return to A Short Bio
also Thelen 1940s
By Edward Thelen (my father), written before his death in 1956.
For his children
So you would like to know about your grandparents
Table of Contents, pictures, headers, added by his son E. S. Thelen - 1931 - ?
Arrival in U.S.
Bought 1st Land
Farming in 1800s
Politics & Religion
Sisters & Brothers
Roads & Poll Tax
Build New House
Devil's Lane & Hex
Hermina & Nicholas Thelen - 1909
As the last of their children, I should be able to tell you but strangely until now I, myself, did not realize what interesting personalities my parents were, or what fascinating histories. they had. I merely took them for granted and never asked questions that would have opened to me most interesting life stories of pioneer days. I can only give you my recollections of my own youth and of the things told to me. In these personal recollections of my own youth I shall give you the information I have secured from a search into available records.
The Thelen record, here at Stillwater, begins before the Civil War. Three Thelen brothers settled here, having come here from Germany, The first was Mike who became the owner of a fair sized farm some miles east of Stillwater, in the town of St, Joseph, St. Croix County, Wisconsin. His settling here probably was the reason for the later coming here of two of his other brothers Nick, my father, and Bernard or Ben, my uncle. l remember Mike particularly because of his flowing white beard. He was the father of ten children, with some of whom I later became well acquainted. I recall Mike's wife, a lady with a tremendously deep voice, who could and did make hired men step around in no uncertain terms.
I remember Ben, who had a saloon in Stillwater. He ran an upright business and was respected for running a "clean place." He was aristocratic in dress and manner, and to the last, pretty much a typical German aristocrat. He divorced his wife. The divorce action raised a legal issue which was settled only in the Supreme Court of Minnesota, He had four children, two boys and two girls, The home life was stormy. Eva, one daughter, was a fine singer and achieved local fame because of that talent.
My father, Nick, like Mike, became a farmer. His farm was closer to Stillwater than Mike's. There were seven children in his family, two girls, Lucy and Rose, five boys, Andrew, Will, John, Edwin, and Edward, The first Ed died of diphtheria at the age of 8. The second Ed, myself, was born after the first Ed's death. The name Edwin was changed to Edward and given to me.
I recall that my father and his two brothers did not mingle too well, They had their quarrels and disputes resulting in periods when, if they spoke to each other, the conversation was apt to be very perfunctory. The young cousins, in their young days particularly, were not too sociable, and as a result there was not much visiting back and forth. However, it seems evident that the three brothers must have worked well together to begin with.
There was another brother who came to this country, not as a settler, but as a Catholic church man, He established schools or hospitals, I understand there is a life-sized painting of him in one if the Catholic hospitals in St. Louis or Cincinnati, He visited with his three Stillwater brothers and wrote remonstrating them when my father and Ben left the church. He died as the head of an abbey in Belgium. My father said he had been demoted for some church insubordination.
The three brothers, Mike, Nick and Ben must have been fairly close in age. I believe my father was slightly the oldest, Mike next and Ben the youngest, They all died within a year of each other: my father on Aug. 5, 1909; then Mike and then Ben was found dead, possibly from a heart attack, Physically all three brothers were not tall, but were broad shouldered, sturdy and strong, Their heads were more round than long. They could be called the Roman-Swiss type. Ben and father were very quick to anger and blunt, but could quickly be gentle and generous. When my father became angry, his blue eyes looked positively black. They all had worked hard and had amassed property. But my father believed in education for his children. Lucy and Rose both went to the River Falls Normal School and became teachers. School did not appeal to Andrew. Will went on to the University of Minnesota and became a doctor. John became a lawyer, as I did.
The emigration of the Thelen brothers from Germany was no sudden impulse, From the stories I recall , their father, Peter, was the youngest of his family. There arose the question of an inheritance. The matter went into the court and he was defeated, He thereupon took his considerable family from their ancestral home, Bleialff, near Trier, in what father called the Rhine Province, and started for America. The family got as far as Antwerp, Belgium, where he died. The family was left practically without means. Father spoke rather bitterly of having to beg in the streets and vainly from the priests and nuns, I think it was at this time father got employment in a factory which processed collected wool material into cloth, which he called "shoddy" and which he despised. He would never sell clothing to "rag pickers" He would destroy it in preference to having it processed into "shoddy goods." As he despised the shoddy in clothing, so be despised the shoddy in religion or manner of life.
How the family eventually was able to return to Bleialff, he never stated, but his mother, his sisters, his brothers and he did return there. As I understand it, that region was largely a silver and lead mining country, A living was hard to make, Father told of working in a bakery. The baker influenced my father to discontinue the habit of smoking and father never smoked again. The baker's influence extended into the second generation. None of father's sons developed the smoking habit.
Then my father became a herder of cattle in the mountains. He was able to earn a "halfcow." His earnings mounted until he possessed a herd of some 28 head of cattle. One of my memories of father was when at night he would show me the Great Dipper hanging in the sky, and from it's position be would tell me what time it was. This, he said, he learned to do in his vigils herding the cattle.
Arrival in U.S.
With the proceeds of the sale of his herd, he bought passage for himself and his brother Ben to the United States. Mike had already gone to the "land of promise" and possibly had written letters encouraging the step and suggesting St. Paul, Minnesota, as their destination. According to his "Intention to Become a Citizen", be arrived in the United States Sept. 9, 1857. He and Ben arrived in St, Paul, $7.00 in debt. On the way over, father became acquainted with a Lux family, with whom be maintained a friendship thereafter.
Father spoke of getting a job with Ben, of cleaning out frozen and spoiled potatoes out of a cellar. It was probably so unpleasant he couldn't forget it. Thereafter be and Ben worked on the Mississippi River steamboats plying between St, Paul and St. Louis. Their work was probably stevedoring, loading and unloading.
Mother told me an interesting story about her first sight of father. He was one of a crew unloading cargo from a steamboat at Hudson on a Sunday. She was a spectator, Suddenly a little boy was on the gang plank and in the way of another stevedore who promptly kicked the child into the water. Father, thereupon, jumped into the water and brought the child to shore. That was a nice way for a romance to start, wasn't it? How father was able to follow it up, is a historical mystery.
In speaking of his boating days, he sometimes spoke of a battle which he and Ben had with a "big Irishman." The Irishman was armed with a knife with which be slit father's nose right down the middle of the ridge of his nose. I know that story is authentic because father had the scar to show, He never told the outcome of the battle. Possibly some things are better left to the imagination. But at any rate, he must have liked the life. He told many times how he felt a nostalgic urge to go back to it from the hard work on the farm, when he would hear the steamboat whistle calling him.
Bought 1st Land
Father bought his first land, the eighty acres, upon which is located the home and the family cemetery, from his brother, Ben, November 2nd, 1863, and married my mother some 22 days later, November 24th, 1863.
Other than working on the steamboats which be had been doing since arriving from Germany late in 1857, father spoke frequently about working for farmers in the Kinikinic Valley between Hudson and River Falls, Wisconsin. Yankees, he called those who spoke English. English he wished to learn so the better to make his living in the land of his adoption. (Unlike most German immigrants, he did not encourage his family to learn or speak German. He wanted us to learn the language which would help us make a living. He had us read the English newspapers to him. Only occasionally would he converse in German, even with mother.)
Father spoke of having, at times, worked the ferry boat by means of a rope tied across Lake St. Croix between the little community of Houlton and Stillwater, lumbering center, until a bridge was built between those points.
The chances are that his brother Ben had quit steamboating ahead of father, come to Stillwater to be near his brother Mike and gotten into the saloon business in which he prospered. Ben himself, although in that business, was not a drinking man, Ben's and Mike's being here, may have influenced coming here, or at least, remaining in the city of Stillwater. It may have been in this period that father made his trip to what later became Minneapolis, to take a land claim south and west of that place, He did not follow that up. As father was almost a "teetotaler", I doubt if he ever worked for, or with, Ben. He probably never worked with Mike. However, he must have leaned heavily upon the advice and counsel of Ben, for his first land purchase was from Ben, from whom, on November 2nd 1863, he purchased eighty acres. Ben bad purchased this same acreage less than a year before and as a part of the purchase price had given mortgage on it. Inasmuch as father's marriage was less than a month later, had not he and Ben planned the acreage as the home for the new bride?
