Annie's Story

Donated by Diane Cowell

Mrs. Derk Meyer, Annie Harms was the daughter of Henry Hofker Harms. She was born in 1855. She wrote her life story at the time of her wedding anniversary in 1922.

"I was born in Peoria on Knoxville Avenue in a log house on January 31, 1855. My father and mother were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Harms. My mother's name was Janna Saathoff. My older brother, Harm Harms was one year of age when my parents arrived in Peoria from Germany by sail boat by way of Cuba, New Orleans, St. Louis to Peoria. They said they were on the ocean twelve weeks. This is what my father told me and said they only had one dollar left when they arrived here, so you see what they had to go through. All kinds of hardships, no friends, no money, no home, but the good Lord was with them and they often spoke of the good friends they soon found and work too.

So they got along fairly well and saved a little money as they were of the saving kind and wanted to get ahead in the new country and did. Another think was that they never forgot their Lutheran Church. I heard my father and mother speak of what they had to contend with. It is all different now. They helped to build and organize several congregations. At Peoria, Secor, Benson and Rochelle, Illinois, of which I am proud of today.

When we left Peoria to go on a farm of 80 acres at Kruger, Illinois which my father rented. I well remember when we got there for there was a barrel of red popcorn in that house and that took my eye. I will not forget it. It was in 1859 that we lived about 50 feet from the railroad. It was not an easy task for my mother to do her work and look after us. We would go out on the track and every time a train would be coming she would have to look after us to see that we were not on the tracks as She took my brother Bill of several times just before the train would come as he wanted to fight the train. We used to sit under the culvert and let the train go over us. We had no fence or yard to keep us in. At that time there were no fences and we always had to herd the cows, that was the children's job, and sometimes we would let the cows run and we would play and forget all about the cows, and sometimes we could not find them, then we would get a good laming from our mother.

Kruger is a small town. It had one general store and a post office combined. The man who owned it was Joe Schriber. The town also had a Blacksmith shop and one grain elevator and three or four houses and that is about all it has today. The same year (1861) we saw a large comet. It had a long tail and people said that it meant war but it did not mean it as we already had it.

It was the Civil War and when they could not get any more volunteers they drafted men from 18 to 45 years of age. So it happened that my father was drafted and had to go to Springfield, Illinois to be examined but they found he was not fit for war as he was not a well man. The old P & W railroad passed our house with trainload after trainload of soldier boys. They would shout and many a mother was crying for her husband and sons.

At that time the ladies all wore hoop skirts and of course I wanted one very badly too, but my father would not let me have any as they cost money. One day the neighbor girls, whose mother was dead, took pity on me and made a hoop skirt of willows, then sewed them in my under skirt and I was so proud and started for home. Mother did not say very much but when father came home there was something doing. He took my skirt off, pulled the willows out and I got a good beating besides, he said it was a sin to be fashionable and don't you even dare to wear anything like that. I had a good cry and that settled that, and com to think of it now it certainly was an awful style anyway. There is such a difference now and we used to have panties, the top was of white muslin and the bottom of some dark printed calico. They would come way down on our shoes. I wich I could get a picture of something like that now. When I wore them I was about five years old and on Sundays Father and Mother would put us in the wagon box in some hay or straw and go some place to visit. That was customary at that time, or someone would come and visit us.

I recall on one Sunday we had company and an awful storm came up. It was on Ascension Day when a family of seven people were drowned in the Illinois River at Peoria. It was the Beaseman family and their monument is still on the old cemetery now called Lincoln Park, where my grandfather and grandmother Harms are buried and also my husband's brother is there.

I want to say a little more about that storm. It took our barn, haystack, and well house all away. We were all in the hall and my brother Bill was next to the door. The wind took the door out and he went out with it and a man by the name of Mr. Bloom was with us and he crawled on his hand and knees and got my brother Bill out of the ditch where he had landed along the railroad tracks. He was bleeding terribly out of his nose and I will never forget it.

I guess we lived there about four years, then we moved to Secor, two and half miles west, but before we moved I had my foot frozen. It came this way. Our folks were gone and my brother Bill and I were to stay home, so he had to get the cows as it was getting dark. It was winter and very cold. We were so poor that our folks could not buy us any shoes and mother made me some over socks of old pants and I had to wear them. So when he went after the cows and I was afraid to stay home alone, I went after him. When he saw me, he picked me up and carried me home on his back and of course I froze my foot.

When the folks came home we got a scolding and the next day we had to get a doctor from Washington, Illinois and I had to stay in bed almost three months. I had to have the foot lanced in two places and when we moved to Secor they put a feather bed in the wagon and three of us children in there so I would not take cold in my foot. Some transportation that was.

Then it happened my father was drafted, but thank the good Lord he did not have to go. Pastor Heydt would come on horse back from Peoria and hold services once a month and he started the congregation in Secor until they called a minister by the name of Herman Sieving. He was then a young man and my sister, Mandy was the first baby he christened. Rev. Heydt also started a congregation at Benson, Illinois.

