Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Legend of Louise Rosenow

The title makes you think you should know her.  Most of you don't, but will.  Louise Rosenow was an early example of a true pioneer woman and I am blessed to say she is my great-grandmother.  Recently, I found a newspaper article the my mother had transcribed that was an account of my great-grandmother's life.  Within it's words, I found such a connection with her.  She passed away when I was around 4, the same age as my youngest child.  So, my memories of her are few.  Finding this article really made me appreciate the type of woman she was and that I strive to be.  And,  it's odd how many similar interests we share.  Mine often by choice and hers by necessity.  The following story was written by Mrs. Coleta Cox of Uvalde for the Zavala County Sentinel.  She was a journalist that had an interest in preserving pioneer stories.


        Spanning the Years with Louise Rosenow

The sprawling, rock ranch house was fronted by tiers of multi-colored flowers all with faces drooping in deference to the scorching rays of the afternoon sun - this was before the rains came. Inside, it was cool and comfortable and Louise Rosenow though well into her eighties, flitted about, busy as a bee and just about as active.

The twentieth century has been a time of progress and great change and Mrs. Rosenow is the kind of person who not only saw those changes take place but also shouldered her share of the work that is always involved with progress and growth. Here is her story:

“I was born August 9, 1887, six miles north of Hondo at the small community of Vandenburg. My mother, Katherine Grossenbacher, was born in D’Hanis, however her parents came to Texas from Switzerland. My father, Louis Mumme, was born at Castorville but his parents came over here from Berlin, Germany.”

The “fairy tales” and “Mother Goose” stories that Mrs. Rosenow grew up with were the true accounts of Indian raids on those frontier settlements as recalled by her mother and an uncle. Her favorite was of the time her grandfather had sent her mother to a nearby pasture to bring in his prized race horse. Just as she caught the horse, Indians rode into the field. Trembling with fear, she jumped astride the horse and turned him loose. Fortunately for her, the horse outran the “pursing Reskins”.

Another of these Indian stories she recalled was of the capture of her mother’s sister by the Redmen. Only a few hours following her capture however, the raiding party was intercepted by a party of white men who were unaware of the raid, but seeing the white girl could guess as to what had happened. By chance, the white men had some sheepskins with them, which they were able to trade for the girl.

“While my mother was growing up, quite often when Indians were raiding the coutnryside, the families of a community would all gather at one farm and the men would take turns standing guard. They called this “bushwhacking”.

In those early days, vegetables in the winter was unheard of, so at the first signs of spring many frontier housewives would search the woods for wild greens. I recall my parents telling of one such family who lived near them and of their fondness for wild lettuce. One spring while gathering wild lettuce, however, a poison plant was picked by mistake and with the exception of the two eldest boys who were away from home at the time, the entire family was wiped out - poisoned! I was too young to remember the incident but did know the two boys who survived, in later years.

I got all my schooling at the one-room school at Vandenburg,” she continued. “The schools weren’t graded then but I probably completed what would be the equivalent of the seventh or eighth grade today. I attended school until I was 15 and had only two teachers in all those years: Mr. Willie Saathoff and Mr. Henry Heyen. Both of them were very good teachers, too. I liked school very much and enjoyed every subject I studied. I walked a mile to school every day, then there were plenty of chores to do when I got home in the afternoon: cows to bring in from the pasture amile from the house. There was corn to shuck and hogs to feed as Father always kept a large bunch of them; we put up our own meat and made lots of good sausage.

I had eleven brothers and three sisters; I was in the middle. I learned to sew while quite young and was soon the seamstress for the family, training that surely came in handy later on in life. I made all of my brothers shirts and their underwear in addition to all of my own clothes, but I never learned to knit, though I crocheted very well. I never had to go to the field to work however, as many girls and women did.

There wasn’t a doctor in Hondo during those early years, but I’m sure there must have been one in Castroville, though we never used him; didn’t need him. We were never sick and Mother always doctored us children through our childhood diseases with home-made remedies.

There wasn’t an undertaker in Hondo at that time either. The neighbors always came in to “lay out” the body when death came and sometimes the men even made caskets.

I attended church at New Fountain, a rural church a few miles out of Hondo. I went to the Lutheran church for a time then to the Methodist congregation and was baptized, though Mother had all of us baptized in infancy.

