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Anton Hoffert (1854-1940)

HOFFERT, MEISEL, REINART, GEHLING, THIELEN, BUCCHOLZ, LANGEL

Posted By: Richard Gehling (email)
Date: 6/27/2010 at 14:18:34

Anton Hoffert was born in 1854 or 1855 at Naperville, Illinois. He was the son of Antoine Hoffert and Mary Forstoge. Antoine had come to the United States from France, and had settled in the town of Naperville, Illinois, just west of Chicago.

Anton grew up in Naperville. His 17-year-old mother seems to have died soon after his birth, and his father was re-married to a woman named Mary Mathers. Mary not only took over the care of baby Anton, but also provided her husband with a dozen other children, among them Anton's childhood playmates, John and Joseph Hoffert.

Anton was blessed with red hair, and - in later life - always sported a mustache. When he first came of age he moved to Buffalo County, Nebraska. While in Nebraska he met the recently-widowed Augusta (Meisel) Schneider, a neighbor of his brother, Joseph, who owned land in nearby Phelps County.

Augusta was the eldest child of John and Fredricka (Staugie) Meisel, who had married in Prussia before coming to the United States. The young couple had settled first in Pennsylvania, then in Bureau County, Illinois. Their daughter Augusta was born 17 May 1855 on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. She was eventually joined by a brother (Henry) and four sisters (Nancy, Bertha, Jane and Mary). All of them called her "Gusty." Augusta grew up scrubbing the family clothes and helping care for her younger siblings, and so never received any type of formal schooling.

When eighteen years of age Augusta married twenty-year-old George Schneider. The ceremony took place in LaSalle County at Mendota, Illinois, on 21 February 1874. The bride signed the marriage certificate with an "X". She and her husband farmed for a time in Illinois. A son named John was born on 28 July 1878 and baptized into the Lutheran Church. Shortly after, the family moved to a sod dugout in Juanita, Adams County, Nebraska. The dugout may have already been built, but very crudely, because Augusta later said snakes were living there when they first moved in. The next spring Augusta and her husband purchased 160 acres of land in Phelps County, Nebraska, from the Union Pacific railroad. The land cost $400. It lay in the northwest quarter of section 25, township 7, range 17.

Two years later George died of pneumonia. Augusta had so little money that the neighbors had to pitch in to help buy the coffin. After the funeral, Augusta and her son returned to her parents' farm in Bureau County, Illinois.

In 1881, Anton Hoffert seems to have followed Augusta back to Illinois. He and Augusta were married on 15 March 1882. The ceremony took place before a Justice of the Peace in Princeton, Illinois. The newlyweds then returned to Anderson Township, Phelps County, Nebraska, sometime during the summer of 1882. On September 22 of that same year, Anton Hoffert made a final payment of $350 to the Union Pacific Railroad for land in the northeast quarter of section 27, township 7, range 17, five miles west of the later 1887 town of Funk, Nebraska. Augusta eventually transferred to Anton her portion of the nearby farm, which she had inherited from her first husband, with her son, John Schneider, maintaining his half of the inheritance.

A daughter named Mary was born to the Hofferts on 8 November 1883. She was baptized a Catholic like her father. Eleven years later, Augusta and John also joined the Catholic Church. Anton Hoffert was listed as a farmer in two Phelps County historical documents: the 1889 Phelps County Map, and the 1890-91 Wolfe's Gazetteer Farmer Directory of Phelps County, NE. In the first his post office was located in the town of Axtell, NE; in the second in the town of Kearney, NE.

Times were tough in Nebraska during the last decades of the 19th century. The year after Anton and Augusta returned to the state, a fast-moving prairie fire spread southwestward from the town of Kearney and scorched much of Anderson Township. Four years later, in 1886, another great prairie fire swept across much of Phelps County. Anton Hoffert himself is said to have started a small prairie fire while lighting his pipe. Ever after, he rubbed every match between thumb and forefinger to make sure it was completely extinguished.

The years 1890 and 1893 were both bad years for crops, while 1894 was a terrible drought year. There was always little or no wood for the kitchen fire, so buffalo chips - remnants from the great herds of yesterday - had to be collected by the wheelbarrowful. For a time small bands of Indians still roamed the Nebraska prairies. They would often stop at the Hoffert house to demand food. Gypsies also stopped by. Once they kidnapped a little neighbor girl.

Anton and Augusta continued farming their land until 1919, when the time came to retire. Together they had endured years of drought and tornadoes and prairie fires, and they were ready for a long rest. They gave their two farms to their children, John and Mary, with the understanding that they would be allowed to shuttle back and forth between the two households for the remainder of their days.

After retirement, the Hofferts first moved to the Iowa farm of their daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Pete Reinart. They stayed there until the Reinarts sold the farm in 1927, then moved with them into a house high on a hill overlooking the little town of Halbur, Iowa. The house in Halbur had both an enclosed porch at ground level and an open upstairs porch. There were two bedrooms upstairs, one for the daughters and another for the Hoffert grandparents. A cave for storing fruits and vegetables was built into a cement wall behind the house. From this cave a small tunnel (to be used in the aftermath of tornadoes) led to an above-ground cob house. In the corner of the cob house was a two-hole privy. The property also had a barn, with two milk cows at first, two brooder horses, and some chickens.

Anton was sixty-four when they first came to live with the Reinarts in Iowa, and was already showing symptoms of the facial skin cancer that would eventually claim his life. His granddaughter, Genevieve Reinart, would long remember "the many times he went by train to the nearby town of Manning, Iowa, to have the cancer burned off his nose, lips, and face." "My grandfather Hoffert used to forecast the weather," she later wrote. "If the sun would go down red in the west it would be windy the next day. If he saw a rainbow in the morning, it would rain before noon, etc. He was usually right too."

Augusta was also sixty-four at the time of the move. She had long before taught herself to read and to sign her name with her left hand. She was looking forward to many more years of piecing together quilts of her own design, but was already experiencing a painful edema in her legs, an edema which in another eight years would necessitate the use of crutches and a wheelchair. She would nonetheless eventually finish more than four dozen quilts.

"My grandmother Augusta," Genevieve Reinart later wrote, "never cut her hair and had braids down to her waist...She was very superstitious: if a spoon dropped, a boyfriend was coming. If a dishcloth dropped, it meant dirty company. If a rooster crowed in the morning, it meant company. If a black cat crossed your path, it meant bad luck. Going under a ladder meant bad luck. If you broke a mirror it was 7 years bad luck. If you saw a snake while you were pregnant, it meant the baby would have a birthmark of a snake, etc. She used to make Pepperneuse cookies for Christmas."

After more than ten years with the Reinarts in Iowa, the Hofferts went to live with their son, John Schneider, on his farm in Kearney County, Nebraska. They remained there for the rest of their lives. Anton died of cancer 24 May 1940 at the age of eighty-five. Augusta passed away from heart failure on 23 December 1945 at the age of ninety. Both were buried in Bethseda Cemetery, Axtell, NE.

(From the research of Mary Ann Rhinehart, Genevieve Reinart Gehling and Richard Gehling)

Firstborn Sons of the Gehling Family
 

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