contents ©2016 by Harold Pfohl

Early Years Part 4 – Fromm Family – “Rotebart” (Redbeard) Left Germany in a Hurry, Bad Homesite, Civil War, Dysentery, Ferocious Religious Dispute, and the Shotgun Wedding


Recap: The Fromms were shepherds from Goldenbow near Schwerin in the German province of Mecklenberg-Schwerin. A shepherd in that era was an expert on sheep, much more than simply a herder.  The family emigrated in the fall of 1851 and according to family lore, left Germany in a big hurry – we don’t know why.

The family consisted of Johann (known as “Rotebart ‘or Redbeard), age 36; Johanna, 34; and their children: Sophia, 6; John, 4; Caroline Sophia, 3; and Charles, 1.

Ocean Voyage and Death


Their ship was at sea for 66 days during which time little three year old Caroline died and was buried at sea. It was not uncommon for lives to be lost on such an arduous, cramped journey.

Johann and Johanna had four more children after settling in Wisconsin: Henry, in 1853, Fred, in 1855, William, in 1857, and Andrew, in 1859.

Fig 014 fromm 02262013 copy_2_edited-1
Fromm family reunion – late 1880s early 90s. Missing: Henry

Left to right: (seated) William, Sophia Fromm Nieman, Johanna (nee Kludt), and Johann. (rear) Andrew, John, Fred, Charles.  At this time John and Charles were in Iowa, Fred in Hamburg, Wisconsin, Sophia and Andrew in Cedarburg, and Henry in Milwaukee.  The photo must have commemorated a family reunion.  Missing from the photo: Henry who had been ostracized by the family!

Their Choice of Land –Really Bad – They Blew It!!

The family acquired land west of West Bend in the township of Barton, about 2 ½ miles north of Highway 33 on Glacier Drive.

1852 map of Wisconsin – Courtesy of David Rumsey

Modern map source: DeLorme Wisconsin Atlas & Gazetteer

Not only did they have to deal with all of the difficulties in settling in the new land when it was wholly raw, but it was a most curious piece of property.  The house was on a ridge line overlooking lowland and a creek a considerable distance below. The well and pump that supplied water for the house were in the lowland valley.

It is strange that Johann and Johanna would have originally chosen land with such a curious mismatch of water and building locations. Perhaps their circumstances at Goldenbow in Germany influenced their choice.  Goldenbow is a tiny village at the foot of a low ridge with a lovely little sheltered valley a few hundred yards in width spreading away from the village and bordered by another low ridge. The area around the first homestead in Wisconsin broadly resembles their homeland in Goldenbow. (Post: EARLY YEARS – GUTS, AMBITION AND IGNORANCE; HOMESICKNESS, DEATH AND SUCCESS   Post – location in Wisconsin: JOURNEY & DESTINATION – CEDARBURG, WIS)

Lugging Water Uphill for fourteen years

This was a huge mistake.  Whatever water they needed for cooking, laundry, bathing, shaving, drinking had to be carried uphill from that pump.  The children hated the well; getting water from it at the foot of the hill was a despised chore.  One can fairly assume it generated many expletives from children and parents albeit under their breath; they were quite religious.  One wonders if hygiene suffered a bit as a result.

In the 1860s when photos were expensive and complicated, a photograph was taken for posterity showing Johanna pumping water at the infamous well in winter. Presumably the photo was taken to commemorate the wretched thing.  It is the only candid photo that we have of any of the immigrants in that earliest era.

Fig 015 IMG0004_2 copy_edited-1
Mother Johanna pumping water at the hated well.

The farmstead was at the top of the hill in the back of the picture – a considerable distance.

Finally, finally, in 1865, after fourteen years of lugging water uphill, the Fromms sold that farm and acquired neighboring property with a much saner and more pragmatically situated farmstead.

But…a question.  Wouldn’t one use horses and a tank wagon to haul more than a bucket of water at a time?  Even so, it all had to be hand pumped.

The infamous well site and hill leading to the long ago site of the farmstead

 Many years later – posing on the hillside above the well. No trace remains of the well or the buildings on the ridge.

