Story of Aunt Kate

as told by Frances (Gibson) McPherson

I’ll tell you what little I know about my grandmother, Kate[1]. She was born in Jettenburg, Germany on April 2, 1859. The one thing she remembered most about life there was that as a child of 5 or 6 – she tended the geese while she knit. She was expected to knit a sock a day! At seven years of age the family left Germany (because her folks didn’t want the boys to have to join the Kaiser’s army). As they crossed the Atlantic in a sailboat, they carefully watched a little cousin who had come with them. Who was he? They even tied him to the mast at times – to keep the active child from falling over-board. The trip took many days. Somehow the number 56 sticks in my mind, hut it could be wrong.

The family lived one year in Sheboygan, Wis. – and then moved to Oxford, Iowa area, in 1867. She talked a lot about clearing “the timber” to make a place to plant crops. They had a little house in the “woods” and each day all of the family left to work clearing the timber. Kate and her little brother Adam were left at home. She never forgot how frightened they became as they sat on the doorstep at dusk, waiting for the others to come home. The owls started to hoot and they were always so glad to hear the family coming home, very tired from their day’s work.

We have a cabin in the Santa Cruz Mts., but Grandma never liked to go to the “woods”. “Why would anyone want to go there when you have a good house in town?”

A young man named Henry Karsten courted Kate for a couple of years. Rode his horse over every 2 weeks! His family (parents) had come from Northern Germany. The family lived in Chicago, but his parents and their two boys came to Oxford and bought a farm – after the Chicago fire. The farm backed up to the Amana Colony town of Homestead. Henry had a brother, Louis, who was the banker in Oxford for many years.

After Kate and Henry married, they lived with Henry’s folks on the farm, where Ida was born on January 14, 1885 and Anna on September 9, 1887. Both learned to speak German before English because their Grandparents lived with them and spoke little English.

A friend of Henry’s, Mrs. Alt, taught him telegraphy and some time in 1888 or 1889 they moved to Kansas where my Grandfather (Henry) was a telegrapher for the Rock Island Railway. On May 6, 1889, Pearl was born in either Purcell or Denton, Kansas.

In 1892, they moved to Beatrice, Nebraska, where Henry was again a telegrapher for the Rock Island. He never had a vacation but the family had a railway pass and every so often, Kate would take the girls for a visit to Iowa.

In December of 1900, the family moved back to the farm in Homestead where Henry was the Homestead telegrapher. In 1906 they sold the farm and moved into town at Oxford (Farm sold to Phil Vogt).

Anna graduated from High school in Oxford in 1905 and Pearl in 1906. Ida had graduated from Beatrice High in 1903 and started to Iowa Wesleyan U. in 1906.

In 1907 they again went back to Beatrice, Nebraska, where Pearl took a business course and later worked in a store there. Henry took a trip out West, looking for a job and a place for the girls to go to college and learn to be teachers. He found San Jose in the beautiful Santa Clara valley. It was a small town and had a teacher’s college. He was offered a telegrapher’s job with Southern Pacific.

The valley was a mass of orchards. (How we miss them today. The trees are gone and the valley is filled with houses and industry and is known as Silicon Valley!)

The girls all went to college and taught school later. Ida taught in Modesto, California, where she was joined by Pearl a few years later. There Pearl met Nelson Gibson. They married September 2, 1915, and moved to a cattle ranch, that Nelson had bought in Southeastern California in the Owens Valley. Their daughter, Frances (me), was born on September 11, 1916, back in San Jose because there were no doctors near the ranch at Lone Pine.

Anna met a young man at church, named Harry James, and they were married on November 27, 1913. Their daughters are Margaret, born May 15, 1915 and Ruth, born November 13, 1919.

Ida went to Peru in May of 1919 to be a missionary. While she was gone, Nelson died in the “flu epidemic”, and Pearl and Frances moved back to San Jose. Henry Karsten had died of appendicitis on November 1, 1917; so Pearl and Frances moved in with Kate after Nelson’s death. Ida returned from Peru and lived with them, beginning in 1923. Pearl taught school in the near-by town of Santa Clara for 29 years, while Ida taught in San Jose.

Anna and Harry were on a prune and apricot ranch for many years (in the Valley). Anna taught school just down the road from the ranch. Their daughters and Frances all went to San Jose State College and received teaching credentials. All three married and as of now Kate and Henry have 14 great-great grandchildren. Kate died in San Jose on October 2, 1942. Her three granddaughters are: Margaret James Serrett, Ruth James Robertson and Frances Gibson McPherson. They remain very close. Holidays are spent together with their children and grandchildren.

Kate Grauer Karsten was a typical hardworking German lady. She was very friendly and had lots of friends. She was devoted to her family and helped rear Frances after Nelson died.

One year when the Mexican prune pickers quit at Harry’s and Anna’s ranch, the family pitched in to save the crop, crawling around on hands and knees over the many acres. Kate was in her mid-seventies, but she joined the crew and was one of the best and fastest prune pickers there.

She was a devout Christian and passed on her faith in Christ to her daughters, and they to theirs.


[1] Maria Katharina Grauer, born March 29, 1859 in Jettenburg

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