6 March 2016

Christine Elisabeth (Fiegenbaum) Wellemeyer

1827 — 1918

A Remembrance by her Grandson

During 1954 and 1955, Franz Arthur Wellemeyer, a substantial businessman at Klemme, Iowa, gathered information from relatives and wrote three family histories.

The largest of these booklets, as he called them, at 152+ pages, concentrated on the Fiegenbaum and Wellemeyer families. Arthur complemented the basic genealogical statistics with personal remembrances. He had lived with Grandfather and Grandmother Wellemeyer from 1890 (he was 10 years old) to 1893 and again during the winter of 1896 and spring of 1897 (completing 10th grade), herding cattle and performing a wide variety of chores on their farm near Garner, Iowa. He also assisted his grandmother in her work as a midwife and physician.

It was these first-hand experiences that inform his portrait of the woman known to her neighbors as "Mother Wellemeyer."


She was born Oct. 6th 1827, in Prussia Germany, the third and smallest of six children born to Adolph and Christine Fiegenbaum. 1 

In her sixth year, 1834, the family migrated to America, and settled in Warren County Missouri, where her father was a 'truck gardener', and later the Fiegenbaums moved to a farm near Wapello Iowa. 2 

Catherine was 64 years old when I first came to live with them, her hair was medium brown, straight and thin on top, with a braid rolled up in the back, her eyes were blue and well apart.

She was 'Little but Active', had a tremendous capacity for getting work done, was eager, optomistic [sic] and enjoyed it all.  She was strong mentally, a clear thinker, a leader, always knew exactly what she was doing and why.  And folks just naturally follow a person who 'knows'.  She inherited a talent from the Fiegenbaums, she could always remember what she knew at just the time she needed to know it.

To say that she was religiously inclined is putting it mild, she was SPIRITUALY [sic] GIFTED - a sort of sixth sense - A spiritual power - She daily communed with her God in prayer.  Maybe you could call it 'Using the Sub-conscious mind', some might call it a women's intuition.  Whatever it was she had it in ABUNDANCE.

Let me give you two illustrations:

1st - In the fall of 1891, while I was living with them, Grandmother, one day, came into my bedroom at four o'clock in the morning, woke me up and said "I did not sleep well last night, thinking about my daughter Lisetta in Kansas, I feel they are in deep trouble, won't you hurry down to the depot and see if there is a telegram for me?"

The depot opened early because of an early morning train, and there it was a telegram for Grandmother, and the message disclosed that Geo. E. Minden, Lisetta's husband, had been killed by lightning the previous afternoon.

The above happening is true, and I still cannot believe that it was merely a coincident [sic].  Could it be that the sub-conscious minds of the mother and her daughter, somehow operated on the same wave length, so that when the daughter was deeply troubled it disturbed the mother?  No doubt, someday, science will untangle the phenomenon of mental telepathy.

2nd - Grandmother at Prayer Meeting:

During the 20 weeks of the herding season 3  I did not get to church on Sunday, however, I was commanded to attend the Wednesday night prayer meeting at church, with the family.  The Minister would lead the congregation in a song or two read scripture, then everybody knelt, while one after another of the 'laymen', led in prayer, mostly steriotyped [sic] stuff given in a monotone.

But, when Grandmother 'let loose' in prayer that was different, she began low and slowly developed her 'word picture' then as her voice grew stronger, she would 'lay it on the line' for the sinner and plead with all of us to turn to the Lord, right now, while he could still be found.  - She was never at a loss for the right word, and would cast an almost hypnotic spell over the audience.  She was eloquent and passionate in her appeal, and beat any Evangelist or any pulpit man, that I ever heard in the 75 years of my life.

I mention this as an illustration of her spiritual gifts.  She would just sort of dip down into her sub-conscious mind and there it was.


It was in 1870, that the Milwaukee Railroad extended its tracks from Clear Lake westward thru the state of Iowa.  And as soon as the rails were laid as far west as Algona, they started running trains.  The first Passenger Train to stop at Garner was in the fall of 1870.