Upon this eighty acre tract was a log house, which previously had been a sort of inn or stopping place for travelers, going eastward by horseback or coach, along the stage road leading from Stillwater by the house. The log house had the usual cellar with it's dirt floor. When I first remember the house, it had been reduced in size and was being used as a storage building, a new residence having been built Just before my birth. My brothers and sisters had been born in the old log house. A winding stairway led upstairs to the two small rooms there. A door on the main floor led to the stairway. Tradition bad it, that no matter how the stairway door was bolted, it would open during the night and sounds would indicate that something with rattling chains would creep up the stairs! Repute had it that the place in previous days as a road house had been the scene of murders, the bodies having been buried in the dirt floor of the cellar. Despite those stories, the Nick Thelen family lived there and the children other than myself, were all born there. It was my fortune to have been born in the new house, which still is the farm house.
A large part of the "eighty" and west of the log house was prairie reaching to the St, Croix bluff, My sister, Lucy, recalled how, as a child, she had herded cattle on the prairie and had watered them at the river. Back of the house was a well and wood lot which are still as they were. There are still some remains of the old stage road winding up through the woods. This was the house to which father and mother came after their marriage at Hudson, November 24th 1863.
Thelen Farm after 1890
Thelen Farm, 2 pictures stitched
Off picture to the left are, Horse barn, Grainery, Wagon shed
As to that marriage, about all I can do is to give a copy of the Registration of Marriage record, (See next page.)
REGISTRATION OF MARRIAGE1. Full name of husband - Nicholas Thelen 2. Full name of father of husband - Peter Thelen 3. Full name of mother of husband - (2) Anna Maria Winkelman 4. Occupation of husband - Farmer 5. Residence of husband - St. Joseph, St. Croix Co. Wis. 6. Birthplace of husband - Bleialff, Prussia 7. Full name of wife previous to marriage - Hermina Frederice Streeter 8. Full name of the father of wife - Emanuel Streeter 9. Full name of the mother of the wife (a) Maria R. Kestner 10. 11. Time when marriage was contracted November 24, 1863. 12. The place, town or township, and county, there the marriage was contracted - St. Joseph St, Croix County, Wis. 13. The color of the parties (b) White 14. By what ceremony contracted - Catholic STATE OF WISCONSIN ) ss COUNTY OF ST. CROIX) I hereby certify, that the foregoing marriage was solemnized by me on the day above named and that the above is a true return of said marriage, and the other facts there recorded. Dated at St. Joseph, in the County of St, Croix, on the 24 day of November, A. D. 1863. Name, (c) Rev. Nicholas Stehli Title of clergyman, officer or other person pronouncing marriage Residence, Hudson, St, Croix, County, Wisconsin. STATE OF WISCONSIN ) ss ST, CROIX COUNTY ) I, David Hope, Register of Deeds in and for said County, do hereby certify that I have compared the above and foregoing copy of MARRIAGE RECORD OF NICHOLAS THELEN HERMINA F. STREETER with the copy of original thereof, and that the same is a correct transcript therefrom and of the whole thereof as the same remain of record in my office. IN TESTIMONY THEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my official Seal this 20th day of October, A. D. 1953. DAVID HOPE Register of Deeds By Lorraine Frazier-Deputy
There had been different spellings of the name Thelen, and father bad been known as John N. Thelen or J. N. Thelen. In the Registration, is was plain Nicholas Thelen. Previous to my finding this registration I had never known of his mother, Anna Maria Winkelman, nor had I known the names of my mother's parents.
I wonder about the courtship leading up to the marriage. Some how I feel that father was not the lover be should have been, according to the present standards. My mother was terribly young, and was working as a hired girl for a well-to-do family in Hudson. "Fulton" I think was the name. Her home was really near New Richmond, Wisconsin, where her father, mother, sisters and brothers lived. She was Protestant, father was Catholic, The way she said it, I concluded the marriage was arranged by her brothers and her family. But father was a handsome, hardworking man, who would probably turn out to be a good provider. She was a good-looking girl, who already knew how to work. The family thought well of it, so it happened "for better or for worse!"
There is no question in my mind that my mother's married life was not too happy. Father was about twice her age when they were married. He had the typical German idea of a woman, as a beast of burden, His life had always been hard. He knew little but hard work and expected others to likewise work hard. He had a terrific temper. His ideas were pretty much set. She was quiet, gentle and rather reserved. She was uncomplaining, never demanding, but I have known her to stand up for her rights, like a tigress. Marriage for her at first must have been somewhat of a disappointing surprise, possibly with moments of deep unhappiness. But with the years, she was able to adjust and be mellowed so that the marriage was less the ordeal it must have been at the beginning. With a woman's patience, she got her way in family matters. There were times however, when she had to go to her retreat in the solitude of the woods for consolation and strength.
Mother spoke a bit more to us of her background. In Germany, more especially Saxony, her father had been a miller, who had a mill where be ground grain into flour. He had, what I understand to be, a form of asthma. A doctor told him he would have to seek a different climate. It was decided to go to America. Mother was eight when they came to the United States, They were on shipboard six weeks, She remembered her brothers tried fishing. They saw flying fish and other sea life. After landing in New York, they decided to come west. After arriving at Milwaukee they, with others, traveled through the Wisconsin woods by ox team. At night as they camped they could see by campfire light the eyes of wolves. Meeting a bear on the road was no unusual event. The family settled on the prairie near New Richmond, Wisconsin on the Willow River. One day while out picking berries, she found herself face to face with a bear. She and the bear were both frightened and ran in opposite directions.
Mother loved to tell about her mother, who lived until she was 96. It was shortly after the family arrived at their new abode that mother Streeter was baking biscuits in an outdoor oven. Some Indians rode up on horseback. She was frightened, of course, but calmly took the hot biscuits out of the oven and gave them to the Indians, who, thereupon, rode away, Mother had some schooling at New Richmond. She wrote in a small round hand.
She spoke frequently of her people. It must have hurt her when my father became angered at her people and stopped interchanging visits with them. I did not know any of them until my father died. I remember seeing a picture of her mother taken when she was ninety.
Mother had a high pitched, little voice and once in a while would sing bits of hymns, one of which was, "Work for the Night is coming." Father had a lusty baritone. I remember being awakened in the morning by father making the fire in the kitchen below, singing bits form "My Old Kentucky Home."
Speaking of grand mothers, father must have thought a lot of his and been close to her. One night he awoke and told mother that he had seen his mother at the foot of the bed, He said that she must be dead. In but a few weeks, I remember seeing a black bordered envelope from Germany containing the news of her death as of the time of his dream.
Mother always had the feeling she could tell when any of her children were sick or in deep trouble. She profoundly believed in psychic phenomena. She told of a family in Germany who saw their son, a soldier in the army, come marching down the read toward them. When the father and mother rushed out to meet him, he was not there. It was his spirit. He had been killed just a short time before.
Forgive me, I have deviated from the thread of my story. Let's go back to the beginnings of married life on the farm. Father worked day and night. There was land to be cleared and broken to the plow. Crops had to be planted by hand, When ripe they were cut by means of a cradle, a scythe arrangement. Dad would cradle all day and then at night he would tie the bundles. There was no twine. With a quick twist of his hands he would take wisps of the straw, twist the heads into a knot, then slip this arrangement around a bundle of grain and quickly twist the ends into a knot and thus the bundle was tied. Imagine doing this cradling and tying a whole field of grain! Mother would finish with her housework and go out into the field to help, It was years later that the cradle was supplanted by the reaper.
Father accumulated additional acres as the years passed, He loaned money on mortgages and when the mortgagors defaulted, he got more land. When he died he had the home farm of 400 acres and the "other farm" of about the same size. This other farm was divided and then passed out of the family.
Those early days must have been not only hard, but primitive. The windmill and the modern well did not come until fairly recent years, say about seventy years ago. Previous to that water was bucketed out, old oaken bucket style, from a dug well a short distance from the log house. There were no modern bath facilities. I remember being bathed in a wash tub before the kitchen stove, baking on one side and freezing on the other.
Trees had to be cut down, then sawed up and split and dried for firewood for the stoves. Grain had to be threshed out by flailing it, chaff taken out by tossing it in the breeze. Then the grain was shoveled into sacks, picked up and put into a wagon, then hauled by oxen (later horses) to the mill miles away to be ground into flour and then hauled back, later to be made into bread.
