RECOLLECTIONS

(Written by Linda (Bertsche) Jacobs)


August 11, 1832 a son was born to Mr. & Mrs. Michael Bertsche of Erlenkopf, Bavaria, Germany. John Bertsche I, was the youngest of three children. Joseph had come to the United States and settled in Kansas. Anna married a Kinsinger (who was a brother of our mother's father) and settled in Missouri or Kansas.

John Bertsche I took over the Michael Bertsche farm in Germany after his brother and sister left. He was married January 27, 1857 to Katherine Hauter. Ten children were born, namely, Joe, Jacob, Peter, John, Barbara, Susan, Katherine, Phoebe, Lena, and Elizabeth who dies in infancy. After the French and German War in 1870, the family decided to migrate to America. They lived in Ohio and Indiana, but Illinois became their home.

Father started out on his own when he was about 21 years old. He lived on a homestead in Ogallala, Nebraska. His sister, Lena, married John Gyssler and they homesteaded there too. The adventure was not successful. The wind, dust, drought, and insects took their toll, and they all came back to Illinois where father rented a farm from Seiberns, a man from Gridley, who had a number of farms in the vicinity. Barbara kept house for him until she married Joe Kinsinger. Then John and Lena Gyssler kept house for him until he married. A new house and barn were built. Here on the Seiberns farm, seven children were born. The Seiberns were wonderful landlords and came to the house about once a year. It was from Grandpa Seiberns and son, Walter, that we received our first Hershey bars. Our father, with the cooperation of the Seibern family, did much to improve the farm. He always did many extras because he farmed as if he was the owner. He and his son, Almon, and his grandson, Hilary, after him, reaped the benefits and continued the pattern of keeping the place and improving it.

Some of the renters were John Bertsche I, Jacob Bertsche, Joe Bertsche and John Bertsche II, who lived there until his son, Almon, and his wife, Vera, moved there and raised their eight children. Nyle Bertsche rented a Seibern farm until his death in 1938, after which his son, Milton, took over and farmed for his mother until his brothers and sisters were grown. Milton then married and continued to live there until the farm was sold in 1972. He and his family then moved to the place that father owned, where they still reside and farm. The old homestead is occupied by Hilary Bertsche where his children were born. This is one of the few Seiberns farms left.

There was much work on the John Bertsche II farm. The three boys, Almon, Nyle, and Orville did a man's work. Mother husked corn, shocked oats, milked cows, and cared for a large garden. Sarah took over the house work.

Father was a speculator. He made trips to Missouri and Ohio, looking for good investments in farmland. He had a farm in Missouri. Uncle Joe Bertsche, and Jacob Bertsche, his brother, had moved to Missouri from Illinois. His sister Katherina Kinsinger, had moved to Missouri also. The Missouri farm was a failure. The income scarcely paid the taxes. He sold the farm in Missouri and couldn't find a farm in Ohio or Indiana, so he bought one in Illinois, the place where Nyle's oldest son, Milton, is now living. The old buildings were torn down and a new set of buildings erected. The crib was built first, then the barn, machine shed, hog barn, and last the house. The land was paid (or, but father went into debt for the buildings.

Our father had daily devotions every morning until he found evening a better time to get the family together. He gave thanks at every meal. He read from the Bible and commented sometimes at length and closed with a prayer. We were anxious to get started to school, so with one eye on the clock and one eye on father, at Amen, we were soon on our way. The daily devotions, nevertheless, were a great influence on our lives and our beliefs.

The church was two miles west of our home and going was a must. Well remembered were the trips in a bobsled and evening services. Later we made the Meadows Church our home church.

There was also a weekly trip to town with Mother usually driving the horse and buggy. The children took turns going on the trip. There were trips to Pontiac twice a year. We would go to Pontiac by horse and carriage to buy clothing and essentials for the year. We would leave the team at the livery stable while we did our shopping and usually we ate a meal at a restaurant, which was quite a thrill.

One Christmas we took a two day trip to Goodland, Indiana with horse and carriage to visit relatives. We spent Christmas with Uncle Peter and Aunt Fanny Bertsche. Our mothers were sisters and our fathers were brothers. Some of us had to sleep on the floor. It was a thrill on Christmas day when the parlor door was opened and we saw a big Christmas tree with candles and all of the trimmings.

Another pleasure was a day or two at the Chautauqua Park in Pontiac. Folks always chose a day when some of the best speakers and musicians could be heard, such as Billy Sunday and William Jennings Bryant!

Some of my outstanding memories include: Filling matresses (sic) with new shucks after shelling, putting clean straw under parlor rugs after threshing, and cooking homemade soap outdoors with fat and lye. Butchering day was always a big day. All of the neighbors would get together to butcher, make sausage, liver sausage, head cheese, and render lard after cutting and trimming the hams and bacon. Threshing brings back memories. When the oats and wheat were threshed, the men from all around did the threshing together, while the women all gathered to cook for them. If it was rainy, we sometimes had machine men work for a week. After crops were all in and winter came, we sorted good ears of corn for planting the next spring.

