Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Picture of the California Schmidts 1917?

One last picture before I go to the Thesman Story.
I don't know who the three adults on the left are. If we knew then we could identify the kids more easily.

This picture was taken in about 1915-1917 in Reedley.

The couple at the center are Katharina Regier Schmidt's sister and husband - Peter and Susaah Regier Unruh.

The couple on the far right are Jacob and Mary Schmidt Hiebert. Mary was Abraham Schmidt's daughter. The tall young man on the far right front row is their son Daniel Hiebert 1907-1967. To the left of Daniel is his brother Irwin Hiebert 1913-1994. Between the older two girls in checked dresses is may be Catherine Hiebert 1911-1995.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Chapter 16 - California, the Final Years

To Review:
In the last chapter, Abraham and Katharina and all their children moved from their farm near Henderson, Nebraska to land north of Enid, Oklahoma in 1900. They lived there for 18 years while their children grew up, went to school, married and left home.

Enid became the "home" for the Schmidt family during that time and it still is the "where we came from" place even though the majority of Abraham and Katharina's descendants no longer live there.

Reedley, California 1918-1926
Mary and her husband Jacob Hiebert were the first to move to central California in May 1908 and they sent back glowing reports. Huge tracts of land were available in the Central Valley, crops could be grown year-round, and a church had already been established in Reedley.

Abraham and Katharina had lived in Enid for 18 years. All the children were grown and most were married with their own families. Their son John, married with a son, was running the family farm north of Enid.

Abraham was 68 and the California sunshine appealed to him. So, in 1916 they moved to California and lived with daughter Mary and husband Jacob J Hiebert on a ranch between Reedley and Dinuba until they could buy their own house at 1151 M St. in Reedley. The house is still there on a wide, tree-lined street.
Abraham and Katharina R. Schmidt's last house Reedley, Calif.

On October 4, 1918 Abraham and Katharina joined the Reedley Mennonite Brethren church with their two remaining bachelor sons, Pete and Nick.

Katharina became ill right before Thanksgiving 1921. It is unclear exactly what she had, but it affected her nervous system. She died the following year on September 4, 1922, at 7:15 a.m. She was only 60 years old.
Funeral of Katharina Regier Schmidt - her relationships are listed below
  1. Brother-in-law, either Peter Unruh or John M. Regier
  2. Sister of Katharina Regier Schmidt, either Susannah Regier Unruh or Anna Regier Unruh
  3. Son-in-law Jacob (Jake) Hiebert (married to daughter Mary)
  4. Grandson Daniel Hiebert
  5. Son-in-law Peter Karber (married to step-daughter Tena)
  6. Step-grandson Walter Karber (son of step-daughter Tena)
  7. ?
  8. ?
  9. Step-daughter Tena Schmidt Karber (Abraham's daughter by his first wife, raised by Katharina)
  10. Daughter-in-law Susan Schmidt (Nick's wife)
  11. Granddaughter Hulda Hiebert (married Langhofer)
  12. Daughter Mary Schmidt Hiebert
  13. Son Peter Schmidt
  14. Husband Abraham Schmidt
  15. Son A.A. Smith (Schmidt)
  16. Son Nick Schmidt
  17. Granddaughter Katherine Hiebert
  18. Grandson Abe Karber
  19. Grandson Irvin Hiebert (later M.D.)
Abraham lived in his house on M St. for several more years. An immaculate housekeeper, he kept busy with a wide community of friends. Finally, heart problems confined him to bed. He moved in with his daughter Mary's family. Mary's daughter Hulda Hiebert Langhofer remembers running to do errands for him. And Jake's son, Raymond, remembers a rope hanging over Abraham's bed. When Abraham was short of breath he would pull himself up to catch his breath.

On October 10, 1928 he died at his daughter's home at the age of 76. Of his eleven children nine were still living at the time of his death. As of this writing his descendants include 39 grandchildren, 70 great-grandchildren, 75 great-great grandchildren and 9 great-great-great grandchildren.

Our wandering ancestors were laid to rest in the Reedley Cemetery. It is on the banks of the Kings River in central California about 40 miles south of Fresno. There are huge oak trees towering over the marble markers. How lucky we are that they pursued their dream of religious freedom so that we might live in such freedom today.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chapter 15 - Time To Move Again 1900

Recap: In the last chapter Abraham and Katharina had the last of their children - Peter, Jacob, Anna, Elizabeth and Nikolaus. We talked about funeral traditions, favorite foods, schooling, and the importance of music in the family.

Another Move
Why did the Abraham Schmidt family sell their farm and move from Nebraska to Oklahoma in 1900?

Well, they weren't the only ones who moved. During the fourteen years that they were living in Hamilton county near Henderson, Nebraska, people were moving away. Like many other frontier people in the 1880's the members of the Henderson Mennonite Brethren community were always looking elsewhere for land in order to develop greater farming possibilities. There was the constant appeal of ads and salesmen promoting cheaper land elsewhere. Prices were falling everywhere.

One Mennonite Brethren reporter wrote in 1888:
A quarter of land which sold for $4000 four years ago is now priced at $2500. A horse formerly sold for $150 and now sells for $75...A cow once worth...$50 is now worth only...$20. The reason for this is the shortage of feed for the cattle. Henderson Mennonites: From Holland to Henderson, Stanley E. Voth, 1982.
Katharina's uncle Peter Regier explored Oklahoma in 1892. Two years later he reported that four families were planning to move to Enid, Oklahoma, because of the widespread drought in Nebraska.
"There are others who would go if they could only sell what they have in Henderson," reported the Rundschau paper.
In Oklahoma, land was cheap. "The land is being sold for $1.25 per acre, the price paid to the Indians for the land," reported the Rundschau newspaper. In the fall of 1893 the U.S. government opened the Cherokee Strip in Oklahoma for settlement. The desire for land prompted many to leave their home and family. Mennonite Life, Oct. 1954.

The majority of the settlers of the Oklahoma Strip were poor, and the harvests of the early years were meager. Many settlers lost courage and sold their homesteads very cheaply or left without the formality of selling. The Oklahoma Land Rush was over but others who had not participated in the rush, including Katharina's uncles Bernhardt M. Regier, Isaak Regier, Gerhard Regier and Heinrich Nickels, were able to buy land cheaply from those discouraged settlers.

But Oklahoma experienced droughts, too. From 1893-1896 the lack of rain produced poor crops, causing many farmers to sell even though free seed was supplied by the railroad. Then in 1897, rains were plentiful, the harvest was good and wheat prices shot up to $1 a bushel.

In celebration of the good harvest, the city of Enid invited the Ringling Brothers Circus to town on September 25, 1897. There were thirty thousand paid admissions.
A Circus Act that year
Enid, Okla. Ter. Saturday, September 25th.(click on the colored type to go to the source) Clear and pleasant. Business tremendous. This is the first big show Enid has ever had. The town is four years and nine days old and is wild about the circus. The afternoon audience was another surprise like that at Beloit, Kan. A good-natured multitude of noisy, yelling Westerners yelled themselves hoarse with enjoyment at the rare treat the big show afforded them. 

If you have been paying attention to dates, you will know that the Abraham Schmidts had not yet moved to Enid when the circus came through that year. But I thought that this bit of trivia gave us some insight into Enid.  The following story about Enid is also interesting.

Enid 1893-1900
According to Oklahoma by the Federal Writers Project, University Of Oklahoma, WPA 1941: "Enid" was named by a Rock Island Railroad official after a queen in an Alfred Lord Tennyson story. Enid was the site of the railroad station and a government land office set up in advance of the opening of the Cherokee Strip to the "land rush". When the government found out that some Indians (sic) already held choice allotments of the land, they moved the government office, courthouse and post office three miles south, leaving the Rock Island Railroad station behind. Thus a rivalry between "North Enid" with the railroad station and "South Enid" with the government offices began.

