Thursday, December 26, 2013

So, where did all those Griesses come from, anyhow?

James R. (Jim) Griess died on Friday, March 21, 2014 in Lincoln. Jim was the source of much of our information and understanding about the story of the Germans from Russia who came to Sutton. He is missed. 
You may be new to Sutton or perhaps you've not been told the story, but still you've noticed. There sure are a lot of Griesses in this town.

As someone I used to know might have said, “You can’t swing a long-tailed cat in Sutton without hitting a Griess.” And you can’t even swing a short-tailed cat without hitting someone related to a Griess.

The definitive authority of the Germans from Russia in Sutton,
a thorough study of the migration to Russia and to Sutton with
family history and Sutton history by James R. Griess, Sutton
High Class of '59.
So, where’d they come from? It’s kind of a long story and an important story, for on some level the Griesses and cohorts have long defined Sutton for our neighboring towns.

The earliest settlers to the Sutton area generally came from Back East. There were a handful of Swedish homesteaders to the west as early as 1870 the same time that Luther French homesteaded the north 80 acres of downtown. French was more typical of settlers in those first years, grew up in Ohio, moved to Indiana, then to Wisconsin, and Iowa and finally here, movin’ west.

Young farmers were being crowded out in the east. Older fellows from Iowa to Pennsylvania were looking for better prospects and cheaper land in the West.

The first settlers came as individuals, a family or sometimes an extended family. The Grays were typical. Hosea Gray and his wife came to Sutton with son John and his wife Emma, daughter Ada and her husband George Bemis and the Cunnings. The four Brown brothers homesteaded in the northeast part of School Creek Township before two of them came to town to practice law and publish the Sutton Register. The Clark brothers became developers as well as the first physician and an early merchant.

Settlers from abroad soon came enticed by railroad advertisements and other publicity, Germans and Swedes mostly but Irish, Danes, Czechs, Bohemians and others were represented. Still, the individual or small family group was the norms.

The huge exception to these situations was the Germans from Russia. They came in bunches.

The first Griess invasion came in 1873 when 55 families of about 400 people left their villages of Worms and Rohrbach in the Black Sea region near Odessa, today in Ukraine. They arrived in Lincoln expecting to find farm land but felt the price was too high so they sat for a time. Some of their acquaintances had made this trip a year earlier settling in the Dakotas. Thirty-three of those 55 families drifted off before news of land in Clay County caught the attention of their leaders.

The bunch which first settled here was led by Heinrich Griess, Johannes Grosshans and Heinrich Hoffmann. These were not your poor, struggling immigrants. Griess was a young man who had sold off about nine square miles of Russian farmland for 100,000 rubles. The exchange rate was 52 cents per ruble – the man had $52,000 in 1873 dollars when he arrived. What does that mean? The “Measuring Worth” web site gives a wide range of answers depending…, but the low end comparison is almost $1 million in today’s U.S. currency. The others were similarly equipped.

Heinrich Griess, leader of the first group of
Germans from Russia who migrated from the
villages of Worms and Rorhbach arriving in
Sutton in
The Germans from Russia bypassed the homestead option for land acquisition for the most part purchasing railroad land – 16,200 acres at a cost of $112,480 – from 4 to 7 dollars an acre, much of that purchased by Grosshans, Griess and Company on September 4, 1873 and receiving special mention on page 202 of

We have good analysis of railroad land purchases for only two counties: Lancaster and Clay in Nebraska – Yippee! Check out for the cutest interactive map you’ll see this week. Click on the “Years” at the top of the map, 1870 thru 1880 and watch sections after sections being gobbled up. Those were folks from around Cleveland who settled in Lynn Township and into Harvard but purchases in the northeast part of Clay County were led by Grosshans, Griess & Co.

More bunches and not just a few individuals and families followed those first settlers from Russia between 1874 and 1914, the start of World War I.

A second category of immigrants from Russia were Germans from along the Volga River beginning in late 1874 with eight families from the village of Balzar led by Jacob Bender. The nearby village of Norka contributed many more.

So, how did Germans come to be living in Russia, of all places?

I can’t tell the whole story here. Jim Griess (Sutton High Class of ’59) took 335 large-format pages to tell his version of the story. Anyone connected to the Germans from Russia, with an interest in the topic or just looking for a fascinating book must have Jim’s “The Germans from Russia – Those Who Came to Sutton.” See or see us at the Sutton Museum for a copy (as soon as we restock.)

But briefly, in 1762 Catherine the Great was a German princess who found herself czarina of the Russian Empire – another great story – especially the part where she might have murdered her husband to get the role and the Russian people were O.K. with that. Catherine noticed that a huge portion of southern Russia was unoccupied, unproductive and paying absolutely no taxes. She understood that it was good farmland and she knew where good, honest, hard-working farmers could be found. Actually, it wasn’t in Germany.

There was no Germany. Did you know that? No nation called Germany existed until January 18,
This immigrant trunk belonged Heinrich Griess (or Gries as
spelled on the trunk.) The trunk is marked "No. 1" implying
multiple trunks - he had a large family and was "a man of
substantial resources." The trunk is on display at the Sutton
1871 after Otto von Bismarck had put all the pieces together. There were people who spoke the German language and were consider Germanic but they came from places like Hesse, Baveria, Prussia, Swabia, etc. etc. Germans who came directly to Sutton from Germany often identified their place of birth in the census as one of these city-states. My favorite census enumerator’s “best guess” is that several people in Sutton are listed as being from Dam State. That should be Darnstadt, a city and region in today’s western Germany. There was no Germany until 1871. The nation of Germany has been around as long as the town of Sutton. But I digress.

