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Hall County Original Settlers

In 1857, thirty-seven men, women and a four year old child set off from Davenport, Iowa to create a new city in central Nebraska along the Platte River at a place the French fur trapper called le Grand Ile. Among the settlers were five American men, twenty-five German men, six German women, and four year old German girl. Below, you will find very brief biographies of those brave pioneer settlers.

This site is still under construction. More biographies and photographs will be added soon.

Andresen, Christian (no photo): Biography pending. Christian was born in Holstein, Germany around 1840.

Andresen, Dorthea (no photo): Dorthea was the wife of Christian Andresen. According to the 1860 census, Dorthea was born in about 1826 in Holstein, Germany. That would make her about 31 when she traveled with her husband and four year old daughter to Hall County in a wagon pulled by oxen. After building a successful farm in Hall County, the Andresens moved to Omaha and later Blair, Nebraska. The Grand Island Independent (March 4, 1890) wrote this about Dorthea upon her death: “She was an honest, hardworking woman, a true help to her husband and good mother to her little Caroline.”

Andresen, Caroline or Lena (no photo): Caroline was only four years old when she arrived in Hall County with her parents Dorthea and Christian Andresen. Think back to your last car trip with a four year old, now try to image imagine traveling from Davenport to Grand Island in a covered wagon with a four year old. An interesting note about Caroline, according to the 1860 census, she was born in Brazil. Between 1824 -1969, approximately 250,000 Germans immigrated to Brazil. Christian and Dorthea likely immigrated first to one of the many rural German colonies in Brazil where Caroline was born and then on to America.

Axelsen, Cornelius (no photo): Biography pending

Barnard, Richard C. (no photo): Richard Cropley Barnard was born on January 10, 1829 in Georgetown, District of Columbia, USA to Robert and Sophia (Cropley) Barnard. Barnard was the main agent for the Davenport Company and was hired as the party’s engineer and surveyor. Barnard and his brother Lawrence were among the five American that were part of the original Hall County settlement. Not much is known about the Americans. All five left the settlement early on. Only R.C. and Lawrence remained in Grand Island long enough to appear in the 1860s U.S. Census. Barnard also took on several leadership roles including being appointed County Judge by Acting Governor of the Nebraska Territory, J. Sterling Morton on December 9, 1858. In 1859, Barnard was elected Justice of the Peace. The Hall County Probate and Justice Docket #A1 shows Barnard performed at least seven marriages as Justice of the Peace from 1861 to 1863. He was also named the first postmaster for Grand Island on April 8, 1858. On December 5, 1859, Barnard represented Monroe and Hall Counties at Nebraska’s Sixth Territorial Legislature. The Barnard family left Hall County in the mid-1860s, about the time several attacks were made on Hall County families by Native Americans. Recent research using the vast resources available on the internet has found that Barnard and his family eventually settled in Sloan, Woodbury County, Iowa.

Barnard, Lawrence (no photo): Lawrence Barnard was the younger brother of Richard C. Barnard, the main agent and civil engineer for the Davenport Company. Lawrence was born in about 1834 in Georgetown, District of Columbia, USA to Robert and Sophia (Cropley) Barnard. According to the 1860 U.S. Census, Lawrence (age 22) lived with Albert Barnard (age 17). Albert was likely a cousin. In the 1870 U.S. Census, Lawrence can be found living in Park County, Colorado and working as a miner. On November 6, 1857, Lawrence, Henry Joehnck and two men from the nearby settlement Mendotte, William Roberts and Billy Painter, went to Prairie Creek to hunt antelope and deer. When near the pond, due north of Grand Island, the hunting party split. Lawrence and Roberts went up the creek, while Joehnck and Painter hunted down stream. Already wet from crossing the creek several times shooting ducks, the four men started for the settlement when the rain began that evening. Soon the wind changed to the north and a heavy storm set in. It grew colder and colder. Barnard and Roberts found their way home, but Joehnck and Painter became lost in the storm. After dark, the lost men stacked their guns for the purpose of building a shelter in the high slough grass. The wind swept away each bunch of grass, and to keep from freezing they had to walk around and around all night. Painter became so hungry, he ate half a duck uncooked, but Joehnck would not touch the unsavory meal. At daylight, the snow proved to be eighteen inches in depth and still falling. So, the set out for the settlement where some men had set forth in search of the two lost men, but were driven back from by the storm. Early that morning Joehnck arrived, but so worn was he that he could only signify by signs where Painter was. The men went forth in search, found the hunter, brought him in, but the hardships of the night proved too much and November 7, 1857, occurred the first death in Hall County among the white settlers. According to Heinrich Egge’s diary Painter was buried on the line between Lawrence’s and David Morgan’s land.

