I have saved the oldest daughter of Augusta Wilhemina Erxleben and Michael Anthony Rusler for last because she was my great grandmother. Many of my relatives have shared memories and stories they have about her so this post may be a long one (for me).
Mary Sophia Rusler was born December 3, 1874 in Rockford, Ogle County, Illinois. When she was a young child her family moved to York County, Nebraska where she lived the rest of her life. At the age of 19 she married John Wesley Tracy. They were married by the County Judge at the York County Courthouse on March 21, 1894. She was the child of German Immigrants, his family had been Americans since the colonial days. They had seven children: Bryce Dilworth (1896), Ivan Wesley (1898), Pearl Olive (1900), Ray Lewis (1902), Mabel Rosanna (1904), Mary Augusta (1908), and James Everett (1913).
Tragedy struck this young family in October 1905 when they lost their son, Ray, in an accident (The Death of a Child). I have heard that this tragedy was a turning point for John Wesley, before this he was happy go lucky fun-loving guy but after this he became a serious man and a church leader. There is a picture taken soon after Ray’s death and I see sadness in all of their faces. James Everett wasn’t born until 1913 (5 years after Mary the next youngest) and when she was 38. I can relate to this. I don’t have 7 children (4) but there is quite a gap between my youngest (6 years) and I was 39 when he was born. I can’t imagine being a mom at this age without the modern conveniences I am thankful for today. I have noticed that many of my female ancestors had children somewhat late in life. In fact, my Grandma Mabel was 45 when she had twins – one of which was my dad.
In 1931 a second tragedy fell upon Mary Sophia; her husband, John Wesley died of a heart attack while out hunting. By the time of his death the farm consisted of nine 80 acre sections – each of the six children were given a section in the will and Mary was given three sections with the homestead. Mary continued to run the large farm independently. This was an amazing thing as the 1930s were a tough time what with the depression, the grasshopper invasions, the dust storms, etc… She was a strong woman. In fact, John Wesley had raised Shorthorn Cattle and had a bull he was quit proud of. She kept that bull (and maybe his son) and made money breeding him. People came from all over to pay for the use of that bull.
My dad’s cousin Jeanette lived with Grandma Mary Sophia for a few years when she was a young child. She had a lot of memories to share. Jeanette describes Grandma May as “pure as the driven snow. Kind and nurturing and she loved God more than anything. Totally independent after Grandpa died, ran the farm literally by herself, hiring hands to plant and harvest. There were hired hands to feed during those times. She kept the farm in top condition. All the buildings painted and repaired. I never saw Grandma Tracy angry. She had the patience of Job. She talked softly to God all day through the chores – milking, gathering eggs, dusting the chickens for mites, whatever. On her lips was always, “Thank you Lord”. Sometimes I would hear, “Help me Lord” but rarely. She was very frugal, but never wanting. She had electric lines running down the road and I asked her why she did not have electricity to the house. She told me she gets up with the morning sun and goes to bed at dark. Truth
is, we did need a coal oil lamp some evenings in winter. She was a fabulous cook and baker. We baked bread, cinnamon rolls, parkerhouse rolls, one day a week. She made noodles one day. We did laundry one day. ” She said grandma had a lot of clutter stacked on the huge buffet behind the kitchen door. She had her sewing machine under the kitchen window where she could see all of her beautiful flowers while she sewed. Grandma loved her flowers.
The oldest two boys, Bryce and Ivan, farmed nearby but Olive and Mary married and moved to the northwest. When Mary and her husband initially went west they left their oldest four children with Grandma May until they settled in Washington. And once, Aunt Olive and her husband, John Larkin, visited in a huge truck that they used to haul fruit in Oregon, but this time it had a bed, drawers, chairs and stands like a motor home for the trip across country. Mabel and Everett lived in the northwest for several years but moved home, later Everett moved to Louisiana. Grandma Mabel and Grandpa Leo Gotcher took over the home section of the farm and moved into the farmhouse after Great Grandma Tracy’s death.
Jeanette tells another story, “Sleeping soundly in Grandma’s deep delicious featherbed, a storm was brewing. But we slept peacefully. Morning came, we went down to breakfast and walked out the back door to take the long walk to the outhouse. (Oh yes, Grandma had a lovely bathroom with a grand porcelain tub and a pedestal sink and a separator. No toilet.) SURPRISE!! Chickens running around the farm – naked, defeathered. the chicken house was long gone! Tornado had come through and taken it far into other fields. Quite a number of chickens remained, as we gathered all we could find, many along the creek bed, some in the barn, many helpless and boy, did we have alot of chickens to prepare for canning. Could not save too many. But Grandma made the best chicken and noodles in the world. So, we did have some of that too, and fried chicken – the rest we canned.”
“Grandma Tracy love oyster stew and chocolate covered cherries. Every year on her birthday the family would gather for fabulous oyster stew – delicious with fresh cream and butter and oysters in season, special ordered, and for dessert, wonderful chocolate covered cherries. Grandma did like her candies. She always had some on hand.”
Which brings up a memory my dad and his twin sister had of Grandma Tracy. They both remember that Grandma lived with them when they were little and sometimes during the day, the adults would leave them with Grandma and admonish them to watch Grandma in case she got into the sugar. By this time Grandma. My dad wasn’t sure what they were supposed to do about Grandma getting into the sugar, they were just told to watch her.
Cousin Mary Elizabeth Tracy (Everett’s youngest) says she remembers her dad telling her that Grandma’s chickens were taken from her so that she wouldn’t have to bother with them in her old age and it was after that that she died. He was trying to teach Mary that people need a reason to wake up every day.
Grandma Mary Sophia Rusler Tracy died October 19, 1961 in Henderson, Nebraska. She had a stroke three days before her death, but her longtime fight with Diabetes was a contributing factor to her death. She was 85 years old and had lived a full life. She was a strong pioneer lady who loved God, loved her family, loved her church and her community. She lived through great tragedies and was surrounded by loved ones until her death. Hers is a legacy of strength, steadfast faith and love and I am proud to be a descendant of Mary Sophia Rusler Tracy.