Henkes, Five-Generation Homestead Heritage

Tandberg, Kathy. "Henkes, Five-Generation Homestead Heritage." Hazen Star, 2 June 2011, 8.

Early day Oliver County homesteaders, Diederich and Dorthea Henke, with their children, front, from left, May, Doris, Diederich and Dorthea; back, Herman (Ervin's father) and Henry.

With parents and grandparents among the very early Oliver County settlers, Ervin and Orlene Henke have a well-earned place among the six people to be honored at the 2011 Old Settlers' Days celebration to be held June 10-12.

Ervin and Orlene (Reiner) were joined in marriage Dec. 29, 1953. Both are Hannover area farm children. They met at their country church, St. Peter's Lutheran Church not far from Hannover.

They raised a family of five children on the Henke family homestead: Lynette (Stay-ton), Curtis, Vernon, Eileen (Johnson) and Marlo (Walz). They also have 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

"We feel very honored to have been chosen," Ervin said of being Old Settlers' Days honorees.


Until 2008, Ervin, 86, lived his entire life on land that was homesteaded in 1885 by his grandparents, Diederich and Dorthea Henke.

Ervin's father, Herman, was the oldest of Diederich and Dorthea's four children. The others were Mary, Anna and Henry.

Diederich was just 17 when he left Germany for America in 1873. If he had stayed in Germany any longer, he would have been forced to join the German army. He wanted more in life.

When he arrived in America, he traveled on to Illinois where he worked on a cousin's farm. It was there he met another worker, Dorthea, who would eventually become his future wife in what would be a life of adventure when they settled in the Dakota Territory near Hannover.

But before that time came, in 1884 Diederich traveled with friends to Nebraska looking for land to buy. There he heard that the Dakotas had land that could become his own just by living on it.

He went back to Illinois and in May 1885 he and Dorthea married. They traveled soon after to New Salem on a railroad immigrant car. He made connections through railroad land agents and was able to homestead land near Hannover.

Ervin and Orlene Henke share a homesteader heritage. Today they live in New Salem after a life on the farm.
The Henkes arrived in New Salem with two horses, two cows, a few chickens, a breaking plow, a two-section harrow, a scythe and some hand tools. Diederich also had enough lumber for a two-room house. The lumber was already cut and numbered.

In the new house, the trunk that carried Diederich's clothing from Germany served as their eating table. They dug two wells on the new homestead, but couldn't find water so they hauled water from the creek for seven years.

In 1892 they bought 80 more acres by the creek where there was good water. More land was added as funds were available.

Ervin recalled some of the early stories his grandparents told. One was when his grandfather was away working and his grandmother, upon hearing that Indians were coming to attack, packed Herman on her back in a basket and set out on foot for New Salem in fear.

How far she traveled is unsure, but someone saw her and told her it was safe and there was no attack, so she was able to travel back home.

Ervin added that there was unofficial talk that his father Herman was the first white baby boy born in Oliver County. The first white child born was a girl.

When Ervin recalled his childhood days, he thought about work, the work that it took to run the family farm.

"We went to school for eight years, that was it, and then we worked for Dad," Ervin said. "I was around 14 when we had four horses in front of a five-section harrow and I walked behind it to work the fields."
Ervin said his father bought his first tractor around 1940 - a John Deere from his uncle, Bill Borne-mann, who owned the dealership in Hannover.

"Grandpa thought that was modern farming," Ervin added.

A fond memory was the family car, a four-door Chevrolet. He said most of the time on Sunday, the entire family packed into that Chevrolet, including the hired man and his family, and headed off to church at St. Peter's Lutheran Church south of the old cemetery that still stands.

Talking about the old car also brought memories of 1942, the year his mother died. It is also the year Ervin learned to drive that car. He recalled the road between Hannover and New Salem and riding on it to the funeral home.

"It was all gravel and that's the road I learned to drive on," Ervin recalled.

Now living in an apartment in New Salem, Ervin said when he and Orlene retired from the farm, it was hard to go, but it was time. He said their children were worried about them living out on the old place alone, which prompted the move.

Their son, Vernon, who works in an area power plant, took over the farm then took the original farm house down to build a new one for his family.

"I lived in the old house 84 years. Orlene and I lived there then and raised our family there. It was hard to see it go, but it served us well," Ervin said.


Orlene is the baby being held by her mother, Eleanora. Her brother, Willard, is holding their father, Emil's, hand.
Orlene is the daughter of Emil and Eleanora Reiner. Emil was a boy of 5 when he emigrated in 1907 from Ukraine, Russia with his parents, Frederick and Emma Reiner. The family lived in South Dakota, and then moved to Otter Creek just three miles from Hannover a short time later.

Emil met Eleanora, the daughter of Henry and Emma Bargmann, Hannover area homesteaders, and they married in 1926. They raised a family of six on the family farm: Willard, Orlene, Glenn, Marvin, Warren and Cheryl.

"My parents farmed for a time, and he was also a mail carrier," Orlene said.

In 1940 Emil was elected sheriff of Oliver County, a position he held until 1952. Then he became the county auditor from 1952-1963.

Orlene, 83, enjoyed living the country life near Hannover, a life she had for most of her life. She has fond memories of Hannover.

"Hannover had a store and post office with it. We had a young people's league at St. Peter's Church," she recalled.

When talking about meeting Ervin, Orlene is clear.

"I always noticed him. There were a lot of boys who asked me out, but I never went with them. I knew who I wanted and if I didn't have him then I would have been an old maid," Orlene said with a laugh.

It was February 1953 when Ervin, then 25, asked Orlene, 22, out for the first time. They were married that December during holiday time so far-away family could attend the wedding. They moved onto the farm soon after and lived there until retirement.

"The only old building still on the farm is the old wood granary that's been there since World War II," Orlene recalled.

Orlene remembered the milking chores as a child when she thought about the farm life.

"I didn't stay that long milking because I always had problems with the pail. I loved to cook and my mother loved to milk, so I got to do the house chores instead," Orlene said.

Orlene said her grandparents talked about the hardship of those winters back in those early days. One story was how they would have to go out to break the ice to get water.

Leaving the farm three years ago was "just one of those things," Ervin said.

They both miss the farm but are happy together.

"You have to put it in the back of your mind because those times are over," Ervin said as Orlene nodded agreement.

Today five generations of Henkes have lived on the Henke homestead. To that, Ervin is proud.

"It makes me feel good. Not only is Vernon there, but he has three boys," Ervin said.

The Henkes both still have large extended families in Mercer and Oliver counties.

Reprinted with permission of the Hazen Star.

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