My Dad’s Dad

Frederick Wilhelm Diestler was born on May 6, 1860 in Lansing, Allamakee Countyt, Iowa. The new Republican Party had nominated Abraham Lincoln for the November election in 1860, and he won!

In the months before the election the country was defining issues issues with sharp edges, and the election of Lincoln was felt by some people in the South as the last straw. In Iowa they celebrated!

Frederick’s father, John Frederick, was an immigrant from Prussia. He was born in Gross Fahlenwerder, Soldin county. Over one hundred colonists had moved there from the Pfalz area near France, because of the threat of war, and constant French raids.

The colonists at first wanted to go to the United States, like their Hessian neighbors. But the Emperor had at first refused to let them go, asking them to consider going to some new lands east of Berlin. They spoke German there, and he promised not to draft their sons for war.

John Frederick was born in Gross Fahlenwerder, but as a teenager, he was one of the first that independently decided to move to America.

I’m not certain in what year he first came to the US. I found a record of him coming over when he was in his early twenties, but the oral history was that he was a teenager. I have found several instances where individuals came over to check things out, then went back to escort family and friends to the new world. In 1857 John zfrederick came by ship with a neighbor, Karl Berkeley.

John Frederick came to Iowa via the Great Lakes to Green Bay. From there he followed the portage trail through Wisconsin to the Mississippi River. I believe he stopped briefly to marry a distant cousin, Julia, at his father-in-law’s farm in Lansing , Minn. They stayed there for almost two years, and their first child died there in childbirth.

In a pattern that has repeated several times, after the death, they decide to move back to Wisconsin. This time there went to a sunburn of Milwaukee and lived on a small farm near Pewaukee. Julia was pregnant with Anna, and after the birth they went back to Langsing, Iowa. It’s possible that Julia’s father had helped, or knew, that a farm was for sale nearby, or perhaps they rented.

John Frederick had remember the area and decided to go to the neighboring farm, and Frederick William was born there as the oldest son.

Frederick William had 14 siblings,

1859- Anna, Pewaukee, Wis Julia, 23

1860- Frederick, Lansing, Iowa- Gottlieb’s farm Julia- 24

1861- William, Iowa, later Ackley, Iowa

1862- John, Iowa City, Iowa Julia- 25

1864- Herman, Dover, Iowa- hospital birth? Julia- 27

1867- Lydia, Lansing, Iowa – Gottlieb’s farm Julia- 30

1868- Sarah, Village Creek, Iowa- near Lansing Julia- 31

1869- Lewis, Lansing, Iowa – Gottlieb’s farm Julia- 32

1872- Francisca, Lansing, Iowa – Gottlieb’s farm Julia- 35

1873- Aaron, Quincy, Iowa Julia- 36

1875- Ida, Dover, Iowa- hospital birth

1877- Emma, Quincy, Iowa, Julia- 40

1879- Rosa, Dover, Iowa- Quincy Julia- 42

1882- Cora, Quincy, Iowa- Julia- 45

It seems possible that Lansing was the place to go for births until 1873, when John Frederick purchased the Quincy Township farm. It was very isolated, no commercial buildings. The nearest hospital was in Dover, so perhaps that’s why several children had Dover listed as place of birth.

It looks like Anna and William had left the Quincy farm by the 1880 census. The unresolved mystery is where was Frederick William during the 1870 census. He was only ten years old, but he not listed in the family.

Perhaps this is part of the family lore… that Frederick William was often called “Wild Bill”. He was John Fredericks oldest son, but it appears that he and several of his brothers were not expected to take over the family farm when John Frederick lost his leg. Herman was given the responsibility, but even he gave up pretty quickly. John Frederick sold the farm in the Quincy Township, and brought a small house in the city of Nora Springs, Iowa.

As far as I can tell, Frederick William moved around Iowa, perhaps learning the trade of making rope for the farmers. Most farms had a patch of hemp growing, to use in the seasonal rope making.

Frederick did not get married early, he was 34 when he married Amelia Mary Louise Markmann Korth, on March 14, 1894. The oral story was that Amelia was a mail order bride, arranged through a German language newspaper. The surprise was that when Amelia arrived she was already pregnant with William Diestler, born September 21, 1893, in Fingal, ND.

The records show that she arrived in 1891, when she was 15 years old, she married Frederick William in 1894, when she was 18. Apparently she had been in the country for three years. Perhaps there was a previous mail order situation that didn’t work out, but she was already pregnant when Frederick decided it was time to get married.

His father, John Frederick was miles away in Iowa. His uncles and aunt were in Wisconsin, even further away. For some reason Frederick decided to raise horses in the plains near Fingal, ND, a town founded in 1891, by some Canadians, The nearest city was Fargo, ND and that was pretty small at the time. He purchased a ranch in 1893.

In 1876 the population of Fargo was only 600. By 1893 it had grown to nearly 8,000 people, then disaster struck on June 7, 1893. A fire swept through 33 blocks of the city, destroying nearly 300 buildings. The city responded by rebuilding within a year, and by 1894 most of the buildings were brand new, still standing today.

Frederick William was still living in Fingal, ND. From 1893-1912, he raised horses and slowly gained a measure of wealth. In 1912 he built an 18 room ranch house that was the largest in the local area. Then the winter of 1920 hit.

Frederick William had 160 acres about 2 miles east of Fingal. The blizzard killed over 200,000 head of cattle in ND. It wiped out 90% of the horses on the ranch. Only Ben and a couple of his sisters could help Frederick William. They had a half dozen horses left, which they quickly sold.

They have to sell the ranch at a great loss. The ranch house was moved by the new owner a few miles away. There was nothing left of the ranch.

The family spent the rest of the winter/spring in a stone silo that a neighbor rented to them. They picked the grains of wheat from the cracks in the walls, and parched them on the stove to make a decaf coffee. It was hard times. Most of the girls found jobs cleaning, washing clothes, doing house chores. The boys did the best they could but there was no steady work.

The economic pressure took a toll on the relation between Frederick and Amelia and they divorced in 1926. At the time Fargo was known as the divorce capital of the Midwest.

Amelia moved to the town of Fargo, and the older children found relationships and some work. For the next twenty years Amelia relied on support from the children in some fashion.

Frederick William was traveling throughout the Midwest with his rope making business. Frederick died in 1926, pretty much a broken man.

It was said that he mistrusted banks, but he didn’t put his money in his mattress. Since he traveled a lot, he sewed his money in the seams of his clothes.

He also was very talented with a pocket knife. He would often whittle a chain out of a two by four, complete with a box at the end that contained a small ball. He would do this often in one day.

‘Wild Bill” had many disappointments, and his life was hard. His true wealth was in the amount of his children.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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