The roughage was made into cattle, horse and pig food. At night candles supplied light. Kerosene lamps were considered marvels, not too many years ago, If a boy wanted to go shooting, he had to make his own bullets or gun shells, After milking, the milk was put into pans and taken down cellar to cool. After the cream had come to the surface, it was skimmed off and put into a churner, churned by hand until it condescended to harden into butter. The butter had to be "worked" by hand and salt worked in.
Oh! for the "good old days"!!!!!
In the Civil War Days and for many years thereafter, the mothers not only made the suits, coats, etc. for their children, but they had to take the raw wool from the sheep, card it, spin it and weave it into cloth to make suits with. Knitting socks kept the hands from being idle. Can you imagine bridge clubs in those "good old days?"
Father and mother started out, not with horses but with oxen. Horses came years later. Father, when he died, had hands that were gnarled out of shape like limbs of an old oak. They did not get that way from playing the piano.
Of course, there were compensations. People working close to nature seem to have a deeper sense of values, a deeper faith, more understanding, a poise and serenity which we, of a more complicated world, lack. Mother loved all growing things, chickens, calves, pigs. With plants she had a "green thumb." She seemed able to get anything to grow, She told of prairie chickens following potato rows and eating off the bugs. She raised turkeys, geese and ducks. She was in constant warfare with the skunks and owls and hawks and other despoilers of her flocks.
She and father had their old friends with whom they would visit. I presume mother, like other country women, got diversion out of driving into town to sell her eggs, butter, dressed chickens and turkeys.
She had one real aversion, an Irish Catholic, I think she resented the fact that the ordinary Irish person bad a gift of gab. She seemed to seriously doubt their veracity. She suspected all red heads. I can't remember hearing mother gossip or speak maliciously of anyone otherwise.
Father was a provider in a grand manner. In the fall he would "lay in" several barrels of apples and sacks of flour. He always wanted plenty of everything. One time on a shopping trip to St. Paul he found a bargain in red socks for me. I was in High School at that time. Doing penance, I was seated directly in front of my German teacher's desk. My long pants failed to cover my red socks. For weeks, I wore those bright scarlet bargain socks. I am sure my teacher was shocked at my wearing what she must have reasoned to be the same pair, all that time. When she looked down at them, her face would reflect their color,
I remember an itinerant medicine man convinced father of the wonderful healing power of some herb medicine. Father laid in a supply of that. All of us were fed that bitter stuff all winter long. I believe mother had to quietly dispose of it, to save us.
Father, like his brother Ben, had a lot of dignity but be also liked a joke and a good laugh. He could even tell a tall tale very seriously. My mother's brother and his wife came to visit. That was when the family was still living in the log house. Of course Uncle and Aunt had to stay over night, During the evening meal father entertained by telling about the unhappy persons buried in the cellar, and about the stair door opening at a certain time every night. He told of attempting to catch the ghost or thing with chains climbing the stairs. How he put a lighted candle under a bushel at the top of the stairs and how he quickly lifted the bushel measure off the light when the sounds of the chain nearly reached the top, but there was no ghost.
Uncle and Aunt must have been really impressed. They refused to sleep upstairs, Father and mother had to give them their bed near a window downstairs. Father and mother were awakened in the middle of the night by yells from Uncle and Aunt downstairs. Uncle and Aunt were positive they heard ghosts coming through the screen at the side of their bed. They wouldn't stay in that bed and insisted on moving upstairs with father and mother. Mother, afterward, told us it was the cat crawling up on the screen to get in for the doughnuts she smelled inside the window and not really a ghost.
"Clearing of Land" consisted of sawing down the trees and brush, cutting off or trimming of the limbs, piling the limbs and brush into big piles and burning them. The tree trunks would then be sawed into regular lengths, some for firewood, others for logs for building and others for rails for fencing. When all the timber had been removed the remaining stumps would be grubbed out by means of grub hoes and axes to cut the roots. When the roots had been sufficiently cut, chains were fastened to the stump. Oxen were hitched to the chains to pull out the stump and remaining roots.
These stumps were also burned. When trees, brush and stumps were cleared from quite a patch, then the oxen were hitched to a breaking plow, This was a heavy wooden beam to which was bolted a heavy plow share, to turn the furrow. Ahead of the plow share was a sharp piece of steel known as the "knife" to cut the furrow and the roots in front of the plow share. It took several strong, vigorous men to drive the oxen and manage the plow. It was back breaking work. We can only marvel at the labor involved in changing our forests into present-day farms. After the plowing, boulders had to be dug out and hauled away on what was called a stoneboat, a wooden platform dragged over the ground. Then there was harrowing and preparing the ground for the seeding of the grain to be planted.
Until a few years ago, there was on the farm an old fashioned rail fence, rails split from trees felled in clearing the land. Our pioneer forebears were and had to be clever with axe and adz. It was no easy matter to be a "rail splitter."
Farming in 1800s
After the grain was scythed and cradled, and the grain tied in bundles, these bundles were shocked or placed upright in groups of twelve or fourteen so as to shed the rain and to let the straw dry, the better to loosen the grain in what was called "threshing." After the shocks were dry enough so as not to "heat" and spoil when piled together or stacked, they were gathered by wagon to a place selected for the stacking, a place near a spot to place the straw pile after the grain was threshed or separated from its straw,
So as to save wagon trips, it was advisable to make the wagon loads large. That meant that as the bundles were pitched up by pitchfork on the wagon, the bundles would have to be placed orderly, and thus the load built up to a good size and also so as to keep it from tipping or dropping a portion when conveyed on rough or sloping ground. In my boyhood I became a good, fast loader and could handle the bundles as fast as the pitcher could pitch them up.
Father had the reputation of being one of the best stack builders in the neighborhood. He really was an artist. He taught my brother, John and later me. Father could stack loads and loads of bundles into the inverted cones, bulging from the base and gracefully drawing to a point at the top, They were absolutely water tight. They were built in pairs so that the threshing separator could just squeeze between them.
For ages the threshing was done by flailing. The flail was usually a short fillet of wood loosely attached or tied to a handle. The flailer would grasp the handle and strike the grain with the wooden billet to loosen the grain from the stocks. In many cases, the loose grain stems were placed on a clean floor and oxen were driven around and around over it, thus trampling out the kernels of grain. Then came the mechanical threshing rigs, which were moved from farm to farm and were worked by horsepower, In my boyhood, the steam thresher had already become the thing. The steam engine, steam burner, was already self propelled. Usually horses pulled the thresher from place to place. In some cases, however, the self propelled steam engine pulled the thresher, now called the separator.
The separator was a bewildering and exciting structure on wheels having a big maw at one end emitting loose straw at the other. There were pulleys and belts and conveyor slats, The open maw part of the machine was placed between the stacks. On each side was a shelf from which was pitched the bundles from the stack. A boy, called the band cutter, armed with a sickle or knife, cut the band or twine holding the bundles which were then shoved toward the man at the maw, who in turn shook the straw of the bundle loose and fed it into the roaring machine.
For clean, efficient threshing this "feeding" had to be even and steady. Just inside the maw, was a huge cylinder with steel projections and revolving at high speed. This apparatus was a good successor to the flail and served to loosen up the kernels. Straw and kernels were then blown on to the part of the machine which shook and shimmied so that the kernels settled to the bottom and the straw passed on and eventually came out of the rear to be conveyed out to become the straw stack. Meanwhile, chaff was blown from the grain and Joined the straw. The kernels were run into a shoot, then into a half bushel measure and dumped into a sack and eventually landed into a granary.
In the neighborhood, there might be within whistling distance three or even four of these rigs on the neighboring farms. It was thrilling to hear, even before sunrise, competing whistles, What a wonderful thing to be a farm lad and to have one of these rigs come to your farm! To watch the engine burning straw to make steam! Each engine had to have its engineer or fireman to keep feeding straw, a man to keep a supply of straw handy and a tank man to keep handy the necessary supply of water. There was always a huge, long belt between the engine and the separator. The belt conveyed the power to run the separator and had to be long to eliminate danger of fire from sparks from the engine. The firing of the engine was something to look forward to and the engineer was a top flight hero, untarnished even when he guzzled from his whiskey bottle. Was that not a merited privilege? !!
The separator was also impressive, but it was usually so dusty and sweaty thereabouts and one had to be so careful not to get in the way. Never will I forget the day I was allowed to be a band-cutter. It was dirty and dusty as all get out, but I was a man, a personage! It was a wonderful privilege and I would not have traded places with the President of the U.S,A. I doubt if I ever before or since swallowed so much dirt or dust, but what a wonderful time I had.
