Ehlers, John & Mary; Levis Twp., Clark Co., WI

Bio: Ehlers, John & Mary (Pruka)

Contact: Stan


----Source: Levis 125 Year Book (1981); provided by "The Jailhouse Museum".





Ehlers, John & Mary


(Written by Helen Ehlers Hogue)


On the 27th of July 1874 at Wilson, Minnesota, ten miles north of Winona, to John and Augusta Ehlers was born a son.  To follow the traditions of those days, is name had to be John Julius Ehlers.  About this same time, September 18, 1877, in the Weskoy Valley, ten miles south of Winona, a daughter of the late Mary Shermonek and her husband Martin Pruka, a daughter, Mary Ann, was born.  Time and tide waits for no man; soon John and Mary became teenagers.  This was the period of the two-step Waltz and square dancing.  People though nothing of going 20 or 25 miles to a dance.  If near, they walked or rode a hors, otherwise they went with a buggy and horses.  It was on such an occasion that John and Mary met, and as the poet says, "Romancing canít go on forever," John Ehlers and Mary Pruka were married June 2, 1898 at Winona, Minnesota.  The wedding was just for the two families, and the total cost was $18.75, of which the minister was given $10.00.


Not having a home, they went to live with Grandma and Grandpa Ehlers, who owned a 200 acre flax and wheat farm at Wilson, Minnesota, ten miles from Winona.  These farmers became very wealthy when the flour and feed mills started at Minneapolis and St. Paul.  Land was selling between $500 and $600 an acre, which meant a lot of money in those days, when Wisconsin land was selling at $50 and $60 an acre.  Grandma like her helper, Mary, and Grandpa was glad to have Johnís help in the wheat and flax fields.  All went well until there were four children, Minnie, Arthur, Helen and Rudolph.  Then John and Mary began to think of having a place of their own.  In the summer of 1905, John came to Wisconsin and stayed with his sister, Mrs. Otto (Minnie) Filitz, who had a farm well built up, 4 Ĺ miles Southwest Neillsville (Clark Co., Wis.).  At this time an eighty acre farm was purchased at Dells Dam, from Keller and OíBrien in the town of Levis, on highway 95, 8 miles southwest of Neillsville on the Black River.


In the fall of 1905 the moving was done from Wilson, Minn. To Dells Dam, Wis., in an open wagon and team.  As much as possible was packed into the wagon, bedding of the best, pillows of down, quilts of wool sheared from live sheep, down feather ticks, dishes, pots and pans and lots and lots of food.  It took longer to make the trip than was planned, and they ran short of food and clothes John and Mary and four children.  Traveling went on all day until late at night, they thinking always that they were near their destination.  Everyone was tired and hungry; the children were crying, even the horses refused to go.  When the family reached Blair, Wis., John looked for a store, but every place was closed.  He then stopped at a farmhouse and asked for water and a place to feed the horses.  The family ate what little was left from their dinner.  The Lady of the farm saw all were still hungry and tired of the little ones crying, so she furnished more mile and bread with butter and coffee fro Mary and John and urged them not to go on, but to put the horses in the barn.  A shed with fresh hay covered with the quilts was clean for all to sleep on.  Early in the morning they were awakened by the fluttering of the henís wings and the crowing of the roosters.  An early start with a good breakfast from this lady help a lot.  John offered her pay, but she refused.  As young as we children were, weíll never forget the lady, so cheerful, kind and thoughtful was she.


That day we reached the farm. How different from the farm we left behind.  Where was the big white house and barn?  There was no pump for water.  Instead there was a little log house with a kitchen with a rough plank floor and two windows, a small bedroom with one window, some shelves for a pantry, and the upstairs was all one room with a window on each side.  There were holes in the roof of the house so you could see the moon and stars, and snow fell upon you bed in the winter.  Those pure wool quilts were a blessing to have, so thanks went to the Grandmas.  There were cracks between the logs so you could hear the whistling of the wind.  The basement, or cellar as we called it, had an earth floor with stone steps.  The water supply came from a cistern down by the pasture, so the water had to be hauled to the house and for the water trough for the cows and horses.  The barn you would hardly call it a shed.  The outhouse or "telephone booth; as you might call it, was a few rough boards put up and one large hole, which little ones just about fell through.  For toilet tissue a Sears Roebuck catalog was used.  You got to the harness section at green apple time and was allowed a whole sheet up to that time; from that time on you were allowed only a half a sheet.  Like the author James Riley said, "Flies in the summer, and wind in the winter, makes one hurry."


The waster was brought up by a long strong rope, a dangerous contraption for us children.


