CIRCUIT RIDERS IN WISCONSIN
Compiled by DuWayne H. Zamzow for PVCW Membership Meeting
February 12, 2006
“Old Lutheran” immigrants were those Lutherans, primarily in Pomerania, who rebelled against the Prussian king’s decision to unite all the Protestants, Reformed and Lutheran, into one “union” church. “Old Lutherans” were the minority of Lutherans who felt their confessions of faith was thereby compromised and decided emigration to retain their confessional integrity. The first wave of “Old Lutherans” emigration took place in 1839. Those on the first wave settled in Freistadt and Milwaukee. Much has been written about this group of early Lutherans, Pomeranian settlers in this state.
Pomeranian Lutherans were unusually well versed in basic Lutheran doctrine. It wasn’t just part of their church life: it was their family life. Parents taught the catechism in the home and the pastors preached regular sermons on the catechism and conducted quizzes in church.
A factor important to understanding our ancestor immigrants to this country is the Pomeranian character. Home and family are central values. The people are more kind-hearted than friendly; not frivolous and also not very joyful, but rather somewhat serious and melancholy. Otherwise, they are an upright, faithful, reserved people that hate lies and flattery, gladly host guests, and just as gladly go as guests, and according to their customs and their means are good to one another. The Pomeranian may not be quick to change his opinion, but once he has made up his mind, you don’t change it easily. Once a Pomeranian knows he is right, he does not waver.
The Reiseprediger (itinerant preacher) actually served as a traveling vacancy preacher, serving both organized and unorganized Lutheran congregations because of the lack of pastors in all synods.
The first Reiseprediger, the Rev. Gottlieb Fachtmann, went on a mission journey in 1857, on his own, while he was the called pastor in two congregations about 25 miles northwest of Milwaukee.
At a synod convention conducted in 1859 the German missionary societies were asked to sponsor a Reiseprediger. In early 1860 one of the societies sponsored the program by setting a total of $100 a year for five years and that a second society would soon follow suit. Both societies objected to keeping Fachtmann as a Reiseprediger so both sides of the ocean began looking for a new candidate. They chose a scholarly young pastor named Eduard Moldehnke who arrived in August of 1861 and settled in Watertown, WI.
In September he embarked on his first journey. The societies ordered him to find a permanent place for the winter months so he accepted a call to the Fort Atkinson area where he served the city and the surrounding area.
About six weeks after he completed his first journey he sent the following report:
On September 17, 1861 I traveled from Watertown to Waupun. After searching for several hours I finally found a religious family - from whom I received a friendly welcome after I mentioned the name Muehlhaeuser. He had stayed with them three years earlier. A Reform pastor comes to Waupun every three weeks, but he is not well received by the Lutheran families. They say he is quite long-winded. Some strongly desire a Lutheran pastor while others could care less.
On September 18th I went to the City of Berlin, WI. I was informed that most of the small number of Germans there were Catholic; a few were Methodist and two or three Lutheran, the latter now apostate (one who completely forsakes his religion).
On September 19th I went with a stagecoach to Town Almond, a distance of about 40 miles. About 16 German families lived there. Here I received a cordial welcome so I went to several farmers, inviting them to come to the service. That evening I preached in a schoolhouse. I had the people promise me that they would conduct Sunday School and reading services. They were anxious to do that in order to get a preacher. They especially wanted religious instruction for their children as was the case in most areas that I visited. They listened to my explanatory remarks with great attention.
On September 20th I went on foot to four other families who live about 5 miles out of Almond. It was raining so they were all at home so I preached to them that afternoon and they invited me to come back on my next journey. I then went in the heavy rain to Plover but I was not able to locate the one German family there. Because of the weather I stayed overnight in a hotel.
Early on the next day I went five miles to Stevens Point and received a cordial welcome from the one everyone calls Grandma Steinke. I went through the spread-out village to invite them to the service. I was able to secure a schoolhouse of $1.00 for my Saturday and Sunday services. Between 25 and 30 persons attended. I had three councilmen elected. Their election was to be certified only after all of the Germans who were working out of town could express their views in another meeting.
