Schwarzenburg Native Travels to Missouri

Switzerland immigrant finds opportunity near St. Joseph, Missouri.

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My great-grandfather utilized the opportunities available to him in his adopted country, as did many immigrants of his time. He came with nothing more than frugality, shrewdness, good health and the willingness to work hard. Born December 22, 1842, near Schwarzenburg, Canton Bern, Switzerland, Christian Marti grew up on a small farmstead, Heimigesslen. In 1866 conscription papers were served on him. Christ undoubtedly begrudged the amount of money it took to equip himself with the 16 items necessary to fulfill his army obligations. In 1866 he indentured himself to the Widow Uhlmann for 500 francs-which he worked off by 1868. (We have these papers.) According to family oral tradition, he left his widowed mother, his brother and sisters, his homeland, and a familiar way of life and used the widow's francs to buy passage to America.

Family historians say that it was early on a chilly morning when Christ Marti arrived in St. Joseph, Missouri. Believing that he could find an inn along the railroad tracks as one did back in Switzerland, he began walking north. Finding no accommodations along the way, he walked to Amazonia to get his breakfast; he remained in the vicinity for the rest of his life. Some family members say that he arrived with less than $1 in his pocket and that he bought an axe instead of breakfast because he found work north of Amazonia with the Ent family. He worked for them the next three years.

By that time he had saved $100-which was enough to make a down payment on 40 acres, a log cabin with a shed kitchen and a shed barn. The total cost of this outlay was $1,000. About half the land was in timber.

After that, he needed a cook/housekeeper. In the German-speaking Swiss settlement around Amazonia resided the Christian Bachmann family from Goldivyl, Switzerland. Christian Marti and his future father- and brother-in-law filed "Intent to Declare Citizenship" papers simultaneously in December 1870.

The Bachmann family included three daughters of marrying age: Magdalena, Rosa and Anna. It was not determined during his first call on the family just which daughter Christ was interested in. But on the second visit, he brought a box of candy and presented it to Magdalena. They were married in Amazonia on February 11, 1872, and proceeded to the farm six miles northwest. Magdalena cried upon her arrival. Among other things, there was no gate on the fence around the yard. Her mother had also warned her not to wear her nice clothing from Chicago to church or to other outings. Her mother reasoned it would be more appropriate to come attired in a sunbonnet and calico dress as other women did.

Some neighbors and others, including his wife, surely thought Christ would build a house first, since five children had joined the family by the time he was ready to build. However, Christ justified his decision thusly, "No, ze barn will build ze house!"

Most of the lumber came from timber on the farm. Trees were cut and hauled to the sawmill. The framework, made of whole logs, was hewed by hand. All sections were marked with Roman numerals. When neighbors came to help with the barn-raising, the joints were all ready to be put into place. The famous "Marti" barn still stands sturdily on its rock foundation, its tree-length beams still held together with doweled and mitered joints instead of nails.

The children born in that first log home were: Rosa, 1872; John, 1874; Alfred Christian "Oliver," 1877; Ida Magdalena, my Grand-mother, 1879; and Emma Marie, 1880.

Then came the house building, which produced a structure neither as large nor as grand as many of the other local Swiss houses. Nevertheless, the house was adequate, with a finished cellar underneath, four rooms on the first floor and four above, with porches along the east and west sides. Born in the new home were two more daughters: Susanna Flora, 1884; and Minnie, 1886. I too was born in this house many years later-in 1930.

Much of the housework was done in the nearby rock cheese house, with a fireplace above, a cellar beneath, and a well for cooling nearby. Cheese making and milk care were performed there, as well as family washings and other tasks. This building is also standing up well, but the house has begun to deteriorate due to misuse, abuse and vandals.

The milking industry was important to the family income and consumed much of Magdalena's time and energy. When milk arrived at the stone cheese house, some was made into butter. A large part was made into cheese, which, after aging, Christ sold for 10 cents a pound in St. Joseph on his weekly trips. The whey was fed to the hogs. Christ also took whatever else was in season to sell, such as apples, potatoes and grapes.

Magdalena and Christian Marti's lives were not free from worry and hardship. Somehow, though, they managed to raise their seven children, to acquire 900 acres of debt-free land, to milk 30 cows, to raise hogs, and to produce crops of wheat, oats, corn and clover. The farmstead contained both table and "truck" gardens, an acre vineyard, and a 20-acre orchard-primarily apple.

The couple was generous. Daughters who wanted to were allowed to attend the Normal School at Stanberry. Emma found a teacher-husband there; Flora, a preacher. As each child married, he or she was given part of the land and/or inheritance money. Two half-orphan grandsons who had shared the Marti home were also gift recipients. Marti land was also passed to grandchildren, and Marti family members occupied that homestead for 80 years. It eventually passed from Marti hands in the late 1950s.

This Swiss great-grandfather of mine, Christian Marti, who walked from St. Joseph to Amazonia just to get his breakfast, traveled-with the aid of his wife-an even longer road to become a success and a credit to his adopted country.

Betty E. Nelson
Graham, Missouri


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.