Louise (Luisa) Trautsch was a baby in 1853 when her young parents, Henry and Lena Trautsch, emigrated from Prussia and settled a homestead near Wauzeka, Wisconsin. Life was very hard for the new family. Like other settlers, they had to clear the land of undergrowth and rocks, fell their own trees, and build log cabins as well as shelters for their animals. They grew all their own food and fodder; butchered, cured, and smoked their own meat. They raised their own sheep, sheared, washed, and carped their own wool, spun their own yarn, and knitted their own stockings, caps, and mittens. As more children were born, a heavy burden of work fell on Louise, the oldest child.

Henry Trautsch was an abusive man with a violent temper. When Louise was six years old, her mother grew so desperate that she resolved to take four-year-old Lena and the baby, Henry, and escape from her husband’s abuse and the hardships of pioneer life. Apparently she felt she could only manage two small children on her own, but at the last moment she could not bring herself to leave little Louise behind. So she stayed on, eventually bearing two more daughters: Mary (who died at age four) and Emma.

Louise’s schooling was intermittent. The Trautsch children could not start the school year until late November, after they had helped to complete all the farm work that was necessary to prepare for winter. They had to drop out again in early spring to begin the season’s work. On days when it was considered too hot for even the horses to work, Louise and Lena walked the seven miles to the village of Wauzeka carrying a basket of eggs between them and pails of butter in their free hands to trade for needed supplies — and considered it a holiday.

Though all the children worked hard, Louise was required to help her father with the heaviest of tasks. The neighbors referred to her as “Trautsch’s hired man.” At harvest time father and daughter worked all day, through the supper hour, and far into the night scything grain, tying it into bundles, and shocking the bundles (i.e., standing them upright).

Her daughter Ella told the story of the time Louise was picking blackberries on her way home from the fields. Just as she was about to reach for a bunch of fruit, she spotted a coiled rattlesnake under the bush, ready to strike. She plunged her pitchfork hard into the snake, but only succeeded in pinning down its tail — and not very securely at that. Afraid to let go of the pitchfork, she watched in horror as the creature lunged repeatedly at her, each time tearing the skin that anchored it a little more. At the last moment a neighbor who happened by came to her rescue.

When Louise was 15, her mother died of typhoid fever. A year later her father married a widow with three children. Life at home became intolerable to Louise, who considered her stepmother deceitful and unkind and her stepsiblings brats. With her father’s permission, she went to Prairie du Chien to become a domestic servant.

There life took on new dimensions. All her life she had been a field hand; now she learned about cooking and housekeeping. Domestic work was hard, the hours long, and her pay only 75 cents a week. But there were compensations. Her father’s sister, Ernestine — “Tante Walter” to Louise — took her niece under her wing, and saw to it that she associated with her cousins and other young people, including the pastor’s brother, Edward Wiederanders.

On June 2, 1872, at the age of 19, Louise married Edward, who was ten years older. The couple lived in Wisconsin for the first 13 years of their marriage, in Prairie du Chien and Boscobel, both close to Wauzeka. (Edward’s mother moved in with the newlyweds and lived with them until she died five years later.) Like most women of her time, Louise endured numerous pregnancies. Her first child — born nine months after her wedding — was 22 and married by the time the ninth and last child arrived. Five daughters joined the family: Lydia, Minna (who died at age 8 in a diphtheria epidemic), Ottilie, Bertha, and Magdalene. Then came two sons, Edward Henry and Carl Anton, and finally two more girls, Eleonore and Minnie Amanda.

During their time in Wisconsin, as elsewhere, Louise and Edward endeavored to give their children the best education possible. In Boscobel, Louise had a home of her own for a few years, but it had to be sold to pay off debts. In that town they buried both Edward’s mother and their second daughter, Minna.

Married life had its share of challenges. Despite Louise’s and Edward’s mutual wish to maintain a stable environment for their children, the family was forced to move frequently to pursue job opportunities. Louise carried on with quiet determination, shouldering much responsibility for home and family, and performing a prodigious amount of physical labor.

Click on pictures to enlarge

Louise Trautsch

A Wisconsin farm family husking corn

A field with shocks of grain

Maids in Wisconsin, ca. 1905

Louise around the time of her marriage

A river scene near Boscobel

Women’s work: washing clothes
In early 1885 Louise became a homesteader once again: this time on the Nebraska prairie. She was six months pregnant when she and Edward brought their four surviving daughters to 160 acres of raw land near the brand new railroad town of Gothenburg. The family moved into a claim shack and, like other settlers, proceeded to build a sod house, clear land for fields, plow, and plant crops.

Conditions on the prairie were harsh. Vast grasslands stretched like an ocean as far as the eye could see. There were no trees for lumber, fuel, shade, or protection from the fierce wind. Summers were hot and the sun beat down mercilessly, parching seedlings and people alike. For seven successive years of drought, crops withered before they could be harvested. If the drought didn’t doom the crops, they were decimated by sandstorms, hailstorms, or hordes of grasshoppers. Water had to be carried to the vegetable garden daily to keep those plants alive. Fortunately the native buffalo grass, though sparse and wiry, sustained the cattle with its nutritious oils.

Winters were bitterly cold, with icy winds and blizzards sweeping over the plains and boring into the drafty sod houses. The children were dispatched frequently to scour the land for “prairie coal” (cow dung), which was stored and burned in an open stove for heat. They augmented this fuel with corn stalks and even twisted straw. A small supply of expensive coal was kept on hand for company or emergency use. When it rained, the sod roofs of the prairie houses dripped mud and were even known to collapse. With floors and ceilings both made of dirt, the settlers’ homes were impossible to keep clean.

