JOSEPH F. STROTHMAN. The career of Joseph F. Strothman probably touches as many vital interests in the history and development of the Ellinwood district of Barton County as that of any other old time resident. He is now living retired at Ellinwood. He came here when this was a village of shacks and when the few country homes were nearly all dugouts and sod houses.
While the years of his life richest in experience have been passed in Kansas, Mr. Strothman is a native of Iowa, born in Lee County December 5, 1847. His parents were Casper and Catherine (Witte) Strothman, the former a native of Westphalia and the latter of Oldenburg, Germany. They were young people when they came to America and were married in Lee County, Iowa. Catherine Strothman died at the age of thirty-eight. Her children were Joseph F.; Frank G., of Great Bend; John H., of Hutchinson, Kansas; Catherine, wife of B. H. Kempker, of Denver, Colorado; William, of Hereford, Texas; and Louis, who died at Mulhall, Oklahoma, while cashier of the bank there. Casper Strothman married for his second wife Mary Fullenkamp, and the children of that union were Casper, Ludwig, Clem, Gus, Albert, Mrs. Link, Mrs. Henry Boeting, deceased, Mrs. Irene Boeting and Mrs. Callie Walljasper.
Joseph F. Strothman grew up on an Iowa farm, and as the son of Catholic parents he attended parochial schools. He came to Kansas actuated by the same impulse which brought other homesteaders, to get land and acquire a home of his own. He took advantage of the abundance of Santa Fe Railroad lands yet unsold, and nine miles northeast of Ellinwood bought the southeast quarter of section 21, township 18, range 11, and the south half of the northeast quarter of the same section. In 1894 the tax assessor fixed the whole valuation of his property at $317.
During the first spring Mr. Strothman broke out and turned the sod on 200 acres. The following fall he planted 180 acres of wheat. This wheat gave promise of a splendid yield, but on April 30th, when 100 acres of the field stood waist high, the section was visited by a hail storm of unprecedented severity, which pounded the grain into the ground, and after it had passed rabbits, quails and chickens lay dead on the prairie and young trees were peeled from bottom to top. Only old time Kansans can appreciate the real tragedy of such a disaster. However, Mr. Strothman had some consolation in the fact that another field of wheat which had been sown later sprang up and made a crop sufficient to supply the wants of his family. Then came two years of excessive drought, and the fourth year Mr. Strothman sowed but eighty acres. His resources had been so reduced that economy in feeding was necessary. That year the yield was thirty bushels to the acre, and the wheat brought from 25 to 30 cents a bushel. When his accounts were balanced he found that the receipts from that one good season hardly equalized his losses of the years preceding. In the meantime there had been a general exodus of hopeful settlers, and one by one every family had left the country between the Strothman farm and Ellinwood except two. Every farm had been mortgaged, Mr. Strothman's among the rest. Mrs. Strothman often admonished her husband not to pay another dollar on the mortgage, but, as he says, he was "determined to see the situation to the end and pay his mortgage off if they had to walk out of the country." He has estimated that in those years he paid more interest than principal and the anxiety he felt for his family in those trying times could not be expressed in words.
From 1898 on for a dozen years crops were fairly good and land kept advancing in value slowly. During that era his first home, a shanty 12 by 14, had given way to one of better comforts and facilities and that, in turn, was displaced by a nine-room house where the Strothmans lived until they left the farm. The house was only one of many improvements, including the barns, granaries and other outbuildings. A fine orchard of various kinds of fruit and forest trees had grown up on the home place until the spot was completely changed from its primitive and frontier experience.
Mr. Strothman's experience with livestock is of especial interest as showing how little value at one time attached to this standby of Kansas agriculture. The maximum offer he received for a bunch of three year old steers, on one occasion, was $15 a head. He decided he would wait another year and get more money. When selling time came around he says he "had to talk mighty pretty to a stockman" to get him to pay $20 a head for the four-year-olds. Shifting from cattle he turned to the hog business as a reliable road to wealth. He had accumulated 100 head. The cholera invaded the region, but as he was somewhat removed from the afflicted zone he hoped his herd would escape. One morning he found one of them dead, next morning eight more, and every day brought him a repetition of this disaster until his dreams of wealth from hogs vanished.
One of the local industries which proved an aid to the farmers of Logan Township was a creamery. The plant was established midway of the territory served and was built by the sale of shares among the patrons. Its early history was marked by misfortune and mismanagement. Finally the stockholders, in search of a "Moses" to lead the enterprise out of the wilderness, appealed to Joseph Strothman. He hesitated because he had had no practical experience as a creamery manager, but finally concluded to take charge. Most of the patrons had quit sending their product to this plant, and the shares of stock were practically valueless. He soon had the business on its feet, and after seven years sold the plant, when its stock was worth $300 a share.
During these years Mr. Strothman has also assumed a proper share of public duties. While in Logan Township he served as assessor a number of years and also as a member of the school board during the greater part of his residence there. His district also chose him a member of the board of county commissioners, and he was in that office three years, serving with Commissioners George Moses, Coughlin and Bruce and later with Clate Moses. The board was confronted with serious problems of taxes, and it was a time when Barton County had a number of cases of indigence which demanded some share of the public funds. The board did its duty by these matters, and there was no discussion of big court house enterprises or of extravagant paving projects, all that phase of public business being reserved for modern times of prosperity.
Mr. Strothman sold his farm in 1910 and then erected the comfortable home in Ellinwood where he lives today. He is a stockholder in the Peoples State Bank and helped build the Opera House at Ellinwood and has been president of the Opera House Company throughout most of its existence. He is faithful to his training as a Catholic, is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and during the war took an active part in auxiliary and relief work in behalf of the Red Cross, the Young Men's Christian Association and the "Seven in One" campaign, and was gratified, as every other patriotic citizen, to see Ellinwood go over the top at every successive drive.
In Lee County, Iowa, January 14, 1873, Mr. Strothman married Miss Louise Geppert, daughter of Frank and Euphrosine Geppert. Her father, a native of Baden, came to the United States and for a number of years was a colliery overseer in Pennsylvania, later a farmer in Michigan, and finally settled in Lee County, Iowa, where he died. Mr. Geppert had three children, Mrs. Mary Meyers, George and Mrs. Strothman. George Geppert was the victim of a well remembered tragedy in Kansas. A gang of bank robbers attacked his bank at Medicine Lodge, and while he was resisting them George Geppert was killed. His assailants were captured the same evening and taken under "safe guarantee" by the posse leader to Medicine Lodge, where all of them were hanged that night by a mob.
Mr. and Mrs. Strothman in their declining years are comforted by the presence of both children and grandchildren. Their oldest child, Emma, is Mrs. Pentz of Hutchinson, and has a daughter, Ruth. Ella is the wife of E. H. Heath, of Herington, Kansas, and is the mother of a daughter, Casilda. Mary, who married George Wagner, of Ellinwood, has two children, Evelyn and Raymond. Cassie married William Roth, a farmer near Ellinwood, and their children are Robert, Leon, Walter and Lucile.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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