On September 28th I took a stagecoach to Wausau, a distance of 36 miles. It is a village surrounded by blackened tree stumps, lying in a beautiful area along the Wisconsin River and is actually the last village in that direction. I stayed with Mr. Paff and preached to about 30 people that evening. Earlier in the day I had a meeting with a Missouri Synod pastor (circuit rider), named J. J. Hoffmann, who would like to settle there, but is being rejected by the people. He has a congregation in the woods about ten miles out of Wausau (Naugart), but hurries on horseback to about 30 stations. Because of a lack of physical strength he accomplishes little of importance. He was very rude to me even though he is only about 21 year old. Naturally I repudiated his attacks, but, I am afraid, too mildly. His superior, Pastor Strieter, who lives in Princeton, became entangled in a terrible dispute on the street with the local Methodist preacher, so much so that each protected himself with a cane. Because of his domineering manner Hoffmann has caused offence in all places he has preached. Even many of his own congregations want to get rid of him.
On September 24th I and a young man went 11 miles into the wild forest - Town of Stettin. About 50 families, mostly Pomeranians, live there but are widely scattered. That evening I preached in the only schoolhouse in the area. The people are very anxious to have their own preacher. Previously they were quite poor, but today are prosperous. The land is very good. My host, Hermann Marquardt, lives on a six acre piece of land that he cleared the past year. I spoke with a man, who together with his wife, cleared an area of 20 acres without the aid of oxen. There is a large virgin forest nearby – sugar maple, elm, pine, and hemlock. New German settlers arrive here every year.
On September 25th I returned to Wausau because I had promised them that I would celebrate Thanksgiving Day with them. I instructed two girls, 15 and 18, that week. The latter wanted to get married but wanted to be confirmed before that.
The 26th I delivered the Thanksgiving Day sermon.
On the 27th several farmers from the Town of Stettin – 16 miles from Wausau – asked me to conduct services for them because at that time they were not busy. I was willing to do so because I saw how they treasured the Word of God, and I promised to preach to them on Oct. 1st. Also other people in the Town of Stettin – seven miles from Wausau – asked me to visit them. Here there is a teacher, Mr. Theodor Wegner who is doing all he can to have a preacher called there.
On Sunday September 29th, I conducted a confessional service in Wausau, delivered a sermon, confirmed the two girls, communed 18 persons, and baptized a child. Then I went seven miles on a miserable road to the Town of Berlin where a large group was waiting in a schoolhouse (former Naugart School). The people, mostly Pomeranians, made a favorable impression on me. Those who were leaning on Methodism wanted to return to our church if a Lutheran preacher would come.
I stayed overnight with a farmer, John Bartel, and slept in the same bed with him - a horrible experience. After a sleepless night I left there on September 30th with Wegner who accompanied me for five miles and introduced me to those who lived on that road. The entire trip of nine miles to Town Berlin was made on indescribably bad roads. I arrived at Mr. Zastrow’s place (perhaps St. Peter’s west of Little Chicago area) where I encountered very frightening experiences. In the neck of the woods live several Old-Lutherans, difficult and pious, if both can exist together. After several consultations the people gave me permission to preach, but on the text they would not give me until that evening. After being treated in such a manner, I simply sat there until evening, but did instruct the children.
That evening for a text they handed me a blank piece of paper. I based my sermon on that, namely, that a person is nothing in his own thoughts, etc., without God. I then was tormented with many insidious questions, after which I was directed to a miserable room for my night’s rest. On the following morning, Oct. 1st, more irksome arguments about confessions, etc. – I gladly left that place in the rain on the worst roads possible and went three miles farther to people who invited me earlier. I preached there at noon and hurried back 16 miles to Wausau in the rain.
In Wausau, 26 families are ready to organize a congregation but want a preacher first. If we consider the entire area, about 300 German families live there. The report continues recording his experiences on his return to Watertown.
In November, 1859, I started for Wisconsin with my wife and three children. After arriving in Milwaukee I mailed letters for my journey – no response. So after eight days I said “We will start”. We rode train to Ripon than found a wagon and loaded it. My wife and two small children sat beside the driver and I and little Fred sat behind them on a box. On our way to Princeton we experienced fairly good roads until we entered the Indian roads territory. That is what they called it because it was bought from them for one cent per acre. Our arrival became known immediately. The pastor is here! These people had come from Posen in Germany. They called me Preacher and my wife Mrs. Preacher.
