My grandparents were Frederick Stegman, born November 8, 1840, and Elsie Elizabeth Schenk, born March 17, 1844. They came to America from Switzerland around 1867. They had two little girls and two little boys. A friend whose family was sailing later asked my grandparents to also bring their child, as the vessel they were sailing on was full to capacity.
My grandparents' vessel encountered terrible storms. It sprang a leak, and everyone able had to work at the pumps. Grandmother took her turns. Smallpox broke out on board, and starvation stalked the passengers. Grandmother somehow got food to some of the isolated passengers, many of whom were confined to their rooms.
My grandparents' two little girls died and had to be buried at sea. The child they were bringing for the friend also died. To Grandma it was a terrible thing to have to tell her friend, especially since she would be unable to point out his burial place. She carried the dead little body in her arms, hoping to have him buried when they landed. But when the suspicious captain raised his hood, he stopped the ship, and the boy, too, was buried at sea. They finally landed at Ellis Island, but you can be sure it was not a happy landing for my dear, heroic grandparents.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.