Strieter Autobiography: Winter Trips to Wausau

[Continued from Part 26. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Hardships and Happenings (continued)

It was winter, I’m riding to Big Bull, it starts to snow and keeps on snowing and snowing. The snow gets deeper and deeper. I can’t ride fast any more, stay overnight halfway to Steven’s Point.9 Gets terribly cold. I’m lying in the bed and freezing, finally get up, go out, open a door and, on a hope and a prayer, call out in English, “Landlord!”

“Huh?” is the answer I get. I ask him to get up. He comes.

“I have to go,” I say.

He accompanies me out to the stable, puts the saddle on. I pay and take off; it was two o’clock. But now how cold it is under the bright sky and in the air! Around 7 I come to my Everay, who tries to take off my shawl, but shawl and beard are one icy clump there. I first have to hold my head by the stove for a while until it thaws. I eat and get back on my pony to go to Big Bull. Again cannot ride hard; the snow is too deep and too loose. Around 8 in the evening I finally arrive in Wausau. I head for the inn and have my little horse brought into the stable. “I will take care of the pony,” says the hostler.

I say, “No, I will take care of the pony,” have him make a straw-bed for him, stick some hay in, give him water – he was not warm – and 4 quarts of oats. That done, we now go into the house. I let them give me something to eat, then go to bed.

Bright and early I get on my horse and head out into the bush and still make it on time for church, according to the arrangements I had made.10

Another time I take the sled.11 The neighborlady [Mrs.] K[ohnke] also sends a sackful of buckwheat groats with me to give her mother, and I had my box with books that I always brought along – hymnals, Bibles, postils, catechisms, prayer books, Bible histories – and a basket with my Communion paraphernalia and a traveling bag with my robe. I preach and hold Lord’s Supper here and there. I have to drive a long stretch through the beautiful virgin forest. There lies a tree stem across the path. 4 feet off the ground it had broken off and is lying on the stump and, on the opposite side, on its branches, 3 feet high or so off the ground. I cannot go around; there is thick underbrush both left and right. I undo my Rocky from the sled and draw him around to the other side and cover him up and now work at getting my sled onto the stem. It was heavy, and I have to exert myself tremendously. Finally I have it on top. But what now? I have no other choice but to let it go. Down it slides, but somewhat crooked. I crawl through underneath and try to lift the shaft up, but oh boy, it must have gotten stuck under something there. I cannot get it up and have to push my sled backwards onto the tree again so that I can get the shaft loose finally. I hitch my pony, but I had shoes on – my feet were wrapped in a wool cloth and I had fur shoes over that. The snow gets into my shoes, melts, and it’s getting cold now, for night was falling.

I hitch my horse and continue on to my destination. I arrive, my horse is taken off my hands and I go inside, sit down in front of the stove and try to take off my shoes and also my stockings, to rub my cold feet and warm them up. But the stockings are frozen tight to the skin, and I first have to stick my feet in the stove to thaw the ice.

Soon I lie down. I was lying for a while when I get a bed partner. He lay for a while, then he called out, “Yes, yes, Father Luther said so.” After a short pause: “Yes, yes, Father Luther said so.” Again after a while: “Yes, yes, Father Luther said so.”

I say, “What exactly did Father Luther say?”

He doesn’t say a word.

When I woke up in the morning, my bed partner was gone. I ask my hostess what sort of man that was. Then she told me that he was a follower of Grabau.12 He had come here with a bundle of money, had bought himself a bunch of land and had used his money to help others get land. He said that we were not the true Lutheran Church; he and his adherents were. Those he had tied to his purse strings stuck with him and he would read to them from Luther and act as their pastor.

We now drove through the bush over to the gardener, which is what he had been in Germany, and held church in his house. After church I say to the people, “Keep an eye on your pigs; there is a bear in the area. Back there in the woods I saw his tracks.”

