Janet and Robert Wolfe Genealogy --- Go to Genealogy Page for John Christian Schafer

Notes for John Christian Schafer

John and Maria's grandson Jack wrote an essay "Grandfathers" which states, [1]

John Christian Schafer never met Frank Miles, and probably not even Mrs. Miles. He was 20 years older than Frank and outlived him by 23 years, being nearly 84 when he died in 1923. I am the youngest of his 11 grandchildren. I was two at the time of his death, but I had not seen or been seen by him. I met Grandmother Mary Louise (Maria Louisa) only once when I was four years old, two years before her death.

Grandpa Schafer was born July 14, 1839, in Württemberg, Germany. He grew up in Nellmersbach, now essentially a part of Stuttgart, I believe the oldest of four brothers and one sister, with his mother nearly 20 years older than he. Again, I am sorry that I know nothing of his early childhood. Although Dad and I talked a lot, over many years, apparently he and his father did not talk about childhood sorts of things. Note: Nellmersbach birth records and U.S. census records indicate that Caroline was the oldest child in the family. In John Christian's birth record, his birth date is listed as July 15 but in his obituary his birth date is listed as July 14.

Grandfather left Germany as a teen-ager, apparently traveling alone to America and checking in with relatives at St. Joseph, Missouri. Although he left Germany partly to avoid military duty, he soon spent several years in the Union Army, likely mostly in the Missouri-Kansas region. He served in Captain George Wakerlen's Company E of the 5th Regiment of Cavalry of the Missouri State Militia and in Company B of Major M. P. Berry's Cavalry Battalion in the 13th Regiment, Missouri Volunteers. This information was obtained from an April 5, 1915, form of the Department of Interior, Bureau of Pensions and related notes indicating a similar form in 1907. He was 22-25 by this time (about the same as my 21-25 during World War II).

He must have gone west and prospected following the war. Two of his younger brothers came from Germany and joined him in this, although I don't know whether they worked together. He may have been engaged in cattle herding as well as prospecting in the Rocky Mountains. In a note of my dad's about this period he wrote: "His activities in the Rocky Mountains were seldom made the subject of conversation." Jake and Louie never married and spent their adult lives as prospectors. Many years later Louie returned in poor health and died at John and Mary's home. He is buried in a small rural cemetery nearby. I believe that at some later time Jake disappeared into the southwestern desert and was not again heard from.

John at 33 married 22-year-old Mary in 1872. She also had come from Nellmersbach to St. Joseph, but with her family as a child. I believe that they met through a "mutual" aunt and uncle, the Muellers, at St. Jo. By the 1870s homesteading became available. In 1870 or 71 John set out from St. Jo and homesteaded in Jewell County, Kansas. Apparently Jewell was just opened and available for settling. I don't know what sort of map and information he had. When walking one can't spend a lot of time checking out each valley, township, or county for comparisons. John decided that this was where to settle (and in turn spend the next 50 years of his life!). His first winter he lived in a "dugout," dug into the bank of Brown's Creek. He later built a sod or log house.

In February 1872, John returned by horseback to St. Jo where he and Mary were married on February 18th. Following their wedding they set out for their homestead in Jewell County. They acquired a second horse and a wagon. This allowed them to take household supplies that were needed to set up housekeeping on their new homestead. They had about a 200-mile trip to their location four miles west of Jewell City.

Mary and John had a still-born baby daughter in 1873. She is buried in the same cemetery as Uncle Louie. I am sure that this was particularly sad in retrospect, with an eventual family of five sons. Their family was spread out in time, with Uncle Charlie being 18 years older than Uncle Raymond. Dad (Eddy) was the middle--four years younger than Uncle Will and five years older than Uncle Ben.

During the summer of 1874 they constructed the cellar for a new house. Uncle Charlie was born in that cellar in November of that year. They later had a good frame house, built on that cellar, in which Uncle Will was born in June of 1880. (Joyce and I visited there with Dad about 1969 or 70 after the farm had been consolidated with neighbors and the buildings abandoned for human use. I could tell that his sentiments were hurt to see his childhood home used like one of the farm buildings.).

