THE PLAUTZES OF WILLARD
George Plautz, Stephen Plautz 's father, made three trips to America leaving his wife, Katherine, and three children: Stephen, Anna and Katherine to run the farm.
In 1891, at the age of 19, Stephen Sr. came to America and worked in the copper mines at several locations in the Calumet area - the Red Jacket Shaft, Tamarack location being one of them. He had the misfortune of falling sixty feet down a shaft in a mine accident and was unconscious for two weeks.
On January 22, 1900, he was married to Mary Popovich at St. Joseph's Catholic Church at Calumet, Michigan. Mary was one of seven children of Daniel Popovich and Matilda Predovich.
She came to Iron Mountain, Michigan, in 1898, then shortly after moved to Calumet. She worked in a boarding house until the time of her marriage, as did many young immigrant girls at the time.
Stephen's father, George, had returned to Crnomelj. He kept writing to Stephen to also return with his wife and family to help on the farm. Mary refused to go, remembering the hardships endured in Slovenia. After his father repeatedly pleaded, Stephen decided to go for a time, planning to take Stephen Jr. with him. On the eve of his departure he changed his mind and never returned to Slovenia.
In 1908, Stephen Sr., read an ad in the Amerikanski Slovenec written by Ignac Cesnik saying that there were Slovenians in Central Wisconsin claiming the land and climate to be similar to Slovenia. In the company of a group of men from Calumet, he came to the Marshfield-Chili area. He was acquainted with some people from Slovenia who settled there.
After a short stay he went to Fairchild but was not impressed by the sandy soil there.
Finally on September 5, 1908, he decided to come to the specific area he had read about in the Amerikanski Slovenec. He immediately bought forty acres of uncleared land from Ignac Cesnik two miles northwest of what later became Willard. With the help of a friend he built a 16 by 24 log cabin. He wired for his wife and sons to join him. On October 16, 1908, he met them at Fairchild. They took the train to their new home.
Times were hard. Money was scarce or non-existent. Slowly the land was cleared. The boys hunted and trapped to provide meat for the table. Cornmeal, polenta, and buckwheat zgance, were the main fare. Sweets were a rare treat. As soon as the folks would be away for a few hours, out came the precious supply of sugar. The girls would hastily cook up a batch of candy with someone always on the lookout, should the folks return unexpectedly. Syrup and jelly were purchased in pails and hung high out of reach and doled out a bit at a time. Once George and Ann devised a scheme to get the syrup down. Using a long stick they managed to get the handle unhooked. The cover came off the pail on the way down and they were covered with the sticky stuff from head to foot.
More land was acquired, twenty acres across the road from the homestead and 160 acres east of Willard. As the land was cleared, beans and pickles were planted as cash crops. The older girls recall the tiresome, backbreaking task of planting all those beans. Once, they dumped a goodly share of seeds in the hole of an old rotten stump, covering them carefully to conceal the deed from their mother. Their secret was short lived. The seed sprouted, pushing up the ground and all. Days were spent picking beans in the hot sun. At night the whole family gathered around the huge mounds of beans and snipped them, as the bean company would pay a little more for them. Every penny counted.
Joe recalls finding their father's straight razor. It worked great for whittling kite sticks and even slicing salami. After using it, they carefully replaced it. When their father tried shaving with it he was puzzled because it was so dull. He had always kept it out of the reach of the children, so he never suspected what had happened. Needless to say, his sons didn't enlighten him.
Mary Plautz was a firm believer in using herbs and wild plants in home remedies in attending the aliments and injuries of her family. Many times she was called to the bedside of an ailing neighbor. She remembered her parents in Slovenia with what money she could spare. She sent many packages of used clothing. She always expressed a desire to return to see them but they died without her ever seeing them again.
In 1924, Stephen, Sr. reopened a general store in Willard that had been closed for several years. "When the Plautz family had their store in the Cesnik building they also had an icehouse and ice bins, but they cut and hauled their ice from the Eau Claire River." He operated the store with the help of his family, until October 1926, when he became ill. On October 11th, he died.
Emil took over the home farm. Mary lived with him until she suffered a stroke. She passed away on April 11, 1948. She was laid to rest in Holy Family Cemetery beside her husband, Stephen.
This history was written by Rose Pakiz in 1980 for the publication Spominska Zgodovina.
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