We have no idea of how this poor choice of locations happened.  Purchasing land sight unseen through a promoter real estate/agent was a frequent practice; perhaps this was the reason for the odd selection.  The news of the land rush in the US was known widely in Europe, and promoters were very active.  Perhaps this had something to do with the departure from Germany in a hurry?  Or were they fleeing something/someone?  Did they select the land upon arrival and only discover after the purchase that a well could not be dug at the ridge line?

1862 Minnesota Indian War/Uprising – Fear in Wisconsin

Indians were frequently present in the area often camping and fishing along the creek in the valley. On one occasion, when Sophie fetched a pail of water she watched an Indian stalk a deer.

Oral history cites fear of an Indian uprising.  This fear was probably a result of the great Sioux uprising in 1862 when 450 – 800 settlers in Minnesota were killed along with 77 soldiers. It was in fact a brief war, a reaction to many broken promises by the Government.  Much of rural Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin were in a state of acute apprehension.  One hundred fifty Indians were killed in battle.

Many Indians were captured.  Three hundred six were sentenced to be hanged but Lincoln decided that the number was too high and reduced it to thirty eight.

The widespread fear caused by the uprising is recorded in the Cedarburg area – reference the 125th Anniversary Book of the David’s Star Lutheran Church in Kirchhayn west of Cedarburg:  “The entire territory around Cedarburg and far beyond, even up to Manitowoc, was in turmoil. Many families fled in great haste to Milwaukee. Others, among them also members of our church, left house and home and sought refuge wherever possible. Most of the people, however, fled to our church, surrounded the church with guards, and stayed in its shelter and protection. Already it was rumored that Cedarburg had gone up in flames! Great was the joy, great also the consternation and shame when the people realized that the threatened Indian uprising only came from some ill-informed mind. Those days are usually referred to as “The Battle of Cedarburg.” Source: Cheryl Kison Miller Facebook Post 3/19/2016

Click on the images above to enlarge

See Footnote at the bottom of this post for more on the uprising.

Chicken Thieves

The Fromm family also had problems with Indians stealing chickens from their chicken coop.  Aggravating to say the least, but today we have a better capacity to look at it from the Indian’s perspective – “You gotta be kidding me.  You took all our land, I’m stealing a few chickens?  And you’re offended?  Get real!!”

 17 year old son John: – Run Away From Home, Sell Yourself to a Doctor, War, Dysentery and Land

Young John Fromm, at age 17, ran away from home, and sold himself to take the place of a Fond-du-Lac doctor’s son in the Civil War draft. This sort of transaction often took place in the Union at that time. The price was $2,000 (perhaps the equivalent of $200,000 today). Father Johann objected strenuously without effect.  John entered the Union Army on January 4, 1865.  As a member of Company K, 14th Wisconsin Infantry, he was involved in a great deal of combat around Mobile, Alabama.

Click on the Civil War era maps below to enlarge.

Civil War era images of Mobile – click to enlarge.

He also fought with Sherman in South Carolina.  Sherman destroyed Charleston and likely John was part of that army.

Charleston, SC, after the visit of Sherman’s army

The Squitters    John became very ill with dysentery, (nasty and commonplace in the Civil War military: “Dysentery is an inflammation of the intestine causing diarrhea with blood” – slang for it was “the squitters”) was discharged and sent home.  Father, Johann, drove his team 14 miles to Slinger to pick up John.  Upon arrival at home he was so weak that he had to be carried from the buggy or wagon to the house.

Buckboard wagon

A very common utility wagon at the time was the “buckboard.” Perhaps Johann brought his boy home it it.

His disillusionment with war was so deep and bitter that he threw papers from the government granting him land in Iowa into the fireplace. These were rescued by his father, and later used by John to acquire his Iowa farm.

John purchased 160 acres of raw land, broke the plains, increased his holdings to 240 acres and became known as an exceptionally successful and public-spirited citizen.  He never fully recovered from his dysentery and had stomach problems for the rest of his life.