But now much of the glamour has been taken away from the harvest. The grain is out and threshed right in the field, no more shocking, nor loading or stacking. Gasoline engines or tractors never can be as exciting as the old straw burners and their early morning whistles.
One of my early remembrances had to do with threshing days. The threshers were on the farm about two miles from home. I had been there and had been brought home with one of the wagons, conveying grain from the separator to the granary at home. Our granary was so built that the team and wagon could be driven right into the granary and the grain dumped from the grain sacks right into the bins to the side. I toddled from the granary up the hill to the house. I wanted a drink. My mother was in the pantry making bread, with her hands in the dough. My thirst unsatisfied, I remembered that my brothers often climbed the windmill in front of the house, so I climbed up the ladder, I must have fallen asleep some distance up.
When I woke up, crying at the bottom, the threshers were in the house eating supper. Hurriedly my cousin, John, put me into the grain wagon and took me to the doctor in Stillwater who set my broken arm. It was a poor job. A different doctor had to rebreak it and reset it.
Citizen and Citizenship
Father had an early experience as an American citizen, which gave him a profound respect for lawyers. He served as a juryman in a murder trial at Hudson. An Indian was tried for murder, The trip to Hudson, the County Seat, although only eight miles away, was no easy matter, The road was cracked, through the woods and rough. I imagine father walked it and thought nothing of it. Indians attending the trial came by way of canoes down the river. Father spoke of good-looking squaws and their papooses. The Indians were doubtless Chippewas, who still have settlements near Grantsburg and Spooner along the St. Croix.
Father later resorted to the law in foreclosing mortgages. He had legal trouble with a character known as Jackass Kelly, It seemed to have been largely a game of wits between Kelly and Father's lawyer, which father enjoyed. I wonder if father's high regard for law might not have influenced my brother John in his taking up the law profession.
It is interesting to note that father did not hesitate long in giving up German citizenship. He declared his intention to become a citizen of the United Status on the 23rd day of February, 1858, a little over a year after arriving in this country. He actually became a citizen in November, 1877, Following is the copy of the Naturalization Record which I copied from an ancient volume in the office of the Clerk of Circuit Court at Hudson. Note the name he used at that time, "Nicholas Thelen."
STATE OF WISCONSIN CIRCUIT COURT OF ST. CROIX COUNTY ST. CROIX COUNTY ss NOV. TERM. A. D. 1877 I, Nicholas Thelen, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and that I do absolutely and entirely forever renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity which I, in anywise owe to any foreign Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty, whatever, and More particularly all such Allegiance and fidelity as I, in anywise owe to the present King of Prussia of whom I have hereto fore been a subject, so help Me God. Subscribed and sworn to, in open Court this 14th day of November, 1877, before me S, S. Starr, Clerk of said Court In the matter of the application of Nicholas Thelen, an alien, for citizenship. Nicholas Thelen, an alien by birth, produced in open court, a certificate of his written declaration of his bonefide intention to become a citizen of the United Status, filed under oath in the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court or District Court in and for the County of Ramsey in the State of Minnesota, on the 23rd day of February, A. D. 1858, and proved, by the oath of two credible witnesses in open court, his time of residence in the United Status and in this State, and his good character, sufficient to entitle him to his citizenship according to the laws of the United States; whereupon the said Nicholas Thelen in open court, took and subscribed the oath to support the Constitution of the United Status, and to renounce all allegiance to all Foreign Powers whatever, and more particularly all such allegiance as he in anywise owes to the Present King of Prussia of whom he was of late a subject, according to law, and was admitted to all the rights and privileges of a citizen of that United States. THOMAS TOBIN S. S. STARR Naturalization Record 1, page 132
After copying the naturalization order in Circuit Court of St, Croix Co. Wis., Oct. 20, 1953, I called the Clerk of the Ramsey County District Court, In the declaration, the name was given as Nikolas Thelen, Date of arrival in U.S.A. was given 9 Sept. 1857. No other information.
Politics & Religion
But there was a political rift between father and Mike which must have begun at that time. Father became a Republican and an ardent one. Mike was an equally ardent Democrat. The difference in politics was certainly a factor in their numerous periods of decided coolness.
The independent spirit of father and Ben became evident in other ways as well. Father often repeated the adage which was a principle in his life. "Paddle your own canoe," He joined no organization nor group. He always wanted to be independent in thought and action, Sometime prior to my brother Edwin's death, there was trouble in father's church. Lucy, Andrew and possibly Rose, had already been baptized Catholic, as had Ben's children. My father often spoke of his resentment that at church services the priest would read off the names of persons contributing and how much. The name of Joseph Wolf, the local brewery man always led the list in amount, at least. Father always figured that Wolf's whiskey was largely diluted and would freeze in the winter In other words, his friend, Wolf, was slightly "shoddy".
Another thing that rankled was that, when the nuns or sisters deigned to come out to the farm and father would go for them, they had every reason to know he was poor and doing his best to raise his family. They never would sit in the seat of the buckboard wagon with him, but would crowd together in the back seat, leaving him alone in the front. What finally ignited the powder keg was the discovery that the priest was embezzling church funds. There was a general exodus from the fold, father and Ben included. Father never joined another church. I remember he attended a revival meeting but was not impressed. On some Sundays, he did get out his German Bible and read aloud from it, of course in German.
His leaving the church, however, raised a problem when Edwin died. The family said the boy's death was a real shock to father and mellowed him so that when I came, I was treated much gentler than the other children had been. But where to bury the boy? He was not permitted to he buried in a Catholic cemetery. It was finally decided to establish a family cemetery. Then Edwin found his resting place. Father was some how prompted to buy an English Bible, I suppose for family reading. He got the help and advice of the priest of St. Micheal's Church, a different Catholic Sect, in the purchase of the Bible, which of course was Catholic. I remember as a child, seeing this ornately bound volume as an integral part of the parlor. It is still, despite its age, in excellent condition, a testimony of its non-use.
At this point, I believe I should report as to Uncle Ben and his particular church experience. Ben owned the stone building known as the Thelen Block, on Main Street, Stillwater. The lower floor was a saloon; the second floor, until the family of four children required a residence elsewhere, was the home. Ben's wife was an acknowledged beauty, Ben was a suspicious soul and jealous. The story is that one day, when Ben came upstairs from tending bar he found the priest visiting his good-looking wife. In no uncertain language Ben told the priest he did not want him there, and to keep away. However, only a few days later, Ben found the priest again visiting his wife. There was a little statue of Christ in the room. Ben threw it out the back window and threw the priest down the front stairs and out. This incident may have led up to the divorce which was bitterly fought up to the Supreme Court.
Unlike my father, Ben was more of a mixer. (I am not trying to pun.) He joined the Masonic Lodge and was a highly regarded member thereof. I don't know what prompted it, but he seems to have been a purchaser of Wisconsin real estate before my father, father purchasing from him. Ben held an eighty acre tract directly west of our farm for many years. Ben was also a hunter and had the reputation of being a very good shot. Mother spoke of Ben shooting prairie chickens and other game. She had a high regard for him and also for the other brother who was a Catholic Cleric.
I never heard of my father ever hunting, but he must have had a gun, because Andrew spoke of "borrowing" it on some youthful hunting incidents.
One of Ben's hunting incidents brings to mind Ghost Hollow, which was a sort of wooded, rocky gorge leading down to the river from the Wisconsin side. One of the things which made the place ghostly was the finding of the skeleton remains of a man by the name of Tacke sitting in a cave along a side of the gorge. The man had died with his "hoots on" and his rifle rusting by his side. It was rumored that the man who shot him did so that he might marry the widow, which he did. Tacke, like another man by the name of Nebis, of whom I will tell later, had fled Germany in the College Rebellion in 1849, and had settled on a farm not far from where his remains were found.
The gorge became a place of mystery. Strange stories grew up about it. Mother told of being on top of the bluff overlooking the gorge and was somewhat terrified (at least greatly impressed) by hearing the sound of neighing horses and mooing cattle in the gorge, when she knew full well there were no such animals there. She told of Father returning home, after sunset, through the Hollow after helping a farmer on the other side of it. As he entered the Hollow, something seemed to catch at his legs and hold him back, so that he could hardly drag himself along. He finally was able to crawl out of the Hollow and arrived home, wet with sweat and bone-weary.
