Search billions of records on

Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
Collected and posted by RITA
This site is exclusively for the free access of individual researchers.
* No profit may be made by any person, business or organization through publication, reproduction, presentation or links
to this site.



Researched, written and contributed by  Jim Klemp

Note: John Klemp
Born:  June 11, 1842 in Regenwalde, Prussia

Died:  Feb. 13, 1927 in Milwaukee, WI
Buried: Feb 16,1927 at National Home Cemetery (Now called Wood National Cemetery, Milwaukee, WI)

John Klemp


John Klemp -Early 1900s

The Early Years     


John Klemp was born in Regenwalde, Prussia on 11 June 1842. When John was nine years old, his family took the long journey from Regenwalde, Prussia to Hamburg, Germany.  With over 200 other passengers, the Klemps departed from Hamburg, Germany on a U.S. Mail steamship named “Washington” and sailed toward a life of freedom, opportunity, and adventure that only America offered.  The “Washington” was the “first American Atlantic liner and also one of the ugliest ships ever put afloat” according to H. Parker in the book “Mail and Passenger Steamships of the Nineteenth Century.” The Klemp family arrived at the port of New York on 10 June 1852 with his Father Karl (Charles), mother Ernestine (Maiden name Krueger), sister Wilhelmina, new born baby brother Herrmann and Grandfather Adam Klemp probably as a result of the German Revolution that began in 1848.  Brother Herrmann was born during the trip on June 7th.  It must have been an extremely uncomfortable trip for Ernestine, especially traveling in the tight noisy quarters of the low class “steerage” section of the ship.  They along with most of the passengers were categorized as “lower classes of laborers” on the passenger list.  The trip took about 13 days.


There must have been mixed emotions and feelings of uncertainty, relief, chaos, fatigue, and being homesick as John and his family walked through the ports of New York.  Unfortunately, the Klemps didn’t see the Statue of Liberty as they entered the “Land of the Free” since “Lady Liberty” didn’t arrive until 1886.  Many Germans left their homelands at this time to avoid wars, military service, and economic hardship, including unemployment and crop failures.  There were no restrictions on American immigration at that time.  The Klemp family immediately became American citizens as soon as they stepped on the shores of the United States. 


This long trip across the North Atlantic Sea was probably followed by additional long journeys from New York to Wisconsin through the Erie Canal and on through to the Great Lakes to the western ports of Lake Michigan (Possibly Two Rivers, WI).


According to Wisconsin Genealogist Kathy Lenerz (31 Mar 2002):

 “In the early 1850’s, before the  train lines were very extensive, the most common route was to take a boat up the Hudson River in New York to around Albany.  Then travelers switched to a barge that traversed New York via the Erie Canal to Buffalo.  From Buffalo, they took a steamship across the Great Lakes to Milwaukee: west through Lake Erie, north through Lake Huron, then south through Lake Michigan.  The usual stops were Detroit, Milwaukee, and Chicago.”  The length of the trip was about 2000 miles and took three to four days.


After many weeks and miles of traveling, John's family finally settled in Reedsville/ Maple Grove, Wisconsin.  In 1856, John was joined by a baby sister Bertha who was the first American born Klemp child.  Wisconsin was admitted as a state in 1848 and was largely populated by German immigrants.  In 1856, when John was only 14 years old, his father passed away.  Karl was only about 39 years old.  On 8 June1857, his mother Ernestine married a Blacksmith named William Zahn in Rockland, Wisconsin.  John’s grandfather Adam died on 20 May 1861. 


In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday.  Even through the hardships, the Klemp family had a lot to be thankful for.


Civil War

When John was 20 years old, he entered into the Civil War by volunteering for military service in the town of Springvale (Fond Du Lac).  There were attractive financial incentives for volunteering for the war at that time, which could be the main reason that a young man like John volunteered.  Military records described John as having brown eyes, brown hair, a dark complexion, and was 5 feet 6 inches in height at the time he volunteered. He was mustered into the Wisconsin 4th Regiment Company K on 13 March 1863.  Later he was transferred to Company F of the 4th Regiment of the Wisconsin Cavalry.  The travels of the 4th Cavalry included Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Brookhaven, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and San Antonio, Texas.  At the expiration of his term of service, John was discharged at Brownsville, Texas on 18 March 1866. 


During his service he became friends with Charles McKenzie and Joseph Helmke who would later help him start his own business.  McKenzie and Helmke had settled in a town called Gillett in Wisconsin before they left for service in 1862.  Helmke arrived in Gillett from Maglenberg, Germany in 1856.  In 1861, Helmke enlisted into the military 32nd Division (The “River Drivers”) after his wife and three children died from Black Diphtheria.  Mr. Helmke buried not only his family but his tool chest before leaving for the Civil War.  