We left Princeton and now the real Indian land roads began with rail bridges across the marshes. The driver referred to this as “That _____ wooden country”! Everything appeared Indianlandish even the food tasted Indianlandish. Evening came and we were put up in a house with a family. Sleep didn’t want to come and I heard my wife sobbing softly. It also weighed heavily on me. This went on for several days and nights. Then I said “Libby, don’t cry anymore. The dear Lord had led us here and he will take of us”. They had built a parsonage in German style, not plastered, but filled with out with clay. It had two rooms and a bedroom. I bought a horse, Charley, 6 yrs. old for $60, hitched him to a sled and drove to Wautoma and bought two stoves, bedspreads etc. and we moved in. I preached never less than four and no more than nine times per week and traveled mostly with horse, around 6,000 miles per year. The people were good singers and could sing all melodies. My sermons I prepared and studied mostly when riding. To teach school I had very little time, because almost every day and night I was in the saddle, on the buggy or sled.
One day my neighbor lady came with an old lady. It was her mother from Big Bull. Beyond Wausau flows the Wisconsin River. Above Wausau the river had a fall which the log-floaters called Bull. Near Wausau was another fall; this one they named Big Bull. Further down was another which they named Grandfather Bull. Thus Wausau got its name Big Bull. Letters that I wrote and addressed Big Bull, all got there. The old lady told me, beyond the town in the woods, ten to twenty miles in circumference, lived many people, Pomeranians. They have no pastor. Three years ago their pastor had left them and became a saw-miller. I promised the lady that I would go and preach to those Pomeranians. In two days I made the trip there. On the first day I reached Stevens Point; the second Big Bull (Wausau). In many places I preached in schools and in houses. During the week, mostly nine times, held communion and baptized.
Hardships and Incidents
One winter was exceptionally cold. It was Christmas and we intended to hold Communion. One elder came to me with his face all wrapped up and said, “Will we go?” I said, “Yes”. I hitched my horse to the sled, put the Communion ware in the box; threw a buffalo robe over it and away we went. Did that horse run! In front of the schoolhouse I had to turn. I upset the sled. My wife got back in and I put the robe over her. I ran to the schoolhouse and arrived with white spots as large as a dollar on each check. My wife got some snow to draw out the frost. We set the things on the table; I returned with the wine and it appeared like chopped ice. We had no service and we returned home.
Another time the snow banks were 6’ to 8’ and I got lost and didn’t know where I was. I was freezing terribly. I hung the reins over my head and wrapped the buffalo robe around me. Getting colder continuously, I thought this night you will freeze to death; and I began praying the dear Lord should take my soul unto him if my last hour had come. Then I thought of my wife and children, “No” I said to the Lord, “you can not allow me to freeze to death. Please bring me home again to my family”. Sleep wanted to overwhelm me; therefore, I waved my arms and legs continuously and prayed, asking the Lord to have pity on me. Suddenly I recognized the schoolhouse and in fifteen minutes I found my way home. When I entered the house my wife got out of bed, piled all kinds of things upon me, gave me a warm drink but my teeth were still chattering. It was three o’clock in the morning. The following day I sat on the sled from the seven am until three the next morning without a meal.
I wrote to Professor Craemer for an assistant. He answered he was sending J. J. Hoffman. He was rather young and unsteady and could not be trusted with a congregation of his own. He should work under me for a year, and I should keep an eye on him. He came and we intended to do the work. He should especially serve the Big Bull area. I told Hoffman to go to Big Bull, remain there two weeks and then come home. He went and came home after 14 days. I let him preach here at Schmidt’s. After the service he asked me how I liked his sermon. On the Friday before, I had given him a book on Luther and told him to study it. He soon laid the book aside and started visiting (not studying). The next day I told him, “You used many words, but I don’t know what you said. Hoffman, thus you will become nothing but a miserable chatterer. Put aside Greek and French. Read Luther; then you will be able to preach and say something worth while”. He hung his head and went back to Big Bull. There he told the congregation (St. Paul’s Naugart) to call him which they did. I asked him how he could do this behind my back when he knew this congregation belonged to me. He asked to be forgiven. I obliged to let it pass, yes, was told to ordain him but the man came to a sad end.