Charles followed John to Iowa, pioneered and made his home there.

breaking prairie sod
Breaking the virgin plain soil in Iowa (not a Fromm photo)

Breaking the plains in Iowa – by the late 1860s excellent plows had been invented and were in broad use.

See Footnote at the bottom of this post for Obituaries, John Fromm & Charles Fromm – Cerro Gordo Co., Iowa

 Andrew – love, pregnancy, rage, and flight  

images (2)

Andrew Fromm and the widow Minna Lüders’ young 17-year-old Emma fell madly in love. Minna objected ferociously to the match.

The young couple were married after providing the necessary rationale for a shotgun wedding. Minna’s rage was Biblical and the newlyweds split and ran for refuge to Andrew’s brothers’ homes in Iowa.  Given the tough life that Minna had experienced her anger was not unfounded. (See Post: EARLY YEARS PART 3 – LÜDERS FAMILIES – SUCCESS, TRAGEDY, GRIEF, PERSEVERANCE)

Andrew had been close to his older sister Sophie, who had married Johann Nieman II, son of immigrants Joachim and Marie.  After farming in Iowa for a time Andrew and Emma returned to farm near Cedarburg, in close proximity to sister Sophia and not far from Emma’s mother, Minna, who, we assume, had calmed down by then.  The couple had a good life and raised a fine family.


Fred (Fritz) Fromm was an extraordinary character with a lively mind, a brutal sense of humor, and (so his father thought) an aversion to labor. Johann, thinking that Fritz would lose the farm if he left it to him, willed the homestead to William.

Fred farmed in Iowa for a time with his brothers John and Charles, but his wife, Alvina Nieman, who had grown up in Hamburg, did not like the idea at all.

As a result, father-in-law, Joachim Niemann, gave his daughter, Alvina, 80 acres in Hamburg. That became the home to Fritz and Alvina as well as the foundation for a considerable fortune.

Alvina and Fritz became the parents of the “Fromm Brothers” who, specializing in silver fox, built one of the largest fur farming operations in the world.  At a crucial juncture in the early development of their business, Alvina mortgaged her 80 acres (without Fritz knowing it) to help finance her sons’ enterprise.  At the height of the fox business, the brothers, grandchildren of Johann and Johanna, owned over 100,000 acres of land in Northern Wisconsin.



Home and barn of the Andrew Fromm homestead in Plymouth, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa

At one point, four of the six Fromm sons (John, Charles, Fred, and Andrew) were farming adjacent to each other in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa.  Collectively they controlled over 900 acres.

Ferocious religious dispute – Henry falls in love and becomes persona non-grata.  Kicked out of the family


Fig 016 henry fromm family_edited-1 copy_edited-1
Henry Fromm and family

Why was Henry missing from the family reunion photo?

The Fromms were pious, devout Lutherans.  Son Henry married a Catholic girl and converted to Catholicism.  To the family and their fellow church members, this was anathema, a deep family disgrace, a dishonor to his congregation, and a violation of his confirmation vows.  Henry became persona-non-grata and was excluded from the family picture.  He made his living in Milwaukee, it is thought as a teacher or professor.  He was not well to do financially.

It is hard for us now to comprehend mainstream Catholicism or Lutheranism so adherent to doctrinal legalisms as to regard the competing religious party as hell bound.  This, however, was the usual case in Henry’s lifetime and is founded in the horrendous religious wars of Europe – especially the “Thirty Years War” (Der Dreißigjährigen Krieg, 1618-1648).  This was the most horrific conflict to occur in Europe prior to WW I and WW II in the 20th Century.

See Footnote at the bottom of this post for more on the Thirty Years War

The cultural conclusion among the German Lutherans, as it was expressed in religious practice, was that Catholics were dangerous.  The doctrinal expression of this was the considered opinion that most Catholics went to hell when they died (although the occasional rare exception might make it to heaven).  Catholics had about the same opinion of Lutherans.

Henry was an outcast because he had cast his lot with the historical foe.

