The following story of the life of William Knappe, my grandfather, is taken from his life story written for Mrs. Charles Knappe, my mother. He was eighty-four at the time and living in
Milwaukee at the home of his widowed daughter.
Grandfather was educated in Germany, and had no knowledge of English until he was on his way to America at the age of twenty-two. He found it hard to express himself in English, but as my mother
could not read German, he wrote his whole story, 104 pages of small script, in English. Many of his words are really German and in his original spelling, and as they sounded to him. He calls it his
"unorthographical" writing. He taught himself English and read widely in that language, from Shakespeare to popular authors, but always with an English-German dictionary at hand.
I tried to put his story into the third person, but it sometimes became so involved that I decided to retain the first person, as he wrote it. I have used only the parts I felt would be
interesting to people other than his family. He did
not treat the later years in so detailed a fashion as the earlier ones, but he knew that my mother knew about the later years, and of course, the earlier ones stood out in his memory. Those of us
who are living now wish very much that he had gone into more detail as to the times on the farm one hundred years ago. -- Mrs. Harry Wieder
I, August Wilhelm Knappe, was born in 1826 in the town of Wettin, Germany. It was a town of about 12,000 people and situated on the Beale River. There were six children in our family, four sons
and two daughters. I was the fifth child and third son. One brother was six years younger than I and my oldest brother was ten years older than I was.
Our father was a locksmith and taught that trade to each of his four sons. He also owned a hardware store, a workshop, and four tracts of land amounting altogether to about sixteen acres. We
lived in a big old house and were in quite comfortable circumstances. My father was not a strong man physically, but always worked hard.
My oldest brother, when he became a young man, went away from home to travel some about the country, and finish his education, as was the custom at that time. He got a position with some
English engineers who were in charge of building a railroad in Germany connecting the large towns in our part of the country. These men became interested in him and advanced him so that he
was a second engineer in charge of bridge building.
My second brother was not so interested in work as my oldest one.
Father wanted him to farm our farm land, but he didn't like to do work in the dirt, so Father put me at the farm work when I was about twelve years old. When I was
nineteen my father died and that left my second brother, Albert, in charge of things at home. I felt he was so bossy that I could not stand having to take orders from him all the time, so
I wrote to Fritz, my eldest brother, and asked him to try to get me a position on railroad construction work. Fritz promised me he would get me a place if I could get excused from military
duty for a year and worked under Fritz at Brandenburg. I found him a hard master also, but it was a good thing for me.
One of the chief engineers stopped at my work bench one day and asked questions about my militia duty and took me to Potsdam to work in the shops there, with the purpose of becoming an engineer.
I worked here twenty months, did my last militia service and was free from that.
My mother wrote me that Albert, who had been managing the business at home, had married. His wife and my mother were not congenial and could not get along together. Albert wanted to change with
me, and that I should manage the home business while he got a job in the shops. I agreed to do it.
Times were getting hard in Europe. There was much political unrest. France had declared a republic and all over Europe were revolts and riots. When Albert began his work away he did not like it.
His wife had to live at her old home and things were not as they had hoped.
I was very happy at home managing the business. My school days sweetheart and I became engaged and everything was very bright. My girl's mother loved me like a son and we had our future
all planned in Wettin.
Albert lost his job and began pleading for Mother to take him back and let me go, as I had no real responsibilities. I was an easy mark, and after much discussion we decided that I would
give up my place at home and go to America.
My sweetheart could wait 'til I got on my feet financially and then we could be married and be happy together. We had a big farewell party and I got ready to leave for the new world. My
mother would pay my passage and give me enough to live on until I found work.
The tenth day of August, 1848, my youngest brother Carl and I started for the nearest railroad station, which was fifteen English miles away from Wettin. We had my trunk on a wheelbarrow and took
turns pushing it. When we reached the station I bade farewell to my brother and took the train for Berlin, where Fritz was now stationed. I visited with Fritz and his wife for three days and then
went on to Bremen.
