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Joys And Trials Of Pioneer Life

By Susan Katherine Klosner (1833 – 1908)

(As this short account of pioneer days was written for the benefit of the family the – reference to “Father” designate her husband, Rudolph Schmidt – 1829-1901)

In 1849 Father and my brother Jacob came to America, landing in May at New Orleans.  Spent the summer near St. Louis working on a farm and contracted fever and ague.  In the fall they pushed on to Monroe, Wisconsin, which even at that time was a considerable Swiss community.  They were welcomed by a countryman from their home in Switzerland and spent the winter with him.  The following summer a certain Count Wirsberg arrived in Monroe who was interested in land; he was a German political refugee in Switzerland and at Sweisimmen met Dr. Schmidt (t added), Father’s brother who advised him to try Monroe, Wisconsin, and look up Father, which he did, buying a farm in the vicinity; it followed that Father and my brother Jacob rented this farm of the Count.

In 1850 two of my brothers came to the same locality and the next year my father and mother Closner with us younger children moved to Monroe, where they also bought a farm and were comfortably located.  Count Wirsberg engaged me to keep house for him, for Father and my brother until his fiancée, mother and brother should arrive from Germany, when his and our wedding was to be celebrated to-gether, which then occurred August 2, 1851.  As Father was in charge of the farm I stayed on and kept house for both families during the summer.  The following winter Father and I moved into a small log cabin on the farm; Father attending to the cattle and farm work and I helping him the best I could.

We stayed there two years.  With making of money there was not much doing.  Oats sold for 10 cents a bushel; dressed hogs Father marketed at Galena at 3 ½ cents a pound.  A good laborer got from $8.00 to $10.00 a month.

The Count now sold his farm and moved to a hotel in Monroe, his affairs getting worse and going down until he finally took his own life – in the Mississippi.

Father and his brother Arnold were exchanging work with neighbors at threshing.  Tumblers were set at each place which excited Arnold, who smacked his lips and said, “Now we are going to have something good.”  As the glasses were filled with water he placed his hand over his glass saying, “No, that’s good for oxen.”

In the spring of 1853 Father and brother Jacob bought 160 acres of timber land at $8.00 per acre.  Father Closner and John Schober (Jacob’s father-in-law) took out citizen’s papers.  Mr. Schober had a saw mill near our timber with whom Jacob had been some time learning the business.

Now Father built a log house on our land – a process which the following song described:

This building is a funny affair, for one in the timber who can barely afford it.  A quantity (number) of logs are hauled in – and neighbors are then called together and logs laid in place; then nothing more is needed but floor and roof, a couple of windows and perhaps a door, finally to chink the cracks with sod to keep out the wind; in the rear a chimney, and all is done.  How rich and happy we felt.  The skies were radiant for us – or as Mother said, full of bass violas.  Father then hired men to fell trees which he hauled with oxen to the saw mill where Jacob cut it into lumber and it was sold to wheel-wrights and carpenters.  After a few years our land was paid for; also quite cut over.

In the fall of ’54 Father, Jacob, Mr. Schober and others went to Minnesota as Jacob wanted to continue the sawing of lumber.  Mr. Schober thought the site where Berne now is would be a good location to build a saw mill, so brother Jacob took up a claim there and Father his one mile farther east.  The men then returned to Wisconsin, sold their land there at a somewhat advanced price and in the spring of ’55 our overland trip of three weeks with covered wagons and ox teams was begun.  Provisions, also two milk cows, we took with us.  The wagons were loaded with seed, plows, tools and corn for the oxen.  I, with Lisetta and Gottfried (born December 28, 1854), was seated on the large red Swiss chest.  Sleeping quarters were on and under the wagon.  I remember the two chairs securely tied on the back of the wagon.  Our watch word was now “chin up and aim to keep the courage high.”  The last two miles our way had to be opened by axe to reach where the saw mill was to be built.  Father and I with our two children, brothers Arnold and Bernhard, my brother Christian with wife and three children, were the first in the place.  Three weeks later Jacob with wife and child, brother John with wife and two children, and several other families came and took claims in the vicinity.

Early in June a large log house was build which had no lumber for floor but hewn logs (a punchion floor) was laid, and at the opening (there was no door) was placed an axe so that a bear or other intruder might be properly welcomed.  Jacob, Christian and we all lived together and were willing to make the best of little.  The men folks worked at the mill and dam so that before winter set in a warmer house on higher ground might be built.  A millwright got $5.00 a day.

