Johann Pitterle

From Ober Johnsdorf to Watertown

– The Pitterles’ Momentous Journey –

by Edward G. Langer
11430 W. Woodside Drive
Hales Corners, WI 53130
(414) 529-4822
Copyright 1993, Edward G. Langer
All Rights Reserved

In the middle of 1854, Johann Pitterle and his family began a voyage which would markedly change their lives and the lives of their descendants. They had decided to leave Europe and travel to a new home in the New World. They would leave the comforts of their home in Ober Johnsdorf, Bohemia in the Austrian Empire and travel to Watertown, Wisconsin in the United States of America.

The Old World

Prior to leaving the Old World in 1854, Johann Pitterle and his family lived at farm number 109 in the village of Ober Johnsdorf, district of Landskron, kingdom of Bohemia, Austrian Empire. The district of Landskron is named after the town of Landskron and consisted of the town of Landskron and about 40 villages. The town had about 5,000 inhabitants in the 1850s and was connected by rail to the rest of the Austrian Empire. The villages varied in size from a few hundred inhabitants to a little over one thousand inhabitants. They were connected by road to the town of Landskron. Three quarters of these villages was predominantly German and the remaining one quarter of the villages was predominantly Czech. Both the Czechs and Germans were predominantly Roman Catholic. The town and district of Landskron are about 80 miles south of present day Wroclaw (Breslau) and about 115 miles north of the capital of the Austrian Empire, Vienna.

Johann was a wagon-maker and probably also owned a few acres of land. The village of Ober Johnsdorf had about 1000 inhabitants, most of them German-speaking but with a significant Czech-speaking minority. Ober Johnsdorf’s inhabitants were primarily farmers or laborers on the larger farms. There also were a few tradesmen in addition to Johann – probably a carpenter, miller, blacksmith, storekeeper and innkeeper. These small merchants probably also owned a few acres that they tended. In 1854, there was no church and only a basic school in Ober Johnsdorf. For church services and any advanced schooling, the villagers traveled to the town of Landskron, a distance of about three miles. Most, like Johann, never learned to read or write.

In sharp contrast to farming in America, there were no farmsteads separate from the villages in the Ober Johnsdorf area. In Ober Johnsdorf, the farm buildings were located on both sides of a road with the farm fields stretching straight back from the buildings until they ran into the woods, an untillable hill or the farms of another village. Generally, the farmer cultivated contiguous lands in Ober Johnsdorf, not fields sprinkled around the area as occurs in other areas of Europe. It could, however, be a considerable distance from the farm buildings to the limits of the property.

The farm buildings were also different in Ober Johnsdorf. Generally, the dwelling was physically connected with the farm buildings. The more elaborate farmsteads were in a U-shape or formed a square with a courtyard in the middle. The latter form probably developed in an attempt to provide some protection against thieves and foreign soldiers.

The village of Ober Johnsdorf was comprised of 1108 hectares, which is about four and a quarter sections or 2,738 acres. The average farm size in Ober Johnsdorf was about 20 acres, with over half the farms having less than 12 acres. People who lived on the smallest farms were subsistence farmers who would supplement their crops by occasionally working on the larger farms. The larger farmers were likely engaging in commercial farming and were able to ship produce to market in nearby towns. It is likely that excess grain was taken by horse or ox-cart the three miles to the town of Landskron for shipment by rail to the cities of the Austrian Empire.

It is likely that the Pitterles had lived in the Landskron district for hundreds of years. Up until 1848, the people of Ober Johnsdorf were still subject to feudal restrictions which limited their ability to move and required them to provide certain services to the local lords. Also, a person’s worth tended to be determined more by birth than by the person’s accomplishments. In 1848, revolutions rocked much of Europe and the Hapsburg Emperor of the Austrian Empire removed the final vestiges of feudalism. Slowly, the word spread that it was possible to emigrate.

