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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Reinhart Fermazin

Reinhart Fermazin

 AWOL! Adventurer. Good Character. Handsome.  Forger. Naturalized Citizen. Homesteader. Industrious. Motorman. These attributes describe my great-great-uncle Reinhart Fermazin.
   My dad fondly remembered his uncle Reinhart who came to visit dad, Lola, Grandma and Grandpa when he was in town. Reinhart used to bring his wives, Lillian who died in 1930 and later Anna.  Lillian was the quiet one. Very pretty, dressed in her Sunday best with a hat and gloves, she would sit in the corner of the living room not saying anything except that she was glad to be back home. Aunt Lillian would don an apron at meal-time and help Grandma set the table. Anna, came to the house a few times with Reinhart but dad said he did not care for her. She was short, about 5 feet tall, pretty with long blonde hair but “she didn’t help do anything, just sat there interrupting the stories Grandpa and Uncle were telling." Maybe this was because she never lived on the homestead or farmed. Anna was a Chicago girl of Slavic ancestry and had a thick non-German accent. According to dad, no one could understand her anyway. Dad said he wished Anna would stay home.
 What dad recalled most was sitting on the floor next to Reinhart listening to the yarns he told about his sharpshooter days in the Philippines and farming in Minnesota and South Dakota. From 1906 to 1913 before he was married, Grandpa went to South Dakota every fall to help harvest the crops. The first year, the homestead brought in a big crop but the following year there was nothing much harvested as the grasshoppers and potato bugs ate it all.
Dad possessed one old picture of Reinhart dressed in his baggy pants with suspenders working in the cornfields with a pony next to him. Reinhart was more like a brother than an uncle to Grandpa because they were so close in age. Grandpa was eleven years younger than Reinhart. Grandma said that Reinhart and Grandpa looked alike when they were younger. Both had blonde hair so white that they nicknamed Grandpa, Whitey. Both were 5’8” tall and had blue eyes and fair skin.
   Reinhart, who was born on January 28, 1875 in Godziwy, Schubin, Posen, Prussia immigrated to America as an infant with his mother Carolina Hartwig and his sister Bertha. They joined his father, Friedrich and sister Amelia in Aurora, Illinois, a small German community along the Fox River.
   It seems Reinhart’s life was uneventful as a child but more adventuresome as an adult. In 1898, Reinhart enlisted in the Spanish American War in Evanston, Wyoming, which was not too far from where he was living in Minnesota. Uncle Reinhart’s military service occurred in Fort San Felipe, Manila, Philippine Islands, for about one year as part of the First Wyoming Volunteer Infantry Battalion, Company H.  He was a rifleman sharpshooter during his tour of duty. During his time in Manila, he was absent from his post without permission of his commanding officer and served three times in the brig with ten days of hard labor and court martialed. In his final month of duty Uncle Reinhart was reported “in confinement” or in other words, in the brig.  On July 28, 1899 he was discharged at Manila.  Inexplicidly, given his court martials and infractions, he mustered out at the Presidio in San Francisco with “service honorable and faithful, character good.
    Prior to serving in the Spanish American War, Minnesota, was his home where he farmed with his brother Karl.  At age 18 when living in Minnesota, Reinhart was arrested for forging a payroll check but jumped bail and was never prosecuted. His brother, Karl paid the fines. He returned to Aurora, Illinois, still single where he lived in a boarding house and worked as a farm laborer.  There he obtained his citizenship.
   In 1903, he moved to Chicago, Illinois where he married his first wife, Sharlot Wittelsbach. Married only a short time, Sharlot died of consumption a year later. Two years after Sharlot’s death Reinhart married Lillian  of Chicago. This marriage lasted until 1930, when Lillian died from complications of multiple sclerosis.
   In the fall of 1908, Reinhart obtained a 160-acre homestead in Lemmon, Perkin County, South Dakota. The Homestead Act allowed "any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such" the right to claim 160 acres of land, a quarter-section, for free. The claimant need only pay a small filing fee and live on and improve the land for five years. If he so chose, the homesteader could buy the land for $1.25 an acre after six months. Lemmon, South Dakota was a growing and prosperous town in Perkin, County. This was due to the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad being surveyed which would make the area desirable to export crops. The population in 1908, was1,350 people.
