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Monday, July 10, 2006

North Dakota Heritage Quest July 1-2, 2006

7/1/06 Our destination: the Fiechtner Reunion in Lehr North Dakota. Our mission: Explore my mother's heritage- my mother's mother's heritage to be exact. My mom, Jean Siegle Vrieze and my dad, Allan Vrieze, and I started out from Rochester early Saturday morning. We were planning on leaving at 5 am, but as typical with my family, Mom was distressingly late. First, second, third, fourth stops were Zumbrota, Cannon Falls, Rogers, Sauk Centre respectively. After that I lost track and count. We eventually made it to Jamestown, North Dakota in early afternoon. We ran across the public library which thrilled me to pieces. There were dozens of transcriptions of Who's Where in the North Dakota cemeteries and maps and directions to all of these locations. There were many Fiechtners listed, but nary a Siegle to be found. My main purpose for stopping at the Jamestown Library was to find any evidence of the existence of my uncle. He was born to Fred and Catherine Siegle in the mid to late 1920's, as far as I can gather, and he died at birth. He was buried in the Cleveland Cemetery because my Aunt Nettie Siegle Tahran was living on the farm just north of that cemetery.
My mother's four half-sisters and she took a rather ceremonious walk to the cemetery from Nettie's house some 15-20 years ago. They pointed out the general area that the baby was buried and Mom said there ought to be a marker. The sisters apparently agreed but didn't want to spend a lot of money and there would be no fancy inscription. My mom believes that Nettie did place a marker near the burial spot of their brother. Mom and Dad and I searched that cemetery but didn't find anything that Mom believed to be the marker. Mom remembers the location to be about half way through the cemetery right up against the north pine tree line. We did find a white granite stone sticking upright out of the ground but dad thinks it is the base of someone else's grave. I took a picture of Mom standing next to the stone in case that is the location. Aunt Betty Siegle Flaherty knew nothing more about the marker and my next path will be to ask Nettie's daughter, Deanna Tahran Mutzenberger.

Before stopping at the cemetery the three of us stopped in to a rustic German restaurant and ice-cream parlor in "down town" Cleveland. We shared the best bowl of knoephle soup and each had an ice-cream and tested the homemade caramel corn. Delicious.

After our search at Cleveland cemetery, we continued west on County Road 39 just south of the Burlington Railroad tracks. About 1.25 miles west of the cemetery on that road is the remainder of Elizabeth Fiechtner Siegle and Fred Siegle's home farm. No one is sure on the timeline of when exactly Catherine Siegle passed away and Fred married Elizabeth and when these homes were lived in, but Mom knows they always called this location the home farm. The only thing remaining there now is the bottom one third of the cement silo. Dad and I plodded through the tall prairie grass and looked for any remnants of anything while I wished I had put on jeans and tennis shoes. I know Dad scored a few old boards from there the last time we stopped in the late '80s early '90s; they are in the garage attic somewhere. On this trip we brought away an earthen striped rock that we picked up in the general area of where the house used to sit. From this homestead you can see the second farm that Fred and Elizabeth moved to just to the North and very slightly west. There is a nice "pond?" to the south of the farm and Fred and Elizabeth's house is still standing. It is set in back by the out buildings and the owners have built a newer house to the east of that. Mom said that all the wood out buildings were built by her dad. I took pictures of them as well as one of the house which is now a "Hunters Haven." Mom's Aunt Leona Fiechtner said that lot's of farmers sell their houses cheaply to hunters from other parts of the country so they have a permanent resort to go to on vacation. As we passed the house I looked at it and told Mom "That is probably where you were conceived." Dad added"... or in the barn... or in that field over there." We passed an antique bathtub that was sporting some beautiful petunias and dad said"... or that bathtub. It looks like it probably was the original that they got out of the house."

