The Frau Erica Project
Muellers in America:
The first 155 years


Ernie and Charlotte lived their whole life together in Eagle Lake, Minnesota.

Ernie and Charlotte: Healthy and very happy in Eagle Lake

Nephews Jim and Mark once asked their Uncle Ernie to write about his early memories in Minnesota. He and Charlotte undertook a joint project, which arrived at Mark’s apartment in Kansas City, postmarked November 21, 1979. Depending on the context, the first-person pronoun in the following account could be Ernie or Charlotte.

Charlotte’s cover note  written in blue ballpoint on deep orange note paper

Dear Mark,

Enclosed are recollections of Arena Township (Madison and Bellingham, Minnesota – Father’s first call). Aunt Frieda (Father’s sister) cooked for him the first year until he married Helen Hedder. Ernie was two when they moved to Freedom Township. (He will do more after Turkey Day.)

His eyes are watery and painful. When sinus is coming is the worst — or when driving. Sometimes he can do part of [the driving] and other times he can do none, but always helps when he can. I can do a city, provided I can study the route well before I tackle it (Ernie is a good co-pilot on freeways) and can take it at my pace which, if barreling through, will be the inner fast-moving lane — or, if having to turn off and not knowing the distance, will be around 45-50 mph in the outer lane. He dreads a funeral procession — maybe he couldn't keep pace or would get lost.

We are taking an eight-hour CPR course here in the American Legion clubrooms, so these days we are practicing the procedures and studying for a test next Tuesday. Ernie is so good at it.

We are having my 90-year-old aunt and her daughter and son-in-law in for the bird. Pecan and apple pies get made tonight. Cranberries and jello are done. Must do yams with butter and brown sugar as pies bake.

Ernie writes each day after breakfast. He [unclear, aeriates?] and writes and smokes. He enjoys retirement. We shop in Kato, go to the library to read the Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, Minneapolis papers and any other magazines we want. We check out books and go to lunch. So many good eating establishments in Kato. It’s an adventure.

Yes, Gene was a Sphinx. You figure it out! Ha! I couldn’t. H may not respond, and then again your Mom surely can shed light and Nonny too. You should talk with Lorraine and Ruth too.

We are healthy and very happy – warm, fed and clothed. We do get in to Guthrie to plays and to college series some years.

— Charlotte and Ernie

Ernie’s Reminiscence  likely revised and typed up by Charlotte

In the evening when our father would do his barn chores, he would open the haymow door and whistle a certain tuyne. Then Maude, the hourse, would come running and rise up, stand on its hind legs, stretch its head and neck to the opening of the hay barn door, and receive the nightly “ear of corn.”

Our father had three horses: Maude, Jessie, and Betsy. The gentle single-driving horse, Betsy, was the horse our mother would hitch to the buggy to drive to Bellingham, a small village about two miles from the parsonage, to shop for supplies. I believe the horse named Maude was the mother of the young colt named Jim. Jim was a pet around the yard. Our oldest brother Gene would feed him sugar. Jim, the horse, would lick the brother’s hair — maybe the cause of this boy’s curly hair later in life. Jim destroyed sister Frieda’s doll by eating it or tearing it up.

Our father would hunt wild ducks in the fall of the year and always got his limit with only one pot-shot. He kept the pots filled with duck, squirrel, and later pheasant.

If I remember my directions, the house faced south, the barn faced west, but it was on the southeast of the house. The church entrance faced north. The well pump was directly south of the house. The handle was rather long and the pump stood on a wooden platform. The chicken house was east of the house, but a little north. The chickens were brown leghorns, good layers at that time. The garden spot was north of the house, sloping to a slough. We had no dog, but some cats to catch the mice, Father said.

On one end of the garden, the children had their cemetery for the birds, cats, chickens, etc. They put plantings on the graves. The coaster wagon was used as a hearse, a shoe box for a coffin, bricks placed as for grave stones.

One time the trustees were making repairs on the church steeple and sister Frieda taught the ABC’s to one of the workmen.

It happened that our mother had to make a trip to town to buy food for the household. She hitched Betsy and made the mistake of taking me along. While driving along, I took off my cap and threw it to the winds. Mother had to stop the horse and step off to retrieve the hat. But I said, “Giddy up,” and drove off. Mother was running to catch up, but I was off to the races. The family thought I was going to be a rider in the Kentucky Derby.

