Mother Polk's Life
by Emma Polk
To my nieces and nephews:
Marian Comstock wrote and asked me to write and tell her more about grand-mother Polk's life. I have often thought I would write things down as I remembered mother told us when we were children, but I never never gotten at it.
We, as children, loved to have mother tell us of her life. I can remember of sitting wide-eyed listening to the tragedies of her life. Sometimes, she would tell us of her home life in Germany, and then of their coming to America, the loss of their mother, their loneliness without her, and then of the bringing of the new mother or step-mother home to them. As well as the immigration to Minnesota, the Indian massacre, the loss of their father, and the hardships they went through without a home and among strangers.
Augusta Kreiger Polk
Augusta Kreiger Polk was born in Germany in a town named Orsike (Oshike) - Province of Posen - near Berlin, October 2nd, 1846. Her father, Frederick Kreiger, was a carpenter, one of twelve sons, all of whom were carpenters. Her mother, I think, her name was Hanna: she was a milliner. They lived in Orsike, a suburb of Berlin. They had six children, one son, John August, and five daughters, Williemena, Augusta, Louisa, Caroline and Delia.
When mother was about seven years old she came to America with her parents. Although she was only seven years old, she remember her home in Germany. She said they had a nice house and owned other property beside their own home. They kept, as they called it then, a hired girl, and had everything very comfortable.
One thing that impressed her as a child was their built-in china closet. She said it had glass doors from the floor to the ceiling and the pretty dishes in it. She said the cups hung on little hooks under the shelves and the platters and plates stood back against the wall. Mother used to love to look at the lovely china. This china was only used on rare occasions.
Then, she often, spoke of her father, how kind and gentle he always was. How the children loved him and when he was home he would have a child on each knee and another climbing up the back of his chair with their arms around his neck, and when it was necessary to correct them, how kind and gentle he was and how he would talk to them and explain why it was wrong to do thus and so.
She often spoke of their religious life. They always had family worship and on Saturday there was never any work done after sundown. Everyone had had their bath and supper out of the way, all work done before sundown, as that was the beginning of the Sabbath.
She also told us of the beautiful mansion across the street from them. She said it was just like a park around the house, the lovely flowers and shrubs and trees, it was so pretty. They, as children, used to watch the ladies and gentlemen play tennis on the lawn. It was the home of a Lord, and at the time when mother's parents came to America, he bought those lovely china dishes that my mother used to admire for his oldest daughter who was going to be married.
I have heard my mother and her sister tell of their mother's lovely silk dresses and of the oldest girl wearing out a pair of slippers at a dancing party. These are just little glimpses of their home life so soon to be broken up, but I wanted to give you a little of their home life in Germany before telling of the tragedy that came into this once peaceful, happy, prosperous home that you as young people may understand the terrible evil of drink.
In Germany, people used to serve beer at the table and thought nothing of, as we say, moderate drinking, but I hope as you read on you will realize that what it meant to this family; separation, death and suffering children who had a right to be bought up well and have an education, but who lost their mother and father and were cast on strangers, who, in many cases, abused them. They never had a chance in life.
It was have been about the year of 1851 or 1852 that Grandfather Kreiger was to have build a beautiful house for a saloon keeper. In those days in Germany, the government owned the forests and when a carpenter wanted to build a house he had to buy the trees from the government. The forest ranger or government official would go out in the forest with the contractor and put a certain mark on as many trees as the contractor bought, and thus grandfather bought his trees. On another day, grandfather and the saloon keeper were out in the forest and they found a government hatchet. The saloon keeper wanted grandfather to mark more trees than those which grandfather had purchased. Grandfather said "no, that would not be right." The saloon keeper had bought liquor with him and they had been drinking, and after a while the saloon keeper persuaded grandfather to mark more trees. That is what strong drink does. It deadens one sense of honor and weakens the will power. They say just one drink makes one less capable of driving a car.
When grandfather marked the trees, the sound echoed throughout the forest and the forest rangers heard it and came and arrested grandfather. He was put in jail, then, was allowed a certain number of days to make provision for his family before going back to jail to wait his trial. This seemed like such a disgrace to grandfather as he had always been an honest upright man that he took what money they had on hand and came to America.