Career and Family

John returned home to Wisconsin and about a year later married a woman named Emilie (Amelia)  Huess on 19 April 1867 in Reedsville.  Emilie was born in 1848 in Plathe, Prussia, which is located west of Regenwalde.  Influenced by his stepfather William as a teenager and through his experience in the Wisconsin Cavalry, John started his trade as a blacksmith.  John and Emilie's first child Charles was born on 14 March 1869 in Oconto, Wisconsin.  According to the 1870 Federal Census records, the Klemps lived in the city of Oconto (Eastward)  and neither John nor Emilie could read or write.   


Sometime prior to 1874, the Klemps moved a little west to the town of Gillett where John's Civil War buddies Charles McKenzie and Joseph Helmke helped open the door for John to become the first blacksmith in Gillett in 1878.  John sharpened plow shares, shod horses, and did general repair work.  Joseph Helmke had returned to his cabin in Gillett in 1865 and found that his tool chest was in good condition after being buried for four years.  Joseph also remarried a woman named Mary and was given a deed to the property from the United States Government signed by Ulysses S. Grant.  Both Helmke and McKenzie were farmers after the war.


Gillett was and still is a small town that consists mostly of farm families.  According to the book “America-Land I Love”:


“Farm families worked hard to make a living, and each family member did his share of the chores.  Farm life, though busy, was seasoned with fun and laughter and offered many rewards, including abundant food, safe surroundings, close family ties, and the satisfaction of a job well done.  At the close of the day, families often read stories and sang together; many families finished the day with Bible reading and prayer.  Sometimes, several families got together for corn husking, quilting party, barn raising, or church social (picnic or games).  Hunting and fishing were also popular pastimes and helped provide food for the family table.”


“The farm provided a number of places for children to romp and play after their chores were finished.  When weather permitted, they might play hide-and-seek in the barn.  Between work and play, farm children never ran out of things to do.  In spring and fall, younger children attended the little red schoolhouse while most of the older brothers and sisters worked on the farm.  In winter, older children also attended school.  Farm children often walked several miles to get to school.”


 Between 1870 and 1881, John and Emilie gave birth to at least seven more children (William, Carl, Erdman, Frank, Louisa, Otto, and Wilhelmina) while living in Oconto and Gillett. Many of their children were documented as being baptized at the Immanuel Lutheran Church located at Hwy H in Gillett. According to the 1880 Federal Census records,  John and Emilie could both read and write.  This was probably influenced by their children going to school.  There was a little red school house located on the corner of North Elm and West Main Street in Gillett that most if not all of John and Emilie’s children went to school during the 1870’s and 1880’s.  It was the site of many gatherings, attended by everyone in the community. In the Spring of 1882, the school was closed for three months due to a great epidemic of disease that had no remedy.  Many of the school children died due to this illness.  It is unknown whether any of the Klemp children died though.  In 1880, the Klemp’s neighbors were businessman William John and wagon maker Herman Kusbaub.


According to the Oconto County Reporter in June 1876, “one of the fiercest tornados to visit Oconto County cut a five-mile strip through the territory, doing the greatest damage at Gillett.  Among the buildings destroyed by the wind are Rodney Gillett’s barn, Matt Finnegan’s house and barn, Thomas Rierdon’s house and barn, Mr. Bruses’s buildings, Thomas Johnson’s roof, Oconto Company’s barn on the McDougal farm, and the smoke stack of the mill.  At the time of the tornado, John Volk and his wife were returning from Gillett to Oconto Falls in a buggy and narrowly escaped death when a tree fell across their path, killing their horse.”  I am sure that this had some impact on all of the residents of Gillett, including the Klemp Family.  John and his family probably helped repair the damage done to the town of Gillett.


Another tragedy occurred in Gillett seven years later.  Although she appeared to be in "robust" health at age 35,  Emilie Klemp died on 2 May 1883 due to heart failure according to the Oconto County Reporter newspaper (5 May 1883).   Further, the newspaper said, “She went to bed Wednesday evening . . . arose and passed from her bed room into the sitting room where she expired in the arms of her husband who had followed her.  She was a very estimable woman, universally loved and respected, and her sudden demise has cast a gloom over the entire community.” Later in 1883,  John married a woman named Augusta (Maiden name "Trebes"). 


According to the book “History of Gillett, Oconto County, WI 1856-1976”:

“Between 1884 when Gillett was platted, and 1900 when it was incorporated, there was a rapid growth with many new businesses and industries being started.  This was partly because a railroad line now connected Gillett and Oconto.  Stores, saloons, a cheese factory, a butcher shop, a brickyard, and a barbershop were started.  The Gillett Times, a weekly newspaper was started … L.B Stuelke established the first drugstore . . .built …the first hardware store . . .  L.J. Newald started the first bank .  The Village of Gillett was incorporated in 1900 with a population of about 400.”


As Gillett grew during this time period, the Klemp family also had a growth spurt.  Between 1885 and 1901 John and Augusta gave birth to at least six children (Gustav, Annie, Louis, Ida, Marie, August).  Most of the Klemp children were baptized at the St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church located at 101 Main Street in Gillett.   In 1884, a larger schoolhouse was built on South Elm Street.  The “little red schoolhouse” was moved near the new school and became a woodshed.


