Was Paul Kraemer a homesteader?

Homesteaders were usually the first occupants of virgin and wild land lands. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, the head of a household could obtain 160 acres of land free if he lived on it, built on it, improved it and farmed for at least five years. After that, he could apply to the Federal government for a land patent which conveyed ownership. Many homesteaders proudly displayed these patents in their log homes.

Homestead land patent given to Leonard Farrell by the Bureau of Land Management in 1858. Paul Kraemer bought these 80 acres in 1881.


It is commonly thought that Paul Kraemer was such a homesteader. Claire Geesaman gives this impression in A Kraemer Chronicle:  After a short time in Fredonia, Wisconsin, where Paul worked as a carpenter/cabinet-maker and weaver, they moved in June 1867 to Plain, a village of Bavarian immigrants, where they settled on land about three miles east of Plain, in Sauk County. The first task was to clear land for buildings. To the west of the buildings was the most level spot in this hilly area and it was this that was first cleared to grow crops (Geesaman, p. 4).

Geesaman’s account of Paul Kraemer is largely fantasy. Paul Kraemer bought a farm that had been worked already for ten years. It had a log cabin and possibly a few other buildings. It had fifteen acres of cleared and fenced land on which crops had been grown.  Who then first settled this property? And how did Paul Kraemer come to buy this farm?  The answers are surprising, and reveal a little-known family tragedy.

Paul bought the farm from the widow of Michael Weishan, the original homesteader, who died in the Civil War in December 1865. So the story of Paul Kraemer’s fortune in finding a working farm is also the story of the Michael Weishan family tragedy. We start with the Weishans and then begin the story of Paul and Walburga on the farm.

Michael and John Weishan

Michael Weishan was a very early pioneer in the Plain area.  His story has been lost due to an accident of history – his untimely death in the Civil War, which left his family destitute. According to Hildegard Thering’s History of Plain, Wisconsin, Michael “…emigrated from Germany in late 1852 arriving in New York on 10 Jan 1853 from Bremen, Germany. He came alone, was 32 and traveled on the ship Johanne (Thering, History of Plain, 1982, p. 4).

Michael’s brother, John, had emigrated earlier in 1847 and obtained 80 acres under a homestead land grant from the Mineral Point Land Office. In 1855, John sold half of the 80 acres to Michael. The location of their lands are shown on the 1859 plat map below. That same year Michael married Catherine (Eva Catherina) Reuschlein and began to build their life together on what is now the Allen Kraemer farmer on Butternut Road east of Plain. Catherine was the daughter of Heinrich Joseph Reuschlein and Elizabeth Vath who had emmigrated from the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany (Danielski and Pulvermacher, The Genealogy and History of the Reuschlein Family, Vol I, 2006).

Michael Weishan homestead on 1859 plat map of Franklin Township1860 map Weishan homesteadSource: Sauk County Historical Society, Baraboo, WI. Note: There is no stone quarry in the location shown on the map. 

Michael and Catherine Weishan

Over the next ten years Michael and Catherine developed the farm by building a log cabin and barn, clearing land, raising crops and tending farm animals. The value of real property was reported at $600 and personal property at $200 in the 1860 U.S. Census. In 1864, they took out a mortgage for $320 from Georg Pronold, to buy another 60 acres (Mortgages, Vol. O, Register of Deeds, Sauk County). By the end of 1864, they had accumulated 140 acres of land, had 15 acres fenced and under cultivation, owned livestock including horses, oxen, calves and sheep and also had a buggy and sleigh, as well as many farm implements and hand tools. The Weishans also had four children by this time – Maria, Amelia, Johan, Elizabeth; and  Catherine was pregnant with Caroline. Johann died as a child while the girls grew to adulthood.

On November 19, 1864, Michael and his brother, John Weishan, signed up to fight in the Civil War for one year with Company K of the 18th Infantry Regiment of Wisconsin. John came back from the war a year later, but Michael died of chronic diarrhea in Stanton military hospital in Washington DC on May 29, 1865. He is buried in Site 8248 Arlington Cemetery (Descriptive roll of Company K, 18th Regiment, Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, WI).

Catherine Weishan was suddenly destitute with five children. Phyllis Dearborn, a former volunteer at the Old Franklin Township Historical Society, found that Catherine had filed for a widow’s military pension and obtained the documents, but we have been unable to determine whether Catherine ever received the pension. Whether she did or not, it did not arrive in time to save her and her family from years of separation.

After receiving the news of her husband’s death, Catherine requested probate of the estate in August 1865 probably in the hope that the farm assets would be greater than the liabilities. Probate documents from the Sauk County Court show the estate was valued at $392.70, while debts totaled $465. In September 1866, the Sauk County Court ordered the real property to be sold at auction in order to pay the debts.

A variety of early settlers around Plain were at the auction in October and bought things – mostly implements and tools but also a wagon, sleigh, and farm animals. The list of items and the buyers are shown in an Appendix available from the author, and include well known family names such as:

Ignatz Bindl                     Joseph Reuschlein         Franz Frank                     John B. Hutter
W.G. Alt                            Joseph Beck                      P. Shriner                         Michael Hutter
Berhard Pronold             Jost Volkel                        Michael Bindl                  A. Beck
Georg Pronold                 Ulrich Schonemann       John Weishan                 Michael Nachriner
Fred Schonemann          John Cramer                    Paul Luther                      Henry Bear

Imagine the anguish of Catherine Weishan, who had just lost her husband, as she witnessed each piece of property that had been part of her and her husband’s life for the last ten years put on the auction block. Having attended farm auctions as a child in the early 40s, I saw the anguish on the faces of husband and wife who lost their farms, and remember it vividly. The Weishan children must have felt it too.