Catherine invited Germans to come to Russia to live. She established a set of generous conditions allowing the settlers to their own villages, language, churches, etc. living in little pieces of home pretty much to themselves.

Conditions in Central Europe were horrendous. These ancestors of Suttonites were in the midst of on-going wars between the French and the various Germanic states, then Napoleon stirred things up – ugly. Accepting Catherine’s invitation made sense. Many packed up and moved.

The first migrants settled in the Volga River Valley – hundreds of villages. Later another wave settled near Odessa in hundreds more villages.

Advance the clock about one hundred years and a couple of Czars to Alexander II who began to back off of those generous conditions (long story, see Jim’s book.) In 1871 the Germans learned they were to become Russianized – no more German language, churches, villages – now Russian. But, they had ten years to adapt or leave.

Meanwhile, back in American, railroads were laying track across empty plains where a population would certainly be useful. Railroad agents swarmed to Europe with aggressive Madison Avenue-like ad campaigns. Germans, Swedes, Irish, Bohemians and others began a new migration. For the Germans in Russia this was timely, fortuitous and, if they were religious, and they were, it was an answer to prayers.

So to Sutton they came, and to Lincoln, Scottsbluff, Kansas, the Dakotas, Colorado, really all over. Sutton is unusual in that immigrants from both major regions, the Black Sea and Volga area came here. The Sutton arrivals also all came from villages of the Reformed Church. There were also villages of Lutherans, Catholics and Mennonites, some of the latter settled around Henderson, assisted by earlier arrivals in Sutton.

How were the new immigrants accepted? About as you might expect. As a species we do poorly in accepting the New, the Different or the Other.

The railroads launched an aggressive advertising campaign with posters like this one
to attract settlers who would ride the trains and ship goods on those new railroads
being constructed across the open prairie.
The first groups from Russia were frankly wealthy. That helped. The later arrivals were not rich, many were poor and had been sponsored by friends already here. One story involves two brothers who came sponsored by a relative who would not buy them new clothes until they had earned them. These young men were on the streets of Sutton for several weeks wearing distinctive Russian peasant garb, embarrassing and not cool. However, several individuals quickly moved into the mainstream of Sutton life – office holders, professionals, merchants, etc.

We can find newspaper references pointing out the industriousness of the “Russians” as they were often called. But there are contrary references.

On one occasion a local paper noted that a group of Russians had arrived by train and spent the night on the depot platform before catching an early morning train west, likely to western Nebraska or Colorado. The comment concluded something to the affect that Sutton already had its share and he was glad to see their backsides heading west in the morning sun.”

Did all the Germans in Russia immigrate to America? They did not. Many stayed and were caught up in world history often with tragic consequences especially during World War II when they were alternatively courted and vilified by the Germans for being Russians and by the Russians for being German. Again, see Jim’s book; it’s complicated but worth sorting out.

The descendants from those Germans from Russia are a significant percentage of Sutton’s population. Add people who are closely related to that group and there aren’t many of us left out. Theirs may be a unique story in the strict sense of the word – one of a kind. Many of the surnames of the Germans from Russia have disappeared, either the folks left or the names “daughtered out” as the genealogists say. Regarding the leaders of that first group in 1873, Grosshans does not appear in the Sutton phone book. There is a representation for Hofmann. But as for Griess, yes there are some in the phone book.

The Selective Service Draft

by Jerry Johnson, Sutton Historical Society

Graduation is a time to celebrate finishing school and looking forward with hope and anticipation to the array of opportunities ahead. Such was not always the case.

Not very long ago graduating men and boys found a huge obstacle between them and those opportunities: the Selective Service Act, the Draft. The Draft had a way of not only influencing decisions but it made those decisions.

The WWI Draft Card of Carl H. (Jack) Nolde
The draft was used to select men for military service in major wars until 1973. I’ve found two misconceptions by those too young to have memories of the draft. One age group remembers the lottery system that existed after 1970. Others, younger, relate the draft to a time when rich guys paid others to serve – a phenomenon of the Civil War which they probably recently studied.

Draftees were a small percentage of soldiers in the Union army. Saving the Union was a popular cause that fed the fighting force for over two years. Lincoln then asked for authority to conscript soldiers and that threat sustained a flow of men that nearly met the needs.

There was no draft in the brief four-month long Spanish-American War. Europe was almost three years into World War I before the US formally entered and began to raise a force of 4 million.

The draft registration process for WWI was a three-day operation. Men aged 21 to 31 all registered on June 5, 1917. One year later on June 5, 1918 new 21-year olds registered and finally on September 12, 1918, just two months before wars end, all men age 21 to 45 were required to register.

Genealogists love WWI registration cards where men listed their birthdates, birthplaces, color of hair and eyes, build and a tall/medium/short selection. It may be the only place to learn a man’s middle name.

World War II threatened in 1940 when a survey of the US public showed 71% support for “the immediate adoption of compulsory military training for all young men.”  The Selective Service used a lottery system exclusively to round up more than 10,000,000 men aged 18-38 for service as voluntary enlistments were suspended in 1942.

Men leaving Clay County for service in World War II earned recognition in local newspapers. This group appeared in the Sutton News on October 29, 1942; the to-be soldiers were identified left to right (apparently not distinguished by row) as: Glen McCune, Glenvil; Marvin Pope, Sutton; Ernest Hanson, Sutton; Roy Ochsner, Saronville; Marlow Munson, Sutton; Erwin Wenske, Glenvil; Glen Swanson, Sutton; Kent Wilson, Fairfield; Alfred Davis, Glenvil; John Dunleavy, Harvard; Louis Drudik, Deweese; Gayle Gunn, Edgar and Edor Johnson, Edgar.

