This is the story of the Walter family, as told to me in 1945 by Grandpa Walter. I typed as he talked and much of it is direct quote and unedited. I hope you will enjoy reading Grandpa's version of our ancestors -- Mabel Dean [daughter of Rena Walter - this text copied and edited by Larry Dean, her son in 2005]
Anna Katherine Ollendorf and George Walter [1800-1858] lived in Kruspis, in the Hessian country of Germany, and later migrated to Canada. They are buried at Neustadt, Ontario Canada. Their children were Jacob [1831-1918], Kathrine, Fred, Elizabeth and John.
In the year 1851, when Jacob was twenty years old, conditions in Germany were such that it was difficult for a young man to obtain land and a home. It was also one year that the German Army didn't draft young recruits, so many young men were free to leave the country. Jacob and a friend landed at Baltimore after six weeks travel in a sailing vessel. They travelled by train to Waterloo, Ontario Canada, where they filed for homesteads in the Province of Ontario, town of Neustadt in Normandy Township of Gray County. They walked to their newly acquired land, which was sixty miles northwest of Waterloo, the entire distance was through dense forest. When they arrived at Neustadt, friends they had known in Germany helped them locate their property by number [Concession 14, lot 12]. They found a big hemlock tree, five feet in diameter, that had fallen. They laid poles from it to the ground, covered the poles with brush for temporary shelter until they built their log cabin. Each took 200 acres, one on each side of the road. They cleared the land of timber, using two oxen for power. [A brief description of Normanby Township from 1861 census]
It was here that Jacob met and married Recina Denner [1841-1862] and two children were born - Dora  and August . [Recina or Rosena also came from Germany, her parents were Eva [Hartmann] and Johannes Denner. She was buried at Neustadt in 1862.] [August moved to Nebraska, in 1881, married Catherina in 1888, children Casper, John, Eli, Otto and Levina] [Dora moved to Nebraska in 1886 and married John J Harley in 1888, children Casper, Magdelena, John and Alma].
When Jacob was alone with the two children, his sister [Kathrine] took care of August for two years with her own little girl, Anna. They were about the same age. Jacob had friends who told him of a shoemaker at Waterloo who had two marriageable daughters. He walked to Waterloo to see them. The older girl wouldn't go to the timber to live, so he chose the younger. She was willing to leave home as her home life wasn't happy since her father had a 'taste for liquor'. Christina (Regina) Walter [1844-1908] daughter of Regine [Geiger] and Gottlieb Christian Walter formerly of Stuttgart Germany, and Jacob (no relation) were married, and walked (the sixty miles) back to the homestead. Their children all born in Canada were-
Jacob was a Sunday School teacher for many years and also sang in the church choir. He taught his own children and grand-daughters [Rena, Clara and Alvina] to sing. Music was a very important part of his life, and the day before he died he sang with his oldest daughter. He was buried at Chambers NE.
When John was five years old, Jacob's sister, Elizabeth Harley, later Becker, wanted to adopt him as she had no children. John, although not adopted, went to live in her home and stayed there until he was sixteen years of age. She lived near the town of Clifford [10 miles east of Neustadt].
John received his education in a log school, one-half mile away from home. It was heated by a box stove which burned wood (beech and maple) cut 4 feet long and split 6 or 8 inches thick. The seats were rough hewn benches. The instructor was from Germany and taught in the German language the ABCs and numbers. Discipline was by hickory stick pointer applied to back of anatomy. There were between 70 and 90 children in one room. Slates were used for lessons, the older children helped teach the smaller ones. When John was 10 years old, his teacher's name was Singler. One day John was the first one to his seat after the teacher rang the bell. John whistled in the room - Mr. Singler called him forward, put his head between his legs and whipped him with a leather strap frayed at the end. He attended school about 3 years in all. However the last 2 years were in English language. The everyday language was German. After school days were over, John helped his uncle on the farm, where they raised wheat, oats, barley, field peas (raised for hog feed). They had 4 cows and 2 horses on 50 acres of land. John took wheat to the mill to be ground. The miller took a share for his pay. At one time the uncle received two dollars a bushel for wheat, later the price dropped to one dollar.
When John was sixteen he went home for the winter, staying until March when he hired out to Henry Giltner for one year for one hundred fifty dollars. Father collected the money, John received necessary clothes for his efforts. He returned home with the intent to stay, as his brother Fred was hired out. After one month Fred returned home, so John hired out to an Irishman, William Ford, receiving fifteen dollars a month for five months. With this money he bought a pair of plow shoes, new suspenders, and of course a little tobacco. He gave the remaining seventy-two dollars to his father.
John stayed home the next winter and cut cord wood with his brother Fred, then his Uncle John Harley died. John stayed with his aunt all the next summer and winter, receiving eighteen dollars a month.