Somewhere during this period Matah Schaeffer (note the spelling difference), orphaned daughter of Grandmother's sister Pauline, came to live with them. I believe that she and Dad were of an age and grew up as brother and sister, although actually first cousins.

Grandpa sounds to have been a rather good farmer, later buying additional acreage and becoming a vice president of the local Jewell City bank. To me he sounded stern and unaffectionate to his family. Apparently, he went to town alone every Saturday, whereas he took the whole family to town only on Sunday to church. He seldom talked about his war service, but was likely active in the GAR. A September 1, 1916, Jewell County Republican article reported that Mr. and Mrs. John Schafer and several others attended the Grand Army encampment at Kansas City that week.

My dad was very healthy in later life (to age 92 and only one night ever in a hospital), but he must have suffered severely from hay fever as a child (possibly a rag weed allergy). He thought of his mother as his protector when yet very young.

Grandpa returned to Germany alone twice, once at 51 in 1890 and again at age 61--his mother being about 71 and 81 at these times. His father was no longer living. Apparently the first time, without notice, he had a hard time convincing his mother that this bearded fiftyish stranger was in fact her son.

One of Grandpa's younger brothers, Uncle George, remained in Germany. My dad and Etheldred, my oldest cousin, a Madison, Wisconsin, physician, sent Care packages to the family of his descendents following World War II. In 1978 Joyce and I spent an enjoyable day with members of this group at Stuttgart, particularly including Julie Rau, George's granddaughter and thus my second cousin, a lady about my age. Julie's nephew had a car, and the four of us did some local sightseeing. Her other nephew was a physician, and on a residency in the U.S. at that time.

John and Mary's family became Americanized and seemed to be strong on education. Uncle Will and all of those younger graduated from Jewell High School. Dad traversed the four miles from the farm to school weekly by horseback. Both Uncle Charlie and Uncle Will attended North Central College, an Evangelical Church school at Naperville, Illinois. I believe that Will graduated. Mostly English must have been spoken at home, as Dad knew very little German and had no memory of speaking it as a child. He had very fond memories of his years and teachers at the Sweet Home Rural Grade School.

By the time Dad finished high school, Charlie and Will were gone from home, so Dad stayed and worked two years with his father. (He even became a local hand-corn-husking champion.) I suspect that his work under his father was limiting and he decided to go to Kansas State Agricultural College. By this time he was 20 years old, and Grandpa 65. As far as I know Dad didn't work regularly as an undergraduate and his parents regularly sent him living money.

Uncle Ben followed Dad on the farm, stayed with it, and spent his working life as his father's successor. (Neither of his two sons--my cousins--stayed, and the farm was eventually merged into neighboring acreages.) My impression is that Uncle Ben's years on the farm (through the Depression, Dust Bowl, and World Wars I and II) were not as good as Grandpa's.

Uncle Raymond followed Dad to Kansas State, from where both became professional agronomists. Yet an undergraduate in 1912, Raymond went with Dad to LaGrange to be best man at his brother's wedding. The parents did not attend.

In 1917, four years before I was born, Mother and Dad with George and Judy visited my grand parents and other relatives in Kansas as well as Mother's relatives in Illinois and Ontario. This trip was taken again in 1925, after Grandpa's death, and at my age of four, was my only visit with Grandmother. As the distant family in Washington State, we were the only ones to miss John and Mary's Golden Wedding anniversary in 1922. I have the picture of the family group with the other four sons and their families. Dad visited his father in June of 1923 about two weeks before Grandpa's death upon information from Charlie of Grandpa's deteriorating health.

Through the years the Schafer homestead must have been an extended family base of sorts. In addition to Matah Schaeffer growing up in the home, both Uncle Louie and "Cousin" Henry came when in poor health and died in their home.

Some time after Uncle Ben joined Grandpa on the farm, he and Aunt Gwen took over the house, and Grandpa and Grandma moved to Jewell City where Uncle Charlie and Aunt Carie also lived. Uncle Charlie was likely a town farmer by this time, was Jewell City Postmaster through the Hoover administration, and a state legislator for one term. (We once found his name in legislature listings when visiting the state museum in Topeka.).


[1] Family Document, Jack (John Francis) Schafer, "Grandfathers" (Begun 4-26-89, mostly written in December 1989, editing and typing completed 4-28-03).

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