There wasn’t much social life when I was growing up, but oh, how I did love to dance! There was always a big dance at Castroville on Christmas and the Fourth of July and sometimes in between times. My brothers and one of the neighbor boys would take us in a hack. It was fifteen miles one way and would take about 2 hours to drive it. A delicious supper would be served at midnight then we would dance until two o’clock in the morning so it would be almost daylight before we got home. Music was furnished by a band from San Antonio and how I looked forward to those dances!

In 1909, I married W. C. Martin of Hondo. We were married in the Methodist church at New Fountain with the Rev. Mehner officiating. A strange thing happened on our wedding day; I told my husband it was a bad sign. We were going home from the church following the ceremony, when one of the horses pulling our hack balked. We had to get out and walk before that horse would budge up thehill!

Mr. Martin worked for the city of Hondo and we lived in town. In 1920, he passed away leaving me with 5 small children and a small ranch on the outskirts of Hondo.

There wasn’t any social security in those days and the income from the ranch was inadequate for a growing family, so I decided to take in sewing. I had had plenty of experience and could make anything, then too this allowed me to stay at home with my children. I sewed mostly for women who had plenty of money; they would go to San Antonio and buy good quality heavily beaded and embroidered dresses so popular during the twenties. For making a coat or elaborately decorated dress I was paid five dollars while for a plain cotton housedress I received a dollar fifty. I even made ladies underthings. For eight years I burned lots of midnight oil sewing but with the small income derived from the ranch I was able to provide well for my children.

I kept a cow in town, during those years of widowhood so we had an ample supply of milk, butter and cheese. I used to make a cooked cheese from skimmed milk which my children loved, a German cheese. I mixed cream and butter with it and they used it for a spread on their bread. The children were too small to be of much help, though Wesley did help me in the kitchen some.

In 1928, I married John Rosenow of Carta Valley, in Edward County. He was several years older than I was and when he asked me to marry him I said ‘Yes’ on one condition: the he gave my children a home, too. He said, ‘Of course, they’ll have a home! There will be plenty of work for the boys!’ And he employed all four of them, too.

Mr. Rosenow had a sizeable ranch that was well-stocked with sheep and goats and there was a large two-story house at Carta Valley. I sold my small ranch at Hondo and we moved my cattle up there. He always employed several hands so finding a job for my boys was no problem and they all the freedom of ranch life.

I had never lived that far away from town before, it was forty miles into Del Rio, but I was accustomed to hard work so the ranch work didn’t seem overly hard to me. I always cooked for all the hands that worked on the main home ranch. I baked four large loaves of bread every day and my, how those Mexican sheepherders went for that fresh home-baked bread.

There was lots of fame at Carta Valley and the boys enjoyed hunting. They were always amused when they rounded up the herds to find deer mixed in with the sheep and goats. To market the animals, they had to be driven into Del Rio where they were then loaded into stock cars and shipped by rail. The drive would take three days but the boys enjoyed them and the nights camping out on the road.

There were lots of fur-bearing animals in the hills, so my youngest son, Hilmer, trapped during the winter months and made all of the pocket money that way.

There was interdenominational church in Carta Valley when I first went there which we attended. Due to lack of interest the doors were closed however, and we were forced to go into Del Rio for church services. Of course, I couldn’t go regularly but I did belong to the Missionary Society of the First Methodist Church and went whenever possible. It was quite lonesome out there, so far from everything.

Not too long after I married Mr. Rosenow this country went into the depression of the terrible thirties! There was no money, no jobs and every city had a coup line to feed its hungry! On the ranch we had plenty to eat but we didn’t have any money. Couldn’t even pay our taxes. No one could. There wasn’t even money to pay the school teacher’s salaries. Oh, it was terrible!

It was at this critical time that Franklin Roosevelt became our president. Under the pretext of ‘helping us’, he sent men in and killed off our livestock. They paid two dollars a head for fat young kids and fourteen dollars per head for the calves. The only cattle we had were the ones I had moved from my ranch at Hondo, but Oh, the young kids they slaughtered and left laying on the ground! Think about it! People here at home crying from hunger and all that meat spoiling; going to waste! A mexican here on the ranch cut the fat from a lot of the kids and we made a kettle after kettle of lye soap.

There was an old dry well on the ranch that the boys filled up with carcasses, then some were piled in caves. The government forbid them being used for food.

During those bleak years we sold wool for eight cents a pound and couldn’t sell mohair at any price; finally burned it to get it out of the way.

Following the worst of the depression, we bought fifteen sections of land here in the western part of Uvalde county. Then, seven days before Pearl Harbor, Mr. Rosenow passed away and once more I was alone.

