George and Leota

No wedding portrait of George Hiram Thoma and Anna Leota Fenton is known to exist. When they married on 23 March 1902, George was twenty-one years old while Leota had just celebrated her twenty-second birthday.1

And in fact, while photographs of their children abound, the earliest photograph yet uncovered of George and Leota together was taken twenty-six years later.

Leota (Fenton) Thoma and George Thoma, Sioux City, Iowa, 1928; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

Another, a sharper yet more serious snapshot, was taken perhaps a decade or more after that.

Leota (Fenton) Thoma and George Thoma, 3500 Block of Nebraska Street, Sioux City, Iowa; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

George and Leota had spent their first few years of marriage together not as Mr. and Mrs. Thoma, but as Mr. and Mrs. Neilson, before abruptly discarding this mysterious alias.

They had moved no less than half a dozen times within their first quarter-century together, first as newlyweds from Ashton, Iowa to Center, Nebraska, then to Sioux City, Iowa, then to Bassett, Nebraska, then to Decatur, Nebraska, then to Scribner, Nebraska, and finally back to Sioux City.

They had taken risks and faced failure as aspiring homesteaders and entrepreneurs.

But they had succeeded in raising four children together: Fenton, Fern, Norma, and Betty.

After years of effort to find a place to call home, they settled into a comfortable life together in Sioux City surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

They are remembered as “super grandparents” and as good, kind, fun-loving people who celebrated more than sixty years of marriage together.2

(Just not all of them were spent as Mr. and Mrs. Thoma.)

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading

Disturbing the Peace: A Skirmish at a Secret Society

Two days after the birth of his second child, Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa got himself into a scuffle. On 26 August 1913, the Sioux City Journal reported:

After the Goat, Maybe

H. J. Adams [sic], 218 Market street, was taken into custody at 10 o’clock last night by Patrolman William Dempsey, who declared that Adams tride [sic] to break up a lodge meeting in a hall near Fifth and Douglas streets. Adams said that trouble started when he forgot the password. When the police arrived at the scene a battle was being waged between Adams and the other lodge members. He was charged with disturbing the peace.1

Henry, a carpenter by trade who was at that time thirty-two years old, was slight of build and no more than five feet five inches tall.2 Any further details of his encounter with the lodge members are unknown, including the identity of the lodge itself. The 1912 Sioux City Directory lists a number of “secret societies,” also known as fraternal organizations, located at or near Fifth and Douglas streets. The night of Henry’s encounter was a Monday, and assuming the locations and meeting times did not change between 1911, when the directory was printed, and August 1913, the only lodge meeting held on Monday nights at Fifth and Douglas streets was the Improved Order of Red Men.3 Why Henry was desperate to gain entrance to the meeting is anyone’s guess; perhaps he had a prior conflict with the organization, or perhaps he simply stumbled upon the meeting when out for a night of carousing away from the squalls of a newborn baby.

From left: Melanie (Lutz) Adam, son Gerald Joseph Adam, Henry Joseph Adam, and son Leon Francis Adam, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, circa 1915; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

In any case, however, Henry was let off easy. A newspaper headline the next day announced “LENIENCY FOR HUSBAND,” and the subheading stated: “Wife Recently Became Mother, and Man Gets Freedom.” It was reported that Henry had been released the previous day out of “sympathy toward the wife.”4

Henry’s wife of almost eight years, Melanie Veronica (Lutz) Adam, must have been sincerely embarrassed by this turn of events, particularly as she was an upstanding member of a fraternal organization herself. Both Henry and Melanie were also active members of Sioux City’s Saint Jean Baptiste Catholic Church, not to mention the parents of two young children.5 However, if no news—meaning no more headlines—truly meant good news, it seems that Henry may have been able to avoid further trouble with the law for many years to come. As for whether he ever found a place within one of Sioux City’s secret societies, he did, in fact, with the Knights of Columbus.6

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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Tombstone Tuesday: Lorenz Stoehr (1790-1876)

Lorenz Stoehr was born in or near Weißenstadt, Upper Franconia, Bavaria, Germany, a village located a mere twenty miles from what is now the Czech Republic.1 Weißenstadt was named “white city” as a nod to its landmark white church, and is situated on the shore of a lake in the Fichtel Mountains.2 From the inscription on Lorenz’s tombstone, his birthdate can be calculated to 04 September 1790.3

