Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chapter Four: The Difficult Years

My grandpa Herman writes in his memoirs: “Things that I can first remember of is the making of cider. The cider mill was located in a combination building with a work shop. A merry-go-round type one-horse-power rig was on the outside and the power was transferred to the grinding mechanism while the pressing was done with a hand pressure screw…Otto and I were generally the ‘governor’ or speed regulator keeping the horse at a fairly even speed.”

An apple press from the 1800's.

“There was nothing wasted in those days, all of the apples that were not sold were made into cider and the pressings that were left were fed to the hogs. The cider was used both for drinking and making vinegar of which about one hundred gallons were sold to stores each year. Grapes were also pressed and made into wine. I can remember one time the pressings were left standing too long and had fermented before being fed to the hogs—they got drunk and really had a good time.”

“By the time winter came, apples, potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables were in the cellar or buried in pits in the ground, hay was in the barn or stacked outside, some was fed to the stock and some sold at five or six dollars a ton. There was timber on the homestead and wood was cut in the woodshed, sugar and flour had been accumulated in exchange for eggs in the stores, a beef and a hog or two were butchered, bacon was smoked in the smoke house, some of the beef was always sold at five or six cents a pound, some was canned or preserved one way or another to keep for a time as there was no refrigeration at the time. A five gallon can of syrup for the pancakes and a five gallon can of coal oil for the lamps were also on hand. Water from the well, no electric or telephone bills.”

“With all of this on hand it appears that there was not much to do thru (sic) the winter but it did not come out that way, wood had to be made for the next year, all by hand with a crosscut saw, split with wedges and sledge and ax. Also general repairs and improvements had to be made. Also during the winter stock had to be fed, the cows milked, by hand, the milk put in pans and placed in cellar until the cream had risen to the top, it was then skimmed off and put into a churn. After the butter was churned mother would take the butter and mold it into two pound rolls covered by a thin paper butter wrapper. This was taken to the stores in exchange for groceries. That which we used was not molded or wrapped.”

Aloisia and Mathias around the turn of the century. Note the grapes hanging from the eaves of the homestead porch.

Herman and Otto worked very hard year-round on their chores. Like their mother, they drove the cows to and from the pasture with the help of their stock dog, Carlo. Nearly seventy years after Carlo passed away, my grandfather Herman spoke lovingly of this huge, friendly dog who did so much of the work around the farm. According to my mother, “Carlo was every bit as much a part of that family as anyone else. He was a big St. Bernard. So big that my father could ride him to get the cows, just like a horse. Carlo was a big, friendly dog, but he loved to bark. One day, he stood on the train track below the homestead and barked at a train. It ran him over. It was a terrible loss for the boys.”

I remember as a little kid listening to my grandpa tell about Carlo. He said he’d grip Carlo by the scruff on his neck, where he had loose skin and fur, and ride him fast across the fields.

This contemporary photo shows how a St. Bernard could easily carry a young child on its back.

They also helped their mother by turning the clothes through the clothes wringer after Aloisia washed each piece on the washboard. The water had to be pulled from a twenty-five foot deep well. In part because of the tremendous amount of work, the two bright and inventive boys began trying to think up ways to save time and make their mother’s hard life easier. In 1912, when Otto was 11 and Herman only ten, they laid and buried a half a mile of iron pipe from a nearby spring to their house. For the first time, they had running water in the house. They installed a water tank, a water-driven washing machine, and even indoor plumbing.

Herman writes, “This was a great labor saver for mother. She thot (sic) she had everything that would ever be needed.”

Soon after, Herman and Otto built a line to the Juliaetta light system for lights and ironing. Through their enterprising work, the boys became interesting in electricity, telephones, and any type of motor, a hobby which later became their profession.

In 1908, Herman graduated from eighth grade. It was the last schooling he would ever get. Herman notes that most students quit after eighth grade “as there was other work for them to do, either on farms or elsewhere.

Photos of Otto and Herman from this time show the gangly teenagers wearing clothing that is several sizes too small for them. Like most farm families, the Schupfers didn’t have extra money for clothing.

Otto and Herman about 1905.

My mother writes, “According to my father, the marriage was not a happy one, in part because of Mathias’ alcoholism and surely in part because these were two older-than-average people struggling in a new country and in a new language.”

