Remembering John Henry Nieland (1854 - 1949)
Letter from David Nieland to Kay
Davis in February, 2004
When I talk to first cousins about Grandpa Nieland
[John Henry Nieland 1852-1949] they usually mention remembering
him sitting in his rocking chair smoking his pipe. He spoke German,
but could understand the English that was spoken around him. I
remember my Dad [Louis Nieland] and Grandpa visiting. Dad spoke
English and Grandpa answered him in German. And he loved to sing
in German, especially the hymns he learned as a boy and the hymns
from his Catholic Church in Breda.
is also remembered for his vegetable gardens. When they lived
on the farm, Henry Nieland had a huge garden that provided food
all summer and plenty to "put up" or store in the root
cellar for the winter. He knew how to grow plants from seed and
he raised and sold lots of tomato and cabbage starts to different
customers. He made baskets from willow and he also made his own
garden rakes. He would use a 2x4 and put rows of nails along the
board for the tines of the rake. He liked this because it was
heavier than the store bought kind and did a good job of smoothing
the garden for planting.
Henry Nieland tending his huge vegetable garden
Grandpa learned how to graft
trees before he came to the United States. As a student
in Germany, Grandpa was taught practical things like gardening
and horticulture. When he first came from Germany and worked on
a farm near New Vienna [Iowa], he grafted apple branches to wild
apple roots. Dad, Grandma and Grandpa Nieland were returning to
Breda from a trip to LaCrosse, Wisconsin and they went through
New Vienna and saw the orchard with these trees.
He also was an expert at pruning trees. Last year
when Paul [Nieland] and I were pruning my orange and grapefruit
trees in Mesa, Paul pruned them like I did! I asked him who taught
him to prune trees and he learned from his dad [Ben Nieland] and
I learned from my dad. Grandpa taught his sons the correct way
to prune trees.
Grandpa and Grandma [Anna Köster/Koester 1863-1933] moved
to a house in town, he had a great garden there too. He planted
a grape arbor over the sidewalk and we kids liked to walk under
and see the grapes growing. He often helped the Sisters who lived
and taught in Breda put in their garden in the spring too. He
liked to work in the garden and sing at the same time.
Henry Nieland and Anna Köster Nieland
He also liked to smoke meat and had a smokehouse
at the farm and at the house in town. I can't remember which grandchild
asked him how to smoke meat, but I do know Grandpa opened the
door of the smokehouse and all we could see was smoke. That didn't
teach us how to do smoking, but we sure remembered that!
The family would celebrate Grandpa's birthday each
year with a get together. One year Jolene (Nieland) Jensen recited
a poem for Grandpa in German. One of the Sisters (Franciscan Sisters
of Perpetual Adoration) at school taught her the poem and she
recited from memory. On another birthday, my brother Mark [Nieland]
recited a poem that our grandfather, John Braun taught him. The
poem was in German or Luxemborgish; I'm not sure which.
Grandpa said, "If you want smart children marry
a smart woman." He also said you should never let your wife
drink (beer, whisky, etc.) when she is pregnant. He believed the
baby would develop a fondness for alcohol.
Grandpa Nieland started on the land he bought in Sac County, he
first built a small barn. He slept in the barn loft with the horses
in their stalls on the ground floor. There was a spring on that
land and he kept fresh ham and butter in a crock in the spring.
The cool water kept the food from spoiling. He ate ham with bread
and butter and drank water from that spring. The Gerhard Boes
[1837-1915] family first lived in or near Arcadia. Grandpa went
there on Sunday to go to Mass and get more ham, bread and butter.
A Johnson family lived across the road from Grandpa and Mrs. Johnson
did his washing in the spring that was close to his first "home".
Henry Nieland "broke" the prairie on the
land he bought in Sac County. He also broke the Gerhard Boes farm.
To do this, he used a special breaking plow. The breaking plow
made a shallow furrow, just turning over the thick prairie grass.
This left the land to a long winter of freezing and thawing and
likely composted the grass. The next spring the field was plowed
again. This time the plow made a deeper furrow and turned the
ground over again so that the field was ready for planting of
the crops. This was called "back set."
Gerhard Boes and Henry Nieland lived close and planted
crops working together. They would lay out a planting pattern,
to space the seeds for the corn crop. Then Gerhard would drive
the horses and Henry would work the planter. The planter had a
long handle that had to be moved back and forth to let out a few
seeds for each hill of corn. They probably worked together with
both families to get the corn harvested in the fall too.
first there were no roads in the area where Grandpa lived. When
the farmers would go to town they went across the sections with
no fences to stop them. Only when the land started to be fenced
were the roads constructed.