As a young man, Lorenz served approximately six years in the military during the Napoleonic Wars, first under Napoleon and then, as allegiances shifted, with the Germans.4 As the story goes, he was eventually wounded on a march to Paris and was then discharged and granted a pension.5 Lorenz was trained as a master tailor, a trade he pursued during the winter months as the summer months were consumed with his labors as a farmer.6 Amazingly, several mementos of these chapters of his life survive today: buttons from his military uniform, his discharge and pension paperwork which granted him the amount of five Gulden each month for the remainder of his life, and an 1828 purchase agreement for approximately one and a half acres of land in the Weißenstadt area.7

Lorenz was married to Barbara Feicht in 1820 or shortly thereafter, and with her had the following known children: Margaretha B. (1824-1897), Johann Wolfgang (1826-1883), Eva Margaretha (1831-1906), George Adam (1833-1915), and Johann Friedrich (1842-circa 1857).8

In 1853, at the age of sixty-two, Lorenz arrived in New York harbor aboard the Solon.9 Traveling with him were his wife and youngest daughter; his sons had made their way to America the year prior, disembarking in New Orleans before making their way up the Mississippi River to the community of Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa.10

Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (www.findagrave.com : accessed 26 January 2019), photograph, Lorenz Stoehr (1790-1876), Memorial No. 69221239, Elgin City Cemetery, Elgin, Fayette County, Iowa; photograph by Tammy Miller, 2015.

Lorenz was widowed in 1855 and spent the years thereafter at the homes of his children.11 In 1856, he lived with his daughter Eva and her husband Hiram Hammond on their farm in Clayton County; in 1860 and 1870, he could be found at the home of his son George, a jeweler and dry goods merchant, first in Clayton County and then in neighboring Fayette County, Iowa.12

Lorenz Stoehr died at the age of eighty-six on 07 December 1876, likely at the home of his son in Elgin, Fayette County, Iowa.13 He is buried at the Elgin City Cemetery where an upright tombstone marks his grave.14

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Danish Marriage in Sioux City

It was 09 December 1909 when Jens Jacob “James” Walsted and Kathrine Christensen were married by Reverend Julius A. Larson of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.1 Both James and Kathrine had been born in Denmark; both had left their native country several years prior, James in 1902 and Kathrine in 1906.2 At the time of their marriage, James was twenty-nine years old and Kathrine was twenty-three.3

Sioux City’s sole Danish church, located at 1113 12th Street, was organized in 1890, and met in a former Norwegian Lutheran Church that was moved to this site in 1892.4 While what may well be this original building, a modest one-story frame structure situated in a residential neighborhood, still stands to this day, it is now the Iglesia de Dios Evangelio Completo Pentecostes. At the time that James and Kathrine were married, however, it was home to a congregation of nearly two hundred and sixty Danish Lutherans, and it seems quite likely that it was through this immigrant community that James and Kathrine had the opportunity to meet.5 There is no known account of their marriage, nor any known photographs.

The couple settled in Sioux City, where in 1910, within a few months of their marriage, they could be found rooming at a property on the corner of 7th and Pearl Streets in downtown Sioux City, a location that is now a parking lot across the street from a children’s museum.6 James worked as a bricklayer, and family lore suggests that he may have helped lay the brick for St. Boniface Catholic Church at this time.7 Kathrine, who before her marriage had been a servant at a house that stood on what is now the campus of Bishop Heelan Catholic High School, was at home.8 The couple’s first child, Roy Louis Christian, would be born in 1911.9

Kathrine (Christensen) Walsted and son Roy Walsted, Sioux City, Iowa, 1911; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018.

The congregation of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church eventually outgrew their space on 12th Street, and in 1922 a new church, located at 1924 Jones Street, was dedicated.10 In 1930, the church was renamed Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, and within a few years, Danish language services ceased.11 Some seventy years later, the church once again introduced bilingual services, this time in Spanish, but soon after, in 2009, the church closed its doors.12

At the time that James and Kathrine married, Sioux City’s population was nearly forty-eight thousand, and included a diverse immigrant population represented in its many foreign-language churches.13 For recent immigrants James and Kathrine, it must have been a great comfort to find there a close-knit Danish community that shared their native language and cultural heritage.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Danish Family Portrait

The Schmidt family left Denmark for America in 1870, when Jens Madsen Schmidt was thirty-five years old and his wife, Anna (Bramsen) Schmidt, was thirty-seven.1 With them were their two young daughters, Inger Marie, who was not yet three, and Christine, who was just twenty months old.2 Jens and Anna had married in 1866, not long after Jens was discharged from military service following the Second Schleswig War.3

Jens Madsen Schmidt, Anna [Bramsen] Schmidt, and daughters Inger Marie and Christine, ca. 1869-70; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018. Image courtesy of Alvie Jorgensen as printed in A Few of my Grandchildren’s Ancestors (Massachusetts: Alvie Jorgensen, 1989).

