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Caroline, was born to Ida Elsa Winker and Erich Ehmler in Demmin, Germany, Province of Pomerania (near the Baltic Sea), on May 30, 1870. She was born after her father's death. He died crossing the river in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. She was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church and educated in Germany. Her mother re-married to Karl Zuehr, so Caroline's step-father was probably the only father she ever knew. Her mother and step-father had a child, Anna (who later married George Garland), so Caroline had a half-sister named Anna.
The family (Ida, Karl, Caroline, and Anna) came to America from Hamburg on the ship Bohemia arriving on October 15, 1884, through Castle Garden (wikipedia). They landed in New York, but not at Ellis Island as it was not used until later. Caroline lived in Elgin, Illinois for a time, where she had a relative, and then moved to West Point, Nebraska, where her parents, the Zuehrs, and step-sister, had gone. Caroline stayed with a sister of her mother Ida Zuehr in Elgin, Illinois. Being dairy country, she got a job milking cows for 25¢ a day or week (her daughter Hilda could not remember which), until she got enough to take her to West Point, joining the family. Caroline was 14 years old when she came to America. Her step-father, Karl, worked at the flour mill in West Point.
Caroline did domestic work for Mr. and Mrs. France in West Point. Mr. France was a lawyer. They were very kind to her. Mrs. France, who was of Pennsylvania German origin, taught Caroline to speak and read English.
Caroline met Albert in West Point. Caroline married Albert Frank Grunke on April 4, 1888, at the age of 18 years. Albert was 26 years old.
Caroline and Albert lived:
1. West Point, Nebraska, 7 years (approximately 1888 to 1895);
2. Bancroft, Nebraska 4-5 years (actually, Bancroft was the town nearest to the Indian Reservation where they leased a farm) (approximately 1896 to 1900);
3. Bloomfield, Nebraska 3 years (approximately 1901-1904);
4. then in Flandreau, South Dakota (approximately 1905).
Their first 3 children were born in West Point, Nebraska: Art, Ed, and Erna.
The Indians on the Omaha Winnebago Reservation (Wikipedia) owned the land, but not being farmers, rented their land to ranchers or whites for farming. Pa (Albert) rented land on the reservation and farmed there for 4-5 years. Their next two children were born on the reservation, Harry and Rudolph.
Caroline told of her experiences on the reservation. She said she was not afraid of the Indians, but of outlaws that would flee to the reservation. She told many fascinating stories of her life in Germany and the reservation.
Elsie Holland wrote, "I wondered why Mother (Caroline Ehmler) wasn't in the photo (see photo here), but when Erna was a baby they left West Point to live on the farm in the Indian Reservation near Bancroft, NE. It would have been hard for Mother to be away any length of time, so apparently Ed and Erna were staying with Grandma Zuehr at the time. Erna and my oldest brother Arthur spent a lot of time with Grandma Zuehr. I remember Mother telling me about a frightening incident at the Reservation home, which must have happened at about the time the photo was taken. They were about 20 miles from Bancroft and my Father had to go there at intervals. Going via horse and wagon meant he was gone over night. Mother told of being along with Arthur at this time. A tramp came to the place and asked for work. Mother turned him away, but apparently he didn't leave the place, or came back, because that evening their dog (Nipsy) barked continuously. He was a good watch dog so Mother suspected the tramp was about, probably in the barn. She was frightened and stayed up all night. Art (Mother said he was such a good boy) insisted on staying up with her. They planned to run from the house and hide, if need be. However, apparently the man just wanted to sleep in the barn, as he was gone the next day."
In Bloomfield Nebraska, they ran a cafe, which Caroline did not like. There next two children were born in Bloomfield, Hilda and Leona.
Albert had asthma and was looking for a place better for his health. The doctor told him to find a place where he would be comfortable, especially in pine woods. He liked Flandreau, felt pretty good, and decided to live there. Caroline followed him. Hilda was 2 and Leona was a baby.
