EARLY MICHEL HISTORY – Springfield-Greene County Library
volume 5, number 7 – spring 1975
early history of michel by edith l. michel (middleton) immon
a big thank you to my cousin, abby michel ruckman, who, before her recent death, worked long and diligently with the help of her father, the journals left to her by frederic louis michel, and the help of others relatives. members in the compilation of a genealogy of the michel family.
this story begins with jonathan michel the first, (founder of the family), and goes back to the family of berthold jacob michel, my grandfather.
jonathan the first served under the regime of napoleon bonaparte as a bodyguard for fourteen years. after jonathan’s fourteen years of military service, he went to switzerland where he taught the french language in schools. he had one son, jonathan the second.
jonathan the second was called “handsome jonathan”. he was a ship owner and owned all the ships on lake thun. when steamboats were introduced they ruined the trade in it. this jonathan had five sons, but no mention of daughters. His firstborn was Jonathan Ill, then David, Ferdinand, Solomon and Rudolph.
jonathan ill came to the united states in 1843, before the civil war. It was located somewhere in Coshocton County, Ohio. he married, but had no children. there is no subsequent information on him. David, his brother also came to America in 1843 and settled in the same area. he had nine children. there is no further background available on his descendants.
ferdinand and solomon ran away from home to italy and never came back. they were musicians in the Italian army. her mother was very excitable, and after the children left, she discovered that they had left a good pair of shoes, so she decided to send them to them by wire, hanging from the telephone wire. after a few days passed, she found a tattered pair of old shoes on the wire instead of the good ones. the mother thought that the children had her shoes. no more story about them.
Rudolph, who was 4 feet 10 inches tall, came home from (mandatory) military training in his military attire, which included a 10-inch-tall bearskin cap. he was so short that he could stand under the arm of his grandfather, jonathan the first, who was six foot six and 90 at the time. rudolph married rosina roth, and they had eight children, one of whom (the second son) was berthold jacob michel, my grandfather, who this story is about from the time the family left switzerland until his death in Taney County, Missouri.
berthold jacob michel was born on august 17, 1829 in interlaken, canton of bern, switzerland. bern is located in the area between lake thun and lake brienz. He married Susan Feutz (pronounced Fights), who was born in Switzerland, December 1836. Grandfather had a great desire to come to America during the civil war after Grandmother’s brother returned to Switzerland from America, telling how abundant They were jobs during the war. grandpa applied for a passport but was refused at the time due to the war in america. however, after the war, he was allowed a passport and he sailed with his wife and his three children. the children were susan, frederic louis and luisa. they left their home in unterseen, canton bern, switzerland, boarding a sailboat in le harve, france on october 3, 1865. they spent 48 days sailing in a turbulent sea. Grandma told me how the wind changed some days, making them go back, so it took her many days to reach the east coast of America, landing in Castlegarden, New York on November 22, 1865.
The family first settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where a daughter, Mary Magdalene, was born on January 16, 1867. They later moved to Highland, Madison County, Illinois in 1868. en
July 14, 1869, my father, Walter Rudolph, was born there. his next move was to st. Louis, Missouri in 1871, living on the gay farm just outside the city, a suburb, called Foldville, at the end of the streetcar line. a son, albert jacob was born here on january 28, 1872; Also, Edwin Benjamin, born April 16, 1877.
Grandpa was a woodcarver by trade in the “old country”, descended from a long line of woodcarvers by trade. he had in his possession some carving chisels from his father and his grandfather and other tools of the trade. he made numerous carvings while living in arrugaville, and would take them to the salon and raffle them off. this was the most profitable way to dispose of his works. He had hoped to have a better sale of his carvings after coming to America, but he had to try to earn a living by farming for his family. he was famous for his carvings of owls, especially, but he carved animals and many other creatures. I can only recall a few of his carvings that he was aware of. our family had a bear about 12 inches standing on its hind legs with a cane in one paw. then another piece that he sculpted was a man milking a cow; and a deer head that, for many years, hung in a hall in forsyth, missouri.
The Jacob Michel family did not do very well in agriculture at first, barely making a living. my father, rudolph michel, told me how hard it was for them because they were so poor. they ground corn in a coffee mill to make cornbread. Grandma used to say, “thank god, another meal.” She was saying this because she probably wondered where the nest food would come from, and since she managed to keep her family eating during the hard times, she was really thankful that they survived it all.
after much hardship, the family decided to move to bates county, mo. in the fall of 1879, near a town called Prairie City. They lived there on a farm owned by Pete Schields (Schilts), another emigrant from Switzerland, whom Grandpa had met in St. louis mrs. Schields later married Susan Michel, the daughter of Jacob and Susan. Mr. Schields was also a carver by trade and was very wealthy for a time, but he made a bad investment in lumber land in Kansas and eventually became a poor man.
The Michel family moved from Bates County to Barton County, Missouri in the spring of 1882, near Milford, where the family tried to return to farming, but they were not satisfied for long, so Grandpa decided Claim in Taney County, near Forsyth, Missouri. the claim was in an area called “the mckinney bend”, named for a pioneer, benjamin mckinney, who owned many acres of land deep in the bend of the white river, in what is now long beach, about one mile below rockaway beach. “the mckinney bend” encompasses a considerable area, not confined solely along the bend of the river. this area was formerly called “the bend of the pig jaw”, so named, because the bend in the white river at this point was in the shape of a pig’s jaw.
The family did not pass on their claim in Taney County until December 1885. They traded a lean colt and two young calves for the right to squat on 80 to 90 acres. However, before the family could be ready to move, Frederic, the eldest son, went to Taney County with him. wash selsor in the spring of 1885, and worked for him until August of that year. Frederic returned to Barton County in November, where he and Rudolph, my father, prepared to move the family and possessions by wagon and equipment to their Taney County claim in December 1885. They leased five acres of Henry Compton’s land and planted wheat. . Once the family was established, Frederic and Rudolph returned to Bates County to work for wages to help Grandpa prove his claim. he had advanced twice before the claim became his rightful property. grandma didn’t like the harsh country and she didn’t want to move to taney county, so she was very unhappy for a while, until they started to get more prosperous, building a nice house and having more to live on. This house still stands on the old farm and is owned by a grandson of Jacob Michel.
The family was of French and Swiss descent. my grandmother, susan (feutz) michel’s family fled france to switzerland during the french revolution. Grandpa’s great-great-grandfather, Jonathan Michel the First, served 14 years as one of Napolian Boneparte’s bodyguards, as mentioned above. Most of Grandpa’s family stayed in Switzerland, or returned to the “old country” (as they called it), after living in America for a while. Grandma would have been happier if she could have returned to her native country.
There was a language barrier at first when the Michel family came to America as they were fluent in the German language with each other. while they lived in st. louis, my father and his brother frederic attended a private german school taught by an educated man from germany. my father never learned to write very well in the
German language, but frederic was a very apt student, he wrote a beautiful hand in German.
berthold jacob michel farmed on the old farmhouse in taney county until his death on april 5, 1897, at the age of 68. he died of a chronic asthma attack. Susan, his widow, died on March 30, 1908, at the old ranch, where she lived with her youngest son, Edwin Benjamin. she was 72 years old. Both Jacob and Susan are buried in the Mountain Grove Cemetery at “Mckinney Bend”. Two sons, Albert, who died on February 12, 1894, and Frederic, who died on October 29, 1937, are buried in the same cemetery.
this ends the story of berthold jacob and susan michel, but they have many descendants living in missouri, which would make another story.
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