During this time of blessing, hardships also continued to come also.  In February 1886, a German man named Nieman had one finger cut off and two more badly damaged while working at the mill of (Calvin?) Gale and John Klemp according to the Oconto County Reporter.  On 1 January 1887, the same newspaper stated that “Marks and Klemp opened up a blacksmith and wagon shop located opposite the mill.”  On 14 July 1891, the Klemp's barn was destroyed by fire along with the loss of three pigs and a light wagon.  There was no “big bad wolf” sited at the scene though.  There was also no chartered fire department at the time.  The loss was a heavy one, since the building was not insured.  The biggest loss though was probably the impact of the fire on his son Gustav, one of two boys who started the fire while playing with matches. The traumatic experience led his son Gustav to choose to live at an institution for almost all of the remaining years of his life.


The Klemp family experienced several other significant events through the 1890’s. John applied for a pension on 5 July 1892 for his service during the Civil War.  In 1892, there was a Civil War Veteran’s reunion in Oconto.  John's oldest daughter Louise married Louis Hanstedt at the Lutheran Church (Rev. J.G. Oepke) in Gillett in 1893 and his oldest son Charles married Margaret Schalidon in Bismarck, North Dakota on 23 November 1896.


At age 58, John was unable to work for 10 months in the year 1900 according to the Census records due to an unknown reason. At this time, Matt Wagner was now the town blacksmith.  In 1900, the Klemp’s neighbors were Railroad man Jack Saubert and Miller Saw owner William F. Krueger.  John Klemp’s son Frank married Minnie Seidel on 20 June 1900 and his daughter Wilhelmina married Ed Krueger in 1900 in Wisconsin.  Then, while giving birth to their 6th child "August" on 12 February 1901, John's wife Augusta passed away. Unable to care for the children, John Klemp had to give up the youngest children (Louis-10, Ida-6, Marie-3, and August-baby)  to family members or for adoption. August lived with John's sister Bertha in Cameron, Wisconsin and died  two months later due to bronchitis.  Louis went to live with the Bray family in Antigo while sister Ida was adopted by John and Sophia Klaehn in Seymour, and other sister Marie was adopted by another family.


On 24 June 1900, John’s stepfather William Zahn died due to unknown causes at the age of 66.  This followed the death of John’s half-brother William Zahn, Junior who died at the age of 34 on 14 January 1900.  They both were buried at the Friedens U.C.C. Cemetery located in the Maple Grove Township (Manitowoc County), Wisconsin.


John is shown as living in Newald, Forest County, Wisconsin according to the Census in 1905.  At this time the population of Gillett had increased to 500.  Why he moved to Newald is unknown.  There must have been either work and/or affordable housing available for him.  There were several other Civil War Veterans living in the Forest County area at that time.


On 21 August 1909,  John’s mother Ernestine Zahn passed away at the age of 87 in Cameron, Wisconsin due to bronchitis and contributed by “senile debility” according to Dr. T.R. Hawkins.  Ernestine had endured the hardship of losing both husbands and most of her children at relatively young ages during her long life.  Ernestine was buried at the Pine Grove Cemetery located in Cameron on 24 August 1909.  John Klemp’s brother-in-law, John Boortz, was listed as the informant on the death certificate.  At age 68, John Klemp was living at the Old Soldier’s Home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin according to the 1910 Federal Census.


John's son Louis married Leola Monroe in the “stone house” in Antigo, Wisconsin on 25 December 1913.  Louis’ best man in the wedding was neighbor Bert Wright.  The stone house still stands today in it’s original location.  Leola gave birth to ten boys between 1914 and 1932. 


Many years later John was reunited with his three children that had been sent out for adoption: Louis, Ida ( Ploeger), and Marie (Mucha).  His son Louis was credited with finding his two sisters.  Klemp descendents claim that sometime prior to 1913, Louis walked 70 miles from Antigo to Seymour to find his sister Ida . 


On  6 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany due to the sinking of unarmed American ships including the Lusitania and the possibility of the enlisting of Mexico and Japan into the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria) that was outlined in a telegram sent from the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman.  John Klemp must have felt safe to be living in the United States at the time but sadness for any German family members that had been left behind.  John’s son Louis and grandson Walter Klemp were both registered for service in World War I.  On 11 November 1918 Armistice Day was declared and the war was over.


In the early 1920's, John visited with his children while living at the Old Soldiers Home in Milwaukee.  At the age of 84, John Klemp died at the Old Soldiers home on 13 February 1927.  John had purchased a gravesite years earlier at the Wanderer’s Rest Cemetery located in Gillett, but was buried at the Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee with a Civil War marker on 16 February 1927.


John Klemp Gravesite

 Although I  never met any of my ancestors, the stories that they left behind through their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren make me feel as if I was hugging them right now.  I’m also very thankful that they made that fateful journey from a country under seize to America, the land of the free.

If anyone has any additional stories, pictures, or information about the Klemp family, please contact me by E-Mail as mentioned above.
 Or Click  HERE