The goods that werenít taken by wagon were shipped from Winona to Neillsville by the Northeastern railroad.  John and Otto Filitz loaded it onto the wagon and hauled it from the depot to the farm with wagon and horses.  The machinery consisted of a one furrow walking plow, grain binder, with heavy canvas apron, a walking drag, harnesses, garden tools, ropes, forks, large pails, saws and small tools.  The furniture also came by rail, a small square solid oak table, Monarch wood cook stove, small wood heater, two wooden beds, and one iron bed, the mattresses were heavy ticking stuffed with clean corn husks which wer emptied every fall and again filled with fresh clean husks, six chairs, a bench, used to put the wash bown for us to wash our hands and face, also a pail of cold water with a dipper in it was put on the bench, a wood box, a few cooking utensils, pans, a tea kettle, a clothes boiler, 2 washtubs, a wash board, 2 sad irons, a Singer sewing machine, and 2 trunks.  In a separate box car were the four milk cows.  If there was any mile left after the family had their supply, it was hauled to the stone cheese factory on the four corners.  Robert Bruss was the cheese maker and on the way home from school, the children would stop at the factory and Bob would have chewing gum for us.  We chewed it and enjoyed it just as much as the gum today, even though it was the sealing wax for the cheese paraffin.


Soon milk haulers came around and hauled the milk to the condensery at Neillsville, and the cheese factory went out of business. Floyd Eagle bought the old cheese factory and turned it into a welding shop.  He soon earned an outstanding reputation for welding and sharpening plow shares and graders, and did a tremendous business.  He felt his health failing, so had to give it up, his son, Donald worked in the same capacity for several years.  Now the shop is no longer in operation, but still in Donís ownership.


Fall was a bad time to come to Wisconsin.  First, the buildings had to be repaired for winter.  The milk check brought around $12.00 for two weeks, and from this coffee, sugar, cornmeal and flour was bought.  Aunt Minnie gave us some chickens, and 2 little pigs, which helped with the eggs and later the meat.  Thanks went to our Aunt Minnie and uncle Otto Filitz.  The two grandmothers sent us food and grain for the animals.  The next years wasnít too bad as we had a chance to raise a big garden and enough potatoes, and feed for the animals, and we had plenty of eggs, more mile, so butter was also made.


There was no such thing as refrigeration in those days, so the beans, pickles and tomatoes were canned or put in a strong brine;  also chicken, pork and beef were canned.  Hams were either smoked or put in a strong bride in the gallon crocks.  Apples were dried for pie making in the winter.


Minnie, Arthur, Helen and Rudolph were the for children who made the trip with their parents from Winona to Levis Township..  Lillian, William, Evelyn, Paul, and Dorothy were born in the log house in Levis.  All the Ehlers children were born at home with the aid of a mid-wife.  The mid-wife in Wisconsin was Grandma Kurka, who lived on the first hill south of the Meadow View School.  She would come to the home and always stayed for nine days.  Her pay was about ten pounds of meat, three pounds of butter, five or six dozen eggs, a few cans of fruit and a few jellies.


Of the 80 acre farm, there was only a scant 10 acres that could be cultivated.  The north end was all huge pine stumps which took a lot of dynamite and grubbing to get it ready for cultivating.  West of the log house were oaks, maples, pines, butternut and black walnut trees.  Al these trees were a godsend to the family.  They provided fuel to heat the buildings and the water tanks for the cattle.  Many an extra dollar did John collect by cording the chunks of wood, hauling it to Neillsville and received $2.00 a cord, it at least paid for some of the groceries.  Sometimes it was hard to sell, so Katy Wasserburger would take it and gave him some groceries, rather than have him haul it back home ten miles..  Walnuts, butternuts, and hazel nuts were gathered from the trees if you could beat the squirrels from getting them first.  Coon, rabbis, squirrels and deer were plentiful and Black River gave the family plenty of fish and the river banks gave turtles and jumbo frogs.  A supply of fresh fruit and berries, such as cherries, plums, thorn apples, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and currants could be gathered from the woods.  If more berries were needed a trip by horses and wagon was taken to Hatfield.  We all looked forward to these trips.  One great joy was to stop at the Big Springs where a twelve foot wooden water trough was always overflowing with cold, fresh spring water.  Even the horses enjoyed this.  We would fill our cans with water and took it the the berry grounds.  The second big thrill was to go into Joe Hansessí grocery store.  Mother would buy something different than unusual for us to eat and Joe would give each of us a candy stick and a slice of bologna.  Weíll never forget eh joy of it all.


