Fred and Louise (Bethke) Schwanke Story
FREDRICK AND LOUISE SCHWANKE
This story begins in Germany. It is the account of Fredrick Schwanke and Louise Bethke. This information was gathered by a granddaughter, Nelda Schuelke Uischer. Her interest in the family history made her inquire of her mother, Caroline, what she could relate of these two persons.
Of the life of Fredrick and Louise in Germany, very little is known. Fredrick Schwanke, the child of William Alfred Schwanke and Dorothea Augusta (nee Pantico) was born 8 September 1831 in Wetzliben, Prussia. In his youth, he was confirmed in the Lutheran faith. As a young man, he was an apprentice, learning the blacksmith trade in Wanderburst.
Since military training was compulsory, he was a soldier for three years. He was in charge of a group of men, but what his rank was is not known. It is said that he was a friend of Fredrick Hohenzallern, son of William the I, who later became the 1st Kaiser of a United Germany. He talked much of the Kaiser and was saddened when William the I died.
Louise Bethke was born 24 August 1840, at Charming, Germany. Her parents were Fred and Justine Bethke (nee Zismer). Louise was the oldest of eight children. She was a Lutheran and was confirmed in that faith.
The courtship of Fredrick and Louise was apparently shore, for it was said that they went together one month and then were married. The marriage date was 13 February 1860. Their first child, Gustave was born 20 January,1861. A second child, Adolph was born 22 November 1863.
One day in the spring of 1864, Fredrick came home and announced they would go to America. For Louise, the mother of two young children, this was a shock. On April 30th, they boarded a sailing vessel and were off to a new world. It took 44 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean, for some days the westerly winds would drive them back farther than they had progressed the day before. They travelled third class (steerage) where the accommodations were very poor. At sometime or other, they were all seasick. On 12 June 1864, the boat docked at the New York Harbor.
Daniel Schwanke, a brother of Fredrick, had come to America earlier. He settled near Ripon, Wisconsin, Green Lake County. It was here where Fredrick and Louise went when they came to this country. they rented a house here for a few months. Later, on 8 September 1864, Caroline was born. September 8 was also her father's birthday.
Fredrick and Daniel found work as farm help receiving 50 cents a day. Food was scarce, but according to a German custom the men ate until their hunger was satisfied, regardless of whether or not there was much left for the woman of the house. Grandmother said when Caroline was born there was no bread in the house. When the wife of the farmer for whom the men were working heard the Louise had a new baby, she brought her some food. Later, when Louise was about to have another child, she hid crust of bread under her pillow so she could have something to eat during her confinement.
Prices for everything were high because of the Civil War. Calico cost 50 cents a yard, kerosene was 50 cents a gallon, and wheat sold for $43.00 a bushel.
Later on Fredrick and Daniel each bought 40 acres of land. Their farms joined. This meant moving into another house. Apparently it was small because it had only one window built so high that the children couldn't break it. The siding was put on vertically instead of horizontally.
Three children were born in this house, namely: Augusta - 17 February 1867; Mathilda - 8 January 1869; Charles - 1 June 1871. From here on I shall refer to Fredrick and Louise as Grandfather and Grandmother.
In about 1867 Grandmother's mother, Justine Bethke came to America with 3 of her children. Her husband died about 1862. She came to Minnesota and settled near Willow Creek, Blue Earth County. Because life was hard for Grandmother, she often longed to be near her relatives.
In about 1872 Grandfather and Grandmother and their six children, who ranged in ages from 1 to 11 years, left Wisconsin for Minnesota. Covered wagons were the mode of travel. One wagon, drawn by oxen, carried the household goods. The second wagon, horse drawn, was outfitted for sleeping.
The route they followed west took them though Wilton, Weis. a small town 14 miles from Tomah, and then on to LaCrosse, Wis. where they crossed the Mississippi River by ferry boat. From there they traveled North to Winona, MN, then turned west to climb the high bluffs that skirt the river. Then they were in the prairie country. They continued their westward trek,passing through Rochester and Mankato. To get to the area where grandmother's relatives lived, they now headed southwest until they came to Perch Creek in Blue Earth County. Their first post office address was Vernon Center, and later it was Upton, Minn. Grandfather often told of the many times their wagons got stuck in the mud.
Since Minnesota was to be their new home, Grandfather bought a 160 acre farm for $700.00. Apparently he couldn't make the payments so it was foreclosed. Later he bought it back for $1200.00. While a new frame house was being built, they lived with grandmother's brother, August Bethke.
