again by caisson to Arlington National Cemetery. Moments after the casket was carried down the front steps of the cathedral, Jacqueline Kennedy whispered to her three year-old son, after which he saluted his father’s coffin. The image, viewed around the world, became an iconic representation of the President’s funeral. The children did not attend the burial service, so this was the point where they said goodbye to their father.
At Arlington, following the burial service, Jacqueline Kennedy lit a taper from a candle held by a nearby soldier, bringing the eternal flame, marking the President’s grave, to life.
Pat Renschler was in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in November 1963. The day of the assassination he was standing in the rain in a water-soaked fox hole. Suddenly their sergeant ordered them to double-time–a slow run by troops in step–back to their barracks some miles away. They ran in wet clothes covered by ponchos. He remembered that as they ran steam rose up from under the ponchos. When they got back to the barracks, the fort was in lock-down—no one entered or left. No one told them anything about what was happening. This was during the Cold War and his first thought was that there had been a Russian attack. Thoughts of being sent to war went through his head. Eventually the soldiers learned that the President had been assassinated and the military was on alert in case of an attempt to overthrow the government. They were eventually allowed to watch some of the mourning and funeral on TV.
The assassination of President Kennedy was one of those shocking, momentous occasions about which people will always remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. I will always remember the shock when I heard the news, and also the grace and dignity of Jacqueline Kennedy. Little John-John saluting his father’s coffin is a picture burned into my consciousness.
Corn picking was an annual autumn and winter job for our parents and grandparents who lived on Nebraska farms. However, few people today can remember when corn picking by hand, one ear at a time, was the fall harvest ritual.
Corn picking was hard physical work requiring tough hands and strong shoulders. As late as the 1940s most corn picking in the Midwest was done by hand. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that machines were commonly used. Picking began after a killing frost when the corn was ripe and dry. A wood wagon with high boards on one side, called the bang board, was pulled by a team of horses. The team walked slowly down the corn row to the end where they were turned into the next row.
Most corn pickers used a husking peg or hook. A husking peg and a husking hook are two different devices for removing corn shucks from the ear of corn. The peg fit across the palm of the hand just below the fingers. A small curve in its pointed end was fastened to leather that fit around the finger bases and buckled on the back of the hand. The device fit over the husking glove. The corn husker stabbed the peg into the corn shucks with one hand, slid the peg down the length of the ear and ripped the husks away, using the other hand to grasp the ear, break the ear’s shank, and throw the ear into the wagon. There were right and left handed pegs and hooks.
The husking hook was probably the more popular device and fit the hand differently. It was fitted to a metal plate that curved to fit the lower part of the palm. The hook protruded from the palm and curved toward the wrist. The picker had greater hand usage with the hook as it was fit to the hand with leather fittings and straps. The straps buckled on the back of the hand. Some hooks also had leather straps around the wrist. The husker reached forward and sharply drew the hand back toward the body as the bent hook hit the ear ripping away the shucks. The second hand grasped the ear, broke it from the stalk, and threw it into the wagon.
Some people wore shucking gloves. They were made with a thumb on each side so both sides could wear out evenly. When they became worn through from the rough corn kernels, they were turned over and the other thumb used.
If the picker was right handed the wagon would be on the right side and the row of corn on the left side as he faced forward. The left hand grips the ear first, with the thumb up. The hand with the hook moves across the ear to open up the shucks. The left hand thumb pushes the shucks toward the fingers of the left hand so it can grip the shucks. The right hand pushes the ear forward and down while the left hand pulls the shucks back and down. The hands work in opposite directions to clean the shucks off the ear. Then a quick jerk breaks the ear from the stock. The ear is tossed into the wagon with the right hand while the left hand is reaching for the next ear.
The work of corn picking becames a rhythmic movement of the hands and body down the rows of corn. A picker usually picked two rows as he moved across the field.
When the wagon was full, the farmer drove the horses to the crib where the corn was scooped from the wagon. The crib could be a building with walls of narrow boards spaced about an inch apart. The space between the boards allowed air to circulate and dry the ears of corn. Wood slat corn cribbing, also known as snow fencing, was also used to crib ears of corn. In later years round cribs of heavy metal wire with tin roofs were used. After the corn had dried in the crib, farmers shelled the corn. At first, shelling corn was done by a hand-turned machine. Later corn shellers used a power machine with sharp wheels to separate the kernels from the cob. Shelled corn was sold as a cash crop or used for animal feed. Leftover corn cobs were stored in a cob house or in the crib to be burned in the kitchen stove for heat and cooking fuel.
Recently I called my Uncle Vern Trausch to ask him about his memories of picking corn by hand. He is 97 years-old, born in April 1918. This is his reminiscence:
”During the 1930s our corn dried up. 1934, 1935, 1936, we raised absolutely no corn. I worked out where ever I could find work. I worked for the neighbors for $1 a day shocking wheat, doing odd jobs, repairs on buildings. I helped Dad when he had a carpenter job. A tornado took John Schifferns’ barn and I helped rebuilt it. Dad was the supervisor.