“Grandmother had chickens and a garden. The language spoken in the home was the Styrian dialect spoken in their native land and the children only learned English when they went to school. Otto, Herman and Ida spoke this dialect with one another as adults and always when visiting Grandmother or talking of private matters on the phone. When he was with me in Austria in 1952 the Austrians were amazed at Daddy’s language ability; he used words that had gone out of the vocabulary (schnottern=to talk) and they couldn’t believe he had never been in Austria before.”

On a trip to Austria in 1970, Herman meets with his first cousin Karl Schupfer in Gröbming, Austria, his mother’s beloved mountains in the background. Herman and Karl could speak easily together, as Herman remained fluent in Styrian German dialect until the day of his death.

Juliaetta Cemetery Link: Genealogy Records of Schupfers buried there

The link in this post connects you to the records of those buried in the Juliaetta Cemetery, including many of the Schupfers. Scrolling through the list will give dates of births and deaths for the Schupfers.

Chapter Three: On the Homestead

The Schupfer homestead above Juliaetta, Idaho, circa 1907. Mathias built the house himself. It's still there.

“The settling down on the homestead was the beginning of quite a chore,” writes Herman. “At this time it had on it a fruit bearing orchard, some of the ground under cultivation, a house and other buildings on it and with money they got from the sale of the property on Potlatch Ridge they bought some cattle, pigs, chickens and whatever was necessary to make a living on the homestead.”

Aloisia feeds the chickens in the farmyard of the Schupfer homestead, around 1907. She traded farm goods to the Nez Perce Indians for fish and other items not available on the farm.

“Three children were born. Otto in 1891, Herman in 1892 and Ida in 1896. Times got hard during that time—the 1893 depression, hardly any demand for farm products, some wheat burned for fuel as there was no market for it. A little income was derived from the local sale of eggs (for trade in stores) and a few other farm products. Money was scarce. Some money was derived from the sale of fruit (mostly apples) to the Indians. The Indian (Nez Perce) women would usually come on Sunday afternoon and buy fruit and would stay and visit with our mother. They spoke a different language but mother said they always got along fine and had a good time. Mother enjoyed having them come.”

I can’t help but wonder what the Austrian girl thought when she first encountered the Nez Perce Indians at her farm. It speaks highly of her tolerant and kind nature that she enjoyed them and felt no sense of fear or superiority.

Herman continues, “As the reservation was only a few miles away mother got acquainted with quite a few and had dealings with them and found that they were very honest people, and some time they would get in debt for some time but they always paid as soon as they had some money.”
Nez Perce camp at Spalding, about fifteen miles from Juliaetta, 1898.

“Mother said that one time an Indian family had owed them for a long time but the Indian man would come to the house and tell them that he did not have any money yet but would pay as soon as he could. He stopped in a number of times to tell them and on one call he motioned for mother to follow him. She was kind of scared but went with him and he had a large salmon hanging on the wall of a building which he explained was for waiting so long but that he still did not have any money. She had a hard time telling him that was enough for what he owed and when he understood he was a very happy Indian and thanked her very much. Our folks always spoke very highly of the Indians.”

A Nez Perce woman from the reservation near the homestead. She is wearing her finery and has a beautiful beaded purse.

This tolerance for other people was passed from Mathias and Aloisia to their three children. Though my grandpa would often use racist expressions, they were more sayings that were in common usage at the time and I never saw him meet anyone, of any color or religion, that he did not hit it off with right away. Everyone was his friend. This gregariousness and tolerance for others was passed on to his own children. My mother Beverly is the same way. She loves interacting with people of other nations and beliefs, and she and my father have passed that on to their children. We, in turn, have taught our kids that God created all men equal and that to think less of anyone is simply wrong. My own saying is ‘Everyone is my equal, and no one is my better’.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chapter Two: Great-Grandfather Mathias Schupfer

Directions: Read this blog from the bottom up for correct order.

Chapter Two: Mathias

When Aloisia was in her mid-thirties—an old maid—she was asked by Matthias Schupfer, from the nearby village of Gröbming, to marry him and go with him to the new world. Matthias had already lived in the United States for some years.

As my mother tells it, “the story was that he was ready to marry and start a family. He went back to the old country to find a wife. He had one in mind, but she turned him down. So grandmother was his second choice. I wonder whether she jumped at the chance to go out in the world or whether it was a hard decision for her, as she surely knew she would probably never see her family in Austria again—or her beloved mountains.”

Aloisia was not an attractive woman. She had dark, craggy features, bushy eyebrows which have been a family trait in our family ever since, large manly hands, and an oversized nose. She was of a sturdy build and tended towards plumpness. Nobody in the family knows for sure why she had not been married before Mathias showed up, but it is possible that her physical unattractiveness was a factor. This is the earliest photograph we have of Aloisia, taken around 1894, when she was around forty years old. Matthias is holding my grandfather Herman on his lap. Herman's brother Otto is standing between them.

