Have you ever attended an event where the speaker posed an unanswered question that you knew you could answer with a little genealogical sleuthing? Well, that was my situation recently when I attended a presentation by Bruce T Jones, a meteorologist with Midland Radio Corporation, about the 1896 tornado that caused significant damage in Nemaha and surrounding counties.
Interestingly, the presenter had taken newspaper accounts of the tornado damage and plotted the damage on plat maps from the time. Thus, he was able to show that instead of one tornado that stayed on the ground for quite some time, there were likely several tornadoes.
Not only did he combine newspaper articles and plat maps, but he interspersed current pictures of some of the locations, actual pictures of the damage and tombstones of those killed by the tornado. While discussing what the Kotte family endured, including the death of the parents, he wondered what happened to the children after the tornado.
And that’s the question that most genealogists could answer with a little bit of research. I started my research on my phone during the presentation and found a likely family in the 1895 Kansas census. However, I needed the ability to either use multiple tabs or pencil and paper to try and track the children after the tornado.
So, I waited to do more research until I could utilize my computer and multiple tabs / screens. I restarted my research by locating articles about the Kotte family during the tornado. The article, Terrific Tornado, identifies those killed by the tornado.
Seneca Storm Swept Sunday Evening
The Highway of Death and Destruction Reaches from
West Seneca to Reserve in Brown County
Thirteen Victims in this County, and Several Hanging to Life by a
Slender Thread is the Record of the Gyrating Monster
Baileyville and Sabetha Suffer
Mrs Jacob Meisner
Mrs Jacob Kotte
W C Machamer
InjuredSeneca Tribune, 21 May 1896, page 2 available on http://seneca.advantage-preservation.com/
Two Kotte children
Lorenzo D Hawley
W H Young
Mrs James Parcels
Then the local news item, On Harris Creek, provided details about the tornado’s impact on the farmstead where the Kotte family was living.
On Harris CreekSeneca Courier Democrat, 22 May 1896, page 3 available on http://seneca.advantage-preservation.com/
The cyclone crossed over from Nemaha to Harris Creek right east of B F. Hart’s farm about two miles north of Seneca. It struck J M Newton’s house and tore off the shingles and totally demolished his barn, sheds, cribs and other buildings; loss $1,000.
It next struck Theo Newton’s place and ripped everything to pieces in its course; loss $800.
On the Henry Nordhouse farm occupied by Joseph Kotte it took up the house with the whole family in it and carried it high in the air over trees that are at lest fifty feet high and dropped it into Harris Creek and smashed it into splinters. Mrs Kotte was found dead with her neck broke and her entire body fearfully mutilated. In her arms still clasped firmly to her breast, now still and cold in death, was found her infant child alive and unharmed. The father was found among the debris with his skull crushed and his face and body fearfully mangled; he lived but thirty-six hours and never regained consciousness. The other three children were blown fully one hundred yards further and are alive though the oldest, a boy of 11 years, if fearfully cut and mangled on the leg and is now lying at his Uncle Conrad Pelster’s in a critical condition. The property loss at this place is fully $2,500.
Since the parents were killed in the tornado, I turned to Find A Grave to locate their memorials in hopes of learning more about the family and any potential aunts/uncles.
- Elizabeth Kotte (1860-1896) – Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery – shows Johan H. Pelster as father and siblings: Mary Magdalena Sherman (died Shelby County, Ohio), Conrad H. Pelster (buried Crowley County, Colorado), Joseph Pelster (buried Boone County, Nebraska) and Bernard J Pelster (buried Shelby County, Ohio)
- William Joseph Kotte (1851-1896)
Based on the information from Find A Grave, I searched the 1895 census for a family with a William Kotte or a Joseph Kotte as head of household living in Nemaha county, Kansas. I found one such family living in Richmond Township:
- Jos. Kotte – age 44 born Germany, came to KS from Ohio, farmer
- Lizzie Kotte – age 36 female born Ohio
- Wm Kotte – age 9 male born Ohio
- Mary Kotte – age 7, female born Ohio
- George Kotte – age 4, male born Ohio
- Frank Kotte – 6 m, male born Kansas
Thus, the surviving Kotte children are likely William, Mary, George and Frank. Now the quest to find the children after the tornado and to prove that this is the correct family.