Brother August went to Nebraska USA in September, 1884 and took a homestead on Holt Creek. His father visited him in the fall of 1885 to see what the country was like, and what possibilities it offered. In February 1886, John with his friend John Harley went to DeWitt NE because he had friends from Ontario who had settled there. After visiting there for six weeks they went to Emmet by train to see brother August. At Norfolk they were served a meal of rotten eggs for 25 cents. It was the first day of April 1886 when he got off the train at Emmet. August was working at Zeimers Ranch at the time, so John also stayed there a couple of weeks before they went out to the homestead.
In preparation to go to the homestead, August bought a pair of steers and broke them in to use to pull a plow. When the time came to leave, a very heavy snow delayed their departure ten days. When the snow finally melted, they started to the homestead, equipped with a wagon, two steers, a breaking plow, potatoes, flour, bacon and a few other necessities. There distination was fourteen miles southwest of Emmet.
When they got to the Elkhorn River it was high, the heavy show had caused it to overflow its banks. John took off his shoes and pants and lead the steers through the water, then put the dry clothes on again. They followed a trail all day until they came to Holt Creek. There they encountered high water again, no bridge. It was August's turn to lead the steers and John stayed on the wagon. They didn't get far when they were in quicksand. John let the pin out of the yoke and August led the steers across. From there, the steers pulled, John lifted first one wheel then another and by much pushing, pulling, lifting, and tugging, they finally got the wagon through the river.
They were still about two miles from the shanty on the homestead. The trail followed along the creek. Suddenly the wheels dropped into mire. It was getting dark, and the boys could just see the shanty, so they carried the flour and what else they could, and leading the steers, they arrived 'home'.
At that time the country was vast prairie with no trees at all, and nothing to tie the steers to, so they tied the rope to a stick, put the stick inside the door, thereby holding the animals for the night. August had built the frame shanty, 12x14 feet, the year before, and it was equipped with a Topsy stove, homemade bedstead, comforters, - 'We didn't need much'.
They got the wagon out the next day, then August went to his Norwegian neighbors, who lived one-half mile south, to have her make biscuits for them. About noon he went to get them.. they were the size and density of baseballs. John stayed with his brother three weeks. During that time they broke four acres of land, walked to the post office three times, which was at Emmet, fourteen miles away.
Since August was pretty well 'settled' by now, John decided he'd find employment elsewhere. He had heard the [Chicago and] Northwestern Railroad was hiring men, so he went to Chadron NE. He had very little money, the first night he walked around the railyard looking for a car to sleep in. He met the watchman who carried a six-shooter. "What are you doing here?" John told him he was looking for a place to sleep. The watchman opened the door of a boxcar with the warning not to tell. His feet were wet and he had only a cotton blanket for warmth. He removed his shoes and walked back and forth from 3 am to daylight to keep warm. He had to wait ten days before getting the railroad job. He did odd jobs around the countryside for board and room. He applied for a job with a plasterer, but no luck however he was directed to a place in the country where he helped plant trees for his board. He finally hocked his ten-dollar watch for 3 dollars to buy baloney and bread, sleeping in a livery barn at night.
His railroad job was to help lay ties from Buffalo Gap to Rapid City, Dakota Territory. The working conditions were deplorable. The work was hard and no decent water to drink. Two weeks of this was enough for John. He and a friend, William Duwell, found employment with a grading contractor who had the contract to build the Scribner-Oakdale line. They helped the contractor load his equipment then road on the train with it to Norfolk NE. After arriving at Norfolk they were informed work would not begin for another ten days, so John and William decided to hire out to farmers in the southern part of the state.
They left Norfolk in the evening, walking south to Madison. They could see a bad storm coming up and also a light in the distance. Heading directly to the light they walked in water 'up to their necks', finally finding shelter from the storm at a farmhouse. The rain poured down, the roof of the house leaked and it blew in around the windows. The lady of the house gave each a blanket and they slept on the floor. The next morning the lady made them a delicious breakfast of pancakes, bacon and coffee before they went on their way.
John hired out for a month to a farmer, Frank Froericks, at Madison NE. When the month was up, the farmer convinced him to stay longer, for $15 a month. He stayed eleven months in all. During this time he filed his intent to become an American citizen. John returned to Holt county and filed for a homestead in the fall of 1887. He worked on the Bleben ranch south of Emmet for about two years.
During this time he visited the Harley family, southwest of Chambers NE, which had been neighbors of his family in Canada. One time when John visited the Harleys in 1887, Katie's friend Mary Spuhler was also there, that was the first time he saw the future Mrs John Walter. The Harleys were neighbors of carpenter Peter Spuhler [1842-1920] and Sophia [Kniep] Spuhler [1843-1900 died at Hobart OK] whose children were-
Mary was the daughter of Peter Spuhler who was born in Alsace-Lorraine, close to Metz-on-the-Rhine, which is on the west side of the river. Her mother was Sophia Katherine Deerstein Knipe who was born nearby, but on the east side of the Rhine. Peter was a carpenter by trade, and a band leader playing cornet and accomplished accordianist. The older four children were all born in Germany. Sophia was dissatisfied with their environment and wanted to move. She didn't approve of Peter playing in the dance band and the drinking, which was a part of that.