It was told that "dead eye" Ben was hunting one day in that place of mystery. He saw a partridge sitting on a stump and took a shot at it. The bird remained sitting on the stump. Astonished at missing so easy a shot, Ben aimed very carefully and shot again, and apparently missing, for the bird continued sitting. Ben again shot with no better results. Then thinking that he had been shooting at something that merely looked like a partridge, Ben approached the bird and as he put out his hand to touch it, it flew away with the usual whirring of wings. I have gone through the various valleys or hollows all along the river, but I have never found any place that quite fits the descriptions of foreboding and mystery.
The schooling of the children must have been a problem. Andrew told of having to trudge some miles eastward to a little one-room country school. Then he later attended a school called the Lincoln School on the North Hill in Stillwater (now torn down) and also a school in a little community on the northern outskirts of Stillwater, known as "Dutchtown." I remember seeing a picture of the latter school with it's youngsters; Lucy was among them. To attend that school must have been a hardship for Lucy, the oldest child, and Andrew, the second in the family. Even by taking shortcuts through the fields, the distance from the farm was about two miles to Stillwater. Then the walk up to Dutchtown was a good mile and a half. Imagine our modern kids walking that distance through the winter snows and over the rudimentary roads of that time, Later the Houlton School was erected. Rose, the third child, may have attended that school, but she may have gone with Lucy and Andrew. However, Will, the fourth born, and John, the fifth horn, attended the Houlton School, about three-fourths of a mile from the farm home and on the east edge of Houlton, the little Wisconsin village on the bluff, just across the river from Stillwater.
I do not know how far Andrew went in school, but he wrote well and had a good command of English and Arithmetic. I would estimate he had the equivalent of two years in High School. According to his story, he must have been quite a problem child and had more than his share of fistic battles. He was sturdy and quick and strong and must have given a good account of himself, as he willingly admitted.
Lucy attended High School on the top floor of the Lincoln School. The Stillwater High School, which Will, John and I attended, was not yet built. She and her class were about to graduate, when the principal found they were shy of some one subject or credit, I don't remember which, and they were not allowed to graduate. She and most of her classmates never went back to complete the course. She and Rose attended some Academy for girls at Newport, Minnesota, a village in the Southern part of Washington County. Later they both attended the River Falls, Wisconsin Teachers Normal School, and each of them taught school thereafter.
After graduating from the Houlton Grade School, Will and John attended the Stillwater High School. As I was old enough to attend school then, and they were driving a horse and buggy to and from school, they took me with them. I never attended the Houlton School, but started and continued in the old, now torn-down Central School in Stillwater, and then the High School across the street. Will and John, after graduating from High School, attended the University of Minnesota. They and another student there, had a room there and prepared their own meals. Week-ends they peddled their bicycles home, the thirty miles from their campus and back again. In the winter time they came home less often. Will took up the medical course. During his senior year he suffered from rheumatic fever and missed much of his studies. I am under the impression he did not graduate, but had to take the State Medical Examination, which he passed.
John, who had debated a great deal for the pleasure of it in High School on such profound subjects as "Is Marriage a Success," continued debating in college. He and two other freshmen won the debater's contest and prize money against the Sophomore debaters. As Sophomores, they repeated their success. John took up the law course and graduated. He joined the Zeta Xi Fraternity and was popular. He became the rooter-king at football games.
He was able to prevail upon father to go to the Minnesota-Wisconsin football game. Lucy, Reuben Thoreen, my high school pal, Emily and Molly Brunswick, father and I were the party. Well I remember sitting on the wooden grandstand seats and they were 50 yard seats at that. The game was interesting, but what thrilled me was watching John in his white flannels going through his antics in getting the crowd cheering. Father sat through it all silently, but interested. When the game was over, he stood up, looked around at the large crowd and remarked, "Well, I'm glad I'm not the only damn fool."
Of course, both Will and John were graduated and practicing in their professions when I got to the University. I took what is now called Science, Literature and the Arts. I never distinguished myself as a student, or as an athlete; had some interesting experiences and a lot of fun. ln my fourth year I attended night law classes in the St. Paul College of Law in addition to my senior work at the University. The work was too heavy and I had to drop too many of my academic subjects to graduate. I finished my law school, however. Father died on August 9, 1909, when I was twenty. My brothers arranged to finance my schooling. I often felt sorry for myself. A father's counsel and inspiration means a mighty lot to a boy of that age.
But lets get back to the earlier days. The wooden pontoon bridge across the river had been erected many years before. My brothers and I drove it to get to school. On the pontoon section, the part that swings open to allow passage of boats and log rafts, was a tiny house or room attached to the side. This was the office of the toll collector, for it was a toll bridge. In the winter we avoided the toll by driving across the ice. It was fun to see the men and boats working the log rafts. Often the bridge was "open" and we had to wait for the log rafts to be pulled through, It was our standard excuse for being late to school. The bridge had a span, underneath which the smaller boats could pass. One day that span caught on fire and fell into the lake, resulting in the death of a young man I knew rather well.
From the bridge one could look up the river towards the "boom" and see, at times, just solid masses of floating rafts of logs. To the south would be other rafts being towed away by tug boats or larger steamboats. As one looked to the east shore of the river, he would see a huge sawmill belching smoke with it's saws singing as they sliced the logs into boards. This was the East Side Lumber Company. And near it were many large piles of neatly piled lumber - millions of feet of it. Then to the west, along the water front, up and down from the city itself were other equally busy, noisy saw mills, Stillwater, for many years prior to 1900, was the lumber center of the world. There were boarding houses to shelter the mill workers and the "river rats", men who worked on the rafts. It was a town of many saloons. The "Black Maria" or patrol wagon, was always busy conveying drunks to jail to sober up. Lumber Jacks, with their shortened trouser legs, mackinaws and swaggering gait, were a lusty race. In the winter they would work cutting trees in the pineries in the north. In the spring back they would come, spend their money like drunken sailors and, when broke, would get jobs on the river or in the mills. Some of them would work on the farm for father.
Some three miles above Stillwater was the "Boom." There were quite a number of persons who were logging in the north tributaries of the St. Croix. To get their logs to the market, the mills, which would process them into lumber, they conveyed their logs to a stream leading to the river. In the spring, when the freshets came, the logs were then floated down the St. Croix. Each logger had his own mark, or as they call it in cowboy country, his brand, which he had axed on to his log, so as to differentiate them from those of the other loggers. The brands were recorded, almost like a patent, and by law, it was a crime to use another logger's brand. These brands were usually composed of straight lines like a double XX or IX or XII, so that they could easily be applied by a man with a sharp ax, chopping them into the log.
It was the duty of the boom company to collect these logs as they came down the river. Chains and ropes were extended from shore to shore. Usually, the barrier was composed of logs chained together. As the logs were caught, they were segregated according to brand and placed in "rafts." The rafts were placed side by side and held there by ropes attached to the logs. When a tier of these logs thus attached was several hundred feet long, it was floated out of the boom by a tug boat and towed down the river to the mill that had the job of processing it. Sometimes loose logs would be brought down the river, herded together or confined by means of logs chained end to end. These logs might he hauled up to a railroad flat car and conveyed to some distant inland mill.
Many of my high school mates worked on the boom in the summer, mostly as "flunkeys" for the cooks who fed the many "river rats." The men working on the logs had caulks in their shoes, so that they could stand and run on the logs and ride them to their proper place. Some of these men were very clever in being able to stay on a rolling log. Two or more men would Jump on a log, each with a "pike" to balance him, or even without a pike. They could roll the log one way or the other, or suddenly stop it, each endeavoring to roll the other off the log and into the water. The one who could stay on would be the winner, This sport is now called "burling." But now-a-days few can do it.
In logging the men had long pikes, which may or may not be the proper term, with a spike at the end. A log at a distance could thus be reached and pulled or pushed into position. Peavies were used to turn logs over. Men were conveyed on the river in batteaus, described as a long, deep boat holding several men equipped with long bladed oars. Races between batteau crews were frequent. There was much singing, yelling and ribald laughter. Because the men were so often in the water up to their hips, and even over their heads, it was the practical thing to cut off their trouser legs just below the knee. "High water pants" they were called. The clothing was wool and red was the favorite color.
The Boom had a distinctive horn, similar to the moan of the freighters on the Great Lakes. Thin moaning, calling men to work, could be heard for miles, early in the morning before six o'clock. Each saw mill and boat had it's own particular whistle. At the beginning of the day and at the quitting hour, the many toots and whistles made quite a medley of sound.