This act cost him a great deal of money as he had to bribe all the officials at the Passport Agencies to let him come. Grandmother Kreiger had to sell their home and other property that they had and come later. I do not know just how much later. But, before they came, this saloon keeper died in delirium tremens; and in his delirium he imagined the devil was there to take him and he kept asking for Grandmother Kreiger to come and pray for him. Grandmother went one evening and took mother with her. Mother, a child of about six, remembers what terrible agony this poor man went through. He kept screaming that the devil was right there and would point to where he was.
You, as young people have been spared from hearing much of the effect of strong drink, how some people after a spell of hard drinking would get delirium tremens and would imagine all sorts of things. A common saying was "snakes in their boots."
Selling their home and everything they owned in Germany was very hard on grandmother. She couldn't always sell things for what they were worth and sometimes couldn't get paid at all. Then leaving her nice home and many friends in Germany for a country she knew nothing about made it doubly hard for her.
Finally she started for America with her six young children, the youngest a year old and the oldest a boy who was deaf and dumb was thirteen. The voyage over was hard, the children were seasick and her own Strength had been so weakened that she only lived to meet her husband and fell back dead in his arms when he came to meet them in America.
Grandfather Kreiger had come to Wisconsin, had built a little home for them in the country near Prinsten, in Marquette County. For some unknown reason he had been delayed in meeting them the day they arrived in America. Grandmother was sick and they couldn't speak English and there was no one to meet them. They were taken to the poor house. When grandfather did come, he had difficulty in tracing them. It was three days after their arrival before he found them. When he did come and came into the room where they were, grandmother was sick in bed. She had just raised up, stretched out her arms and he ran to her, put his arms about her, she fell back dead. I do not know where grandmother is buried. (Grandmother is your great grandmother.)
Grandfather took the children to the house he had prepared for them and tried to the best of his ability to be both father and mother to his children. He taught them how to do things. Mother said he always said when they were doing things, to do it well. He would say, people will ask, did you do it? and not how long did it take you to do it?
Grandfather had to go away to work to earn money, so the children were left alone a great deal. Mother said they were so lonesome for their mother, they often cried themselves to sleep and they were afraid to be left alone at night.
Grandfather never touched a drop of liquor from that day to his death and every year, the day of his wife's death, he spent in fasting and prayer.
In the year of July 1857 grandfather married again and bought home a new mother to them. He called the children to come and kiss their new mother, but mother wouldn't go to kiss her. Well, this new mother didn't prove to be a real mother to them, she was very cruel to them and often whipped them unmercifully. She had two sons and a daughter by a previous marriage. Even they ran to grandfather for protection.
She wouldn't let mother and her sisters have their mother's clothes, she gave them to her relatives.
At one time grandfather was away working, as he often had to do to earn money, the stepmother was at home alone with the children, she and the children were working in the garden. She sent Delia, a child of about five, to the house after something and because little Delia stopped to play and forgot to bring whatever she was supposed to, the stepmother came to the house and whipped her with a rope so that there were great ridges on her back. The stepmother had to go to bed afterwards herself, she gotten into such a rage, and was so tired from the beating, and so did poor little Delia. That night their father came home. The other children were sitting outside around a brick oven they used to bake bread and to do cooking on it. The children were quietly talking of what had happened when their father came up. He asked them what they were talking about. They were afraid to tell him but he assured them that he wouldn't tell. So they told him. In the morning he was helping the children dress and saw Delia's back. As strange as it may seem that kind gentle man that he always was, took that rope and slashed his wife around the back. I guess not to draw blood as she had done on the child but so she could feel how it felt.
There were three children born to them. I guess one was not born at the time of their immigration to Minnesota. In the spring of 1862 the family immigrated to Minnesota. They had a covered wagon and an oxen team. They took what cattle they had with them. That meant the older children had to drive the cattle and walk all the way and even farther as the cattle wanted to eat, they would have to run from one to another to drive them. As mother was one of the older ones, she had to help drive the cattle and when they stopped to cook a meal or camp over night, she would be so tired by night. They slept in the bottom of the wagon box and when one turned, they all had to turn.
The oldest girl, Mena, as they called her, didn't go along. She was working for some people, and August, the boy, was in school for the deaf and dumb at Delevan, Wisconsin.