And then beginning in the spring of 1871, the little freight trains started bringing in emigrant cars, moving families, who were seeking new homes on the fertile lands of Hancock County Iowa.

The Norwegion [sic] People settled at Forest City.  The Bohemian People selected farms near Duncan.  And the German People, wanting to live near other German speaking people, chose farms in Liberty Township, where they later built a German Methodist Church.

Thus, in a brief time, maybe ten years, fifty new families moved onto farms in Liberty Township, and the Garner community was being settled at the same time.

These new families were mostly young people, Some were Newly-weds, they built humble homes, some with dirt floors, They were in debt to the Money-Lenders.

And then the most natural thing began to happen, into the homes of these happy and courageous young people, Babies were born - Many Babies - Gifts from the Gods.

Thus, there was an immediate need for Doctors, but no licensed Physician opened up an office in Garner until many years later.  And the entire first generation of these pioneer children were born without an M.D. in attendance.

How did they manage?

There were two women living in our community, who had the job of doctor forced onto them by popular demand.  They were Mrs Joachim Schuldt, near Klemme, and Mrs Henry F. Wellemeyer, living in Garner Iowa.

MRS JOACHIM SCHULDT, moved to Liberty Township, near Klemme in 1878, age 36, was the mother of several children.  She had completed six years of nurse's training in Germany, this training together with natural ability, fitted her to serve as Doctor to the families of the Klemme Community, for a decade or more before a regular M.D. located here, she confined her practice strictly to 'Baby Cases' and the customary fee was five dollars.

MRS HENRY F. WELLEMEYER, came to Garner Iowa in 1875, age 48. She was the mother of nine children, a clear thinker with natural ability. 4   During her pioneer years at Wapello she gained experience, by doctoring her own children and those of her neighbors, thus, she was the logical choice of the pioneer families in the Garner area.

As a true deciple [sic] of the 'Great Physician' she went about from home to home, doing good and healing the sick, both young and old, and took as her recompense, whatever the pioneer could pay.  She was indeed a MOTHER to her people, and was affectionately called 'Mother Wellemeyer'.

Her supplies came from a firm of Doctors in St. Louis Mo. with whom she was personaly [sic] acquainted, and thru them she obtained some medical books.  She had an open mind and was willing to learn from anyone.  She even visited the Winnebago Indians near Forest City, from whom she acquired various roots, herbs and barks, with which she experimented, useing [sic] them on herself in small doses.

Among the many items used by the Indians, I seem to remember just a few - Slipery [sic] Elm Bark - Oak bark - Sassafras leaves - Golden rod roots - Catnip leaves - Peneroyal [sic] leaves - Hops - Flax seed - Senna [sic] leaves - Bay leaves - Dill - Sun flower [sic] seeds - Bees wax and Honey- Tobacco- Sulphur etc.  Mutton tallow was used as a base for salves (no vasoline [sic]).

The DOG DAYS, July 20, to August 31, gave the pioneer families a ruff [sic] time.  Often the housewife would assist with the field work such as haying and harvest, it was almost impossible to hire extra help, and besides they had no money.

Thus, while everybody worked from sun to sun, there was little time left to do up the housework.  Maybe it was time to wean the baby, and the older children would slip the young fellow a bottle of sour milk now and then.  The next thing we knew, Mother Wellemeyer was called, the baby had summer complaint - many died.

Now then said Mother Wellemeyer, bring up a healthy gentle cow, and stake her near the house.  In the Road cart Mother Wellemeyer carried a sack full of new tin cups.  She gave each child a tin cup, so that they could help themselves by milking a cup full of milk from the cow whenever they wished, its better for them than sour milk, and even better for them than water from our shallow wells.  I'll wait right here while you fetch the cow.

Reader please notice:  She didn't say 'Better attend to this when you have time'.  Heck no - the Little Doctor Lady said 'Go fetch that Cow', and everybody knew that she would stay right there untill [sic] the cow appeared and was staked out in the yard, even if it took till domsday [sic].