There were many Indians about; one Sunday six of the redskins came in carrying drawn weapons.  Our men were at home.  Father signed them to lower their weapons which they did not feel like doing, so brother Jacob quickly filled and lighted a peace-pipe and passed it around, which cleared the situation if not the atmosphere.  We all felt easier when they left.  They came often into the house but never made us any trouble.

I one day saw a snake slipping in between the logs of our house in the corner just where our bed stood (not a very large snake) and it must have felt unwelcome for it soon withdrew through the same crack.  I didn’t sleep well that night for I feared them more than he of the following verse:  “Not long ago I caught a snake (as pretty a one as you ever see” in our living room.  We did not fear them it is even claimed that certain people will even make a nest for them in their home.

An early winter set in; before the saw mill was finished to cut lumber for our better and warmer house.  On top of that, I was abed six weeks with a fever; snow on the floor and on my bed.  Then Father and the brothers stretched a canvass across the ceiling so that I was protected.  The house was so cold we were obliged to keep the children in bed several weeks, that they were all well.  Before the severe winter weather came Father drove with ox team 33 miles to Red Wing and bought several barrels of flour at $13.00 per barrel.  But even so, we poor women could bake no bread for the dough instead of rising froze.  At that time we didn’t need cook books very much.

By the middle of December the mill was ready to operate and a floor was laid in our house and other needy conveniences added.  Brother Jacob’s family moved in with us before the new year; one large room downstairs and above room for several beds.  The men had much to endure because of the cold.  At that time overshoes were not known so we used hides of oxen and made shoes—cowhide was available as our cattle did not thrive on wild hay without grain and could not stand the cold.  We had no milk that winter.  A Yankee from Iowa arrived one day with a load of cornmeal, which he quickly found buyers for at a high price.

The bad winter finally came to the end, and also our money.  March 17 Albert appeared, a small frail baby –the first in the settlement.  In May 1856 Father built a log house and barn.  The corn didn’t ripen.  In October Father received word to return to Switzerland, his father having died and the estate was to be settled.  Early in November he began his journey.  About a week after he left a band of 300 Indians arrived and pitched their tents 20 rods  from our house and stayed all winter.  Can’t say that I was pleased at this as they came often to the house but did no harm.  My parents who lived a mile east came often to me and now sent a young man to stay with us as a protector.  The same night the redmen put on a war dance which was terrible music; my protector came from upstairs scared to death and as soon as day broke he took himself to safer quarters, leaving me alone with the children.

Karl Rothacher who had a saloon sold the Indians liquor and was obliged to keep under cover as he was reported for it.  The Indian Chief brought me papers with government seal on them to keep safely for him.  No doubt it was the government permit to route through.  In the spring of ’57 they went on, not disturbing anyone.

The two first winters proved a hard school and we were all hoping for Father’s early return.  My people were a constant standby for us.  In the beginning of May Father came; then bought horses, farm machinery and seed, which was very dear.  Things now looked brighter until in ’58 we had frosts until July 3 and 4 freezing all planted grain, even to the potatoes.  Father and my brother John now bought a threshing outfit for which they borrowed the money at 36% interest from Lisette Bischoff; now we naturally economized so that the debt could soon be met.  The men went as far as Zumbrota with the machine where the harvests were better and there are more to be earned.  This was repeated three falls, and the children and I did what was necessary at home.

In ’59 we had a bad hail storm which took everything and in ’60 high water which took fences and destroyed all fields.  Father then decided to leave that low land and bought prairie land, where things prospered.  One child followed another and each brought its blessing.  We had good harvest and the older children were able to help much so that Father bought more land and hard times were at an end.

In joy and hardships we were all united and worked together.  In ’61 our first good house was built and we felt and were happy.  Conditions improved continuously and we had no more cares and worries.  In the first test-years we remained unafraid—had joy in our gathering and celebrated all birthdays and holidays; and as the children grew up it gave us satisfaction to help each according to his need  so that they were able to keep themselves and be independent, and we were full of satisfaction in their success.

(This article was donated to the Historical Society by Charlene Miller.  It was in with items that had belonged to her mother, Ida Schutz Stucky.   While Charlene does not believe these are her relatives we found the article very interesting and decided to share it with you in this newsletter.)

(Reprinted in Pine Island Area Historical Society Newsletter  January 2009)