The Blocher Family of Germany, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kansas

The snow was softly falling on the little German town. In the small cottage at the edge of town; three brothers were sitting around a roaring fire trying to keep warm. They had just heard a very disturbing bit of news at the market place that day. Rumors of war were flying all over the town square. A notice was tacked on the post in the middle of the market, ordering all men the ages of sixteen or older, to report for military duty the following week. The brothers, Peter, John, and Matthias Blocher, were all in that age group. They had decided if Germany went to war again, they would leave and go to the British Colonies in the America’s. Germany in the 1700's was much different from the Germany of today. It was divided into three hundred small sovereign states, each ruled over by Dukes. They were always involved in a series of small bloody wars. Fredrick the Great was king over all of these states. The life of the peasants was a kind of bondage to these Dukes. Free speech was forbidden and there was little religious freedom. Jews and Protestants were especially persecuted. The Blocher family were Jewish, it was becoming very dangerous for Jews to live in Germany at that time.

The following week, the men disposed of all their property and other valuables, as secretly as they could. They knew if they were caught; they would be hung. They would need the money to get them started in the Colonies. The three brothers slipped out of Germany in 1753, and took passage on a sailing vessel; they were bound for the new world and a new life.

Matthias settled in Hanover, Pennsylvania. He married a woman named Barbara Schwabin, and they had several children. Among these was a boy named Joseph. He lived at the time of the Revolutionary war, and he took part in the fight for Independence, as a Private of the Commonwealth of New England, before he married. His wife was Elizabeth Roberts. Little is known about this couple, but one of their sons was named Samuel.

Samuel Blocher left Pennsylvania when he was a young man. He married a girl named Catherine Wyland. After they were married they settled in Darke County, Ohio. It was about this time, the Blocher family converted to the German Baptist Brethern religion, the members of which were called "Dunkards". The family had a tradition of naming their children names from the Bible. It was natural for Samuel to name his son, Joseph, after his father, when the boy was born in Ohio in 1831. Samuel and his wife had eight other children, besides Joseph.

Joseph and his wife, Sarah, continued this tradition and they named all thirteen of their children from the Bible, too. His wife was of Swiss German stock, she was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1835. Sarah never dreamed that September day, in 1853, when she married Joseph Blocher, that she would leave all of her family and friends and go west to Kansas. The couple already had a large family when they loaded all their possessions on wagons. They then boarded a steamboat for Westport, Missouri. This town is now part of Kansas City. It was early in the spring of 1863 when they arrived. Joseph unloaded the wagons and bought oxen, to pull them to their next home. It was over fifty miles to Willow Springs township in Douglas County, Kansas. One of the wagons had a false bottom in it. This was where Joseph hid the gold he received from the sale of his old farm. He bought a much larger farm, one that could better feed his growing family. He used the gold to pay for the trip west and the farm. The family used oxen to do all the hauling on the farm. They hauled rocks to build the many miles of rock fences needed. Wire fences were not invented until many years later. One son, Noah, said, "I must have built a hundred miles of rock fence when I was a boy." Some of these rock fences can still be seen in places.

To break the oxen, the boys would put six yoke of oxen on a log wagon and drive twelve miles for a load of logs. When they got back, the oxen knew what was expected of them. One of the ox yokes, that Joseph and his sons used, can be seen in the Museum at Topeka, Kansas. Another one is hanging on the wall at the Old Castle Museum, in Baldwin, Kansas.

The younger Blocher children often herded sheep on the open prairie, one mile north of the old Santa Fe trail. They watched many wagons going west. The wool from the sheep was sheared, washed, carded and spun into yarn. The yarn was then knitted to make warm garments, as well as mittens and stockings for the family. All of the candles used to light the house after dark, were also made at home. Joseph bought a load of apples in the fall, because there were no orchards in Kansas then. Sarah and the girls dried the apples, as well as wild plums, for use in the long, winters. They buried potatoes and turnips to keep them for winter use. Eggs were put in lime water, to keep and eat when the hens quit laying, in the fall. The main stay of their diet was cornbread and fried mush. The corn was grown on the farm and ground at a nearby mill. This family grew almost everything they ate, as it was a long way to a store.

