The Real Katie

The story Katie relays about her family background is based on fact. Hicke’s brother Herman died shortly after the Baumfalks came to Gage County, but I was unable to determine his cause of death. He is buried with his parents in the same cemetery as Hicke and Katie.

            Both the Freese farm and the Dirk Baumfalk farm had creeks running through them. I made an assumption that the creek running through the Freese farm was deeper than it is currently, due to subsequent irrigation and global warming.

            Based on internet research of undergarments in the 1890 timeframe, I thought she might have worn something like a one piece romper under her corset, and Hicke would have been in something resembling long johns. It seems like a lot of heavy clothing for July, but all the photos you see from that timeframe show dark colored clothing and long sleeves.

            I used a few German words in this story like I did with Mary, but mostly to give Folka’s speech some distinction. Katie was born in the United States, so English would have likely been her first language, although her parents were German born.

            Katie’s Uncle Christian Meints’ family were farming in the same area as the Freeses, according to the plat maps of that era. Brune was one son near her age. The Meints brothers came to Nebraska from eastern Illinois about the same time as the Freese family did, in the early 1870s.

            Gerd, like most of the non-relative supporting characters is fictional, but I pulled his first name from a census record in Quincy. The Davis Hotel, the Opera House, the play, and Tivoli’s Restaurant were all taken from information in the Beatrice Sun newspaper in that period.

            The bride price was not as common in Germany as some other countries, but I had the Baumfalks come up with this idea sort of as a show. They were probably happy that their second son had found a wife.

            The Hanover Church where they married later became the Zion Lutheran Church. The minister was listed on their marriage record. The children and their birth dates are all taken from family records and genealogy research.

            William Jennings Bryan did speak at the Chautauqua festival in Beatrice in 1897. As many things are named after him in Nebraska, it was one of those things where I could try to put them at a specific point in history.

            Sarah, Wilt’s wife, went by Dena, but I didn’t use that name because Hicke’s sister had that name. There are several newspaper accounts that tell about her commitment to the insane asylum on two occasions at least. It appears she died in the asylum and Wilt remarried in short order, which suggested he had not expected her to return the last time. The description of the conditions was taken largely from Nellie Bly’s account of her undercover reporting back in New England in Ten Days in a Madhouse.

            I gave Katie a short fuse in part because of some of her children, whose temperaments were known to other descendants. Some of her children were known to have “mean streaks” or hot tempers.

            Many of the interesting parts of this story I uncovered as I went along, when I started comparing dates and relatives. There was a newspaper account of Hicke’s death, and how it took the doctor so long to arrive, and that Hicke has been threshing. I realized Katie would have been pregnant at the time of his death, and that her connection with William was put in motion because Hicke’s sisters were married to two of William’s brothers. They repeated that pattern when three of her children married three of his children. It all sounds mildly incestuous today, but I think it was much more common 100 years ago when you met people through family connections.

            I have no reason to think they actually added additions to their home. The existing house in that spot is probably not the one that they built. It just seems like they had a lot of people under one roof, especially after William and his children arrived. I used census information to verify that he moved in with her, and found the bill of sale for his farm.

            I found on August Dissmeyer’s draft registration card for the First World War, he stated he was working for George Baumfalk. August was one of William’s older sons who had left his household before Katie and William married. But he must have come around, and later married Katie’s daughter.

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