Henry Nieland in 1942, at age 90
When someone died, the neighbors would wash and
dress the body and place it in a coffin brought from town. In
the early days, a wagon was used to take the coffin to church.
The people usually walked from church to the cemetery. The body
was waked in the home.
The story is told of Henry Nieland and Cyrus McCormick,
the inventor of the reaper. Henry and Anna (Berning) Nieland [1854-1883]
were working in the field at the farm; the story says they were
shocking oats. A party of hunters rode through the field and one
of the men was Cyrus McCormick. Henry didn't like having a hunting
party go though his field and frightening the horses and he asked
them to leave his land. McCormick is said to have predicted that
all the farmers in the area would "soon quit and the land
would go back to the Indians."
Letter from Leone Wittry Buelt to Kay Davis in February,
There were two Henry Nielands and two Herman Nielands
in about a 15 mile radius. Sometimes the mail would get mixed
up and they made an exchange. Luckily one Henry [John] Nieland
(1852-1949) had a Breda address and one had [Henry Joseph Nieland
(1871-1957)] an Arcadia address. Herman F. Nieland (1885 - 1958)
had a Breda address and Herman A. Nieland (1906 - 1988) had a
Wall Lake address.
In the afternoon, Grandpa Nieland would go to the
pool hall to play cards with his friends, Ben Steinkamp, Henry
Steinkamp and Barney Osterholt. But on Sundays the pool hall was
closed so sometimes his friends would come to his house to play
cards. The game they played was Solo and they played for pennies.
Sometimes it got pretty noisy as they enjoyed their game!"
Letter from Joan Wittry Hannasch
to Kay Davis in December, 2001
Grandpa [John Henry] Nieland was 97 when I last
saw him, shortly after my wedding in 1949. I remember him as a
very distinguished, dignified man who loved to sing German hymns.
When he worked in the garden or tended his grape arbor, he would
sing with a strong voice. I often worked with him in the garden,
so he taught me well to garden.
Often relatives came from far away, and the conversation
always led to old times. He had a good memory and a good mind.
As long as he was able after his retirement, he attended daily
Mass and we sat with him in the family pew.
People often brought him cigars and he loved his
pipe, smoking Prince Albert tobacco. He was a very contented man,
enjoying each day as it came. He said once, he knew he was an
American when he did his thinking in English, too. He kept up
his native tongue, reading German newspapers he subscribed to.
Some of the older relatives who came to visit conversed in German
Every Saturday afternoon Grandpa would get out his
shaving mug and mirror stand and trim his face and his beard.
He had a slight bald spot on the top of his head and often wore
his hat in the house. He also had a black woolen winter cap. I
can't recall him wearing anything but black. His ears were huge,
and probably that's where I got mine. He had clear blue eyes and
must have been very handsome as a young man.
He was a leader; for he often told stories of helping
other people come to America and buy farmland as he did. He had
been on the church council at one time, and was unhappy with the
poor quality brick used to build the [St. Bernard'] church [in
During my high school years, I sang in the choir
and often went to early Mass with Grandpa, so we would come home
to have breakfast together. Mostly I would cook oatmeal for us
to share. It was a special time for us to be together. Dad [Jake
Wittry] would be gone to business and Mother [Anna Nieland Wittry]
seldom got up that early. It was a quiet time.
Grandpa had a hobby of smoking meat for people.
He had a smokehouse and carefully tended the fire so the hams
and bacons were very, very good. This seemed to take days to "cure".
I don't remember Grandpa ever driving a car or owning
one. He always walked to church and to town, three blocks, to
shop or get the mail daily. I don't remember him going any place
with us, but he always had people stop to see him. I got to know
all my uncles and aunts and cousins, because we lived with him!
When our two aunts who were nuns came on "home
visits" every five years, the whole family came home to see
them. These where special times and five years went by quickly.
My father would meet their train in Carroll and bring them to
Breda where they stayed at the Convent with our teaching sisters.
We always had a big birthday party for Grandpa's
birthday. All the [relatives] came and had a good time!"
From Leone Wittry Buelt to Kay Davis
in January 2002
"Grandpa [John Henry] Nieland worked so hard
and was very saving. I remember after we moved into his house
my mom [Anna (Nieland) Wittry] wanted to buy him a new mattress.
His bed had been moved to town from the farm and was old. But
Grandpa said it was good enough. But when the mantle clock in
the dining room stopped working, he wanted that replaced with
a clock that struck the hour with a chime. That way he could know
what time it was if he was awake at night. And that's what Mom
He liked to sit in the rocking chair and read the
newspaper. When he had his 97th birthday and the reporter came
to talk to him, he really enjoyed seeing the article in the paper.
The article mentioned his tobacco Prince Albert. After
the article was printed, the company sent him a can of that tobacco."