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Henry Fredelake - Eighty-Four Years in America


Posted By: S. Ferrall - IAGenWeb volunteer
Date: 5/9/2010 at 04:41:02

Eighty-Four Years in America
by Henry Fredelake

When I attempt to look into the future, 100 years seems like a long, long time. But when I glance backward over my life, a life that has covered the greatest portion of 100 years, it does not seem nearly so long. In fact it does not seem so long ago that I was a lad in my teens, roaming along the Mississippi river with the Indians.

As soon as I learned that the newspapers of the county were asking for help from the old-timers in compiling their centennial edition, I decided that this would probably be my last opportunity to take part in the recording of history. Having lived in Guttenberg longer than any other person, entitles me, I believe, to take part in such an edition.

I was born in Germany in 1850 and came to this country with father and mother when I was a little over two years old. We sailed up the river and established a home here when the town was composed of but a few scattered houses.

Eighty-four years have come and gone since that time, but I am still here and am counting on celebrating my next birthday which will be number 87. Undoubtedly there are older people in the county than I am, but I am unable to find anyone who has lived in this community as long.

During that span of years it has been my opportunity to witness many changes in the community. I can remember it as a pioneer settlement, when we lived on wild game and associated with our wild neighbors, the red men, who have long since passed on to the land of their dreams, their happy hunting grounds.

I have seen various industries gain footholds in this section. Mining and lubmering were among the first. Then came milling, lime burning and button cutting. I watched all these industries get underway and rise to a point where they provided a livelihood for many people. But just like the Indians, they rose to their peak, flourished and then died. Father time treats industries just like he handles people. They all have their day and then pass on.

In this case the lead in the mines dwindled until operation was unprofitable and there the business ended. Lumbering flourished. Great saw mills whined steadily. I have seen the river black with logs as they were being towed to the mills. Then the forests gave out. The scream of the saws died away and has not been heard for many years. So it was with other lines of work. Button making is still staggering along here, but it is only a fraction of what it used to be.

I have also seen this old river in all of its moods. I have seen it at its highest and lowest stages. Back in 1880 I paddled my boat over its waters when it was up to the 22-foot stage, the highest on record. Then in 1884 I saw it at its lowest when the water went down to two feet below the zero mark.

Transportation is another item that has undergone many changes. In the early days our only means of travel and our only connection with the rest of the world was the steamboat on the river. All of our commodities were brought in or sent out over this route. Then came the railroad. In fact I helped build the road across this section of Clayton county in 1871.

Our road building machinery of that day could hardly compete with the modern variety. Cat skinners, shovel and dragline operators were unheard of then. In their place we had our mule skinners who operated the old fashioned scraper. Of course we had our shovel operators on the job, but in those days such an operator took a firm grasp on the good hickory handle of his shovel and heaved the dirt and stone into place by the strength of his back and shoulders.

There was no such thing as a five-hour day when this road was being build in 1871. We sweated and swore from dawn 'til dark, but the road bed took shape and the rails were laid and finally, the iron horse came steaming up the track on its maiden trip. Thus began the first change in transportation. When the railroad came in the steamboat started going out. Just another case of an industry having served its time and passing on. Since then, has come the automobile and the paved highway. Now great trucks dot the highway, stealing freight from the railroad just as the railroad took it from the river steamer.

When we landed at this early-day settlement, father and mother established a home near the central part of what is now known as main street. In fact our home was not over a hundred yards southwest of what later became Turner park. Homes were few and scattered at that time and the site of the present town was pretty much prairie then. Wild hay grew all around our place and I can remember when we used to cut and stack this forage and use it for food for our livestock.

The country was still wild in those days. We lived on what we could raise and on what game we could kill and preserve. Of course hunting at that time was not such a hard job because game was plentiful. Outside of town there were farms scattered around here and there where settlers had cleared away small tracts of timber. Most of these were located in the valleys along the creeks, because in those days the pioneers picked out farms where water was handy.

As time passed more settlers arrived and more homes appeared. I can remember when the ground now occupied by the public school was a thriving lumber yard. this was also the county seat at that time and the stone building, on second street, just north of Turner park, now known as the Otto Lake building, was the court house. I can't give the dates from memory, but I remember the building of Ihm's store, Ben Hartman's home, the flour mill now owned by Niemeyers, and the breweries along the hill with their cellars in the bluff. All of these early business places were built of stone.

In a few years after moving here I was a lad big enough to carry a gun and fish pole. I spent much of my spare time on the river and it was during this period that I formed most of my acquaintances with Indians. These wild brothers seemed always on the move. They carried their families and all their possessions in their log canoes. They would camp at one spot for a day or so and then move on to another place.

Many were the tricks in hunting, trapping and fishing that I learned from those Indians. One old warrior was especially friendly with me. He was known at Indian John and claimed that he had seen eighty winters. His seamed and scared old face would seem to bear out his claims.

One time when I was hunting across the river from town a tribe of 85 redskins came up what is now called the Cassville slough. They pitched their camp on the island near the piling dam now stands. I visited with them for a while and one of the braves presented me with a stone hammer and a stone axe. I still have them among some of my most treasured possessions. The axe is shaped similar to the ordinary single bitted axe except that it has no eye for the handle. In place of an eye there is a groove cut around the blade. The handle was then split and slipped into this groove and lashed fast with skin thongs. The axe weighs eight pounds and must have been a terrible weapon when hurled by the mighty arm of one of those savage warriors. They also used these axes in hollowing out logs for their canoes.

I was always on friendly terms with the red men, but I will always remember one experience that might have lead to war. I was hunting ducks on the island one day when my dog seared up a fowl right in front of me. The duck sailed away on a low line. I snapped up my shotgun and was pressing the trigger when the hawk-featured face of an Indian bobbed up out of the tall grass right in front of the duck. I barely managed to jerk the gun aside to keep from shooting him right in the face. We had both been after the same duck and had not seen each other. There were other members of his tribe along and had I shot this hunter I doubt if they would have taken it as an accident. I might have had a hard time saving my scalp.

The squaws carried their papooses in pouches slung on their backs. When they were working they would hang the pouch on a limb and there the baby would swing. One time when I was with one of these tribes one of the papooses began to fret and cry just as a present day baby does when it gets hungry. One of the braves had brought in a catch of muskrats and tossed them on the ground. The mother set her foot on one of the rats and with a violent jerk tore the long slim tail from its body. Then she walked over to the tree and rammed the gory tail into her baby's mouth. The present day mother would have been horrified at this savage mother's technique, but the results obtained were quite satisfactory. The papoose seized the tail like a white baby would a teething ring and the squalling ended.

These are just a few of the incidents that I have noted among the red men.

As I look back over the past it is some times hard to picture the present town as it was then. There were no modern schools and there was no ballroom like Lakeside pavilion. But we had our dances just the same. I remember when Turner hall was built. At that time there was a bowery up on top of the hill where Dr. G.C. Miller's dairy farm now stands. We could go up there and dance all afternoon for a quarter. Then in the evening we would go to Turner hall, pay over another quarter and dance until the sun came up.

~Clayton County Centenial edition, July 1, 1936

~Notes: Henry and Salina (Voss) Fredelake lived in Guttenberg. He worked for the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. Their children were: Anna (Dittman); Mary (Aulwes); George; John; Augusta (Cassatt); Henry; Otto; Hilda (Reed) and Elsie. For more info. about him, see his obituary on the Clayton co. obit board.


Clayton Biographies maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
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