Then during 'DOG DAYS', the hams, shoulders, and side pork, Which had been prepared maybe in Feb. or March by pickeling [sic] and smoking, would begin to taste stale, and sometimes start to spoil a bit around the bone.  If they kept on eating this partly spoiled meat, someone in the family would get very sick, usualy [sic] the head of the house.  Mother Wellemeyer then, had a case of 'Ptomain [sic] poison' to deal with.  - These are wicked germs, and sometimes its either kill or cure in a matter of hours.

Then she would order the spoiled meat thrown out, and sent someone to town to buy two or three lambs.  You must eat mutton during all of the month of August.  Kill and dress a lamb in the evening, next morning put the entire lamb in the oven and roast it, this will give you good eating for two or three days, and then the inter larding of the tallow in the mutton is cooling and healing to the bowels.

She had advised the Live Stock Dealers in Garner to always have Lambs on hand in August, they were glad to cooperate.

She was forever telling her patients about 'Hygenic [sic] Cooking' what to eat, what to raise in the garden etc.  And told everybody to raise a few sheep every year, so that they could eat mutton in August.  August she said, was the month for bowel trouble.  Let the field work suffer if need be, the well being of your family should always come first.

Our Grandfather, Henry F. Wellemeyer, was moderate in all things, but he worried about our Grandmother, she was working too hard, and he did everything he could to make things easier for her, at his insistance [sic] grandmother hired a girl to attend to the routine household duties, and he also hired a local wagon maker to build a two wheeled cart for her to use, all the iron work done by himself.

sketch of horse cart by Franz Arthur Wellemeyer

Notice the high back of the seat, so that grandmother could sleep on the way home, good springs, wheels slightly taller than buggy wheels, quite a large box under the seat to hold her grip and equipment, blankets and slicker robe these were folded and placed on the seat.  - a lantern to hang under the seat was provided.  A young black hambletonian [sic] mare was trained to pull the cart.

The drawing herewith, shows a cross section of the rig, it is not too good (My hand shakes) is not drawn to scale, but will give the readed [sic] some idea of the outfit.

Grandfather sent a driver with Mother Wellemeyer on all night calls, her son Charles had been doing this, but in 1892 the job was turned over to me.  I was 12, Charles was 22, and Mother Wellemeyer was 65, and had been serving the community as Doctor for 17 years - Her Job was heavy.

She did so wish that an M.D. would locate in Garner.  A Doctor Smith tried it, but he was a drunk and never got started.  A Dr Schneider came, just out of college, no experience, Mother Wellemeyer had to train him to do the job, while he was a bright man.  It took years to get him going.

One evening as I brought in the herd from the grassland, Grandfather explained, that Mother Wellemeyer had been out on a 'Baby case' most of the day and was now taking a nap, with instructions to call her at exactly 7:30 PM. when I was to drive her 11 miles south west to a farm home where a man had broken a leg.  - Grandfather had instructed the man who brought the call, to hang a lantern on the gate post to guide us, and that we would arrive at about 9:30 PM.

For the first four miles we had a graded dirt road, then we turned off on a diagonal trail, which ran from one farm place to another for miles, making detours around the sloughs and keeping mostly to the higher ground, the farther we went, the fainter the trail, finaly [sic] we saw a gleam of light maybe two miles away.  We were there at nine o'clock.

The patient, a man of 40, lay on a couch too short for him, and in some pain, considerable swelling (not a good sign).  The neighbors were anxious to help, brought a bed down from up stairs, set it up, boards were placed over the ropes which usualy [sic] served as springs.  Neighbor ladies tufted the 'husk tick', thus making a more solid mattress.

My job was to bathe the patient with castile soap and warm soft water from the reservoir of the kitchen stove.

Mother Wellemeyer was trying to determine the extent of the injury.  The swelling made her job difficult.  She would feel of the good leg and then of the bad.  The break was between the knee and the ankle.  The larger bone was broken off, and the smaller bone partly broken.

