Reher Family - Germany to America

Our ancestor (my Great-grandfather), Johann Frederick Reher, was born February 1st, 1840 in Bebensee, Segeberg province, Holstein, Germany. He was one of three known children born to Sophia Elizabeth Maria Ehlers and Hinrich Casper Reher. The other children known were Marcus Hinrich "Max" Reher, born January 16, 1834 and Hans Christian "Chris" Reher, born August 18, 1843. These three brothers immigrated to Hall County, Nebraska. Chris came with Johann in 1873 and Max came about 1884. Were their other children? I don't know.

In 1863, at age 23, Johann was united in wedlock with Miss Sophia Vogt in Negennboetel, Segeberg province. Sophia was born June 12, 1842. That same year, 1863, Johann was called to serve in the 16th infantry regiment at Copenhagen. Leaving his new wife, he served until April, 1864. Then in 1867 he participated in maneuvers of the 25th regiment in Flensburg, Schleswig, Germany. 1870 saw the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War ending with the Germans being victorious over Napoleon III. Johann was again called to service in 1870 serving in the 85th regiment. This time he left his wife and a young daughter, Emma, born in 1868. He was given a leave after some weeks but later served in the 75th regiment at Bremen and another time at Sonderburg, Schleswig.

Economic conditions were poor for nations as well as individual families. The continent was over-populated and there was extreme competition for its resources. The future was bleak and there seemed no relief in sight. Custom dictated that the oldest son inherited all his father's property, so younger children often immigrated when they heard the promises of free land. Having land to farm of their very own, was a dream that brought many German immigrants to America. Another reason many young German men immigrated to America was to escape serving in Otto Von Bismark's armies. Europe was beset by extreme political unrest in the 19th century. National boundaries were frequently being changed... Individual religious practices depended on national religions. War was a way of life and conscription in the army was forced on young men.

According to Wikipedia... about the Franco-Prussian War: The Kingdom of Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, W├╝rttemberg and Bavaria. The complete Prussian and German victory brought about the final unification of Germany under King Wilhelm I of Prussia. Albrecht von Roon, the Prussian Minister of War from 1859 to 1873, established a draft where every male Prussian capable of fighting would be conscripted at the time of mobilization. (about 2,000,000 men from France, Prussia and Germany served in this war which lasted less than a year... with almost 300,000 killed and 300,000 wounded)

Letters to the old country from early settlers gave glowing accounts of life and opportunity in the new land and urged family and friends to join them. The first group of settlers in Hall County arrived in 1857 with 32 Germans, most from the Schleswig-Holstein area of Germany, who had fled to America to escape Prussian militarism and had settled in Davenport, Iowa several years earlier. They sent word to relatives about the opportunities available here. An advertising campaign was launched on a grand scale, not only by the immigration offices of the State of Nebraska and local communities, but by the railroads who had land to entice the farmer and stockman from abroad. The Homestead Act of 1862 was a major attraction for the European. It was the opportunity to own land and to be a citizen in a new country dedicated to personal freedoms. The Railroad Act made it possible for him to reach that new land easier.

Emigrants were advised to sell everything, because what they would need most was money. Without weeping, they must leave behind their home, the family treasures, the domestic animals, the machinery, and Grandma. Men were urged to take heavy clothes for work that didn't show dirt, a suit, and plenty of warm clothing. Women were told to go with a minimum of clothing because the styles were so different in the new country that they would want to buy clothes when they arrived. Can we even imagine leaving all that is familiar, all of our possessions and all of our family, our mothers, and fathers, most likely never to see them again? No internet, Skype, or telephones to even talk to them again.

Two children were born to Johann & Sophia Reher in Germany. Emma in 1868 and my grandfather, Ernest, in 1872. Called to service four or five times in less than 10 years and not knowing what the future would be, in 1873, Johann, at 33 years old, decided to bring his family to America. They sailed from Hamburg, Germany on April 2, 1873 on the ship named Frisia; the captain was Captain Meier. Johann & Sophia had listed their hometown as Hagersdorf, Holstein, Germany. My Grandfather, Ernest was listed as 9 months old. Also coming to America with Johann & Sophia was Johann's brother Hans Christian Reher, age 30, and his wife Christine, age 22.

The trip from Hamburg to New York City took two weeks; they arrived April 16th. The typical cost of a trip would be abut $30. Once the Rehers arrived in America, there was still the trip from New York to Nebraska. By 1866, the railroad had been completed through Grand Island and they probably were able to take the train. The railroads made up immigrant trains to take people west. The cars were called zulu cars. Bunks without mattresses lined the sides with cooking facilities at the end. It took about five days to get from New York to Omaha, Nebraska. In Omaha, the new Nebraskans were put up in an immigrant house without charge for several days while they located their land, bought their supplies, and made plans for the biggest adventure of their life. According tho the "History of Hall County" book, "the Rehers arrived in Grand Island on April 17th, just two days after the memorable snowstorm of that year." Obviously one of the dates couldn't be right as that would mean a one day trip from New York to Grand Island.

The Reher families came directly to Grand Island and settled down, arriving in America during what was called the "Panic of 1873", a nation-wide depression triggered by reckless speculation in railroad expansion. This was followed in the Cornhusker State, by drought and by grasshopper plagues in 1875 and 1876. The grasshoppers and droughts ruined the crops the first few years and convinced half of the people to pull out of Hall County. The "Grand Island Times" newspaper tells that there was a coal shortage in 1877, with exorbitant prices $2 - $3 more in Grand Island than large metropolitan cities in the east. Later there were the terrible blizzards we've all heard so many stories about. Johann & Sophia must surely have wondered if they'd made the right decision in coming to America.

Note: I wrote most of the above 20 years ago. Some of it is obviously taken word for word from other sources which I didn't bother to note in my earlier writings. I apologize. Part of the narrative, the personal stories, was written by earlier relatives... an aunt and distant cousin who I assume got their information from their parents or grandparents. Hopefully it is accurate. Wikipedia seems to agree with all of the wars going on in Germany and conditions at the time.

More about our family soon... Jodi Reher Govig


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