The boom was the source of rope for the surrounding country. One evening father decided he needed a supply of rope. He and John walked up the Wisconsin side of the Boom for this supply and were in the process of picking some up, when they noticed someone else, possibly on a like quest. Father did not wish to be interrupted so in a very gruff voice (and his voice could be very gruff and menacing) he roared at the intruder, "What are you doing here, trying to steal rope?" The man disappeared precipitously. This incident indicates my father was no angel. However, this is the only time I ever heard of his taking something not his. He was not above pulling a good bluff, nor using his wits. He knew how to "horse trade". But I think my father, in taking the rope, only reflected the times in which he lived. It is a pretty well established fact that the lumbermen of that day would acquire a small tract in the pine forest and log an all the surrounding tracts, not their land. In this way, they made their wealth and reputation as "good business men."
Sisters & Brothers
I have spoken casually of my sister and brothers and of the fact they had all been born in the old log house. Lucy was the oldest. She was rather slight, but wiry, a born housekeeper. When I was a youngster, I felt she overdid the housecleaning stuff because she had the habit of drafting me when I would rather have been doing something else. She saw to it that I pounded the carpets and helped lay them over a padding of straw and than tack them down as they were stretched across the floor. She varnished the woodwork, washed the walls and ceilings and then painted them. She did the preserving and jelly making. When the school term arrived, she taught in some little country school. If it were not too far, she would drive to and from it by horse and buggy. She was a good conscientious teacher and loved the children, but she knew how to keep order. I had the impression she might have had beaus if she were not quite so "waspish" toward them. She was not of the petting type. She enjoyed her independence. In a way she was generous to a fault and a mother to us all. She saw to it, out of her pocketbook, that I had vocal lessons and got to see good shows. She helped the others when they needed help. She bought and paid for her own piano and for her piano lessons. She encouraged all of us to a love of good music, She read the newspaper to father. She kept his accounts and his records when he was a road "Boss." At harvest time she took the place of a man. She would load hay or bundles and was bundle passer for father when he stacked. As I look back into the past, I marvel at her industry and her willingness to do for the family.
After father had died, it was she who really carried on the farm and it's work. It was she who planned the cattle barn and saw to it that it was erected. That was when I was out in Montana attempting to practice law with my brother, John and his partner.
When I was still in high school, she and sister Rose, and brother Andrew all proved up claims in North Dakota. That involved living on the claim for a certain period of time. She lived alone in a tar paper shack on the Dakota plains for one full winter. Lucy could be short of temper and brusque, but I wonder now what the family would have been without her. I doubt if Will and John would have had a chance at a college education without her help. She was truly a grand parson.
Andrew was the next in line. Except that he was larger, he had much the looks of father. He often left home for long periods of time. He was restless and seemed to easily become dissatisfied and quarrelsome. I recall one or more quarrels he had with Will and John after which he left home. He was, however, the "jack of all trades" of the family. He painted the buildings, set up the harvesters, the windmill and other machinery, loved to hunt and to play jokes. For a while he was a camera fiend. He must have been in his early thirties when he married. In some ways he lacked the refinement and thoughtfulness that he should have had, more or less disliked the exchange of presents at Christmas, etc. He could be very congenial when he chose to be. I remember how he made me a wooden sled and once took me with him when he want fishing. I liked him and his strength and I loved to hear him tell his stories which actually got better with the retelling. According to modern standards, I fear Andrew would be labeled a "problem child." He seems to have been involved in much mischief. One day the had tied a thong from his own desk to the desk across the aisle. Quite unexpectedly the teacher started down the aisle toward him. He feared she was coming and he proceeded to duck. She however, spied some mischief beyond his desk, and unfortunately for her, she tripped over the thong and fell. Whatever pain she may have suffered she afterwards transferred to Andrew, entirely forgetting what she had originally set out to correct. He recalled a time when the teacher insisted on his holding out his hand so that she could whack it with her ruler. He stubbornly kept his hand in his pocket, When she was able to yank it out, the hand was clutching the little wriggling garter snake that had been in the pocket. Teacher promptly fainted. Andrew failed to state whether she proceeded with the punishment when she recovered.
Three children were born to him and his wife while they were living in North Dakota on their claim; William Peter, Luella and Nickie. Andrew tired of North Dakota and the family moved back to the old home and for a while lived on what we called the "other farm." But when father died August 9, 1909, Andrew and his family were on the home place. I remember father holding the baby, Nickie, named for him. Father at that time was pathetically thin and weak. Andrew never seems to have been able to stay at one place for any great length of time.
While I was in the service in 1918, the boy, Nickie, suddenly took sick and died. William Peter and his sister attended the Houlton school. Later they both left home, married and established homes of their own. I understand William has a good job and lives in Michigan. Luella and her husband are divorced. She lives in Minnesota. Andrew and his wife, Millie, were not happy with each other and were divorced. He then remarried. He and his second wife, after much moving around, finally settled in Houlton. In his last years Andrew grew partially blind. A heart attack caused his death.
Rose was a beautiful girl. She had large expressive eyes, and was vivacious and full of life. She was the life of the party and loved to bring her friends home with her. She engineered the first real Christmas that I remember. Among other things I got a pair of slippers. One time she brought home a blind man who played the piano beautifully. Rose painted some lovely pictures of which all of us were very fond. She and Lucy would sing duets. She had a good contralto voice and I loved to hear her. She was not the home girl Lucy was, but when she did come home, she always brought presents. She had a lovely personality. She also proved up a claim and thus became acquainted with James S. Rivers, who was proving a neighboring claim, and married him. When her children came she returned home to be near a doctor. I shall never forget the time she was home and I came in from the field and heard her moaning in their room up-stairs. It took mother and Lucy some time to make me understand that Rose was moaning in giving birth to a child, that a doctor was with her and that she would be all right. Rose and Jim had three children: Hermie, a slight little girl, Jamie with black eyes like his mother, and a blue-eyed boy, Raymond. After my father died, there was a division and exchange of his property. Rose and her husband got the north half of the "other farm," Then they moved from their claim and built a fine house and barn on their new possession.
Rose and Jim were neighborly and thoughtful people. They were members of the Presbyterian Church in Stillwater. He attended the Masonic lodge and she enjoyed the Eastern Star. I enjoyed visiting with them. Jim was not a tall man, but sturdy. He had a limp evidently because one leg was shorter than the other. He was well read and a good conversationalist. According to him, he had been almost everywhere in the U.S.A. My brothers did not believe his travel stories and were cool to him, but I always found him kindly and honest and understanding. He certainly was a good husband and father. I shall always remember how thoughtful Rose was when I entered the service in the first World War, and I will always remember the letter little Raymond sent me in which he told how a baby calf "kissed" him. I was back from the service only a few months when Rose was operated upon at the Stillwater hospital. She seemed on the road to recovery when she suddenly died. My brother, Will, who was a doctor in practice, always maintained it was hospital and nurse negligence which caused the death. I'll never forget poor Jim and the three youngsters at the funeral.
When Hermie attended High School, she lived with my wife and me for several months. Jamie lived for a while with his Grandmother Thelen and his aunt Lucy on the home farm. My mind is hazy as to Raymond, but possibly he lived with his father. The farm was sold and the family moved West. Jim has passed on and the three children now have families and careers.
There was not much difference in age between Will and John, Will being older. They did not look very much alike, Will being blonde, with curly hair, John being dark with dark eyes and taller and rangier. I think John leaned upon Will's advice and financial help. When John married, which he did almost directly after college, it was Will to whom he applied for help. In a way, John was more in the public eye as a debater and cheer leader. John was fiery and aggressive. I don't mean to say that Will was the retiring type, He was a beloved doctor in the North Dakota town of Wilton and in the surrounding country for miles around. Even yet, people tell me of his never failing to answer a call, even though it meant going for miles through a winter blizzard. As a young doctor he followed the medical profession practice of that time of achieving age and dignity by growing a pointed Van Dyke beard, He had the first automobile in that part of the country, the high wheeled Oldsmobile. It was open as to top. The high wheels were necessary to navigate the country roads and drifts. Mother and I once visited him and he took us for a ride in the car. We struck a bit of icy road and in the twinkle of an eye we were facing in the direction from which we came. While Will was building up a successful medical practice, John was likewise carrying on successfully as a lawyer in his beloved State of Montana.