The bones were worked into place, splints were put on to hold them there, his chect [sic] was bandaged where he had a cracked rib, and after considerable more fussing, the patient was comfortable and Mother Wellemeyer was done for the time being.

We ate lunch shortly after mid-night and then started for home.  Mother Wellemeyer wore a heavy coat and a shawl over her head, she leaned against me and went to sleep.  The sky was overcast and it felt like rain, no moon, no stars, only the light of our lantern which hung under the cart.

After driving for an hour, we came to a newly made haystack which I did not remember seeing on our way out.  When I stopped the horse, Grandmother woke up.  Where are we? she asked.  We picked up the worng [sic] trail about a quarter of a mile back, and everything will be alright, go on back to sleep, I will tend to the driving.  Nope, said Grandma, when a person is lost its best to stay put till morning, we can't even tell direction without the stars or the moon.

Grandmother looked at the big watch, which she carried in her hand bag, it was two o'clock, she wound up her watch with a key (it was not a stem winder), rolled up in a nice wool blanket, lay down on the hay and went to sleep, she could always sleep any place and any where.

While she slept, I put side curtains on the cart, got out the slicker robe, in case it should rain, rolled up in a horse blanket, lay down on the hay and rested.  I did not sleep much because, after all this whole mixup [sic] was my mistake.

I was up at four, it was clearing and day was beginning to break, and one could tell which was east.  I got the horse and cart ready to go, Grandmother woke up, and we continued on our way, and Grandmother continued to sleep all the way home.

I helped with the chores, and then it was 6:30 AM. time to take out the herd to the grassland.

I have told this story with considerable detail, to show the responsibilty [sic] which fell on the shoulders of that 'Little Person' Mother Wellemeyer.  There was no hospital to go to, and no other doctor to call.  If the leg of this patient had been damaged beyond repair, Mother Wellemeyer was prepared to amputate right then and there.

It was just two years later after their Golden Wedding that her husband, Henry F Wellemeyer, died August 1899 - age 77 years.

Henry F. as head of the house was calm and kindly, he ordered Catherine his wife to take a short nap after each call, and to save argument, and 'please pa' she did just that, altho maybe she was not too tired.

Henry and Catherine were a great pair, seemed to understand each other and make allowance for their difference in viewpoint.

After the passing of her husband, Catherine, gradualy [sic] disposed of her property, broke up housekeeping and spent some time visiting with the families of her several children.

She made more extended visits in the homes of two of her daughters, Amelia Neumann and Marie Addicks, however the last few years of her life were spent in the home of her youngest son, Charles L Wellemeyer, at Warrenton Missouri where she died Feb. 1st 1918, her age 91 years. 5 

She had been a widow for 19 years.  Her two sons Frank H. and H. Fred. after long lives of usefulness had preceeded [sic] her, her grandchildren had become grown men and women.

When a person reaches age 91, all of the friends of their Youth are dead and gone.  And so it was with the pioneer families, whom Mother Wellemeyer had served as Family Physician, some were dead, others had moved away, and the few who were still living in the Garner area were old men and old women.  And the hundreds of Babies which she helped welcome into the world, were grown and scattered widely.

Thus, the remains of Mother Wellemeyer, were brought back to the church which she had helped build, to be buried by the grandchildren of her former friends, to lie beside her husband, in the shade of the evergreen trees, which he had planted in the Concord Cemetery near Garner Iowa.

The modest gray casket, containing the light and frail body of 'Our Little Lady' was completely covered with a blanket of red roses, and was easily carried by six old men, pioneers of Liberty Township.  (Two younger men carried the casket up the church aisle and placed in on the pedestals).

Music by the church choir, all nice young people, but none of them had ever known Mother Wellemeyer.

Rev. A. W. Gauger, the young pastor at Garner, conducted the service, a short very proper routine talk, but no eulogy.  The two front seats held the relatives: 6 

The Ed. Wellemeyer family of Garner Iowa
Wm. H. Wellemeyer and Mrs Julius Neumann of Wymore Nebr.
Charles L. Wellemeyer of Warrenton Missouri
George L. Wellemeyer of Harris Iowa
Mrs Ruth Wellemeyer Melcher of Waverly Iowa.
The Arthur Wellemeyer family of Klemme Iowa.