Selective Service drafted 1.5 million over the age of 18 and a half for the Korean War, just over half of those who served. A survey of draft age men found 64% satisfied that this draft was fair.

Onto Vietnam.

Army PFC Jack Schroder of Clay Center killed in Vietnam in 1967 at the age of 20.
Men of about those 50-year reunion classes lived this draft.

The Vietnam War officially lasted from November 1, 1955 through April 30, 1975. The US had “military advisors” “in country” from the 1950’s but things began ramping up as troop levels tripled in 1961 and again in 1962 then numbers got real serious in the mid-1960’s.

President Kennedy early on balked at the idea of drafting family bread-winners and by executive order exempted husbands. Curiously, marriages happened. As force requirements increased that policy was changed to exempting only fathers. Again, curiously, business in maternity wards picked up. These men were sometimes called “Kennedy husbands” and “Kennedy fathers.”

Certain professions such as teaching and other skilled workers were exempt allowing them to continue in those jobs. The Peace Corps was authorized in late 1961 and offered another escape from the draft. Personal note: had I managed the timing better I would have been in West Cameroon from 1966-1968 and not at all from a pressing desire to live in West Africa.

Society appreciated that education is a good thing; hence, the student deferment came into being. Curiously colleges and universities saw enrollment climb. Personal note: University of Nebraska, 1961-1966.

Marine PFC Thomas Leichleiter of Harvard, killed in Vietnam in 1969 at the age of 18.
Did the draft influence these decisions by young people to get married, have kids or go to college? No. The draft made those decisions. Believe me.

A classification system identified each individual’s relationship to the draft. Status 1-A was “available for military service.” It was from this pool that the county selective service office did their “pickin’ and choosin’”. There were several other “1’s” including for conscientious objectors, members of the Public Health Service and other services and 1-Y, qualified but only under greater need (asthma was one such criteria.)

Number 2’s were deferments – you were on “hold.” Classification 2-C was for the agriculture occupation; 2-S, “activity in study” – college student (five years for yours truly) and 2-A, other civilian occupation deferments.

Classification 3-A was for fathers.

The major Number 4 classification was 4-F, not qualified for any military service.

This serious imposition into our lives sometimes created memorable situations. A very good friend learned of his 4-F classification the morning of his wedding, a wedding that would have happened eventually but was timed to qualify for the “husband” deferment then in effect. Is that a true story? Take it from the Best Man.

Other “4” classifications were for completed service, sole surviving son, minister, alien and “officially deferred by law.”

Raise your hands all that have been waiting for one other group: Canadian immigrants.

Perhaps as many as 100,000 men who had exhausted this array of “outs” and still seriously did not want to serve then chose to leave the country. Canada was the most popular destination where officials did not extradite fugitives from the draft. That fugitive status remained until President Ford issued a conditional amnesty in 1974 and when President Carter later pardoned them.

The net result of the Vietnam War era draft is that over 2.2 million men were directly drafted between 1964 and 1975 and the draft is credited with “encouraging” 8.7 million additional “volunteers” including yours truly. Again, the draft not only influenced decisions but made decisions for us.

One more statistic: 58,195 men and women gave their lives in the Vietnam War and are listed on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Though I’m telling the story of the draft emphasizing those who were pressed, or “forced” into military service, a large number of those who served, probably most, did so truly voluntarily with full understanding of the consequences.  Society levied an obligation on them, an obligation that they met, willingly or not.

The names of no Sutton men or women appear on that wall in Washington. Three Clay County men are listed:

"The Village" is a book about the Marine unit of Marine Lance Corporal
Paul Fielder of Harvard. The web site at
does not have a photo of Paul Fielder. Can anyone help with that?
Marine Lance Corporal Paul Wesley Fielder from Harvard on Panel 10E, line 97, died September 15, 1966 in Quang Tin Province at the age of 20.

Marine Private First Class Thomas Allen Leichleiter from Harvard on Panel 18W, line 122, died September 21, 1969 in Quang Tri Province at the age of 18.

Army Private First Class Jack Wayne Schroder from Clay Center on Panel 28E, line 30, died October 17, 1967 in Binh Long Province at the age of 20.

Please read that last part again. Thanks.

Personal wrap-up: After I’d nursed my 2-S deferment for five years and tested other options our local Selective Service Board noticed that I’d graduated. They reclassified me 1-A and I learned I was to be on the next month’s draft call. I visited the recruiting offices in the Lincoln Post Office and “volunteered” for the Air Force. Was I “avoiding” the draft or a “draft dodger?” Of course, I just wasn’t very good at it.

The Air Force surprised me with an assignment to a missile wing in Wichita, Kansas as part of the Cold War. Wichita was not a bad place to spend “The War.” Then one thing led to another leading to Montana, Omaha and finally Northern California where, after 21 years I finally found a reason to leave. Few of those decisions were mine but I was extremely fortunate.

Finally, let me return to LCpl Paul Fielder who is listed above. Those who remember Paul speak highly of him, from a tough background, a kid who saw the Marines as his opportunity. His is a compelling story. A book, “The Village” tells the story of his 15-man Marine unit and of the night he was killed. A synopsis of that story is at
This photo of the Marine unit of Lance Corporal Paul Fielder was taken within two weeks of the attack that killed about
one half of the unit including LCpl Fielder. He is seen here kneeling at the right.