One farmer tried his best to plow after a badger with a walking plow, but in half-hour it could not be done. [meaning unclear]

After my maternal grandparents died, Uncle Paul Hedder came to live with our mother, his sister. He was about 12.

One time my sisters and brother tried to fool Mother that I was able to play with them, so they took a rag doll to play “Round the Mulberry Bush.” But Mother took a good look at my crib and saw I was still there.

After my maternal grandparents died, Uncle Paul Hedder came to live with our mother, his sister. He was about 12. He was a lot of help around the house — so much so that father became jealous at times. Uncle Paul went to Montana to work on a ranch.

I was only two years old when we moved from Arena Township to Freedom Township, Waseca County, so what I relate of Arena is only hearsay.

In 1911 father accepted a call to Waseca County (Freedom). I was two years old and remember it well. We arrived in Waseca by rail and the Freedom church members came to meet the train with hayracks and wagons. It was at that time I said, “Ickie sheepy gehen. Ickie sheepy sehen.” [Little Ernie wanted to go see the sheep he’d seen and used “Ickie” for the German ich. “Ickie” became a lifelong nickname.]

The Bakerhouse — Oh so big with four huge bedrooms upstairs, one downstairs, a full basement with a dark room. The first floor had also a dining room, parlor, kitchen pantry, study, and a large hallway. The house stood on a foundation three feet from the ground. Outside buildings included the church, parsonage, teacher’s house, two chicken houses, a barn divided for two, woodsheds, outhouses, and our father’s smokehouse.

On the east side of the pastor’s house, a wide sidewalk delighted the children, but the walk to the outhouse was too narrow for the [toy] wagon wheels. The outhouse had several other names — PRX, the Pope. There was a quarter-acre garden, apple trees, plum and a red cherry tree. There were evergreens between the house and church, with a long row of soft maples along the entire front of the property and a solid iron fence along the road. A swinging gate opened to the parsonage. Great!

The church school was a one-room affair with a coal shed on the rear end and a double outhouse.

The Freedom church members totaled around 75. There were the Priems, Gust Lau, August Englehardt, Carl Krol, Henry Becker, William Braun, the Holts, Vogelers, Flemings, Roechers, Werdins, Kleemans, Billy Kopline.

The Werdins, Charley Kelemans, and Kessos would go grape picking at the LeSueur River (about two miles north) in the fall with their pastor and family. They all packed a picnic lunch and brought flour sacks for the grapes. About six sacks of wild grapes were gathered for wine, jelly and juice.

Freedom housed the pastor, Waldorf did the salary, and Vivian furnished feed for his horses, cows, and chickens and gave a small amount on the salary.

On holidays, the whole pastor’s family would be invited to the Gust Laus for dinner and visit. In the fall of the year, the Ed Werdins would put on an oyster supper for their relatives, and the pastor’s and teacher’s families were always invited. The E.H. Mueller family [no relation] would extend an invitation occasionally. When a member had a wedding, the pastor and wife would be invited for that feed. After the pastor left the party, the rugs would be rolled out of the way to make room for a dance. When a member of the church would receive a new item such as a phonograph, the pastor and wife would be invited for a Sunday evening to listen to the “canned” music. This happened at Teacher Nietschke’s house and at the Gust Laus. The E.H. Muellers, with a piano; Gust Laus with their new player piano; Ernest Kellings’ new type of radio cabinet without outside wires above the roof; the Gust Marquardts old-style reed organ.

Our father had three congregations to serve: Freedom, Waldorf, and Vivian Township. Freedom housed the pastor, Waldorf did the salary, and Vivian furnished feed for his horses, cows and chickens and gave a small amount on the salary.

North of the barn and before there were cars in the family, there was a small horse pen. From the northwest corner of the barn, straight north to the northeast corner of the schoolhouse, then east to the farmer line fence is where this horse pen ran. The fence was made with oak posts and three barbed wires with a large gate — large enough for a wagon with a hay rack to come into the yard to unload hay into the haymow.

