Farming in an early day was not very remunerative, but the
desire to get rich quick was inherent in the human breast then
as much as now. This was the trouble with the two older Kramer
brothers. In the spring of 1848 Peter Joseph tried his hand at
prairie breaking. Having only twenty acres in cultivation, it
was necessary to increase the acreage. We started with four
Yoke of excellent oxen and a big breaking plow. This man, who
had not the least idea about managing any kind of a plow run the
breaker, from eight to ten inches deep, otherwise it would
either twist out of the ground or not turn the furrow in spite
of all he could do. This was killing the oxen and wore me out
hollowing and whipping the poor brutes to keep them moving.
Stepfather then tried his hand at setting the plow share and we
got along somewhat better.
After getting about ten acres turned, this
enterprise was abandoned. Another "bonanza" with more
glittering prospects was embarked in. The balance of the summer
was spent in putting up a large building out of white oak logs
on the bank of Clear Creek and a long bridge over the creek.
The building was intended for a distillery. Three yoke of oxen
were traded off for a double set of copper distilling
apparatus. Just about the time when everything was ready to
start up the distillery a terrible cloud burst caused a regular
Johnstown flood on Clear Creek, sweeping everything in its
course. Some of the logs of the building had lodged in the
timber lower down the creek and were gathered up again, some new
logs cut and another building, considerable smaller than the
first, erected on higher ground away from the Creek. Gottlieb
Schilling was hired, a well dug near the new building, a smaller
copper kettle had been installed, and once more we were ready to
commence making whisky. After getting the fire pretty well
agoing, stepfather went to the house leaving the boys to keep up
the fire, which they did so well and faithful that when he
returned in order to put on to the kettle the copper "worm" the
apparatus which condenses and collects the escaping steam- as
high wine- the greatest part of it had already escaped into the
air as steam. Only about three gallons of rather weak whiskey
was the result of the first run. This disgusted the entire
family and the whiskey making business was voted down as a
promoter of our future welfare and prosperity.
Farming had been neglected, hay was put up too late
in the season to contain much nourishment, stock got very poor,
and corn had to be bought until finally our means were
exhausted. About the first of April stepmother Polly advised the
two Kramer brothers that they had better go to Burlington and
work at their trade- brick laying and stone masonry that she
with us children would try to raise a crop and "keep the wolf
from the door." When they left we had $2.50 in money and one
sack full of oats left after seeding. One yoke of oxen, the same
that father had bought; one balky mare and an old big plug horse.
The oxen had to make their living by picking the tender sprouts
and buds from trees and brush and eating the old dead grass
until new grass came in May. On this kind of feed they were not
able to do much work; still we managed to plow about half a day
with them and the other half with the plug horses. After
marking out the ground with a single shovel plow, the horses
were allowed to pick grass, while we planted by hand with a hoe
in the afternoon. In this way we got ten acres planted and five
more plowed during the month of May.
About the first of June I had bought two bushels of corn from John
Stroup, taking it to the Black Hawk Mills to have it ground.
Shelling it with great care at the mill, it was scant 1-1/2
bushels, I had paid 75 cent per bushel for it. Mr. Wm.
Shockley, the miller, then said to me: You tell Stroup to give
you the other half bushel, that will feed your team a few days
then you can finish your plowing, by that time I will have your
corn ground into meal- he was then getting his burr ready for
business. We stopped at Mr. Stroup's, Brother Peter, although
four years younger, going on his twelfth year, who had more
cheek than myself, asked Mr. Stroup for the other half bushel
and got the answer, "I am selling shelled corn at $1.00 per
bushel, "I ask the indulgence of the kind readers, for narrating
this seeming trivial matter, but our further experience with
this "thrifty" Pioneer neighbor, will show, why I
One fine warm Monday morning, mother Polly suggested that Peter
and John hunt up the oxen and go after the corn meal, telling
the boys that they might enjoy themselves awhile at the river
fishing. She would drop the seed (we were not quite done with
planting corn) While I was drawing the furrows sister Kate would
cover the corn with a hoe, until I had marked out enough for the
days work. The cattle had wandered to the head of the creek,
feeding on slough grass, hurrying them home the boys yoked them
up and hitched them to the hind part of the running gear of the
wagon, making a convenient cart for those days. Getting started
late- near eleven o'clock- they made good time to reach the mill,
where they spent most of the afternoon waiting for their grist.
On the way home the oxen, being warm- ran into a hog wallow pond
near Stroup's pasture, to drink and cool off. The one ox, Jake,
got his hind legs twisted and mired down. The boys had to leave
him, coming home at nine o'clock in the evening with one ox and
a little corn meal the Miller had loaned them.
About day brake I brought in the horses from the grass and Peter
and myself started out to where the ox was left. The night
being warm, the ox seemed to have taken his lodging in the water
fairly comfortable. Peter walked into the water with the last
gallon of oats in our possession, in a bucket. Old Jake, the
ox, had not lost any of his appetite; he evidently relished the
"sample" and seemed to be ready for full feed of it. We put a
chain around his horns and tried to pull him out with the
horses, but did not succeed. It seemed so cruel too. Peter
tossed off his shoes and little jacket and started on "a mile
heat" to Goodhart's place. A big stout man was coming out of
the yard with two yoke of oxen. "Are you Mr. Goodhart?" "I am."