Increased population and frequent wars lead people like the Pitterles to consider emigration. By the mid-1800s, improved food and sanitary conditions caused such population expansion that there were limited agricultural opportunities for the young people. There was little virgin land in the area, and subdividing the existing farms would have made them unprofitable. Further, the Austrian Empire was involved in frequent wars, which resulted in increased taxes and sending local sons to fight in distant locations.

The New World

By the 1850s, numerous sources were encouraging German peasants to emigrate to America. German writers in how-to-emigrate-books extolled the virtues of America, especially the freedom and cheap land available in America. Rail and shipping interests extolled the virtues of emigration in an attempt to increase their business. American states, such as Wisconsin, sent agents to European ports to encourage emigrants to settle in their states. The early and brave emigrants like the Pitterles had to rely upon these writers and businessmen for information about emigration to America. Later emigrants would hear from their fellow villagers who had emigrated about the virtues of life in America.

Writers in the middle 1850s wrote highly of life in Wisconsin. They emphasized the good farm land available, the similar climate to Germany and the presence of many fellow Germans.

In 1854, Watertown was one of the largest cities in Wisconsin with about 8,000 inhabitants. There was abundant rich, rolling farmland in the area, some of which had been cleared by earlier settlers, which would have appealed to a man who wanted to farm his own land in America. Wisconsin had become a state in 1848 and southern Wisconsin was no longer considered part of the frontier. Railroads were starting to connect the major towns in the state, and farmers were able to sell their surplus product on the market.

Watertown was also a center of German immigration. In 1854, the Pitterles would have found in the Watertown area German-speaking immigrants from the Austrian Empire, Bavaria, Prussia and other German lands in addition to Landskron-district families that had emigrated in earlier years. Watertown had a German Catholic parish, Saint Henry’s, a German newspaper, the Anzeiger, and a brewery.

The Pitterle Family

Johann Pitterle (1814-1910), and his wife, Johanna Barrent (1812-1888) had six children: Ignatz (1835 – 1925), Johann (1836 – 1855), Vincenz (1844 – 1916), Ferdinand (1850 – 1929), Johanna (1852 – 1939) and Johann (1856-1902). On July 14, 1855, not long after they arrived in America, Johann Pitterle, the second son, died. The circumstances of his death are unknown. In May, 1856, Johann and Johanna had another son whom they also named Johann.

The five surviving children all married in Watertown, Wisconsin. Three of the Pitterle children, Vincent, Ferdinand and Johanna, married persons with roots in Ober Johnsdorf: Theresia Schberle, Rosalie Scheberle (Schberle) and Wenzel Schberle, respectively. The eldest Pitterle son, Ignatz, and the youngest Pitterle son, John, both married women from districts near Landskron: Adelaid Hager (Haeger/Heger) and Philippina Ertl, respectively.

After Johanna, death in 1888, Johann married Rosalie Schmeiser Scheberle, the widow of Franz Scheberle, and the mother of Ferdinand Pitterle’s wife, also named Rosalie. This second marriage to Rosalie Scheberle failed and Rosalie moved to Iowa to live with one of her children.

The Voyage to the New World

The first family believed to have left the Landskron area for the Watertown area was a Langer family from the neighboring village of Michelsdorf that emigrated in 1852. This family did not stay permanently in the Watertown area but traveled west after a few years to Minnesota and later to the Fargo, North Dakota area. (One of the descendants of this family is the late North Dakota Governor and United States Senator William Langer). In 1853, the first families emigrated from Ober Johnsdorf. That year, Johann Meitner, Vincenz Klecker, and Johann Schberle and their families traveled on the Oldenburg from Bremen, Germany to New York City, settling permanently in the Watertown area. Franz Hampel and his family, from the nearby village of Rathsdorf, were with them and also settled permanently in the Watertown area. Other families such as the Bernhard Leschinger and Franz Langer families traveled with them but eventually settled in other areas in Wisconsin.

Before they began their voyage, the Pitterles would have sold the land they owned and most of their possessions since most emigrants only brought a few large trunks to America. Ironically, the Franz Scheberle family lived in Ober Johnsdorf number 109 after the Pitterles left for America. In 1864, this family followed the Pitterles to America. As noted above, on November 21, 1889, Franz Scheberle’s widow, Rosalie Schmeiser Scheberle, married Johann Pitterle, after Johanna Pitterle died in 1888.