Every day the train ran right through South Enid without stopping, until July 13, 1894 when a freight train went off the tracks and into a ditch. It was discovered that the bridge supports had been weakened by sawing. This crisis brought about a presidential proclamation declaring that the railroad would stop at South Enid. On September 16, 1894, a freight and ticket office was established in South Enid, which became the present city of Enid.

Pranks continued even after the government ultimatum. One time "a finely-dressed liveryman was extolling the virtues of North Enid while he was in South Enid. The 'egg committee' greeted him with an ample supply of overripe ammunition. The North Enidian fled under the well-aimed barrage." ibid.
At this time the  Mennonites that were already in Enid felt the need for a church building. In 1897, they invited Katharina's uncle Peter Regier, to move from Nebraska to North Enid. He became the leading elder of the MB Church with its 30 members. Peter and Isaak Regier and Gerhard Gaede served as the church building committee. Absalom Martens donated a three-acre plot of land. With money from Henderson, their mother church, they erected a meeting house in 1898, about 2 miles north of North Enid and west of the Chisholm Trail (Hwy 81). Two year later Abraham and Katharina Schmidt and their children moved to caddy-corner across the road.
Abraham's diary (click on the picture to make it larger)

Enid 1900-1918
"We left Nebraska on the 11th of June, arrived in North Enid on the 13th," says Abraham's diary. They settled on some land near the Abilene Cattle Trail also called the Chisholm Trail which paralleled the railroad. Eventually, the highway US 81 ran along the edge of the Schmidt property.

Abraham bought 160 acres from Frank Tercell in June 1900. The Tercells held part of the $2500 price as a mortgage. Abraham paid them off in September 1901 by taking out a loan for $650 from the Thorne Brothers Mortgage Col. He paid off the mortgage in March 1905. Then later he purchased another 160 acres from Jacob Friesen.

Between 1897 and 1903 two railroads, the Santa Fe and the Frisco, connected with the Rock Island in Enid. This connection provided the transportation needed to turn the area into the wheat and milling center for northwestern Oklahoma and helped the population to grow from 3,000 to 14,000 between the years of 1900 and 1910.
County Courthouse, Enid, Oklahoma

It was a time of prosperity, and eventually the Schmidts "owned their own threshing machine, matched set of horses and spring wagon, (a) two-story house and large red barn with a hayloft," wrote Abraham's oldest grandson Walter Karber in 1979."He (Abraham) taught his family to be thrifty and work hard...(he) was a very stable man, very sure of his salvation in Christ, much concerned about the spiritual and financial welfare of his family."
The children were older now and were moving out on their own. First to marry was Mary in 1903. She married Jacob J. Hiebert. The following year her older half-sister Tena (Katharina) married Peter Karber. In 1905, before the children scattered to their own lives, Abraham had a picture taken of all nine children with two sons-in-law and a grandchild, the baby, Walter Karber.

Back row: Peter Karber, Jacob Hiebert, A.A., John, Henry Next row standing: Elizabeth, Peter, Jack   Sitting: Tena, Mary, Nick, Katharina, Abraham

On the 12th of June 1914, Abraham became a U.S. citizen. It took him many years to attain citizenship. He first declared his intention and renounced allegiance to the Czar of Russia in September 1881 at Albion, the county seat of Boone County, Nebraska. Thirty-two years later, September 1913, he petitioned for naturalization in Enid. He returned to court to finish the process in February 1914 but was given a continuance until June due to an absence of witnesses. Finally, he received his citizenship the month before the outbreak of WWI in Europe. His children, of course, were citizens by right of birth.

As part of the World War I Draft, four of Abraham's children, Henry, John, Jacob and Peter, registered for service with the government. The four brothers went to draft board together on June 5, 1917. A.A. was exempt from service since he was a minister by then. And Nikolaus went to Canada to work on a relative's farm during this time. Thinking that he might be called up, Jacob sold his farm and moved with his wife Anna Thesman to "town" where he started into business. None of the boys ever had to serve.

America was only involved in the war for nineteen months. However, there was a strong anti-German feeling in the country, and many did not distinguish between Mennonites and Germans. This was especially true if they failed to go to war due to their religious convictions. Our relatives were somewhat insulated in their community, although those who left the community felt the impact of this conflict.

The move to Enid was an important one for the Abraham Schmidt family. They left behind some a good community in Henderson, Nebraska as well as Abraham's brother Heinrich Schmidt. Remember that Heinrich came over to America a couple of years after Abraham. Heinrich was married with children when he arrived in 1878. Heinrich's descendants still live in Nebraska although many have moved away. I am trying to get in touch just to see what memories and feelings that they have.

 But Abraham and Katharina weren't finished with their wanderings. They moved from Molotschna, South Russia to the Kuban, South Asia, to Nebraska and to Enid. Where will they go next?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chapter 14 - Five More Children for Abraham

Review: The last entry covered the birth of Henry Schmidt, schooling in Henderson, food and the funeral of Katharina's father Johann J. Regier.

Family Life
One Wednesday, January 7th, 1891 at 7:30 p.m. Peter "Pete" Schmidt was born. Perhaps he was named for Uncle Peter Regier, the minister. Hierschau by Helmut Huebert, 1986.

Peter married later in life and didn't have children. He and Edna were famous for their wide repertoire of songs that they played on their cow bells. They entertained the "old folks" at retirement homes.

Jacob "Jake", my grandfather, was born two years later on Wednesday, March 22, 1893 at 10:00 p.m. He married Anna Thesman and had 5 children who lived to adulthood. He was famous for his potato chip factory in Enid, Oklahoma.

Jake and Anna Thesman Schmidt 1917
After four sons in a row, they were probably delighted to have another daughter, Anna, even though Jake was only a year old and Pete was barely out of diapers. Anna was born on June10, 1894 at 1:01 p.m. Then two years later, Elizabeth arrived on March 29, 1896, at 12 midnight.

Elizabeth Schmidt and Jacob Voth 1916
Elizabeth married Jacob Voth. (To go to the family tree click on the colored words.) They had six children who lived to adulthood. Jacob Voth was famous for his dairy farm, delicious milk and other farm products.

The last baby born to Abraham and Katharina was Nickolaus "Nick". He was born on January 15, 1898. Nick married Susan Wiebe and they had three children.
Nick Schmidt 1950
It must have been a full house by then. In addition to the new baby, Nick, the oldest girls were Tena, 19, and Mary, 16. The boys were A.A., 14, John, 11, Henry, 8, and Pete 7. Then the "babies" were Jake 4, Anna, 3, and Elizabeth, 22 months.

 So while there was a lot of help, both for the housework and the farm work, there was still a lot of work to be done. With ten babies in 16 years (don't forget Susannah), I guess Katharina had had enough. At the age of only 36, she had no more children.

Katharina was a strong-willed person. Having had her children, she set out to do her best for them. They were obviously healthy, since they didn't die in an age when a common cold could kill. And, as mentioned earlier, she made sure that they were educated. That included a musical education.

From my research I find a long tradition of singing in the Mennonite church. Before 1760's in Poland/Prussia hymnbooks were not common. They were too expensive and they might not include the songs the church wanted to use. When the Mennonites arrived in Russia they used a "liner" or "vorsaenger". This person started the songs, set the pitch, tempo and mood, and then he chose which tune would be sung with which text. He needed a strong voice to prompt the congregation by speaking the next words while others were singing. He did use a tuning fork to help him find the key.

Next came the development of "Zifferngesang" (cipher singing) to replace "Gehoermelodie" or (ear singing). Ciphered/numbered singing caused a discussion and disruption in the church for many years from 1839 to 1870.
An example of numbered notation for the tune. Click on this picture to make it larger.
 Four-part harmony was not accepting for the same reasons. Even playing musical instruments was not allowed at first. The 1890 community band in Henderson, although it was comprised of church members, was opposed and caused dissension in the church. Instruments were finally used in services in 1906.(This is not to imply any lack of knowledge on the part of the Mennonites. They were protecting their community from all corrupting outside influences. Every new idea had to be evaluated on its merits before it was allowed in to this protected society. Many of us wish we had the ability to protect our children from the videos and music of today.)