There next four children, Raymond, Lucille, Dorothy, and Elsie, were born in Flandreau, South Dakota. The couple had 11 children.
It is believed they lived in the town of Flandreau two years. Albert ran a harness shop and shoe repair business until they got enough money to buy the farm along the Big Sioux River (Wikipedia). They moved to the farm where they lived for 12 years. Albert liked the river and liked to fish and hunt. Ed and Harry hunted. They lived on rabbits and prairie chickens and wild ducks. Albert built the farm from scratch. He and Sam Allen built the house which is still standing (at the time Hilda wrote a letter to Elsie and Sam in her later years). The barn he had built.
The asthma came back on Albert and he built a farm along side the river, where they moved to an acreage across the river from Flandreau, where Albert died on August 23, 1926. Hilda recalls, "I watched him break the sod, one plot each year. They would hay. He cut and stacked with Caroline's help, she worked hard, and sold all the hay, except what he needed, to the neighbors. I remember the Fargens buying hay from him. That was their first cash crop. In time, he plowed all the fields he needed, except the bottom land which flooded most every spring. The first year we moved on the farm we lived, then the winter, in a red building that was later used as a granary. Froze too, or rather was pretty cold. The first barn he built out of wooden packing crates used to shop produce to stores. Later he built a real farm. He built the house the second year, and I was told it was Sam Allen who helped him. It was an Indian. I also remember them buying furniture, and the pictures framed in black frames, that might have been valuable today. [Caroline] Mother worked hard, and [Albert] Pa did too, although his asthma got worse."
After World War II, Caroline moved to a home in the town of Flandreau, where she lived until her death on January 30, 1959. Her son Ed lived with her all the years after Albert's death. Her son Raymond bought the family farm and operated it during those years.
Caroline at age 16.
Caroline Ehmler, Age 16
Written on the back of the photo, "Hilda & Leona had a large portrait painted of mother "Caroline" copied from a photo of her standing. This is a copy. I don't know who has the portrait."
Albert and Caroline Grunke Wedding Photo April 4, 1888
Transcription of Caroline's Obituary:
Services Held in Egan Monday for Mrs. C. Grunke
Funeral services were conducted Monday afternoon, Feb. 2, from the Redeemer’s Lutheran church in Egan for Mrs. Caroline Grunke, 88, who passed away, Friday, Jan. 30, in the Flandreau municipal hospital. She had been ailing about two years and had been a patient in the hospital for five days.
The Rev. J.H. Jungemann officiated at the services with arrangements being completed by the Skroch Funeral Chapel. Interment was in the Flandreau cemetery.
Caroline Ehmler was born on May 30, 1870, at Demmin, Germany and came to the United States with her parents in 1884 and settled near West Point, Nebr.
She was united in marriage to Albert Grunke on April 4, 1888, at West Point, Nebr. They came to Moody county in 1904 and lived in Flandreau for two years. In 1906, they moved to a farm five miles northwest of Flandreau, where they lived until 1917 when they retired and returned to Flandreau to make their home. Mrs. Grunke was a member of the Redeemer's Lutheran church in Egan.
She is survived by three sons, Ed and Raymond of Flandreau and Rudolph of Cheyenne, Wyo.; six daughters, Mrs. John (Erna) Finlay, St. Louis, Mo.; Mrs. Harlan (Hilda) Doten, Stewardville, Minn.; Mrs. John (Leona) Bauer, Omaha; Mrs. James (Lucille) Kelly, San Antonio, Texas; Mrs. Everett (Dorothy) King, St. Paul and Mrs. Sam (Elsie) Holland, Baltimore; eight grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband, parents, two sons, Harry and Arthur, and one sister.
Pallbearers at the services included Lisle Fargen, Ralph Jones, C.A. Walker, Mike Taylor, George Taylor and Charles Lee. Special music was furnished by a quartet including Mrs. Don Lease, Mrs. Carl Albrecht, and Mrs. Martin Dierks and Mrs. J.H. Jungemann.