* * * * *

Summary – who wound up where in the end

Fromm Sophie (md Nieman)Sophia married Johann Nieman II on Sept. 16, 1866, (whose parents, Joachim and Marie had moved to Hamburg) and they lived on his Cedarburg farm.

Fromm JohnJohn fought in the Civil War and then pioneered land in Cerro Gordo County near Plymouth, Iowa

Fromm CharlesCharles, followed John to Iowa and pioneered a farm near his older brother

Fromm FredFred married Johann Nieman’s young sister, Alvina, and farmed in Hamburg Township near his in-laws, Joachim and Marie Niemann who had pioneered three (possibly four) farms there..

Fromm HenryHenry married a Catholic, moved to Milwaukee and became a teacher

Fromm WilliamWilliam stayed on the home farm on Glacier Drive in Barton Township near West Bend.

Fromm AndrewAndrew married the widow Minna Lüders ‘ daughter Emma, settling in Cedarburg, on a farm close to his sister Sophie and brother-in-law, Johann Niemann

* * * * *

Fromm Johann Fromm Johanna  Johann passed away in 1892 at the age of 77, and Johanna in 1901 at 84. In an age of alarmingly high child mortality rates, they were blest with healthy children who worked hard, prospered and have given this land a multitude of descendants.


1. Sioux Indian War/Uprising of 1862:


 When Minnesota became a state on May 11, 1858, representatives of several Dakota bands led by Little Crow traveled to Washington, D.C., to negotiate about enforcing existing treaties. The northern half of the reservation along the Minnesota River was lost, and rights to the quarry at Pipestone, Minnesota, were also taken from the Dakota. This was a major blow to the standing of Little Crow in the Dakota community.

The land was divided into townships and plots for settlement. Logging and agriculture on these plots eliminated surrounding forests and prairies, which interrupted the Dakota’s annual cycle of farming, hunting, fishing and gathering wild rice. Hunting by settlers dramatically reduced wild game, such as bison, elk, whitetail deer and bear. Not only did this decrease the meat available for the Dakota in southern and western Minnesota, but it directly reduced their ability to sell furs to traders for additional supplies.

Although payments were guaranteed, the US government was often behind or failed to pay because of Federal preoccupation with the American Civil War. Most land in the river valley was not arable, and hunting could no longer support the Dakota community. The Dakota became increasingly discontented over their losses: land, non-payment of annuities, past broken treaties, plus food shortages and famine following crop failure. Tensions increased through the summer of 1862.


On August 4, 1862, representatives of the northern Sissetowan and Wahpeton Dakota bands met at the Upper Sioux Agency in the northwestern part of the reservation and successfully negotiated to obtain food. When two other bands of the Dakota, the southern Mdewakanton and the Wahpekute, turned to the Lower Sioux Agency for supplies on August 15, 1862, they were rejected. Indian Agent (and Minnesota State Senator) Thomas Galbraith managed the area and would not distribute food to these bands without payment.

At a meeting of the Dakota, the U.S. government and local traders, the Dakota representatives asked the representative of the government traders, Andrew Jackson Myrick, to sell them food on credit. His response was said to be, “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung.” But the context of Myrick’s comment at the time, early August 1862, is historically unclear. Another telling is that Myrick’s was referring the Native American women who were already combing the floor of the fort’s stables for any unprocessed oats to then feed to their starving children along with a little grass.

In early December, 303 Sioux prisoners were convicted of murder and rape by military tribunals and sentenced to death. Some trials lasted less than 5 minutes. No one explained the proceedings to the defendants, nor were the Sioux represented by defense attorneys. Pres. Abraham Lincoln personally reviewed the trial records to distinguish between those who had engaged in warfare against the U.S., versus those who had committed crimes of rape and murder against civilians.