Even after auctioning off everything she could in the estate, Catherine was still in debt, had a mortgage on the farm and no means of earning an income. As a result, she was unable to care for her children. One daughter, Elizabeth, was taken-in by relatives, Joseph and Sara Reuschlein, in nearby Troy Township.  The other daughters, Mary, Caroline and Emelia, became wards of Sauk County for a while, but were later reunited with their mother who remarried–to Caspar Briar from Ithaca in Richland County.

Catherine and Casper Briar had several children of their own; Briars live today in the Ithaca area.  The 1880 U.S. Census shows the Weishan children, Emelia as 21, single and Caroline as 15, single.  Both were living in Ithaca with Caspar and Catherine. We do not know what happened to Mary. The girls do not show up in later Richland County census records. The other daughter, Elizabeth, who was raised by Joseph and Sara Reuschlein, married George A. Patterson who lived on a farm in Troy Township.

Paul and Walburga Kraemer buy the Weishan farm

Paul and Walburga had emigrated from Irlach, Bavaria in May 1866 traveling on ship Teutonia with George Pronold, Sr., Bernhard Pronold and John Wachter (see December 2014 OFTHS newsletter for his story). Paul and Walburga were living in Fredonia, Ozaukee County near Milwaukee at the time, and probably learned about the farm from the Pronolds. Paul and Walburga came to Sauk County in May 1867 and bought the farm from Catherine and Casper Briar with a mortgage in June 1867. In turn, the Briar’s paid off their mortgage to George Pronold, Jr., who had come to Franklin several years before his father and brother.

Paul Kraemer is the bridge between the old world of Bavaria where the Kraemers originated and the new world of America where the Kraemers of Plain, Town of Franklin have flourished and grown to a large family spread around the United States and the world. The farm that the Kraemers bought was not virgin land as Geesaman suggested. Over the ten years that the Weishans lived there, they had purchased more land and grown the homestead from 40 to 140 acres as shown in the table below.

Inventory of Michael Weishan lands

Acres Description Value
40 Forty acres of land known as the homestead farm and being the NW ¼ of NE ¼ of Section 15, town no. 9 North of Range 4 East, fifteen acres fenced and under cultivation. $150


40 Forty acres of land known as wild land being the E ¼ of NE ¼  Section No. 15 town 9 North of Range 4 East uncultivated. $10
40 Forty acres of land known as wild land and being the NW ¼ of NE ¼ Section 15 Town 9 North of Range 4 East. $60
20 Twenty acres of land known as marsh and timber lot being the E ½ of SW ¼ of the NE ¼ of Section No. 10 Town 9 North of Range 4 East. $40

Source: Source: Sauk County Court, In probate In the matter of the estate of Michael Weishan deceased, 8 September, 1865. Baraboo: Sauk County Historical Society, Probate Box W, Michael Weishan.

And as indicated above, the Weishans had built log structures, cleared land, planted crops and raised livestock. In other words, it had been a working farm although much of it was still wild lands (see descriptions in the table above). The key point is that Paul and Walburga bought a property that was already developed, which they could move into right away, and which they could work during the summer and fall of 1867. They would have to buy some things that had been sold at the Weishan auction and they probably had to repair some parts of the farm right away (e.g., fences, roofs, doors, windows), but they had shelter and could plant summer and fall crops immediately, lay up wood for heating and cooking and mend or make some new clothes.

Remnants of original log structure on the Paul Kraemer farm

PK log house being torn downPhoto of Sylvester Kraemer and boys tearing down the old log house in 1953.

Over the next thirty five years, Paul Kraemer grew the farm to at least 280 acres, which he split and sold to sons Joseph and John. In turn, Joseph sold the farm to Sylvester and today the farm is owned by Sylvester’s youngest son Allen Kraemer.  Similarly, John Kraemer sold the farm to Vincent Kraemer whose eldest daughter Evonne lives there today.

The children of Sylvester Kraemer and Vincent Kraemer will be celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Paul Kraemer’s purchase of the farm in the summer of 2017 with a family reunion.

Books on Kraemer family history


Short stories about Kraemer family history, both in Bavaria and in Wisconsin will appear in future stories on Kraemerhistory.org. The full story of the Kraemers in Bavaria is in the 2015 book, Wisconsin Kraemers in the Old World of Bavaria: History and Genealogy of the Kraemers of Tiefenbach, Bavaria who immigrated to Sauk County, Wisconsin. A second volume, Wisconsin Kraemer:  II The New World of America will be available in late 2016/early 2017.

A related book is called Kraemer in Amerika, published in 2014. This book tells the story of another branch of Kraemer
s from the same root Kraemer. Three brothers from this branch picture1emigrated from Tiefenbach, Bavaria to Minnesota in 1852 and one brother later moved to California where his children became rich from land development. 

Author’s request: The Weishan story is not complete and so we would appreciate hearing from anyone who knows what happened to the children of Michael and Catherine Weishan, and whether there are descendants living today. We would also like a picture of Michael and Catherine and/or their children.  If you desire a copy of the Appendix mentioned above, or have any information about the Weishan family, please write to Kenneth Kraemer, 12 Harvey Court, Irvine, CA 92617 or email kkraemer@uci.edu. We would greatly appreciate your help. You could also call 949-466-7588.