09.25.14

History of Ludwig and Katherina Graf Rittel – Written by Julia Rittel LaRue

My mother received this history of my great-great grandparents from Rosalie, daughter of Julia Rittel LaRue, youngest daughter of Ludwig and Katharina. It is fascinating not only to read about my family history, but life at that time in America.

Notes by Julia LaRue:

Ludwig Rittel (dad) was born in 1868. He had 4 brothers and two sisters. His father died when he was 9 years old and he came to the U.S. with perhaps two of his brothers. he took out a homestead near Streeter, North Dakota in Logan County and married Katherina Graf (mom).

Katherina Graf was born in Neudorf, Russia in 1868 on June 25. Her family was part of the group of “Germans from Russia” that had gone into Russia to farm, but then were told to leave after Catherine the Great died. Mother’s grandfather had a winery, she helped him to make the wine and she became quite good at it. She said at one point that she drank too much of the wine and fell asleep behind the stove. The family lived in Russia in a commune. It was more like a town, but the people would go out to the fields to work. Mother fell in love at age 17. Her father decided to immigrate to the U.S., but she didn’t want to go along, but her father forced her to accompany them. When it was too late, she found out she was pregnant. She said the father’s name was fisher, but didn’t say what his first name was. The child was a girl she named Lydia. Fisher later came to the U.S. and someone told mother that now she could marry him, but by that time she had married dad and decided to stay married to dad.

(ROSALIE NOTE:  Mom told me that Grandma said the Germans usually stayed separate from the Russians as the girls thought the Russian men were not as good to their wives as the German men were.  Don’t know if some of the Russian girls married German men….)

She came to America with her parents at age 17 and married Ludwig Rittel in 1888 in South Dakota in Scotland.  The preacher was Michael Hieffer.  In the fall, they moved to North Dakota.  In 1889 they moved onto a farm and lived there 18 years.  They moved to Wichita Falls, Texas in 1908 next and lived there until 1910.  Then they moved to Cordell, Oklahoma and lived there until 1912.  From there they moved to Kingman, Kansas and lived there until 1917.  They then moved to Marion, Kansas and lived there for 6 months, then to North Dakota for another 6 months, then back to Herington, Kansas in 1918 for one year, then over to Marion where they lived until Ludwig died.  Katherina then moved to Herington where 4 of her children lived (Sam, Gus, Louis, and Julia).

She had a three year old daughter Lydia that Ludwig adopted.  They had 10 children of their own, including one boy who died just after birth.  Katherina was able to teach herself how to read and write in English.  Because of discrimination starting in WWI and WWII as well, she was hesitant to speak in town because of her thick accent.

Mother like to do work with her hands.  She crocheted a lot, could knit, made flower arrangements to sell, and made a lot of comforters from wool squares that came in books from the men’s clothiers.  She would get the books, remove the squares and sew them together and have sometimes wool inside and then a flannel back.  Dad sometimes drew a picture of a chicken or rooster and she would outline it on the comforter.  Then they would tie the three layers together.  She made many quilts and also made a lot of punchwork pillows and hot pads. (Rosalie note: I have a number of her quilts and they are in excellent condition.  I will see that your family gets them (Uncle Ted Rittel), but please, please check with a quilting society for proper storage and cleaning.  They should last another hundred years if properly taken care of.  Grandma used new fabric to make them while a number of women back in those days made quilts out of used dresses and shirts.  They disintegrate easily.  Many of hers were made of flour sack material, but it was new.  I think they are quite beautiful.  She made some for the other kids, too, but don’t know how many she made.  Mom said that Grandma told her she made several for aunt Bertha and when she went to visit her, she saw that Bertha had bleached them and over-washed them and they were already worn out.  She never gave her another one and all she made after that, she gave to mom (Julia).

She made her own soap out of lye and fat and said that goose fat made the very best soap. (Note from Rosalie: it takes around 5 hours to make a batch of soap).  One time she got some lye in between her fingers and it ate off all of the skin before she got it cleaned off using vinegar.  I wonder now how she managed to get the meals, wash the dishes, etc. with that large deep chemical burn, but she didn’t complain.

Mother wasn’t the best seamstress, but she did pretty well.  I recall one time she made me a black and white checked suit and a coat from her old plush coat – this would have been a difficult project, so she was really pretty good.  She made her own clothing, too. (Rosalie note: Aunt Bertha was an excellent seamstress, as was Mom.  Both were self-taught.  Bertha went professional and made clothing for movie stars who sought her out.  I visited one time and she was making a dress for Rosalind Russell.  It was a sequined material and looked extremely uncomfortable, but it was really beautiful.  Mom made clothes for her, dad and me for many years.)

Mother didn’t know much about cooking except the old, simple cooking, but she was ready to learn.  One time they were invited out or stayed someplace overnight in Streeter when the kids were small.  The lady served oatmeal for breakfast, and mother wanted to know what it was.  From then on, the kids got plenty of oatmeal.  (Rosalie note: Mom said Grandma didn’t use many spices, so the food tended to be fairly bland.  She did use garlic, and we grew some she had brought over from the old country.  Unfortunately, after taking it all over where I lived, it died at our place in Finley, Washington when some chives crowded it out, or I could have shared it with you.)

When we moved to Marion, Mother joined the Ladies Aid group and through them picked up more recipes.  She got to be a much better cook.

Mother liked to travel and would go to California at times, leaving me in charge of the cooking.  I took Domestic Science in high school so she knew I could cook.  Before that I wasn’t allowed to cook for fear I would ruin the food and it would have to be thrown out.