The Schupfer family tree has been traced back to early patriarch Georg Schupfer, who was born around 1750. His son, Josef, was born at Untertal #30 in 1790 and died in 1850. His son, Mathias Schupfer, was born in Birnberg #15 (the same town the Knaus family was from) in 1812 and died in 1885. This Mathias was my great-grandfather Mathias’s father.

My great-grandfather Mathias Schupfer is an enigmatic character who doesn’t come out too well in family stories. Though a very hard worker and a skilled carpenter, he had a terrible drinking problem. In fact, my grandfather was so upset by his father’s drinking that he refused to drink a drop of liquor in his whole life. Mathias brought his new bride to a strange land, fathered three children, and then, as soon as they were old enough to manage the farm without him, he abandoned the family, never to be seen again. I do not remember my grandpa ever saying anything much about him, other than that he’d left them and that he was an alcoholic. My grandfather was also very sad that because Mathias had abandoned the family, Herman had to quit school after eighth grade to run the farm with his older brother Otto. Herman was such a smart man that it was a shame that he never was able to go to high school or college. However, he became a successful businessman despite his lack of formal schooling.

My grandfather Herman writes in his family history: “My father Mathias Schupfer was born March 16, 1843 in Winkl, Gröbming, Steiermark, Austria. He came to America in the 1870’s on a wind jammer (sail boat) as a carpenter. He worked his way across the ocean to earn his passage. The only big job he had to do on the voyage was to build a coffin for a deceased passenger.”

A windjammer from the time period.

“It took three weeks to cross the Atlantic from Hamburg, Germany to New York, New York. He went to Pocahontas, Missouri where he had a half-brother who had emigrated there previously. His name was Joseph Ladreiter.”

“Father did carpenter work there and later went to California, doing carpenter work around San Francisco. A brother, Rupert, followed him from Austria and they decided to find some land to homestead. They came north to Portland, Oregon, father doing carpenter work while Rupert looked for a location. Rupert came to Lewiston, Idaho in 1877 by way of Yakima, Washington. He would hire an Indian with an extra saddle horse every time he wanted to go farther. He met General Howard’s army in Umatilla, they going down, he coming up.”

General O.O. Howard, who’d lost an arm in the American Civil War and won the Medal of Honor, had been charged with moving the Nez Perce tribe from their homeland in Oregon to a reservation in Idaho. Nez Perce Indians near Spalding, Idaho in the 1890s. Aloisia knew many and traded with them for goods.

Herman continues the story: “After arriving in Lewiston father met him later and they spent some time looking around Anatone, Washington, then back to Lewiston and father doing carpenter work around Genesee (Idaho).”

“Rupert was told at Lewiston that there were good prospects that a railroad would be built down the Big Potlatch Creek so he hired a saddle horse and rode through Genesee and down over Fix Ridge to the neighborhood of the Big and Middle Potlatch Creek junction. Here he found good water and timber. Here they decided to homestead. Rupert filed on 160 acres, part of what is now Juliaetta and father filed on 160 acres farther north one fourth of a mile in 1879.”

My mom adds, “Grandfather Schupfer bought land on Potlatch Ridge, homesteaded, and later moved to Juliaetta.”

“They each built a cabin and were required to sleep on their land a certain number of nights each year for five years and make certain improvements. Rupert did most of the improving while father did carpenter work as money was needed.”

“In 1884 they were issued deeds to their homesteads, these were signed by President Chester A. Arthur. Father kept on making improvements on his own place and also for others. Rupert platted part of his homestead as a townsite, this was at that time named Schupfer.” The name was later changed to Juliaetta. The postmaster of Schupfer, Idaho proposed changing the name to honor his two daughters, Julia and Etta. Thus, the Schupfer name lost its chance to grace an American town.

“Our father Matthias made a trip back to Austria in 1887 and in 1888 Aloisia Knaus of Schladming, Austria came back with him and they were married in New York, New York. From there they went by boat to Norwalk, Virginia (possibly Norfolk) then by train to Palouse Junction where they were met by his brother Rupert, with a team and buggy or hack (spring wagon).”

In a photograph taken about 1900 on Mathias’s front porch near Juliaetta, the three Schupfer brothers pose with home-made wine from their vineyards. Left to right, they are Rupert, Mathias, and Florian.