 My wife and I visited the Washington, D. C. and the Vietnam Memorial in April, 2013. It was her first visit to the wall where we stopped and paused for a time before Panel W1 where, on line 97 near the bottom of the last panel and near the end of the war is the name "Warren R Spencer" a tech school classmate, car pool buddy and friend from 1967.
Rita Johnson before Panel W1, the last panel on the Vietnam Memorial Wall where
the name of our friend Warren R. Spencer can be found. Warren was a B-52 radar
navigator whose plane was downed on December 20, 1972 during the Christmas, 1972
 offensive against Hanoi and Haiphong Harbor. One account of the incident is at
The panel is reflecting back to the east to the Washington Monument past the visitors
up the gentle slope of the early one half of the memorial. Smiles are rare here.
 This article first appeared in the Sutton Life Magazine in May, 2013. Contact Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203 or at for more information about this publication.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Israelson 1913 Letter from California

This letter appeared in the Harvard Courier newspaper December 13, 1913. It was from John W. Israelson of the Saronville Israelson family (more about them below).

Settlers in Clay County had often stopped "back East" for a spell before pressing on further west. Clay County also served as a stopping place for many who, after a few years or decades again picked up stakes and pressed on even further west.

California was a popular next destination with the Los Angeles basin drawing large numbers from Clay County as well as other Nebraska locations and other places that had been on the frontier.

The Sutton area had two specialized migrations as the Sutton Germans often joined family and friends who had earlier settled around the zinfandel grape vineyards of Lodi, California in San Joaquin County between Sacramento and Stockton. Saronville Swedes had their own California destination among the orchards around Turlock in Stanislaus County near Modesto.

John Israelson joined another significant contingent that choose Pasadena, Long Beach and points in between joining the migration that led to today's large population center of LA and Orange Counties.

1913 Letter from John W. Israelson shortly after he
moved his family to Pasadena, California

John W. Israelson was the second child and first son in the Israelson family.

The Israelson Family patriarch was Andrew Peter Israelson who was born in Asby, Östergötland, Sweden about 40 miles east of Jönköping, and 140 miles southwest of Stockholm, on January 8, 1824 to Israel Karlsson and Catterina Petersdotter. Andrew, or Anders married Charlotte Sophia Larsdotter in March of 1851. The next year Andrew and pregnant Charlotte left Gothenburg on the Swedish ship Carlos arriving in New York in August 26, 1852 and headed for western Illinois where daughter Emma was born in December, the first of twelve offspring in the family (three died young).

Mr. Israelson purchased railroad land in Sutton Township near Saronville in 1877 and moved his family to Clay County.

The Israelson family name has largely expired around here, or daughtered-out as the genealogists say. But the genetic heritage of Östergötland persists in Clay County and elsewhere with surnames such as: Aspegren, Pontine, Nelson, Hultman and many others - even Johnson (hand proudly waving from my keyboard), Serr and who'd have thought, Rolfes.

John W. Israelson was married to Amanda Charlotte Thry in Illinois in 1880. They adopted Ruth Francis before 1900; she was a member of the illustrious Sutton High class of 1912 and moved to California with her parents. My family records lists Ruth's death on March 24, 1918 in Los Angeles at the age of 22.

My "official" connection to John W. Israelson? He was my Great Grand Uncle - my great, grandmother Emma's brother - Jerry Johnson.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Trival Question in our Clay County News column for the December 4th issue

This item appeared in our column in the Clay County News December 4th issue:

  • Bonus memory item for the end of football season: The legendary Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden may still be the most famous backfield in all of football 89 years after Grantland Rice memorialized them in their senior season of 1924. They only lost only two games in their three years. They lost to Nebraska’s 1922 team 14-6.
  • Trivia question: what was the other team that beat the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame? See for the answer.








And the answer is:

The 1922 Nebraska team was the first of two teams to defeat the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. The second team to defeat that legendary Notre Dame backfield was


Yes, Nebraska handed the Four Horsemen both of their defeats in their renowned college football careers. The 1923 score was 14-7. Full disclosure: on November 15, 1924 the Four Horsemen did earn their retribution as seniors defeating the Cornhuskers 34-6 in South Bend.

See  for more about that Notre Dame backfield where you'll find this line:

  • The renowned four horsemen played 30 games together as a backfield unit, losing only twice, both to the same team: the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

New Sutton Area Chapter of the AHSGR

A group of Sutton residents are forming a Sutton Area Chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans From Russia. Members of the Sutton Historical Society wish this new organization well and look forward to working with the new chapter to further recognized the contributions of the Germans from Russia to the Sutton community.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Neil M. Cronin Obituary

Neil M. Cronin was born in Sutton in 1880; his obituary appeared in the Clay County News on October 24, 1963. This item appeared in the November 28th issue of the Clay County news indicating President Kennedy's signing of the certificate honoring Sutton native Neil M Cronin occurred in the last few days of the president's life.

Mr. Cronin died on October 15th; President Kennedy
was assassinated on November 22nd; the certificate
signed by the president arrived at his widow's home
the week of the assassination.
Note: I might have worded the headline of that item a little differently.

Neil M. Cronin, born in Sutton on June 14, 1880

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Johanns Grosshans "Gold" Chest

The Plainsman Museum in Aurora has a display with items associated with immigration including this chest that belonged to Johannes Grosshans, one of the three leaders of the first group of Germans from Russia to arrive in Sutton in 1873.