Doll, Joachim (1882 original settler photo): Biography pending

Doll, Katrina (1882 original settler photo): Born in about 1826 in Holstein, Germany, Katrina Doll was about 31 years old when she and her husband Joachim Doll joined the settlement party bound for Hall County. By the 1960 census, Katrina was the mother of two girls, Mena (age 2) and Lena (age 5 months). Mena, or Wilhelmine, has the distinction of being the third child born to the German settlers. Katrina gave birth to Mena on August 28, 1858, only 13 months and 24 days after the party arrived in Hall County on July 4, 1857. This is despite the entire colony being on half rations for much of the winter months after supplies from Davenport arrived months late. The Doll’s later moved to Howard County north of Dannebrog.

Egge, Heinrich (photo,1882 original settler photo): Born in Holstein, Germany September 3, 1830. Mr. Egge wrote a detailed diary about his journey from Germany to Davenport, IA. This diary also includes valuable information about the travels from Iowa to Nebraska and about the settlement of Grand Island. He farmed the land and also became one of the first milkmen in Grand Island. Mr. Egge married Augusta Bruhns in 1867. They had four children.

Ewoldt, Cay (1882 original settler photo): Mr. Ewoldt emigrated from Holstein Germany at the age of 23 around 1852. He lived in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota until moving to Davenport in 1854. He and his wife Elizabeth Stuben, whom he married in 1862, homesteaded on a farm southwest of Grand Island. He was able to eventually accumulate 460 acres through farming and stock breeding that he passed on to his sons at the time of his death in 1914.

Gries, Matthias (no photo): Was a constable along with Menck (Red Book), also listed as being a “principal suffer” of the arson fire in 1859.

Hagge, William A. (photo, 1882 original settler photo): The Hagge family sailed to America from Holstein Germany in 1849. William was only 15 years old. Sadly on the journey from Germany to Davenport, IA William lost his mother, a sister and a brother. Mr. Hagge has the distinction of building the first house in the settlement on his claim. The house was destroyed by a prairie fire the next year. Mr. Hagge was married in October of 1865 to Caroline Moller. They had eight children. Mr. Hagge worked as a banker, farmer, and served as the Hall County Treasurer for several terms as well as the justice of the peace.

Hamann, Johann (no photo): Unfortunately not much is known about Johann Hamman. He can be traced to an 1860 census of Hall County, Nebraska in which a John Homan is listed as being 29 years old, from Holstein, Germany and his occupation is farming. Christian Menck and William Stolley both describe the death of a John Hamann that was caused by an unruly team of horses that upset his wagon on the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad. He was run over by the rail cars. An 1871 School District 1 record has a widow Hamann listed along with five children.

Hedde, Fred (photo, 1882 original settler photo): Friedrich Hedde was born in Holstein, Germany September 11, 1818. He worked as a lawyer and journalist in Schleswig-Holstein where he criticized the Danish rule in newspaper articles. Soon he found that the restrictions placed on what the newspapers could write were too restricting for him and he immigrated to America. He became the leader of the group of settlers who traveled to Nebraska to make Grand Island their home. Mr. Hedde was appointed throughout his lifetime posts of county commissioner, county judge, representative in the Nebraska Territorial Legislature and councilman to the city government of Grand Island. He also owned a general store, lumberyard and two newspapers. He was owner and editor of the Grand Island Daily Independent from 1884-1900, in fact he published the first daily newspaper in the city of Grand Island in January of 1884.

Joehnck, Henry (photo, 1882 original settler photo): Born in Holstein, Germany in 1835, he immigrated to America when he was twenty years old with his father, mother and siblings. Mr. Joehnck went his own way after his family reached Davenport and decided to head west to Grand Island with his wife of two months. Mr. Joehnck was primarily a successful farmer on his homestead. He also gardened and raised stock, in addition to having the know-how of a wagon-maker. There is also a reoccurring story of how Mr. Joehnck survived a November blizzard during the settlement’s first winter, the man Mr. Joehnck was with was not so lucky and he was the small settlement’s first death. As it turns out Mr. Joehnck and his wife were some of the longest lived settlers from the original group of pioneers that came to Grand Island.