When I came back,13 they told me that scarcely had I left when one day the sun had shone nice and bright and after that it had frozen again. Then the snow had frozen hard, and way up yonder stood a beech tree that had still had nuts that now fell down. Then they had lured the mother pig over there to glean the beechnuts. Pretty soon the pig had started squealing terribly, and the bear was sitting by it and wolfing down its flesh from its living body. The father had loaded the old shotgun, and since he didn’t have any shot, put stones in. The boy grabbed the axe and the father the gun and they went to meet the bear.

When they got close to him, he growled, and the father had aimed and lowered the gun again. The son yelled, “Father, shoot already!”

But the father said, “Yeah, if I don’t hit him right, then he’ll go off on us.”

The son said, “I’ve got the axe here; I’ll chop him on the head.”

The father aimed again and lowered the weapon again.

Then the boy said, “Father, give me the weapon. I’ll shoot,” and the bear lay down on his side. Shot him in the ear. They brought their pig home on the hand-sled and laid it in front of the stove and tended to it. Its whole side had already been eaten away down to the ribs. But it recovered again. They sold the bear’s hide, oil, and meat and made, if I’m not mistaken, 16 dollars.

When the story came to an end, the father exclaimed, “If only another bear would come!”

I drove home.14 It was cold. Between Steven’s Point and Wautoma I come to a place where I had previously turned left. I can see just fine how high the snow is, but think that the pathway still must be firm, for we would often go on trips 6 feet high above ground. The freshly fallen snow would always get trampled down firm again. But look, my pony sinks so deep into the snow that I can only still see his head and tail. I undo the horse, pull the sled back, and now trample around in the snow so that my horse can get some air, and I bring it out of there and hitch it back up. At this point a man comes who tells me that I had to turn left further down.

I make it through the woods back onto the open prairie. Then I come to two sleds loaded down with sacks. On the front sled were three yoke of oxen, on the back sled two yoke. The back sled driver lets his sled stand, comes to the front sled, and now one man beats on the oxen on this side, the other on the other side, until they have dragged the sled forward several rods or so [about 20-30 yards]. Then they go and get the back sled that far in the same manner. I’m finally able to pass the sleds and I come to my inn15 and think, “You should stay overnight.”

I have my little horse unharnessed and go inside. After a while two Jews come, one younger and one older, with a sled full of pelts which they had obtained from the Indians by trade. When they had warmed up and were about to leave, I ask where they were still planning on getting to tonight. “To Berlin,” was the answer.

To Berlin – that was at least another 30 to 40 miles! “Why,” I thought, “if they can do that, you can still make it home too.” I have my little horse hitched back up and I follow the Jews. The snow was dug out on the right side and so we could sled through along the fence and the snowbank. All at once my Jews disappeared. Then I reach the corner. The snow was dug out across the path to the other side and was so high that I couldn’t see the Jews any more when they turned the bend. Further along it bends back to the right, with the fence on the left and the snowbank on the right.

Then, all at once: Stop! There stood my Jews and I behind them, with a sled loaded with sacks in front of us that wants to come this way. Right away a troop of oxen comes, driven by two men, who also want to go up the way we were going. After briefly consulting, it was decided: “The big ox there in front must create a pathway.” The ox now gets some beatings and he burrows through the snow. When he makes it forward a few feet or so, then he is given a rest again, then they lay into him again, until he is finally around the sled in front of us. The others now had it easier. Once the oxen were gone, the driver in front of us also wants to turn out and go around, for we could not; we had a snowbank 6-8 feet high on the right. But his white horses won’t draw one trace tight. He had to unload all of his sacks and they then drew the empty sled around. Now there is a clear pathway and my Jews now try to get going, but now one of their horses won’t budge. They had a big old yellow horse on the right, and a young little animal on the left, four years old or so, who won’t budge. They now lash at the tired little animal mercilessly. The younger man goes and stands in front and beats him between the ears with the thick end of the whip handle. But the animal takes the beating and doesn’t move a muscle. I ask them to please not beat the animal like that. They should grab the big horse by the bridle and talk to him nicely to get him to draw the sled tight first. They did that and it worked. Away they go now, with me following along.