The chest brought to America by Johannes Grosshans with $40,000 in gold (1873 dollars)

 Label on the Grosshans chest at the Plainsman Museum in Aurora.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

History of St. Mary's Church by Nellie Sheridan - October, 1963

As promised in our weekly column in The Clay County News for October 2, 2013, here is the article by Nellie Sheridan:

This article appeared in The Clay County News on October 3, 1963 on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Sutton. The article was written by Nellie Sheridan of whom anyone interested in Sutton's past must thank well and often for the many stories and fables of Sutton's story that she preserved.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Movie Camera from the days of hand's-on, roll your own tech.

Early movie cameras, and still cameras, came with a range of manual settings forcing photographers to know what they were doing. What a concept!

The Buffalo Skull story in Sutton's beginnings.

High on the wall in the front porch of the Sutton Museum hangs an old buffalo skull. Why? And is it really a buffalo skull?

We have Max & Regina Leininger to thank directly for our buffalo skull though our real thanks go to Nellie Sheridan for this Sutton artifact and a whole lot more.

The details of the story of the buffalo skull as gleaned from the several, and sometimes conflicting accounts of the early days of Sutton:

Occidental Hotel Sign

The sign for the Occidental Hotel came into the possession of the Ralph Vauck family who generously donated it to the museum for all to either remember or wonder "what the heck is that."

The Occidental Hotel was a fixture on Sutton's south side for many years.

Sutton Dundee Castle No. 11

Artifacts from the basement - whatever could this be?

Theater group volunteers unearthed a number of distinctive badges that date from a long-forgotten portion of Sutton's history. A bit of research has fleshed out the story which will appear in an upcoming issue of Sutton Life Magazine.

Meanwhile, has anyone ever heard of someone finding bagpipes and a kilt in their basement?

Badge from the days of Sutton's Royal Highlanders

Souvenir Savings Bank from City State Bank

The Sutton Museum is the fortunate beneficiary of the generosity of residents who find interesting items in the basement or attic. Sometimes items come from out of town.

The Anna Bemis Palmer Museum in York had this item in its inventory before curators decided it would make more sense in Sutton.

City State Bank coin bank
Businesses have given gifts to their customers for a long time. These items commonly show up among the stuff in a house especially when heirs are clearing out Mom and Dad's house.

Ironically, businesses apparently almost never keep a collection of their old gifts - it's a hoot to take one of these back to the business and show it off. Most employees are too young to remember but occasionally someone will recall having seen the item before - such was the story at Cornerstone.

Homesteading in Clay County, Nebraska

We have posted a study on the process of acquiring a homestead using four of Clay County's early settlers as case studies.

The study was done by Kenneth Nelson, a 1963 graduate of Clay Center and educated at Nebraska Wesleyan and Oklahoma State University. More properly identified as Dr. Nelson, Ken had a career with the Department of Agriculture. He is retired and lives in Manassas, Virginia.

Formatting from the original document is not entirely compatible with Blogspot - work continues.

The Management

Friday, September 6, 2013

1930-1931 Clay County Rural School Map

Below is the map of rural schools in Clay County, Nebraska during the 1930-1931 school year. The red dots identify the location of each school with the district number in black. Red lines outline each school district, typically from seven to nine square miles. Essentially every farmstead was within two miles of a school.

Note that there were no district numbers for five schools surrounding Harvard. The posting following this one identifies 1913 teachers listing five rural schools in District #11, the Harvard schools. Those five were called "N.W." "N.E." "S.E." "S.W." and "S.C." that is, Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and South-central Harvard schools and can be found represented by red dots in those directions from the town of Harvard.

Note also that several schools were destined to be swallowed up by the Hastings Naval Ammunition Depot - see the second map below for that story.

1930-1931 Rural School Map from the Clay County, Nebraska Educational Directory,
Fannie R. Haylett, County Superintendent.

The 1953-1954 Clay County rural school map reflects the configuration of county schools immediately prior to the major consolidation efforts in 1954 and subsequent years. 

Several school districts disappeared into the U. S. Naval Ammunition Depot during World War II. The 1946-1947 map showed that Districts # 33, 34 and 60 held on briefly before dwindling from the loss of portions of their districts and kids.

It also appears that only the Northwest Harvard rural school survived of the five Harvard rural schools with the others losing land, and pupils to the Naval Depot and to Harvard Air Base.

1953-1954 Rural School Map from the Clay County, Nebraska Educational Directory,
Mary W. Rippeteau, County Superintendent.

Rural school districts were not only the educational centers for farm kids but were the social centers for small rural neighborhoods of up to a dozen farm families. School districts gave isolated farm families a group to identify with forming close relationships that spilled over to shared farm equipment and labor, women's clubs, card parties, etc. How often did schoolmates in rural schools become spouses?

Clay County Teachers - 1913-1914 School Year

The Harvard Courier newspaper of September 13, 1913 listed these rural teachers for Clay County.

Education was a young lady's business; it looks like there were no more than five or six men in this list.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Frontier Sociables

The Clay County Sun of August 11, 1938 carried this look back at a early social custom out here on the frontier. We mentioned this in our column for the August 7th edition of the Clay County News.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

1913 Fourth of July Sutton Travel News

While working on the newspaper column this Sutton News section in the Harvard Courier for July 12, 1913 caught my eye. People were mobile 100 years ago due largely to dependable and reliable passenger rail service.