"Will you be so good hearted then to help us poor boys to get
our ox out of the mire?" Mr. Goodhart called his hired man to
bring another chain and they arrived in a very short time. A
chain was put around the body of the ox and a steady pull made
by the well trained ox team. Mr. Goodhart waded in, took hold of
the ox's tail near the rump and applied his giant strength
lifting, while the team was pulling. The old ox was eventually
landed on THE DRY without being hurt, but his legs being numb,
was not able to stand up. We thanked Mr. Goodhart for his
kindness and then set to work washing and rubbing the ox's legs,
and then we started home for dinner and to get advice what to do
now. After dinner Mr. Berg, Mr. Wendel Horras and Mr. Paul
Peiffer, three noble and sympathizing men, went with us to see
what could be done.
The old ox was sunning himself, but made no effort to get up and
failed to get onto his feet in spite of all our assistance.
About six o'clock Mr. Stroup and his hired man- Wm. Fowler-
came down to see what was going on. I asked Mr. Fowler if he
would give the ox some corn that evening and next morning, which
he promised to do, then I asked Mr. Stroup to measure out a half
bushel, telling him I had no money. Evidently thinking that I
referred to the shortage before spoken of, Mr. Stroup flatly
refused. Stepping off a rod or two, he motioned to his man
Fowler to come to him. Peter Besser, the little scamp, slipped
behind Fowler to listen, and soon returned, reporting that
Stroup had said to offer the boys a half a dollar for the
chance, saying grass will bring the ox out all right. He
evidently based his proposition on my lamenting that it was too
bad the faithful old beast had to die of starvation. I refused
his unprecedented generosity of fifty cents for the steer,
putting the blame onto Peter for driving too fast. Peter
however said "I will take the fifty cents." It was now nearly
sundown, and we had four miles to go, taking our friends home on
the running gear of the wagon. Very little was said on the way
but the few words uttered were not flattering to the business
tactics of the "thrifty" Mr. Stroup. Mr. Goodhart, while looking
for his stock shortly after, saw the ox nibbling grass some
twenty rods from Stroup’s pasture with the fence double staked
and ridered and a lock put on the gate and further that the
steer had been offered to a mover for a fresh cow.
On going to bed that Saturday night, we asked Mother to call us
early next morning as I wanted to go and consult Julius Heider
about repleving the steer, at the same time Peter was instructed
to keep the pony and the mare in the stable. About 9 o'clock
mother came to our room with sheets and linen changes for Sunday
morning. We were to all appearance sound asleep. As soon as
she retired, we slipped out noiselessly, got on to the horses
and started for Stroup's pasture, carefully avoiding riding the
road so as to make no tracks.
Arriving at the south side of the pasture Peter had to hold the
horses while I crawled up a slough towards the corn crib near
the house. A watch dog gave a bark, the door at the house was
opened and the dog jumped toward the corn crib. This scared the
horses and cattle there, and, me too. Laying flat on my belly I
saw old Jake, the ox, trotting south to get out of the way of
the horses. When passing within a few rods from me, I took my
hat, letting on I had salt in it, I crawled toward him calling
his name and recognizing my voice he followed me down to the
fence, which was opened for him. After passing out, the fence
was layed up again with the exception of the top rail. "Jake"
marched on in the middle of the road and we rode on the side of
the road in the dry grass to avoid being tracked.
Going about two miles this way we left the steer and passed on
home to get some sleep, expecting the steer to stop at Berg's.
When mother got up next morning old Jake had arrived. Calling
us boys she said, "Jake has come home." Feigning ignorance, I
asked, "Your brother Jacob?" When I got out I saw the two oxen
lying side by side as if they were yoked together, poor fellow!
He would not have to starve again the next winter.
Keeping mother fully in ignorance, proved the best policy in
this plot. I started to Heiders. Peter and John went hunting.
About 10 o'clock a.m. Mr. Stroup and his man Fowler put in their
appearance, asking mother if she had seen the ox, they had
bought from her boy? She told them she did! "Did you hire
anybody to turn him out?" "No sir!" "Have you any objections to
us taking him back?" "Certainly I have. When my husband comes
home, he will pay you for pasture, corn, and the fifty cents.
"This did not satisfy Stroup, he very much doubted what she
said, and when he asked about us boys getting the steer out, her
answer was a positive "No sir." Still he was shaking his head
in doubt. Doubting her veracity aroused Polly's ire, stepping
up to Stroup with her sleeves rolled up, her fist close to
Stroup's nose, the very picture of an insulted and enraged
Amazon, she told the avaricious wretch: "I dare you to doubt my
word. I have no brother here just now, but I am able to protect
myself against your insults."
Stroup did not lose any time backing away out of her reach and
leaving the premises. Sister Katy, who was present, related to
me on my return what had happened.
Well we raised a splendid crop, that season, some fifteen acres
of corn, some ten acres of very fair seed corn and five acres of
spring wheat, which, cut with a grass scythe, putting a bow on
the snath, leaning the cut grain against the uncut. Sister Katy
and Peter with sickles picked it into bundles, ready for me to
bind. A neighbor stacked it for us. Then Pa Kramer returned
from Burlington, a sick man. We children, I the oldest not yet
sixteen years old, put up 50 tons of hay that season. I doing
all the mowing and part of the shocking, and yet, that was my
happiest season during my stay at home.