John Metzger an early member of St. Paul

John Metzger, a 42-year-old brick manufacturer, landed in Vandalia on July 10, 1863, following a long voyage from his home in Canton Schofthausen, Switzerland, through the port of Havre, France, to New York aboard the “Goshen” and on to Chicago, arriving July 4, 1863.   
With him on the perilous journey was his wife, Mary Magdalene (Stihl), and their seven children: John Ulrich, Jacob, Anna, Margarette, Mary Magdalene, John H. and Louise Metzger. One more son, Gottfried, would be born in Fayette County.
The eldest son, John Ulrich Metzger, recorded his memories at the request of the local newspaper editor who was working on an anniversary edition of The Vandalia Union, published April 16, 1914.
His father, John, had bought 120 acres from the Illinois Central Railroad and settled in Wilberton Township a year before the Dodge County migration of the Sasse, Maske, Malchow, Lenz, Busse and Stine families arrived in the fall of 1864.  
Their Metzger family destination was a farm called the “old Day Place” along Hickory Creek.
“When we arrived there,” John U. wrote, “the cows and hogs had possession of the house. The fences were all down.
“Brother Jacob and myself went to hunt for drinking water but could find no well or spring, so we went about a mile over to the next house and found old Mr. Carmack.
“As we could not talk any English we did the best we could and he went with us and showed us a spring right below the house to which we had moved.
“There were no Germans near us and we had to talk by signs with our neighbors. Between Shobonier and Farina, there were only three houses on the prairie, the two Thompsons and Captain Chase.
“During the first year we were in this country, Jacob and myself had to split fence rails to fence in a patch of prairie that a Mr. Holland broke for us with three yoke of cattle.”
“St. Paul was not in existence then. Frogtown was our nearest town and Fosterburg was doing a good business. In the fall of 1863, father sent me to Ward Thompson to ask him for his wheat drill as we had some prairie ground broken for wheat. Mr. Thompson asked me where we were going to sow wheat. I told him, on the prairie.
“He said that I might have the drill, but that I would throw my work and my seed away as the prairie would not grow wheat. We sowed about 30 acres that fall and threshed about 800 bushels of wheat the next fall. We sold it in Vandalia for $2.40 a bushel to Kasper Karn who bought wheat for the Ramsey mill.
“About that time almost all of the houses in the country were log houses. The neighbors would come for 10 to 15 miles and help raise a house and then have a dance in it that night.
“The first house father built was a two-story log house. Mr. Frank Lee was foreman. We raised the house, barn and smoke house on the same day. There were very near 100 men present and not one of them refused to take a drink of beer.
“About that time, Mr. Wilson Campbell had a good many mules on the open prairie.
"Very often, they would break into somebody’s field. Andy Serber and brother Jacob and several others drove them down into Marion County.
"On the next morning all the mules were back again.”
Up until the mid-1860s, many of the settlers built their homes at the edge of the forest and avoided the prairie. Many held the same belief as B. Ward Thompson, “If it won’t grow trees, well then it won’t grow wheat”… or corn.
John Metzger, who was at the vanguard of German-speaking settlers in Wilberton Township, showed them they were wrong.
This Sunday, St. Paul Lutheran will hold its third, and final, special celebration in honor of 150 years since the founding of the congregation in 1864.
When he first came to the township, John Metzger was a member of St. Paul, and he and his wife are noted as among the heaviest contributors toward the 1879 church building fund.
A catered dinner begins in the church parish hall at noon, with the guest speaker as Dr. Roger Boye, professor-emeritus from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His family started and operated the St. Paul Mercantile in St. Paul from 1872 to the 1930’s.
A former pastor, the Rev. Douglas Meyer, will be the liturgist for the 2 p.m. special service. The event is open to the public.

Leave a Comment