Today’s post is about my great great grandmother, Maria Elizabeth Meier. She is very near and dear to my heart. Elizabeth, as she was known, once lived in the old family home I grew up in, and she also passed away there.
When I was a child, I used to have a recurring dream where there was a group of children dressed in high button boots, dresses, and short pants. They would run through fields with dogs romping along through fields full of sheep and cows (but always side-stepping the flock of geese so that they wouldn’t be bitten), skirting a crystal clear little pond where fish darted in and out of gravel holes and soon, a house would come into view. A woman in a pink dress with brown hair tucked in a bun high upon her head would step out a side door and call to the children, “I’ve got cookies!” And the children would all run toward the house, at which point, I’d wake up. One night after waking from the dream, found the woman in pink sitting before my dresser powdering her nose. Before my eyes could adjust, she disappeared. While she may have been a figment of my overactive imagination, I personally believe in spirits and an afterlife, and I like to think that Elizabeth was talking to me. However, I never had that dream after that night. Perhaps she was the gentle push that began my exploring adventure into my family’s history.
I’m very blessed to have a compilation of the Meier’s family history where I was able to draw much of the information and pictures below.
Elizabeth was born on 08 April 1861 in Marion, Linn County, Iowa to Joseph and Maria Magdalina (Lena) Becker Meier. She was baptized on 27 August 1861 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She was their first born daughter, following two brothers: Philipp b. 15 December 1856 in Germany; and Heinrich b. 11 March 1859 in Iowa; and she would be followed by four more siblings: Joseph b. 8 February 1863; Lena b. 20 May 1865; Maria Anna b. 16 September 1868; and Anna b. 26 March 1871 (all four born in Norway, Iowa). Shortly after Philipp’s birth, her parents immigrated to America after letters passed between Joseph and his cousin of the prosperities available, and they arrived in New York on 3 September 1857. That next spring, the Meiers headed west, settling in Marion, Iowa where Heinrich and Elizabeth were born. Sadly, while the family lived in Marion, Philipp passed away on 17 March 1860 of Scarlet Fever.
The spring after Elizabeth’s birth, her father purchased his first plot of land, on 26, June 1862, in Norway, Benton, Iowa about thirty miles southwest of Marion. He opened a blacksmith shop in town and Elizabeth’s childhood was spent there. While she did not receive any formal education, Elizabeth did learn to read and write with the help of her mother.
When she was sixteen, the Meiers moved from Norway to Schaller, Sac County, Iowa. There is a family story that says that to avoid paying fare on the train, Elizabeth had to ride in a barrel. Since only two were allowed to ride in the freight car with the livestock for free, her father and brother Henry (Heinrich) rode and she had to hide.
While the family lived in Schaller, Elizabeth met and married Bennett Schimmer (b. 20 August 1851 in Baden, Germany) when she was eighteen. They wed on 26 June 1879 in Odebolt, Sac County, Iowa. She lived with Bennett on the farm he had purchased the year before their marriage. While they lived in Odebolt, they had three children: Joseph b. 1 May 1880; Mary b. 23 December 1881; and Bernard b. 10 November 1883.
In 1885, Bennett sold the farm in Odebolt and purchased another closer to Schaller, where Elizabeth’s parents were living. Two more sons were born on this farm: Edward b. 9 June 1886; and Henry b. 5 August 1888. But two years after Henry’s birth, Bennett sold this farm and purchased an unbroken plot of land near Washta, Cherokee County, Iowa. There were no buildings on this farm so the family lived in a vacated home nearby while Bennett built a home.
Nearby, lived several Indian families and they often visited the Schimmer household. One Sunday as the family was preparing to go to church, an Indian came into the yard. He began begging and Bennett gave him a quarter. While the Indian seemed satisfied, the family decided to stay home for fear that the Indian might return to steal while they were gone. While the family lived on the Washta farm, four more children were born: Frank b. 24 January 1890; John b. 1892, died two years later of whooping cough; Elizabeth b. 25 September 1895; and Anne b. 27 April 1898.
The three oldest children began school while they lived at Washta. Bennett would place the children on top of a mule named Maude and lead the mule to school. He would then return home and in the afternoon, ride Maude back to the school to retrieve the children, placing them atop her for the ride home. (Sad side note: One winter when Maude had reached horse old age, she was killed and her winter coat was turned into, a coat. She’s still within our family.) But as the older children reached the age for First Communion, they were sent to live with Elizabeth’s parents who had returned to Norway to receive their religious training.
In 1898, a family friends from nearby Danbury, Woodbury County, Iowa came visiting the Schimmer household to persuade Bennett to sell the Washta farm and move to Danbury as there was a Catholic church and school. Bennett was agreeable and so he sold the Washta farm and purchased land three miles east of Danbury. With help, the family loaded hay racks and wagons on one day, and started early the next and made the 28 mile trip in one day. Horses were tied behind the wagons and the livestock driven. Two more sons were born after the family moved to Danbury: William b. 20 August 1901; and Andrew b. 19 February 1907.
Throughout her life, Elizabeth was an excellent nurse, often going to care for sick neighbors. She also served as a midwife, delivering many babies, including some of her own grandchildren. She would hitch Maude to a cart and make her rounds, never afraid to go out alone. Elizabeth was a hard worker and very neat in clean. She and Bennett lived on the farm outside of Danbury for twelve years before retiring to town in 1917. In her later years, Elizabeth’s health declined. Eventually she became an invalid and doctors said she suffered from creeping paralysis.
On 19 March 1919, Elizabeth passed away at their home in Danbury. After a wake held in the home, Elizabeth was laid to rest in the St. Mary’s Cemetery north of Danbury. She was 57 years old. Below is her obituary:
Following Elizabeth’s death, Bennett remained in Danbury. After the persuasion of a friend to move to Carroll, Carroll County, Iowa, Bennett moved there in 1920. He married a widow named Margaret Lordeman. But Bennett’s last years were unhappy ones because of the marriage and his moving away from friends and family in Danbury. On 28 August 1928, just days after his seventy seventh birthday, Bennett died at his home in Carroll. Family lore believes his death was less than natural. His funeral was held at St. Mary’s church in Danbury and on 31 August 1928, he was laid to rest beside Elizabeth.