I found three young men in Bremen who were also planning to go to America. One was a locksmith, like I was, one was a shoemaker, and one a molder. The locksmith had a brother in New Orleans who was
an engineer on a steamboat, so he wanted to go to New Orleans as he thought his brother could help us. We all took passage for New Orleans.
We each had to pay $85.00 in gold, but the ship would not begin her voyage for five days. The steamship company would lodge us and board us from the time we bought our tickets till we reached New
We were put on a small sailing vessel with our baggage, and taken 125 miles from Bremen to the harbor. When we reached Bremerhaven we were put into a new temporary building made of rough lumber.
All the passengers were taken here, men, women, and children. The building had two large rooms. One was for the people to live and sleep in, the other housed the kitchen and dining room. A band
of musicians played from three o'clock in the afternoon until midnight for dancing and amusement.
Most of the people were poor people who lived around in different parts of the country. They spoke so many different dialects I had a hard time understanding many of them. About two-thirds of
them were men. There were some very well educated and fine young men, but most of the crowd were poor and poorly brought up. Most of the women were Low Dutch.
The steamship was loaded the eighteenth of August. A high wind arose when we had gone only a short distance so we lay there for three days and most all the passengers were seasick. When it
cleared up we could still see land. We could see beyond Calais in France. A good wind arose and kept us going night and day. The people on board had a good time dancing and singing.
The food was not very good.
I had bought an English grammar and got busy trying to learn English but found it very hard. I was a good dancer so danced with all the girls on board, they all liked a good dancer.
As I said, the food was poor, the drinking water was worse. And not enough of it. As we couldn't t use sea water for washing, we couldn't t wash often. None of us realized how great the ocean was.
Our winds were favorable and at the end of four weeks we passed the Gulf Stream and the West Indies. We sailed very near the southernmost point of Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. Two days
later we reached the Mississippi water and could drink all we wanted, wash ourselves, and get our clothing clean once more. It was sometime after we reached fresh water before we saw land.
A tug soon came and pulled our ship upstream. The water everywhere was full of vessels of all kinds and a big steam tug pulled three sailing vessels behind it all the 130 miles to New Orleans. At
first we saw nothing but water as we went up the Mississippi, then dead trees, then green swampy land, and then small houses of fishermen. Next, timber began to grow on both sides of the river. At last, on the twenty-third day
of October, 1848, we reached New Orleans after sixty five days. New Orleans was a big city with wide streets, but dirty. The houses were low as is the case in all tropical lands.
I had intended to go from New Orleans to Cincinnati by steamboat and who ever planned a longer journey stayed on the ship. Agents came on, wanting to hire men to work on sugar plantations. There
were sixteen men who decided to take jobs at $16 a month. I had learned some English on board ship, so acted as interpreter for them and persuaded by the agent to take a job in a blacksmith shop
on a plantation twenty eight miles above New Orleans. I was taken by boat the next day to the plantation.
The plantation lay by the side of the big river that ran between high dikes. The valley land extended from ten to twenty miles on each side of the river and was low and flat. The cultivated land
was diked in about twenty acre pieces. The fields were laid out in squares. The residences along the river were two-story frame buildings with stairs and porches on the outside. The house where I went was closest to the dike. The main road was graded high and on both sides of it were dikes with water between them and the road; and there were little goldfish in the water. The roads were about every twenty rods with ditches on each side. It made a beautiful picture. About one and one-half miles from the river were the Negro quarters. There was a white man who was a carpenter and one who was a wagon-maker.
The houses for the slaves were in two rows and were all new and made of wood and set on blocks six feet above the ground. All were in one story high and were for the use of two families. There were
four windows in each house but no glass in the windows, just shutters to keep out rain. There were 300 Negro slaves, most of them were young and all had plenty of children. The children were kept
by themselves with some old worn out women to care for them. As soon as they were old enough to work they must do something.
On the other side of the road from the slave quarters were the fine brick building for sugar refining. This plantation had just been started three years before, so everything was new.