The new house had only three rooms, two downstairs and one upstairs. One of the downstairs rooms was a kitchen, living room, and all-purpose room combined. The other room was a bedroom. Only curtains divided the large upstairs room where all the children, young and old, boys and girls, slept. In the winter, it was not unusual to find snow on the beds and floor. Grandfather had failed to nail a strip of metal on the top where the two sides of the roof met. Since there was no stairway, rungs were nailed to the downstairs wall. These were used to climb upstairs.
In this home six more children were born, namely: Ida, 30 September 1873; Minnie, 16 January 1876; Theodore, 27, March 1878; Helen, 10 May 1880; Mollie, 5 June 1882; and Albert, 17 April 1886.
To help support the growing family, Caroline (Carrie) left home at the age of 9 to work as a hired girl. Her first pay was $1.00 a month. The $9.00 she had earned at the end of nine months were spent by Grandfather to buy sheep. The most pay she ever received was $3.00 a week. One lady for whom she worked made her get up at 2:30 AM on washday because she wanted her clothes on the lines before the neighbors got theirs out. For three months in the summer she had to go home and help Grandmother and Grandfather with their work. Out of her earnings, she could take some money for clothes. The rest was turned over to Grandfather for support of the family. The last $40.00 she earned before she was married at the age of 25, she kept so she would have something to spend on her new home she was about to establish.
When our grandparents came to America they were Lutherans, but in a camp meeting service at Alto, Wis, they were both converted. They joined the Evangelical Association (Evangelishie Gemeinschaft) on about 1867. There was no Evangelical Association in the Perch Creek area, so the minister from Mankato would come once every 3 months to preach in the home. When the preacher came, he usually stayed several days. During this time Grandfather felt he ought not to smoke and that affected his disposition.
Once when the minister came Grandmother had practically nothing to eat in the house. It was in the spring and the last of the potatoes had been used for planting. Te feed the guest she dug up some of the planted potatoes. Nevertheless the minister always seemed to be welcome. Later on a church was built in Amboy and minister from Mankato came every Sunday. Amboy was 12 miles from home.
In the early days there were no clocks in the Schwanke home. Time was told by the sun. For example, after grandmother had set the bread in the morning, she would go into the field to work. she would say to Caroline who was about 6 years old, "When the sun shines on this spot on the table then knead the bread." Because she was so small, Grandmother set the bread pan on the chair so she could reach it.
For pioneer's children there was very little opportunity for an education. The school term was three months long, always in winter, when the farm work was done. Then either it was too cold, too much snow, or sometimes too much mud to walk three miles to the nearest school. Grandfather thought an education was alright for the boys, because as farmers they would have to do some figuring, but the girls need none as their occupation was to be a hired girl and later a housewife and mother.
Practically everything used in the pioneer home was homemade. Grandfather made the shoes. Over a wooden sole, a piece of leather was nailed to form the top of the shoe. These were called pantoffel. Grandfather also knit stockings for the whole family. Grandmother often lamented the fact that a spool of thread was used up so quickly, but the much sewing required for a large family made the thread disappear quickly. Even though a spool of thread of 400 yds cost only 5 cents money was always scarce. To Grandmother's dismay, Grandfather would often use the money needed for thread to buy tobacco.
In the early days all the fabric used for sewing was homespun. That involved much work. Sheep had to be used for shearing the wool and the wool had to be washed and carded before it could be spun into threads. In the case of flax, the stems had to be retted, that is, soaked to separate the fibres before spinning could begin. Grandmother had two spinning wheels. Two granddaughters own them now, Nina Pankonin Weiman, and Nina Wolter.
On Grandmother's loom the threads were spun into cloth from which clothes, towels, pillow cases and sheets were made.
A daughter, Minnie, and a granddaughter, Nelda Schuelke Uischner, have some homespun made by grandmother. The loom and spinning wheel were brought with them from Germany.
At night the only light in the house was that which came from a home made candle. It was by this light that Grandmother did much sewing after the day's work was done.
A variety of food was almost non-existent. Potatoes and bread were the most common foods. Grandfather always kept a few cows. But in the winter, milk was scarce so there was little or none for the children to drink or grandmother to use in cooking. Grandfather also had a strange notion that foods he didn't like (as tomato) were not to be eaten by others in the family. He was especially fond of boiled potatoes with jackets called "pell kartoffella" and herring. Sauerkraut was a standby too. Each fall Grandmother made a barrel of sauerkraut. In the winter an axe was used to chop out a chunk of kraut. Dumplings were a favorite with the children. At the table they would amuse themselves by each trying to swallow a larger whole dumpling than the other. In later years Carrie often marvelled that no one choked while doing this.