Father was a hardworking man who spent his life trying to provide for his family. When he was out one winter day, he fell on the ice and broke his thumb. It didn't heal as it should have and his thumb was bent back. A little later, he ran a thorn into his finger. It became infected and he had to have it amputated. In the early 1930's he was making a fence with a rusty hammer, and a piece of the hammer flew into his eye. He suffered agony and finally had to have the eye removed He was fitted with a glass eye. He also suffered from boils, colitis, and a heart condition. Through all of his suffering, he was patient and I can't recall him ever complaining. His favorite Bible verse for suffering and pain was "All things work together for good to them that love the Lord". He had home remedies for "doctoring" himself and anyone in the family who would care to get help. He had a sweat box (steam cabinet) which he thought would sweat out the poisons causing boils. He had sassafras tea (in the spring for thinning blood), salt water (for eye drops and then to sniff or gargle for sore throat or colds), and cheese grass cooked in boiling water (used for soaking cuts or rusty nail holes in feet).

In mid January 1916, father had a surplus livestock sale. The sale was slated for the 25th anniversary of the folks. Uncle Sam, Mother's brother from Morton, was the auctioneer. The evening before the sale, a supper was planned to celebrate the anniversary. The weather was mild for January and rain made the roads impossible to travel on. The sale was postponed to the next week. The sale consisted of purebred Hampshire hogs, Brown Swiss cattle and horses. Buyers came by train to Pontiac.

Late in 1918 in country was stricken with flu which was very hard to treat It was vicious and entire families were stricken and many died. Almon was in service at the time and all of the family was sick. Mother had the sick to care for both upstairs and downstairs. Since the neighbors were all sick and we couldn't get help, Mother had to do all of the chores. Aunt Phoebe left her mission work in Chicago and came to help Mother. After we were all well enough to be up, Aunt Phoebe went to the Children's Home to care for the sick there.

Baby chickens were hatched by putting eggs under "broody" hens. They sat on the eggs 21 days. The hen only left the eggs long enough to get food and water. She faithfully turned the eggs until the baby chicks hatched. Later we purchased the chickens from a hatchery. Then there were problems raising them. Temperature was a problem, especially when the electricity was off. Storms often brought water into the coops and we had to go out in the ram to gather up the half-drowned chickens. We brought them into the house and warmed them by the stove and saved many

Father believed in hard work. We each had our jobs doing chores gathering eggs, carrying in cobs and coal, filling the kerosene lamps, cleaning the shop, and keeping the yard raked. The yards were cut by horse drawn mower and then raked. When father couldn't find a tool he would say, "Lindy has been cleaning up the shop again".

Mother had a dread of pneumonia, since Alta's death was caused by it. Orville, the baby, had been very ill with pneumonia. This concern was shown m her opposition to our playing in the ice and snow. One winter day, before going home after school, we stayed to play on the ice and snow without permission. Mother was standing behind the door, when we came home, with stick in hand. As we came in, each one received a "whack". It didn't really hurt, but oh, our pride! If she could not find the guilty one, she would punish all of us. In that way she could find the guilty one. A favorite for her and most degrading to us, was a "thump" on the head with the snap of her finger and thumb. If we didn't work the was we should, she called us (in German) "A lazy fellow". A look of the eye or a scolding hurt me more than a whipping. I remember father scolded me once for not helping with the dishes. I ran out of the house and had a good cry, saying "nobody cares for me".

The coming of the peddler, walking with a pack on his back or driving a horse and buggy, was common in that day. The pack contained all sorts of small articles, (needles, dress material, etc.). He opened his pack and we all gathered around while he displayed his wares. For supper, breakfast, a bed for the night, the feed and bedding for his horse, a peddler would pay with material from his pack.

Gypsies came in covered wagons drawn by horses - then later by motor. They traded horses if they found anyone who trusted them enough to trade. They camped where Almon lives now. The mother would walk over to where we lived and would beg for eggs, milk and chickens, saying they had sick children who needed food It all seemed such an exciting way to live. I envied the children who seemed so carefree. Mother never turned anyone away hungry. If they looked decent, she had a bed for them. There were tramps that came every year. One was a bearded, red-haired German, and Mother had him sit on the steps and would bring him bread or pancakes with coffee. She put butter and jelly on the bread. The tramp wiped the jelly off with his finger and rubbed it on his shoes. He told Mother (in German) "I don't like sweet things".

There was a grocery wagon on wheels, first drawn by horses and later by automobile. The wagon came once a week with olives, canned goods, and fresh foods and with the grocery order came sticks of candy for !he children.