Henry Whipple, the Episcopal bishop of Minnesota and a reformer of U.S. policies toward Native Americans, responded by publishing an open letter. He also went to Washington DC in the Fall of 1862 to urge Lincoln to proceed with leniency.[21] On the other hand, General Pope and Minnesota Senator Morton S. Wilkinson warned Lincoln that the white population opposed leniency. Governor Ramsey warned Lincoln that, unless all 303 Sioux were executed, “[P]rivate revenge would on all this border take the place of official judgment on these Indians.” In the end, Lincoln commuted the death sentences of 264 prisoners, but he allowed the execution of 38 men.

Even partial clemency resulted in protests from Minnesota, which persisted until the Secretary of the Interior offered white Minnesotans “reasonable compensation for the depredations committed.” Furthermore, Republicans did not fare as well in Minnesota in the 1864 election as they had before. Ramsey (by then a senator) informed Lincoln that more hangings would have resulted in a larger electoral majority. The President reportedly replied, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.”


2) John and Charles Fromm Obituaries

 John Fromm, one of the most extensive farmers and stock raisers of Lime Creek township, Cerro Gordo county, Iowa, was born in Mecklenburg, Germany, January 27, 1847, a son of John and Hannah (Kludt) Fromm. John Fromm Sr. was born in 1816 and died in 1892, and his wife, who was born in 1818, died in 1901. They were parents of seven children, all of whom survive, namely: Sophia, wife of John Nieman, of Wisconsin; John; Charles, of Lime Creek township; Henry, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Fred, William and Andrew, all of Wisconsin. Mr. Fromm and his family left Germany in the fall of 1851, and after a voyage of seven weeks landed at New York. They proceeded at once to Milwaukee, and a week later located in Washington county, Wisconsin, where he purchased timber land and began clearing a place to erect a house and cultivate a farm, where he remained until his death. In his native country he had been a shepherd.

At the time his parents located in the wilds of Wisconsin John Fromm Jr. was but four years old. He was reared on a farm and received but a limited education. He ran away from home and enlisted, January 4, 1865, in Company K, Fourteenth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He served until the end of the war, then returned home and remained there until the fall of 1870, when he purchased one hundred and sixty acres of land in Cerro Gordo County, a part of his present farm. There were but forty acres of this under cultivation, and at first Mr. Fromm worked for others. He erected a small house twelve by sixteen feet, where he lived alone until his marriage. He now owns two hundred and forty acres of well improved land, on which he has made all possible improvements and has planted trees. He is one of the most successful and enterprising farmers of that region and stands high in the community. He served as school officer and road superintendent and in politics is independent. He is public spirited and actively interested in local affairs and has always contributed his share to the progress and welfare of the community.

Mr. Fromm married, December 25, 1876, Anna Kinney, born in Warren county, New Jersey, July 2, 1860, daughter of John and Aurora (Butze) Kinney, the former a native of Pike county, Pennsylvania, born August 2, 1829, and the mother, also born in Pike county, October 22, 1829. They now live in Mason City, Iowa. They were parents of six children, of whom the following five survive: Charles, of Mason City; Sarah, widow of Harding Hart, of Plymouth, Iowa; John, of Spirit Lake, Iowa; Mrs. Fromm; and Elizabeth, wife of John Stanton, of Mason City. Mr. and Mrs. Kinney moved to Cerro Gordo county in September, 1866, and located near Rock Falls, where they purchased a farm. Later they moved to Worth county, Iowa, and for the last few years have lived with their children.

Eight children blessed the union of Mr. and Mrs. Fromm, of whom seven survive, namely: Aurora, wife of Delbert Pryor, of Minnesota; Kate, at home; Clara, wife of John Harry, of Plymouth, Iowa; May, wife of Robert McClintock, of Mason City; Bertha, Charles and John, at home; Elizabeth, deceased.

NOTE: John Fromm died on June 29, 1914. Anna (Kinney) Fromm died on August 15, 1930. Elizabeth H. Fromm was born on November 14, 1878, and died March 19, 1881. Charles H. Fromm was born on December 28, 1895, and died December 5, 1948; his wife, Gertrude, was born December 29, 1896, and died October 28, 1986; their son, Charles W., was born on June 9, 1920, and died on January 20, 1940. Interments were made at Oakwood Cemetery, Plymouth IA.