Once a year, Grandfather took grain to a Table Mill about twenty miles from home to be ground into flour. With a loaded lumber wagon and poor roads it took one day to travel that distance.
In the winter, Grandfather would cut wood at a place three miles from home. Sometimes he would haul a large log home and cut it into stove lengths as it was needed.
When Grandfather would come home with the team of horses, whether from the woods or town, he always expected some of the boys to be right there to unhitch the horses. One time while he was away cutting wood, a severe storm moved in. He could not get home, so he and some other woodcutters stayed in a Lutheran church for three days. For Grandmother, who was at home with her little children, these were frightening days.
The following are a few personal incidents Carrie remembered. When Theodore was two years old he placed a long chain around his neck and walked away from home. Some time passed before anyone discovered he was gone. Grandmother first thought that he had gone to the creek and had drowned, but dragging the creek brought no results, so the hunt continued. By evening they found him at Uncle Gustave Bethke's a mile from home.
The older children had to herd the cows and sheep on the open prairie for there were no fences. To pass the time Gustave and Adolph would swim in the creek. One day they suggested Carrie should swim too. Unafraid, she plunged in and almost drowned.
One time Gustave and Tillie were herding the cows and caring for their younger sister, Minnie. She got too close to the edge of the creek bank. The ground was slippery, and she slipped into the water. The water carried her downstream. All the older children could see were her hands waving. Fortunately, they caught up with her and pulled her out.
In those early day every girl felt she must have her ears pierced. The operation was very simple! The ear lobe was rubbed until it was numb. To give the lobe some support while it was pierced with a needle, a potato was held in the back of the ear. When the operation was over, a pin might be the object to stick in the opening. It was bent over and left there until the lobe was healed. If the pin turned green, that wasn't anything to worry about.
Occasionally, Grandfathers friend came for a visit. These men would tell the most gruesome stories. Because there was but one room, the children heard them too. Carrie said she was afraid to go to bed after hearing these horrible tales.
One picture found in many homes of the early pioneers who came from Germany, was that of the Kaiser. That was true in the Schwanke home too.
Grandmother was often called upon to assist a neighbor woman in childbirth. For Grandmother this served two purposes. She could be of service to someone, and it gave her an opportunity to visit with someone outside her own family. When the birth of a child was delayed and she stayed longer than expected, Grandfather was inclined to become impatient.
Grandfather told of his sister suffering from what we now think was arthritis. That ailment seemed to run in the family. In Grandfather's and Grandmother's family, these were afflicted with arthritis as a major illness: Carrie, Helen, and Mollie. In the second generation - Nin (Pankonin) Weiman, and Nelda (Schuelke) Uischner have the same ailment (Rheumatic) in their case.
Grandmother often talked of three catastrophic misfortunes that came to them in the early days in Minnesota. For three years there were no crops. The first year a swarm of grasshoppers descended upon the fields and at up all the grain. Hot winds damaged the crops the second year. The third year there was every indication that all would be well. The crops were good, but then the rains came. The grain was ripe and had to be cut and shocked. Grandmother and Aunt Ida, she was only six years old, spent many hours in the fields turning the shocks, so the grain would dry, even then it began to sprout. many time Grandmother cried and in her prayers she questioned God for taking away the crops for a third year. The next spring Grandfather had to ask some of the church members for some seed they had managed to save.
Family worship was a daily practice in the Schwanke home. Grandfather would read a portion of the Scripture. Often a passage would touch him and tears would trickle down his cheeks. Following a prayer the stanza of a hymn would be sung. (This was all in German).
Grandmother had a pleasant mild-mannered disposition. The twinkle in her eyes make one feel at ease in her presence. She endured patiently the hardships of a pioneer mother.
Twelve children were born to Louise and Fredrick Schwanke. Twelve of these children grew to maturity without the benefit of fruit juices, much milk, refrigerated food, vitamin capsules, or shots.
The first to die was the fourth child, Augusta, at the age of 15. Caroline thought the cause of her death was spinal meningitis. After that, 6 May 1882, it was not until 60 years later that another child, Albert, died August of 1943 as the result of an automobile accident. Longevity and sturdy constitutions describe the Schwanke family.
Grandfather died 10 January 1913 at the age of 80 years, as the result of old age. Grandmother continued to live with her daughter, Mollie, first at Amboy and later in Lamberton, MN. She died 12 January 1923 at the age of 82. She died of pneumonia. Both grandparents are buried at Madelia Cemetery.
This brings to a close the brief story of the lives of Grandfather and Grandmother Schwanke.
Written By Nelda Schuelke Uischer
Written in the year 1964