Mother sewed much of our clothing. She kept us well fed with homemade bread, butter, molasses, smoked ham, and fried down sausage.

Father used the latest methods known for farming. The seed corn was taken from the best of the crop and tested by the "rag doll" method or layers of soil in trays. He practiced rotation of crops—corn, oats, pasture and hay. He was one of the first to raise alfalfa. He disliked the idea of beans, saying it took too much out of the soil. He raised Percheron horses and sold them. I remember at the sale of horses, he had a man come from Indiana who was an expert at grooming with brightly colored yarn braided into the mane and tail. They were a pretty sight! I remember the nervousness, especially the night before the sale, hoping for a nice day. I also remember driving to Pontiac to meet any buyers who might come in on the train. Father also raised Brown Swiss cattle and purebred Hampshire hogs. He had sales for hogs and cattle, which were a lot of work, and not too successful, especially if the day was rainy and roads too bad for people to come from a distance. The results were sometimes disappointing.

Our first new car was a red 6 cylinder Buick, one of the first 6 cylinder cars produced. The purchase price was $985. Many of our friends had cars before we did. It was a good feeling when we could ride along with others, and not have that fear of a car passing and scaring the horses. Many times father got out of the carriage to hold the horses until a car passed. It was many years before a car could be used year around because the roads weren't "raveled.

When husking time came in the fall every able person in the family helped husk corn. Children went out before school and after school. Schools even had husking vacation. It usually rained quite a lot during vacation, especially during the week of Teacher Institute. The rainy day was used as butchering day. Neighbors helped each other butcher pigs for the family's supply of meat. While still dark we would be awakened by the shots of the gun which killed four to six pigs. The day was spent cutting up the meat, making sausage, and rendering lard. After a full day, neighbors went home with samples of the meat.

I remember father raised sugar cane and in the fall cut it off and took the stalks to the Children's Home. The sugar cane was pressed and the liquid boiled down to make delicious sorghum molasses.

Bushes of apples were taken to Kreighauser Farm where they were pressed by a cider press. The liquid was put into jugs for cider and as it hardened was made into a barrel of vinegar. The rest was made into apple butter which was cooked in a cooper kettle outside.

Cheese was made by filling a copper boiler with milk, water, and junket tablets on a warm stove. When the whey and curds had separated, the curds were put into mesh bags to drip until only the curds were left. The curds were put into cheese cloth bags and put under pressure and left to age. As it aged mold would form and we washed it off frequently with salt water until it was ripe enough and ready to eat.

The crust of freshly baked bread spread with homemade butter and apple butter, or sorgham, or a slice of cheese was a treat when hungry children came home from school. Hives of bees furnished our honey, and it was interesting to see father take the honey from the bees. Corn was taken to the Pontiac mill to be ground into cornmeal for corn bread or pancakes. Mush and milk for supper meant fried mush for breakfast the next day.

When Orville was a little boy and the rest of us were in the lower grades my father came into the house when we came home from school and told us to come out to the barn. There in a bed of straw was a sweet little brown and white pony colt. He bought the colt from our neighbor, John Jorg. We loved it and carried the colt into the house. The colt was named Grace. Grace was to live about forty years. She had colts which were always such a joy. Sparkle one of the colts, was given to Almon's children and Mickey, another of the colts was given to Nyle's children. Grace was put to good use. Orville and Lucille herded cows along the road. We had a pony buggy, and Grace took us and the neighbors to school. Grace also took me to teach school for a few years. She carried lunch and water to men in the field. When father reached the place where it was difficult for him to walk, he would hitch Grace to the buggy to fix fences, get in corn, and take supplies to the men in the field. Grace was frisky, even in old age. She ran away with father several times When she came to a bridge, she embarrassed us by refusing to cross it until we got out and held an ear of corn in front of her. She was taken care of in her old age by Orville, who had come back to the farm from Indianapolis. Orville built a shade (roof) over her and she lived there until she died. Orville buried her north of the barn.

I graduated from high school in 1919 and Lucille and Orville graduated in 1920 from Flanagan High School. When Lucille and I graduated, we took the state examination and taught. in rural schools. I taught eighteen years plus twenty years of substitute teaching after my marriage. Summer vacations were spent going to summer school at Normal, Illinois. We stayed in the home of "Granny" Mohr and later at the John Sharp home. We tried to get home weekends as often as we could. When roads were muddy, we drove our horse and buggy to our rural schools. The muddy roads of summer and the drifting snow of winter made us obligated to not only the family, but also to people along the way. Starting salary in 1919 was $50.00 per month and by 1937 we were earning $200.00 per month. (After 1937, I substituted for 20 years for as much as $25.00 per day.) For that we taught all eight grades, and did the janitor work or hired it done. Snow often drifted in around the windows and doors and the children were allowed to sit around the stove to keep warm. With gravel roads and electricity, conditions in our rural schools slowly improved. Schools had 20 or more pupils. Boys usually attended until they were 16 or 18 because they went to school mostly through the winter months. Most of them helped with the farming so they didn't go to High School. The hot lunch program was a big improvement. Later as the rural school attendance decreased, schools consolidated. The grandchildren and pupils from school had picnics. The closing day, parents came for a potluck dinner followed by ice cream and would take their children home.