When we came here the latter part of October, the sugar harvest was just beginning so all the Negroes and white men were very busy. The sugar maker was a white man of French descent.
The next day after I came the owner showed me the blacksmith shop and the tools that the Negro blacksmith had ruined and asked me if I could repair them. I told him that I could but that it would
take quite a while. They had broken the screws in the vises and had done much damage to many of his expensive tools. They had been sent to New Orleans to learn their trade, but had not been
I went to work and my employer often came to watch me. He seemed pleased with my work, and was very genial towards me. He told me that his early home was in Tennessee.
His name was Harrison Polk. His father was a brother of James A. Polk, who was at that time the President of the United States.
This young man was just my age but was a taller and heavier man than I. He told me that his father owned over 25,000 acres of timber land and was wanting Harrison to manage it all.
He told me that if I could stay with him and manage his shops and machines and work for at least three years, he would pay me $300 a year. In the summer the work would not be so hard and he would
like for me to go with him to New Orleans to have good times at the theatres and concerts. He asked my first name and said, "I will call you Bill and you call me Harry."
One day young Polk sent a Negro to ask me to come to his room as he was sick. I hurried and was quite warm when I arrived there. He told me I should have used one of his riding horses as he had
three, and one was always ready. I told him I didn't know how to ride and he said, "Then I must teach you."
He was lying down and a Negro girl was fanning him. He looked as if he felt quite sick and he was silent and closed his eyes for a short time, so I saw a guitar hanging on the wall and went over
and took it down. The strings were all right but it was not in tune, so I quickly got it in tune.
The Negro motioned for me to come closer and when I did, Mr. Polk looked up and asked me whether I could play. I told him I could play a little, enough to accompany my songs. He then asked me to
play and sing. After that we sang together sometimes, while I played, and he told me he wished his voice was as good as mine.
It wasn't long before I began to feel sick. The other Germans who worked on the plantation were also sick. All the water used on the place came from the Mississippi River and we thought that was
probably the cause of our sickness. I felt I couldn't go on being so sick as I would soon die. I told Mr. Polk about our sickness and I felt we must go farther north and try to regain our health.
After being five weeks on the plantation, we went back to New Orleans by boat and December 8th took passage for St. Louis. When we got there we found they had snow, ice, and mud. There had been
many Germans on the boat so we all went to a large German hotel. Board and room was $4 a week there and that was too expensive for me, so I went and found a place with a family where they charged
only one dollar and a half for board and room for a week. Most common workmen found places like this.
About Christmas time I was on Market Street looking into a window at the goods on display, when a woman passing spoke to me. I looked around, and knew her at once. She and her husband had been on
the boat when we crossed the ocean. She took me home with her so that I might find the way. Her husband came home from his work in a short time, and we had a very good time together.
The man of this family worked in a shoe shop and earned $30 a month. They had rented a large house with four large rooms and two small ones in the lower story and the same in the upper part. They
lived in the lower rooms and rented the upper rooms and she boarded her roomers, so they were able to make a good income from their house, besides having it rent free. She had a room for rent
so I moved from my other place and lived at this home.
I had a very good time with these friends. The man had very good judgement and knew enough about America and Americans to teach me much. We continued our friendship until I left St. Louis for Iowa.
It was not only in Europe that times were hard. They were hard in the United States also. There seemed to be no work to find. I was without work all winter. The second week in March I found work
in a shop at $5 a week. After three weeks my employer paid me $6 a week. I had told my folks when I left home that I would not write until I found out something about how things were in the new country. I wrote home the first of January, 1849. By then I was feeling sick
again. My friends said my sickness was homesickness and would be cured in time. At that time there were no mail carriers in St. Louis. Everyone had to call at the Post Office for mail. All letters unclaimed were published on Fridays.
