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., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.


Augustus J. Wenkheimer

AUGUSTUS J. WENKHEIMER. A considerable variety is contributed to the experiences of the early pioneers of Pawnee County in the career of Augustus J. Wenkheimer. Mr. Wenkheimer has been a farm builder and community builder in Pleasant Valley Township since 1882. In that year he became a permanent settler, but four years prior to that, in 1878, had made a trip through Western Kansas from Dexter, Iowa, and had bought the quarter section of land which he occupied later. There were many obstacles and pitfalls in the path to his success which he now enjoys, and altogether his career is one that throws additional light upon the early history of Western Kansas and indicates the kind of sturdy energy and character that went into its development.

Mr. Wenkheimer was born in Holmes County, Ohio, August 12, 1852. His father was Leonhart Wenkheimer, who before coming to America had lived near Kipzingen, Bavaria. That had been the home of the family of Wenkheimers for about two hundred years. The ancient history of the family goes back to the region of the Danube River in Hungary. The Wenkheimers there had been deprived of their property frequently as a result of the invasions of the Turks. Two branches of the family continued to remain there, and their descendants are among the titled people of Austria. The remote ancestors of the Bavarian branch crossed the mountains separating Austria from Bavaria and entering the Black Forest engaged in the timber business on the River Main a tributary of the Rhine. Their timber they rafted down the Rhine River to Amsterdam, Holland. Through these operations the family regained their fortunes and the various branches bought extensive estates along the Rhine River in Bavaria and indulged in the chief agricultural operations of that locality, fruit growing and the vineyard industry. The rafting of logs down the Main and Rhine had continued to be an important adjunct to the family business even to the time of Leonhart Wenkheimer. After a shipment of timber was made to the seaport markets, goods were brought back in boats and sold to the inhabitants of the remote Bavarian districts. Leonhart Wenkheimer was the son of Johannes Wenkheimer, and he also had a brother, but he was the only member of the family to come to the United States. It was for the purpose of bettering his fortunes and securing the liberties which were not obtainable in his native land that Leonhart Wenkheimer immigrated. He married Rosina Catherine Dappert, whose father was a German farmer.

On leaving Europe Leonhart Wenkheimer sailed from Bremen and landed in Castle Garden after a voyage of three months. Storms threatened the destruction of the sailing vessel before they left the coast of Ireland. The captain kept the boat for several weeks in the lee of Irish headlands until the sea calmed. From New York City Leonhart Wenkheimer went to Ohio and bought fifty-five acres of farming land in Holmes County. On that farm, carefully cultivated and tended, he spent his last years. He became a man of some prominence in that locality. He acquired the papers of an American citizen and was deeply interested in American life and customs. For several years he served in a rifle regiment of a military company and was granted an honorable discharge just before the beginning of the Mexican war. He was a member of the German Lutheran Church and was a democrat, as were most of the German emigrants of that early day. In his attitude he was a man of peace and stood always for peace, and his convictions were frequently expressed that the blacks of the South might have been freed without the shedding of so much blood. The death of this good old German citizen occurred in February, 1875, when he was seventy-five years of age. His wife passed away in 1886, at seventy-six. Their children now living are: Mrs. Caroline Horn, of Paulina, Iowa; Louise, wife of Albert Breckel, of Toledo, Ohio; and Augustus J. Those deceased are: Maria, who married Michael Laubender; Rosine, who married Andrew Lilich; Margaret, who married Michael Hermann; and Mrs. Justina Stocker.

The early life of Augustus John Wenkheimer was spent in Holmes County, Ohio. His educational advantages were limited. This was largely due to the fact that the district in which his parents lived was inhabited largely by the Amish sect of the Mennonite, Church. The Amish were rather firmly convinced that a thorough education made the recipient liable to stray from the straight and narrow path. The people, the church and the school were more than half German, and Mr. Wenkheimer's early character was largely influenced by the customs and practices of the Fatherland. After his father's death he was a student for less than a year in the high school at Massillon, Ohio. His mother and his sisters gave him authority to sell the family estate, and it was divided among the heirs.

On leaving school at Massillon Mr. Wenkheimer went out to Iowa, and having wisely made use of his opportunities to gain an education was qualified to teach school. He taught in Adair, Madison, Dallas and Audubon counties of that state, his work in that line continuing for about three years. During this time he frequently instructed a class of senior students in the German language. This was done outside the regular class hours. For eighteen months Mr. Wenkheimer engaged in the mercantile business at Adair, Iowa. The fruit of that experience was a training in merchandising, his partner taking possession of the money received. Another variety was furnished to his experience after that by ten months in the office of the Iowa Staats-Anzeiger, a weekly German paper. On that paper he served as local news gatherer, mailing clerk, paymaster and collector of advertising and subscription scores. Mr. Wenkheimer left the paper to take a position in a Jew wholesale house in Chicago, but was not satisfied there and soon went to a retail house. There he remained about eight months. City life and its business were not entirely attractive, and he then determined upon his last and permanent move, to Kansas, arriving in Larned February 22, 1882, and going at once to the quarter section of land which he had acquired four years earlier.

