Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Founder of Pine Creek?

     These perplexing sentences introduce the section on Pine Creek in the 1917 Curtiss-Wedge History of Trempealeau County:
It was probably around 1862 when the Polish people began to settle in Pine Creek. They were induced to locate here by John Schmangle, a man who spoke English, German, and Polish.
"Probably around 1862:" the origins of Pine Creek were mysterious even a century ago. The questions of who first settled there and when they settled will likely never be worked out satisfactorily. But I do think I have solved the mystery of who "John Schmangle" was. Or at least some of it.

    The US Land Office records show that John Schmangler of Trempealeau purchased the SESE quarter of section 34 in Arcadia Township, totaling 40 acres, on New Year's Day 1861.
He apparently homesteaded this property: military records show that John Schmengler of Arcadia enlisted in Company C of the 30th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on August 20, 1862. He was mustered out on September 20, 1865, without having participated in any of the Civil War's major battles. On June 1, 1868 he purchased two more parcels of land: 40 more acres of section 34 in Arcadia Township and 58.27 acres of section 2 of Dodge Township. An 1877 plat map of Trempealeau County lists "J. Shmengler" owning property in Dodge. He then passes from the history of Trempealeau County.

     The 1900 US Census shows John Schmengler, born in Germany in December 1832, veteran of the 30th Wisconsin Infantry, as living in Hazel Green, Wisconsin. A1903 transaction shows that one Florence A. Cannon, of Duluth. took possession of 120 acres in Itasca, Minnesota homesteaded by John Schmengler. The 1905 Wisconsin state census is the last to mention him; he is buried in Hazel Green beneath a headstone indicating his military service but no date of death.

Why did someone who evidently played such a major role in the founding of Pine Creek vanish so completely? It would be fascinating to know more.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Katarzyna Bambenek 1861-1887

  In 1882 Winona, the wedding of two Kaszubian Poles tended not to be newspaper material. But on April 19 of that year, the Winona Republican Herald noted among its "Local Brevities" the nuptials between Mr. Jacob Bronk and Mrs. Kate Czapiewska. I remember seeing this pop up on the Winona Newspaper Project site and being struck by (for lack of a better word) the dissonance between the Anglo-Saxon diminutive "Kate" and the properly inflected Polish feminine surname "Czapiewska."

As noted, Jacob Bronk (1851-1919) was a city policeman; he had been widowed in the previous year. A son of Winona's first Kaszubian settlers, Jozef and Franciszka Bronk, he was becoming a man of stature in the local Polish community. Kate Czapiewska was born Katarzyna Bambenek on April 15, 1861 in Widno, Poland, daughter of Marcin and Magdalena Stoltman Bambenek. This made her the older sister of my great-grandfather Karol Bambenek (1864-1937).

I was able to learn on my own that Kate was the widow of one Walenty "Valentine" Czapiewski. From Jacob Bronk's 1889 marriage to his third wife Mary, I inferred that Kate did not live to see her twenty-eighth birthday. For quite a while, that was it. But church records show that Walenty Czapiewski died on December 25, 1881 from a stone-working accident. The Winona Republican Herald of December 27, 1881 remarks the accidental of one "Billy Chopla," who must be the same man.  Church records also indicate that Katarzyna Bronk died, aged twenty-six,  on December 16, 1887 from complications of childbirth. She was survived by her husband Jacob Bronk and their two children: John (1883-1966) and Agnes (1884-?).

     Although I seem to have lost track of Agnes, who is last recorded by the 1930 US Census living with her husband Harry Means in San Francisco, CA, I am pleased to report that Katarzyna Bambenek's descendants through her son John are alive and well and thriving to this day. Being able to prove that her stock has not totally vanished from this earth makes me rather less unhappy about her too short life.