Joehnck, Margaret (photo, 1882 original settler photo): Margaret Joehnck was the daughter of Carl F. Goos and Maria Peterson. The Goos family immigrated from Germany in the fall of 1851. They eventually settled in Davenport where Mr. Goos worked as a wagon maker. In Davenport, Margaret met Henry C. Joehnck and they were married on March 27, 1857. Two months later, Henry and Margaret joined the settlement party bound for Hall County. Did I mention that in 1857 Margaret was only 17 years old? Heinrich Egge mentions Margaret several times in the journal he kept during the trek from Iowa to Hall County. She acted as cook for many on the wagon train. When Margaret took sick for a day during the journey, Egge complains they were forced to cook for themselves. Margaret’s first child, William, was born March 6, 1860. The Joehnck’s eventually had 10 children, all whom survived into adulthood. Many Joehnck descendants still reside in Hall County.

Landmann, Fred (no photo) Biography pending

Menck, Christian (1882 original settler photo): From Holstein, Germany, Mr. Menck was 26 when he joined the group of settlers on their way to central Nebraska. He was trained as an apprentice in the harness making industry, but in Nebraska he was primarily a farmer in addition to having the role of one of the first constables of Hall County. He also enjoyed music and was known for his fine voice and musical abilities. Mrs. Menck is known as the first bride of Hall County as Christian went to Omaha in the summer of 1858 to make her his wife. In the late summer of 1858, Mr. Menck made a trip to Omaha where he was to meet his future wife, Kathrina (sometimes seen as Christina) Harding, with this marriage Kathrina to become the first bride of Hall County.

Morgan, David P. (no photo) David P. Morgan was one of the five Americans hired by the Davenport Company to act as surveyors in laying out the new settlement. Morgan appears to have left the settlement early. He is not listed as living in Hall County in the 1860 U.S. Census. Heinrich Egge only mentions Morgan once in his diary. According to Egge, Billy Painter, from the neighboring settlement of Mendotte, was buried on the line between Lawrence Barnard and Morgan’s property. Painter died from exposure after being caught in a snow storm while hunting. Joshua Smith also wrote about Morgan in his 1857 letter. Fed up with “cursed” mules which belonged to the Davenport Company, Morgan and Smith concluded that rather than be troubled with the mules all winter, they would take them back to Davenport, Iowa. According to Smith the trip took four weeks and the arrived in Davenport on October 22, 1857.

Nagel, Theodore (photo): Biography pending

Sass, Detlef (1882 original settler photo): Detlef Sass was born June 16, 1830 in Neumuenster, Holstein, Germany. His father was a baker and intended for Detlef to take up the trade. However, the life of a baker did not appeal to Detlef, so he learned the trade of a weaver. He served an apprenticeship and, as was customary in Germany at the time, traveled three years as a journeyman weaver. When the province of Holstein arose against the Danish government, Detlef enlisted in the German army. He served the regular term in one of the Holstein battalions and was garrisoned in Kopenhagen, Denmark. In 1854, Sass immigrated to the United States settling in Davenport, Iowa. In 1857, Detlef became a member of the little band who came to Nebraska and founded the city of Grand Island.

Schaaf, Henry (no photo) Mr. Schaaf was one of two out of the original settlers from Prussia, Germany. He was born around 1825. Not much is known about Mr. Schaaf. In the 1870 census he is married with four children and is a farmer on land he owns. In addition, according to an article in the Platte Valley Independent July 23, 1870 he was, “evidently an experienced farmer, and surely a very hospitable gentleman.” The article also mentions how he looks to have an excellent crop in oats, barley, wheat and corn. Finally his obituary says he was always full of fun, a good companion, and hard working man.

Schoel, Henry (1882 original settler photo): Henry Schoel was born on April 1, 1828 in Germany. He served in the Schleswig-Holstein army during the war from 1848 to 1850. When the war was over he emigrated to America and he and his wife Sophia came to Hall County where Henry farmed the land. His house was destroyed by a fire on January 8, 1858; the other settlers pitched in and cared for Henry and his wife. The first white baby boy of the settlement was born to Henry and Sophia June 19, 1858. Sometime here after Sophia dies and Henry remarries Mary Becker on March 1, 1864. He is described in his obituary as a kind father, good friend and an honest and reliable citizen.