The family settled on a homestead in Minnesota on the west side of the Minnesota River in Renville County, 45 miles above New Ulm, 27 miles from Fort Ridgely, 12 miles below Yellow Medicine, and 11 miles above the mouth of Beaver Creek where a thriving settlement had recently sprung up.
I received this information from the narrative of Justina Kreiger ( the stepmother) as she gave it and was written up in a book with other narratives of the Indian Massacre.
But, before giving her story I want to tell the story as I remember mother used to tell us. I do not know all the connected facts but the things that stand out in my memory, I will try to tell to the best of my ability
Their Minnesota Homestead
They lived on their homestead in Minnesota only a short time, about 3 months. Grandfather had again built them a home and gotten them settled the best he could and then had gone to town to work. Mother, too, had gone to town to work. She was about fourteen years old then.
It was the second year of the Civil War when the Indian War broke out. Grandfather heard of the Indians killing and he hurried home. He and the other settlers hurriedly packed up and started for Fort Ridgely. They only had oxen teams and traveling was very slow. They had traveled all night and in the morning were met by eight Indians. One could speak English and knew some of the party. He told them that they should go back to their homes that they would not hurt them. So they turned back and when they got to grandfather's house they began to fire and kill off the men. They said that the women and children could go along with the Indians. There was a thunder storm coming up and, Indians are afraid of thunder and lightening, they were in a hurry to get back to their Indian camp.
Grandfather knelt down and prayed and then pointed to his heart, so they shot him through his heart, he fell back dead. When mother's stepmother saw her husband killed, she told the Indians to shoot her too. They shot her, she fell out of the wagon with the little baby in her arms. The thunder storm was coming up and the Indians drove away with the wagon of the settlers. In grandfather's wagon there were the children, Louisa 13, and Caroline 11, and Delia 9, and Heneretta about 4 and another child of 2, the latter two were of the second marriage.
When the Indians were driving through the woods in grandfather's wagon, Louisa told the other girls that she would jump out and they should hand the little ones to her but when Caroline and Delia saw her jump they jumped out too and left the little ones in the wagon. They never knew what became of the child of two but Heneretta was found with an Indian Chief's wife. They had her dressed in their Indian costume with beads around her neck. They had taught her to dance their Indian dances and when the soldiers came to claim the children that the Indians had taken she did not want to go but ran and put her arms around the squaw's neck. Well, the three girls who had jumped out of the wagon and I think, a boy of six, the stepmother's boy by a former marriage was with them. They hid in the grass and woods and then went back to the house and were kneeling by their father crying when the stepmother came to. She hadn't been killed. She asked for a drink of water. Louisa went to the well to get the water. Just as she was coming around the house she saw the Indians coming back. She ran back and hid in the tall Prairie grass and Caroline and Caroline and Delia dropped on their faces to make believe they were dead, but the Indians took their rawhide whips and slashed them across the legs and, of course, they couldn't help moving. So the Indians took their hatchets and chopped them across the head. Louisa crept along in the high grass, she said it was nearly as high as her head. Finally she came across a neighbor's boy who was also hiding. When they were sure that the Indians were gone they went back to the house to see if any one was still alive. Caroline and Delia were unconscious and the stepmother must have been too. The little baby, half sister of Louisa, was crying so piteously they took the baby and kept it with them that night. They thought the baby's back must have been broken as it would cry so whenever they moved it.
There was a family not far from where a white man had married an Indian woman. They crept along toward that house thinking that surely the Indians would not kill them, but when they got there the Indians had been there, had killed the man and taken the woman and children with them. They crept around and everyone was either dead or gone. They found a little flour in the house, they mixed some with water to try to feed the baby but it was too weak to eat. It was only about six weeks old. They decided to leave the baby there as it was so near dead, and it hurt it so to carry it. Louisa said she and the boy cried so when they had to leave the baby but felt it was better for the baby. They didn't have anything to feed it and they were afraid the baby's cries would attract or would be heard by the Indians. Aunt Louisa said at one time an Indian rode so close to her she could feel the thud of the horse's feet but evidently the Indian was looking off into the distance and didn't see her as she lay crunched down in the grass.