Here again, our Katharina R Schmidt was different. She had a tradition of musicianship in her family. She not only played the violin but also taught her son A.A. to play it. His daughter Joanne Olfert now has Katharina's violin.

Of course, all of Katharina's children sang. The four brothers often sang as a quartet in church and at community functions. A.A., Henry, Pete, Jake and Nick received their college degrees in music. A.A. taught music at his mission; Henry was a professor of music in Texas; Jake sang opera with a civic group in Enid; Nick directed his church choir in California; and at the age of 85, Pete was still playing and singing for the "old folks".  Mary's children were proud of her lovely alto singing voice and Elizabeth played the organ in her home.

Everyone sang at Christmas. It was a very religious holiday for our ancestors. In spite of the houseful of children, gifts were not the focus of the holiday.Christmas trees were not allowed in the Mennonite church until after 1926. Dorothy Schmidt remembers returning from performing at an Englishcher church in the 1930's. Her mother, Anna Thesman Schmidt, remarked that the Christmas tree in the church was like an idol interfering with the worship.

Here is song that was traditional at Christmas in these households: (Click on the arrow in the middle of the box to hear the song.)

The Mennonite Brethren made a three-day holiday out of Christmas and enjoyed the chance to visit each other at home and at church. Services were held both Christmas Eve and morning with additional celebrations taking the form of musical performances, and, as always, plenty of food.

Since there wasn't a tree, Abraham and Katharina put the presents on each person's place at the table. A slip of paper with the person's name written on it was placed there with their "tute". Relatives gave the children "tutes" or sacks containing a piece of fruit (if they were lucky) some nuts and some candy. Some families and churches continue this tradition today.

One Christmas was not very happy in the Schmidt household. A week before Christmas, 1898, Anna, who was 4 1/2, became ill. For a week or so, through Christmas, they thought it was a bad cold. She had a fever and congestion so she stayed home from the church services. The following week her cough grew worse. It was so bad that she made a whooping sound as she gasped for breath. Katharina nursed her through the night as the congregation added their prayers for her recovery at their traditional New Year's Eve services. Finally, Anna was so weakened that on January 3, 1899, she died from her 16 day struggle.

The following year, Abraham and Katharina sold their 120 acres near Henderson, Nebraska, to her father Johann J. Regier for $3600. The deed was signed on June 2, 1900.

The Schmidt family had lived in Hamilton County near Henderson, Nebraska for 14 years from 1879 to 1893. Eight of their children were born there. 
The next chapter: Why did they move? And where did they move to?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chapter 13 - Henderson, Nebraska 1887-1903

Recap: Abraham and his wife Katharina Regier Schmidt have moved from York County to Boone County and now back to Hamilton County in Nebraska over the past 10 years. They have five children and are living on their own farm outside of the city of Henderson, Nebraska on the border of Boone and York Counties.
This plat map shows A Schmidt's land on the right side.

By now little Tena (Katharina), Mary (Maria J.), and A.A. were old enough to go to school. Until a schoolhouse was built in 1888, classes were taught in someone's home. But they only went for four months a year, from November to February, when the kids weren't needed on the farm.

The teacher was paid with eggs, meat, vegetables or labor. There were mixed feelings about education in many homes. They believed in the importance of education but also wanted to protect their children from bad influences. Not unlike today. They had always protected their beliefs by being self-sufficient and self-contained. Some parents limited the subjects their children were taught. The children were taught German by using the New Testament as the text and everyday math for use on the farm.

In this area Katharina Regier Schmidt was different. She was proud of the education that her children achieved. Eventually most of the boys had a college degree! This outstanding accomplishment was attained at a time when survival was the primary consideration in many immigrant homes. Even the daughters were educated, although not all graduated from elementary school. They all knew how to read and write in High German.

When Tena, Mary and A.A. could be spared from their chores, they walked to school at someone's house, like Jacob Friesen's or John Janzen's. When the snow was blowing and the road was slippery with ice, they hurried to get inside. Lessons began at 9 and ended at 4 with an hour for lunch and two fifteen-minute breaks. Copying, memorizing and reciting were the standard learning methods.

Of course, all grades were together. But grades were not divided by age. As students progressed they would move to the next level. If they had missed school to help at home, they stayed at the level that they needed to study. The children used slates because paper was so expensive. But slates were noisy and smelly. They were wiped clean with spit and a wipe of the sleeve.
First Schoolhouse in Henderson built in 1890
A few years later when public school was held for six months a year, almost all of the children attended three months of German school as well. The church established this school to make sure that the younger generation would be able to read Martin Luther's German Bible. German was still the language of the community of Henderson for church services, the newspaper and much of the the business.

Eventually, when the state law required nine months of school, time had to be found for German school. Everyone was busy in the summer and before and after school. The community found a solution by providing a German school for those who graduated from 8th grade. It became the first type of high school education in the Henderson community.

The Schmidt farm was across the street from the German School which was right next to the church.Only Abraham's oldest son, A.A. attended the German school before they moved to Oklahoma. However, eventually, all of Abraham's sons graduated from German school, and most from college as well.

Besides getting together for baptisms, wedding and funerals, the community celebrated the holidays together as well. The first Children's Festival was started in 1889 on the 4th of July to give the Mennonites an alternate way to celebrate Independence day. The "Englishchers" celebrated the holiday with drinking and carousing.

The Festival was held on the farm owned by Abraham's father-in-law, Johann J. Regier. Events included talks on the missionary work that was going on in other countries and an auction of goods to raise money for the missions.

Isn't it amazing that within ten years of immigrating to a new land, these people were sending aid to foreign countries?

Favorite Mennonite Foods
Food was an important ingredient of any celebration, and summer was the time for a Mennonite favorite, watermelon. They were eaten cold from the stream or pickled. The small melons were placed in a barrel of water, salt, dill, grapevines and the pulp of some of the over-ripe watermelons. They were fermented for three weeks. Then they were ready to enjoy. Cucumbers were another favorite, as well as sauerkraut. Before canning with glass jars began in 1900, these picked foods preserved summer's produce for the winter.
Henderson Mennonites: From Holland to Henderson by Stanley E. Voth, 1982.

Drying in the sun was used to preserve apples, apricots and cherries. Gooseberries were put in bottles, the bottles were corked and then they were baked in the Russian oven. There was no juice with them. Later these fruits were steamed, fried or used in moos (stew) to liven up the winter meals.

Apples and potatoes were kept in a cool, dry place; however, some of the potatoes were buried below the frostline. Paper and straw were placed over the potatoes before the dirt covered them. In the spring after the frost was gone, they were dug up again almost as fresh as when they went in.

Called "roggenbrot", rye was a favorite bread. Fresh bread is good by itself but the housewives liked to bring their best spreads to the 4th of July celebration. Everyone had their favorites. The purists liked just the fresh churned butter on their bread while others liked wild plum jelly, apple butter, watermelon syrup, sugar cane syrup, molasses or honey.
Katharina taught her daughters to make verenike, which was a favorite food of their husbands according to their children. It was made like this, in case you want to try it.: The cottage cheese kettle was kept to the back of the cookstove. The clabber milk in the kettle was kept hot, but not boiling, in order to change it to curds and whey. The whey was drained to leave a dry cottage cheese. The cottage cheese could be eaten alone with salt and pepper. But if you made pockets of dough and stuff the pocket with cottage cheese and boil or fry them, then you have verenike.

After lunch the women laid out a table of desserts with cakes, pies and big sour cream cookies. There was also tea and coffee but no alcohol. Before granulated sugar was commonly used, sugar came in solid cones. A person scrapped or broke off a piece to use. Tea or coffee drinkers held the piece of sugar between their teeth and let the hot beverage dissolve the sugar as they sipped it.

For entertainment, the children recited poems, Bible verses and songs that they had learned for the occasion. The Children's Festival was a yearly tradition until 1902.