The trees supplied enough lumber to build a 90 foot long barn in 1910.  Will Zoe laid the stone basement and Gus Holgreen and John Ehlers did the framework. A neighborhood "bee" raised the tall rafters, put the roof on and shingled it.  The women came and helped Mary prepare the dinner and supper.  All went home later at night time, but happy.


A large cement silo was built in 1915.


The two story frame house was built in 1916, with four bedrooms upstairs, one downstairs, a living room, a kitchen and dining room in one with many cupboards.  A well was drilled, a pump put on the back porch.  Four children were born in the new house, Glenn, Eugene, Irving and Jeannette.


All of the children of John and Mary Ehlers received their elementary education in the Dells Dam School, which is now a "Hunterís Lodge" owned by four hunters.  Itís a frame building and was there when we came to the farm, also a wood shed was built west of the school and two "telephone booths" with two large holes and one small one, so the little ones wouldnít fall through.  The one for the girls still remains, but the boys booth and the wood shed are gone.  Of the two huge pine trees that stood in front of the school, one was blown down.


When Margaret Breed? Was the teacher, she took a collection of a quarter from each pupil and purchased a big bell which hung in the belfry, but is no longer there.  We were lucky we had only one mile to walk to school, especially in the winter, when snow banks were telephone wires high, and road openings done by all the farmers who got out with their teams and bob sleighs.  The children would catch rides by holding onto the sligh and standing on the large back runners, or crawl into the sleigh box.


When we entered the school building it was zero or below in the room.  We were allowed, if quiet, to stand around the large metal jacketed wood heater until it got warm enough to sit in our seats.  We carried our lunches and it was put around the heater to keep from freezing.  The children had double seats to sit in and the ink wells were in the right hand corners.  If your were a girl, and a mischievous boy sat behind you; your braids would surely get a dipping, and Margaretís rubber hose would appear, and that trick was settled for awhile.  One thing we had, that would be a prize today, was at least 30 feet of good old solid slate blackboards, and plenty of hard white chalk.  Just about every pupil had a little plate and slate pencil of their own.  There wasnít much paper used until the late teens.  The lights were the old fashioned kerosene lamps place in brackets along the walls and only used at nigh when some entertainment was to be, or the meeting of the school board.


John Ehlers always contracted to furnish the wood for the heating for the year and by doing extra work on the roads he managed to pay his taxes on his property.  The school room was cleaned twice a year, before school started and then at Christmas vacation.  Ten of the Ehlers family graduated from the old Neillsville High School.  To get from home to the high school was a problem.  Buses were unheard of and it was ten miles to walk.  It was too far for short legs in the wintertime.  We stayed with families in the city and worked for our board and room.  We were thankful that someone would keep us.  Many times the working hours were way into the night, and then we still had our school work to do.  We got up early in the morning and built the wood fires, so that the house would be warm when the family got up.  When the last five children  attended Neillsville High School, they had an old car and drove back and forth from school; gas then was 5 gallons for a dollar.  How wonderful to be able to be home at night; this was a great relief for parents and the children.  Now a bus comes to the Dells Dam area and takes the children (grade and high school) from their home driveway to the city schools.


Of the Ehlers girls, four of them became teachers and two nurses.  The seven boys each chose a different profession to make their way of living.




When John and Mary Ehlers in 1905 arrived at the Ehlers farm in Levis they did not know what the next 70 years would bring.  From the sixty acre farm, it became a 180 acre farm with all modern buildings, and 140 acres under cultivation.  They lived to enjoy the modern utilities; the hot and cold running water into the bath tub, instead of using the wash tub for a bath; the electric lights, cooking on an electric stove, refrigeration, and an electric wash machine instead of the wash tub and scrub board and the boiling of clothes in a boiler over a wood burning cook stove, where all the cooking and baking was done and all the water heated.


The modern way of farming was beyond their expectations or dreams.  The riding tractor, the grain combine instead of the aproned binder and threshing machine; the corn shredder, corn binder and silo filler were only a few of the many improvements in agricultural mechanization.  They had the use of the telephone and automobiles for transportation; the radio and television for recreational leisure.  Lawrence Welk was their favorite program.  Mary had two rides in an airplane, one to Elko, Nevada and one to Las Vegas, Nevada.  She even took a chance to gable on the machines.


The children all received a good education, all had good employment or businesses of their own, living are beyond the parentsí expectations.


We children worshiped our parents and give to them the greatest of praise for their good judgment in guiding us through life.






I have written a book about the place Freetz Distrikt Schlawe (467 pages). In this book are about 800 families. It also Ehlers and Ehlert. These are but from the same family. I would appreciate if you could help me with further information. I am happy to share with you also what I know.  Michael Kallas




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