The letter above was written on May 28, 1886 in Juliaetta, Idaho by Matthias’s brother Rupert. Written in old German script, my mom and I had a friend of hers from Germany translate it for us. It tells of planting many trees on Rupert’s land. Rupert planted over 6,000 trees on his land, both sugar maples and catalpas. Rupert also writes that he has just gotten married two days previously to Constancia Altmiller. Rupert writes: “Altmiller was very much against it because he wanted his daughter to marry only a Catholic. But our relationship had developed so far that marriage had become an urgent matter.”

Two Great Women: Aloisia Schupfer and Beverly Schupfer Morris

This photo shows my mom, Beverly Schupfer Morris, with her grandmother, the subject of this blog, Aloisia Knaus Schupfer, around 1933 in Kendrick, Idaho. My mom wrote up her memories of her grandmother this year and, combined with the memoirs of my grandfather Herman, these form the basis for this biography.

Aloisia was born in a small Alpine village in Austria, and came to America, where she homesteaded in rural Idaho in the 1880's. She regularly traded with the Nez Perce Indians, raised three children, was abandoned by her husband, and yet lived a life of quiet dignity that touched all who knew her.

Reading this Story: Instructions

Until I figure out how to change the story order, readers must begin at the end, so to speak. For instance, the first blog is the introduction, and it is at the bottom, followed by the second blog, etc.

I am posting the story in its entirety over the next week or so.

Chapter One

A hut up on the Riesachsee, a high mountain lake where Aloisia went each summer to live in a small hut and take care of the cattle.

Chapter One: The Sennerin

Aloisia Knaus was born in the little village of Birnberg, not far from the town of Schladming, in Steiermark, Austria, on July 2, 1856. “Steiermark is one of Austria’s crown jewels,” writes my mother Beverly, “with towering mountains, high alpine lakes, forests, and meadows abloom with wildflowers in the summer. When I first visited there in 1951, I realized that what I saw was what I imagined as I read the book Heidi as a child.”

A map of Steiermark, Austria, showing its general location. Aloisia was born near the town of Schladming, on far left of pink part of map.

“Grandmother didn’t tell me much about her childhood and life in Austria and most of what I know I remember hearing from my father. She did have several brothers, the youngest of which I was able to visit in 1951.”

The seal of the province of Steiermark, Austria

“Indeed, Aloisia as a child and young woman had experiences similar to those of Heidi, who lived with her grandfather in a chalet on an ‘Alm’ in the Alps of Switzerland. As a young woman, Aloisia was a ‘Sennerin’—a person who lived during the summer on the high mountain pasture, caring for the animals, milking them and turning the milk into butter and cheese. Periodically, one of her brothers would make the trek from Birnberg to the Alm, bringing supplies for her use and carrying the dairy products down to Schladming to the market.”

“When I was in Austria as a student in 1951-1952,” Beverly remembers, “my father came to visit the Old Country and we were able to visit the Alm in the mountains and indeed, located the very hut where she lived, summers, as a girl. Imagine a cup-shaped area surrounded by mountain peaks and carpeted in lush grass splattered with flowers. In the bottom of the cup is a small lake and scattered around the area are several other similar huts owned by other animal keepers. And Johanna, Grandmother’s niece with whom she kept in touch by letter after her migration to the United States, was our guide for the visit to the Alm and its lake, the Riesachsee. Although she was in her seventies at the time, she could still climb the steep mountain path to the Alm. She was able to help us find the very hut which had once belonged to the Knaus family and we were even invited in by the occupant and shown around. What I remember is a cozy little cabin on a hill slope, with the animals sheltered in the lower part dug into the hillside. One room on the main floor was the kitchen, sleeping and eating room, and another space next to it was another ‘kitchen’ with a bigger stove and equipment for making the butter and cheese.”

A teenage girl wears the traditional dirndl of Steiermark, Austria. As a teenager, Aloisia would have worn this functional outfit.

A modern photo of the Riesachsee, where Aloisia spent her summers as a semmerin. Note the small wooden huts around the edge of the lake.

“When the animals, probably cattle, were driven from Birnberg up to the Alm Aloisia carried a beehive on her back.

In addition to watching the cattle, Aloisia tended the beehives and harvested the honey. She carried the beehive up to the Alm on her back each summer.

“Many years later,” remembers Beverly, “we hiked up to the Riesachsee again. It had changed considerably from the way it was in 1951, with a restaurant and ‘Jausenstation’ where one could buy drinks and spend a pleasant sunny summer afternoon. At that time, one still had to walk up the mountain trail to get there.”