The inside of the church had cast-iron hanging lights with kerosine, with a bracket light upstairs. No basement or furnace. In the center of the floor was a large round oak heater. The pulpit was high up with six steep stairs to the top. (Ernie has the stairs in his basement. He bought them for 50 cents from Ernst Marquardt, the church treasurer. Ernst wanted to give them to Ernie, but Ernie insisted on paying something. Yet some of the congregation wanted to make trouble. The stairs had lain behind the church for two or three years.) The pews were built of pine boards 18 to 24 inches wide and open at the back so that small children would slip through and fall to the floor. It was not the kind of pew to sleep in.

The church bell was the largest that any church in the country had. The flywheel was from four and a half to five feet in diameter. It took an inch-sized rope. On Saturday nights at 6 o’clock, the bell would ring. On a quiet evening you were able to hear it eight miles away. On Sunday mornings the bell was rung at one hour before service and again at church time. If there was a death during the week, it would be tolled, one ring for each year of life. The teacher did the ringing.

In the early years, before the time of the automobile, people came by team. The church owned a large, long barn [Gemeindestall] with 12 stalls where the teams were put during church. The early birds got the stalls. Others had to be satisfied with the hitching posts. In cold weather standing teams of horses had horse blankets for extra warmth.

The Mission Festivals [Missionsfest] were held in Gust Marquardt’s oak trees along the famous creek named “Bull Run.” ... There was keen competition between the neighboring congregations over the amount contributed.

The Mission Festivals [Missionsfest] were held in Gust Marquardt’s oak trees along the famous creek named “Bull Run.” A stage was built to hold the church band. The band was made up of church members. The stage was large enough to hold the three pastors for the services. Members brought their noon lunch to the grounds because it was an all-day affair. The pastor’s family furnished the food for the visiting pastors and their families. They also furnished sleeping quarters if needed. In another area of the grounds was the stand where one could buy soft drinks, soda pop, Cracker Jack, cigars, cones of ice cream. This festival was held the second-last Sunday in August because by then the farmers knew what money they would realize from the labors of their harvest. They usually gave generously to the mission collection. There was keen competition between the neighboring congregations over the amount contributed.

The congregation members sometimes went beyond Freedom for their picnics. One time Mr. Herman Priem was elected to lead the members to Sibley Park in Mankato for a picnic after church. There were 24 cars involved. It was a “follow the leader” thing on gravel and dirt roads. It was quite a thing to see a zoo at the park. It was quite a trip to make over unknown roads.

I believe I have written on the Freedom church and its members, so now I will turn to the life of the preacher”s family. On October 3, 1911, brother Kurt was born. February 6, 1914, brother Herb came along, and on April 7, 1923, the last child born was a little sister, Norma. On February 23 in that same year, brother Max died of food poisoning.

In 1917 Mother, Herb and Max went to California to visit Uncle Paul and Aunt Lena Hedder at Orange. Herb was 5 and Max was 3. When they arrived in California, Paul and Lena had the war-time flu, so for a few weeks they stayed at the “Bunkies” (Lena’s parents). Herb and Max played with their next-door neighbors’ boy as he was their age. His name was Alfred Huhn (chicken in German). They returned home at Easter and brought back a half-trunk of oranges “from the well-known orange ranch.” On Easter Sunday we put oranges in the leafless birch and took colored pictures of that. The camera was the one sister Erna had received from an admirer, Billy Koplin.

Billy Koplin was an old, very old bachelor who never had much luck with the girls but always hoped that the pastor’s oldest daughter could be the one. I was always the one to go along with sister Erna whenever a party was held. Mother would say, “Go along as a guard.” One time I got my foot into it while doing my duty! Billy wanted to take Erna home, but I told him we would go home as we came. Erna accepted a ride with Billy’s nephew, Wilfred Werdin. So Billy came to Pa and said one of his sons was fresh to him. Pa somehow settled the matter.

The parochial school at Freedom was quite full. One time it had 46 pupils. There were the seats where three sat in one unit. The teachers who taught there were Miss Albrecht, Mr. Wagoner, Mr. Rochlets, Mr. Nietschke, Mr. Schulta, Mr. Laufer, Mr. Berents. Teacher Nietschke started the Freedom Band. E.H. Mueller played the bass, Charlie Kleeman the clarinet, same as George and Wilfred Werdin and Art Marquardt. Gustav Lau played the bass drum, Mr. Werdin the slide trombone, and Raymond Lau and Louis Kleeman the cornet plus Ernst Marquardt. Walter Meyers played piccolo, Herman Priem’s son the snare drum. Fred Krause alto, John Mueller, trumpet. Hank Mueller played the snare drum after Walter Priem gave it up.