On May second I saw my name on the letter list. I almost ran to the Post Office and got my first letter from home. It was not a joyous letter. There was much news of sickness and trouble. My affianced
wife was very sick and had thought she would die, but was some better but still very weak. My brother Albert's wife and my mother were still not agreeing and Mother was leaving to make her home
with my sister, so I was very much discouraged and heartsick, but I felt I could not go back when I had nothing myself, so I must stay.
On May eighteenth a great fire broke out in St. Louis. It started from a burning wood boat. It floated against others and set many fires. There was a strong wind from the southeast and the fire
spread from the waterfront out into the city in three directions. The fire department did all it could but it was a losing battle with the flames. Finally the wind changed to the northwest and blew
the fire back over the burned area and then the firemen were able to put out the fires. If the wind had continued in the southeast, the whole city might have burned. There were fifty-four steamboats
destroyed and other damage was estimated at $11 ,O00,000. Business was very dead for a while.
It became hot earlier than usual that spring, then rainy weather came and it was very damp with high humidity. Cholera broke out. The first week in July there were over 200 deaths a day in St. Louis.
The streets were almost deserted.
Most all the wealthy people left the city. Cholera was prevalent all over the country at this time but St. Louis and New Orleans were hit hardest. I was very sick but recovered. I had been very
homesick before getting the bad news from home but was much worse afterwards. I kept working and new that I could make much more than I could in Germany, so decided to stay in St. Louis.
In July, 1850 my youngest brother Carl, who was seventeen and one half years old, arrived on a ship from New Orleans. The cholera had broken out on the ship and it remained in quarantine many days
at an island down the river. Some of my friends went down to see the boat and found Carl there. I was very glad to see someone who was directly from home and who could tell me how everyone was and
how things were going. My sweetheart had not recovered and they now feared she had consumption, so she didn't seem to grow as strong as she should.
I kept on working and found work for Carl, but he didn't like to work as he should, so was usually dissatisfied with any work he got and I was quite discouraged with him. Things went on. I worked
as usual all the time.
The first of April, 1851 I received my last letter from my dear girl. She bade me farewell as she knew she would soon die. She died March 31st and her mother sent me word her last thoughts were of
me. I was very sad and couldn't see much of a future for me.
Some of my old friends from Wettin came to St. Louis and persuaded me to take some music lessons on the guitar. I liked my teacher very much. He was a fine man and very interesting. We had a wonderful
friendship and his counsel helped to make life more worthwhile for me.
About this time business opportunities began to come to me. A sawmill owner who wanted a young man as a partner and to keep his book, tried to get me to join forces with him, but as I was so ignorant
in respect to this work, I did not care to try it. I kept at my work and kept on saving my money.
In the fall of 1852 I again felt sick, but had been working hard and long, so decided to take a real rest from work. I thought I might spend a couple of weeks in a hospital, but one of my friends told
me he thought I could rest very well at their home if I cared to try it. So I went there and stayed three weeks, just lying around resting and reading, and it did me much good. By the time my three weeks had passed I felt fine once again.
One day while I was at this home I was looking from the window and saw a very attractive young girl sweeping the walk at a house nearby. When Mrs. Heinz (the hostess where I was staying) came in, I asked
her who the nice looking girl was at the neighbor's home.
Mrs. Heinz promised me that she would try to get her in to meet me. The girl, however, was very shy where young men were concerned, and it was some time before we became friends, and I found that her
name was Henriette Winkler and that she came from Saalfeldt in Thuringia. She had come from Germany with some of her townspeople. A woman with four small children was coming to America to be with her
husband who had come over several years earlier. She needed help to care for the children and Henriette was glad to get a chance to come with her. She had been in St. Louis about three years.
Our friendship grew and in February 1853 I asked Henriette to marry me. I was then 27 years old and was thinking very strongly about getting a little farm somewhere and leaving St. Louis. I was tired
of working in a shop for someone else. I wanted to be independent.
Henriette told me she could not marry me as she still owed the people, who had paid her overseas passage, some of her fare. I told her that I had saved $1,300 and would be able to pay her debt if she
would consider marrying me that Spring. She consented.