A Funeral
In July, 1902 there was a late wheat harvest, so the festival was postponed. It was re-scheduled for July 11th. On July 8th Johann J. Regier, Katharina Schmidt's father died. On July 11th, they had the festival in the morning and Johann J. Regier's funeral in the afternoon.

As you can see by the number of people in attendance, Johann J. was a well-respected religious leader in the community. His advice was sought for local as well as religious matters. In 1895 he traveled back to Russia with his family. There was an outbreak of smallpox and two of his sons suffered for six weeks before they recovered. Eventually, they were able to continue their trip. J.J. preached and spoke at conferences and festivals in the Molotschna area including Hierschau the model village. The family returned home to Nebraska in 1896. Hierschau: an Example of Russian Mennonite Life by Helmut Huebert, 1986.

Following tradition, after he died, Johann J. Regier's wife, Maria Schellenburg Regier, and his married daughters, Susanna Unruh and Katharina Schmidt, washed his body and dressed him in his Sunday clothes. They laid his family-built coffin in the front room so that family and close friends could say goodbye. Services which included singing were held at the house.

After the family services the casket was placed on Abraham Schmidt's horse drawn funeral carriage. Abraham, as the oldest son or son-in-law, lined up the vehicles for the funeral procession. Johann J's brother, Peter Regier, a minister, was in the lead buggy. The hearse was next, followed by the family arranged in order by age.

The family and friends went to the church, where more services were held with much joyful singing. The pallbearers then took the open casket outside so that pictures could be taken of him surrounded by members of the congregation.

All the members of the congregation attended funerals as well as weddings. They took an active part in the service as well as helping to dig the grave to show respect for the deceased. The relatives sang hymns at the graveside to express their love and their belief in the hereafter. Everyone stayed until the grave was filled in.

Ed. note: We got ahead of our story. To review, in 1889 Henry Schmidt was born and the Children's Festival in Henderson began. Then we talked about favorite foods and J.J.'s funeral being the same day as the festival of 1902. But we can't skip those years in between because a lot happened including the birth of four more children and my grandfather Jacob.

Next: Family life in the Schmidt Household 1891-1898

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chapter 12 - Hamilton County Nebraska

To recap: With 3 small children (Tena, Mary, A.A.), Abraham and Katharina Schmidt moved from Boone Co. Nebraska to Hamilton/York County (about 90 miles south). They bought some land from Johann J. Regier and sold their old farm to Abraham's brother Heinrich through an intermediary.
Then Susanna and John were born in Hamilton/York County in the last chapter.

A typical Mennonite farmers life in 1900 Nebraska
So, Katharina and Abraham settled down to a typical farm family's routine. Abraham used horses to pull his plow and planted his Turkey Red wheat. It worked just as well here as it did in Russia. By planting early in the year they were able to harvest in early July and get a second crop in before winter. He also had pigs, cattle a vegetable garden and many fruit trees.

Many settlers had brought over mulberry trees. They were not only good for shade, but also the leaves fed silkworms that had been a cottage industry in Russia, although it never was successful in America.
I wonder if the Schmidts had help on their farm. That was a lot of work for two adults with 5 small children. Perhaps some of the Regier family members helped. Not only Johann J. Regier came to America, but also his brothers Peter, Cornelius, Klaus (Nikolaus) and Heinrich. Their family line is found in the Regier Book. (The Family Tree and roots of Johann Regier and Susanna Quiring compiled by Mrs. J.C. Ediger and Mrs. Elfrieda Hildebrandt, Fresno 1980.)

Every day was chore day on a farm. Tena was six years old and old enough to milk the cows. But they had to be milked in the winter as well as the summer. In the winter the milk splashed and froze on the milker's clothing and in the summer the flies bit the cow and the milker alike. Her younger siblings could swish a branch back and forth to keep the cow's tail out of her face and the flies off everyone. After milking the buckets had to be washed. Then the chickens, hogs and cows were fed wand watered, all before breakfast. The entire water supply was hauled, bucket by bucket, from the family well.

The mother's job was to make sure that the lamps were filled with kerosene, that the wicks were trimmed so that they didn't smoke and the chimneys were washed clean of soot. She spread fresh, white sand on the kitchen's dirt floor and made sure that the walls were kept whitewashed. (Whitewash was made with lime and kerosene diluted in water.)

The kids could gather twigs and straw for the stove and haul water for the never-ending cleaning and washing Then it was time to cook lunch for a large, hardworking family. Their noontime meal was called "dinner" because it was the big meal of the day. Perhaps they had a baked hen, potatoes with chicken fat, fresh bread and butter and fruit moos for dessert. The milk was kept cool in the well until needed. The Schmidts did not drink alcohol. Besides cooking and cleaning, mother and the girls were in charge of making all the clothing and tending the vegetable garden to supply the "groceries" for the growing family.

Laundry was a chore that was only done every two or three weeks during warm weather and less often in the winter. They made their own soap and it took long hours of scrubbing on a washboard to clean the family's cloths and linens. The clothes were laid on bushes for lack of clothespins. In the winter the clothes were laid on the snow. The sun was reflected off of the snow so that they were bleached from the bottom and the top. Several flat irons were heated on the cook stove. Mother would use the iron until it wasn't hot anymore. Then she switched to the hot one. Katharina took great pride in her family's clean, well-pressed appearance.
A well-pressed Peter and Susannah Regier Unruh (Katherine Regier Schmidt's sister)
In 1875 a newspaper published a report of a visit to three Mennonite  settlements. The article expressed surprise over the efficiency of the Mennonite's "oven fireplace". It claimed that it could keep the whole house "well heated and the cooking done for twenty-four hours in the coldest weather, all from the burning of four good-sized armfuls of straw."

Topeka Commonwealth, Dec. 9, 1875:
The Mennonites are economists in the way of fuel and at the houses are large piles of chopped straw mixed with barnyard manure stocked up for firewood. This kind of fuel destroys one's ideas of the 'cheerful fireside' and 'blazing hearth'. There is not much 'Yule log' poetry about it. In order to use (this fuel), however, the Mennonites discard stoves, and use a Russian oven built in the wall of the house, which once thoroughly heated with light straw, will retain its warmth longer than young love itself.

From other sources I learned that the oven was built on an interior wall so that more of the heat was used. Also, I learned that other settlers who didn't have the Russian oven used cow chips for fuel in their stove.
The Russian oven was used to bake large pans of bread and zwieback. Some were even wide enough to hang hams and sausages to be smoked.

Another important household appliance was the "meagrope". This large cast iron kettle was usually bricked up in a corner and vented into the chimney. This was the hot water heater for washing or could be used for cooking. It was also the word used for a rendering kettle for hog butchering.

Pork as the main meat in our ancestors' diet, so the fall butchering was an important community event. It occurred just after corn picking. It took a day to scrub all the items that would be needed - tables, crocks, pans, meat grinder, knives and sausage stuffer. And in addition, the women had to prepare food for all the helping hands.

All the neighbors gathered to help. The men hauled the slaughtered hog up by its hind legs on a tripod and then lowered it down into the huge pot of boiling water. This took the bristles off its skin. After it was butchered, some pieces were smoked with the skin still on. Every part was used. The women placed the fat into another big pot of boiling water with ashes to make it into soap.
What are grebbins? click here to find out!
A Dangerous Place for Children

The older children had to do their chores, as well as watch after the younger ones. But somehow a 3 1/2 year old got away. It was a crisp, clear October 9, 1888, when Susanna ran too close to one of the pots and was scalded with hot water. Although they did all they could for her, she only lived for three weeks. A note in Abraham's diary says that these were "sad days". Susanna died on October 31st.

Five months later Susanna's mother gave birth to a son on Monday, March 18, 1889 at 6 p.m. He was named Heinrich, after Abraham's father (who had died in Russia). He was known as Henry or at times as H. Andre Schmidt.

Henry Schmidt ended up in Texas. He had two daughters and at least 2 grandchildren.