(Note from Julie Scott:  My grandmother Beatrice Rittel went with Arthur and their two youngest children, Ted and Darlene, once to visit the Rittels in Kansas.  She said that Art’s mother always fixed a big breakfast every morning – huge bowl of oatmeal for everyone, german sausages, etc.  Grandma always said she could barely eat it all)

One time I had to prepare supper for the family as a science assignment.  I had to make my own menu.  I remember I served hot biscuits and Spanish rice – that is all of the menu I can recall.  After supper, Dad said, “Mom, why can’t you cook a meal like that?”  So I am sure she was embarrassed, but at least they were happy with the meal.  I used to bake Raisin Bran date muffins.  Ed (one of Arthur’s brothers) used to wait until I took them out of the oven and come and eat some while they were hot.  He really loved them. (Rosalie note: Mom was a terrific cook and I have many of her recipes in her handwriting.  Let me know if you want them down the road.  It is a great collection of 3 1/2 by 5 cards in a card box plus a couple of recipe books.)

Mom used to make a type of noodle called “rivel”.  It was flour and water and something else made into a dough that was forced through a sieve or grater into boiling water.  I really never acquired a taste for it, but the egg noodles were quite good.  Those were made into dough and rolled out, then the flat dough was rolled up and sliced very thin into noodles.  The noodles were hung to dry and would keep a long time.

We also used to make bierochs (beer rocks), which was similar to a piroge — meat, cabbage and onion mixture that was wrapped in bread dough and baked.  Some of the kids liked ground beef in the recipe and some liked shredded.  Bertha liked the shredded.  Only the Germans from Russia made bierochs.  Since they were baked in dough, they would keep well for lunch.

I purchased a cook book and Mother used it quite a bit to get new ideas.

STREETER, NORTH DAKOTA – 1889

In North Dakota, we lived in an adobe house that had a high enough roof that the boys could sleep in the attic.  It had a very large bedroom, a dining room, living room and kitchen.  The walls and floors were white-washed.  The oven and stove were also mud adobe or made of sod.  The adobe bricks were made by forming a large oblong bed about 2-3 feet deep and filled with sod, straw and water.  Then they let the horses trample it to mix it all up to the right consistency.  It was then dried and cut into bricks to make the walls of the house.  Later Dad built a wooden house with 2 stories – two rooms upstairs, a dounstairs entryway, living room, bedroom and kitchen.

We had a pond with ducks and geese.  Dad had a stallion for breeding (Rosalie note:  I have a photo of him with his stallion).  He also had cattle, sheep and horses.  We had a Dutch windmill with a blacksmith shop inside.  He did horse-shoeing and also sharpened plow shares.  There was a grist mill to make corn meal, wheat, rye or whatever grains needed grinding.  The grist mill was operated by having a mule go around in a circle.  The farm is now being used by the government for experimental growth farm products.

Sister Lydia’s one child died of a bad heart – she couldn’t breathe.  The child was placed in a casket and set out on the porch in preparation for burial, but the ground was too frozen to dig the grave.  It was dug as much as possible each day.  When it finally got deep enough and they were to bury the baby, the grave had 2-3 feet of water in it.  Mom didn’t say what they did then.

Dad had a threshing machine and cook shack (Rosalie note:  I have a fabulous photo of the threshing machine).  He hired girls to do the cooking and men to pitch stacked wheat onto the threshing machine and went wherever wheat or oats needed to be threshed.  It had a header to cut wheat.

Ludwig decided to run for sheriff, but another man wanted to buy him off, which was against Dad’s principles, so he just dropped out of the race.  Dad could play the organ and also the accordion and was good at raising sheep, cattle, horses, hogs or whatever he put his mind to.  He was a good vet and was asked by others to help heal their animals.  He could set a broken bone, and I recall a little boy being brought to our house very late one night.  The boy had fallen and it was feared he had broken his leg.  Dad examined him, but found nothing amiss.

If an animal needed to be castrated, Dad took care of that, also.  Once a young colt fell and broke its leg, but rather than destroy the animal, Dad set the leg and put splints on it that extended beyond his hooves.  The colt was able to hobble around without harming the healing process, and he turned out just fine.  Dad also shoed horses (a farrier).  We used to castrate the male roosters so they would become capons and would grow quite large.  To castrate a rooster, you had to cut into them below the wing and remove the testicle.  Dad taught the boys how to do this and that became their job.  Sometimes the roosters would get an infection and die, but most of the time, it worked fine.

Dad was also a blacksmith and would do that type of work for anyone that needed his expertise.  He was also an excellent carpenter.

Dad did his own butchering.  He would scrape and clean all the pig intestines until they were spotless and then proceed to use them as casings to make the family sausage.  He taught the boys how to clean the intestines and the boys always complained that it was the worst job of all when they had butchering day.  Of course, there were no rubber gloves then, and now they clean them by blowing them out with a garden hose – so back then, by the time you were done, you were a filthy, smelly mess.  Hams were put in the smokehouse as well as the sausage.  Cooked pork chops were put in the crocks and covered with hot fat to preserve them.

(Note from Julie Scott:  When I lived with my grandparents in 1963, Grandpa decided to go into the sausage business with his mother’s recipe.  He bought all the casings and expensive meat, seasoned and stuffed them, but didn’t check to see if the intestines had been cleaned properly.  Consequently, all of the sausage that was on every flat surface in their basement went bad, and my grandmother threw it bit by bit out onto the canal bank for the dogs wandering around.)

Dad was a good farmer, and he rotated his crops.  He was a very religious man and was a deacon in the church.  He was very conscientious and extremely honest.  Dad had his own threshing machine in North Dakota and threshed wheat for our family and many others.