Teacher Wagner had a rat terrier that used to come into father’s chicken house and eat the eggs, so Father took a rake and hit it on the head. It went crazy for a bit, then ran home. Later that evening, Ed Pogel, a neighbor, shot it when it came to his chicken House.

Speaking of dogs, one night as two of my sisters went outdoors before retiring, a big dog would not let them come out of the outhouse. They screamed for dear life and Father came with his shotgun and ended the dog’s siege. The next day, Father went to Christ Mauer and told him the story of the dog holding the girls ast bay.

On March 17 one year, there was so much snow on the ground that you could walk right over the roof of the outhouse.

Father and Gene, the eldest brother, dug a 25-foot well in the cow pasture for water for the cows, of which we had two, Old Queen and Valentine.

We used to hang our canvas hammock between two apple trees high up on the top branches and sleep in midair. We had a box elder tree between the house and the church. A rope was tied around the trunk at the bottom and up on the top. They we kids would scale it barefooted to the top and overlook the area. It was helpful in playing hide and seek.

Father and Gene, the eldest brother, dug a 25-foot well in the cow pasture for water for the cows, of which we had two, Old Queen and Valentine. This well was by our junk pile at the huge willow tree. It was a low spot and the cows would stand in knee-deep mud and enjoy it on hot days in summer.

Meat was no problem at the parsonage. In January we would butcher the hogs, usually two that Father had raised. He would cut up the meat into roasts, ribs, chops and loins. Mother would make head cheese, liver sausage, Lungenwurst. Pa did the Mettwurst and blood sausage. Sister Erna would catch the blood, beat it and add salt to it to keep it thin. For the butchering, Mother would boil the water in the boiler in the basement laundry stove. Father would make about 75 Mettwurst, and we would lay them out to set and dry for a day or so. Then they were smoked for 14 days using oak, hickory, or apple wood. Pa made hams and bacon salted down for a week and smoked for 20 days. He needed our help to carry them back into the basement as the meat should be kept from freezing. Each night at about 8 o’clock the procession entered the smokehouse. Father gathered oak fence posts already in the fall along the countryside for his smoking. Pa would grind his own meat for the Mettwurst. He would usually add about 15 pounds of ground beef, salt, pepper, coreander and then knead it and add nutmeg, allspice and mace. Before putting it into casings, he would let it stand for several hours to season.

Pa would grind his own meat for the Mettwurst. He would usually add about 15 pounds of ground beef, salt, pepper, coreander and then knead it and add nutmeg, allspice and mace.

The casings were always bought from Otto Wiste of Janesville. Pa and sister Erna would cut and tie them into the right lengths. Sister Frieda or I would turn the crank of the sausage machine because we did it more steadily and slowly to perfection, as Father would say. Father would turn out the pork links, Erna did the tying, the younger boys counted them and reported to headquarters. Father was very militant on butchering days. We boys carried them carefully to the coolness of the cellar. When it came to Mettwurst making, Father always made three or four trial links about four inches long to test the smoke. Mother finally made “Klip” from all the meat scraps, onion and oatmeal. She froze it and sliced off flat pieces to fry for breakfast with syrup and butter.

Father and Mother always had a large garden, and we all worked in it. Pa planted the potatoes with the walking plow. He would walk in the furrow and drop potatoes as he walked. He always had a farmer plow the garden, and that’s when he would plant his potatoes. As the farmer plowed, Pa planted. Mother took care of the cabbage, peas, beans, carrots, kohlrabi, beets and so forth. Erna, when she was still at home, planted the melons, Herb the sweet corn, Ernie the pickles, Frieda the flowers, Father the onions. In late September Ernie cut up the cabbage for the kraut in a 20-gallon jar.

One time Mother had too much cabbage left after the Kraut was made, so Ernie dug a three-foot hole, lined it with straw, put cabbage heads into the pit and covered it with straw and boards and finally manure for warmth. In February we had fresh cabbage, a surprise for all!