(Ed.'s note: I should have been giving an update on each child as they were born. So let me try to do it now.
Abraham's first child with first wife Katharina Nikkel was "Tena". She married Peter Karber. They ended up in California. They had 4 children. Abraham's first child with second wife Katharina Regier was Maria. She married Jacob Hiebert and they too ended up in California. They had 6 children. Abraham's second child with Katharina Regier was "A.A. Smith". He was married twice and had 5 children. Abraham and Katharina's third child was Susanna and their fourth was John. John lived in Oklahoma and had 2 children.
So now we are up to date.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation!

This is just a quick entry to explain the long dry spell of stories.

I took a trip to visit my mom in Florida. She is the granddaughter of Abraham Schmidt and Henry H. Thesman. I also visited my uncle who is her brother.

I came home with a multitude of stories, videos, pictures and documents. They will be included in the next entry as soon as I can get them scanned. No, I won't wait till I scan all of them to put a few in.

Some of the videos are already public. Raymond told me stories as I videotaped. I uploaded them on youtube and posted them on facebook.

They are about Henry H. Thesman and his wife Sarah Jantzen coming to live at 1101 N. Grand.
Another is about a regular family Sunday with all relatives - Schmidts, Thesmans, Voths, Regiers - and racing.

He talked about "grebbins and ruggebrot" (don't ask me how to spell those)

And 3 of the stories were about the harvests during the summers of the early 1930's. One starts with a picture of the threshing machine - the precursor of the combine.
The next continues with bringing in the sheaves.
And the third talks about the coming of the combine.

When you click on any of the colored phrases or sentences your computer will take you to another website. You do not have to sign-up, pay money or have an account with youtube to use it.

I am sure you will enjoy what a great storyteller Raymond is at the age of 91.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chapter 11 - Boone County to Hamilton County 1884-1900

To review: Abraham Schmidt 1850-1928 came to America in 1876. He first married Katharina Nikkel and had a baby daughter "Tena" who grew up to marry Peter Karber.

Peter and Katharina "Tena" (Schmidt) Karber

 Abraham's first wife died so he took his baby Tena and moved 90 miles north to Boone County where he joined Johann J. Regier's church. He married Johann J's daughter and had two more children: Mary (who grew up to marry Jacob Hiebert) and Abraham A. (who changed his name to A.A. Smith).
And now:

Hamilton County, Nebraska 1884-1900

In 1879 Johann J. Regier helped establish a congregation with the fifteen families that arrived in Boone County with him.  Within three years, church membership had reached fifty families. But fear of intermarriage with the Roman Catholics and Lutherans who had settle around the Mennonite Brethren triggered plans to relocate. By 1900 the entire congregation had moved away, most of them to the Henderson community in York County, southwest of the city of York, Nebraska. (Henderson, Nebraska by Henderson Centennial, 1979, Hiebert Library, Fresno.)

The Schmidt family consisted of Abraham, 34, Katharina, 23, Abraham A. (A.A. Smith), 18 months, Mary, 2, and their half-sister Tena, 5. They joined the exodus south to Hamilton County in September of 1884.

They ended up not far from where Abraham had lived before with the Nikkels. The Nikkels lived east of the county line in York County. The Schmidts lived right on the county line of York and Hamilton, just two miles from Henderson.
When I started doing this research I was often confused by the names Boone, Hamilton, York, and Henderson. Hopefully, with these maps, you won't be as confused as I was. You can click on any picture to make it larger. 
Hamilton County map of Abraham's land on the border of Hamilton and York Counties

York County map (look at the left - Henderson is marked in red - Abe's farm is just over the border in Hamilton)
Abraham Schmidt bought 120 acres of Hamilton County land on June 7, 1884, before he actually moved his family 90 miles south from Boone to Hamilton. He bought it from his father-in-law Johann J. Regier for $2100. As the survey map shows, Johann J. had another 160 acres nearby; and so did Johann J.'s brothers Peter and Cornelius.

Across the street from Abraham's new property was a church built by Johann J. Regier's congregation. It was built in the traditional fashion. It had one side for men and the other for women. They even had separate cloakrooms.

Abraham did not sell his property up in Boone County before he left. Jacob Grau almost bought it on December 8, 1884 for $1500 but the deal fell through. Then, 18 months later, on March 15, 1886, he sold the farm to Mrs. Gerhardt Regier for $1400.

Wow, four years and he made a 300% profit! Who was this Mrs. Regier?

Mrs. Gerhardt Regier was Abraham's wife's aunt, and she immediately sold it to Heinrich Schmidt, also for $1400.

Heinrich Schmidt? Why didn't Heinrich buy it directly from Abraham? And we've been looking for Heinrich Schmidt, Abraham's older brother from the Kuban.
 Recently, I have found new information about Abraham's brother Heinrich. If you remember in Russia, Abraham's parents had 3 children - Abraham, Heinrich, and Katharina. Katharina married someone from Prussia and apparently moved back there. Abraham stayed single until after he arrived in the U.S.

But Abraham's brother Heinrich was married on December 25, 1865 to Katharina Friesen in Russia. They immigrated with their 2 boys in October 18, 1879 on the SS Oder to New York.

Did Abraham sell his land to an intermediary (his wife's aunt) to sell to Heinrich because he wasn't talking to him? Church records state that Heinrich Schmidt "disappeared". He "ist verschwunden". Did he just leave the church?

We do know that Heinrich's descendants are still alive. Maybe we will find out from them.

Now back to our story....

Abraham and Katharina Schmidt and their three children were joined the following year by a baby girl, Susanna, born Thursday, May 22, 1885 at 3 a.m. She was named after Katharina's older sister, Mrs. Peter (Susanna Regier) Unruh. (She is on the far right in the picture below.)

Next came Johann, or John, who was born on Friday, November 20, 1886. Although a second son was often named for his father's father (Heinrich in this case) perhaps they felt closer to Johann J. Regier, Katharina's father. He was closer to them in many ways. He lived nearby.  He sold them land cheaply and bought it back at full value. He was a leader in their church and their community. And, in January 1888, he gave each of his daughter from his first marriage $600. This was their share of his estate. (He then left everything else to provide for his young, second family with Maria Schellenberg Schmidt. For example, his daughter from the second marriage, Maria Regier, received 80 acres of land valued at $20,000 in 1918.)
Johann J. Regier Family - JJ. in center w beard - our Katharina to the right of him and Abraham Schmidt standing behind her - the inscription says it must have been taken around 1889 - that is his second wife, Maria Schellenberg to the left with their two young children - Maria and John S. - behind them
 This seems like a good place to stop. Next chapter will be about their farm life and the birth of Abraham's 3rd son - Heinrich or Henry.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chapter 10 - York County to Boone County, Nebraska 1880-1884

To recap: In the last chapter, our gr-grandfather Abraham Schmidt, settled in York County, Nebraska with the Nikkel Family. He married the older of two daughters of landholder and fellow Mennonite Brethren Heinrich Nikkel. In 1880 Abraham's wife died 9 months after giving birth to Katharina "Tena". (Tena later married Peter Karber).
Abraham and his baby daughter and moved.
York county is the star to the bottom of the map; Boone County is the star above it.

Boone County 1880-1884

The same summer that Abraham's baby was born, the Johann J. Regier family arrived in Boone County, Nebraska. (The Regier Family Tree by Esther Regier Ediger and Elfrieda Hildebrandt) They were to become an important part of Abraham's life.

Abraham and his baby daughter moved north about 90 miles to Boone County, to join Rev. Johann J. Regier's congregation. JJ. Regier was 47 years old. He had land, a wife, three small children, a married daughter, and an unmarried daughter.

What didn't he have? A son to help on the farm.

On Thanksgiving, November 25, 1880, six months after Katharina Nikkel Schmidt's death, Abraham, 30, married J.J. Regier's second daughter, Katharina, 19. She became a step-mother to 15-month-old Tena.