Schoel, Sophia (no photo): Unfortunately, not much is known about Sophia. She was the first wife of Henry Schoel. According to the 1860 census, Sophia was born in about 1835 in Mecklenburg, Germany, which would have made her about 22 when she came to Hall County. She gave birth to her son Charles Schoel on June 19, 1858. Charles was the second child born to the colony. Tragically, I believe Sophia died very young. The Hall County Marriage index reveals that Henry Schoel remarried on March 1, 1864. This would likely indicate that Sophia past away sometime between the 1860 census and the Henry’s second marriage. The location of Sophia’s grave is unknown at this time.

Seymour, William (no photo): Almost nothing is known about William Seymour. According to William Stolley in his book History of the First Settlement of Hall County, Nebraska, Seymour was one of the five Americans surveyors that worked for the Davenport Company. The Stuhr Museum Archives holds a hand-drawn map which was likely created in 1857 by Richard C. Barnard. It lays out the land and timber claims of the settlers. The Americans R.C. Barnard, Lawrence Barnard, Joshua Smith and David Morgan appear to have received larger lots of land and timber claims then the German settlers. According to the map, Seymour appears to have received land equal to the Germans for his part in settling Grand Island.

Schultz, George (no photo) Biography pending

Smith, Joshua (no photo): On November 9, 1857, Joshua Smith wrote a letter detailing his experiences as one of Hall County’s original settlers. Smith was one of the five Americans hired by the Davenport Company to survey the Platte Valley and lay out the new town. In his thirty-two page, hand-written letter, Smith vividly describes the trials and adventures he experienced in the summer of 1857. He tells of forging the Loup and hunting buffalo. He also recounts tales of misbehaving mules, hat-eating squirrels, and bugs, lots and lots of bugs. According to the November 22, 1926 edition of the Grand Island Independent, the letter was given to the Hall County Historical Society by W.H. Smith of Omaha, a grandnephew of the Joshua. Also, another relative still living in 1922 was a Miss Sallie Smith of Waynesville, Ohio. Joshua does not appear in the 1860 Hall County Census. Unfortunately, with such a common name, finding Joshua living elsewhere has proven difficult. A search of the U.S. Census available online at Ancestry.com found 318 Joshua Smith’s, 12 Josh Smith’s, and 13,319 J. Smith’s.

Stehr, Anna (photo, 1882 original settler photo): Anna Stehr was the only single adult female among the 38 original settlers. She was 24 years old and traveled with her brother William and his new 17 year old wife, Fredreka. According to the Grand Island Daily Independent (June 29, 1907) in an article written by Anna and John Thomssen for the 75 th anniversary of Hall County, because of the lack of supplies, Anna stayed with the colony for only two months before returning to Omaha in September 1857. On March 5, 1858, Anna went to Council Bluffs for two years. In 1860, Anna married John Thomssen in Council Bluffs. In spring 1860, Anna and John returned to the German settlement in Hall County and left for Fort Kearny shortly afterwards. They remained at Fort Kearny for three months before returning once again to Hall County to permanently settle. Anna and John built their farm on the spot where the original settlers camped for the first week upon arrival in Hall County. They had five children and many of their descendants still live in Hall County.

Stehr, William (no photo) Biography pending

Stehr, Fredreka (no photo): At the age of 17, Fredreka Langmann married William Stehr and the two set off to help start a new city in Hall County. The first winter was difficult for the settlers. Supplies were late and the colonists were forced to go on half rations. Despite this, Fredreka gave birth to daughter Nellie on March 3, 1858, eight month after arriving in Hall County. Nellie was the first child born among the German settlers. On January 8, 1859, a fire destroyed both the Stehr and Schoel homes. Ten days later, another fire destroyed eight more of colonist’s homes. Five years after arriving in Hall County, health forced Fredreka and her family to move back to Davenport. They returned to Hall County 25 years later for a short time before settling once again to Iowa. She and William are buried in the Oakdale Cemetery in Wilton Junction, Iowa.

