The marriage of Johann
Heinrich Barth and Anna Maria Burgdoefer, was on May 24, 1831 in
Hockspeyer, Bavaria, Germany. Anna Maria Sara Barth was born on
April 14, 1832. On July 8, 1833, twin sons
were born to Johann Heinrich and Anna Maria. They were named
Michael and Karl. By 1850, there were 12 children born to
this marriage. Two sons passed away at an early age, Karl and
Heinrich, while the other ten children lived to
All the children received their early religious training in the Lutheran faith.
In 1855 Michael came to America and settled in Boston, Mass., where he worked as a blacksmith apprentice for four years. He then came to Illinois, and settled in Minonk. He worked on various farms for a short while, then purchased 80 acres of land from the Railroad for $14 dollars an acre, three miles west of Minonk. He cleared the land, burned off the prairie grass, built a cabin and started farming. The farm is still in the Barth family today.
Katherina Wagner was born June 29, 1845, a daughter of Michael and Anna Mary Maithe Wagner, near Metamora, Illinois, in Worth Township. At this time, Metamora was still Indian country. Farm families lived off the land. They sheared their sheep, spun their yarn and wove it into cloth, dyed it and knitted their own mittens, stockings and shawls. Their gardens provided the food for the year around. Their livestock provided their meat. The land had to be cleared before they could farm it. The Wagner family consisted of two girls and five boys. John, Michael J., Jacob C., Katherina, Daniel D., Charles Henry, and Anna Mary. One child died in infancy.
On December 12, 1863, in Peoria, Illinois, Katherina Wagner was united in marriage to Michael Barth. The young couple lived on the farm of Michael's.
Michael was a deeply religious person and was one of the co-founders of St.Paul's German United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minonk, Illinois.
After Michael left Germany, his father died, and his mother came to this country to make her home with her son, landing here in 1878. She died here in 1885. She is buried in Minonk cemetery beside Michael and Katherina.
Michael and Katherina prospered on their farm, and they were industrious and frugal. Their home was blessed with twelve children and they all grew to adulthood. Katherina and her children worked hard on the farm. It has been said that they always planned on canning 365 quarts of cherries every year, and they made apple butter in a big soap kettle outdoors. They had a large garden and orchid that supplied the family with fruit and vegetables the year around. Clothes and shoes were always handed down and the upstairs was furnished in their home out of the egg and butter money. At least once every year, Michael and Katherine would pack a wagon with items that they could barter or sell and go to Peoria. They purchased items that could not be raised or made at home.The trip would take several days by horse and wagon.
Michael purchased an 80 acre farm so that when his children got married they would have a place to start. They could farm this place until the next child married. Pheobe, who married Henry Kettwich was the last to get married, and they purchased the farm.
On December 12, 1913, the happy couple celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary. The affair was arranged by their children, but with the full knowledge of their parents. A remarkable feature of the celebration was that all the children, and their forty-six grandchildren were all present to enjoy the occasion, all to the utmost pleasure of the good father and mother. At a special request of the honored couple, a short devotionel service was held in the afternoon which was led by Rev. Theodore Kettelhut of the St. Pauls Church, who chose the approppiate text for his address, the words found in Psalm 103:1 & 2. "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." After the services, a big dinner was served. They were also the recipeants of many fine presents. They were the only surviving members of St. Pauls Church who helped to organize the congregation forty-five years before, and they had been constant and faithful in their allegiance.
Two weeks later, on December 24, 1913, tragedy struck the family. Their daughter, Catherina, being married to John Balback and having a family of her own, was living at rural Chenoa. John had boarded the train earlier in the day to go to Pontiac to visit a sister of his at St. James Hospital and also to do a little Christmas shopping. John and Catherina had decided at the last minute that their daughter, Edna, should have a watch for Christmas. John was to return on the evening train to Chenoa and Catherina and family was to meet him so they could all attend Christmas Eve Services together. In the evening, Catherina and four of her children, Edna aged 17, Clarence 14, Harold 12, and Paul 9, drove from their home in Pike township, five miles from Chenoa, in order to attend the Christmas Eve program at the Trinity Lutheran Church. They brought a number of presents along and the children were to take part in the program.