A Mennonite Wedding of the 1800's

The marriage ceremony was a simple one. Katharina would have worn her Sunday dress, which was a dark, maybe even black, color. To lighten it up she put a white bow on her lapel and one on the groom as well. Katharina walked in with Abraham to be married, signifying her adult status, rather than being given away by her father. Two chairs were placed in front of the pulpit for the couple. The service was lengthy so they sat. There were no flowers or candles. And, in this case, there wasn't even a church building yet, so they were married at her father's house.

The service itself was very much like most of the church worship services. They had congregational singing, a period of informal prayers, several sermons and some songs by a choir.

Weddings, as well as baptisms and funerals, were important social events. Everyone in the church was invited. They lived in a "closed" community. Marriages did not take place with anyone outside the church. These ceremonies reaffirmed their unity and bonded them very tightly with each other. So it was important for the whole congregation/community to participate.

After the ceremony, the families filled the evening with poems, recitations, musical selections, short talks and visiting. No one danced, and the men and women stayed in their own separate groups, while the children played and the teenagers flirted.

They had to entertain themselves in those days. The men could be found out back playing horseshoes. The school-age children played "In and Out the Window" and "London Bridge". And the women visited while cooking, serving and cleaning up. Once the women had finished the chores, one of the women got the "Mennonite Hat" and placed it on Katharina's head as a symbol of her newly married status. The covering was made of lace with a large, flat bow on top. She would keep her hair covered for the rest of her life.

So they were married. When was my grandfather born? 
Now we're getting to the generation of uncles and aunts that many of us remember, either personally or from stories our parents have told us.

The Children and The Land - 1881

The following year, on Sunday, December 20, 1881, at 5 a.m., Abraham and Katharina's first child Maria Schmidt was born. In many European cultures, naming the children followed a traditional pattern. The first son was named for the father; the second son was named for the father's father and the third for the mother's father. The first daughter was named for the mother, the second for the mother's mother and the third for the father's mother.

The problem in this family was that everyone was named Katharina - the mother, the paternal and maternal grandmothers, the first wife, and there was already a step-daughter named Katharina. So they named the new baby for her maternal step-grandmother. They named her after Katharina's stepmother, J.J.'s young wife, Maria Schellenberg Regier. My mother talks about her Aunt Mary, born in 1881, who married Jacob Hiebert and moved to California.

The house was getting crowded by then, so the next year on May 17, 1882, Abraham and his wife and two daughers (Tena and Mary) moved nearby to their own land. Katharina's father, J.J. Regier, sold them 120 acres for $350. This was land that J.J. had bought from the railroad 3 years earlier for $429.38.

It was on this land that Abraham's first son was born on Monday, April 9, 1882, at 7:00 a.m. (Abraham's handwritten diary, owned by Hulda Langhofer, translated by Rosalie Schmidt Berg.) It should be no surprise that they named the baby Abraham. Often sons took their father's first name for their middle initial, thus Johann J. was the son of Johann, and Abraham's son Abraham became known as Abraham A. or A.A. He later became known as Rev. A.A. Smith. (see the earlier post about middle names in Mennonite and Amish families. Also, Mennonite Life, a magazine, p. 104)

But I thought the children were born in Henderson in York County!

Let's review: Abraham's first daughter, Tena, was born in York County, east of Henderson. Mary and A.A. were born while they lived in Boone County, north of York County. And the rest of the children will be born back near Henderson (the city.)

Next post will be in their life in York County.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Chapt. 9 - York County, Nebraska 1876-1880

Recap: Abraham Schmidt (our grandfather and great-grandfather) was 26 when he traveled from the Kuban in south Russia to the United States. He was single and left behind his parents' graves, and a brother and a sister, both with families. He traveled by railroad across the U.S. to Lincoln, Nebraska and then 60 miles west to York County.

Abraham ended his trip in York County, Nebraska. He didn't buy any land, but he did marry Katharina Nikkel, 21, daughter of Heinrich and Katharina Heinrich Nikkel. They were married on June 20, 1877, a year after Abraham's arrival.

Please note that names were spelled in a variety of ways in those days. With different native languages, with different educational levels, and less of a bureaucracy, people spelled names in the way they thought best.

Abraham's father-in-law was Heinrich Nikkel or Nickel. Since I can't find a published family tree to link to, I will give a brief genealogy on Abraham's first wife's family. You can skip this if you aren't interested. :)

Heinrich Nikkel was born on November 12, 1819. His wife Katharina Heinrichs was born on December 24, 1820. They were married in September 1841. Their first child to grow to adulthood, Katharina, was born on September 8, 1856. This family lived in the Molotschna Colony just like our Abraham Schmidt did. And just like him, when the Brethern started a new colony in the Kuban part of Russia, they all moved there in 1863.

And now they all moved to Nebraska at the same time.

"Heinrich Nikkel, laborer, his wife Katharina and two spinster daughters Katharina, 18, and Agneta, 15, were on the S.S. Wyoming which arrived in New York on June 26, 1876. (Brother in Deed to Brothers in Need by Clarence Hiebert, 1974.)

They girls were listed as "spinsters. Were they considered too old to be unmarried?

The American agent recording the names of immigrants may have felt that the girls were too old to be unmarried, but not the Mennonites. They promoted later marriage by stating that a person must be a church member in order to marry. They must be an adult in order to make the decision to become a church member and be baptised. This age was more often 21 than 18. (Women Among the Brethren by Katie Funk Wiebe, 1979, pg. 44.)

In the Mennonite Brethren Church, baptism was contingent upon a religious experience called "salvation". This was an emotional experience brought about usually during a revival meeting with daily preaching and reading of the Bible. The petitioner was asked to be able to tell the congregation the date, the place and the intensity of feeling of the experience and to be able to relate it to a Bible passage. The feeling was described as euphoric, and there was much joy associated with this conversion. Abraham was baptized on April 29, 1877, seven weeks before his wedding.

One to two weeks before the wedding, an announcement was made in church, telling of the commitment made by the couple and inviting everyone to the happy event. Unfortunately, this time the good news was marred by the death of Katharina Nikkel's mother on June 5, 1877.

Abraham and Katharina lived in her family home with her father and sister. They probably lived in a sod house. It was built by digging down four feet, building up the walls with sod and then putting 2-by-4 rafters across the top. These rafters were covered with bundles of long prairie grass making a thatched roof. As soon as the settlers could afford it, the sod house was replaced with a house of adobe brick. Sod houses were full of mice, bed bugs and fleas. The human dwellers fought the vermin by whitewashing the walls, having a fierce cat and making sure that the smoke from the fireplace went up through the thatch roof to kill the bugs. (Nikkel-Nickel Family of Prussia, Russia, U.S. & Canada by John P. Nickel, 1981, pg.13.)

A typical sod house of the 1880's in Nebraska (no relation)
On "August 9, 1979 at 10:30 p.m. a daughter Katharina, was born," wrote Abraham in his diary. But the mother never fully recovered. On "May17, 1880 at 2:00 p.m. she died." And Abraham moved again.

Next: Where to this time?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chapter 8 - Move to Freedom

Recap from the last chapter: Our Abraham Schmidt (1850-1928) was living in the Kuban, Russia (east of the Black Sea) in 1874. His mother Katharina had just died. His brother and sister were married.

From the Kuban Colony delegations had been sent to America and Canada to find a new home for our wandering ancestors. Russia was not tolerant of foreigners within her borders any longer.

A sense of nationalism was spreading across Europe. It started in the 1840's and caused revolutions in country after country (Italy, France, Poland). It took awhile to get to Russia. After the Russian defeat in the Crimean War (1850's) efforts were made to salvage Russian pride by "Russifying" or assimilating the colonies of "foreigners" who were living within their borders.

Privileges were taken away. The Russian language was ordered to be taught in schools; Russian officials were to have more say in village government; and the Mennonites were no longer exempt from military duty. Many attempts were made to pacify the court of Czar Alexander II by sending delegations with offers of money to speak to him. But all of this was to no avail.