This is the oldest known photograph of the Schmidt family, believed to have been taken shortly before they departed Denmark or soon after their arrival in America. Dated circa 1869-70, it is quite possibly a carte de visite, a small card-mounted photograph popular before the larger cabinet card format became more common in the 1880s.4 The family may have wanted to share copies with their family members at home; while Anna’s parents would later follow them to Dakota Territory, Jens’s parents would not.

In the photograph, Jens and Anna sit side by side in a carpeted studio, their daughters perched on their laps. Jens is heavily bearded, although his upper lip is clean-shaven. His hair is brushed back from his forehead and he wears loose trousers in a lighter color than his jacket, a similarly dark shirt buttoned underneath. Anna’s hair has a center part and is pulled back, although it seems that it may be looped over her ears. Her headwear looks vaguely medieval in appearance, something like a circular roll with a scarf at the back, although its true style is unclear as well. Additionally, few details can be distinguished of her dress, which is obscured by the child on her lap. The silhouette of the full sleeves gives the suggestion of Bishop sleeves, which would have been gathered at the cuff.5 There appears to be some detail at the neckline of the dress—perhaps a white collar with a bow tied above—and the skirt is long and full. Her attire, with the exception of her headwear, appears relatively modern and less like one tends to think of as traditional Danish folk attire.

Fair-haired Inger Marie and Christine appear to wear tot-sized versions of their mother’s overall style of dress. The scalloped hem of a petticoat peeks out from under Inger Marie’s skirt; Christine’s petticoat has a straight hem. Both wear stockings and shoes. It is possible that their dresses are made of matching fabric; less than thirteen months apart in age, the girls could almost appear to be twins.

This photograph appears in a spiral-bound volume entitled A Few of My Grandchildren’s Ancestors, researched and compiled by late Schmidt descendant Alvie Jorgensen nearly thirty years ago, as well as in the Yankton County Historical Society’s 1987 publication History of Yankton County, South Dakota.6 It would be exciting to view a high resolution scan of the image to observe more details and, perhaps, even learn the exact location that it was taken. The next known photograph of the Schmidt family was taken nearly twenty years later at their homestead in what is today Bon Homme County, South Dakota. Although they were by that time young women, Inger Marie and Christine wore matching dresses.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Curious Case of Alfred Adam

In the fall of 1895, just a year after his older brother died as a result of epilepsy, Alfred Adam collapsed on the street in the midst of a seizure.1 Twenty-two at the time, Alfred, the son of Timothy and Odile (Millette) Adam, was an employee of the wholesale grocer Tolerton & Stetson in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.2 The Sioux City Journal reported the following:

“Fred Adams, a young man in the employ of Tolerton & Stetson, fell in Water street last night in what at first appeared to be an epileptic fit. Symptoms of hydrophobia soon developed and he had the actions of a dog attacked with the rabies. He barked and snapped and was in great agony. It took the combined strength of four men to hold him. The fit lasted almost an hour. The sufferer was taken to the police station and placed in a cell. He finally became calm and said he was bit by a dog thirteen years ago. He believed the fit was the result of that bite. When he talked Mr. Adams seemed to be all right.”3

It of course seems highly improbable that a dog bite more than a decade prior was the reason for Alfred’s “fit,” particularly as his own brother had been similarly afflicted with seizures. Indeed, epilepsy is known today to have a genetic link. However, Alfred may have had good reason to want to downplay this incident: his brother was committed to an asylum as a young adult and died at the age of twenty-five. Unlike his brother, Alfred seemed able to live out a normal life.

Alfred G. “Fred” Adam, Des Moines, Iowa, 1898; image privately held by Jeanette Borich, 2018.