Dad was strict with the girls, but not with the boys when it came to dating and staying out late.  The girs had to be home by 10 pm unless they had special permission to stay out later.

It would get unbearably cold in North Dakota – sometimes down to 40 below zero.

WICHITA FALLS, TEXAS – 1908

The family moved to Wichita Falls, Texas in 1908.  In Texas, I recall wandering around the pasture.  One of the boys killed a huge rattlesnake that he held out at arm’s length and it almost touched the ground, it was so big.  We had a nice pond there and a large barn.  The boys slept in the loft.  I recall playing in the hayloft – there was a saddle over a big board and we used to climb up onto it and pretend we were riding a horse.  One day I fell off and hit my head, skinned it, I guess, since it bled so much.  Mother cleaned it up and rocked me in her arms until I was quiet.

There was a store fairly close by and Mother would give me a little basket and put 3 eggs into it.  I would traipse off to the store and get some candy in exchange.  I recall one day on my way, I met a bunch of soldiers – they were probably Texas Rangers.  I was afraid of them, but they didn’t bother me.  One time after supper, the boys were resting under a large tree and a tarantula came by.  Gus picked up a stone and threw it and killed it.  I also remember going to a show in Wichita Falls and there was a large lake in the area – I remember there was a large colored lady spitting tobacco.

We didn’t stay too long in Texas because my brother Louis became very ill, but the family was never able to find the cause.  They had a doctor come out one time and paid him their last ten dollars.  Louis was still ill and would go by spells.  It was really bad because at one point he suddenly couldn’t walk. (Note from Rosalie:  Perhaps it was from a tick bite – that would explain some of the symptoms and the fact that he later had heart trouble.  The bacteria can cause all sorts of organ problems and they didn’t have antibiotics then).  The family sold the farm and moved to Cordell, Oklahoma where they lived until 1912.  After about 4 years, they sold the farm and moved back to Streeter, North Dakota.  Again, six months later, since Dad could no longer stand the climate, they moved to Herington, Kansas.

Gus bought a pair of kid bloves for Bertha and she was so proud of them that she wore them when she played the organ for church.  I will never know how she managed that.  I don’t recall the name of the church.  Bertha had cousins her own age, so they became friends.  Adolph and his wife Reika lived close by, and she sewed.  She made Bertha a beautiful navy blue serge dress with a yoke and then pleats from the yoke down in front and in back.  She made me a dress, too – I think it was a two-piece red dress.  She was a good seamstress.  Alvin was a baby and he was in a carriage that they named Alvin.

I played with Martha Wentz mostly and another cousin my age named Irma.

My grandfather was still living, so we got to meet him.  He looked like my mother.  We also met most of my aunts and uncles – at least those that still lived there.

CORDELL, OKLAHOMA – 1910     

We lived on a farm in Cordell, Oklahoma for a while where we grew alfalfa and cattle.  Although we lived closer to Cordell, we went to church in Bessie.  There was another farmer who lived almost across the road from us.  There were a lot of Indians living around the area.  Every time some would come to our place, I would run and hide under the bed.  One time an Indian man and his wife came to the house and kept talking to mother.  They seemed to be arguing, but Mother was unable to understand what they wanted, so they finally left.  When Dad butchered a beef, the Indians would come and catch the blood and drink it.  I recall going to town and seeing the Indians with their blankets wrapped around their shoulders.  I don’t think we lived too far from town because one time Ed and I and maybe one other brother started to town.  We had to cross a railroad track, and there was a man with his back towards the road, and we thought he was preaching, but he had his arms raised toward heaven, so maybe he was praying.  We went on without any trouble.  It was while living in Cordell that Arthur ran away from home the first time.  Dad looked all over for him, even went to the police, but couldn’t find him.  I think he was 14 at the time.  From then on, he never stayed put – he would come home for a while, then leave again.

One day, Mother went across the road to visit the neighbor lady, leaving me at home all alone because I was sleeping.  I was only 4-5 years old.  I woke up and started over to the neighbors, but they had a dog that kept barking at me, so I got scared and went toward the school where I knew the other kids were – at least a mile from the farm.  On the way I passed some gypsies camped by the river or creeek.  I was afraid, but I went on until I got to the school house.  I arrived during recess.  They were really mad when they saw me.  I began to cry on the way home, but Mom was so glad to see me, she just hugged me and rocked me.  The boys had even looked in the well for me.  They didn’t know what had happened to me when Mother came home and didn’t find me.

We had 3 buildings we used to live in: a summer house which was used as the kitchen and dining room, a 2 room house where we had 2 bedrooms.  Mom and Dad slept in one and then we had a folding bed in the other room that was taken down at night, and Ed, Bertha and I slept in it.  The bed was made of wool and somehow became infested with bedbugs, but I was the only one they would bite, so I ended up in the third building where the older boys slept.  It was more of a shack, and as I recall, had 3 beds in it.

Dad was a light sleeper, and we had a lot of cyclones in that area.  It seemed that almost every night we’d have to head for the cellar for safety.  One night Dad called the boys and they figured they would sleep it out, but when one corner of the house began to lift, they grabbed me and raced for the cellar.

We attended a church in Cordell.  There was a revival, and there Jacob, Adolph and Bertha accepted the Lord.

We had quite a few friends there, but only had the horse and buggy for transportation.  Mother would take me along.  One lady offered to give me the material for a dress and I chose black.  I remember the first funeral I went to was of a man and his wife that was a murder-suicide.

I guess Dad and Mother didn’t like the violent weather, so we moved to Kingman, Kansas.  Jacob decided to stay in Oklahoma and married Lydia Schmerer.