Modern hikers enjoy the peaceful scenery at the Riesachsee

A contemporary photo of the town of Schladming, Austria

“As a young woman, Aloisia probably worked in one of the shops in Schladming. She sang in the choir of the Protestant Church—the ‘evangelische Kirche’—in Schladming, still in use today.

The Protestant Lutheran Church in Schladming that Aloisia attended

“Austria is a Roman Catholic country, but this part of Steiermark has a considerable number of Protestant churches. I believe the reason for this is that the difficult mountain terrain kept this area relatively isolated during the Counter-Reformation, thus blunting its thoroughness,” writes Beverly.

Part One: Introduction

Aloisia Knaus Schupfer
Her Story

Dedicated to My Mom, Beverly Schupfer Morris


A human life is incredibly short, and like the wisp of smoke that curls into the air only to disappear without a trace, so too must we all. In the short time allotted us on this earth, many of us leave little or no permanent mark. None, at least, that will outlast us more than the memories of those who knew us. Our main legacy, in most cases, is our children and grandchildren. Some individuals live such exemplary lives, however, that they radically alter the posterity of their families forever. They are people of great courage, character, and strength, about whom stories are told long after they are gone.

One such person is my great-grandmother, Aloisia Knaus Schupfer. From the time I was little, I heard stories about her, the young Semmerin who had followed the cows high up to an alpine lake every summer and lived alone in a wooden hut, living an existence right out of the pages of Heidi. It was family legend how she had agreed to marry a distant cousin and come to America, perhaps seeing she had no real prospects of marriage or children in Austria, and how she ended up a farm wife in the Idaho panhandle, barely able to speak English, trading her farm goods to the Nez Perce Indians for fish. Or of how her alcoholic husband had abandoned her, leaving her to raise three children alone. Despite the hardships of life, Aloisia Schupfer lived a life of kindness, service and love of family. My grandfather, Herman Schupfer, her second son, could speak only with kindness and affection about his mother. She had been the rock in the family for as long as he could remember. My mother, Beverly, her granddaughter, remembers her as a kind old woman who lived alone and spoke with a thick German accent. Of course, I don’t remember her at all. She died many years before I was born. But through the stories of my grandfather, his brother Otto, and my mother, I feel like I know her.

Several years ago, I realized that my own parents were older, and that eventually they, too, would be departing this life. I had always been attached to my parents, my mother particularly, and this new realization was deeply disturbing. In addition, I had spent quite a few years beginning in 2000 tracing down and recording the stories of the airmen who flew dangerous missions over Europe in World War Two, trying to find the stories that these men knew before they flew their final missions. This got me thinking about my own family. Every family has the material for a dozen great stories. Here I was preserving the stories of airmen and hadn’t really taken the time to find out or preserve the stories of my own family. If I didn’t do it, then future generations of descendants might never know about their ancestors. My father, Robert, also a writer, put together a brilliant story of the Morris family a few years back, but other than my grandfather Herman, nobody had done much with my mother’s side of the family.

I decided to write the story of my great-grandmother, because she is one of the most fascinating people I’ve heard of. A deeply sympathetic character, her life was never easy and she knew more than her share of separation and heartbreak, but she retained her basic goodness and loving demeanor right to the end. A woman tied to the old country, she continued to speak German with her children and had many German-speaking friends in an area settled by Austrian and German immigrants. She read a German Bible and subscribed to German newspapers. Her three children were thoroughly Americanized, without the hint of an accent, and yet they could launch into the archaic provincial German dialect spoken in the high Alps of Steiermark with perfect ease.

To write this history, I have relied on two sources. My main source is my mother Beverly, who knew Aloisia and has many memories of her, though all are through the eyes of a young girl. My other source is my late grandfather, Herman Christian Schupfer, who passed away in 1975. My grandpa was a history buff and instilled a love of history in me. Though he only had an eighth grade education (he’d had to quit school and work on the farm after his father left), he was a brilliant man who wrote three privately published books of history about the Latah County area. I spent many hours listening to his stories (he loved to talk) and looking through his ‘museum’ that he’d built in his basement. The most important thing my grandpa gave me was my faith in God. He was a religious man, and had gotten this strong faith from his mother, so one might even say that the gift she gave to him, she also gave to me.

Someday, when I have more time, I hope to write a novel about my great-grandmother. For now, a brief history will have to suffice. The important thing is to record the story, before it’s too late.