In the latter part of March I started out to find a farm. Before I went, I gave Yette $50 to buy the things most necessary for a new household. She was to quit her job when her month was up and get
things ready so when I
came back, we would be married.
The next Sunday I boarded a steamboat going up the Missouri River. I took a friend with me. His name was Lorenz. On the boat we met a Mr. Spicer, who was on his way home from California. We Germans
soon became acquainted with Mr. Spicer and told him we wanted to buy land. He said he lived in Iowa and near his home there, many squatters were willing to sell their claims for very little money.
When we found out what squatters were, we decided to go there and buy land.
We went slowly up the river. The river was high and the current was strong. We got along quite well until we were a short distance above St. Joe. There the current was so strong the boat could not
go on. We tried it two or three days and then Mr. Spicer said, "Boys, let us take it by foot. It is only eighty-five miles from St. Joseph to my farm." There were seven of us men and we did walk the
85 miles. We found Iowa just as Mr.
Spicer said. We found many squatters who wanted to sell their claims. Most of them didn't have much in the way of improvements. I liked a claim joining Mr. Spicer's land. It was very nice, level
land and had a nice stream of running water on it. My partner, Earl Lorenz, did not like it. He thought the house was too near the water and it would be an unhealthy place to live. We decided on a
claim a couple of miles farther north with plenty of timber on it. It was quite hilly but Lorenz liked this much better because he wanted to go hunting, which he liked very much better than to work.
I planned to go back to St. Louis to get married. Karl Lorenz was to stay in Iowa, file on the land for me, and pay for it with the money I left with him, and live on the farm till I got there. I
went back to St. Louis. Yette had been thinking about the farm in wild, new country and thought it would be too hard to start up a new home there so far from all her friends. I gave her a description
of how it was in a new country that was so freshly settled, and I knew it would be very hard during the first years. I gave up entirely leaving St. Louis.
I wrote to Karl Lorenz to come back and we would give up the farm. He came back and told me I was a big fool to give up such a chance. He wanted me to let my young brother Carl go with him back to
the claim. They would transact all the business there and live there and work two years getting the place into some sort of order, so that it would be a better place to live. Then Carl Knappe and Karl Lorenz went to the
Iowa farm and I decided to work two more years in St. Louis and save all the money I could. Henriette and I were married May 23rd, 1853. All our possessions consisted of a bed and a few household
articles in two rented rooms.
The next day, however, we went shopping and bought such other things as were necessary to start a new home and begin housekeeping.
I had to begin work at 630 o'clock each morning. I took my lunch in a pail and worked six days a week. I got home each night about seven as I worked until 630 and it took me one half hour to walk
from my working place to our home. I earned $10 each week and kept out fifty cents each week for myself. We didn't spend much for our household expenses, so we saved quite a bit.
In just a little over a year, May 27th, 1854, our little boy Albert was born and we were very happy. We thought he was a fine little fellow and were very proud when our friends praised his advanced
ways and good looks.
I forgot to say that Carl Knappe and Karl Lorenz came back from Iowa in the fall of 1853, and left the farm in a neighbor's hands. They said they were sick so I couldn't blame them too much. I paid
$1,000 for the farm of eighty acres and Karl Lorenz had nothing but his boat fare when he first went to Iowa as expenses. They didn't go back until I went.
I finished my two years work in St. Louis. We all moved by steamboat up the Missouri River to Iowa on April 1st, 1855. We had a pleasant journey and found the farm in good condition, but the livestock
didn't do so well. Our cow was sick and we were badly cheated when we bought another from our neighbor. We put the house in order first. It was a two room log cabin with a fireplace. It was not too
well built, and the snakes and small animals often came in.
Yette was not afraid even of the snakes and would carry them out on a stick when one got in. One time when she was alone, she thought she saw a bear when she started out for water, so she stayed
inside until I got home.
