The Schmidt Family Comes To America


Written by his grandson. -Ernest Franklin Schmidt, Dec. 1954


Revolution was in the air in Europe and in the spring of 1848 and in country after country revolt flared, violent and bloody, as the common man, oppressed by authority, disturbed by the industrial revolution and stirred by new liberal it arose against his autocratic rulers and demanded a voice in his government.

In the Kingdom of Prussia the people wanted a limited monarchy, a free press and, most of all, unification of the many German states. For a few short months there was hope of success but then the forces of reaction in Fredrick William IV’s government triumphed and the republican outbreaks were put down. In fear, the disgust and in despairs tens of thousands of German revolutionaries and liberals in the decade that followed and immigrated to the republic across the Atlantic, the United States. Johann J. Schmidt was one of those emigrants.

Johann had spent most of his life in the little town of Riebau, east (nine kilometers – 5.6 miles of the city of Salzwedal in the Province of Saxony. But many of his relatives and friends had gone to America. In the early spring of 1860, with compulsory military training in the Prussian Ar my immediately before him, he left his homeland, stowed away on a ship to America and landed at New York City in June of 1860. He was 21 years old.

It took him almost a month to cross New York State by way of the Hudson River and the Erie Canal, but by mid-summer he had reached Buffalo where he boarded a train for Chicago. There he was greeted by relatives an d, after a period of time in that city he set out once more–this ti me to well north for over 100 miles to the village of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, where he found work. Once more he was among friends.

His first love was farming and he was also an expert tanner, as after t he Civil War began he rode a horse to Green Bay, took a train from the re to Chicago and went to work in a tannery making leather for harnesses for military horses.

Years passed before he had enough money to send to Germany for his sweet heart, Dorothea Gurtz, but on June 30th she arrived in New York City on a ship from Bremen and on Sept. 13th, 1863 they were married in Two Rivers.

A week later he bought 160 acres of forest 5 miles west of town. The land was virgin wilderness with pine trees up to thirty inches in diameter g rowing on it. The only signs that man had ever before walked in the green dusk below its green trees were a few Indian trails. He paid $800.00 f or the land – five dollars an acre. Then he set out to clear a farm from the wilderness – a task that would have staggered a lesser man.

Johann Schmidt was a tall man, strong and extremely industrious and before long, taking advantage of every minute he could get away from the Two Rivers Tannery, he had cut a road into his land and had built a log house. It was a simple home with a dirt floor and a fireplace in its single room. Soft-tanned deerskins decorated it and kept the winter cold from t he young pioneer family. In the cabin in June of the next year Johann and Dorotheas first child was born. The Civil War had been over for just two months and 3 days.

The little boy, Louis, played with the children of passing Indian parties and as he grew up, the little log cabin also grew for five other children arrived during the next ten years.

In 1875 a new log house was built, an imposing structure two stories high – with ample room for a family that would grow, by 1889, to thirteen children. It was a well built house, but there were many cold winter mornings when the north wind, blowing between the cracks in the logs, powdered t he upstairs floors with snow and made it mighty tough for a youngster to l eave his warm feather-bed.

Tragedy struck thrice at the family when first a little boy and then two little girls died, but there were blessings too, as the forest was pushed back and the good earth began to produce food.

Occasionally the neighbors would band together to hunt a marauding bear or wildcat, but none of the Schmidt boys joined these parties, for the ir father, who had put an ocean between himself and the things military and who couldn‘t bear to hurt an animal, would not permit a gun to be used on his property.

Sometime during the latter part of the 1870′s, Johann brought his father and mother from Germany. Heinrich Schmidt and Maria Schmidt spent the last years of their lives on the farm and died within two weeks of each other in 1893.

Johann Schmidt was a stout disciplinarian who believed in the virtue of hard work for his children and for himself. He was deeply religious and had a fine sense of humor. His code said, “The law is no better than your word.”

He was a strong hard man in pioneer times that demanded strength and hardness, and along with the harvest of his good land, he also raised some good citizens for his adopted country.

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