Few of the early settlers arrived in Pawnee County with a richer variety of training and experience than Mr. Wenkheimer, as is perhaps indicated by the foregoing account. His beginnings here were on a very simple scale. He had a yoke of steers as his principal equipment. He was not untrained in earning his bread by the sweat of his brow, and he soon began breaking sod on the northwest quarter of section 33, township 23, range 16. When he bought that land in 1878 it cost him $2.60 an acre. He was a bachelor then, and the shelter where he took refuge at night and when not laboring in the fields was a small claim shanty which he moved to the southwest quarter of section 34, township 23, range 16. This tract of land had been forfeited by a son of ex-Governor "Bloody Bridles" Waite of Colorado after a long contest with his former hired man, who had appropriated Mrs. Waite. This shanty of Mr. Wenkheimer was destroyed by a tornado before it was ready for occupancy. In 1885 he built a substantial small frame house.

In the fall of 1882 the Larned School Board offered Mr. Wenkheimer the position of first assistant in the high school. He gladly accepted that place and finished out the term. In the meantime he had sowed wheat and after harvesting it and selling it for enough money to pay all expenses he went to Chicago and sought a companion for his fortunes and misfortunes in Kansas. This companion had been a teacher in the schools of Iowa, but had subsequently gone to Chicago. Her name was Lucy J. Stoddard, and besides the high tribute Mr. Wenkheimer pays her revered memory she deserves respect as a splendid pioneer woman of Western Kansas. After his marriage Mr. Wenkheimer left his wife in Iowa until he could sow another wheat crop in Pawnee County. He also entered into a contract to teach the Garfield School for eight months. When the school term closed he returned to the country and occupied the property of H. B. Loomis until he could rebuild his own home. His wheat crop in 1884 was a fair proportion in yield, and in the fall of that year he renewed his contract with the school board at Garfield. In the same fall he was democratic candidate for county superintendent. He was defeated partly because his was a minority party, but it can also be explained on other interesting grounds. For one thing he declined to furnish booze for the floating element, and while this gained him the hostility of the liquor exponents he was not in high favor with the opposition because he declined to "toot the prohibition horn."

After building his permanent home on his claim in 1885 Mr. Wenkheimer lived there regularly, though his duties as a teacher took him elsewhere during much of the time. In 1888 he organized the first school at Belpre, and continued teaching through 1889, 1890 and 1891. Then ensued the strenuous times through which Western Kansas passed in the early '90s. For his teaching services he had been paid wages of from $40 to $45 a month, but the school boards generally refused to pay such high salaries and found women teachers who would do the work for thirty dollars a month or less. From 1886 for five years Mrs. Wenkheimer taught in Belpre or in the country districts. As he now looks back upon those times Mr. Wenkheimer feels that he and his wife would not have been able to remain in the country had it not been for their employment as teachers during the hard times. Many of the old settlers who did remain during that period either had government pensions, legacy from home or had sons working on ranches and contributing to the family support. But the long road finally had a turning, agricultural conditions improved and prosperity dawned upon the farmer of Western Kansas. When this change came Mr. Wenkheimer began acquiring additional land. For an equity in a tree claim near Pawnee Rock he acquired a quarter section near his home, burdened with a mortgage, and after sowing to wheat reaped a crop which was sufficient to pay off the debts on the tract, mortgage and all. There were other purchases from time to time and he eventually owned five quarter sections. Mr. Wenkheimer's success as a farmer has been achieved through wheat, corn and alfalfa, barley and oats. Besides the extensive acreage under his control the improvements indicate his thrift and substantial prosperity. His home is a nine room modern house, his barn is thrty-two[sic] by fifty-six feet, and other permanent improvements include a tenant house, milk house, granary, dairy barn and silo, and a garage for his automobile. Mr. Wenkheimer is also a stockholder in the Farmers Grain Company of Belpre.

For thirty years he has served as a member of the school board of district No. 24. Three terms he was elected and served as justice of the peace. In 1895 he was the people's party candidate for a county office, but was defeated. Politically his belief has always been strong in democratic principles. Several Congressional conventions found him attending as a delegate, and he helped nominate "Sockless" Jerry Simpson for Congress. He has always been true to the faith in which he was reared, the German Lutheran.

Lucy J. Stoddard, whom he married in Chicago soon after the inauguration of his Kansas life, was the daughter of Sidney W. Stoddard. She lived with him through the vicissitudes of early Kansas experience and enjoyed some of his later prosperity. She passed away in September, 1905. Of her children the oldest, Alberta M., is a graduate of the Kansas Agricultural College, also attended the Kansas State University, was a teacher of domestic science and mathematics in the high school at Benson and Nevo, Minnesota, for two years and is now at home. Gladys K., the second child, is the wife of Frank Millikin, entomologist of the United States agricultural department at Amarillo, Texas, and they have a son, August. Frank J. is a farmer near Belpre, Kansas, and by his marriage to Minnie Hawley he has a daughter, Lucy. Carl Leonhart is senior medical officer of a United States torpedo boat destroyer. Winnifred, the youngest child, is teaching a country school in Stafford County, Kansas. In November, 1910, at San Antonio, Texas, Mr. Wenkheimer married for his present wife Miss Margaret Dietrich, who was born in Berlin, Germany, the only child of Carl and Louisa (Philipp) Dietrich, who came to America in 1898. Mr. Dietrich is a veteran of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. He spent his life in Berlin, Germany, as a manufacturer of fine toilet soaps. He came to the United States in 1898, and he and his wife are passing their final years in Pawnee County. Mr. and Mrs. Wenkheimer have four young children, Gertrude, Louise, Margaret and Hedwig.


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., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.

Volume 4 - Table of Contents

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