The fence had to be rebuilt. There was much work. Neither one of us had ever had to do this kind of work and there was so much for us both to learn. We had a very hard time learning to milk cows
especially. This first year we had nine acres in crops. We had corn, potatoes, and vegetables. We had two cows, two yearling heifers, and two little calves, two work oxen, eight big hogs, and
quite a lot of little pigs to grow up in the future.
We had to make hay by hand. There was wild grass hay on part of our land. We cut our corn for fodder. Lorenz did not like to use a scythe to make hay so he got a job with a saddler in Sidney
until winter. Then he came back and went hunting every day until I asked him to turn the grindstone while I sharpened the ax to cut wood. He complained and I gave him a piece of my mind so he
got mad and left. He started to California in the spring of 1856 and we never heard of him again. He didn't like to work but he was honest or he would have cheated me on the land as he had entered
it in his own name as I was in St. Louis at the time, so if he had been dishonest he could have claimed it all.
In September 1856 a baby girl came to our home. We named her Minnie. Just about a month after her birth our little Albert died and we were full of sorrow.
The winter of 1856-57 was very cold and very hard for us. Our house was hard to keep warm, the floor was cold all the time. Yette began to suffer from chillblains and the torture that comes from
In the spring of 1857 I was so discouraged that I offered my 200 acres of land (I had bought 120 acres more land for $150 in June 1855) for half price but no one wanted to buy it. We both wanted
to go back to St. Louis. We both worked very hard and the worked helped the sorrowing somewhat. By the summer of 1857 I had thirty acres cleared for cultivated crops. Our livestock kept increasing.
Little Minnie was a sturdy child and brought us much comfort.
On June 21st, 1858, our little Charles was born. I was very happy to have another son and things no longer looked so black. I began to quit wishing so much to go back St. Louis and began to feel
that a farmer's life was much more
independent than a city man's.
By 1860 there were 60 acres claimed from the timber and under cultivation. Another daughter was born that year. We named her Clara. Our livestock had increased to thirty-two head of cattle, three
good horses, twelve sheep, and a big herd of hogs. We began to plan for a new house to take care of five people who were now crowded into the little log house.
Political feeling began to run very high. In 1861 the new house was begun but war broke out and the two young men who had been engaged to build it enlisted after the carpenter work was all begun.
Ail business was suspended. There was no ready money. Gold and silver were out of circulation and paper money was almost worthless. We were not too near the war center of fighting but it was bad
Yette's family in Germany had been writing that her youngest brother Julius wished to come to America. He had no money for his passage but would work to pay it back when he got to our home if
we could send for him. Yette's
mother and father were both dead by this time, so there was nothing to keep Julius in Germany.
We felt we could use his work on the farm and in the building of the new house. I had no money, and could get none during these hard times, but I wrote to my mother back in Wettin and asked her
to advance the passage and outfitting money needed. This I was to repay to her when times became easier.
We expected Julius in the spring of 1861, but he did not arrive. We feared that he might come into the United States by way of New Orleans and been impressed into the Rebel army.
In February 1862 a letter came from an immigrant agent for German immigrants at Baltimore. Julius Winkler had lost his papers with our address and all other addresses. He had to write back to
his home town and got my mother's address and from her our address. The agent was writing us for $10 to pay Julius' passage from Baltimore to Hamburg. He had been working for a gardener there
for board and lodging ever since he reached the American shores.
To show how business was at that time, I didn't have $10 I could send; so I had to go to Sidney to my friend Mr. Mettleman (a banker) who was able to give it to me. I sent the money to Baltimore
and in due time Julius arrived. The
date was May 31, 1862. His help was appreciated during the busy summer. He stayed with us until his marriage a couple of years later.
In 1862 we had another daughter. We named her Paulina. The war was on in earnest. Many were killed on both sides. In Iowa the fighting was not too near, so work went on and the farm was slowly
improved. There was much
more comfort in the new house. We now had much livestock and plenty of feed and seed but could not sell produce to any extent.