From here we went back to County Road 39 and passed between two lakes and to Medina. At the vertex of W I-94 and 55th Ave. SE is a farmstead with a red barn that bids farewell to each sunset on the North Dakota Prairie. That barn was built by Fred Siegle when he lived at one of the afore mentioned farms. The barn stood on one of those properties and someone paid to have it moved to that location. On this trip, Dad made me get out of the car to take a picture and was relieved that there was no one there to greet us with a pitchfork. On our trip in '91 the owner came out with a pitchfork to inquire about our intentions. Dad tried to explain that Mom's dad built that barn and he said he got so tired of travelers stopping off at his farm to take pictures of that barn. We felt we were worthy. Next Stop: Lehr, North Dakota. South on 53th Ave. until it veered into Hwy 30. And straight south to the "Old Fiechtner Stomping Grounds". We got to the park just right about 7:00. We were somewhere on time! The whole clan under the picnic shelter turned simultaneously to the car with Minnesota plates. Mom yelled out, "Do I have any family left?" Everyone stared. "Do I have any family left?" She took off her sunglasses and then people started to recognize her and run towards her. The first person I met was Brenda Nitschke Schott, the daughter of Walter Nitschke, son of Christine Fiechtner Nitschke, sister of Elizabeth (Luse) Fiechtner Siegle. Mom said she had a great memory to recall that visit. Brenda said it was pretty big time to have a girl from California come and visit rural North Dakota. "Big Time" was the exact phrase she used. I talked to Henrietta, whose daughter dabbles in genealogy as well and we exchanged addresses so I could keep in touch with my second cousin that I've never met. Marvin and Maude Fiechtner are a cute couple with gray hair and Maude is a very snappy dresser. Great Aunt Leona who was married to John (Johann) Fiechtner was there and as spry as any woman could be. She had a very thick German accent and had I been thinking more clearly I would have pulled out the video camera to tape her voice as Al and Jean both agreed that she sounds "just like Grandma Siegle" (Lizzie). Leona was disappointed to hear that mom has lost almost all recollection of the German language; Jean was sure to express that she could still understand it but could never speak it. It didn't take long for Jean to fall into a German accent herself. There was much Yajh-ing going on throughout the weekend. Alice looked like a typical cousin of Jean Siegle Vrieze with black tight curly hair and an ever-so-slight German accent. She worked fervently to find a place for Mom, Dad, and me to sleep for the night. The old Tabernacle at the church camp outside of town was a good prospect, but Alice couldn't get a hold of anyone to unlock it for us. We were prepared with sleeping bags and pillows and would have been happy on the picnic tables in the shelter at the park or along the walls of the demi-dome community center, but Alice insisted on finding us a place. After some time of driving back and forth to the tabernacle and making several phone calls, Russell and Delores Fiechtner volunteered to let us sleep in their basement. We were eternally grateful and followed them to their farm 5 miles north and about 2 miles east of Lehr. 7/2/06 It was better than a hotel. Their farm was previously occupied by John and Esther Fiechtner and was just beautiful. "Typical North Dakota landscape" Dad said, "and the smell...just like Nettie and Emil's. It has that sulphur smell from all the water having sulphur in it." After a very restful night in two separate rooms to avoid the snoring, we woke up to the offer of homemade kuchen on the breakfast table. My goodness, was mom ever in heaven. Delores' rhubarb kuchen was about the best I'd ever tasted. Okay, the best. Better even than Aunt Clara's. Dad and I "encouraged" Mom to hurry out in the morning and we continued on our scheduled stops to see some more heritage sites. 8 miles north of Lehr is a crossroads of McIntosh St. and 70th St. SE (Bainstad Rd.). Turning to the west and taking another immediate south turn brings us to the William (Wilhelm) and Sophia Ottenbacher Fiechtner homestead. Wilhelm and Sophia raised their nine children here including Elizabeth (Luse) Fiechtner Siegle, my mother's mother. On our '91 trip we got to peek inside the falling-apart two-room house and try to imagine how William and Sophia and their 9 children could have lived in there. Leona told us that the boys slept in the barn. This trip there was nothing left of the house or the barn or any structurally recognizable items. Leona and her husband, Fred (Friederich) Fiechtner, Lizzie's baby brother, were the last family to live on this land. Leona described to us the building that used to sit on the rise that contained the wash house, the chicken house ...... She sent me a picture of this building.