It was a Secor when my father bought his first piece of land at $15.00 an acres, from Dr. Wilson of Washington, Illinois. Of course when he bought it there was no Benson, as it was uncultivated prairie and had no house on it yet, so my father had to build one. Our house had two rooms down and tow rooms upstairs but was not plastered.

Before we left Kruger to move to Secor there was something else that happened. My father had to shell his corn so he had some men come with the corn sheller. At dinner times the men took the belt off the sheller and came in to dinner. Then my brother Bill, sister Mary and I tried to run it. I got on the platform and they made the machine go around. I got dizzy and fell off and my foot got in the cogwheels and mashed before we could stop it. They pulled me off and sat me on the ground because I could not walk. Then the men dame from dinner and Mother called us. Bill and Mary went in but I could not walk. Then my Mother found out what had happened. So she carried me in the house, made a bread and milk poultice, that was always her cure for sores and swelling. I helped some but it was a while before I was able to walk again. I still have scars on my foot so I am well marked.

For three years I always had to carry the corn cobs for the whole neighborhood whenever they shelled corn. When I was carrying cobs at a neighbors, the man asked me to take the snow off of the rod. As I did, the pins in the fly wheel caught my dress and pulled me down. I could not get up because my clothers were wrapped around the rod and almost broke my legs and my clothes had to be cut off of me to get me out. That, I think is the closest call I have ever had from being killed. I don't think it was right for any parents to make girls do things like that. Now, its all different, so I think the good Lord has been with me many a time and save me from a horrible death.

After we moved to Secor and the War was over in 1865, I went to my grandmother Harms to go to German School In Peoria. I stayed four months and the winters were terrible at that time. I recall one snow storm that happened on Saturday and I went to the Ting Mission school and they had a little Christmas party for the sewing and Sunday School Classes. The teacher who ran the place was Mrs. Reynolds. They taught me how to sew and first little songs. My Grandmother did not want me to go as there was an awful blizzard outside, but I was determined to go and Grandma pushed the bed before one door and she was going to watch the other one and she even hid my Sunday dress but I found my dress and shoved the bed voer and got out because I thought I must have my Christmas presents. On the way, I stopped at Mrs. Weirs bakery on Adams Street and warmed myself there and then Mrs. Weirs gave me a school bag to bring John's present from the place, which was made from calico. I took the school bag and on the way I lost John's school bag, and when I got to the Ting Mission my hands were so cold (I had no gloves) that two men had to rub my fingers with snow as they were afraid they were frozen, but they came out all right.

The program went on and when it was over they gave me my Christmas stocking with cany and a little book in it. Then I started home to my Grandmas and stopped at at Weirs again. When I told what happened she almost took my head off for losing John's calico school bag and I told her I could not help it and then began to cry and went home to grandmas. When I got there she was glad I was back and ate some of my candy but she could not read my book as it was written in English. I never forgot Mrs. Weirs and I never liked her anymore.

My parents next moved from Secor to our farm at Benson where we had build a new home, as I said before, of two rooms up and two rooms down but was not plastered. That year we lived in it that way but next summer we had it plastered. I was thirteen years old. I had to go out and work for other people, mostly always working for farmers. I worked for my husband's sister as she was not very strong and had small children. It was here I met my husband, Mr. Kirk Meyer. I also worked for a family near Minonk by the name of Jacob Lohnes. He was a squire of that township. I was there two summers and it would happen he would marry couples who could not understand English. Then I had to be the interpreter. I was home one winter. My father asked me how I liked it. I said I liked it all right but could not stand to do the washings which were very large and I cried. It was at the time I worked for Mr. Lohnes when we had a total eclipse of the sun. It was dark as night and the chickens went to roost. When the sun came out again they all crowed and thought it was morning.

The following summer Mr. Lohnes came after me again. I worked for him that summer and then in the winter I worked fro John Woltzen near Benson and stayed there until spring. Then I went to Washington and worked for Dr. Wilson. I was then fifteen years old. I stayed there for one year. Then after that I worked for Mrs. Davis father at the same time. We were just one mile apart. Then I got a felon on my finger and I had to go to Eureka to have my finger lanced and he told me I could not work for a week so sister Mary and I decided we would go home fro a week, and as there was no Benson yet, but the grading was all done for the new Santa Fe railroad.

We met and walked to Eureka and stopped at the doctors and he tied up my finger with bacon. Then we had our little bundles and started out on the new grade, the sun came out and thawed out the frost, and it got muddy and slippery and there were a few streams between the places where the culverts were to be so we got our feet wet. Then got on the grade again and started. Our feet became so coated with mud that we took our shoes off and went bare footed on the slippery mud and frost. It was sixteen miles from Eureka to our folks. We left at nine o''lock in the morning and arrived about five in the evening. When we arrived we got a scolding from Mother for coming barefooted so she got a bucket of warm water and washed our feet and gave us something to eat. We did not get a cold from exposure.