KINGMAN, KANSAS – 1912

When we moved to Kingman, Kansas, it turned out there was a $2,000 mortgage on the farm and Dad got stuck with it.  We lived there for about 5 years before moving to Marion the first time for 6 months.  We had a lot of fun on the farm, but it was a lot of hard work.

Ed and I fed calves out of milk buckets.  I hit one on the head with my fist. I had a ring on and found that the stone was missing.  The calf kept butting the bucket and it made me mad..

A creek ran through our land, so we would take a stick and fasten a hook of some kind to a line and dig some worms to go fishing.  I don’t recall catchng many fish.  We had a nice stand of trees to play around in and also a good sized orchard.  Mother would slice apples and spread them out on a sheet on the porch roof to dry.

At Kingman on the farm, the boys had a small riding pony.  Art and I went to the pasture after the cattle and on the way back down a hill, there was a creek.  The pony jumped over the creek so smooth it didn’t even jar us.  Gus worked for a farmer or rancher close by.  He had a motorcycle.  One time, he took me for a ride on it, and it was either misting rain or sleeting.  It really did sting my face, but it was fun.

When we arrived at Kingman, Dad tried to send me to school, but the teacher refused since school had already begun.  A board member rode over one evening (Gus’s boss) and told Dad to go ahead and send me to school since that teacher couldn’t refuse me – so I went to school.  I held my hand up one day to be excused so I could go to the bathroom, but the teacher refused.  I was unable to hold it and pretty soon it was running down the aisle.  After that she always answered our hands and permitted us to go.  The blackboard was partially broken and there were just some laths in one place.  One day a snake began to crawl out between those slats.  The snake was right behind the teacher.  Everyone began trying to call her attention to it, and after so long a time, she turned and saw the snake and stepped back away from it pretty fast.  Since Louis was the oldest student, she asked him to kill it, but as I recall, the snake slithered back inside.  It got the blackboard fixed !

One night the school house burned down.  So the board members found an old deserted house so we could go to school until they built a new one.  The abandoned house wasn’t much more than a shack.  The new school house was built in another place about a quarter mile further from our place, but it sure was nice.

Dad used to rent extra land and put it into wheat.  At harvest time, he hire several hands to help with the harvest.  A cookshack was usually set up for the cooking and everyone was fed.  Dad always allowed everyone to take a nap after meals before they began working again.  I am quite certain that one summer, one of the hands was Roy’s (Julia’s future husband) brother Jack.  Ed went to town and he asked us to check at the post office to see if he had any mail.  There was a letter for John H. Larue and we were so dumb, we didn’t know that Jack was the nickname for John.  He was pretty disgusted with us.

We had one horse that was sway-backed and one that somehow never grew to normal horse size, but she bore good colts.  One mare that was beautiful just couldn’t seem to get pregnant, but when she finally did, she died before the colt was fully developed.  It was about the size of a medium pig.  Ed cut her open to see what was inside.

Dad kept a stallion for breeding.  They tend to become mean, so he was kept penned up in an enclosed stall.  That is the only horse that I ever saw Dad whip.  He would tak him out of his stall for exercise, but he would whip him with a buggy whip.  He was broken to harness, so one time they hitched him up to a flat platform with slanting blades that was used to go down through the rows of corn to cut weeds.  That horse bolted, threw Adolph, and he had his leg cut to the bone.  He wasn’t taken to the doctor to be stitched up as they do now, so he had quite a scar on his leg.  It was between the ankle and knee.

For some reason, Dad sold our little pony, and one day while Ed and I were way out in the pasture, we came to a fence where there was a gate, and found the pony tied there.  We were so glad to see him, we took him home, and of course Dad returned him to the people that bought him.  We loved that pony.

Sam got married while we lived there, and Dad helped him get a place of his own.  We had a horse named Kate, and sometimes Ed and I would ride her to Sam’s place for a visit.  She was a good, gentle, dependable horse.  I guess Leona (Sam’s wife) had been used to going to dances because one time, she showed me how they danced.  I just sat and watched.  One time the boys ordered a case of whiskey, or bought it in town.  Dad ran into it and broke every bottle…

Mother always made kegs of wine out of mulberries.  We had a long row of them, but she preferred grapes when she could get them.  If we had company, they would go get some wine to serve our guests.  She learned how to make wine from her grandfather.  I do recall Mother putting up fruit or vegetables in cans.  Seems that was the first method of preserving food other than drying, smoking or salting it.

On Saturdays we would go to town.  Mother made butter and sold it to the store or traded it.  At that time, whenever you paid the grocer he would give the folks a bag of candy.  We kids would watch people for entertainment.

We were visiting once and I was wandering around and came upon a young man with his girlfriend.  He said that if I would leave, he would give me a nickel.  I did, but he did not give me the nickel.  Well, every time I saw that man in town, I would hit him up for that nickel until finally he paid me just to get me off his back.  I was really happy.  I’ll bet he could have wrung my neck.

The folks bought Ed a policeman’s uniform and he used to wear it to town.  We even had our picture taken at a studio – Ed, Bertha and me.  I think he felt pretty big in that uniform.  Ed was small and had been sick when they were in Texas, so the folks rather favored him, and if anything went wrong, I usually got the blame, whether it was my fault or not.

Never did we have a Christmas tree at our house.  Once Bertha broke off a branch about 2 feet high and wrapped every branch with white tissue paper, then decorated it and that was our Christmas tree.  They would always have me hang my stocking out on the porch, and on Christmas morning, it would have oranges, nuts and candy in it.  I remember one year the folks gave me a set of doll dishes that looked like lead – could have been pewter – and I think they also gave me a stove.  I was so proud of them.  Dad made a cradle for my doll and painted it red.  Bertha had one doll, too, but hers was larger than mine.  The folks gave everyone a bible but Ed and me.  I bought my own after graduation.  Some of the bibles were in both German and English.