The family’s diet consisted primarily of what they could grow or raise: corn meal mush and corn bread (seasoned with bacon grease), along with home-cured meat. They had plenty of molasses made from the sugar cane they raised. At harvest time the children loved to ride atop a load of sugar cane when it was hauled to the sorghum mill and exchanged for a 50-gallon barrel of molasses. White bread was baked only for Sunday dinner and special occasions, since wheat flour had to be purchased, whereas cornmeal was milled from homegrown corn. Prickly pear cactus thrived on the prairie despite the drought. Louise made preserves and pickles from its red fruit, which the children gathered in season.

During the family’s second year on the prairie, 3-year-old Magdalene contracted meningitis, hovering near death. Although she made a long, slow recovery, she never fully regained her sunny spirit or full mental capacity. Louise had three more babies — Edward, Carl, and Eleonore — while living on the homestead. Seven children now filled the house. With Edward off doing carpentry work to bring in needed cash, it fell to Louise and the older girls to tend the home, farm, and vegetable garden. Despite repeated crop failures they kept at it, until finally they were forced to admit defeat. Even then, they had to stay on the homestead for two more years in order to gain title to it.

Life on the prairie was not all hardship. On Sundays the whole family squeezed into the buckboard carriage for a trip to the small country church, and in the afternoon they visited neighbors. In Nebraska as elsewhere, faith and piety were central elements in the family’s life. Every day began and ended with family devotions and prayer, the youngest child seated on Louise’s lap and all listening respectfully while Edward read from the Bible and led a prayer.

A homesteading family in front of their sod house

A sod house on the prairie

Collecting “prairie coal”

Field corn dried on the stalk

Interior of a sod house

A crowded buckboard wagon
In 1892 the family moved to Grand Island, where Edward had found work in the Union Pacific car shop. The sale of the homestead allowed them to pay off their debts, and they rented a house about a mile outside of town. Here the older children began to learn English, gradually or abruptly as circumstances demanded. Only German was spoken at home, at church, and in the parochial schools they attended. But when Ed and Carl transferred to public school, they had to “sink or swim” in English.

The children had friends and playmates nearby. Eleonore (Ella), a pre-schooler at the time, later remembered:

Life moved along quite pleasantly for the younger children....The all-time favorite for outdoor fun was hide-and-seek, with Kuni the dog doing the seeking. The children took turns being ‘it’ with Kuni, and when the signal was given that everyone was ‘ready,’ Kuni went to work rounding up the gang, and escorting each one, as he found them, to the ‘jail’ (a big circle drawn in the yard). He knew instinctively how many children he had to find and did not give up until all of them were accounted for. If anyone was hiding in a place that was inaccessible to Kuni, like the haymow, he barked furiously until they surrendered. When all had been ‘arrested’ he sat down by the jail wagging his tail, beaming at the jailbirds.

In Grand Island things did not go smoothly for Louise and Edward, however. Within two years they had lost their savings to a bank failure, and Edward’s good job to the railroad’s bankruptcy. They moved to a rented farm outside of town and began raising sugar beets to sell to the local beet-sugar refinery. Once again, Louise had to run a farm, toiling in the fields with the children, while Edward worked whatever carpentry jobs were available. In 1895, when she was 42, Louise gave birth to her last baby, Minnie. Three years later she was laid low by “inflammatory rheumatism,” and could not work at all for several months.

In 1899 the family moved to Oelwein, Iowa, where they bought a house on 10 acres. Edward had good work in the car shop, and the future looked bright. The modest but pleasant Wiederanders home became a gathering place for young people from the church, who played games on the lawn on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes they filled the parlor to sing in harmony for hours, accompanied by one of the older girls on the parlor organ, while Louise served refreshments.

In 1901 misfortune visited them again: Edward was permanently disabled by an accident at work. For the next 25 years Louise nursed him and cared for his personal needs. The couple remained in Oelwein while their children grew to adulthood and left home. In 1912, Louise and Edward moved to Chicago to live with their working daughters. Louise kept house for the girls, and continued to care for her daughters’ homes and children for the rest of her life. Edward died in 1926. Louise died 15 years later at the age of 88 in Humboldt, Iowa, where she lived with her daughter Ottilie. Edward and Louise were both laid to rest in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Louise's grandson Roland called her “a strong lady in her day.” Her strength was reflected in her six resourceful, self-reliant daughters, all of whom worked as young women to support themselves. Lydia and Ottilie became teachers; Magdalene worked as a housekeeper; Bertha traveled through neighboring states as a sales manager for a cosmetics company; Ella earned her nursing degree and became a private duty nurse; and Minnie studied piano at the Music Academy in Chicago and later did secretarial work. Louise’s older son, Ed, took up his father’s trade of carpentry, while Carl became a Lutheran minister. The story continues with him.

© Julia Moore, 2007. All rights reserved.


Eleonore (Ella) Wiederanders Hay’s family history and memoirs, written ca. 1968.

Edward Wiederanders’s family history and memoir, written in German, date unknown.

Carl A. Wiederanders’s memoir titled Pioneering for Christ and His Church, ca. 1962.

The Wiederanders Family, ca. 1893

A bustling American street scene in the late 18th century

Louise and Edward, ca. 1912

Louise in later life

Louise and Edward with some of their family in 1919

“Louise,” painting by Julia Moore