We stayed home a week and then walked back again and we went back to go to our places. When I got back to my place they had piled up the whole weeks work, so I just took my bundle and I went to my brothers and stayed there about a week, when a man by the name of Mr. Ray ask me to work for them. I stayed there all summer and liked it very well. I was then 17 years old. I was there at the time of the Chicago fire. All of the farmers went together and sent a carload of foodstuff on the 9th of October.

Then I left Rays and came home in October, as the folks had written me that I should come home as they had a new minister in Secor. My brother, Bill, and I went to confirming school together. We went four days a week. So we started to Secor to attend the class. It was eight miles there and eight miles back in the winter. We would go by horseback or drive but when the weather was bad we had to walk. There were six in our class. When we were through, the minister said we were all old enough to get married. He could, or he would marry us and I was the first one of the class to get married.

This was in 1872. I was married to Mr. Dirk Meyer on June 16, 1872 at his mothers house as all his people had small childaren at the time and could not go to my Fathers house as it was two miles away, so we decided to get married at Dirks mothers house. We had a very large room and high ceiling. It was round and had no end. It was the blue sky and under the cherry trees. We had the wedding supper in the house. Rev. Buszine married us. The choir from Secor came out and serenaded us. In the evening we had a chivaree. We gave them beer and cake.

On Monday Dirk took a wedding trip along to Peoria and I stayed home as a good wife should and kept the home fires burning. Dirk took his brother and family home to Peoria as they had come for the wedding. After five months we sold our crops in the field and our live stock and my father moved us to Peoria. That was the first move in 1872. Our start was that Dirk had saved $1,800.00 and I had bed clothes and sold my hourse to buy a sewing machine. Father gave us six wooden charis and I still have two of them in daily use.

Our first house we rented from Mr. Zeitz on Jefferson street. That is where Gesina and Janna were born. Drik put his money all in the business with his brother frank which was the F. Meyer and Bros. Hardware Store. Then we bought our first furniture which cost $35.00. The bed cost $8.00, wardrobe $10.00, second hand stove about $3.00, three kitchen chairs and a clock $8.00 and little incidentals. No carpets. My first carpet was a rag carpet which I made myself. My father gave us meat, potatoes and flour.

Four years later we bought a lot on George Street and built our first house and lived there six years. We then sold it and rented a house on Spencer Street and lived there two years. We then built a house on Lincoln Avenue. Albert and Henry were born in the house on George Street and Frank and Willie wer born on Lincoln Ave.

In 1887 I took my wedding trip to Germany. I went with Mrs. Feuger and Mrs. Beuhler. Two years later Dirk and Mr. Krause took a trip to Germany by themselves and left us home.

It was not all sunshine as we lost our little boy Willie, tow and half years old. A bud the Gardner gave us. But just as it was opening A pure and lovely child. To the Glory of the day, He gave it to our keeping. Down came the Heavenly Gardner to cherish undefiled. And it took our bud away. He was the sunshine of our home, but thank the Lord he is not lost but safe in heaven. So we have one waiting there for us and its my only wish and prayer that we will meet all of our children there.

This was in February 1892 and in 1881 my dear Mother died, 57 years old. In 1887 Dirks mother died. She was 80 years old. In 1903 my father died, 80 years old. In 1911 we went to the Holy Land. It was our best trip and one of the most interesting we have ever had. In 1915 we took a trip to California to the Worlds Fair and visited Yellowstone Park, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. While at Seattle we took a trip on the Columbia River and a trip through Canada. We spent fourteen winters in Florida. Spent most of the time in West Palm Beach. While in Florida we went to Cuba twice.

In 1903 we built a new house on McBean Street and celebrated our Silver Wedding anniversary there and both our girls were married there within six months apart. We lived there six years and sold it and moved to the Woolner building on Adams Street. Lived there two years and then moved to Goodwine Street. Lived there two years and then built a double house on Second street. There we lived six years.

But my life was not all joy for we had our ups and downs to bear like many other people. At that time I suffered a stroke and was very poorly. We had bought a lot on the West Bluff (Barker Avenue) and built a new home and lived there six years when I moved to Pekin, staying with Sena, our daughter, nearly two years. We bought a lot and built a bungalow and moved in 1920. We still live in this house and hope to end our days here as we like it. Am getting on in years and cannot do much anymore, as Dirk is 83 and I will be 77 years of age.

Besides our own children we raised four grandchildren (Herny's two Bobby and Walter and Frank's two Betty an Bus). We do hope that it was not all in vain the way we have taught them and I have told them how to live to be Christian men and women, and not to forget their Lutheran Church, and may the good Lord be with you and bless you all. I belonged to two Ladies Aids, one in Pekin and one in Peoria, they are both called the Martha Society. I have done a great deal of quilting. I made thirty Rose Quilts and have basted over twenty five of them for other people. But now my work of this kind is done and I feel all other work is getting harder on my and I think I will have to give up all work but it is hard to do after doing things so many years and I know that this world will go on just the same without me. May the good Lord be with you and Bless you all. This is the wish of your MOTHER, GRANDMOTHER, AND GREAT GRANDMOTHER MEYER, nee HARMS."

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