We lived 3 miles from town, and Mother would let me walk there all alone and go to some church doing and then walk home again.  I was about 8-9 years old.  I had a playmate that lived over a mile from us, but I would go there at times to play, and sometimes I would stay all night.

Mother became quite ill, and we thought she was going to die.  So Dad sent Louis and Ed with a lantern to get a doctor one night.  Mother recovered, but we soon had a telephone on the wall.  It was the type you cranked to reach an operator.  Sometimes I would listen to people’s conversations just for the fun of it.

We had 2 dogs, a male named Fido and a white female.  I can’t remember what her name was but she followed us to town one time and never came back.  We figured she was probably picked up by the dog catcher.   Mother had a yellow canary that usually sang constantly.  When cleaning his cage, she sometimes permitted him to fly around the house.  One day the cat got him.  Mother could not find a single mark on the bird, but he was dead.  She buried him close to the house and planted iris around his grave.  I can still remember that when Dad sold the place and as we were leaving, Mother told the new owners that our canary was buried in the iris bed.

There was a nice spring that Dad had built a box 3/4 around it, and on down the hill there was a dam.  We kids used to walk around on stilts.  Once we tried to walk into the pond on them, but with the deep mud, we finally gave up.  We would go swimming in it, too.  The older boys, especially Louie, I recall, did quite a bit of trapping.  Sometimes I would go with him to make his trap line.  There would sometimes be skunks and what else he caught I can’t recall.  Mother fried the fat and used it for medication.  The animals were carefully skinned and the hides stretched on boards to dry.  When they had a bunch, they would sell them.  I used to set traps for gophers and I would get 5 cents for each head or tail – maybe it was the ears..

We went to a picnic once for the school kids.  Mother boiled some eggs in coffee so they would have a nice color, but the people refused to eat them.  How that must have hurt her feelings.

Mother’s own mother became quite ill and wasn’t expected to live, so Mother, Gus and Adolph went back to Streeter, North Dakota to see her.  She died, however.  Gus and Adolph decided to stay on, so Mother came home alone.  School was to start before Mother got back, so a neighbor lady made me a dress.  I also remember Mother buying me a ready-made dress one time.

MARION, KANSAS – 1917 (Six months)

We sold the farm and moved to Marion for only six months.  There, the house that Dad had rented, Mother refused to live in, so Dad found another house which was rather small, but the boys slept in the attic which had boards on the floor.  We lived on the hill and had to go down into the valley to attend school.  I had a great teacher.  She must have liked me because whenever she encountered someone that knew me, she always asked about me.  We used to play evenings out of doors under the street light.  One morning, we were ready to go to school, but found out we couldn’t because the town flooded.  We had no rain in Marion, but the stores, school and homes of people living in the valley were flooded.  We had no school that day, and that made us all happy !

Sam couldn’t stand not being close to the folks, so he moved there, too, and lived about a block away from us.  When Sam was of school age, the folks would send him to school in Streeter, but he only went long enough to barely learn to read and write.  Somehow he refused to go back to school.  Maybe that’s why he wanted to be close to the folks.

STREETER, NORTH DAKOTA – 1917 (six months)

After 6 months in Marion, the folks decided to move back to Streeter, North Dakota, but this time Sam didn’t follow.  In Streeter, we lived in a large house that even had a bathroom, but the stool couldn’t be used in the winter months, so there was also an outhouse.  We had a good school there, but it seemed to me that I already knew what they taught.  We had one man professor that was mean.  For some reason, he turned a large ring on his finger to the inside, and slapped Ed on the side of the head.  Everyone there said there was no cause for him to do that.  Ed had done nothing to deserve it.  So some boys waylaid the teacher one night and beat him up.  The next day, he had about 4 long scratches on one cheek.  I asked him what happened, although I knew about the beating.  He said he and Ethel (his wife) were scrapping and she scratched him.

Every Saturday or Sunday night, the young people would meet in someone’s home and play games and just have fun.  They would take turns as to where they would go each week……

Dad couldn’t stand the extreme cold, so he left to look for a place to settle down.  He went to Herington, Kansas and got a job, so we moved once again.  We moved so much that the folks never paid much attention on how we enrolled in school.  North Dakota had what we had already learned in Kansas, so when we moved back to Kansas, I enrolled in the 6th grade instead of the 5th.  One day, the teacher said, “Are you sure you are in the right grade?” right in front of the whole class.  I did finish the 6th grade in Marion and went on to graduate from high school.  I flunked civics, which was the history of Kansas, so I had to go to summer school so I could go to high school.  I also flunked Latin, so had to take on extra subjects in order to get my credits, but I made it.

HERINGTON, KANSAS – 1918

In 1918 we were in Herington for one year.  We moved into a 2 story house on S. 9th Street close to the railroad track.  Dad worked for the railroad, walking the tracks and picking up coal.  Walking on the rocks used for the track bed made his feel really sore.  I remember he would soak them at night and they would have large cracks in them.  He must have suffered agony walking on those sore feet.  Finally he had to quit his job and go look for something else to do.

We made a lot of friends while we were in Herington.  The Hildermans were our next door neighbors.  I recall Mrs. Hilderman had a baby that was stillborn, so Dad made a casket for it.  Louis started dating Mary and ended up marrying her.  Walter was only 4 years old, and there was Anna, Ella and Hulda.  We also became friends with the Henrys and used to play with Leah and another of their children.