As the grandchildren came along they were much enjoyed. Almon's, Nyles's and Orville's lived close by, so there were good times. In the orchard, west of the house, father made a sandbox. Slide and swings for the grandchildren.

A few summers, Lucille and I took our school children and nieces and nephews camping. One of the biggest, was a stay at Camp Lantz near Congerville. Clara (Walters) Salzman came during the day to help. At the close of the camp, the parents came and took the children home after a picnic supper.

The Sundays were spent going to the home of some of the church members for a lovely dinner. Uncle John and Aunt Lena Gyssler were frequent guests for dinner and supper. We went to their home about once a year. Aunt Lena was a good cook. We stayed with them when we went to high school and the roads were bad. Once there was a flood. Father and Almon were on the south side of the Cullen bridge. The water was across the bridge and they waved for us not to try to cross, but to go back and stay with the Gysslers overnight.

Uncle Joe Bertsche lived on the Seiberns farm where Nyle lived. They lived about 2 miles south of us. They had 11 children. We enjoyed visiting them. The boys, especially Jake and Ben, were about Almon's age. They had a room upstairs where canned fruit was stored. The boys feasted on canned peaches, cherries, etc. The girls taught us songs which we sang on our way to church. Whenever we were there for dinner, one of the girls would go home with us overnight. They later moved to Missouri.

One Sunday we were at the home of Joe Good's for dinner. Food was passed around the table. I shook my head at everything they wanted to put on my plate. Finally, Mrs. Good came to me and asked what I would like to eat. I asked for bread, butter and molasses, one of my favorite foods.

Sarah, the oldest daughter in the family, took over the house work and caring for the other children when she was quite young. When the family was grown and the boys in their own homes, Sarah began doing practical nursing. She helped in homes when a baby was born, or when someone was sick. She also worked at the Mennonite Home in Meadows. She took care of Uncle Willie Kinsinger, mother's brother, who came to us when he became ill. He died of cancer. Sarah also helped care for Aunt Phoebe Bertsche, father's sister, who also had cancer. She cared for father and mother until their deaths.

Orville, big for his age, was doing the work of a man. This may have been the reason he was stricken with an illness that threatened to leave him crippled. After much doctoring, he went to a doctor in Chicago. He put a brace on him and treated him over a period of time, which meant trips to Chicago. After a time, he regained a measure of health. He took a correspondence course and did inspection work on railroads and bus lines in Indianapolis and the East. He finally settled in Indianapolis where he married Mary Madeline Kelley and lived until the death of father and Nyle in 1938. He then moved to Illinois to help Milton farm for his Mother and Orville farmed the home place. Orville died suddenly in 1956. His son, David took over the farm. After David's marriage, Mary moved to Meadows to cook at the Meadows Home.

At a get-to-gather at the home of Aunt Lena Gyssler in 1920, the Bertsche reunion was organized. It was to be held every June. The first reunion was held at the Chautaqua Park in Pontiac. All of the living brothers and sisters attended. Aunt Phoebe Bertsche came from Chicago where she worked in a mission for homeless ones. She expressed her appreciation for the reunion and urged the families to continue to keep in touch. She made it a point to visit all of the families on this trip. She revealed to us that she had cancer. The Bertsche-Kinsinger reunion merged about 1940.

At a get-to-gether at Miller Park in 1920, the Kinsinger reunion was organized. The reunion was held every year in June at the home of John and Phoebe Kinsinger-Bertsche. After the merger of the two reunions, it was held at the Flanagan park. As of January 1980, none of the aunts or uncles are living. Eight cousins survive.

This generation has seen many changes - electricity, paved roads, telephones, automobiles, airplanes, tractors, radio, television, bathrooms sound movies, consolidated schools, air conditioners, stereo, radar, sonar outerspace, landing on the moon, atomic bomb and many others not mentioned. Man has been given the gift to use these changes whether for good or ill, depending upon the choice we make.

John and Phoebe Bertsche Farm. The house was built in 1918 by John and Phoebe Bertsche. The Milton Bertsche family (Nyle and Iva Bertsche's son) now live there.

Seibern Farm farmed by John and Phoebe Bertsche. All seven children were born there. Almon's son Hilary Bertsche now lives there.

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Last modified May 7, 1997 by Kirk Bertsche, KBertsche@aol.com