When they arrived in Chenoa, going south on the street west of the depot, they saw the Alton train No. 4 which had come in. It was cut in two, leaving three cars on the north bound track, it had discharged its passengers, picked up two Peoria cars for Chicago, and had just pulled them up in order to back up and get the cars left on the main track. They supposed the train was going out. Before driving onto the Alton tracks to cross over, they came around the poultry house which hid the view until they were almost on the tracks.
Michael Clooney, the faithful watchman on the crossing, was standing between the road crossing and the sidewalk. He said that he signaled them when they appeared around the corner and hailed them, but they, not seeing his signal, and supposing the train had gone on, drove in a walk onto the tracks. Just as the horses got across the north bound track, and the carriage was directly on the track, the train, which consisted of 8 cars and was going probably 8 miles an hour, backed up and caught the carriage. The conductor, who had a lantern, stood on the step of the car that stuck the vehicle. The step was broken off, and his falling lantern went out. The train pushed the carriage for 65 feet and scattered the occupants up to that distance. Catherina lay fartherest from the crossing with both legs mangled below the knees in a horrible manner, from being run over by the cars. Between her and the crossing lay Edna, who received a broken collar bone, a broken nose, and numerous cuts and bruises. Paul's right leg was crushed above the ankle and his left hip was broken near the joint. Harold was bruised, but not seriously injured. Clarence, who drove, had both bones broken above one ankle. One of the boys fell between the train tracks and the complete train went over him, but didn't touch his body. The carriage was demolished. The train backed on about 150 feet from the crossing before it was stopped by the porter who came out of the last car and realizing the situation, pulled the emergency brake. The injured were carried into the stores of the J.P.Matthews Co. and J. E. Wightman & Son,where Chenoa physicians were called. Drs. Carroll, Dufour and Elfrink responded and proceeded to give first aid to the injured, who were gotten ready in a little more than an hour, placed aboard the train and taken to the St. James Hospital in Pontiac. By the time they arrived there, Catherina had lost so much blood that no operation could be performed and she died about 11 o'clock that night. Pauls right leg was amputated above the knee by the hospital surgeons. Meanwhile in Minonk, Catherina's brother's, Michael and Edward, were called out of the Christmas Eve Services they were attending and were informed of the terrible accident. With no other way of transportation available, they pumped a hand rail car to Pontiac and later boarded the train for Chenoa to be with their sister's family.
The body of Mrs. Balback was brought to Chenoa at midnight and funeral services were held at the home of Mr. Balback's sister, Mrs. Clarence Elson, Saturday at 12 P. M. with Rev. J. F. Lorch, pastor of the church, officiating. A very large concourse of relatives and friends attended the sad rites. Fifty came from Minonk alone. The Ladies Aid, of which Mrs. Balback was a member, attended the services in a body and acted as escort; as they viewed the remains, each laid a bouquet on the casket of the departed loved one. Music was furnished by a mixed quartette consisting of Mrs. Aug. C. Klein, Miss Anna Klein, John D. Klein and Herman Degenford, and a male quartette consisting of Wm. Sandmeyer, Rev. Lorch, Herman Degenford, and John D. Klein. Miss Clara Lommatsch presided at the organ. The pall bearers were all cousins of Mrs. Balback; George Sandmeyer, Jacob Balback, Peter T. and Aug. Bauman, and Will and Ed Gentes. Internment was made in Pike Cemetery. As a result of the accident, the exercises at Trinity Lutheran Church were abandoned and a gloom of sadness was cast over the entire community. Coroner Hare of Bloomington was notified of the death by accident and he arrived in Chenoa only to learn that he had no jurisdiction in the case, for the death occurred in Livingston County. Coroner Meyers of the county was summoned from Forrest to Pontiac only to learn that the body had been moved to Chenoa. He held an inquest in Chenoa on Monday afternoon with the following acting as jurors; Ferd Jontry, J. S. McNeil, P. C. Gillespie, F. H. Ballinger, Ed. Ballenger and Loren Jones. After hearing the evidence, the jury brought in an open verdict finding that Mrs. Balback came to her death as related above, and leaving the question of responsibility entirely out of the findings.