In 1938 we had no corn crop here. It got about two feet tall and dried up. There was absolutely no work here. We heard that they had good corn in Iowa, so Al, Elmer, Floyd Weber and I drove 125 miles to Odebolt, Iowa. I had a 1929 Model A Ford sedan. We just sat on a corner and waited for someone to come along who needed help. We worked for Otto Siebreck, an old German. We got room and board, plus 2 ½ cents a bushel for the corn we picked. We could pick 100 to 110 bushels a day, and made $2.50 to $3 a day. We stayed about three months. I came home with $150 in my pocket. I used the money to go to the Los Angeles Aeronautical Institute of Technology.
After I returned from the military, I moved onto my farm north of Assumption in the spring of 1947. I farmed for ten years. The first two years I picked corn by hand. Mary Jane helped those two years. That was very hard work–stooped all day long. The corn only made about 20 bushels per acre. The worst thing picking corn by hand was the smut. If you hit that a black cloud came out. [Corn smut is a fungal disease. It replaces corn on the cob with large galls similar to mushrooms. The galls are filled with black dust-like spores.] Ralph Trausch shelled my corn those two years, then I bought a cylinder corn sheller.
In 1949 I bought a Woods Brothers single row corn picker. I bought it at Ford Farm Equipment in Hastings. It cost $985. I used that three years then I got a mounted two-row picker. In 1950 Lawrence Parr and I put in irrigation wells. We irrigated with ditches and tubes. That was a lot of work. But after irrigation I raised 110 bushel of corn per acre. When I was farming I sold Funk Seed Corn. The best seed corn cost $8 a bushel.”
Bob Trausch remembers that his father Elmer reminisced that during corn picking season, on a nice still morning one could hear all around, bang, bang, bang—the ears bouncing off the wagon bang boards. He also remembered that his brother, Bert, (my father) was always anxious to get an early start at picking corn. Sometimes when an ear hit the bang board, the milk would fly—the ear wasn’t dry.
In a 1984 interview Bert Trausch recalled picking corn–he called it “shucking” corn. “In 1942 Mom [Edna] and I shucked 150 acres of corn. It took all winter. We got laid up in January of ’43 for a while because of the snow. I was out shucking corn the afternoon before the blizzard of ’49 came up.
One of my earliest memories is of my parents picking corn by hand. It must have been the winter of 1949-50, as Agnes wasn’t born yet. I would have been 3 ½ years old. I remember it was a nice sunny winter day. Mom and Daddy were picking corn by hand, throwing it into the horse drawn wagon. I was laying in the sun along the front side of the wagon relatively safe from the ears of corn which hit the bang board and fell into the wagon. I was warm, sleepy and contented. The last year Bert listed horses on his Federal income tax return was 1950 when he depreciated three.
Near the top of the wall of the drive-way along the corn crib which was located in the north side of our large barn, were rows of corn ears sticking on long nails. Each ear had the year written below. Charles and Daddy had picked the largest ear they raised each year and displayed them. Before the development of hybrid seed corn, as the corn was picked, the largest ears were thrown in a box at the front of the wagon. Those ears were used for the next year’s seed corn.
Corn Meal Mush
Because mush required few ingredients to make and cornmeal was plentiful, corn mush was the food staple that kept the pioneers alive during long winters and lean times.
Corn mush is made with finely-ground yellow corn meal. Yellow cornmeal is made from field corn which is harder and more starchy. Once you have cornmeal, mush is pretty simple. Other than cornmeal, the only ingredients are water and salt. There are variations, but here is a recipe:
3/4 cup – cold water, 3 cups — boiling water, 1 cup – corn meal, 1 tsp – salt
First make a paste with the cold water and cornmeal/salt mixture. Then stir in the boiling water. Continue to cook (stirring often) over a low heat for about 20 minutes. Then pour into a narrow loaf pan and let cool until the mush is set. Slice and fry in oil until crispy brown. A breakfast dish, it was served with butter and cream, or sausage gravy, or if available, maple syrup, or apple butter. My mother liked fried corn meal mush. We ate it with butter and syrup, usually KARO clear corn syrup.
The sixth school district in Adams County, Nebraska was formed August 21, 1873. The school was located in the northwest corner of Section 8-6-11, in what is now Roseland Township. It was named the Busch School for homesteader, John Busch, on whose land the school was located. The Busch family, with two children, and the Peter Schifferns family, with seven children, had arrived at Juniata via the Burlington Railroad in the spring of 1873. They came to take up homesteads. The Peter Schifferns homestead was located across the intersection from the school to the northwest in Section 6-6-11. Ten years later the Assumption Catholic Church would be built one mile east of the school.