On another occasion I was told I would need to use a boat. They gave me a neat little boat with two oars. I got in and started for the other side. Soon I noticed the boat was leaking considerably. I rowed with might and main! The water rose. I was obliged to raise my feet from the floor on a cross piece because I could not dip. I kept rowing; the wind was strong and came from the side, and made the rowing very difficult. Soon my boat was filled over half. Now I became alarmed. I was sweating; my hands hurt. Finally I was across but totally exhausted and my hands filled with blisters.
Trials in Fall Creek
I got off the stage coach and walked to Fall Creek to my people. With few exceptions they were my church members in the so-called Indian Country and very happy to see me. I preached to them and, on my way home, riding on the stage day and night, the driver fell asleep and got off the path and lost in the bushes. The men got out of the stage and looked for the road. Once found they realized the stage was at the edge of steep hill and needed to be turned. The three men in the stage hung on one side so it wouldn’t tip and we finally got back on the road. I had written to my wife to get me from Montello, but she never got the letter and because of the delay getting lost, she was not there so I had to walk home twelve miles. I was not used to walking long distances. I hadn’t gone far when my feet hurt; the foot soles burned like fire. I sat down, pulled off shoes and stockings and tried it barefoot. But the sand was hot and every little stone hurt. I pulled on my stockings again and walked in them about 10 miles.
I received a written notice to preach in a number of places. A man promised me a big riding horse. They told me that my “horse had the heaves but just ride him; he won’t die!” My horse started to gallop and I thought, “Oh me, O my, what will this end in”. His gallop was so terrible that he always bounced me into the saddle with full force. The effects soon followed. I got colic and was obliged to tell the man to halt so I could sit on the wagon and tie my horse behind. The pains increased. Finally the man was obliged to drive slowly. I told him to stop at a drugstore, which he did. The druggist was just sweeping. I told him I was ill. He said, “I can see that.” He went and prescribed a yellow mixture, a half-glass full. How it tasted, I do not remember! Hardly had I swallowed it when I felt a hot sensation in my stomach, but the pains were gone. I mounted my horse and rode on to Chippewa Falls.
When I went to Big Bull I brought a pocket full of money home. Certainly it was dimes, nickels, three-cent pieces, large two-cent pieces, one six-pence, a shilling, and seldom two shillings. I emptied my pocket on the table before my wife. She sorted and put each denomination into a separate sack and enjoyed her treasure. Once I had to ride a great distance to baptize three children. After it was done, he counted out on my hand 37 cents. I said,”That surely is all the money you have?” He said “Yes” I said, “Good and well. I’ll give it to you again and will add the same amount to it.” He began to cry and said, “Oh, it should be an offering of thanks that my children are now baptized and now you don’t want to take it.” “Well”, I said, “If it should be an offering of thanks, than I will take it.”
At another occasion a lady said to me, “Pastor, I am a widow and have no money but I do wish to give you something. Here is a sack of nuts. Take them with you for your children.” My people in the Indian Country gave me $200.00, rye for bread, food for the horse and some wheat.
From Menomonee I hurried over the river by ferry, than rode up a hill to a saloon. I said, “Are you German?” the answer was “Yes, sir”. I told him who I was and what I wanted. He said, “Yes, people are here, but where could we meet?” I said, “Here is place enough.” He said, “Do you want to preach in a saloon?” I said, “Certainly!” He said, “Alright!” He took my horse to the barn and pointed to a door to the family. I remained overnight. In the morning quite a number arrived. I read part of the hymn verse, sang and they sang also. After singing I leaned my back against the counter behind which stood the whiskey bottles and preached. Soon the door opened and somebody looked in, and then slammed the door. So it happened again and again. It was funny I had to be careful not to laugh. After the sermon I baptized two children.