Several of these trips were probably tied to the Fourth of July, but still...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sutton's mid-20th Century Health Care System

Three Memorable Gentlemen

I’m addressing a certain group of Sutton folks here who grew up over a specific period of time. You’ll know soon enough who you are.

Now, by show of hands, who had Dr. Pope for a dentist? Who was a dental patient of Dr. Ochsner? Who was ever treated by Dr. Nuss? Better yet, did Doc Nuss deliver you? Or your parents? Your kids?

Beulah and Doc Ochsner
Personally, Dr. Ochsner was the only dentist to auger in my mouth before my first permanent assignment in the Air Force. Dr. Nuss was my only doctor not counting Dr. Foote in Hastings yanking my tonsils when I was five. And yes, Doc Nuss delivered my early one morning after a night he still recalled many years later.

These three gentlemen constituted Sutton’s health care system for quite some time. And to a great extent, they were three of a kind.

All six of their parents, William and Katherina Popp, John and Margareta Ochsner and Christian Jr. and Hannah Nuss were born in Russia. All three fathers were farmers near Sutton. All three were younger children in the family, two extremely so. Herman Victor Nuss was the fourth of six children; David J. Pope was fourteenth of fourteen; and Herbert Ochsner was ninth of nine. Mrs. Popp and Mrs. Ochsner had both lost a child by 1900.

Heck, darn, even their last name initials are sequential letters.

The three were born locally in a ten year span, left for medical or dental school, returned to practice nearly all their professional lives here and all are buried in the Sutton Cemetery. How common was that?

We’ll start with the oldest; David J. Popp was born April 14, 1895 to Katherina and William (Wilhelm) Popp the youngest of 14 children, of which 13 lived. Wilhelm and Katherina immigrated from Russia taking the German ship Suevia from Hamburg to New York via La Havre, France. Only their oldest son Georg were with them when they arrived in New York on July 18, 1877, fourteen days out from Hamburg.

With them on the Suevia were several of their extended family: Heinrich and Catherina Giebelhaus, Wilhelm and Catherina Brehm, Conrad and Catherina Brehm and Conrad and Catherina Pop, all headed to Sutton. Dr. Pope’s parents were listed as Wilhelm and Catherina Pop on the passenger list for the Suevia.

O.K., two things. First, note the spellings: Pop, Popp and Pope. Pop appears only on the ship’s manifest; don’t worry about it. Popp was the proper German spelling of the name. According to family legend, an early teacher told the Popp kids that if they pronounced their name that way, the proper English spelling would be Pope (the long vowel preceding a silent “e” thing). The kids adopted that spelling and in his will Pop (as in Dad) indicated he was all right with that spelling.

Secondly, did you notice any pattern in the wives’ names in that group? Catherina’s all. Why would that be? If you have any Germans from Russia heritage in your background and can’t come up with a good explanation, we need to talk. The answer is part of who you are.

The Popp family farm was the extreme southeast quarter in Sutton Township appearing in the 1886 plat maps in the same section as farms belonging to Conrad Popp, Conrad Brehm and L. Brehm. Nine children were still at home in 1900 ranging from age 19 to 5 year old David.

David registered for the World War I draft on June 17th 1917. He was a student in the Lincoln Dental College but listed himself as a private with three years in the Nebraska “malitia” then preparing for the Dental Reserve Corps. The 1920 census found Dr. D. J. Pope back in Sutton with wife Lydia and four-month old Maxine. Suzanne and Olive would follow, the three being ’37, ’41 and ’42 Sutton High grads.

Dr. Pope appeared in the list of 1921 Sutton businesses in the History of Hamilton and Clay Counties book by Burr & Buck. He bridges a time when the first of Sutton’s medical men were still around and the later time we are heading toward. Joining Dr. Pope were such fellows as Dr. D. W. Dulaigh, a dentist; Griess & Griess, dentists; Dr. Jesse L. Hull, an older physician; H. W. Kellogg, early chiropractor; Dr. J. W. Thompson, physician and Dr. M. P. Yokum, dentist. Those numbers were not sustainable.

One-year old Herbert Ochsner appearing in the 1900 census as the youngest son of John P. and Margareta Ochsner, both 1874 immigrants as young teenagers. Mrs. Ochsner would have one more son in 1902.

John Ochsner’s farm was in east part of Lincoln Township, later renamed Eldorado.

I did not find Herbert Ochsner in the ’20 census. He was 21 at the time, likely in college or dental school in a boarding house or apartment – a challenge to locate but in 1930 Doc and Beulah were residing on Cedar Street, he proclaiming his parents birthplace as Odessa, Russia, she listed as a school teacher.

By 1940 they’d been joined by Shirley and Janet, ’51 and ’56 local grads. Doc was 40, Beulah was 35 with many, many more years to come.

Doc Nuss was the youngest of these fellows born on August 22, 1905 one of six of Christian Nuss Jr. and Hannah; she also indicated a child lost before the 1900 census.

Dr. H. V. Nuss, long time Sutton physician, sole doctor for much of the time.
Christian Nuss Sr. and his wife “Margr” (as indicated on the passenger list) arrived in New York on June 17, 1875 with two kids, Christian Jr., Doc’s dad and a daughter also listed as “Margr.” They came on the Suevia, the same ship the Popp family would take two years later. Listed with them were an “Adam Trautman” age 16 and another Nuss family, Ana and Magdal with seven more including another Margr, probably a sister and kids down to 11 months of age. A New York Times article noted that the Suevia carried 79 cabin and 491 steerage passengers on that voyage.
The Nuss farm was in western School Creek Township not far from the Ochsners. Herman was a doctor in an Omaha hospital in the 1930 census (listed as Herman Nus) living in an apartment on Howard Street with wife Mildred and one-month old son Richard.      