One night about midnight, Joseph heard a noise out behind the smoke house. This is a building used by the family to smoke and cure meat. He got up and took his gun down from the pegs over the door. Then he slipped out into the yard. it was near the end of the Civil War and he knew there were a lot of border ruffians about. He was very careful as he watched the man in the faint moonlight. He was sure the man was up to no good or he would have hailed the house with a, "Hello", before getting that close. As Joseph watched the stranger, he saw him trying to steal his best saddle horse. He aimed as carefully as he could in the dim light and shot at the horse thief. The man fell to the ground and when Joseph walked up and turned him over, he saw the thief was dead. He was afraid the man might have friends close by. He thought the best thing to do would be to bury the horse thief right there. As long as he lived on that farm, Joseph thought about the man he killed and buried behind his smoke house. He never told anyone about the affair until many years later. He always wondered who the horse thief was, and if he had a family waiting somewhere for him. Many men disappeared in the early west and were never heard from again.

When Quantrill and his raiders came to Lawrence, Sarah carried bedding out behind a rock ledge in the timber. She hid her children there to keep the raiders from finding them, One of the older girls, Catherine, was in Lawrence, when Quantrill and his men rode into town, killing all the men they saw. They set fire to the town that day and almost burned it down. Catherine hid under the outside staircase of the old Eldridge Hotel with some other ladies. They were not harmed, but Catherine was so frightened she wet in her pantaloons, long bloomers the girls wore then. As long as she lived, she would always be embarrassed when the story was told.

The Blocher family belonged to the same church as Joseph's parents had. Sometimes they are called Dunkards. They are still numerous in Douglas County. The women never cut their hair and wear it covered with a white bonnet at all times. They wear a dark bonnet over that outside in the winter. For a coat they wear a three cornered cape, made of some dark colored material. The men wear pants with a button flap instead of a zipper. Their hair is long, and cut straight across in back, always covered with a black hat when they are outdoors. The men also wear a beard, long on the chin and smooth on the sides. A television set is not allowed in the house, and a radio can only be used to listen to the weather forecasts and religious music. They believe in hard work, plain living and helping each other. Maybe we would all be a little happier if we would take a few lessons from them. Sarah Blocher remained true to these beliefs all of her life. After her son Noah married, he shaved his beard off and was read out of the Church for that.

Joseph moved his family to a farm in Osage County in 1888. This farm was near Overbrook, Kansas. They lived in a small clapboard house with a dirt floor, until a new house was built. When the house was finished, Joseph must have gotten restless because he "Went Over the Hill" so to speak. He wasn't heard from until many years later. A son, Josh, ran across him by accident, in Texas. Joseph sent for Sarah to come to him and they would try to patch the marriage up. She went, because she felt it was her duty to try again. She tried for six months, but it didn't work out, and she went back to the farm. Joseph died at his son's home in 1904.

Sarah made a deal with her daughter, Barbara, and her husband to farm her land. In return for taking care of her until she died, they would get the farm. Several years later, something happened to that arrangement, she found she could not get along with them. She left to live out her life in the homes of her son, Noah, and another daughter, Lydia Michel. Barbara and her husband kept the farm, however.

It was while living at Lydia's house she took sick. They hired a neighbor woman to take care of her. That woman was the grandmother of Pat Salisbury. Many years later, Pat married Thomas Routh, Sara’s great-great-grandson.

Noah was the ninth child, in that large family of Joseph and Sarah. They had ten boys and three girls. Noah was born in Darke County, Ohio in 1861. He was only two years old when they made the long, dangerous trip on the steamboat, up the Missouri river. Noah was a short young man, a little on the stocky side, with dark brown hair and coal black eyes, when he courted and won the heart of Mary Falwell, in 1887.


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