   He and Lillian moved onto the land March 30, 1909. By April, with the help of their neighbors, the Fermazin’s built a 12 x 16 foot sod house with a lumber floor and roof, three windows, one door and a cellar 5 ft by 6 ft under the house within the first month of living there. He drilled a "well 27 feet deep on the property and built a chicken coop and a sod barn with a pole roof covered with hay. He planted about 70 trees, Ash and Box elders on six acres, fenced it off with two wires and posts two rods apart. The value of the improvements was $ 300.00. During the first year, he broke soil and planted corn and potatoes, harvesting 15 bushels of corn and 25 bushels of potatoes. 
   It seems while a homesteader and tending the land the Federal Government, disputed Reinhaet's intentions. They accused him of illegally removing minerals from the land. On March 30, 1909, Reinhart testified in his affidavit that “I have not heretofore perfected or abandoned an entry under the homestead of the United States.” Witnesses verified that Reinhart was present on the land continuously farming and not removing gold or coal. In his sworn statement on June 10, 1910, William Wells affirmed he knew Reinhart since 1903. He swore:  “From my personal knowledge I have seen the Claimant and the land every day that he has been home. I should say on the average of once a week. I join Claimant on the east and our homes are only ten rods apart.”[ Another homesteader, Charles W. Carver testified on June 29, 1910, that, “I have seen the Claimant and the land on the average of twice a week, I live two miles from the Claimant and the land.” According to further testimony by the witnesses, Reinhart “went away in July 1909 to earn money to support his family and returned in September. During this time his wife remained on the claim. In January 1910 Reinhart left to purchase household goods and farm machinery, and returned in April 1910 with his wife being on the claim all the time.” The sworn statements were accepted and Reinhart was proved innocent of all charges.
   Life was rough on the homestead. Homes were made of sod, decorations sparse. Sod farmers improvised using: muslin and canvas to cover ceilings to catch bugs that fell onto the kitchen table and beds, oiled paper for windows to allow light in and keep the bugs out, and cheesecloth for screens. Catalogs, newspapers and occasional personal letters were used as wallpaper.  In the spring wild flowers, decorated the environment growing out of the thick sod roof and windows. Women worked hard and long hours, moving the beds outside in the daytime so that they could cook and set the table for meals. They canned and made candles. Hot coals had to be carried to the cellars to keep the foods from freezing in the winter. The women made many trips back and forth from the cellars to bring items in for meals. Settlers did not have time or materials to fence the garden so many gardens were destroyed by wild animals. Grasshoppers and potato bugs were very common and ruined many crops. Life was harsh, maybe too harsh for Lillian and Reinhart, as he sold or abandoned the homestead in 1919.
  By 1920, Reinhart and Lillian moved back to Chicago where he obtained work as a motorman for the Chicago Surface Railway Company (streetcars). Whitman’s Big Little Book: Believe It for Not (Chicago 1933) featured Reinhart as the only person to name all of the streets in Chicago from memory.
I suspect that Lillian never adjusted to frontier life since she was used to living in the city with many urban amenities including lighting and plumbing. This may have precipitated the return to Chicago.
    In 1931at the age of 56, after Lillian’s death and 24 years of marriage, the handsome Reinhart married a young single woman, 21 years old, named Anna. They lived in Chicago for the remainder of his life. Reinhart never had any children. He did indeed live an adventuresome life, AWOL in the armed services, suspected AWOL on his homestead and skirting the law on a few occasions. He was a fascinating guy! You can only help but love him. He is one person, among many ancestors, I would have liked to know.

     Reinhart Fermazin passed away on November 13,1939 at the age of 64 years old with his wife Anna at
his side.

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