I came to LaCrosse, got on the cars and rode to Pardeeville. There I had left my Fannie in the livery stable. This time I left her there until I returned. I hitched her to the buggy and started for home. I hadn’t driven far when I felt ill, drove under an oak, and let the horse eat from a bush. I lay down but could not vomit, nothing but sour, bitter water and finally blood I threw up. I was so dizzy, the whole world spun around and I had a severe headache. It was evening - I had to go on. I crept to my buggy, clambered up, held on the either side of the seat and started. I was obliged to let the horse walk; my head would not stand faster driving. Towards morning I came home, laid down a while and then intended to undress to go to bed. But my underwear was pasted to my sore legs so that I was obliged to lay on a hot wet towel to soak them loose. From the crotch to the knees the legs were raw. That was the result of riding that big horse.
Synods and Conference Attendance
Only once, did I not attend the local conferences because I was ill and in 1854 I missed the synod conference because I did not have the fare. I was too poor. In the first half of the sixties I went to attend Synod in St. Louis with a full beard and had to endure much banter. It happened thus: In Big Bull I shaved at a farmer’s house. He only had a triangular piece of a mirror. This was placed in a crack of the log house wall. That was alright, but the razor was like a saw. The tears were running down my cheeks. So I asked myself, “Did the dear Lord let the beard grow so that I should torment myself by shaving?” “No!” and from that time on I let my beard grow. And until today no razor came across my face. Pastor Cloeter in St. Louis was pleased to see me with a beard. Later we had a synod conference in Monroe, MI and there Cloeter also appeared with a bull beard. In the evening a conference was to be held but there wasn’t much going on. Mr. Jox proposed me as chairman, so I was the chairman and Cloeter the secretary. He wanted two bearded men in the front. Soon not only a few, but many followed my example. Yes, even my dear Professor Creamer let his beard grow.
I told my people in the Indian country and in big Bull. “If ever any of these sectarians come to you for help, and you can do so, then do it, but if they should begin trying to convert you, or start praying, then tell them to leave. If they should not leave, then get the broom and sweep them out even if it should be a pastor. This you will get rid of these people. “Don’t attend their meetings!”
My Departure from the Indian Country
The Pastors Strasen and Link came with their wives to visit us. They remained one day and two nights. When they left, my wife and I accompanied them a distance. My wife sat with the ladies in Strasen’s
buggy and Link was in my buggy. He now began to inquire about my work, the hardships, and about my health. Without the least bias, I related. I told him that for the last half year I had trouble with my stomach. After he heard all, he said, “You must leave here. You served here long enough. Otherwise you will be done for.” We, now, returned to our house and they proceeded on their way. In a short time, four calls arrived. The first was from Aurora, IL. Soon after this one, another came from Yorkville, IL. The call from Aurora was signed by Pastor Beyer with a letter by Pastor Wunder, both residing in Chicago. I wrote a letter to my president, Ottomar Fuerbringer in Frankenmuth, MI asking him for advice. The answer soon arrived: “My Dear Strieter! The call from Aurora is from God. Go in the Lord’s name, but see to it that an able, practical pastor be your successor.” Signed: Ottomar Fuerbringer.
I, now, attended the conference in Milwaukee and laid my call before this body. Unanimously they decided. “Go!” After I returned home, I announced it at my principal congregations and asked all elders to meet with me to act in the name of the congregations. I laid my call from Aurora before them and read Fuerbringer’s letter; told them of the decision of the conference. How things stood here they all knew. One of the elders, whom I formerly had reprimanded, and on this account he didn’t like me so very well, said, “If a call is from God, then we must give consent by keeping silent or by not making objections.” The others opposed him. So it went to and fro. Finally I said, “I will go out and leave you alone, so each of you can speak his mind freely. If you agree that I should remain here, according to God’s will, then this call will be returned by mail tomorrow.” I left. After about fifteen minutes, I returned. “Well, what is the result?” They thought I should accept the call. Their reason was this: Ten members has separated and called a Pastor Schmidt from Princeton. These ten had left because they could not agree with the congregation concerning the time of church service. My elders believed that if a new pastor came here, those ten would return again. But later I heard they did not return. Two of the elders did not say “yes”, but gave in to the rest. Now, I wrote to Aurora, that I had accepted their call!