My ten year old grandson Julian loves science and history is always asking me questions. He often challenges me too and I am constantly learning. He has a genuine interest in our family history and is always asking me questions about our ancestors and I believe he is the budding genealogist in our family. I love his enthusiasm and I enjoy sharing the story of our ancestors and Nebraska life with him.
And so began our day road trip to Steinauer, Nebraska on a warm fall morning. Steinauaer is located about 3 miles west off of Highway 50 in the northwestern corner of Pawnee Co. If you read the historical marker just outside of town you will learn of the warnings to avoid bloody Kansas during the pre- civil war era that led the Steinauer brothers to settle this prairie near the Turkey Creek River nestled in the very south eastern corner of our state just above the Kansas border.
Steinauer is a rural town like many others that dates its history back to our territorial years, grew with the settlement of immigrants, saw a peak population near the turn of the century and as the decades passed saw its population decline. And like most small towns the community is proud of its history.
I have roots in Steinauer. My great, great grandfather was Josef Alios Steinauer notably the founding father of the town that bears his name. He was a goat herder in the Upper Alps of Wagithal, Switzerland before leaving his homeland at the age of eighteen and emigrating to the promised land of America, landing in New York in 1852.
He journeyed west thru Kentucky and Indiana where his older brothers Anton and Nicholas joined him and to Wisconsin where the brothers had a dairy farm before the fever of venturing further west lured the brothers to migrate again in 1856. The brothers traveled through territory without shelter where the horizon never ended and provisions and people were scarce and settling in their new home made preparation for winter, building a dugout for shelter and curing meat for food. And the seasons passed.
They built a log cabin from the timber along the stream, set traps for small game and traded for supplies in Nebraska City. Joseph purchased land from the Preemption Act, cleared the land, planting corn, potatoes and wheat. He bought a few heads of cattle and a few hogs. He married Catherina Kaufman in 1859 and together they would raise twelve children, farm the fields, educate the kids and welcome new neighbors. They weathered tornados, blizzards and the occasional fires and Illness and disease were always a concern but they never lost the promise of tomorrow.
As German, Swiss, Bohemian and Austrian settlers began to arrive, Joseph’s little community was growing and soon thirty years had passed since he first laid claim to this land. In 1886 the town of Steinauer was surveyed, the railroad reached Steinauer in 1887, businesses were established and the town was a busy prospering community that incorporated in 1893.
Joseph died in 1907 but he had told his family the land that he loved had been good to him and as a result he received an abundance of good fortune and happiness. He had lived for fifty years in his adopted land and he was a Nebraskan.
As we drive through the village I want my grandson to see the church. The present church of St. Anthony’s was dedicated in 1926, built in a Romanesque style. Badly in need of repairs the congregation decided to restore the church to its original beauty with a total cost of $605,000.00, money that was entirely and generously given by the parishioners and the community.
Statues and stained glass windows were cleaned, wooden pews and floors were striped and refinished and walls were repainted. The sanctuary was restored, the high altar that had been removed in the sixties was replaced with a marble alter that was torn out of another church and beauty is found in every detail. It was a magnificent effort and a testimony to the community.
Sitting in the pew she opens her arms and there is a reassurance of family and I am welcomed into the community and the home of my ancestors. It is a symbol of the community, it is the sense of belonging that it holds, preserving the past and welcoming the future and it stands constant throughout time.
There are many stories like Joseph’s and the town of Steinauer. As we settle in for our drive back home it is obvious of the pride my grandson feels. Our ancestors were men and women who had the courage and fortitude to persevere through great hardship and adversity. The industrious attitude and faith that our ancestor’s held instilled the values of Nebraska life. It is their legacy that lives on and has not forgotten that has been passed down through the generations and is alive in our communities. And it is the stories of our past and the present that we must not forget.
Kathy Haley Buhrman