Janet, Sutton class of ’50 and Victoria, ’54 would arrive by 1940 when the good doctor had returned to Sutton.

Everyone I spoke with about this article had great things to say about Dr. Nuss, his skills and his importance to our town. He probably delivered about 2 ½ generations of us. I mentioned earlier that he remembered the night I was born. Three of us Sutton babies were born that night, Bob Mohnike, Wanda Hornbacher and me. Mrs. Hornbacher was at home here in Sutton. Mrs. Mohnike and my mother were in the hospital in Hastings. All three were dragging out the process that night. Doc Nuss would lean back, squint a bit and tell of driving back and forth checking progress from evening until well after midnight. Finally in Hastings, Bob was born. I wasn’t ready so drove back to Sutton, again. Doc drove. Doc drove like a bat out… you get the idea. Wanda arrived. Then back to Hastings where I checked in at 5:15 AM.

Doc had lots of stories like that but he delighted in telling me that story in a manner that to this day kind of makes me feel responsible for his lost night.

Dr. H.V. Nuss nursed the image of an old-school country doctor. But I can picture him in a spare moment deep into the latest journals and technical publications staying at the top of the field for us.

So what have we done here? A few things. We’ve pointed out the similarities between the three fellows who constituted the health care system for Sutton for several years: second generation Germans from Russia, local farm kids, went off to study and came back to their home town to work their chosen profession.

These are not definitive biographies but I’d like to see them start a conversation. We invite you to add your memories and stories of these three gentlemen and to comment on any material on the blog. That’s how these systems work best.

We did not find a good picture of Dr. Pope but did find a photo of the freshman class in the 1912 annual. Let's have some fun...

Sutton High School Freshman Class in 1912, the class of '15. Dr. David Pope is in this picture - anyone see him?

There were 28 in the 1912 Freshman Class and the school annual kindly printed their names, even if the order does not appear to have anything to do with  the accompanying photo.

So, there you have it. Your quiz for the day. Good Luck and fill in your guesses in the comment section.

1963 Sutton Picnic in Long Beach, California

Sutton ex-pats living in Southern California used to have an annual picnic in Long Beach - I think it was always in Long Beach. Does anyone still do that???

The 1963 picnic was held on Sunday, June 23rd and a story appeared in the Clay County News in the July 4th issue. Ralph Ochsner of Long Beach sent the pictures and information back to Sutton. Ralph was the official promoter of the event.

The Official Group Photo from the Sutton Picnic held in Long Beach, California on June 23, 1963.
 Among those in attendance were the Yosts from Chula Vista, Lt. Alex Leitner, Bob Figi, Jr. from San Diego and Armin Stover from Bakersfield. My guess for Bob Figi, Jr. is the fellow kneeling behind two seated fellows just to the left of Mr. Griess in the chair in the center.

Does anyone recognize any of these folks? We're waiting to hear from you - comments welcome below.

A few of the guests were honored with a special photo.

Standing from left to right: Marie Griess Mettler, Ralph Ochsner, John Reger, Homer Gray (84), Mrs. Ed Ochsner and Mrs. Wesley Sanburg. The gentleman seated in the front was Billy Griess, the oldest person present at age 88.
Homer Gray in this second photo was the son of John and Emma Gray who was raised in the original home at 311 N. Way Avenue, now part of the Sutton Museum.

Gray Family Documentation for Sons of the American Revolution

Women who can trace their ancestry to someone who contributed to the creation of the United States of America by participating in the Revolutionary War are eligible to become members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.)

Men have a similar organization, The National Society, Sons of the American Revolution and their documentation is more readily available.

The images below are from the application of a member of Sutton's pioneer Gray family when he applied for membership in the sons of the revolutionary war organization. The images are not perfectly legible and the important text is repeated below:

The application was made by Thomas Gray Marsh of Oklahoma in 1970. Mr. Marsh identified himself as the son of Catherine Gray Marsh who was born in Sutton in 1906. Her father, Thomas Marsh's grandfather, was Homer W. Gray who was born in 1876 also in Sutton. Homer W.'s parents were John and Emma Gray who built the two houses that are in use as today's Sutton Museum. John Gray and his father, Col. Hosea, Wilson Gray were among the very first settlers in Sutton in 1871. Col. Gray was a veteran of the Civil War.

Each of these listings of the ancestral line in Thomas Gray Marsh's application lists the names of the spouses and the dates and places of their births, marriages and deaths making these applications valuable documents for family historians and genealogists.

Col. Gray's parents were Silas Gray and Omira Wilson who came from New York and Vermont. Silas was born in 1792 and his father was James Gray, born August 3, 1759 in New Boston, New Hampshire. James Gray is the Revolutionary War veteran who established the justification for all of his descendants to qualify for membership in the D. A. R. and the Sons organizations.

The application needs to establish the lineage of the applicant to someone who participated and it needs to describe that participation.

This second document is the next page of Mr. Marsh's application.

On this page, Mr. Marsh described what he knew about his ancestor's contribution to the cause of the founding of the United States. He listed three items.

Guarded Major Andre and witnessed his execution
Engaged in a number of battles
Served under Captain Bailey and Captain Hanley and also served under Col. Henry Jackson: State of Massachusetts.