Unfortunately, no attendance records for the school have survived. In April 1876 Adams County took its first school census. The building was listed as in “good” condition. There was one privy. The school contained no reference books, but did have one globe. There were five square yards of blackboard and wooden desks and seats. Text books included 10 spelling books, 12 readers, six arithmetic books, and five geography books. Families in the district with school age (5 to 20 years) children were: Peter Schifferns, Calvin Ball, Geo T Hutchinson, John Busch, Joseph Basey, John Gerten, and John Vanhouten. They were all homesteaders. There was a total of 21 school age children. How many of those actually attended is not recorded. Our ancestress, Anna Schifferns, age 18, was the oldest child listed. However, she never attended school in Adams County.
The Busch school house served as a community center for the settlers. Thomas Trausch and Anna Schifferns were married in the school on October 29, 1876. He was 28, she was only 18. The priest, Fr. Lechleitner, came on a circuit from Crete, Nebraska. The Trausch family home, a dug-out, was located in a draw one mile south of the school in Section 17-6-11. Their first child, my grandfather Matt, was born in the dug-out on September 29, 1877.
As settlers moved into the neighborhood, the families with children appear on the annual school census. By 1879 the Fisher, Wengler, Martin, Veeker, Showers, Trester, Young, Meyer, Dieterich, Hohfeld, Marts, Smith, and Engleman families had arrived.
The name Trausch first appears on the 1882 school census when Matt was five years old. What year Matt began attending school is unknown. As the country filled up, the number of families increased. By 1883 District 6 contained twenty-one families with 57 school age children. They included Matt’s uncles Peter and John Schifferns aged 13 and 11 years. The school teacher, Sallie Crone, was paid $25 a month and taught for a total of 80 days.
Another family of interest to us is that of Nicholas Trausch, brother to Thomas. His children were first cousins to Matt. The Nicholas Trausch family lived in the district in 1883, 1884, and 1885, prior to their move to Juniata.
In June 1891 Thomas Trausch broke his leg while digging a cellar under his house. In that time a broken leg was very serious and the recovery was long. To make matters worse, while he was recovering he fell–his crutch slipped on a potato peel–and rebroke the leg. The field work fell to Matt, the oldest son, aged 13. We know he never attended school after that. However, we also know he only attended school during the winter when there was no field work and he only progressed through the third reader. Schools were not graded, a term was three months and most rural schools had only two terms. Children progressed through readers, a series of graded primers, for grade levels 1-6, widely used as textbooks from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. Each term the student continued in the reader where they had left off previously.
Matt Trausch was almost completely self-educated. His formal education ended with what we consider the third grade. He learned math while working as a carpenter for the contractor Hageman. Matt had a talent for mathematics and mechanics. As an adult he read the newspaper weekly and when the Rural Free Delivery (RFD) of mail began, daily.
The majority of families in the Busch School district were of the Catholic faith, and when the Assumption parochial school opened in 1900 the number of students declined dramatically. The last year the district held school was 1935-36. The school census listed 75 children of school age, but only six attended. For the next twenty years the district sent a few students to Roseland each year. In 1956 the district was formally disbanded and joined the Roseland District No. 42.
One of our ancestor’s greatest fears was the highly contagious disease smallpox. There were two types of smallpox: Variola major, the more severe, with 30-50% fatalities and Variola minor with 1-2% fatalities.
Within seven to seventeen days after being exposed to smallpox, the victim would experience fever, chills, headache, nausea, vomiting and severe muscle aches. By the fourth day, the fever would drop and the rash would appear. Once the rash appeared, the patient was infectious. The rash began as spots called macules which became raised papules. The papules enlarge and become filled with fluid and are then called vesicles. As the fluid changes from clear to pus-like, the spots are called pustules. Fever during the rash is common. After time, the pustules crust over and eventually the scabs fall off. This process can take from three to four weeks and scarring is common. The infectious period ends only when the last scab has fallen off.
Many cases ended in death, usually in the second week of infection. Most survivors had some permanent scarring, which could be extensive. Facial scarring was especially dreaded. Other deformities could result, such as loss of lip, nose, and ear tissue. Blindness could occur as a result of corneal scarring.
Smallpox was spread by close contact with the sores or respiratory droplets of an infected person. Contaminated bedding or clothing could also spread the disease.
In 1796, Dr. Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had been infected with cowpox never contracted smallpox. He used cowpox to inoculate an eight-year old boy in both arms. After the boy recovered from a brief fever, Jenner injected him with smallpox and he showed no signs of infection.
Smallpox epidemics were common. Some notable ones which may have affected our ancestors were in New France (Canada) 1702-03, 1733; the Thirteen Colonies 1721-22, 1755-56, 1775-82. As early as 1853 England passed legislation making smallpox vaccination compulsory for every child. In 1855 Massachusetts passed the first U.S. law mandating vaccination for schoolchildren.
My grandmother, Leona Bassett Kline, recalled being vaccinated for small pox as a child. After Leona’s mother died in 1897, Jule Bassett hired women to keep house and care for his four small children. The daughter of their housekeeper, Mrs. Warren, had been vaccinated. “Mrs. Warren took a knife, scraped some matter from her daughter’s arm, rubbed my skin until it was ready to bleed, and smeared the matter from her daughter onto my arm. In a few days we knew it had ‘taken.’ My arm swelled up and got sore.”