In the 1900 census for Nemaha County, there is a George Kotte, age 9, and a Frank Kotte, age 5 identified as nephews in the Conrad Pelster’s household in Gilman Township (sheet 5B). Conrad Pelster is identified as a sibling of Elizabeth Kotte on her Find a Grave memorial.
Thus, four years after the tornado, the two youngest children are living with their mother’s brother. That leaves Mary who would be 12 and William who would be 14.
There is a Mary (or Mamie) listed on the 1900 census as a boarder in the household of Arnold Ronnebaum and his wife Agnes living in Gilman Township (sheet 9A).
And in Marion township, there is a Willie J Kotte listed as a laborer in the household of Henry Rethman (sheet 7A)
So, four years after the tornado, the children are split between 3 households. Since these Kotte children are not buried in Nemaha county, they obviously moved away at some point in their lives.
According to Find a Grave, William (1887-1960) is buried in Saskatchewan, Canada. Mary K. Kotte Scholl (1887-1967) is buried in Boone County, Nebraska. Frank Xavior Kotte (1894-1983) is also buried in Boone County, Nebraska. While the Find a Grave memorial is not connected to the parents’ memorials, there is a George Kotte (1891-1975) buried in Saskatchewan, Canada.
While the Find a Grave memorials and the census records provide insight into what happened to these orphaned children, the obituary of Mary K. Scholl ties it all together by identifying her siblings and recounting the tornado.
ObituaryPetersburg Press (Petersburg, Nebraska)
Mrs. Mary K. Scholl
Mary Katherine Scholl was born October 15, 1887, at Cincinnati, Ohio to Joseph and Elizabeth Kotte and departed this life after a lingering illness, on July 26, 1967, in the Keahaven Rest Home at Neligh, Nebraska, at the age of 79 years, 9 months, and 11 days.
When but a small child, she moved with her parents and brothers to Seneca, Kansas and at the age of eight, she had the misfortune of losing her parents by tornado. She grew to womanhood in Kansas, being cared fro by the Arnold Ronnebaum family, to whom she was deeply grateful for their loving care.
At 21, she came to Nebraska, making her home with and aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Pelster. Here she made many acquaintances while working in homes near and in Petersburg.
On January 25, 1910, she was united in marriage to Henry M. Scholl at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church at Petersburg, Nebraska, and she continued to live int he Raeville community until her death.
A devoted mother and grandmother, she leaves to mourn 8 children, Leo of Crofton, Nebr., Agatha of Chicago, Ill., Mrs. Tom Billings (Louise) of Orlando, Fla., John of Clay Center, Nebr., Leonard, Wilbert, and Raymond of Petersburg and Loraine at home: 21 grandchildren, 4 great grandchildren, 2 brothers, George Kotte of Saskatchewan, Canada, and Frank Kotte of Springfield, Mo., and a host of other relatives and friends. She was preceded in death by her husband, Henry, in 1964, her parents, 1 brother, William and 1 grandchild.
Her pleasant smile and affectionate love will be greatly missed not only by the immediate family but by her grandchildren, who were her pride and joy and gave her many happy moments. It was she, that comforted their many hurts. Her acts of kindness and generosity in time of need will be remembered by many.
The funeral mass, sung by the Raeville choir, was offered by Father Thomas O’Brien on Saturday, July 29, at 10:00 A.M. from the St. Bonaventure Catholic Church at Raeville, with the Huffman-Brooks Mortuary at Elgin in charge. She was laid to rest int he family plot at Raeville, Nebr., with Joe Pelster and 5 grandsons, Cletus, La Vern, Waldean, Clarence and Philip Scholl as casket bearers. The Christian Mothers, of which she was a long-time member, acted as honorary pallbearers.
Relatives and friends attending the services were from Orlando, Fla., Chicago, Ill., Seneca, Kans., Omaha, Hasting, Crofton, Clay Center, Plainview, Ewing, Cedar Rapids, and other neighboring towns.
3 Aug 1967