The Mohler family in America was made up of some folks with very distinguished names, one being our ancestor Thomas Jefferson Mohler. He was born April 14, 1851 in Hanover Township, Ashland County, Ohio and was the tenth child of John Adam and Lydia Ann Mohler. Ashland County, in the north central part of Ohio, is on the dividing ridge, or watershed, between Lake Erie and the Ohio River. As you might expect, the primary industry for the settlers in this part of the country was agriculture, with corn, wheat, oats, potatoes, hay and maple sugar being the major crops.
When the 1860 United States Federal Census was enumerated the Mohler family had moved to Spring Grove, Warren County, Illinois and had increased in size with the addition of three more children. Records indicate that they also had another son, Martin Luther, who either died at birth or the same year he was born. The 1860 census records the following fifteen members of the John Mohler household: John A. Mohler, Lydia, Levi, Martha J., Roda A., Wm. H., Geo. W., Jeremiah, John, Thos., J., Franklin P., Isaac N., Oliver, Catharine and Mary. Martha was Levi’s wife and their child was Roda.
Note the complete names the Mohler’s gave their sons – George Washington, Jeremiah, John Wesley, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Pierce, Isaac Newton, Martin Luther, and Oliver Cromwell. Naming their sons after historical figures appears a phenomenon and begs the questions – why did they do it and how much did they know about these men in history?
The American Civil War broke out in 1861 and Illinois was one of the twenty-five states that was a part of the Union. Like other families in this place and time, the Mohler’s must have experienced the agonies of this tragic war. Thomas was small child, but it is likely his older brothers were enlisted. I found enlistment records for several men in Warren County, Illinois by the same names, but more research would be required to verify that the records match Thomas’ brothers.
Though no major battles were fought in Illinois, it was a primary source of troops for the Union army and of military supplies, food, and clothing. Also, any history buff knows about the two Illinois men who became prominent in the politics and the army during this time – Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.
Unfortunately I have not found the Mohler family on the 1870 United States Federal Census so I have no information about their location, but sometime after the Civil War Thomas met his future wife, Mary Emma Bowton. Evidently her family lived in Fulton County, Illinois which is adjacent to Warren County (southwest). They married on January 27, 1876. Mary was the daughter of William and Rebecca Bowton.
Thomas and Mary remained in Fulton County, Illinois and set up their household on a farm. On January 11, 1877 they had their first child, Flora Rebecca. About two years later on October 11, 1879 a son, Lorain Ellsworth arrived. This family of four was recorded on the 1880 United States Federal Census. On this census record we discover that Mary’s father was from England and her mother from Illinois.
THOMAS MOHLER FAMILY MOVES TO NEBRASKA
Since there is no longer an 1890 United States Federal Census, we leap to the 1900 United States Federal Census to find our next record for Thomas Mohler and his family. In those intervening twenty years they had moved west and were found in York County, Nebraska. Their two oldest children were no longer living with them but their family had definitely grown. Six children are recorded – Charles, Lena, Ethel, Darrel (Dara), David and Ewort (Ewart). We know another son named William was born in 1885 when they were in Illinois, but he was not residing with them. The last three children were born in Nebraska, so this meant they moved to York County sometime between 1891 and 1896. The Thomas and Mary’s family was a large by any standard of measurement.
An interesting note – the enumerator’s handwriting was not very decipherable, but it appears Thomas gave his occupation as “Clergyman.” I thought this might be the enumerator’s error or my inability to read the handwriting. However, one of the Mohler’s grandsons named Wes Mohler gave us some interesting information about this.
You were correct in listing Thomas Jefferson as “Clergyman.” He was a self-educated pastor/preacher and VERY involved with the United Brethren (In Christ) Church (Denomination). You are probably aware of this, but the United Brethren and Evangelical Denominations merged and were called the Evangelical United Brethren Church (Denomination.) In 1968 (?) the EUB merged with the Methodist Church (Denomination) and is today called The UNITED Methodist Church (Denomination.) Thomas Jefferson was actually “licensed” to Preach (on a yearly basis) through the United Brethren Church. We have some documentation that he was a “Circuit Rider” Preacher here in Western Nebraska (Sheridan County – Near Hay Springs, Nebraska.) He was also in South Dakota (farming and preaching or preaching and farming) before the family moved to York, Nebraska.