Mr. Rosenow had nine children by an earlier marriage and since the Edwards county ranch was rightfully theirs, I moved tthe Uvalde county ranch, which he had bought for me. There was a good ranch house on the place but it was located in the back pasture, off the highway and the road into it was so hard to keep in shape that I felt I needed to make a change.

First, I built a house in Uvalde, but I never lived in it. I just couldn’t move into town; I like country living. I sold the new house in town and began to gather rocks from the ranch to build a new ranch house, which I completed in 1949 and here I’ve been ever since.

Several summers I went on organized tours by bus and train to visit scenic and historical spots of interest all over the United States and Canada. One summer I took two grand-daughters to California for a couple of weeks. We went all over Hollywood and toured television studios and saw several T.V. shows; we really had a time.

I’ve killed lots of rattlesnakes on this place and I keep a 410 shotgun handy for snakes and varmits. Not too long ago however, I killed the largest rattler I’ve ever seen. It was only five-foot long but was unusually thick though; must have been twice as big around as an average rattlesnake. I was out in the flower garden and I walked right by without seeing it, but my dog came along and began to bark so I got my gun and killed it.

I used to kill lots of armadillos; they would just ruin my flowers. I haven’t seen any lately so guess I thinned them out.

I had a frigthening experience a few years ago. About dark one evening, my dog treed a coon just outside the yard so I grabbed my gun and a flashlight and went out there. The coon jumped from the tree and ran to another and I followed. He continued this with me following until I suddenly stopped, looked around, and realized I couldn’t see a light anywhere. I began to scan the skyline for my windmill and when I couldn’t find it, I knew I was lost. I couldn’t even see any car lights on the highway so I began walking in the direction that I thought home lay. It wasn’t long until I discovered I was going in circles though, so I sat down to try to reason things out. It was then I recalled the highline, which crossed the pasture I was in and also went close to the house. I once more took the flashlight and began a careful search of the sky for the power lines. Finally, the dim beam of the light struck the wires and I followed them home. I had wandered around aimlessly about for more than an hour but it sure taught me a lesson; not to go out alone at night. This was the year that so many rattlesnakes were killed between Uvalde and Crystal City but I didn’t see a one that night.

I have never been sick and three years ago when my house cat came in with its throat chewed up I never thought too much about it and cared for it the best I could. A few days later though when he suddenly attacked me and sank his teeth into one of my ankles, I became frightened and called the doctor. As it turned out, the cat was rabid; I had to take rabies shots and was hospitalized over a week with an infected ankle.

I have always loved flowers and joined the Iris Garden Club soon after moving to Uvalde. One of the proudest moments of my life came when I was awarded the silver bowl at the annual flower show a few years ago; this is given to the member winning the most first place ribbons and you keep it for a year.

One of the first things I did on moving to Uvalde was to join the First Methodist Church. I especially enjoyed the Wednesday morning Bible class. Ten years ago I was made a life member of the Women’s Society of Christian Services by the local society, something I was quite happy about.

I’m also a member of El Progresso and of the Homemaker’s Home Demonstrations Clubs. Since my retirement from active ranching in 1959, these organizations and my church work fill my time.”

The afternoon I visited with Mrs. Rosenow, she had just returned from town where she had had her driver’s license renewed. “I’ve been driving for fifty years,” she recalled, “and never so much as dented a fender in all of those years. I learned how to drive a Model T Ford. I always try to drive carefully and watch out for the other person.”

Mrs. Rosenow has four children living; Elmer, the oldest boy passed away a few years ago. Willie lives in Uvalde and ranches out west of town; Wesley farms in Yuma, Arizona and Hilmer, the youngest boy and “my right-hand”, as his mother described him, lives near her and ranches. Lorene, the only daughter is married to George Love and lives in Sinton, Texas.

She was an amazing woman and I will humbly say that I am not half the woman she was....



  1. When I lived in Germany next door to a dairy farm, they had a cheese that was soft and creamy. They called it "Qvark". I haven't found it here. Maybe it is close to what your gramma made.
    I love this bit of history. Great story!!
    Humbling, for sure. It is so neat to learn more of our biological roots!!!

  2. Martina - I have a recipe for Quark!! And for KochKase which is what my great-Grandmother was referring to. I was planning on sharing those soon! I also found her cookbook and plan on blogging some of those recipes so they aren't lost with time.