After this they decided to go back to their home. This was the next day. They found Caroline and Delia had regained consciousness, also a neighbor woman who had been wounded, and this little six year old son of the stepmother. I do not remember of Aunt Louisa telling of him, but probably he was there as the stepmother said in her story of it that he was probably in the wagon and jumped out too after the girls. The stepmother said she came to consciousness in the night and crept off and hid in the woods. It must be so, as I do not remember of Aunt Louisa telling of her, at least she wasn't one of their party. Their party was comprised of six or seven, I do not remember how many. The girls picked up the dead bodies of all they could and put them in the house. They found some food or managed to get something to eat. I think they slept in the house that night but woke up early in the morning and left as they were afraid the Indians would come back. And they hadn't gone far or long when the Indians came back and set fire to the house. They could see it from their hiding place in the woods. This party, one woman who had been wounded and Louisa and the two girls who had been chopped in the head, and at least two boys, I do not know if there were any more or not, lived in the woods and crept along in the high Prairie grass trying to make their way toward Fort Ridgely. They lived on herbs, sometimes corn, anything they could find. Water was a problem. They said sometimes they lapped the dew that formed on the leaves during the night. They suffered cold and hunger and thirst and constant fear of the Indians seeing them. These two girls who had been chopped in the head - their hair was matted to the scars from the blood that had run from their wounds, and the wounded woman must have suffered a great deal too. I do not know just how long they lived like that. It seems, as I remember it, Aunt Louisa said three weeks but stepmother in her narrative says eleven days. Well, that was long enough before the soldiers came to rescue them. The soldiers were bought up from the South where the Civil War was raging.
Now, as to mother, Augusta, as I have written before she was not at home. She had gone to town and was working when the news came that the Indians were killing. She said a man rode through the streets crying "The Indians are killing, The Indians are killing." She said the man was bare headed, the wind blowing through his hair, his coat blown back, and the horse going at a terrible speed through the streets. Everyone became frightened and started for Fort Ridgely. The people mother was working for said they couldn't take her along. She ran out in the street and a minister who lived across the street was getting ready to go and mother asked if they could take her along. He said "yes, child, come along." Although he had a wife and two children and only a one seated buggy they took her along.
They reached Fort Ridgely in safety. Mother got a place to work. She heard that the Indian had killed at the settlement where her people lived. Whenever there were people brought in by the soldiers, she went to see if any of her people might be among them. The first to come was her stepmother's oldest boys. She said they were dirty and alive with lice from living out in the woods and not having a change of clothing or bath and they were half starved. She had them take a bath and go to bed, then she took their clothing and washed and boiled every stitch they had on to kill anything that might be in them. She said the woman she was working for thought she was pretty good for a girl of fourteen to think to do this.
Then, after a while, the others were bought in, the three girls, her sisters Louisa, Carrie and Delia. They, too, were in terrible condition. The two girls with their heads so sore, the hair matted down from the flow of blood, and their clothes were dirty and worn, and they were half starved too. Then, the next thing was to find a home for them, as the stepmother only looked after her own. Mother said she would find a home for the younger girls. These people would be unlike to them. When they were visited by my mother, they would cry and tell her how the people abused them.
Louisa got in a nice family. They were good to her and let her go to school in the winter when there wasn't much work to be done.
Mother was married when she was nineteen, then her sisters whenever any one of them was out of work, they came and stayed with her until they found another place.
Aunt Carrie married quite young, too. She married a man by the name of Louis Wall. They had two children, a boy and a girl. Aunt Carrie was never very well and died young.
Mother and father moved to Chicago in March of the year 1872. Aunt Louisa and Aunt Delia came soon after. They both got married in Chicago. Aunt Louisa married D. W. Palvey. They had four children, two died in babyhood and two lived to young manhood. Both died in their twenty-sixth year. Aunt Delia married a man by the name of John Kwiklebind. They had one little boy who died in babyhood.
Aunt Louisa and Aunt Delia are both dead. The oldest girl, Mena, we called her Aunt Minnie, she married Erhart Propst. They had seven children. They lived in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Uncle August married. They had one little girl. She died in babyhood. Aunt Minnie Propst and Uncle August and Aunt Caroline are all dead.
When mother and father moved to Chicago they had three children, Albertina, Adline and Emma. There were two baby girls born to them in Chicago, Mary and Amelia, both died in infancy and are buried in Chicago.