Source:  Transcription and note by Sharon R. Becker, February of 2014


WHEELER, J.H. Vol. II. Pp. 461-62. Lewis Pub. Co. Chicago. 1910



Charles Fromm, who is engaged in general farming and stock raising on his finely improved farm of one hundred and twenty acres in section 11, Lime Creek township, Cerro Gordo county, and whose post office address is Plymouth, Iowa, R. F. D. No. 5, took up his residence here in the spring of 1875. At first he rented the land, then he bought it, and here for a period of thirty-five years he has lived and successfully labored. His plow was the first to turn the soil of his now well cultivated fields, and he made all the improvements on his farm.

Mr. Fromm was born in Mecklenburg, now a part of Prussia, March 26, 1850, but his earliest recollections are of a home in Wisconsin, his parents, John and Johanna (Kludt) Fromm, having left the old country in the fall of 1851 and emigrated to America. They settled on a farm in Washington county, Wisconsin, where they passed the rest of their lives and died. They were members of the German Lutheran church, and were highly respected citizens of the community in which they lived. Their two sons, John and Charles, came from the Wisconsin home to Iowa and are residents of the same township.

After coming to this state Charles Fromm married Miss Catherine Werle, who was born in Washington county, Wisconsin, November 18, 1860. Her parents, Jacob and Margaret (Schmidt) Werle, both of German birth, came as young people to America, for some years lived in Wisconsin, and subsequently came from that state to Iowa. Both died at Manley, Worth county, this state. To Mr. and Mrs. Fromm have been given a daughter and two sons, namely: Anna, wife of G. W. Edgar, of Rock Falls, Iowa, and John and Edward, at home, attending school.

Politically Mr. Fromm is independent. His religious creed is that of the German Lutheran church, in which he was reared and of which he is a worthy member.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, February of 2014

WHEELER, J.H. Vol. II. p. 732. Lewis Pub. Co. Chicago. 1910



3)  Thirty Years War 1618-1648

Germany did not recover for 100 years from the ravages of the war and pestilence.  Prussia, a neighbor province to the Fromm homeland, welcomed French Huguenot refugees in such large numbers to its emptied, ruined lands that the population of Berlin in the late 1600s was one-third French Protestant.  These were Calvinists, people of a harsh demanding puritanical creed, and also people who comprised a large portion of the commercial class and lower nobility in France.  They were severely persecuted and even massacred by French Catholics.  They fled France when possible.  Their stern Calvinist creed and their hatred of Catholicism stood them in good stead in Prussia.  They were a natural fit, and their skills were a considerable asset to the desolate land.

More than a century later, Napoleon crushed Germany.  Although the war was not religious, the French were Catholic.  Those who fought in these wars were of the Grandparents generation to the Fromm family.




  1. Here are links to Cerro Gordo County Fromm biographies:

    http://www.iagenweb.org/cerrogordo/biographies/1910bio_frommjohn.htm http://www.iagenweb.org/cerrogordo/biographies/1910bio_frommchas.htm

    On Sun, May 8, 2016 at 11:54 AM, GERMAN-AMERICA, A Midwest Immigrant Chronicle, 1850s – 1930s wrote:

    > Harold Pfohl posted: “contents ©2016 by Harold Pfohl Early Years Part 4 – > Fromm Family – “Rotebart” (Redbeard) Left Germany in a Hurry, Bad Homesite, > Civil War, Dysentery, Ferocious Religious Dispute, and the Shotgun Wedding > FROMM Recap: The Fromms were shepherds from Golden” >


  2. Bright like silver is a book about the five Hamburg Fromm brothers that started growing ginsing to finance their silver fox business. I am accidentally tied to them as I went to work at Fromm laboratories in the 1970 s. The labs were a spin off of the fox and mink business and arose as an effort to fight fox encephalitis. One of the vaccines that was developed there were used around the until 2006. I am also a proud friend of the late Ronald Fromm only son of Andrew and Laura Fromm whose farm/orchard was on pioneer road. This is a great read. Thanks


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