The Pitterles probably traveled by rail to Bremen in north Germany, the point of departure for America of their ship, the Meta. The Pitterles were joined on the Meta by the John Roller family. The Rollers, who were from Ober Johnsdorf or its sister village, Nieder Johnsdorf, also settled permanently in the Watertown area. The Meta arrived in New York City on August 24, 1854. It is likely that the Pitterles and Rollers traveled by rail to Milwaukee. Since the railroad did not reach Watertown until 1855, they would have probably made the last part of the trip by wagon or coach. They may have traveled on the plank road which stretched from Milwaukee to Watertown.

Life in the New World

Johann Pitterle quickly established himself in America.On January 2, 1858, he purchased an 80 acre farm in Section 15, Emmet Township, Dodge County, for $600.00. He was able to buy the farm on credit with $200.00 due on July 1, 1858 and $400 due on January 2, 1863 at 10% interest. This would have made him the owner of one of the larger farms in his native village. On December 6, 1859, he became an American citizen.

The Pitterle farm was located a quarter mile from the farms of fellow Landskroners Johann Meitner and Vincenz Klecker. The Hampels and Rollers bought farms a few miles away, in Shields Township, Dodge County.

Some indication of the immigrants’ life in America can be derived from the farm census of 1860, 1870 and 1880. In 1860, only Johann had a farm in Emmet. In 1870, Johann and his eldest surviving son, Ignatz, both had 80 acre farms. In 1880, Ignatz, Vincent and Ferdinand all had 80 acre farms in Emmet Township. The 1880 census listed two farms in the name of Johann Pitterle – a 5 acre farm and an 80 acre farm. Presumably, the five acre farm was a retirement farm for Johann, Senior, then over 65 years old, and the 80 acre farm was taken over by Johann, Junior. The following information is for the 80 acre farm listed in the name of Johann Pitterle in 1860, 1870 and 1880.

Pitterle Farm Census

Acres of Improved Land
(Tilled in 1880)
Acres of Unimproved Land:54n/an/a
Meadows, Pastures and Orchardsn/an/a30
Cash Value of Farm$825$3000$4300
Value of Farm Implements and Machinery$10$300$150
Milk cows144
Milk Sold (Gallons)n/a02000
Butter (Pounds)0200300
Working Oxen200
Other Cattle183
Calves: Droppedn/an/a3
Cattle: Sold Livingn/an/a0
Died, Strayed/Stolenn/an/a0
Value of Livestock$85$500$500
Poultry: Barnyardn/an/a20
Eggs (Dozens)n/an/a100
Value of Animals Slaughtered$20$100n/a
Irish Potatoes (Bushels)75040
Wheat (Bushels)100530370
Hay (Tons)141230
Corn (Bushels)2570100
Oats (Bushels)075200
Barley (Bushels)020200
Value of Orchard Products000
Value of All Farm Production Including
Betterments and Additions to Stock
Wood Cut (Cords)n/an/q0
Value of Forest Productsn/an/a25
Wages Paid, Including Boardn/a$2000
Weeks Hiredn/an/a0

According to the 1890 farm census, the 5 acre farm was valued at $500, its equipment at $25 and its livestock at $25. The farm was devoted to wheat and produced 100 bushels of wheat that year. It had one swine, one cow and one other head of cattle on it. The farm production was estimated at $100.

The census records show that the Pitterles slowly cleared the land in order to grow grain. By 1880, grain was still the primary farm product but the Pitterles were also starting to engage in dairy farming.

In 1890, each of the five Pitterle children owned farms in Emmet Township. Vincent and John were on adjoining 80 acre farms in Section 15. Ignatz was kitty-corner from John on an 80 acre farm in Section 14. Johanna and her husband Wenzel Schberle were on an 80 acre farm in Section 13. Ferdinand was on an 100 acre farm in Section 10. Their combined 420 acres would have comprised about one-sixth of all the land in Ober Johnsdorf. The Pitterle children had more land in America than they ever could have dreamed of having had they stayed in Europe.