Will, early in his medical career, married the girl who was his nurse during an illness. She was a St. Paul girl named Marie. They had one child, Gretchen. Their home was at Wilton, North Dakota, out of which town Will would go for miles across the prairie to attend patients. Poor Marie was the victim of a creeping paralysis of which she died. Gretchen, a graduate of St. Catherine's college in St. Paul, married a young doctor by the name of Newell and lived at Chattanooga, Tennessee. Will was afflicted with a heart condition, probably the result of his rheumatic fever, and suffered great pain. His second wife was Mattie Bigler, who survives him. She is now again a widow.
Of course, Will and John worked on the farm during their vacations, while attending school. They were my heroes and how I hated to see them going away in the fall. They would help father in his highway construction work. They were good farmers and father never had to find fault with them. When the "boys" were around father seemed to be mellow and happy.
But there was one time father lost his temper with me. Either Will or John had brought me a league baseball. It was a beautiful thing and I carried it with me all the time. The boys and father were doing some work on the "Nibes" farm after which they were going to mow hay on the "other farm" further out. They left me in charge of a young team of horses hitched to a lumber wagon to which was attached the mower. I held the reins for a while, but the team seemed quiet, I started to play in the back of the wagon with the ball. Suddenly the team started to run and turned sharply for home. As I remember it, I finally was able to reach the reins and to stop the runaway. However, by that time the mower to the rear of the wagon was badly damaged, and both it's wheels were broken off. Father and the boys returned about then. Father found the ball in the wagon box and guessed I had played with it rather than holding tight to the reins. He was furious and grabbed me from the wagon and was giving me a pummeling when Will and John intervened. As I have already told you father's eyes looked black as night, when he was angry.
Andrew, Will and John loved to fish and hunt. They often went down to the river to swim. They left "the kid" home to do the chores or to see that the hired man did them. If I were allowed to go hunting with them, it was I who had to go through the brush and stir up the rabbits and chase them toward my brothers. I hated to hear the pitiful squeal of rabbits which were wounded. Hunting did not appeal to me, even after I was allowed to have a gun.
Andrew told of two incidents involving Will and John which should be included in the annals. Will and John had gone to a high school party the night before. The next day, Saturday, they were set to plowing in a field just beyond the woods, north of the farm home. Andrew and father were repairing the foundation wall of the horse barn. In the middle of the morning, father acting on a hunch went out to see how Will and John were doing. He found they had done very little. The two boys were sleeping soundly back of the plows. Father quietly unhitched the horses from the plows without waking the slumberers and drove the two teams home and put them in their stalls in the barn. During the noon meal, the two sleepers come home and with abashed looks on their faces and evidently expecting a tongue lashing. Father said nary a word and acted as though there was absolutely nothing amiss and left the boys wondering when the explosion would come, Father evidently enjoyed the situation.
The other incident concerned John alone. Will was at the University. It was winter, John wanted to go to a senior high party. I do not know whether or not father had told him be could not go. The chances are that John had not taken it up with him, After supper John went upstairs as though to bed. After a while there were groans outside. Andrew went out to investigate and then he called to father. John had not gone to bed. He had changed to his best suit, had crawled out of his window onto the slippery roof from which he had hoped to Jump to the woodshed roof and then down. Instead, he lost his footing and fell onto a tub of ice below the water drain from his roof. He was unconscious when Andrew and father dragged him into the house. I had never seen an unconscious person and I feared he was dead.
Father must have been many times in a quandary about his sons. Andrew felt that Will and John were getting more than he had, especially education, He was the first born and father had really aided him greatly in outfitting him for farming in Dakota. Father may have been harsh to Andrew when Andrew was a youngster, but father never failed Andrew later and Andrew was always welcome home even though sometimes he left father shorthanded in the midst of harvest.
John and father seemed to be similar in many ways and both admired the other. Both were willing to and did "paddle his own canoe." When John started out he did get help from home. But I know there were many times when he needed help but his pride would not let him ask. He would not even admit the situation to his wife. Father took keen interest in John and went to Montana to visit with him and to help him financially. Father likewise helped Will but Will was sooner able to help himself to independence.
Being Youngest - the author, Ed Thelen
H.S. Class 1907
[ My father explained that farm boys often quit school early to work full time on the farm. There were 31 people in the graduating class, 21 were girls. ] [ With such a small class, less than say 500, you didn't need a nose ring to be recognized.]
After my brothers had graduated from high school and no longer provided transportation father would come for me after school. He would wait for me down town. He and the gray buggy horse, "Cubby", were familiar sights at the corner of Main and Chestnut streets. He was probably not demonstrative, but I knew he had pride in me. When I needed clothes, he would go with me to the stores. I picked what I wanted. He taught me the feel of wool as against the "shoddy" material which he despised. He saw that I was not a spendthrift and saw to it that I had money for my needs. He wanted me to "hold up my end."
One afternoon after school, I hurried down to meet father. He had just come into town. His left hand was wrapped in a bloody towel. He and I went up into a doctor's office. The middle finger of his left hand was hanging by a bit of skin, the finger having been pushed out of it's joint. The doctor took a look at the bloody mess and asked father to take a drink of brandy to sustain him. This, father refused to do. The doctor cleansed the wound. The finger's severance from the hand was completed and skin was sewed over the exposed joint socket, father looking on and not once flinching. In history I had been reading about Spartans. Father has ever since been my idea of a Spartan.
These were the events leading up to the visit to the doctor. In front of the farm home was the well and windmill. Father had the idea that the machinery of the windmill needed oiling. So he had climbed the ladder leading up to the platform from which he could reach the gears to be oiled. The ladder was some 65 or more feet upward. Father, in the act of applying the oil, inadvertently put his left hand to steady himself, on some exposed gear or cog wheel. At that moment a breath of wind turned the big wheel composed of blades to catch the breeze. That wheel turned the gears which caught father's finger and crushed it out of its socket at its base, Despite the terrific pain and shock father reached out, turned the big wheel back to turn back the gear to release the crushed finger. He then climbed down the ladder, called to mother, who hurriedly placed a towel around the hand. Mother likely helped father put the harness on "Cubby" and hitch him to the buggy. Father would not let her help him drive the two miles to Stillwater. He did that himself.
Children born of immigrant parents sometimes are prone to feel superior to such parents. My brothers and sisters and I never had that inclination. Father and mother did not have "booklearning", but they had a knowledge of life and a native dignity that induced respect, trust and confidence. We all sought their advice. But once in a while I felt abused. I suppose I had that feeling first when father took me out of his arms after carrying me and told me I would have to walk from then on. I remember it was on North Main Street in Stillwater. It must have been a shock to me because I remember it so well. But when I was sick, as I was frequently with nauseating headaches, he would pick me up and carry me upstairs to bed.
He was not prone to give sermons and dissertations on behavior, but here and there, according to the situation, his few remarks made an indelible impression and helped mold my life. His little story of how he quit smoking impressed all of us with the fact that smoking was just a foolish habit. None of his sons smoked to any extent. He did not drink. His example was sufficient. None of his sons developed the drinking habit and we all associated with many who did. He instilled in us a healthy respect for hard work and uprightness. In many ways he was a dictator, some people said "slave driver", but that was in regard to getting work done. He respected the rights and ideas of others and would not interfere in these things. He bitterly resented others truing to dictate to him. I strongly suspect that the periods of coolness between him and his brothers were occasioned by his feeling they were trying to dominate him.
Roads & Poll Tax
Father had large farms and a tremendous amount of work to do on them and yet for years he was road supervisor (road boss) for the town of St, Joseph. Of course the job brought in income but I think father's real incentive in taking the job was the chance to really better the road situation of the town. And father did a real job. With the crude road machinery of that period, he broadened narrow roads to meet the coming needs.
In the early days of his tenure as "road boss" poll tax was still collectible. Each single man was obligated, under the law, to pay a dollar or provide a days labor toward road building or maintenance. There were a lot of bachelors living in the mill boarding house in Houlton. Father and I would get their names and try to collect their dollars. We were quite successful too. In quest of the dollars, we would go into the two or three saloons in Houlton and seek out bachelors. Thus I had an early acquaintance with saloons but not their stock in trade. Of course, families were also assessed for road work which they could pay in cash or an equivalent in hand or team work. At an early age, I learned how to handle a road scraper and do a man's work on the road. And father saw to it that each person did a real days work. Thus it was that he got the name "slave driver." The job meant a lot of paper work and keeping a record of hours, etc. that each person labored and a record of all the money collected. Lucy took care of the records and accounts.