In 1864 we had a new daughter and named her Antonia. Times were hard and business dull. Everyone was hoping to have the long, bloody war end and the North mourned when Lincoln was killed.
After the war ended everyone breathed more freely. Business began to open up at once. Money soon became plentiful. Grain and other farm produce had been stored but now we could sell and get
good prices. In 1866 our Emma was born. In 1867 I bought 100 acres more of land for $2,000. I was a good farmer now and had chances to buy more
land on each side of my farm and did things on a larger scale.
In 1867 two of my nephews and a niece came from Germany. They were named Koeppel and stayed on the farm and helped for some time.
In 1868 daughter Lucy was born. In the summer of 1868 my sister, Mrs. Jaeckel, with her husband and six children, came and settled in Hamburg. Mr. Zutz and his sons had been carpenters and
lumber men there.
I hadn't heard anything from my brother Carl for many years and we had supposed him dead. In 1870 he came for a visit and we all had a wonderful time. Carl had been in the Union army, was
taken prisoner, and later exchanged. In 1872 Carl's wife came for a visit and as she and Carl had no children she persuaded us to allow one of our daughters to go to make her home with them.
Minnie went home to Davenport with Auntie Knappe. Minnie was sixteen years old at the time. Carl was running a grocery store in Davenport and doing very well.
I promised Carl's wife that I would make them a visit as soon as I could. I started from Hamburg January 10th, 1873. It was very mild the day I left Hamburg, but soon began to snow and before
we reached Burlington the storm had
turned into a blizzard. I had to change cars at Monmouth, Illinois and waited a long time for the other train. When they finally started the train stuck in a snow drift. They were stranded there over
night and until afternoon of the next day
before they got help and it was almost dark when they got to Rock Island. I got out, walked across the river, and went to Carl's store in Davenport. I really enjoyed my visit with them very much.
Carl had been expecting me two days before I arrived.
I persuaded my son Charles to go to Davenport to a German school one year, but he didn't like it well enough to go on to school. I wanted him to be educated in German, but he thought English was enough
. I have neglected to tell of some of the children. Our daughter Henriette, or Hatty, was born May 29, 1871. Our son William Frederick was born October 4, 1874, and our last daughter, Ida, was born
the twelfth of February, 1878. Now this~is the full amount of the family.
I kept on living on the farm, buying farm land here and there as I had money to invest, and selling again if it seemed good to do so. We prospered and our children grew up around us.
They have been well and made their marriages from among their friends here and there. I would have preferred to see them marry those of German descent, but mostly they did not take my advice. — William Knappe
My grandfather's story goes into detail about many family matters that do not have any general interest, but he kept on at farm work until he was seventy-two years old, when he retired with a bang. He died in 1914 at the age of
The land first bought from the "squatter" in 1853 lies in section twenty-eight of Washington township, and is on the north side of the road directly west of the North Liberty School. The 120 acres bought in 1855 is probably an 80 acres west and 40 acres east of the original land bought, but I have never known exactly. Almost all the Knappe farm is now owned by Dr. J. H. Bang and his wife. Eighty acres in Sidney township is under the ownership of the W. F. Knappe estate, but belonged with the Washington township holding for many years. This farm first passed from the ownership of Wm. Knappe in 1912.
The North Liberty School was called Germany School in early days because almost all the early settlers in the district were German. At times it was possible to hire a teacher who could conduct classes in both English and German. The name of the school was changed to North Liberty at the time of World War I, when anything German was frowned upon.