Catherina's obituary was; Mrs. Balback was born near Minonk, July 25, 1872, her maiden mane being Miss Catheina Barth. She was married to Mr. John Balback, February 21, 1893. They first lived on a farm near Flanagan, but for the past 18 years have lived on a farm in Pike Township. She was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, a self sacrificing women and a devoted wife and mother, enjoying and deserving the high esteem of all her acquaintances. The surviving relatives are her husband, five sons, John, Robert, Clarence, Harold, and Paul, and one daughter, Edna, all living at home; her parents, Mr. & Mrs. Michael Barth, nine brothers and two sisters, all living in or near Minonk, with the exception of a sister who lives in Nebraska and a brother who lives in Lee County.
Following the above obituary and accounting of the accident which was in the Chenoa Newspaper, there appeared a Card of Thanks which reads as follows; "To all the dear relatives and friends who have so kindly administered to us in our great sorrow, we are truly grateful and trust that no like sorrow may ever darken your lives." John N. Balback and family.
This tragedy was very hard on Michael and Katherina, her parents. Katherina had begun to suffer in the summer of 1913, but such was the love for her husband and for all her children that she kept her suffering to herself so as not to worry them. Eventually the pains became so severe that it was necessary to take treatment to make the pains bearable. Three operations were resorted to, but they only prolonged the end. Death came peacefully and with a gentle hand. She died of cancer. Her funeral services were held from St. Pauls Church at Minonk with the Rev. Theodore Kettlehut officiating in both English and German. Burial took place in the Minonk Township Cemetery. The pallbearers were the sons, Michael Jr., Henry, Daniel, William, Charles, and John Barth. She was preceded in death by her parents and her daughter Catherina Balback. She was survived by her husband, four brothers and one sister, and the following children; Mrs. Anna May of Bennett Nebraska, Louis of Rochelle, Illinois, and Michael Jr., Henry, Daniel, William, Charles, Mrs. Pheobe Kettwich, John, Edward, and Robert, all of this vicinity, forty-seven grandchildren and one great- grandchild. Mrs. Barth devoted her every energy to her husband and her children. With her church duties and her family, her life was filled to the brim. So rich was her character in nobleness, that to be near her was to love her. She was a queen among God's greatest gift--Good Women.
For the next two and a half years, Michael continued to live on the farm with his son, Robert. He was never ill until he developed asthma in his late years. He was always cheerful, smiling, soft spoken, and kind, especially to all his grandchildren, but these last two and a half years he missed his Catherina so much. He died early in the morning on May 30, 1917, after a sickness of three to four weeks duration with the infirmities of old age. He was 84 years old and had lived here for fifty-eight years. Funeral services were held from St. Pauls Church with Rev. Theodore Kettlehut officiating.
They conducted the service in both English and German. Burial was in the Minonk Township Cemetery.The pallbearers were the six oldest sons of the deceased. He was precceded in death by his wife, his parents, and his daughter, Catherina Balback. He was survived by the following children; Mrs. Anna Mary May of Bennett, Nebraska, Louis of Rochelle, Ill., Michael Jr., Henry, Daniel, William, Charles, Mrs. Pheobe Kettwich, John, Edward, and Robert, all of Minonk, forty-eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. At the time of his death, he was the sole male survivor of those who founded the church. He was always a faithful member and was ever zealous in his interest in it's development. Michael was a loyal friend and he devoted all of his energies and all his thoughts in establishing not only for himself, but for each of his children, a comfortable home in his adopted land. The man from Bavaria was a man of worth and in return for the blessings of a free land, he gave all that was in him - industry, loyalty, and good citizenship.