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


A growing family, a one-room school   Dear and Poppy began life together in West Ely, Missouri, where Poppy taught school. They and their first two babies, Victor and Rudolph, moved to Woodworth, Illinois, where their third child, Olga, arrived a few months later.

Henry Waldschmidt writes his history

Like the Muellers, the Waldschmidts emigrated to the American Midwest shortly after the Civil War, motivated partly by the threat of military conscription. Henry’s essay contains family history and a bit about his own childhood, up to his first meeting with Anna Wolter.

My story begins with the birth of my paternal grandparents in Germany. Grandfather, Heinrich Waldschmidt, was born at Langendorf, Kurhessen, June 7, 1820. Grandmother Katharina, nee Möhl, of Wohra, Kurhessen, was born September 29, 1820. (These dates are copied from their Reise-Pasz. The dates on their gravestones at Buckley are July 7 and September 23 respectively.)

My grandparents had several children, only three of whom were still living when they emigrated to America. These children were Katharina, then 21 years old (born July 2, 1845); Heinrich, 14 years old (born April 25, 1852); and Jacob, my father, then 11 years old (born March 10, 1856).

Their Document of Release from citizenship in Germany was dated Kirchhain, March 29, 1867, as was their Reise-Pasz via Bremen to New York.

Grandfather was a farmer. In Germany, my folks were poor. They lived in the village (Dorf) like other farmers of that time and place. The same building served as house and stable, the cows below, the people above. In the morning, they left the village to go to the country to work in the fields (probably until dusk). They used cows for draft animals. Horses? They couldn’t afford them. I don’t know whether Grandfather even had oxen for power.

Somehow Grandfather saved a few hundred dollars to make it possible to come to America. With two growning sons, it is understandable that my grandfather, as well as others, desired to leave Germany to avoid military conscription.

Having landed in New York, they traveled to Columbus, Ohio, where Grandmother had a brother who was a wagonmaker. As I remember it, they stayed in Columbus about three weeks and then proceeded to Putnam County, Illinois, and lived on a farm near Peru.

In 1871, they moved to Buckley, where Grandfather purchased the 80 acres on which Charley lives. (At present, I own 20 acres of the original 80.) The tax at that time was $25.00 The purchase price was probably $25.00 per acre. (Grandfather became a charter member of St. John’s Church, Buckley.) There was an old stable and a four-room house. This was too small, so two rooms were added. That was our home until 1900. From 1892 to 1900, nine persons, including a hired man, lived in those six rooms. In 1900, the house in which Charley now lives was built.

Father was very conservative and still quite enterprising. He made a trip to Chicago and bought the lumber for the new barn, which still stands (with some additions). It must have been built before I was born, because I never knew the old farm without the big red barn. (Father told us that they could see the redness of the sky at Buckley from the Chicago Fire in October 1871.)

In my youth, we knew of only two other Waldschmidt families, those of Daniel and Jacob, cousins of my grandfather. Jacob lived in Iowa, but Daniel and family lived south of Roberts, about eight miles southwest of us. We associated with them and knew them very well. They had a large family, the youngest, Esther, was about my age.

In Germany, we have no near relatives by our name, since Grandfather had no brothers. Father’s cousins were Schneiders, since Grandfather’s sister married a Mr. Schneider. My sponsor, the one we called Uncle Mike, was Father’s cousin, but from Grandmother’s side.

My uncle Heinrich died of tuberculosis February 6, 1874. In fact, we were told that other children of the family had died of tuberculosis in Germany before they emigrated.

In April 1877, my father married Sophie Rathe of Buckley. They had been confirmed together April 21, 1872. They were also the second couple to be married by the late Rev. George Blanken. Father was 21 years old, dark with black hair; Mother was 18, born July 5, 1858, and very blond. The young couple moved in with the grandparents. Neither my grandfather nor my grandmother was easy to get along with. Anyone who knew my mother can tell why it worked out. Mother was the most even-tempered person I ever knew. Of course, she had feelings and could be hurt or disappointed, but I can’t recall ever seeing her angry.

April 8, 1878, sister Catherine (Kate) was born. November 18, 1883, sister Elizabeth was born, but she died of pneumonia December 30, 1883; April 15, 1886 was my birthday; Charley was born August 2, 1889, and Alma on December 26, 1892.

When Kate was six years old, she was enrolled in the Drake Public School, jokingly called the “high School” because it stood on a high hill. The distance from our house was a little over a mile, and was covered on foot.

At age 10, Kate started school at St. John’s in Buckley, a distance of three miles. Sometimes she got a ride, but probably more often she walked. Mr. J.M. Gross was her teacher. She was confirmed in 1982. In the following winters, she went to the “high school” again. Her English was very good. It was customary that the young folks of age 14, 15, and up would go to school after the summer and fall work was done. There was no high school, except a Methodist academy and seminary in Onarga.

When I was six, I also enrolled in the “high school.” My first teacher was Mary Russell. The same pattern was followed and I enrolled at St. John’s in Buckley when I was 10. I was confirmed in 1901 and attended at the “high school” the following winter before matriculating at Addison in the fall of 1902. At St. John’s, Mr. J.M. Gross was my teacher. In fact, all four of us were taught by Mr. Gross, and we were all confirmed by Rev. George Blanken.

Before anybody draws a hasty conclusion, let me protest that I was not a flunker, even though I went to grade school until I was 15. We went to school for what we could learn, and there was no other place to go. When I was 13, I asked Father whether I might be confirmed, but he thought it would be better for me to continue another year. Many did not go to school after confirmation; it was about like graduation. The school year ended at Easter so the farm boys could be ready for the field work. When I was 14, I asked whether I might continue another year and Father agreed, but I had to work on the farm from Easter to September.

St. John’s had a “little school” and a “big school,” meaning the small children were in the little building and the older ones in the big building. We had no grades and no report cards. Once a year, shortly before Palm Sunday, we had a Schulprüfung, a public oral examination, to which all the parents were invited. I hated them. I felt that didn’t give the parents a true picture of our work.

Children were taught by groups or classes. Usually those that started together remained together as a group. Often groups had to be combined.

In 1900, I worked on the farm from Easter until September. Whom do you think I met when I returned to school in September? Anna Wolter, who had moved to Buckley from Flatville that spring. After confirmation in 1901, it was back to the farm again and “high school” in winter. In 1902, it was farm work again until I left for the Evangelical Lutheran Lehrer Seminar in Addison [forerunner of Concordia Teachers College in River Forest].

Going to school in Buckley was easier for me than for Kate because Father bought me a pony. The first one was chased out of breath by the big horses. Soon Father bought another one, a wonderful animal, which served also Charley and Alma til they were through school. Old Bird was then sold to the neighbors (Krumwiedes). I don’t know how long those kids drove her to school.