When, in his story, Mr. Knappe speaks of buying land here and there the land was usually bought when there were profits to invest. Those days land was a very good investment. He owned many different farms at different times. In
the early 1880's about 500 acres of what is now "Hollywood Ranch" of the Bluff Road was owned by him and sold to Col. Reeves, the grandfather of Azile Wanamaker and Jean Good. The first farm bought by the Nenenman
family in this county was sold to them by Wm. Knappe. The farm north of Hamburg now owned by Mrs. Minnie Hazlett, once belonged to him. The Otoe Food Products Farm owned by Morton and Ella Steinhart, and occupied by the Lyde Shirley's, and sold by him to Charles Knappe, his son, in 1886. Many others of less interest to present residents passed through his hands. He was always pleased if the people to whom he sold were able to make good on their
Of Mr. and Mrs. Knappe's ten children who grew to maturity, all lived in the county of many years, excepting the oldest daughter, who at the age of sixteen went to Davenport, Iowa, to make her home with her uncle. She lived in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin most of her life, but is now at the home of her daughters in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and will be 102 years old on September the 24th.
The oldest son, Charles, bought the farm now owned by the Steinharts in 1886 and moved there in 1887 from Fairbury, Nebraska. He died in 1912, but the farm remained under the ownership of his wife and children until sold to
The younger son, W. F. Knappe, owned the farm directly east of the North Liberty School and farmed there until the late 1940's when failing health caused him to retire and move to Snohomish, Washington where he would be near his sons. This farm was sold to Floyd Bright and son last year and Carl Bright now lives on it.
Of the married daughters, Mrs. Wm. Snow lived in the Thurman community until her family moved to Montana in 1913. Later she lived in Denver, Colorado.
Mrs. Thomas Hines lived mostly near Hamburg, but the family owned and lived on a farm near Shenandoah for several years and also on a farm near Thurman. Her daughter, Mrs. Carl Sjulin, and her son, Arnold Hines of Belcher
neighborhood, are residents of this community.
The youngest daughter, Mrs. Andrew Trudeau, when first married, lived on the old Trudeau place south of Carl Athen's and the Inter-State Nursery land just east of Hamburg. Later she lived in Nebraska, Colorado, and then
in Oklahoma. Her daughter, Mrs. Mildred Duncan, now lives in Hamburg. Of Mr. Knappe's grandchildren, twentyseven are still living. They are scattered from the state of Washington to Florida and from Wisconsin to Oklahoma. Only Mrs. Carl Sjulin, Arnold Hines, Mrs. Mildred Duncan, and Mrs. Harry Wielder still live in the county in which he was a real pioneer.
The cattle feeding spoken of in his story, was usually from his own stock. His cattle were pastured on the hilly land, and the calves put into the feedlot at what was then considered the proper age, about two years, and fed until they
averaged between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds. He raised mostly Angus cattle. When fattened, the cattle were driven on foot into Hamburg, loaded into freight cars, and sent to Chicago to market.
Hogs were always raised and fed with the cattle. They were fed to weigh about 300 pounds. Lard was a chief article of export. All the neighbors were called in to help haul hogs to market. They were all loaded into farm wagons. Only five or six hogs could be hauled in a wagon. In warm weather hogs were easily overheated so the wagons started before daylight. This was the way it was done when I was young. In the really early days, hogs had to be slaughtered on the farm, the meat cured, and then shipped by boat.
— Mrs. Harry Wieder
The community of Hamburg, Iowa, as its name implies, was liberally peopled by immigrants from Germany. From about 1860 to 1880 - during this area's most formative years - an endless stream of individuals and families fled
Germany. Some left because of hard times in the old country, some to avoid strict Prussian military service, and many came to the "promised land" after receiving glowing letters from friends and relatives already on the scene.
Quite naturally, since not one immigrant in a hundred spoke anything but his native tongue, the newcomers tended to settle in areas where persons from their native country were already located.
Such was the case with Hamburg. Persons like William Knappe, one of Hamburg's earliest pioneers, soon gathered to them a whole host of fellow Germans, and soon friends of the friends appeared.
The story of Mr. Knappe's life, in large part, helps explain how a given community attracted its early settlers. This story could be typical of any of a dozen families living in Hamburg today, whose grandfathers, and great-grandfathers left home and country to chance fortune in a raw frontier country.)
~ transcribed and contributed by Steve Fischer