Nieland Family History     
     Maria Anna Nieland and Gerhard Boes
     — from The Reising-O'Tool Family: A History and Genealogy by Dan O'Tool

Maria Anna Nieland was born in Südlohn, Prussia on January 16, 1843. Her parents had five children. As was customary for some families, each of the boys had the same first name, John. The daughters also shared their first name, Maria. Each child was known by his or her second name. The family moved to Ramsdorf, Prussia while she was a child. Gerhard Boes was born in Ramsdorf, Prussia on September 20, 1837. The two natives of the annexed province of Westphalia came of age during a tumultuous age of German history.

Photo: Maria Anna (Nieland) Boes and Gerhard Boes

The many independent principalities and city-states of the region were being drawn together by a common culture, language and national aspirations. At nearly the same time they were being pulled into two opposing orbits by the two most powerful German monarchies. The most apparent difference between the two powers was religion. However, the real point of conflict seemed to be the ambitions of two royal families.

Prussia consisted of the original land holdings of the Hohenzollern family along the Baltic Sea and those states which they absorbed during and after the war of liberation from France. Frederick the elector, a prominent member of the ruling family, built the foundations of the Prussian military traditions in the 17th Century. He created a standing army to defend the expansive land holdings of the Hohenzollern family.

In 1814, Prussia enacted the Universal Service Law, which required every Prussian male to serve two years of active military duty. The law also created a militia of veteran soldiers, which could be mobilized in times of conflict. In effect, every Prussian male over the age of eighteen was a soldier for life. The German historian, Baron van Hoerst, once described the militaristic society of Prussia. "The Prussian monarchy was not a country that had an army, but rather an army that had a country which it used as a billeting area." It was this military might and tradition that enabled Prussia to wield much of its influence over the other states of northern Germany.

Austria to the south was ruled by the Hapsburg Dynasty. It led a confederation of German states, which included Baden, Wurtenburg and Bavaria. This monarchy had once controlled most of the German principalities when they were united as the Holy Roman Empire. The Protestant Reformation, and the political changes of the revolutionary era splintered the Hapsburg influence over all but the southern states. The Austrians also governed an empire consisting of the southern Slavic people and the independent kingdom of Hungary. They aspired to govern a united German nation.

The two centers of German power initially worked in concert to occupy a contested area of land at the base of the Danish peninsula. The duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, then part of Denmark, had a large German population in whose interest the two German powers claimed to be acting. Denmark declared war on the two German states and was defeated in 1864. The Prussian ruler, Kaiser William I, greatly influenced by his Prime Minister, Count Otto von Bismark, began a series of diplomatic and military ventures to unite the German states under a constitutional monarchy headed by himself. This drew Prussia into direct conflict with Austria, which had similar ambitions.

In 1866, Prussia sent troops to occupy Hanover and Saxony, two of the states aligned with Austria. A war ensured in which Prussia was able to defeat the allied troops from Southern Germany within two weeks. Austria relinquished any claims of influence in German politics. The remaining states were either annexed directly or had governments subordinate to the Prussian hierarchy within a federation.

Gerhard Boes, as a Prussian soldier from the district of Westphalia, served in both the Danish and Austrian Wars, receiving a wound during one or the other. The second conflict must have been distasteful to him, as he was a Catholic who could be expected to feel sympathy toward the Germans he was sent to fight. Within one year of Austria's defeat, he and Anna Nieland would both flee Prussia for the United States.

Family lore tells of Anna earning passage for herself and her fiancée by working as a nanny for a family named Jasper. One story contends that while Anna was a passenger, Gerhard stowed away. Records reveal that a family from Ramsdorf, named Jasper, did arrive in American in 1866. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Jasper with their five children settled in Dyersville, Iowa. Their home was known as a haven for many newly arrived immigrants from Germany, who where sheltered until they were able to arrange for permanent homesteads of their own. Anna and Gerhard arrived in 1867. They probably arrived in New York then traveled by train to Dyersville.

Anna may have lived and worked with the Jaspers for the first two years that she and Gerhard lived in Dyersville. Rosina Reising-O'Tool, a granddaughter of the couple, was told as a child that Anna worked as a live-in nanny one year to pay for her passage and another to pay for the passage of Gerhard. On February 1, 1870, presumably free of debt, the couple married in Dyersville.

Anna was very exited about America. They may be surmised by the letter she wrote to her family in Prussia. According to her, "when meat was placed on the table… a person could eat all he wanted." This was a vast improvement over conditions in Europe at the time. One immigrant of the era said that meat was eaten only twice a year by the average wage earner of Germany. Anna's letter convinced a sister and one brother to join her in America.

Anna and Gerhard moved to Wheatland township in Carroll County, where their two eldest children, Henry and Elizabeth (AKA Lizzie) were born. They bought a farm in Sac County, six and a half miles northeast of Breda in 1874 where the rest of their children were born: John, Theodore, Mary Dorothy, Clara, Mary Ida, Joseph and Catherine. The eldest son would die in 1888 from an injury received when he was kicked by a horse.

The family lived among a colony of German speaking settlers. They maintained many of the customs and values that they had brought with them from their homeland. Many of the old settlers continued to brew their own beer and Gerhard made wooden shoes for his children from cottonwood trees. Though Gerhard became an U.S. Citizen on the 3rd of April 1877, neither he nor Anna learned to speak English.

In 1900, the family moved to a farm just west of Breda. They resided there for the next fifteen years. Gerhard and Anna moved into Breda in 1913, where Gerhard died, two years later on February 18, 1915. Anna died in Wheatland Township on March 28, 1919. The couple was buried in Breda.

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