A monument of Vermont Granite was erected in Concord Cemetery by Mother Wellemeyer shortly after the death of her husband.  After her death, Mr and Mrs Julius Neumann, ordered her name added to the face of the stone.

And as I write this in January 1955, the nine children of this couple have also passed on.  And the grandchildren are old men and women, I a grandson am age 75.

And, dear reader, this monument and its inscription, is all that you would ever know of Henry F. Wellemeyer and his wife Catherine Elizabeth Fiegenbaum, except for the foregoing pages of what I remember of them.

It was a pleasure to write this story - Arthur Wellemeyer.

Source: Arthur Wellemeyer, Fiegenbaum, Wellemeyer (Klemme, Iowa: Arthur Wellemeyer, 1955), pages 28-35.

note: Some minor editorial changes to the original text have been made to create the transcription presented here. The size of the sketch has been reduced and its location relative to the text has been altered.


  1. Family members in Germany have reported the given names as Christine Elisabeth and state that she was born on 25 October 1827. Various sources from the USA, among them Franz Arthur Wellemeyer, identify her as Catherine Elizabeth, born on 6 October 1827. Until this discrepancy can be resolved, I have chosen to use the information shared with me from Germany.

    Catherine Elizabeth (or, Christine Elisabeth) was the first of two daughters born to Adolph Heinrich and Christine Elisabeth (Peterjohann) Fiegenbaum. The first five children were born in Lengerich, Province of Westphalia, Kingdom of Prussia. The sixth child, and last of four sons, was born in Missouri in 1837.

    A more complete story of the family can be learned from the materials listed in the More Resources portion of this page, and in the genealogy database.

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  2. The year of the family's migration from Germany to the USA has not been irrefutably determined. While I believe that 1834 is very probably correct, a number of sources also give the date as either 1832 or 1833.

    Exactly where the family first settled upon arriving in Missouri is also a matter that has not been satifactorily resolved. The baptism in 1837 of Heinrich Rudolph Fiegenbaum, the last child born to Adolph Heinrich and Christine Elisabeth (Peterjohann) Fiegenbaum, was recorded in the register of the German evangelical church at Femme Osage, Missouri (founded in 1833 as the deutsche evangelische Kirchegemeinde and known since 1957 as Femme Osage United Church of Christ ). Although this would seem to suggest that the family had located initially in Femme Osage Township, St. Charles County, Missouri, the possibility that they lived just over the line in Charrette Township, Warren County cannot be ruled out. However, one must take into account that in 1838, Adolph Fiegenbaum declared in the St. Charles County Circuit Court his intention to become an American citizen. Furthermore, in 1840, he obtained a federal land patent in St. Louis, Missouri for 40 acres of land in St. Charles County, east of the village of Femme Osage.

    The family does appear to have lived for a time in neighboring Warren County, Missouri. In 1844, the Adolph obtained a second federal land patent in St. Louis, Missouri for 81.47 acres of land in the area of Hopewell and Holstein, where his brother's family had settled after migrating from Germany in 1841.

    By the time of the 1850 U.S. census, Adolph Heinrich and Christine Elisabeth (Peterjohann) Fiegenbaum and their two youngest sons, who were single and still in the family home, had taken up land in Wapello Township, Louisa County, Iowa.

    It would appear that Henry Frank and Catherine Elizabeth (or, Christine Elisabeth) (Fiegenbaum) Wellemeyer also relocated about the same time. Their first two children were born in Warren County, Missouri in 1848 and 1849. The next birth that I am aware of occured in 1852 in Wapello Township, Louisa County, Iowa.

