Volume 5, Number 7, Spring 1975
It is with great appreciation to my cousin, Abby Michel Ruckman, who, before her recent death, worked long and deligently, with the help of her father, Frederic Louis Michels journals left her, and the help of other family members in compiling a genealogy of the Michel family.
This story begins with Jonathan Michel the First, (founder of the family), and traced down through the family of Berthold Jacob Michel, my grandfather.
Jonathan the First served under Napolian Bonapartes regime as a bodyguard for fourteen years. After Jonathans fourteen years of military service, he went to Switzerland where he taught the French language in the schools. He had one son, Jonathan the Second.
Jonathan the Second was called "Jonathan the Handsome." He was a ship owner, owning all the ships on Lake Thun. When the steamboats were introduced they ruined his trade. This Jonathan had five sons, but no mention of daughters. His first born was Jonathan Ill, then David, Ferdinand, Solomon, and Rudolph.
Jonathan Ill came to the United States in 1843, before the Civil War. He located somewhere in Coshocton County, Ohio. He married, but had no children. No later history concerning him is available. David, his brother also came to America in 1843 and located in the same area. He had nine children. No further history available concerning his descendants.
Ferdinand and Solomon ran away from home to Italy and never returned. They were musicians in the Italian Army. Their mother was very excitable, and after the boys left, she found they had left a good pair of shoes behind, so she decided to send the shoes to them by wire, hanging them on the telephone wire. After a few days had passed, she found a pair of old ragged shoes on the wire in place of the good ones. Mother thought the boys got their shoes. No more history about them.
Rudolph, who was four feet and ten inches tall, came home from (compulsory) military training with his military suit on, which included a 10-inch tall bear-skin cap. He was so short he could stand under his grandfather, Jonathan the Firsts arm, who was six feet and six inches tall and 90 years old at the time. Rudolph married Rosina Roth, and they had eight children, one of whom (the second child), was Berthold Jacob Michel, my grandfather, of whom this story is all about from the time the family left Switzerland until his death in Taney County, Missouri.
Berthold Jacob Michel was born August 17, 1829 in Interlaken, canton Bern, Switzerland. Bern is located on the Aare between Lake of 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 grandmothers brother returned to Switzerland from America, telling how plentiful jobs were during the war. Grandfather applied for a passport, but was refused at that time because of the war in America. However, after the war, he was allowed a passport, and he set sail with his wife and three children. The children were Susan, Frederic Louis, and Luisa. They left their home in Unterseen, canton Bern, Switzerland, taking a sail ship at Le Harve, France October 3, 1865. They were 48 days sailing on a turbulent sea. Grandmother told me how the wind shift some days, turning them back, so it took many days to reach the eastern shore of America, landing at Castlegarden, New York on November 22, 1865.
The family first settled in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where a daughter, Mary Magdalene was born, January 16, 1867. They later moved to Highland, Madison County, Illinois in 1868. On
July 14, 1869 my father, Walter Rudolph was born there. Their next move was to St. Louis, Missouri in 1871, living on the Gay farm just out side of the city, a suburb, called Wrinkleville, at the end of the street car line. A son, Albert Jacob was born here on January 28, 1872; also, Edwin Benjamin, born April 16, 1877.
Grandfather was a wood carver by trade in the "Old Country", descending from a long line of Carvers by trade. He had in his possession some of his fathers and grandfathers carving chisels and other tools of the trade. He did numerous carvings while living in Wrinkleville, and would take them to the saloon and raffle them off. This was the most profitable way of disposing of his works. He had hoped to have a better sale for his carvings after coming to America, but had to try farming for a living for his family. He was famous for his owl carvings, especially, but carved animals and many other creatures. I can recall only a few of his carvings which I had knowledge of. Our family had a bear about 12 inches standing on his hind feet with a staff in one paw. Then another piece he carved was a man milking a cow; and a deer head which for many years, hung in a saloon in Forsyth, Missouri.
The Jacob Michel family didnt do too well at farming at first, barely making a living. My father, Rudolph Michel told me how hard times were with them because they were so poor. They ground corn in a coffee mill to make corn bread. Grandmother used to say, "Thank God, another meal over with". This she would say because she probably wondered where the nest meal was to come from, and as she managed to keep her family eating during the hard times, she was truly thankful they lived through it all.
After many hardships, 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 grandfather had met up with in St. Louis. Mr. Schields later married Susan Michel, Jacobs and Susans daughter. Mr. Schields was a carver by trade, also, and very wealthy for a time, but made a poor investment in timber land in Kansas, and finally 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 farming again, But they were not satisfied for very long there, so, grandfather decided to take up a claim in Taney County, near Forsyth, Missouri. The claim lay in an area called "The McKinney Bend", named for a pioneer, Benjamin McKinney, who owned many acres of bottom land at the bend of White River, at what is now Long Beach, about a mile below Rockaway Beach. "The McKinney Bend" takes in quite an area, not solely confined along the river bend. This area was formerly called "The Hog-jaw Bend", so called, because the bend in White River at this point was the shape of a hog-jaw.
The family didnt move on to their claim in Taney County until December 1885. They traded a lean colt and two runty calves for the right to squat on an 80 to 90-acre claim. However, before the family could make ready to move, Frederic, the eldest son went to Taney County with L. 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 team to their claim in Taney County in December of 1885. They rented five acres of land from Henry Compton and sowed it in wheat. When they got the family settled, Frederic and Rudolph returned to Bates County to work for pay in order to help grandfather prove up on his claim. He had pre-empted twice before the claim became his rightful homestead. Grandmother didnt like the rough country, and didnt want to move to Taney County, therefore, she was very unhappy for a time, until they began to become more prosperous, building a nice home, and having more on which to live. This home still stands on the old homestead, and is owned by a grandson of Jacob Michel.
The family was of French and Swiss descent. My grandmother, Susan (Feutz) Michels family fled from France into Switzerland during the French Revolution. Grandfathers great-great grandfather, Jonathan Michel the First, served 14 years as one of Napolian Bonepartes body guards, as afore mentioned. Most of grandfathers family remained in Switzerland, or returned to the "Old Country" (as they called it), after having lived in America for awhile. Grandmother 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 spoke the German language fluently among themselves. 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, writing a beautiful hand in German.
Berthold Jacob Michel farmed on the old homestead in Taney County until his death on April 5, 1897, age 68 years. He died from an attack of chronic asthma. Susan, his widow, died March 30, 1908 on the old homestead, 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 in the "McKinney Bend". Two sons, Albert, died February 12, 1894, and Frederic, died 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.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
Next Article | Table of Contents | Other Issues
Local History Home