ABOUT COMANCHE-CO PEOPLE
Among the pioneer settlers in Comanche-co. those who came here 40 years or more years ago, and who stayed with the county and who are glad they have done so, is Fred J. Schenk of this city. This and other counties in southwestern Kansas still contain a number of the men and women who were not driven away by the hardships, partial crop failures and other discouragement's of the latter 80's and early 90s. And to them we owe much for the splendid development this part of the state has seen since the first settler began to come in back in the early 80s.
Mr. Schenk is a native of Germany, having been born in that country 64 years ago. He grew to young manhood in Germany, and met the military requirements they imposed upon every young man, but such autocratic militarism was not at all to his liking, so he made up his mind that he would come to America as soon as possible. On April 14, 1887, he and his parents, also his sister, now Mrs. Carsten Nickelson, took ship at Antwep, Holland, for this country. There were 700 passengers on board. The ocean trip was made in about two weeks. From New York City, the Schenks came by rail to Chicago, then to Kansas City, and from there by rail and stage line to Coldwater, arriving here on May 1, 1887, just forty years ago on the first of last May. When the family arrived here not one of them could speak a word of English. But that handicap was overcome in a short time. Fred relates that C. F. Kern, then a citizen of Coldwater, was one of the first persons he met when they arrived, and he helped them about getting transportation out to Nescatunga, which was then quite a town, located about ten miles southeast of this city. They secured a ride in the stage coach, and after arriving in Nescatunga, had difficulty in securing lodging, as the accommodations in that respect were very limited. They finally secured some bedding and slept on the floor and were glad for even that chance, Fred says.
A relative had previously settled on a claim ten miles east and a little south of Coldwater, and later had left the place and the Schenks planned to settle thereon, if a house could be secured. There was a hastily constructed dugout on the claim. On looking around a little, an empty house, 16X18, was found on a part of what is now the Biddle ranch, a few miles east of the Bethel school house. The problem was to get the house moved to the claim, a distance of four miles, living not far away at the time was Greenberry Burton, and from him the Schenks secured a yoke of oxen with which to move the house. All went fairly well until they reached a very sandy place in the road, about one mile from the claim. There the oxen stopped, and Mr. Schenk could not get them to go either forward or to the right or left. Finally, he went to the home of a settler one mile away and explained the situation. The neighbor came to his assistance. When the neighbor arrived and had begun to say "gee," "haw," etc., in good English, the oxen moved right along with that load. Mr. Schenk says that was the first yoke of oxen he had ever seen, and that he was then entirely ignorant of how to drive them.
The house was put in its new place and, for some time, served as a home for the family. Fred still owns that tract of land, now comprising 480 acres, also 320 acres of good farm and pasture land a few miles over the line in Oklahoma. Many new improvements have since been added to the place, and now it is one of the splendid ranch homes of the county. Fred finally married, and the family continued to live there until about ten years ago, when Mr. Schenk and a part of his family moved to this city, where they still live. Mr. and Mrs. Schenk's son, August, looks after things on the old home place.
Mr. Schenk's parents died several years ago. His brother, C. S. Schenk died in Cleveland, Ohio, in July, 1922. One son, Fred Schenk, Jr., died soon after the close of World War. August, John and Carl Schenk and a daughter, now Mrs. Ann Eaken, are the living children.
In recalling some of his early day experiences, Mr. Schenk relates that he worked for a while for Jake Kehl, and later for Dick Phillips. The wages received was $15 per month. But he managed to save nearly all of the money he earned and, by industry and frugality, within a few years he paid off the mortgage on his claim. He says that he has known a good many hardships, but adds that he is not a bit sorry that he left Germany and came to America when he did - and to Comanche-co.
