Monday, October 31, 2011

The Flood Creek Hermit

Several years ago, my mother and I were walking through St. Mary's Cemetery in Roseville, Iowa.  I needed some tombstone pictures. She was keeping me company and telling stories about family members. Many of my family are buried there. We were just casually strolling here and there in this small country cemetery. It was a lovely day.  As we walked along, I noticed a small tombstone by the side of the driveway.  It read:  Pete Nohs, died Feb. 17, 1903.  It was such a small tombstone, it almost made you think it belonged to a child.

My genealogy antenna went a bit haywire when I noticed the name Nohs.  I was researching the Noss line. Coincidence?  When I questioned Mom, she drew a blank and tended to calm me down with the thought that it probably wasn't a relative. Something about the poor little tombstone touched me and I took a photo of it ... just in case.  Ya just never know ...

The next day, I spent the afternoon at the local library looking through old newspapers.  I decided to see what I could find on Peter Nohs who died in 1903.  I found his obit:

"Old Peter Nosh, the Flood Creek hermit, who has been sick for sometime past, died Tuesday morning, from a complication of troubles.  Contrary to the generally accepted opinion, he was not an old bachelor, but had a wife and daughter both of whom died in the old country before he came over 34 years ago.  The funeral service will be held tomorrow."
   Rockford Register, Rockford, Iowa - Thursday, 19 February 1903

Again the old antenna immediately began to quiver (if you are a genealogist, you know exactly what I'm talking about).  Peter Nosh? Nohs?  Noss? Could this be possible?  My great-grandfather, Carl Noss, and family did not arrive in Iowa until 1886.  If Peter had lived in Iowa for 34 years by 1903, that means he came over earlier.  Could this be a relative and the reason my Carl decided to settle in Floyd County?

A couple of days later, I returned home and immediately headed for the Omaha Public Library as they had a complete collection of Iowa census records (this was pre-Ancestry days).  There was Peter Nuss in the 1880 census for Floyd County, Ulster Township.

Later I found a land record that contained Peter's signature.  This solved the mystery of the assorted Nohs/Nuss/Noss spellings.

If you look closely, you will notice he signed his name with the typical German double S, which to the eye of a non-German appears as an "hs".... thus Nohs.  

From there I followed Peter's story through census records, land records, probate records, passenger lists and German church records.  I was like a dog with a bone.

The final reward is that old Peter Nohs, the Flood Creek hermit does belong to me.  He's my 2nd great uncle.   Now when I wander through that peaceful country cemetery, I always stop and talk to Peter.  I just want him to know that he has family and we remember him.

This is Peter's story:

He was born 13 April 1818 in the small country village of Bettingen in Saarland, Germany.  His older brother, Johan, is my great-great grandfather. He was married to Theresia Hermann on 1 June 1841.  They had a baby girl who died at birth later that year.  In 1844 they were blessed with a son they named Peter.  I can almost feel Peter's pride at the birth of this son. Sadly no other children were born to Peter and Theresia.  In March of 1868, tragedy struck the family with the death of their only child and then Theresia died two years leter in December of 1870. Peter must have been devastated to lose his entire family.

In the spring of 1872, a Bettingen farmer by the name of Peter Merfeld and his family decided to emigrate to Iowa and Peter joined them on the voyage. They sailed on the "Silesia" and landed in New York on 11 April 1872.  They traveled across country and settled in Floyd County where Merfeld's brothers had settled a few years previously.  

Another old newspaper article extracted from Rockford Register, dated 20 Oct 1898 gives another glimpse into the life of Peter:

  "Peter Noss, the old hermit of Flood Creek, has been sick for some time and is a hard case for the authorities to handle.  He insists on being left alone in his little hut and does not want anyone to go there to care for him, neither will he be cared for anywhere else.  The township trustees keep such supervision of him as possible and will see that he does not suffer for want of food.  The chances are that someday he will be found dead in his little home."