The third item is probably the most important and those who try to verify the application have access to the rolls of the units that served in the war, especially the formal units formed by states. The incident about "Major Andre" may have been useful - it is probably a known story. The line about having been in a "number of battles" probably wasn't helpful. A list of battles would have been nice but clearly, Mr. Marsh and the Gray family didn't know specifics.

The criteria for membership in these organizations is not as strict as you might expect. The ancestor did not have to wear a uniform in an organized army unit. "Contributing" to the war effort includes merchants who sold goods to the army or donated funds to support units or supported the cause in other ways.

The next information on the page reference pension documents for James Gray and a D. A. R. document to further support Mr. Marsh's claim.

At the bottom is a place for the classic genealogical proofs: birth records, marriage records, death certificates  family bibles or other documents that support the facts and dates listed in the application. Since the application was completed in 1970 vast amounts of this kind of documentation has become readily available online and is used by family historians and genealogists to complete similar documents on individuals and families. A member of the Gray family filling out their own application today would be able to provide much more information and much better references for that information.

A Look at Edgar in 1888

The July 8, 1938  issue of the Edgar Weekly Times ran this story describing the news in an issue of The Edgar Weekly Times from May 25, 1888. This is a pretty good snapshot of several aspects of life in Edgar 125 years ago...

The 1888 paper was a special edition with extra advertising and photos of the town. If you are looking for information about businesses in a town, the Christmas and New Years issues always have ads from almost everyone in town.

There were photos of several homes, probably among the more prominent residents at the time.

Here was some information about early settlers. The Isham family shows up in many stories of early Edgar.

This special issue gives a good inventory of the businesses in Edgar in 1888. It would have probably been bad form not to have advertised in this issue of the local paper.

And we learn who ran this paper in 1888.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Clay County Rural School District #13, Sutton Township about 1897

This photo appeared in the Sutton Historical Society column of the June 26, 2013 issue in the Clay County News.

District #13 in Sutton Township about 3 miles south of town.
As promised in the newspaper, here is the key to these folks:

Back row: John Urbach, Lena Rasby, Edith Buttell, Philip Urbach, Kate Buttell, Mary Sheridan, Will Hurst, May Chandler.

Middle row: Louise Rasby, Margaret Uhrich, Tillie Uhrich, Christine Rasby, Anna Hurst, Maude Lange, Emma Hurst, May Lange, Pauline Wachter, Anna Sheridan, Nellie Sheridan, Maude Stacy (teacher), Laura Lange

Front row: George Uhrich, Sam Buttell, John Hurst, Jake Uhrich, Fred Ebert, Will Buttell

Please contact us for any corrections or additional information...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sutton Co-op Bus Tour - 1959

We used this photo in our weekly column in The Clay County News on June 19, 2013 with a promise to identify these distinguished area citizens. Here goes:

Sutton Co-op Bus Tour to the Co-op facilities in Kansas City, Missouri. This photo was taken on February 5, 1959
in front of the Co-op Office Building.

First row, left to right:
Reuben G. Griess, Sutton; E. K. Nuss, Sutton; John O. Griess, Sutton; Benjamin E. Nuss, Aurora; Clarence Johnson, Sutton; Carl E. Nuss, Sutton; Tom T. Griess, Sutton; Ronald A. Ochsner, Saronville.

Second row, left to right:
Frank Starr, Edgar; Deldon Sedersten, Sutton; Lindell Hawthorne, Lushton; Henry Rath, Grafton; Fred Peter, Grafton; Richard Trautman, Harvard; Harold Hofmann, Sutton; Samuel Nuss, Saronville.

Third row, left to right:
Mrs. E. K. Nuss, Sutton; Mrs. Earl L. Hansen, Saronville; Mrs. John O. Griess, Sutton; Mrs. Richard Trautman, Harvard; Mrs. Carl E. Nuss, Sutton; Mrs. Samuel Nuss, Saronville; Mrs. Fred Peter, Grafton; Mrs. Harold Hofmann, Sutton; Robert R. Griess, Sutton.

Fourth row, left to right:
Marvin Jones, Hastings; Earl L. Hansen, Sarvonville; Mrs. Lindell Hawthorne, Lushton; Mrs. Deldon Sedersten, Sutton; Mrs. Henry Rath, Grafton; Mrs. Clarence Johnson, Sutton; Mrs. Frank Starr, Edgar; Mrs. Reuben G. Griess, Sutton; Mrs. Benjamin E. Nuss, Aurora.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Untold Story of Girls' High School Athletics

The story of girls' athletics at Sutton High is an untold story, at least we haven't told it here or in our articles in Sutton Life Magazine.

We have a short list of potential future topics that are worthy of the research and time and effort to become one of our articles. We could use a little help with that.

We have an intermittent collection of school annuals that tells an intermittent story at some level. A more personal touch would be appreciated.

The kinds of questions that we have include:

When did specific girls' sports begin in Sutton - volleyball, basketball, track?

How did the programs get started - who were the first coaches and girls?

How long did it take to achieve success on some level?

What were the competing schools? Did everyone in a conference begin the same year or was the sport introduced gradually across school districts?

What girls' sports existed "way back?" We seen accounts of girls' sports in the '20's and 30's; when did those programs fold up? How long did Sutton High go without any girls' athletic programs, etc.

Our short list of article topics account for the June and July Sutton Life Magazine articles with a few candidates for August in the queue. How about we time this story for August or September to coincide with the beginning of the school year?

If you have information on this topic, or have anecdotes or personal experiences we'd really appreciate hearing from you. Please comment to this posting or contact Jerry Johnson at

Thanks for the help