Thomas or “Jerry” and Mary settled into life in York County, Nebraska. By the 1910 United States Federal Census, their household had grown smaller with only five children residing with them. Their two oldest daughters, Lena and Ethel, were school teachers, and the three sons were working with their father on the farm. By the time the 1920 United States Federal Census was enumerated the family consisted of Thomas, Mary, Dara, Ewart, and a family friend by the name of Anthony Rivera. In the 1930 census Thomas and Mary had a completely “empty nest.” Undoubtedly there were children and grandchildren near by.
LIFE ON THE GREAT PLAINS IS DIFFICULT
The 1920’s and 1930’s were hard years in America and folks living in the Great Plains experienced more than their share of those difficulties. On the website for Wessel’s Living History Farm, York County, Nebraska there is an article entitled “Who Lived in York County in the 1930’s?” This excerpt gives a bit of insight into how the Mohler family may have endured very tough times.
The Great Plains region has always been known for unpredictable weather and natural disasters – tornadoes, hail storms, blizzards, floods, drought, summer heat and winter cold. Farming on the Great Plains has always been a battle against the weather. But the weather during the 1930s was far beyond the natural cycle of seasons. The weather during the Dust Bowl days set records that still stand in Nebraska history and still stand out in farmers’ memories.
Farms in the 1930s were diversified, growing a variety of crops in the fields, vegetables in the garden and fruit in the orchard. Small farms usually raised chickens, eggs, hogs, and cattle, as well as keeping horses and mules for work, and sometimes sheep for wool and meat. Some farmers kept bees and harvested the honey. Women baked their own bread.
During the Depression, this self-sufficiency carried over into their social life. One-dish suppers and church potlucks were important ways to have fun and share food. On radio and in women’s magazines, home economists taught women how to stretch their food budget with casseroles and meals like creamed chipped beef on toast or waffles. Chili, macaroni and cheese, soups, and creamed chicken on biscuits were popular meals.
The Apetz brothers hunted rabbits to put a more meat on the dinner table. Delbert Apetz says, “We had a brooder house [for chickens]. My uncle and dad, they’d go out rabbit hunting (now this is in the winter time). Be rabbits hanging there, dressed all the way through that and any time you wanted something to eat you’d cut the string on the rabbit and bring it in the house, fry it or cook it and make soup or whatever you want. We ate a lotta, lotta rabbits. But that’s what we had to eat.” Still, it was a constant work to put food on the table, and sometimes the food was covered with dust when the wind blew dust through the cracks in the house.
Thomas Mohler lived out his days in York County, Nebraska. He and Mary moved there with six children between 1891 and 1896 where their family grew, and not only endured, but thrived during some of Nebraska’s darkest days of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Like other courageous pioneers of those days, they exhibited strength and fortitude when they moved into new territories to face the uncertainties of Mother Nature. From this vantage point in year 2011, they appear to have been truly remarkable folk.
Thomas Jefferson Mohler died December 28, 1937 in York County, Nebraska and was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery. He was survived by his wife of sixty-one years – Mary Emma Bowton Mohler.
Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, US: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
Ancestry.com. 1880 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2005.
Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004.
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2006.
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo, UT, USA: MyFamily.com, Inc., 2002.
“Historical Sketch of Ashland County,” http://ashlandcounty.org
Fulton County, marriage record, Marriage Record Book, vol. E, p. 35, no.17.
Thomas Mohler death certificate no. H12847, State of Nebraska, Department of Health, Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Who Lived in York County in 1930?” Wessel’s Living History Farm, York County, Nebraska, http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe30’s/life_28.html
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, “Illinois in the American Civil War,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illinois_in_the_American_Civil_War.
Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2011.