World War I was on, and Gus was drafted, so he sold his ranch, horses and all of his belongings and turned the money over to Dad to keep for him.  Mother knitted sweaters and socks for the soldiers, but they didn’t get them.  They probably ended up on the black market.  Mother would have a bad dream about Gus, then she would ask me to come and kneel beside the bed while she prayed for him.  Finally the Peace Treaty was signed and while we were in Herington, Gus came home.  I think Dad and Mother had already moved to Marion, because I stayed with Sam and Leona until school was out.  It took Gus a year or two to get himself together.  Then he went to Wichita to a mechanic school, then went to Herington and stayed with Adolph until he got a room with Mary Klieber and her father and a job with the Rock Island Railroad.  Mary bought a house on West Main and they moved there and Gus ended up getting married to Mary Klieber.  He was 33 years old (Note from Rosalie: When Gus died, the bank president called Mom and told her that Gus had come in several years before and bought some savings bonds.  The cash he bought them with was very musty smelling and the bank president was sure it had been stored underground or in a basement.  The bank president told Mom she should check the house to be sure thee wasn’t more.  Jerry and Mom went over to the house and looked in the basement, which had stones set for the walls – but never found anything.)

Adolph and his family moved to Herington, too, and he got a job with the railroad.  Viola and Laurence were born in Herington, but Reika also had a miscarriage.  When the railroad began making changes, Adolph was transferred to Moline, Illinois where they lived until both Reika and he died. (Rosalie note: Larry and Viola were in touch frequently, but Alvin was always disappearing for years at a time and not telling anyone where he was going.  When the last parent died, Larry and Viola needed to contact Alvin to finish up some legal work – they were coming to a deadline and had no idea where he was.  All of a sudden, Alvin called my mom.  I told her to be sure to ask Alvin why he would suddenly call.  He said Reika appeared to him in a dream and told him he needed to contact the family immediately.  He knew where Mom was, but not certain how to contact Larry or Viola, so he called Mom.)

I stayed with Reika and Alvin until Viola was born and helped bathe her.  We went to Louis’s place when it came time for the baby to be born.  I believe I stayed with her after Laurence was born, too.  I remember they asked me what name to give him and I suggested several.  One was Laurence, so he could be called Larry for short.

Ed worked for the railroad in Herington.  He was switching cars when one got loose and was running uncontrolled.  It ran into the one Ed was on and broke his leg.  He was 14 or 15 years old.  Dad took him to Topeka to the railroad hospital where he remained for 6 weeks.  By the time he got out, we were living in Marion.

MARION, KANSAS – 1919

Dad bought a home in Marion, Kansas and opened a blacksmith shop of his own after working for another blacksmith for a while.  Dad built a nice garage on our place at Marion with a sliding door.  Later he built a washroom onto the back of the garage so Mother could wash out there.  He installed a hotplate.  When we first moved there, we burned wood and coal and had a 3 burner coal oil stove for summer cooking.  Later, when Gus became available, we switched to a gas furnace (floor) and a kitchen gas range.  There was a windmill and Dad made a high platform for a big horse tank and placed it on top to hold water so mother could water her garden.  At times, the well would run dry, so it was a good way to store water.

We also had a cistern under the house.  Every so often, Dad would get a ladder and put it down into the cistern and clean it out so the water was drinkable.  We had a large filter set up on the back porch that contained charcoal and something else, so the water from the eaves coming down the drain pipes would go through the filter before it went into the cistern.  At one time, they had the football field just across the road from us.  When the lights were turned on at night, Dad could see well enough to shingle the house.

I think Dad may have made the first camper.  A man had a truck and asked Dad to make a camper over it.  It was made of wood and had all the conveniences inside that the man asked for.  It was something to behold at that time.  It was during the 1920’s.   Due to the flooding, many people moved out of the valley, as did the stores.  After Dad sold the place in Mation just before his death, the new owners began selling off the acres in lots for building houses.  Now there are homes there all around, and a hospital where the football field was.  It is quite pretty there now.

They remained there until his death in 1943.

HERINGTON, KANSAS – 1943

Mom and Dad had just sold the home place, so mother was forced to move.  She bought a nice home and continued to live at Marion for perhaps 2 more years or so, and then she sold that place and bought a small home in Herington on 10th Street where she lived until a year before her death in 1963.  She lived in a nursing home for about a year before she passed away at the age of 94.

Mother and Dad raised a good family.  They both worked very hard all their lives.

(Rosalie note:  Mom said at some point after her dad died, a man named Wunsch wanted to marry Grandma, but the only reason he wanted to marry her was to hopefully get at any money she may have gotten when they sold the farm.  They were not married long and Mom and Grandma didn’t talk about him at all.  There wasn’t any money left that he got hold of that I know.  When she bought the small house in Herington, Wunsch was gone by then as far as I know.  She had to go on welfare to get by, though we shared food from our garden.  Another story I remember was at one point, her neighbor called Mom and said excitedly that Grandma had gone crazy and that Mom had better get over there real fast.  Mom asked what Grandma was doing, and the neighbor said she was out in the yard picking dandelion blooms.  Just the blooms, not the leaves.  Mom went over there and asked her what she was doing and Grandma replied: “I haven’t had any dandelion wine in 45 years, and by Gott, I am going to make some”… and she did.  I was in high school and took advantage of the recipe and made some of my own.  It was really quite tasty, but you have to make it correctly and absolutely pick out as much of the green as possible or it will be bitter.  I still had some when we moved to California, and we were in an apartment with a wine chemist at the time.  She tasted it and wanted to do some chemical tests on it.  She did, and was very excited to tell us that the balance was excellent.  In other words, Grandma’s recipe and instructions on how to make dandelion wine resulted in a very good wine.  I thought that was pretty interesting.  We still have a little bit left, but I realize you don’t drink alcohol (to Uncle Ted Rittel).  Let me know if you decide to do some “historical research” to taste it…..

