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Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
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Contributed by Richard LaBrosse

Written by Mrs. Becker in 1893 - this story was found among an abandoned collection in an attic in Oconto Falls.


Almira (Ketchum) Volk was born on Long Island, November 18, 1810. Her great grandfather came from England. He had one son, Joseph Ketchum. Her grandmother was of Welsh descent and the mother of ten children, three sons and seven daughters. Her father, Richard Dean Ketchum was the second son.

John Volk was born in New York city, December 22, 1806. At the age of three, his father died and his mother with two small boys, wen to live on her parents farm at Scrawlensberg, New Jersey. He stayed there until he was twelve and then learned the cooper's trade. At twenty-one he married Hannah Jersey. They had one son. A few years later, Hannah died. He (John Volk) had a half  brother and half sister fron a previous marriage of his mother. The brother was killed in Florida in a was with the Seminole Indians, John died at Oconto Falls in 1892.

In 1830, Almira met John and after a short time, they married. In 1833 John decided that he wanted to go west to a new land. Almira stayed until the nest spring and raised her ten month old son. Then, on April 28, 1834, she set out to meet John withe her son, two younger sisters, her married sister Hannah along with her husband and two childern, and John's brother and his wife. They took a steamer from New York to Albany. They  boarded a canal boat and it took another week to reach Buffalo. Then they got on another steamer and it took another week to reach Detroit (Michigan). Since no steamers went out onto lakes Huron and Michigan, they boarded a sail boat and sailed to Mackinaw (Michigan). That took another week over very rough and stormy waters. After a weeks rest, they got back on the boat and sailed for one more week and reached Chicago (Illinois).

John and Almira stayed in Chicago and the rest moved out into the country on a plot of land that belonged to John. He had bule a small cabin and that is where they stayed. John had another claim  of land and agter a year in the city, they moved out to the land. Almira stayed at the land and John returned to Chicago to work for the winter and save money.  John went back and forth between the land and the city for a couple of years.

One day he came home and told Almira that there was a wonderful land up north and there was a sawmill for sale at Kewaunee (Wisconsin). He went to see it and was gone three weeks. When he arrived back home he told Almira that they were moving to the new sawmill. After living in the Chicago area for nine years the  Volks were now moving to Kewaunee. It was 1842. After selling out, John chartered a vessel at Chicago to carry most of their family belongings. The Volks had a herd of 12 cattle and Almira, along with her family, would go by land. John gave Almira five hundred dollars in gold in case anything should happen to him on the way. Nobody was told the fact that she was carrying that much gold.

The trip took three weeks. The trails they used had never been crossed by a wagon. Once the oxen pulling the wagon broke through a bridge and hung by their necks until one of the family cut the leather and they dropped into the river. They caught them and continued. Then the herd of cattle got  aeay one night and Almira and some of the others had to stay in the woods for several nights alone while the others tracked the herd fourteen miles to a previous stop.

 The Volks returned to Chicago for a few months so John could find buyers for the lumber and make arrangements for shipping. Then, John heard about another place about 60 miles from Kewaunee that had better lumber and a river with a falls. Two months after returning to Kewaunee, the Volks were once againn on their way to a new place called Oconto Falls, in Oconto County (Wisconsin). With the oxen and the wagon they made it as far as the Pensukee River that first day. The following day, the mouth of the Oconto River. At this time, there was no city of Oconto. One more day and they were at the mouth of the Little River. The next, they were at the site of Oconto Falls. Here a two story log house was built. It was now October of 1846. In the winter of 1847, the mill was built. The followig June, John went back to Chicago for supplies. He got sick and it took him six weeks to return.

When John got back from Chicago, he told Almira that he had sold out his shares of the new mill and that they were going back to Kewaunee. They moved and John built another mill. Then the wandering started. First Chicago, then Kansas and then Iowa. Finally it was decided to move back to Oconto Falls. They arrived at Oconto Falls on September 16, 1863. About three years and eight months had passed. The Volks spent their time clearing land for farming and furnishing their house that stood from the first visit. Then, after getting the barn full of hay and the wood cut for the winter, on Octoner 8, 1871, they lost everything. Four days before this they could smell smoke and then a tremendous fire roared through the woods. They fought, but could not save anything. The buildings were insured and they rebuilt.

John became the postmaster and the town treasurer. He built a small store and all the children gre up around them. Almira and John Volk had seven sons and daughters, forty-seven grandchildren and thirty-one great-grandchildren all living at this time in 1893. John passed away in his eighty seventh year in 1892.
contributed by Richard LaBrosse
Newspaper Article
Publication, Date and Year Unknown.

With reverence, and with deep appreciation for the courage of a pioneer mother, the family of Mary Howell Ketchum who resided in this area, set an old marble marker in memory of their great grandmother on Friday.  Mrs. Ralph Elver, a great granddaughter of this pioneer woman, had arranged an appropriate ceremoney as the marker, brought here from the White Cemetery at Niles, Illinois, was properly placed in the Volk Family Cemetery.  The White Cemetery is being moved because of the construction of a new highway.

Mrs. Ketchum was the mother of Mrs. Almira Volk, whose family was the first to live at the Falls on the Oconto River.  She died December 8, 1838 at the age of 55.  The dedication was read by Mrs. Elver, a wreath was placed by Ina Volk Allen, and a prayer was given by Mrs. George Schaal of Gillett.  The ceremony was closed with the Lord's Prayer.  The Oconto County Historical Society was represented by its president, George Hall, and the secretary, Mrs. E. Beorgeon.  Friends and relatives from Gillett, Shawano and Oconto were at these unique rites.  The keynote of the ceremony struck a note which could be heeded today.  The devout (unreadable) of this early woman of pioneer times carried her through many hardships.  This faith was passed on to her daughter, Almira Ketchum Volk, as evidenced by her work in establishing the church in Oconto Falls.  Her descendants have to this day taken an active part in the growth and maintenance of the Oconto Falls Methodist church through the years.
For another story of the Volk family please click: Pioneer Life In Wisconsin  - Written in 1875 by Oconto Falls Pioneer John Volk; Transcribed and contributed by descendant:  Gayle Volk