In Wautoma they turn left to go to Berlin, and I turn right to go to my homestead. I still had 12 miles. For a stretch it was going well, for I had a pathway, but now I had to leave the pathway and turn left. The snow is deep there. My Rocky is almost knee-deep in the snow. It’s not long before I have no idea where I am any more. I’m freezing terribly, throw the reins over my head and wrap myself in the buffalo. It is getting colder and colder. I think, “This night you will freeze to death.” I start praying that my dear God would please take my poor soul to himself if my final hour had arrived. Then the thought of the wife with her 4 little children occurs to me. “No,” I said to my dear God, “you cannot let me freeze to death. Bring me home alive to my family once more.” Sleep wants to overpower me. But I keep moving my arms and legs over and over and keep praying unceasingly to my God to please have mercy on me.

All at once I come upon a track and also see a house on the left. I look at it and recognize it; it’s the Bursak16 schoolhouse. I say, “Gid up, Rocky!” and in fifteen minutes I am in my yard. I go inside. My wife gets out of her warm nest and lies down with the children, and I get in. She throws everything we have on me, also gives me something warm to drink, but I am freezing so badly that my teeth are chattering. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. I had been sitting on the sled and had eaten nothing from 7 o’clock in the morning to 3 o’clock in the morning.

I finally fall asleep and don’t wake up until around 10 and now I want to go and get my mail, which we would get 3 times a week. I had 3 miles to travel and think, “The poor Rocky is so tired; just go on foot.” But that won’t work. The snow is so deep and so loose that I can’t make any headway. Then I think, “Go and get Rocky and put the saddle on and ride slowly.”

I go and get my Rocky and retrieve my mail items, let my little horse in through the small gate and have the wooden nail in my hand that gets pegged in front. My Rocky doesn’t quite go through far enough. I give him just a few taps in the rear and say, “Rocky, a little further.” He whinnies and turns right – two acres were fenced in – down along the fence, then up along it over there, and 3 times or so around the yard going along the fence, so that the snow and the halter strap were flying in the air. Oh, was I glad to see that!

Endnotes

9 I.e., in Plainfield. He appears to have stayed there on Monday night, November 26, 1860.

10 Namely, on Wednesday, November 28. He baptized one baby on Thursday, three on Friday, three on Sunday, and three on Tuesday.

11 He departed on this third and final mission trip to Wausau on Monday, January 14, 1861. He baptized three children that evening in Stevens Point. He stayed overnight in Wausau on Tuesday, and arrived at his destination on Wednesday morning, January 16. He baptized two children that day, two on Thursday, four on Saturday, and one on Tuesday.

12 Johannes Andreas August Grabau (1804-1879) was imprisoned in Erfurt in 1837 for opposing the Prussian Union (union of Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Prussia). With the help of friends he escaped and went to Berlin, where he continued his ministry secretly. He was arrested and imprisoned again in 1838. He was permitted to emigrate in 1839 and did so with about one thousand other Prussians. A small group stayed in Albany, while Grabau and the majority settled in Buffalo, where he served as a pastor for nearly 40 years. In 1845, he helped organize what came to be called the Buffalo Synod, a distant ancestor of today’s ELCA. Grabau butted heads with the Missouri Synod over his extreme views on ordination and the authority of the ministry, among other things.

13 Most likely for J. J. Hoffmann’s installation on Sunday, August 25, 1861.

14 Strieter is resuming his previous story, before the incident with the bear and the pig.

15 The inn in Plainfield he has already mentioned twice

16 The correct spelling appears to be Bursack.

[Read the next part here.]

About redbrickparsonage
Red Brick Parsonage is operated by a confessional Lutheran pastor serving in the Midwest.

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