Many extended families, some congregations and a few entire villages began to pack up, sell their land and their belongings and head for a new home. Salesmen arrived in the area singing the praises of Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota and Canada. The advertisements of the day show that Yankee hard-sell was already at work. The U.S. government and the railroads were very encouraging. The U.S. had just opened the Great Plains to homesteading. The Mennonite delegations brought back reports of friendly attitudes, good land value, religious freedom and $100,000 raised by the American Mennonites to help their "Brothers" to immigrate.

1876 - the Kuban, Russia to America

By 1876 Abraham was helping his employers pack for the long journey. He took the wheels and axles off of their wagons, packed the wagon box full, nailed it shut with boards and sent it on ahead by freight. In the bottom were seeds for the vegetable garden and the fields of wheat that they would plant in the new land. 
Some of the chests had an ample layer of toasted zwieback at the top as food for the journey. Meat was smoked or salted, or it was wrapped in unleavened dough and baked until it had a hard, tough cover over the well-cooked meat. When the travelers needed the meat, they peeled the charred cover off of the preserved meat.

Although a few groups started leaving as early as 1872, the largest numbers traveled between 1874 and 1876. Abraham and his group departed from their village in April 1876 and boarded a ship in a seaport west of the Caucasus Mountains. Crossing the Black Sea to Odessa, they disembarked on May 8th and boarded a train bound for Austria. The train cars were very simple and had hard seats and narrow aisles. The trains were slow in Russia. "Saftra and poslesaftra" (patience and more patience) were needed. The Russian peasants were in no hurry to board and stood around talking to their friends until the conductor could badger them into boarding. (Henderson Mennonites by Stanley Voth, 1975)

Once in Germany they traveled to Berlin where Abraham boarded a train to the seaport of Bremen. Others from his colony went on to Hamburg where they took ship.

At both of these ports an agent appointed by the Mennonite Board of Guardians and employed by the steamship line was on duty to welcome and to aid the emigrants.

From Hamburg, fourteen families of Kuban emigrants took a steamer to Liverpool, England, where they then boarded the transatlantic steamer, the SS Wyoming. The ship's passenger list gives the names of the Nikkel family, which included Abraham's future first wife (not our great-grandmother) Katharina Nikkel. The Nikkels arrived in New York harbor on June 26, 1876. (Brothers in Deed to Brothers in Need, Clarence Hiebert, 1976)

Where was Abraham?

In his naturalization papers, Abraham wrote that he arrived in New York in June 1876 on the vessel SS Main, (SS Mein) which left from Bremen, Germany.
SS Main
Approximately 18000 Mennonites emigrated from Russia to America during the ten-year period following 1864. About 10,000 went to the U.S. and 8,000 went to Manitoba. Many of the Molotschna colony settled in Minnesota, Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, which were the frontier states at the time.

Mennonite Settlement House helped the immigrants
Once in America they were met by the Mennonite Relief Organization and given lodging with fellow believers. Abraham continued on the Chicago, where many fellow travelers took the Burlington R.R. line into Minnesota. Abraham went on to Lincoln, Nebraska.

Settlement houses were set up at the destination points. The railroad company gave free rides to the immigrants. They knew that the cash-carrying Mennonites would buy railroad-owned land at their destination. The Mennonites preferred to buy land rather than to homestead. They believed is staying separate from the government - (Give unto Cesar ...etc)

Once in Lincoln, Nebraska Abraham had to decide between settling in Nebraska or Kansas. There were salesmen promoting each.

The Mennonite immigrants seemed strange and outlandish to the Americans living out on the prairie. The Topeka Commonwealth newspaper observed:
The men appear to have conscientious scruples against wearing clothes that fit them; the idea appearing to be to get all the cloth you can for the money. The men's vests therefore descend toward the knees, and their pants possess an alarming amount of slack. Their favorite headgear is a flat cloth cap which they pull off in saluting any person. This habit they will soon drop now that they have arrived in Kansas where "nobody respects nothing." (The Story of the Mennonites, C. Henry Smith, p. 653.)

Clothing worn by the immigrants from Russia
But the attitudes of the natives soon changed when the Mennonites began spending money to buy supplies. And when their farms prospered, their ways were emulated.

Another important immigrant

Abraham's yet-to-be second wife, Katharina Regier, arrived with her family on June 29, 1879, on the SS Switzerland. Her parents and siblings followed a different route than Abraham's group because they came from the Molotschna Colony instead of the Kuban. Their journey began with a train trip across Russia, through Prussia and into Holland. Their ship (the SS Switzerland) took two weeks to go from Antwerp to Philadelphia. It was another four days by train to Lincoln, Nebraska.


The Mennonites were not able to get special considerations from the U.S. government as they had in Russia. They couldn't get a large tract of communal land nor were they exempt from military service. Until they became citizens they could not homestead. Abraham did not become a citizen until 1914.
So they paid their cash and began again. Unlike their previous migrations, this time they had to leave their large equipment and their livestock behind. They were only able to bring hand tools, basic necessities and whatever they could pack into their "kiste" or Russian chest. Some seeds they brought with them and some seeds that they found here allowed them to continue growing their favorite food, like - watermelons, sorghum, sunflower seeds and cucumbers.

What was it like in this new land? Were there cities and stores?

In Nebraska Abraham was confronted with the same sight that had confronted his father 60 years before in the Molotschna Colony of south Russia. Both Nebraska and the Molotschna region were vast, treeless prairies of grass as tall as a man. The only trees were along the riverbed. Both times the settlers built their houses of sod and used as little of the precious lumber as possible.

But this time the Mennonite farmers had no need to live in villages for protection. Living in villages proved to be impractical and the practice was abandoned. Instead, the farmers purchased land in quarter sections of 160 acres, either along the railroad for ease of transportation or along rivers for the good soil.

Abraham arrived arrived in America just after a plague of grasshoppers had swarmed across Nebraska. One farmer reported that he had just put his vest down in the field when the swarm hit, eating everything in sight. He said that they ate everything but the button holes!

Next: Chapter 9 Abraham marries - 1877

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chapter 7 Abraham Moves to the Kuban, Russia 1864-65

Changes in the Family

I wonder if the Schmidts had been planning on moving before Father Heinrich died in 1864. Here is a list of families who applied to move to the Kuban dated May 1864:

Mother Katharina (spelled Catarina in Russian) is listed as Widow Catarina Schmit (sic) with son Heinrich, 17, son Abraham, 14, and daughter Catarina, 18. (Yes, the daughter was mentioned after the sons.) They had 80 rubles of moveable household goods but no land or house.

I think that census list is fascinating because of all the little nuggets of information - confirmation of the family members, their ages, their finances and their relationship to our family. Also on the list of families who are moving to the Kuban is the family of Abraham's future first wife - Katharina Nickel, who was 7 at the time. Heinrich Nickel was owed 953 rubles for his house that he sold and he had 777 rubles in moveable household goods.

Why did they move to the Kuban?

In the last blog we talked about the lack of land in Molotschna motivating the move. The other motivation was religious freedom. It started with a religious revival. As the original immigrants to Russia had become first settled, then comfortable and then wealthy, their original religious way of life had changed. It is noteworthy that the Mennonites were awarded the exclusive rights to make and sell alcohol in the Ukraine. For a religion that believed in temperance this was certainly a change in values.

In 1860 a religious revival swept the colony, started by a Lutheran preacher. He emphasized the joy of rebirth through baptism. He chided the congregations for their laxity - crude jokes at wedding, drunkenness and a lack of charity to their fellow man. His followers wanted a change and they found it in this re-awakening to their religious beliefs.

So in 1860 the Mennonite Brethren church was founded with its emphasis on the fundamental beliefs of Mennonite doctrine while also enjoying the emotional side of their spiritual freedom. They couldn't change the offenders or kick them out of the church because church membership was mandatory. (Smith's Story of the Mennonites, p. 433). But what they could do is gather around themselves like-minded people and worship together separately from the others.