Fred Schenk is one of the "old timers" in Comanche-co. He came with his family to this county in the fall of 188 and settled on a claim in the eastern part of the county. The other day in speaking of blizzards, Mr. Schenk said:
"It was one winter during the early 90s, 1891, I think it was, that I got caught in a very severe storm. The weather was mild, and none of us thought of a storm being so near at hand. I had left home to go about 27 miles north after one or two head of cattle which I had purchased. We had to stay all night up there, and that night, after we had gone to our bunk, we noticed that the weather had suddenly become very much colder. The man we were stopping with very kindly furnished us with a couple of extra comforts, and so we got through the night all right. But next morning a real blizzard was on, and we knew that we were tied up for a while. But that evening we managed to get started on our way back home. It was a terribly cold trip. Snow and ice had made the roads almost impassable, but we made our way somehow. Our worst trouble was in getting the purebred bull which I had purchased across Mule Creek. The stream had frozen over, and that animal absolutely refused to make any effort to cross. We couldn't find anything with which to break the ice, so we were compelled to go down the creek a ways to the Pepperd home, and there we managed to break the ice and get across the creek with the contrary animal.
When I reached home, I found that my wife had managed to get through the snow out to where the feed was, and by tying a rope around large branches of it, she managed to drag it to where the stock was, and thus she kept things going during my absence and while the storm was so bad. That is only one experience of many I had with blizzards."
My father Fred J.. Schenk came to Coldwater, May 1, 1888, coming from Wurttemberg Germany, in the Black Forest country. He took over an abandoned homestead of his brother, Chris. Schenk, who came over here several yrs. before. This homestead was located in Logan Township, in the New Eden school district. He worked on a sheep ranch in the Nescatunga neighborhood, walking the 7 miles each way. His pay was around fifty cents a day, with which he bought groceries at the Nescatunga store, carrying his groceries, which often included a 48 lb. sack of flour. The empty sacks would be used for making clothing. Later he bought an ox, used with a horse, to make a team of two, for breaking prairie sod.
My mother, Marie Sophie Moeller, came to Kiowa County, Kans., in 1890, making the trip with her 2 sisters, they knew no one in America, coming from Mecklenburg Germany, in the northern part. My father and mother were married in June 1892. To this union 5 children were born, delivered by a midwife known as Grandma Willard, Mrs. Elias Willard, her fee was $10.00 which included nursing and housekeeping for 2 weeks. Grandma Willard was kept busy with this kind of work and had to be spoken for in advance.
My father Fred J. Schenk, was born Sept. 15, 1864 Wurttemberg, Germany. Died April 17th, 1944 Coldwater, Kansas.
He married June 20th, 1892
My mother Marie S. Moeller Schenk was born March 3, 1863 Mecklenburg, Germany. Died August 3, 1943 at Coldwater, Kansas.
Children: Carl H Schenk born March 23, 1893, married Olgo Byer, served in World War I, both now living in Coldwater; Fred J. Schenk Jr., born June 27, 1894 - died 1919, served in World WarI; August W. Schenk, born Feb. 5, 1899 - died Sept. 1942, married Mabel Schultz, who is now living in Coldwater. John L. Schenk born Feb. 28, 1902, living in Coldwater, married Eunice E. Holland. Anna Marie Schenk, born Jan. 11, 1907, living in Greensburg, Kansas, married Walter F. Eakin.
-- Written by John L. Schenk, March 1971.
My mother and I came here in April, 1921, to join my brother Aubrey, who was working for Dave Hecht at the time. Coming from Norfolk, Va. therefore I do not have any knowledge of the county's history.
-- Written by Eunice Schenk, March 1971.
I remember when Fred J. Schenk, John's father, lived on East Main Street. His gardens were beautiful - like pictures in seed catalogues. Every year we used to go by many times during the season just to see it. Every row was ruler straight. Never a weed was to be seen. No matter what the weather his garden seemed to grow and produce. At the same time other peoples gardens were failures. His potatoes always had the same size tops and all bloomed together. The lettuce was so equal in size and shape it might have been artificial.
John and Eunice always have the same type of garden and in addition many flowers and shrubs. Still drive by many times to admire. These folks are also doing non-advertised deeds of kindness.
Comment by Ruth Botts, April 1971.
Catherine (Ballinger) Schenk, mother of Fred Schenk, Sr.
Fred J. Schenk, Sr., son of Fred Schenk, Sr.
Martin Leroy Schenk, son of August Schenk, grandson of Fred Schenk, Sr.
Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news articles and to Patricia Snyder for transcribing the article from the Ruth Botts Collection!
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