When Charlotte and I w ere married and Father was getting older, he said that we should get feeder pigs. He’d raise and fatten them on halves. It was a year when feeder pigs were at a premium and many farmers had enough only for themselves, but George and Louis Kleeman sold a couple of them. They were ruptured ones, but the Kleemans said they would grow out of it and wanted to give them to us. We refused, paid for them, and took them home. Father was angry at us for taking such ruptured pigs, but in the end they grew into nice butchers. In fact, Father said they were the best he’d ever tasted.

When we moved to Eagle Lake from Mankato some years before the pig deal, a farmer gave us two little lambs which their mother had rejected. So we bottled them and gave them to Father for the Nickel boys to enjoy during the coming summer. They made nice pets and good food in the end.

Father used to hunt rabbits, but one time he came home with a pheasant. He said, “Just as I was going to shoot a jack rabbit, this pheasant sat on the gun barrel and I had to shoot it off to get my Jack. This was long before there was a limit on pheasants. Later on one winter, brother Kurt had a pheasant hen cornered and shot it with a rifle out of season. “Pa would not miss a good shot,” he said. “Why should I?”

Charlotte and I would hunt pheasants around Freedom. Charlotte was learning to shoot, so she would get the first shot. If she missed, then I would shoot. Same rule applied in squirrel hunting. One time Father wanted to go with us to hunt ducks on Rob’s 80 acres. Father was sure Charlotte would be a drag, but she shot a duck out to her left in full flight. “That was the best shot I’ve ever seen,” he said.

The Freedom churchyard consisted of 10 acres. There were a number of buildings on it, fronting the road. The church, preacher’s house (Bakerhouse), school, teacher’s house, garden spot for teacher, barn, garage with sliding door; teacher’s chicken house, wood shed, and outhouse; preacher’s chicken house, smoke house, wood shed, and outhouse, called the Pope. The school’s outhouse was a double one with doors for each sex. This property was in Waseca County, Freedom Township, sections 15 and 16. At first there was only a two-acre cow pasture, but in later years another two-acre area was added.

Father bought materials for an outdoor basketball court. He made the bangboards where the hoops were mounted. The ground court was made to size of the indoor courts. The lines were put down in yellow clay four inches wide and six inches deep. This court was used by all schoolchildren for many years. In the summer, this court was used for playing tennis. The markings were made with canvas strips. Wilford Werdin, Margaret Kleeman, Gerhard, Addie, Erna and Frieda made up a tennis club which was active for years

The young men of the church had a baseball team. ... The Freedom Indians had their own ball diamond at Emil Brandenburg’s cow pasture and they charged 25 cents to see a game.

The Freedom parsonage entertained many a guest. Wilford Werdin spent many a Christmas Day and Sunday there. He had no brothers or sisters. Herbert Manthey was another fellow who did spend time at the Bakerhouse playing Glück und Hammer. Henry Mueller, son of E.H., was a so-called suitor of the older sisters. He too came a lot. He would bring a bobsled to take Father to Waldorf and to Vivian in case of a bad snowstorm.

The young men of the church had a baseball team. Wilbert and Lyle Kelling and Alfred Marquardt as pitchers; Nony Mueller, shortstop; Herbert Mueller, catcher; Rein Marquardt, outfield; Eldo Brandenburg, first base; the oldest Toltzman boy, third base, with Ernest Kelling as umpire. In the summer a game was held every Sunday afternoon. They played against the Alma City Mud Hens or the Wilton team or Janesville. Once they played against the Waldorf team and shut them out one to nothing. The Waldorf team belonged to a different league, like Janesville, Waseca, and New Richland. The Freedom Indians had their own ball diamond at Emil Brandenburg’s cow pasture and they charged 25 cents to see a game. Sometimes the teacher and pastor would go to the Vivian church with the trustee, Mr. Dobberstein, to take the pigeoons out of the steeple. They would get 40 or 50 of them.

When the preacher’s sons were older they would go by themselves to get them. This they did once every fall, usually on a Saturday night. They took a ladder from home, went the back way, and took the church door off its hinges. A bench was dragged into the entry to put the ladder on, as it wouldn't reach the steeple hole. After one got to the steeple landing, one had to pull the ladder up into the hole to get to the louvered belfry. The pigeon manure on top of the trap door in the last landing usually acted as an adhesive as well as a rock. It took two of us pushing up to get it open. With flashlights and a sack, one had to work fast to get them caught. One of the kids stood guard below in the entrance to whistle when car came into sight. Then out would go the flashlight. The thrill of a lifetime. The kids always did this without the knowledge of the members of the church, although the trustees always said how glad they were to have us clean them out. It was more thrilling our way.