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  3. Arthur Wellemeyer has left an account of his years herding cattle for his grandparents. Each year his grandfather, Henry Frederick Wellemeyer, rented two quarter sections of land west of Garner, Iowa. He charged his neighbors between $2 and $2.50 to herd their cattle on this open grassland between May and September. During that season from 1890, when he was 10 years old, to 1893, Arthur had charge of up to 160 head in addition to those which belonged to the Wellemeyers. The herd left for the open range "rain or shine, seven days a week at exactly six thirty every morning" and did not return home for 12 hours.

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  4. In the course of researching the family history, Arthur Wellemeyer discovered that at some point when his grandparents lived near Wapello, Louisa County, Iowa, they were the parents of a still-born child. "This child was not named but buried privately by its father in the house yard near their home." Arthur noted that he had completed parts of his genealogy before he learned this information and that some of his essays erroneously refer to nine children instead of 10.

    An obituary for Catherine Elizabeth (or, Christine Elisabeth) identified her as "the mother of ten children, one of whom died in infancy." It also noted that "she saw all of her children, except one, grow to manhood and womanhood...".

    To date, I have no information on this birth. Until further research can uncover sufficient details, this child has not been included in the genealogy database.

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  5. Amelia Catherine Wellemeyer (1854-1930) married Julius Neumann (1848-1927) on 3 June 1847 at the home of the bride's parents near Wapello, Louisa County, Iowa. At the time in question in Arthur's essay, the Neumanns lived at Wymore, Gage County, Nebraska.

    Marie Wilhelmine Wellemeyer (1862-1936) became the second wife of Rev. George B. Addicks (1854-1910) on 26 June 1884 at Garner, Hancock County, Iowa. About 1890, George was elected the Niedringhaus Professor of Practical Theology and Philosophy at Central Wesleyan College at Warrenton, Warren County, Missouri. He was president of the college from 1895 until his death in 1910.

    Charles Louis Wellemeyer (1870-1946) married Bertha Anna Wengler (1881-1859) on 22 August 1917 at Warrenton, Warren County, Missouri. From about 1900 to 1922, Charles was a professor of Greek and Latin at Central Wesleyan College at Warrenton, Missouri. He had met his wife when she was a professor of art and domestic economy at the college.

    Catherine or Christine Elizabeth (Fiegenbaum) Wellemeyer died at the age of 90 years on Friday, 1 February 1918 at the home of Charles and Bertha (Wengler) Wellemeyer. An obituary published in the Warrenton Banner reported that funeral services were held at Central Wesleyan College. The body was then transported to Garner, Iowa for burial beside Henry Frederick Wellemeyer in Concord Cemetery.

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  6. Edward Mathew Wellemeyer (1859-1931), a son, married Amelia Haefner (1864-1950). They had two children: Agnes Viola Wellemeyer and Elmer Haefner Wellemeyer.

    William H. Wellemeyer (1852-1930), a son, married Clara Belle Yoter (1860-1933). They had one daughter, Lorene Wellemeyer.

    George Leonard Wellemeyer (1865-1932), a son, and his first wife, Aurilla Farnham Sage (1877-1903) had three sons: Leonard Russell Wellemeyer, Lyle Earl Wellemeyer, and Mahlon Allen Wellemeyer. George and his second wife, Emma (Owen) Town, had one son, Roland Wellemeyer.

    Ruth Lizetta (Wellemeyer) Melcher (1889-1964), a granddaughter, married Clarence Lewis (or Louis) Melcher (1885-1927). They had two children: Edward Lewis Melcher and Marilyn Ruth (or Ruth Marilyn) Melcher.

    Franz Arthur Wellemeyer (1880-1960), a grandson, married Lydia Doris Griewe (1880-1949). They had five children: Andrew John Wellemeyer (1907-1961), Ethel Marie Wellemeyer (1908-2002), Clarice Louise Wellemeyer (1913-1996), Ruth Elizabeth Wellemeyer (1918-2011), and Nora Adeline Wellemeyer (1920-2010).

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Brief Genealogy

Christine Elisabeth Fiegenbaum's family

Henry Frederick Wellemeyer's family

Wellemeyer - Fiegenbaum family

More Resources