It was difficult to separate in the same small community. The division caused strife within the colony. When Johann Classen went to St. Petersburg and petitioned the authorities for official recognition of their new church without losing their privileges, he also asked for a land concession under favorable conditions for a new settlement "along the Kuban River", in the upper Caucasus. (ibid, p. 434)

I imagine a conversation like this between Abraham and his mother:

"Muttie, did you hear?" Abraham might have said. "Brother Classen is taking people to the Kuban! He said we could go and work for another family and eventually own our own farm!"

"I don't know, Abraham. It is a long way around the Black Sea. And fierce Turks live there."

"Not anymore! The Russians have driven them all away. And beside there is plenty of land for everyone!"

"Now, Abraham, did he say we would be allowed to worship as we please?"

"Yes, Muttie, he had the Mennonite Brethren church recognized by the Czar!"

The Kuban
Click on the map to see a larger version

In 1864,Katharina Funk Schmidt and her children left their life in Schardau and her husband's grave to move once more to a new frontier. After three weeks of traveling in the back of a bumpy wagon, they arrived at a vast prairie where they and their fellow settlers would build a new colony.

That first winter, many became discouraged and returned home to the Molotschna Colony. But Abraham's family stayed.

Life was not easy for Katharina, 57, in this new frontier. They were back to sod houses again. While they waited for the new crops to come in, their supplies often ran low. The territory was still wild and undeveloped. (This was why the Russian government wanted them to move there - to colonize this new acquired territory.)
The Cossacks signed a treaty with Russia
The native Cossacks were only partly "civilized". The Cossack villages were scattered at intervals along the Kuban River as outposts for the Russian government. These Mennonites were still foreigners and needed watching. The Cossacks were not farmers. They were traders. Their villages were squalid, dirty and consisted mostly of men. The few women were concubines who lived first with one and then with another of the men. The marshes created by the Terek and Kuban Rivers made perfect hiding places for bandits waiting to raid the farms and villages. Sometimes parents scared their kids into good behavior, not with tales of bogeymen, but with tales of kidnapping by the wild, bellicose tribes in the region.
A Cossack hut

But the soil was fertile and the climate was ideal. Fish were plentiful. The rivers teemed with herring, carp and salmon. The sturgeon were so big that they had to be hauled in by a team of horses! And, in time of great need, the settlers were only a few weeks ride from the old colony.

Katharina and her children lived in the Kuban for ten years. 

What about Abraham's brother and sister? According to the census, by1869 Heinrich, 24, was married to a Katharina, 34. He will follow Abraham to America in 1878.  Abraham's sister Katharina, 23, married a man from Poland. The 1869 Kuban Census says she was married in the Mennonite Region of Poland. We lose track of her here.

Abraham's mother, Katharina Funk Schmidt died in February 1874. She was born in Prussia on 22 June 1807. She was married first to David Unrau who died in 1843. She had a daughter with him - Maria Unrau Neufeld. After her husband David died she married our Heinrich Schmidt and had 3 children - Heinrich, Katharina and our grandfather/great-grandfather Abraham. Then she moved to the Kuban and died in 1874.

Abraham was a man of 24 when his mother Katharina Funk Schmidt died.(Handwritten diary by Abraham Schmidt. Original with Hulda Langhofer, translation from Rosalie Berg.)
Still unmarried and landless, Abraham was ready for the changes that were in the air.

Note: I have not uploaded our family tree yet. I am giving you references to one that is publicly available, but is not complete.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chapter 6 Father Heinrich's Death 1864

Abraham's Father Dies, 1864

Abraham was just 13 years old when his father died in Schardau, Molotschna Colony, south Russia. His father Heinrich was 70 years old when he died. This was a remarkably long life for this era and for this part of the world. Since they didn't have immunization yet, people died of common childhood diseases as well as epidemics. During the Crimean War of 1853-1856 (between England and Russia), the Mennonites nursed and cared for five thousand wounded soldiers. The soldiers left behind typhoid, typhus and dysentery.

Florence Nightingale made nursing a legitimate profession for women through her example in the Crimean
Malaria was another killer, but it was slow and hidden. The swampy riverbanks were fertile land for growing watermelon, which was a Mennonite favorite. But the rivers were also home for the mosquitoes that spread malaria. Many people blamed watermelon for the "sweating sickness" - malaria.

Also many women died from "blutvergiftung" or puerpural fever also known as "childbed fever", and up to 30% of infants died at birth or in their infancy. In 1880 the sixty villages of the Molotschna Colony only had one doctor. Midwives delivered the babies. These midwives didn't receive any particular pay but were exempt from paying taxes. (Mennonite Encyclopedia,

When do they move? Isn't Abraham going to come to America?

A Religious Move - but not to America
After his father died Abraham along with his mother Katharina Funk Schmidt, his older sister Katharina, and his brother Heinrich, all moved to the Kuban area of Russia, which was 200 miles east of their village of Schardau.

They didn't move alone. Almost 100 families were granted land by the government, although only 67 families actually moved. (Mennonite Encyclopedia, They went there  for two reasons. First of all, the Molotschna and Chortitza Colonies had run out of land. And second, there was a religious revival.

Land Opportunities

Mennonites were invited to Russia as master farmers. A model farm supposedly needed to contain approximately 175 acres. The Russian government forbade the division of the farm upon the death of the owner. It had to be kept intact. One son inherited the land and the other children found other jobs where they could. They were landless and were spoken of as "Anwohner". (Smith's Story of the Mennonites, by C.H. Smith, 1957, p. 410.) The landless had no vote in the local village assembly. By 1870 it is estimated that at least two-thirds of all heads of families in both colonies were without land. Many were granted a small patch of land to build a hourse and to make a living as best they could on their "kleinewirtschaft".

The original lots of 175 acres were sufficient for sheep raising. Remember, that's how the colony started - growing wool? But as they turned to growing wheat, the farmers needed more acreage to be profitable. Finally, the pressure of the population encourged the colonial government to ask the Russian officials for permission to set up "daughter" colonies. The Mennonites were granted land in the Kuban in 1862.

A Religious Revival and the first Mennonite Brethren

As I read about the Kuban, I was surprised to read that the founders of the new colony were also among the first to call themselves Mennonite Brethren. That's when I learned about the many branches to this tree of faith.

If a congregation differed enough in their beliefs that they could not reconcile, then their only choice was to start a new church. Sometimes the difference might seem trivial, such as whether ribbons could be worn on underwear. (Henderson Mennonite: From Holland to Henderson, Stanley E. Voth, 1982.) But actually these seemingly trivial differences were symbols of larger issues. (Conversation with Kevin Enns-Rempel, Pacific University, Fresno)

The early Mennonites had their differences of opinion too. The people from Holland were Frisian and the people from Flanders were Flemish. Each accused the other of worldliness in dress or furnishings.

Die mit Haken und Oesen,
Wird Gott erlosen;
Die mit Knopfen und Taschen
Wird der Teufel erhascen

Those with hooks and eyes (on clothes)
Will be saved by God;
Those with pockets and buttons
Will be seized by the devil. (Henderson)

Sometimes the differences occurred over large issue, like discipline. If someone broke a law in an early Mennonite colony the only punishment available was to "ban" the wrongdoer. They didn't have jails and weren't part of the Russian judicial system. Although not used very often, this system of discipline conformed to the pacifist ideal. When a Mennonite was "censured" no one in the church could speak to him or do business with him. (Smith's Story of the Mennonites, by C.H. Smith, 1957.)
Since they were in a community set apart from the rest of the world this could be devastating. Imagine taking your wheat to market and having no one willing to buy it. Or going to the only store in town and finding no one to sell you any food.

One division in the church came about over whether this "no speaking" rule applied to family members. Could a wife talk to a banned husband?

And this is where the Mennonite Brethren started.
More tomorrow....with my thanks to cousin Myron T. for his help in editing this blog.