The Spuhlers arrived in America in 1873 and located in Appleton WI for a year. They moved to Cherokee Iowa for three years, then to Wisner NE where they lived until 1883. Mary was hired out to herd cattle and knitted while out in the fields. Sometimes the cattle would stray and she would go after them barefooted over the sandburrs. At times she would milk as many as 18 cows. One time she was so tired being late at night, that when she crawled under the fence she rested a moment and fell asleep. When she awoke the hogs were slurping the last of the milk. She was severly scolded.
In 1883 the family took a homestead five miles southeast of Chambers NE. For fuel, Mary and Lena would cut down willows that grew along the creek and tied them in bundles. Another fuel in those days was hay. Many and Lena carried butter and eggs to Chambers where there was a store, post office and blacksmith shop in the same building. They would get a nickle a pound for butter or a dozen eggs, which were then traded for groceries. Father was away much of the time doing carpentry work.
Mary hired out to McClures who lived between Chambers and Ewing, and later to Albert Miller in 1887, who lived two miles east of Chambers. Here she learned to make pressed cheese. Her next employment was by Cargill Graham, 2 miles west and 1.5 miles north of Chambers. She was here during the blizzard of 1888. During the blizzard, Mary was alone with Susi Graham who was a midget and the sister of Cargill. Mary had to make the hazardous trips to the barn to get hay for the hayburner, and she also burned meat cracklings after the other fuel ran out.
Her next employment was at Winns, southeast of Chambers, then she worked at the Bleban Ranch during haying. John was working on the Bleban Ranch during the blizzard of 1888, where he hauled hay for 400 head of cattle. He was out in the blizzard all day trying to feed the cattle in the barns, carrying corn to them instead of hay. He went to the house at noon for dinner, then returned to the sheds. After seeing he couldn't do anymore, he started back to the house at about 4 pm. He couldn't see a thing, it was as though he were blind-folded. He had to feel his way on the snow packed on the path, but he got off. He couldn't find a way back, wo he guessed the direction of the house, and finally bumped into the wash boiler which he knew sat 70 yards east of the house. The wind was very strong. When he had gone 75 steps he stopped, suddenly the wind switched direction and for a flash he could see he was about six feet from the kitchen door. Next day the temperature measured minus 35 degrees [and windchill].
In order to prove up, it was necessary to live on the homestead, which was thirteen miles southwest of Emmet. After seeing Mary Spuhler, John knew it would be much too lonely living there alone. They were married September 9, 1888 at the Spuhler home. Their attendants were August and Katie Walter [who were married earlier that year]. Willie Caulkins officiated as Justice of the Peace. Their children -
Rena, Clara, Alvina, Alfred, Mabel and Henry, c 1915
John and Mary set up housekeeping in the shanty John had bought for $25 off the adjoining homestead. He sodded up the shanty and dug out an addition of sod. He continued to work for Blebans that winter, while Mary stayed on the homestead 3 miles away. They lived on the homestead five years, proving up in the spring of 1893. He received his deed to the land and citizenship papers at the same time. The three oldest daughters were born on the homestead.
John Walter and Mary Spuhler
The Spuhler family had moved to Oklahoma in 1892 when the Cheyenne-Arapahoe part of the Oklahoma Indian Territory was opening up. They thought the country there was much better than Holt County and encouraged John to sell out and go down there, which he did. They moved by immigrant car on the railway.
John expected to take a homestead there, but when he went to the land office he found he wasn't eligible as he had used his homestead rights in Nebraska. That was the first dissappointment. John and his father-in-law went together and leased one-quarter section of Indian land. It was full of prairie dogs and rattlesnakes. John built on the north eighty and Spuhler built on the south eighty. After the year was up they decided they didn't want anymore of Indian land.
The next year he rented land already broke up from a neighbor. "Put twelve acres to corn, the prairie dogs ate most of it as it came up, hot winds in July burned the rest". The second year he put in fifty acres to wheat. He harvested 18 bushels to the acre and received 75 cents a bushel. The third year he planted 107 acres to wheat. It was a dry year and he harvested 40 bushels [total]. He then sowed fall wheat, 160 acres, and again had drought. He harvested only 240 bushels and recieved 22 cents a bushel. That was enough of Oklahoma.
They started back to Nebraska in a covered wagon, coming the 600 miles in three weeks. They stopped at Deloit NE where Louise [Spuhler] and Adam Roth were working a ranch. John stayed on at the ranch to work, and Mary and the girls lived in the house on the Roth farm south of Clearwater, which was vacant at the time. In the spring John rented the farm west of Chambers. The house consisted of a shack and sod kitchen, full of rats. He rented the place for two years and then bought it.
John Walter farm west of Chambers as it appeared in later years
Of course the story does not really end there. John's parents, Jacob and Christina, and most of his brothers and sisters moved from Canada to Nebraska where they prospered. In the 1900 census at Chambers, besides the children, living in the household were father and mother Jacob and Christine R. Walter, and brother George Walter all having migrated from Canada. Walter family found in the 1930 census.
From 1940 Who's Who in Holt County NE.