In May of 1898, shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Alfred apparently felt well enough to volunteer to serve in Company H of the 52nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry.4 In a portrait that was likely taken shortly after he mustered in at Camp McKinley, which was located at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, he posed proudly in uniform, nearly dwarfed by his musket. Alfred saw no action during the course of the three-month conflict; after time spent stationed in both Des Moines and in Chickamauga, Georgia, the 52nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry was mustered out of service in October of that year.5

His brief time in service, however, may have sparked feelings of wanderlust, as his whereabouts for much of his thirties are unknown. Notes in the margins of his mother’s information card for the 1905 Iowa Census suggest that he headed west to Seattle in 1903, but no more than that is known.6 After eventually resettling in Sioux City, he was employed for many years as a freight checker for the Chicago and North Western Railroad.7

At the age of forty-seven—although he claimed to be fifty—Alfred married Margaret Nelson, a widow with two teenage daughters.8 He is not known to have had any children of his own. Two years after his marriage, in 1923, Alfred filed a patent for an electronic swivel connection, a notable accomplishment for a man who had only attended school through the third grade.9 His application read in part:

“My present invention has for its objects the production of an improved electrical swivel connection adapted to be interposed in a multiple electrical conductor cord, as a telephone or lamp cord to effectually prevent such cord from twisting upon itself and yet form a perfect electrical connection of low resistance.

Furthermore, the invention contemplates a device of this class which is comparatively inexpensive in construction and to and from which the cord conductors may be readily attached and detached.”10

Despite this accomplishment, however, when asked years later about their late uncle Alfred, it was his Springfield rifle that his nephews remembered most.11

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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Prairie Teacher

“Oh, what a work we teachers have in the molding of the lives of those little ones,” wrote Andrea Nelson in her diary on an autumn evening in 1918.1 At the age of twenty-one, she had just begun her third term as a teacher in southeastern South Dakota.2 She took great delight in her fourteen students, who, she noted, were “in general a bright talkative set.”3 This was her first term at Prairie School District 9, located in Mission Hill, a rural community near the town of Yankton.4

Andrea Mathilda Nelson was born on 31 December 1896, the daughter of Danish immigrants Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson.5 Raised on a farm just west of Yankton, Andrea was the fourth child of nine.6 After completing her grammar school education at a one-room schoolhouse, Andrea, along with her sisters, succeeded in receiving teaching certification from the Southern State Normal School located in nearby Springfield, South Dakota.7 Andrea taught first in Turkey Valley, then at the Dewey School near Lesterville, and finally in Mission Hill, where she was conveniently able to board with her elder sister, Anna, and her husband, Jim.8

With the freedom provided by a small class size and a rural school district, Andrea enjoyed and recorded many memorable moments with her students: she took them on noontime walks to the nearby molasses mill, joined in on games at recess (“Pump Pump Pull Away” and “Ruth and Jacob”), and received invitations to visit them at their homes.9 One evening, she wrote, “Shortly before recess I excused Tim and Royal in order that they might go chase Ficke’s cows out of the nearby cornfield. They came back at recess with two watermelons which Royal brought from home and which we feasted on together.”10

Andrea Nelson at a schoolhouse with her students, Yankton County, South Dakota, ca. 1916-1918; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018.

Fond of the outdoors herself, she also recognized its importance to children, even offering an early dismissal one “very fine day.”11 On another occasion, she wrote, “A very beautiful calm autumnal day. But nine at school. We had our drawing lesson outside. At recess the children earnestly requested me to permit them to recite and study outside the remaining hour and fifteen minutes. I consented after which they gleefully clapped their hands. The shade of one tree served as study room while that of another nearby took the place of recitation room. The children did not abuse their privilege. As a result we all fully enjoyed school in the fine October out of doors.”12

The next day, still taking advantage of the autumn weather, she wrote, “After school I hied me to the open. There I helped Jim pick potatoes for about half an hour. He said that I broke a schoolmam’s reputation in taking up such work after a day at school. I replied that he could count on me for doing things out of the ordinary for those in our profession.”13

In late September, Andrea wrote, “Think Spanish Influenza is going about the neighborhood. Only eleven at school.”14 Before long, the number of students in her class dwindled still further as the influenza continued to spread. In early October, just a month into the school year, Andrea recorded in her diary, “Only six at school again. […] I hardly feel that I’m earning my $4.25 per day these days.”15

Tragically, it would be only a matter of time before Andrea was struck with influenza herself, and the final pages of her diary are left blank. Exactly one month after the unexpected death of her father, Andrea died on 28 November 1918 while a patient at St. Bernard’s Hospital in Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie County, Iowa.16 Her younger sister, Helena, a student at Springfield Normal School, took over her teaching position at Prairie School District 9 and completed the sorrow-filled school term with Andrea’s students.17

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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