Build New House
The farm home was built a year or two before my advent into this "vale of tears." Father and mother must have put a lot of planning into the structure. It is sound and shows little result of the passage of years. It was said that father stood over the carpenters and brick masons and saw to it that they did not skimp on their work.
However, before the building was erected the hillside just north of the old log house, had to he practically scraped away or moved and then leveled to provide the yard for the new house. This was quite an engineering feat requiring in those days, an immense amount of shovel, spade and scraper work. One can still see how the hillside was torn away.
When the house was built, then came the Job of landscaping to cover up the earth fill. Andrew told how he and father dug up and transported hundreds of young balsam trees from the Willow River near Burkhard and from the Apple River west of Somerset, Wisconsin, to the home place where they were carefully planted. Among these young trees were some white pines. These trees grew and made a beautiful background for the house. After father's death in 1909, there followed some years of low rainfall, during which borers ravaged and destroyed most of the balsams but left the stately old white pines. My sister Lucy and I replaced most of the balsams with spruce and Norway pine. These trees are a fine memorial to the parents who had the foresight and industry to make a home a place of beauty.
Devil's Lane & Hex
A part of the farm was contiguous to the Soens farm. When father acquired these acres, the Soens's boundary line was not established, Mr. Soens maintained the line was on what father called his land and Mr. Soens put a fence on a line which he claimed was the boundary and which Mr. Soens claimed was on his land. Mr. Soens promptly tore down the fence father had put up. There then began a contest to see who could keep his fence up the longest. Neighbors called the strip of land between the two "up and down fences," the Devil's Lane. Whether a law suit was necessary to settle the dispute I do not know. A surveyor finally established the boundary. Both father and Mr. Soens were satisfied and the devil had one less lane on which to roam.
After the Devil's Lane incident and father and Mr. Soens were again polite to each other, Mr. Soens became the proud possessor of a forerunner of the modern grain binder. This contraption, drawn by horses, cut the grain and lodged the stems and their heads onto a platform from which they were elevated, probably by a canvas, to a binding machine which in turn bound and tied the stems into bundles and then ejected them. This was certainly a long step forward from the days of the scythe and cradle. Nowadays the modern harvester uses twine to bind the bundle and has other refinements. But the machine that Soens had used wire instead of twine. Father, from across the fence, saw Mr. Soens proudly reaping his grain with his new machine and went over to admire and inspect and probably to envy. Mr, Soens did not object. But after father had his fill of looking and returned to his own side of the fence and Mr. Soens attempted to start his machine, the thing refused to work or function. Mr. Soens thereafter maintained that father had "behexed" (bewitched) the machine.
The name "Nibes" occurs several times in this narrative. He, like many others, had fled Germany in 1849. Part of the farm is called the Nibes place. I learned to pronounce it "Neopus." According to the land records, Wilhelm Nibes made original entry of the property Nov. 12, 1856, That means he made claim to it through government right. However, he failed to pay his taxes and the land was forfeited and sold for the taxes in 1861. Mr. Nibes was able to buy it from the person who bought it for taxes. But Mr. Nibes again failed to pay his taxes and a Mr. Runals became owner through tax title in 1867. My father bought the property then from the Runals in 1873. Father then sold the property to Nibes for $527.19. But Nibes does not have that money and cannot pay it but promises to pay and to secure that payment gives father a mortgage for that amount. There is no record that Nibes ever paid off, but the record shows that Nibes even borrowed an additional sum from father and in 1888 gave father an additional mortgage of some $2204.91. Mr. Nibes did not pay up and father had to take legal action; that is he foreclosed the mortgage and got title to the land.
From this dry record and some of the stories I have heard, this old German bachelor must have worked upon father's sympathies. Anyway, the record indicates no financial gain for father. This fellow had personality. He had a huge red beard which he braided with twine. In his one room shack he had a multitude of cats which scattered like leaves at the approach of strangers. The place was overrun with lice. One wonders what food he prepared for himself and his cats. He loved his liquor. He was a regular attending member of the German Sangverein, a singing drinking society in Stillwater. He boasted of having "drie stimme" (three voices). He probably had a terrific voice range, After a meeting of his club, he could be heard for a great distance singing lustily on his way home. One night he approached our house. He was driving his yoke of oxen and was riding on his wagon. His voice was in full volume. Suddenly there was silence° After a while he came to the door sans oxen and wagon. Investigation revealed that down the lane, the oxen were on one side of the fence and the wagon on the other. This was a peculiar situation. It was explained by the fact that the oxen had been running due to prodding by their master. Suddenly the pole of the wagon had fallen so that the point went into the ground and the wagon with its passenger was jerked up and thrown over the fence. Father and the boys put things to rights, all except the Jug of liquor which was broken or at least empty. Wilhelm took up his song and continued on his way to his shack in the little clearing in the woods. If my information is correct, the old boy spent his last days in the County Home.
Father had to foreclose another mortgage. That is how he became owner of the "other farm." We called that the "Warman Place." I don't recall the buildings on the farm which was largely wooded area and wild. It was only about a mile from the river and about three miles from the home farm. I remember my fear as a child when we all slept for the night in an open shed close to those woods. We slept on some hay. We could see the moon in the skies. What really frightened me was the unearthly screaming in the woods nearby. Even yet the remembrance causes cold shivers to run up and down my back. It was a wild cat, about as large as a lynx which it greatly resemb1es. Hearing it, you would swear it was a woman screaming in agony. Imagine that sound coming out of wilderness in the middle of the night.
Some years later, I was plowing near this spot. I was alone. I was amazed to see some young dogs come out of the woods near me and play in the clearing. They paid no attention to me, At noon my brother John brought lunch from home to me at the shack and granary father had built about a half mile east from where I was plowing. John seemed amused when l told him about the dogs. He hurried home and returned with his shot gun to where I was plowing, still in the company of the dogs. He shot three of the dogs. The others ran out of range. The dogs were young timber wolves.
The Warman place was rather hilly with here and there a swamp. Father proceeded to drain one swamp into another and the second swamp into a little woodland lake. The drainage ditch had to be dug by hand and it was deep. Father would have been an excellent engineer.
The farms kept us busy. Father usually planted most of the "other farm" to rye, the reaping and care of which would not conflict too much with the farming operations of the home farm. But of course the haying of the marsh meadows did conflict with the haying time on the home farm. While we were working on the "other farm" we would stay over nights and sleep in a frame house newly built there. It was a one room structure containing a home-made table from which we ate and benches instead of chairs. We got upstairs by climbing a ladder up the wall. The floor of the upstairs were loose boards on the joists forming the ceiling of the room below. There were two or three double beds upstairs. We slept on straw ticks and our bedding was simple as we usually slept in our working clothes. Our noon day meals were brought to us by horse and buggy from the home place. There was a stove outside so we were able to warm up things for the other meals. It was living reduced to simplest terms. We could wash ourselves at a pond about a block away where we watered the horses. Drinking water we brought in 5 to 10 gallon cans from the well at home. It was strictly a man's world until Lucy came at noon with the hot meal. When Andrew was with us, he kept us more or less entertained. He was usually up to some form of mischief, He always claimed that Will talked in his sleep, that he could carry on a regular conversation with him, that although Will mumbled to begin w1th, you could really understand him quite well as the conversation would develop and that Will's favorite topic of conversation in his sleep was rainbarrels.
We all got a "kick" out of Harry Hill, a neighbor lad. Harry was a rather timid fellow. He had been constipated and that day had gone to a doctor in Stillwater. The doctor had prescribed some pills which had not been effective by the time Harry had climbed the ladder and laid down for sleep. Harry had a bed near the ladder and Andrew lay next to the window. In the dark hours of the night the pills were becoming effective. Harry feared the dark outside. His groans awakened us and we surmised the situation. Finally Harry could stand it no longer. We heard him gingerly descend the ladder. He reached the door and had opened it to go out when Andrew reached his are out of the window and scraped his hand up and down the house siding. That grating horrible noise outside the house was Just too much for Harry. He slammed the door shut and hurried up the ladder. How he must have suffered for the rest of the night!
(End of Original Manuscript by Ed Thelen, 1889-1956)
Some "vital statistics"
Reta Shepard - Edward Thelen married June 28, 1922
Father 1828-1909 Mother 1848-1933 they married 1863 Edwin 1882-1886 Lucy 1865-1940 Will 1876-1935 Andrew 1868-1948 John -1953 Edward 1889-1956 Rose 1871-1921