Sometime after 1890, three of the Pitterle children moved from Emmet Township. Ignatz moved to the Jefferson, Wisconsin area. Johanna and Wenzel bought a farm near Shopiere, Wisconsin, between Janesville and Beloit. Vincent moved to Watertown and ran a saloon. Johann, Sr. stayed in Emmet Township and lived with his son Ferdinand at the time of his death.

Overall, the lives of Johann Pitterle and his family were successful. His children were able to buy sizable farms which would provide in turn for their children. Johann himself lived to be 96 years old, a remarkable life-span in an era prior to modern medicine.

Although available records indicate the Pitterles were economically successful in their new home, life was not easy for them. The death of the first Johann, Jr. must have been difficult for his parents. A number of grandchildren died at tender ages. The failure of Johann’s second marriage must have raised eyebrows among his devoutly Roman Catholic relation and must have made his relationship with Rosalie Scheberle Pitterle difficult since she was both his daughter-in-law and his step-daughter. In August 1890, sparks from a tractor started a fire that destroyed Ignatz’s barn, including grain and farm equipment worth between $2,000 to $2,500. The loss was not insured.

Life must also have been lonelier for the Pitterles in America, as they had been used to living side-by-side in a village and now their nearest countrymen were a quarter of a mile away. At adjoining farms lived Irish or English families named Hughes and Connor who would not have been able to converse with the Pitterles. Living in the area were also members of unfamiliar religions such as Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Methodists, Lutherans, Moravians and Baptists.

The Pitterles’ loneliness would have been eased over time as more relatives and friends emigrated to America, many of whom later bought farms in Emmet Township. Between 1853 and the early 1920s, numerous families emigrated from the district of Landskron in addition to the families discussed above. From the village of Ober Johnsdorf emigrated five Kreuziger siblings: Theresia Kreuziger Schless, Anna Kreuziger Kreuziger (her husband had the same family name), Franz Kreuziger, Rosalie Kreuziger Steiner and Vincenz Kreuziger. A nephew, John Kreuziger, also emigrated to the Watertown area. Also from Ober Johnsdorf were the families of Ignatz Jahna (Yahna), Anton Langer, Joseph Langer, and Franz Richter. Emigrants from other villages in the district of Landskron or from the town of Landskron itself were John Brusenbach, Vincenz Dobischek, John Frodel, Franz Groh (Gro), Joseph Heger, Vincenz Huebl, John Huebl, John Huss, Franz Klecker, John Koehler, Albert Kunz, Frank Melcher, John Miller, Johann Motl, Anton Pfeifer, Johann Roffeis, John Stangler, John Uherr, John Wohlitz, Franz Wollitz and John Zeiner. Many of these bought farms in Emmet Township or the neighboring townships of Shields and Clyman. It is likely that the Pitterles spent much time with their countrymen since all five Pitterle children married people with ties to Landskron or neighboring European districts.

Johann Pitterle’s relatives and neighbors who remained in Europe did not fare as well. In 1866, the Austrians and Prussians fought a major battle about 40 miles from Ober Johnsdorf. The Prussians won and subsequently occupied Ober Johnsdorf for a period. During World Wars I and II numerous citizens of Ober Johnsdorf fought and died in the armies of the Austrian Empire and the Nazi Third Reich. In the waning days of World War II, the Czechs, with the assistance of the Russians, drove the German inhabitants of Ober Johnsdorf and the surrounding area from their homes into present day Germany. In the process, men were tortured and killed, women were raped, people were forced to labor for the Czechs and Russians and their property was seized.

Today, there are no Germans left in Ober Johnsdorf; it is currently a Czech village named Horni Tresnovec. Landskron is now the Czech town of Lanskroun. The village and town are now part of the Czech Republic. Our relatives who had lived in the village through the Second World War are now spread throughout modern-day Germany much as the descendants of Johann Pitterle have spread throughout the United States from our humble beginnings in Watertown, Wisconsin.