Wednesday, November 17, 2010
The Life and Times of John Kuck
John Kuck, my third great grandfather was born 5 Dec 1836 in Adolphsdorf in the Kingdom of Hanover, a tiny hamlet in the marshes, 14 miles northeast of Bremen, Germany. According to local historians, John came from a long line of farmers going back at least six generations that lived and farmed those marshes. John was the third oldest son of the seven sons and one daughter of Hinrich Kuck and Anna Gerken.
Perhaps it was the political instability or the series of prolonged crop failures in the region but for one reason or another, John and at least two of his brothers immigrated to America. John was the first to arrive on 15 Aug 1853 in the port of Baltimore aboard the boat Arnold Boninger. Interestingly enough, his biography in county history books said he went to school and then farmed until he arrived on the shores of America at age 16 but the ship log lists his occupation as a baker. Whatever the case, I can't imagine what it felt like leaving your family behind and moving to a new country with just the clothes on your back. When I was at age 16, I thought it was the end of the world when my parents just didn't hand over the keys to the family car and say it was mine for the using.
John, after eight weeks at sea, penniless and alone, set off first for Wheeling, Virginia where he rested up for two months and then traveled a ways down the Ohio river to Marietta, Ohio. Marietta was a boom town and the first settled town west or north of the Ohio river. At the time John Kuck arrived, it had nearly ten churches, two public libraries, a college, two private academies, two dozen stores and upwards of 3000 people. John giving up any farming or baking roots he might have, apprenticed into the harness maker's trade until he reached the age of 20.
I guess John either didn't have the capital or wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life because when he left Marrietta at age twenty, his next stop was as a partner in a general merchandise store in Le Sueur, Minnesota. Perhaps he saved up money or found his calling but a year later in 1858, John settled in Galena, Illinois which had a large German population on the Mississippi river and worked as a harness maker supporting the huge local lead mine industry.
While in Galena, John met my third great grandmother Mary Meyer, a Swiss immigrant and on June 1, 1860 they were married. Perhaps John needed to escape his in-laws or his nomadic nature got the better of him but a few months later, John and Mary packed up and headed up the Mississippi river to Lansing, Iowa where he set up his own harness shop. His first two kids Anna born March 3, 1861 and Henry Lincoln born December 1, 1862 (named after his grandfather and newly elected President Abraham Lincoln) would join the family in Lansing before he again got on his traveling shoes and in 1864, traveled to Charles City, Iowa and again set up his harness shop.
There John finally put away his traveling shoes and found peace and soon after Lydia on March 11, 1866, George on December 14, 1868, Emma on October 29, 1869, Edward sometime in 1870 and John Jr.on January 3, 1873 were born into his family. However, the peace was not to last. A diphtheria epidemic that had been ranging across the plains for a couple years struck Charles City in 1878 and soon, the Kuck household was down with it. Seventeen year old Anna would succumb to it on the 11th of October followed by Emma on the 21rst of December, Edward on the 28th of December, Lydia on the 1rst of January, John Jr. on the 3rd of January and finally mother Mary on the 30th of May. A young vibrant immigrant family of nine people had been reduced to just three. Forty-two year old John and 17 year old son Henry and 10 year old son George were on their own. I'm not sure how any of them survived the ordeal.
Perhaps they made it through the loss of most of their family by the arrival of 23 year old Elizabeth Brandau into their lives. She married John the following year on April 22, 1880 and settled into the family. Young Henry and George worked in their father's harness shop but soon after his father remarried, Henry would leave home and eventually become a notable saddle maker living in The Dalles, Oregon. I've found saddles of his up for auction for upwards of $1000 each. George would continue working with his father eventually opening up a leather goods store for a few years and then spending the rest of his life as a merchant over a variety of stores ranging from implements to groceries in nearby Rockford, Iowa.
Life for John began to smooth out a bit and soon three more children joined his family. Bertha in 1881, Clara in 1883 and Paul in 1888. These three children still remain largely mysterious to me because all research into them has led to dead ends. John would become a respected citizen of the town serving on the city council, becoming a prominent member of the Republican party, was an active in prohibitionist and one of the first members of the German Methodist Episcopal Church.
On 1 November 1916 at the age of 79, John died and was buried alongside his wife and children. The large monument on the left side of the picture below is the family gravestone with all the names and dates inscribed upon it. The eight smaller stones behind it are the actual grave markers for John, wives Mary and Elizabeth and the five children who died of diphtheria. Later when Elizabeth died, she would be buried on the other side of John and as you can see in the picture below, her gravestone is just a bit closer to John's gravestone than Mary and all the other equally spaced stones. I guess jealousy follows us even into death.
One side note on the picture above. When I found it among my grandfather's stuff, it was said to be a picture of John, wife Mary, son George and one of their other kids. I'm not sure which one is George. Actually I can probably rule out the older child as George since he was 10 years old when his mother died assuming the lady is his mother. If George is the younger one and around 3 years of age, that would make the older son Henry nine years old at the time. I would guess that the older boy is probably 14 or 15 at the time of the photo. To top it off, I'm not sure if the young child in the picture is that of a boy or a girl. It seems as if mislabeling pictures is a habit in my family.