Butternut's First Family
Imagine the fear and hope in the hearts of those who left Germany for a land they had never seen, knowing they would never return, and that their children would live in a world where even the words they spoke would not be understood by the old ones. So it must have been for Anna and John Spille when they left Oldenburg with their children in 1848. Had they been able to study the future as we do the past would they have believed that someone would be writing about them 150 years later? Would their 15 year old son Henry want to know the small mark he would make on the development of a fascinating society?
According to the history books Henry Spille found his way to Wisconsin and began farming in Ozaukee County. In 1857 he moved to Manitowoc where he lived until he enlisted in Wisconsin’s 44th regiment infantry, Company C. He served from September of 1864 to August of 1865 when he moved to Cedarburg and farmed until 1877.
By the time Henry decided to homestead in Butternut that year, he was 44 years old. He brought with him his mother, his first wife Kathrine, and four children. Henry and his brother-in-law Henry Besse must have kept busy in politics that first year and by 1878 he was appointed Chairman of the town Board to fill a vacancy. A year later he was elected to the office.
But Henry’s family did not fare as well the first year. By April of 1878 Kathrine was dead of a ‘liver complaint’. By February of 1879 his daughter Bertha had died of Typhoid fever. At some point he also lost his son Alfred. These children and Kathrine were buried on the new homestead under a large oak tree. The family planted lilacs around the hillside graves to mark the spot. Many years later the graves were moved to the Union Cemetery on the north side of town.
Henry continued to clear land and construct a home as was required to ‘prove up’ on his homestead. His involvement with the town proceedings resulted in his election to the office of Town Treasurer in 1881.
In 1882, at the age of 49 Henry married his second wife ‘Katie’ Huehner Bergmann at Butternut. Henry’s daughter Anna and her husband Henry Besse witnessed the marriage. Katie brought to the family her ten year old daughter Emma from her first marriage. Along with Henry’s two surviving daughters Anna Louise (Weldon) and Henriete Eleanore (Groeling) they must have had a lively house hold. They finished proving up on the homestead in 1884. In 1885 Henry’s mother passed away, but in 1886 Katie gave birth to the only child the two had together. Phillippine Henrieta Spille was bright and beautiful. Katie also became a charter member of the Ladies Aid of the Butternut Evangelical United Brethren Church.
According to my mother’s stories Phillippine was the light in Katie’s life. She was engaged to be married at sixteen years of age. Then in 1902 she died of ‘consumption’. breaking Katie’s heart.
By the early 1900s Emma had married Herman Timmerman and was busy raising her five children in Duluth. Henry’s daughters soon had families of their own. In May of 1910 Henry died suddenly at the age of 77 leaving Katie alone, and with the deed to thirty acres of the homestead.
But this was not the end of the story for Catherine Spille. When her grand daughter was not able to take care of her newborn daughter in 1916, Katie at the age of 66 took on the responsibility of raising another child. That child, my mother Bessie Timmerman Kessey, described ‘Old Grandma Kate’ as a strict but kind influence in her life. Katie lived to her eighties and died on Christmas Eve, 1932.
The homestead is gone now. It fell into disrepair and was purposely burned in the late70s. If you would like to see the land that Henry and Katie called home take a ride up Cemetery road on the north side of Butternut. The road ends at a farm with a large red barn and on the hill a little west of the farm you may still see a large oak tree entirely surrounded by lilacs.
Story researched and written by Candis Hankins, Katie’s gggrand daughter.