The current renter apparently bulldozed the house that we gazed on back in '91. Dad and I again trudged through the tall prairie weeds in search of a rock to claim from the homestead. We did finally find some off to the east in the small patch of trees there. With our heavy Souvenir in tow, we continued on to the King Lutheran Cemetery.
It is also recorded in many places as the Evangelical Trinity Lutheran Cemetery in Hillsburg Township in Logan County, North Dakota. Contrary to going west to the William Fiechtner homestead, turn to the east on 70th st. SE, continue 2 miles east on 70th st. until the road turns to the north. Turn north on 53rd Ave. SE and continue 1 1/2 miles to the north. The quaint cemetery sits on a rise just opposite the road from a small pond. Here is where we found my great-grandparents. Their grave read, "Sophie & Wilhelm, Night Mein Sondern dein Wille Gesche O Herr". There were a few other brothers of William also buried there. The hill to the south of the cemetery is where the King Church used to sit. The church was where Elizabeth (Luse) Fiechtner Siegle was confirmed and married to Fred Siegle. Dad went on a wildflower quest and I searched for some evidence of a church foundation. I found it. Embedded into the hard soil was an eroded cement piece which I thought was just that- an eroded cement piece. I dug with my fingers until I could wiggle it out. (Note to self- always take long pants and a small hand spade when venturing on heritage quests.) I was ecstatic to find that it was actually a brick from the building with the brick company's name on the under side, AESIP or AESIB, protected from the elements for nearly a century. Dad collected a beautiful wildflower bouquet to display at the reunion registration table as an honor to our pioneer ancestors. Perhaps it was similar to what Grandma Lizzie Siegle's wedding bouquet looked like 70-some years ago. Dad asked me if I wanted to put the brick next to it. I declined thinking that someone might 'steal it'. Back to Lehr, North Dakota. The Fiechtner reunion has taken place every three years in the non-air-conditioned, poor acoustical, former gymnasium/dance hall/auditorium since 1979. That year Allan Vrieze conducted the worship service and I was only 9 months old. Mom reminded me of the picture that we have of me in the Bethany camper when I woke up from my nap in the Lehr Park; I poked by head up to the window to look out at all those Fiechtners. Yjah. The Fiechtner book that we brought along was a huge help to me as I could read all about the lives of the people I was about to visit with. The worship service consisted of a short message from Renae Fiechtner Otto, daughter of Marvin Fiechtner, son of Gust (Gustav) Fiechtner. Renae was just engaged at the first Fiechtner reunion in 1979 and it was three years later in 1981 that Jean's Uncle Gust Fiechtner passed away while at the reunion. My white thermal blankie with the white satin edging was the closest thing to a pillow on the premises and served as a final head rest for my great-uncle Gust. The song that we sang for worship was "This is My Father's World" and being that I was feeling a close connection to my ancestors as well as marveling at the beauty of the Logan County countryside, this song was very moving for me. There was a delicious meal of shredded pork sandwiches, baked beans, potato salad and KUECHEN! Lots and lots of kuchen. At lunch I sat next to Aunt Leona and listened to her endearing voice as she visited with Jean's other last surviving aunt-in-law, Esther. Esther was married to John (Johann) Fiechtner. After my second helping of German banquet and dessert of rhubarb kuchen Dad and I sat down with Lorraine. Dad prodded to find out some information about Fred Siegle. Lorraine remembered when Fred and Lizzie lived near Cleveland. She said that Fred was such a talker and that the girls (Nettie Siegle Tahran, Peggy Siegle Flaherty, Betty Siegle Flaherty, and Clara Siegle Flaherty) couldn't get him out of town. Lorraine told me that she never ventured to Fred and Lizzie's farm because the older children had to stay home with the little ones while mom and dad went-a-visiting but she definitely remembers Fred and Lizzie coming to her home to visit her parents. One story she remembered particularly was the thankfulness that they had to God after a hail storm. A hail storm had swept through the area and it crushed all the crops right up to Fred and Lizzie's fence line but didn't touch a stalk of their grain.
Jean spoke with Clarence Bauman of Bismarck, North Dakota who is the real genuine historian of this branch of the family. He was intrigued by the Fiechtner Family Crest that Mom brought back from Ellis Island when we went there in 1993. She is supposed to send a color copy to him at 822 W. Owens Ave., Bismarck ND 58501. He has access to all of the historical archives in Bismarck that refer to the Germans from Russia. When I stepped outside to retrieve something from the car, a local asked me which reunion this was. I told him it was the Fiechtners. He asked me, "Which branch. There are a lot of Fiechtner families." I told him it was all of them. We all stem from the same two people. He looked a little surprised. Mattheis (Matthaus) Fiechtner is my great-great-grandfather and it is his descendants that join together every three years in Lehr. Matthaus Fiechtner, William Fiechtner, Lizzie Fiechtner Siegle, Jean Siegle Vrieze, Lora Vrieze Spencer and Lizzie Spencer make six generations at this celebration and Lizzie Spencer could have mingled with some of her 4th cousins had she been along.
There was one more stop that must be made before heading home to Minnesota. Mom, Dad, nor I had been there and didn't really even know it existed. We went to the Lehr City Cemetery just southwest of town near the church camp with the tabernacle that we were intended to sleep in the previous night. Here we located the headstones of Fred & Leona Fiechtner and John & Esther Fiechtner. I'm sure there are dozens if not hundreds more relatives to locate there. But that may be another trip altogether.
The drive back to Rochester, Minnesota was very pleasant as we went cross-country through North Dakota. We even drove for three solid hours without stopping for Dad to get out and stretch. My intention is to go back again in three years in 2009 so that my Lizzie and Leia Luse can see all of these beautiful pieces of their history.