(Mom (Julia) continues:  I started working in a photo studio while in school – the man just asked me if I would like to work for him.  I worked after school and on Saturdays.  I got $3 a week.  If the weather was bad, he would take me out to lunch.  They were beautiful people.  His wife’s name was Rosalie, so I later named my daughter after her.  He had planned on opening a studio in Hilsboro and put me in charge of it.  However, he became ill and died of a goiter problem.  An elderly lady, also a photographer, bought out the place and I ran it for 2 years.  Another photographer was angry because he hadn’t gotten it, so he opened his own studio, which hurt our business.  I sold my share to the lady and went to Herington and began working for a title company.  I was promoted as bookkeeper to Service Representative in Abilene.  I was over Solomon, Gypsum, Enterprise and Herington.

(Rosalie note:  In her notes above, mother didn’t mention a story that she told to me many times.  She was a pbx operator for a number of years and worked her way up to be the branch manager of the Southwestern Bell telephone office in Herington.  She dated dad for 13 years before getting married.  She liked the work a lot and said she had experienced a lot of discrimination.  But the policy was that if you got married, you had to quit.  She had pushed the biological clock to the limit and I was born when she was 39 and Dad was 40.)

I taught myself how to play the organ with the help of Ludwig and Bertha.  I played hymns for the church.  Louie bought me a piano while I lived in Herington and I taught myself to play that as well.  I enjoyed playing the piano a lot and wanted Rosalie to play too.  Rosalie did not enjoy the piano, though she took lessons for several years.  She did take voice lessons, though, and sang in an octet for several years and soloed in church and with the choir.  Roy inherited a number of musical instruments from his side of the family.  He had an old violin that was supposed to have come from France to Canada and down to Kansas and was played in the civil war.  He also had a mandolin that was quite old, and a relatively new banjo.

09.25.14

Ludwig and Katharina Graf Rittel – Family History

(This post was originally written in 2006)
When we lived in Kansas, I did quite a bit of research on my great grandfather’s family history. His parents (German colonists from what is now the Ukraine / Moldova area) settled in east central Kansas and I was able to visit the places they worked and lived, as well as their gravesites. I have only one remaining relative in Kansas that I know of: Jerry Rittel, owner of Rittel’s Western Wear in Abilene. I met him in the autumn of 2002 on my first trip to Marion and the surrounding towns.

children&parents

The Rittel family story (what little is known, anyway) is quite fascinating; I only wish I had more details of how the family came to America and what their life in the old Russian Empire was like. The story of the German colonization of the Black Sea area has been well documented, but I wish my family had been more interested in preserving their family stories. I get the feeling that my great grandfather didn’t want to have much to do with the culture of his immigrant parents, preferring the anonymity of American individualism to his parent’s traditional ways.

This entry represents my attempt to summarize the biographical details of Ludwig and Katharina Graf Rittel, my great-great grandparents, and their children. The photos are courtesy of JD (Jerry) Rittel, who generously allowed me to take them home to Topeka and make photocopies.

A complete collection of the Rittel photos I have can be found by clicking here.

LUDWIG & KATHARINA GRAF RITTEL

ludwig&katharineLudwig Rittel was born was born November 26, 1868, the sixth child and third son of Johann Karl and Elisabeth Margaretha Neuffer Rittel. In 1888 he left his birthplace of Bergdorf, Russia and emigrated to the United States with other German colonists. He married Katharina Graf in South Dakota on October 26, 1888. One source writes that Katharina (Katherine) was pregnant at the age of 17 when she left her homeland in 1886; I do not know whether her baby, Lydia, was the daughter of Ludwig or some other man. The couple lived in Texas, North Dakota, and Herington, Kansas before settling near Herington in the German colony of Marion in 1919. Ludwig and Katharina raised ten children in Marion and were members of the Emanuel Baptist Church. Ludwig walked every day into town to run his blacksmith shop across the street from the park. On the evening of February 24, 1943, he died suddenly at his home on South Freeborn Street. Ludwig Rittel was buried in Highland Cemetery.

Katherina Graf was born on June 25, 1868 in Neudorf, Russia, the first daughter and second child of Johann and Christine Mitleiter Graf. She emigrated in 1886. At the age of twenty, Katherina married Ludwig Rittel in South Dakota and eventually settled with him in Marion, Kansas. After Ludwig died in 1943, Katherina tended the family home in Marion but later decided to join several of her sons in the railroad town of Herington, Kansas. She moved there in 1947. She married a second time in Herington to a Mr. Wunsch. After his death, she moved to the Herington Rest Home on September 1, 1962, and passed away at the age of 94 on Friday, April 26, 1963. She was buried beside her first husband at Highland Cemetery in Marion.

LYDIA RITTEL & WILHELM GRENTZ

Lydia Rittel was born at Kunk Vine, Logan County, North Dakota, on August 17, 1886. She was the oldest daughter of Katharina Graf Rittel. Lydia’s mother married Ludwig Rittel when she was about two years old, if my dates are correct. Lydia married Wilhelm (William) Grentz, also a native of Southern Russia, in 1902. William and Lydia (Linda) had ten children, two of whom died as infants. Lydia appears to have lived most of her married life away from the rest of the family, in California. William died in 1946 at Sacramento. A degree of her distance from the rest of the family, both physically and emotionally, can be understood when reading the story of how she visited her younger brother Art after a separation of 54 years (see the entry for Arthur Rittel). Lydia passed away on June 30, 1973 at Sacramento.