We boys had the whole acreage mapped out and cities located: The outside pump was the town of New Richland. The barn door and our car shed was Waldorf. The east and south sides of the chidken house was little Alma City. North side of the plum orchard was Pemberton. East of the kitchen was St. Clair. West of the house was Janesville; north side of the church graveyard was Mankato. Down by the junk pile at the willow tree in the cow pasture was Chicago. At the extreme north end of the two-acre pasture was Washington D.C. On the highway down below the hill and north to the creek was Cutout, Nebraska. West of the teacher’s house along the road was Albert Lee. Way down to the Friendly Farm corner was Iowa. Bunker Hill area was California. With this in mind, we could drive our pretend cars from place to place.

Our oldest brother, Gene ... built a grape arbor with steel posts and woven wire. It was 12 feet long and eight feet wide, high enough to stand under and a lot of head room. ... We used it to eat our suppers as an outdoor evening picnic in the hot summer.

We had different names for everyone. Max was John Ford. Herb was Albert Haase. Kurt was Louis Pagelow, and Ernie was Ed Pratz. John Ford – Max – lived in Waldorf. Albert Haase had stick hourses and farmed the south and east, also north of the Bakerhouse. Louis Pagelow farmed the school ground, while Ed Pratz farmed 40 acres north of the church. Albert Haase had his horsebarn right inside the chickenhouse to the left between the two-by-fours. He hung up his stickhorses. Louis Pagelow had two to four stickhorses and kept them on the east side of the smokehouse. Ed Pratz was a very rich farmer. He had iron rods as horses. He kept them stuck into the ground so they looked as if they were only some marking stakes. Albert Haase had a Fford, same as John Ford, but Louis Pagelow had a Chevy because his girl friend’s father had one, while Ed Pratz drove a gray Buick, just like Norkie’s dad had.

Our oldest brother, Gene, went up onto the attic of the church. There he found three two-by-eights which he took out and built a grape arbor with steel posts and woven wire. It was 12 feet long and eight feet wide, high enough to stand under and a lot of head room. This arbor was built northeast of the kitchen of the Bakerhouse. We used it to eat our suppers as an outdoor evening picnic in the hot summer. Brother Kurt and sister Addie cemented a lily pond and Frieda had a lovely flower garden all around it. It was 30 inches deep, 36 inches wide and six feet long. It held three 55-gallon barrels of water. In it Addie planted water lilies of all colors. They were planted in homemade wooden boxes. They also planted cattails, arrowheads, marsh marigolds and so on. They also put in five or six goldfish which grew to large fish over the years.

Around the main vegetable garden, brother Kurt built a lath fence. Taking lime, milk and water as his mixture, he painted it onto the laths. When dry, the laths would be real white, and when it rained the laths would turn pale. It lasted for years. I planted violets, kept them picked and had blooms all summer. Ernie took the one currant bush, divided it into many plants, and planted a row at the north end of the garden. They bore a lot of fruit. He also did that to the rhubarb and put it along the asparagas bed.Gophers were a problem in the pasture. The boys would take their coaster wagon, put their mother’s boiler on it, fill it with water, haul it to the pasture and try to drown the striped gophers. One time they tried to cook one of them, but Father happened to come around the chickenhouse. When he saw what they were doing he said, “We may be poor, but my sons do not have to eat gophers.”

The Little Red Book, owned and referred to by Addie, came in handy on rainy days. At our request, she would look into her Little Red Book to see what there was in store for her younger brothers. It was full of games and fun things to do. One game was called Poker, later changed to Punch because Father would say, “If the members of the church heard the kids talk about Poker, they would think ill of us all.”

On Saturday nights after the meal, Father took a bath. We carried water for h im. It was heated on the laundry stove in the basement in the boiler and carried up the stairs to the bathtub. Father had the most water for his bath, and that helped to heat the tub for the rest of us. There was no running water in those days. The rest of us got [an added] teakettle full of real hot water.