Stelk, Marx (1882 original settler photo): Mr. Stelk was born August 30, 1826 in Germany . He apprenticed for four years with his uncle in the carpentry trade. After his apprenticeship was over he entered the army and fought in the war against Denmark . He married his wife (Louisa Dam) in 1851 in Germany . Sadly she died shortly after giving birth to their second child. Not long after he left for America with his family. He first settled in Wisconsin , moved to Davenport , Iowa to be with his brother and his family. He left for Nebraska with the original group of settlers, probably leaving his son with his brother to join him in the second wave of settlers to Grand Island in the next year. In Nebraska Marx put his trade to good use and helped construct some of the first structures made entirely of wood in the early settlement. Together with his son, Mr. Stelk claimed land and farmed it eventually accumulating a large amount of property. He remarried in 1865 Miss Anna Ruger. His obituary says that he, with his son, never left his claim but labored industriously on it from year to year.

Stuhr, Peter (1882 original settler photo): Peter Stuhr was born in Holstein Germany on March 11, 1828. He settled near the first site of the town of Grand Island where he farmed and raised livestock. Mr. Stuhr married Anna Julia Scheel on August 1, 1867 and they had three children. Most notably is Leo B. Stuhr of whom Stuhr Museum received its name. Peter was a kind man, as evidenced by a story Leo tells of his father hitching a log to a wagon and creating a path for the school children through the snow in the winter so they could more easily reach the school house. Mr. Stuhr also seems to have been generous to those less fortunate as there are letters to him from young men in Germany asking for help in coming to America. His obituary describes him as a good husband, kind father and true friend, who enjoyed the friendship and esteem of all who knew him.

Thede, Nicholas (no photo) Biography pending. Unfortunately, next to nothing is known about Mr. Thede. William Stolley lists him as being a part of the original settlers, from Holstein , Germany . His name also appears on hand drawn map, likely drawn by R.C. Barnard, which shows the original lots mapped out by the Davenport Company.

Vasold, Herman (1882 original settler photo): Ernest Herman Vasold was born in Germany on February 23, 1835 . He came to America with his parents, brothers and sisters in 1850 when he was 15. They settled in Saginaw , Michigan . Herman became the first sheriff of Hall County in 1858, appointed by J. Sterling Morton, acting governor of the Nebraska territory. He helped build some of the first log cabins in the area along with Fort Kearney . He left Grand Island in 1860 to try to make his fortune at Pike’s Peak and later California . In the mid 1860s he returned to Michigan where he was married and had 12 children. He worked in the dry goods business and later came to be known as the “Pioneer Traveling Salesman of the Great Lakes Territory ”. He visited Grand Island for the celebration of 25 th and 50 th anniversary of the settlement.

Vatje, Fred (no photo) Not much is known about Fred Vatje. He is on the 1860 census of Hall County; there he is listed as being 50 years old, from Holstein , Germany and a farmer with his own land of value. He is not on the 1870 census of Hall County . William Stolley describes him as having committed suicide by taking strychnine. A. Schernekau talks about Fred Vatje diligently grubbing out the underbrush along a channel of the Platte River to help promote the growth of young trees.

Wrage, Hans (no photo) Mr. Wrage was born November 29, 1826 in Germany . He immigrated to America around 1857 and joined the group of settlers headed west to Grand Island . Once they arrived he helped his neighbors in his trade of carpentry by cutting the logs for their houses and then helping raise their homes. He farmed, worked as a carpenter, and served as County commissioner for a number of years. He married his wife, Abeline Stoltenberg, in Hall County on December 1, 1862 , together they had eight children. He is described as honest and industrious, well known and highly respected.


Hall County Original Settler still living in Hall County in 1882 during the settlements 25th Anniversary. left to right: (front row) William Hagge, Joachim Doll, Catherine Doll, Anna (Stehr) Thomssen, Margaret Joehnck, and Henry Joehnck; (back row) Peter Stuhr, Christian Menck, Herman Vasold, Fred Hedde, Detlef Sass, Henry Schoel, Cay Ewoldt.

Heinrich Egge

William Hagge

Friedrich Hedde

Henry and Margaret Joehnck

Theodore Nagel with wife

Detlef Sass

Anna (Stehr) Thomssen, seated at left with daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter (photo courtesy of Doug Hintz)

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