SAMUEL RITTEL & LEONA BLUMENHURST

Samuel Rittel was born at Napoleon, North Dakota on January 27, 1889. He moved to Herington, Kansas in 1918 where he worked as an oiler and hustler for the Rock Island Railroad. He married Leona Blumenhurst on November 8, 1915. After a divorce, he remarried to a woman named Alta, whom he also later divorced. He and Leona had at least one daughter, Beulah K. Rittel, who lived in Kennewick, Washington. As the oldest and largest brother in the Rittel family, Sam was a quiet, taciturn man who often shunned the company of his family and neighbors. At the age of 75 he moved into a Lutheran rest home and passed away at the age of 81 on May 15, 1971 in Herington.

AUGUST RITTEL & MARY KLEIBER

August Rittel was born October 11, 1890 at Richville, North Dakota, where he grew up with his parents Ludwig and Katherina Graf Rittel. On April 2, 1918, Gus enlisted in the army at Jamestown, North Dakota, and served until May 2, 1919 when he was discharged at Camp Dodge in Iowa. For a time he lived in Marion where he married Mary Kleiber on March 30, 1929. The couple moved to Herington where Gus became a store clerk for the Rock Island Railroad. Mary passed away August 30, 1945. He retired from his position March 7, 1959, and died February 15, 1962 in Herington. Gus was a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and was an active member of his community and the Church of God. He and Mary had no children.

JACOB RITTEL & LYDIA SCHMERER

Jacob Rittel was born November 9, 1892 at Napoleon, North Dakota. He married Lydia Schmerer in about 1916 and moved to Cordell, Oklahoma, where he was a barber. Jake and Lydia had one daughter, Ruby. Jake passed away on December 28, 1957 in Cordell.

ADOLPH RITTEL & HEINERICKA “TESSIE RICA” KUEBLER

Adolph Rittel was born on September 13, 1894 at Napoleon, Logan County, North Dakota. He was married on December 22, 1914, to Heinericka “Tessia” Kuebler, a native of South Dakota. The couple had four children. Rica died in 1958 and Adolph continued to work for the railroad. He died at Silvis, Illinois on June 19, 1969.

ARTHUR H RITTEL; WIVES BERNICE ECTON AND BEATRICE WILLIAMS

My great-grandfather Arthur Rittel was born February 18, 1898 at Napoleon, North Dakota. He seems to have been a very restless man, never feeling completely at home even among his brothers, sisters, and parents. The story of his later life is told in detail in a book written by his second wife, Beatrice Williams. Art was married in 1915 at the age of 17 to Bernice Mae Ecton, a Kansas girl from the ghost town of Penalosa. They had a daughter, Grace, and a son, Arthur Alfonso. They divorced over what appears to have been Art’s suspicion that Bernice had been untrue. Since Arthur disliked farm work and life in small-town Marion, Ludwig gave him $150 to attend barber school in Kansas City. After his divorce, Art left Kansas and his entire family behind and moved to Idaho. He met and fell in love with Beatrice Williams, a proper girl of English parentage who called him the “cleanest and neatest person I had ever seen”. Art and Beatrice were married at Idaho Falls on February 26, 1923, much to the chagrin of Beatrice’s father.

Their life together was one of settling in one spot for a time while Art pursued his trade as a barber, then moving on when he became restless for the next venue. Beatrice and Art had four children. They eventually settled in Burley, Idaho, where Art died on December 11, 1973. Beatrice was later married to Herman Stoker. She passed away March 13, 1997 in Burley.

LUDWIG “LOUIS” RITTEL, JUN. AND MARY HILDERMAN

Ludwig “Louis” Rittel, Jun. was born 10 April 1900 at Napoleon, North Dakota. He moved to Herington with his parents in 1918 and married Mary Hilderman on December 21, 1919. They had one son, Jerold “Jerry” Dean Rittel, who as one of the last surviving Rittels in Kansas now operates Rittel’s Western Wear, a retail store in Abilene. Louis worked for the Rock Island Railroad for 39 years and served as chairman for the Board of Trustees in the Church of God. He died suddenly at his home on June 27, 1958 at the age of 58.

Mary Hilderman was born July 1, 1899 at Rosenburg, Russia. She came to Herington, Kansas as a little girl. On December 21, 1919, she married Ludwig “Louis” Rittel, Jun. Mary and Louis were very active in the Church of God. She passed away August 29, 1965 in Herington.

BERTHA RITTEL AND EZRA H. RIFFEL

Bertha Rittel was born August 20, 1902, at Napoleon, North Dakota. She married Ezra H. Riffel and had three children. Later in life she lived at San Diego, California.

EDWARD RITTEL AND NETTIE IRENE REMPEL

Ed Rittel was born July 30, 1904 at Lehr, North Dakota. He married Nettie Irene Rempel of Marion, Kansas and had three children. Ed and Nettie were the only couple of Ed’s family that stayed in Marion, where Ed worked at a chicken packing plant. Edward died on December 28, 1974 at Marion. Nettie passed away March 13, 2002, the last of her generation.

JULIA ANNA RITTEL AND ROY ERNEST LARUE

Julia Anna Rittel was the youngest child and daughter of Ludwig and Katharina. She was born May 8, 1906 at Napoleon, North Dakota. She married Roy Ernest LaRue on August 19, 1943. They had at one daughter. Roy “Peck” LaRue died on August 31, 1983, and Julia passed away January 29, 1992 at Dinuba, Tulare County, California.