If you are a fellow genealogist, you have certain stories or family members that touch you deeply.  Poor old Peter Noss, the hermit of Flood Creek is one of mine.  Somehow I feel he never got over the loss of his little family.  I'm hoping he found some peace in a small house in northern Iowa.  I know I feel a connection to the old hermit when I lay my hand on the top of his tombstone in that peaceful country cemetery.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Road to California

The 1930's were tough years for America. Times were hard and jobs were scarce, especially for young Iowa farm boys.  Mom's oldest brother, Joseph "Toby" Noss, was 17 years old in the summer of 1933 when he made his first trip to California.  He accompanied his older sister, Gert, and her finance, Don Lines. He served as chaperone and helped Don with the driving.  They drove an old Model T Ford Coupe.

When they arrived in Sacramento they stayed with their mother's sister, Mary Albrecht Smith in Sacramento near 14th Avenue and 44th Street.

At the end of the summer, Toby decided to head back to Iowa. Aunt Mary made him some sandwiches, sewed $5.00 in his pocket for emergencies and off he went.  He hitched a ride on a produce truck to Reno and helped the driver unload his produce in payment.  Then he walked three miles to Sparks, Nevada and hopped a train where he rode the walkway on top of the cars.  At one point, he fell asleep and almost rolled off the roof, but managed to crawl back to the walkway.  When he arrived in Ogden, Utah, he heard a rumor about someone being killed in the train yard; so he didn't wait around, but grabbed the next train going east and rode all the way to Mason City, Iowa and never had to use the $5.00 that was still sewn in his pocket. All he spent was 35 cents for a meal in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In 1936, he went back to California to stay. He went to work for Aunt Mary as a truck driver.  Later he was a dispatcher and driver.  He soon married and started a family.  The young Iowa boy had found a home in the West.

Aunt Mary had no children of her own, but she helped several of her nieces and nephews by giving them a bed and jobs until they could get on their feet and off on their own.  Toby was the oldest son in a family of 11 children. Over the next few years, two brothers and a sister joined him in California.

In 1944 it was decided that the rest of the family would leave Iowa for California. This included Toby's parents, Bill and Tillie Noss, sisters Gladys and Mary, along with brothers, Jim, Jack and Kenny.  Grandpa Bill had a wee problem with alcohol and never seemed to be able to provide much for the family.  If they moved west, it would be possible for Toby, as the oldest son, to help.

Again, Aunt Mary came to the rescue and helped finance the move.  Toby purchased an old moving van in Minnesota for $1100.00 and the family proceeded to load their goods ... including an old Plymouth!  Reminds me of Ma and Pa Joad and the family in The Grapes of Wrath.  

The morning of departure, they stopped at our house for breakfast.  I was only two years old, so have no memory of the momentous occasion.  My mother, Julia, would be the only member of the family staying in Iowa.  By that time, she was married with two small daughters.  She fed them all and waved goodbye.  Mom was devastated as she watched her entire family drive away not knowing when she would see any of them again.

Toby and Jim took turns driving.  Jim was barely 16 years old and probably didn't even have a driver's license.  Aunt Gladys told me how the younger kids would get out and walk when the truck was slowly crawling up a mountain.  It gave them a chance to stretch their legs and enjoy a bit of fresh air.

After several years, Toby and his younger brother, Jim, joined forces and formed Noss Brothers Trucking Company.  As always Toby continued to help younger members of his extended family by providing a bed or a job to get them started on the right foot as Aunt Mary had done for him back in the 1930's.

Toby & Mary Noss - 1996

Today, Uncle Toby is nearing his 96th birthday and lives on 5 acres in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, California.  For many years, he and his beloved wife, Mary, hosted the annual Noss family reunion at their home until her death in 2001. Toby loves to be surrounded by his family and friends.

He's been a California resident for about 75 years, but if you dig out your pocketknife and scrape away a bit of his tough old hide, underneath you will find an Iowa farm boy born and bred.  His values are unchanged ... frugality, family and hard work.

Now, again, we find America in tough times.  Perhaps we should all take a page from Toby's rule book and see if we can get on down the road.

(Thanks to Toby's daughter, Terry Noss Walker, for helping me with this story about her dad.)