In the year of 1874, June 16th, my parents moved to Belvidere, Illinois. I was only four years old but I can remember it. The houses looked so small to me and the green grass and flowers were so pretty. I hadn't been used to running on the grass and seeing flowers growing by the road sides. It made a great impression on me.
Edward, Minnie, Frederick William and Lulu and Julia were all born in Illinois and Alice was born in Madison, Wisconsin.
We lived on a farm in Boens County, about 9 miles from Belvidere, Illinois until November 1888. We moved to Madison, Wisconsin. Lived in Madison until the spring of 1896 when we moved on the Marston farm, lived there only a year and then moved on the Hamersley farm near the cemetery. In the year of 1900 father bought a place on Mandota Beach. I think we only lived there a year when father traded that place for some South Madison property. Father and mother both died there: father April 16, 1923; mother March 17, 1924; father 80, mother 78.
This is just a little side light on the Kreiger immigration to Minnesota as given by Aunt Louisa to Paul Stark.
The homestead that grandfather Kreiger had taken up in Wisconsin in the County of Marquette near Nichora proved to be very sandy and hard to make a living. Hearing of very rich soil in Minnesota through Paul Kilsman, a brother of the stepmother, they with seven other families decided to move to Minnesota. So, in the spring of 1862 they started out. Although there were eight families, there were only 17 people in the company. In the Kreiger family, there were 7 girls and 2 boys.
The stepmother had woven the canvas for a double covering for the wagon, also the cloth for the children's clothes. They took what stock they had. They had 7 cows and some steers, 3 yoke of oxen and 30 sheep.
Traveling was very slow as they had no feed for the cattle, so they had to eat along the way, that meant the girls had to walk and drive the cattle.
When they stopped for the night, they had to gather wood for the fire to cook with and carry water which was sometimes a problem. Sometimes they had to drive for miles before they got water. The country was wild and few settlers. One farm they stopped to ask for water, they would only give them one pail of water to a family. They had to stop to ask to bake bread. One place they stopped the man was French and the woman was Indian. I remember mother said one place they stopped was a young unmarried man who asked her father for mother. She was only 14 at the time. Her father said "no". They bought potatoes along the way. They never traveled on Sunday. I would say that was good for man and beast.
There were many difficult things to encounter; snakes, mosquitoes, and all through it was mostly prairie, there were some very steep hills to climb. Sometimes they would have to hitch 6 yoke of oxen to one wagon to get it up the hill and those on foot had to pull themselves up by taking hold of weeds, bushes or trees. They said that the tops of the hills were smooth and trees grew there, with many names inscribed on them. This was in Wisconsin. They crossed the Mississippi River on a ferry. Aunt Louisa said the stepmother made them lay down in the bottom of the wagon and she covered them up so that they wouldn't have to pay toll for them. Aunt Louisa did not say at what point they crossed the river, I imagine at La Cross. She spoke of La Cross at one side of the river and La Cresent on the other and her father buying supplies at La Cresent, buying material for a dress for each at 5 cents a yard. She said they saw many Indians. At one place they were having a dance, big poles erected with ropes attached. They would grab a rope and dance, hoot, and sing. That was near Marketo. She said the Indians never bothered them. She said they usually slept under the wagon but when it rained they slept in the bottom of the wagon, where when one turned, they all turned. It took them 5 or 6 weeks to make the trip. From other notes they must have started about April 21, 1862 and got there about the first of June.
And, that the brother of the stepmother had saved land next to his. It was prairie land, as the wooded land had been taken, but this land later was valuable. Then she told a little of the location. It was in Renville County, 45 miles above New Ulm, 27 miles from Fort Ridgely and 12 miles below Yellow Medicine. She said her father had $60 when they started out and $10 when they got there.
She did not tell anything about their life, the 3 months that they lived there before the Indian Massacre, but we have of that in other reports, that the father build a house for them and had gone to work in the harvest field to earn money when the Indian Massacre broke out. She did tell of some of their experiences and suffering. She said she was 12 years old, another sister, Caroline 10 and Delia 8. I will not give their experiences as it is given in both Emma Polk's write-up, also the step-mother's narrative.
(Signed) Emma Polk