Schiferl family recorded history going back to 1800s |

Schiferl family recorded history going back to 1800s

By Loretta Sorensen
The 1924 Model T Wallace Schiferl and his sons remodeled. Wallace’s son Greg and his wife Jan store the car at their northeast Nebraska WJ Ranch, using it on special occasions. Courtesy photo

Most families treasure documented versions of their family roots. Descendants of Johann Schiferl and his wife Ann, who immigrated to America from Oberpfraundorf, Bavaria, in 1847, are blessed with a 116-page account of their family heritage penned by Anna Marie Moser Schiferl and her son Wallace J. Schiferl.

Rural Fordyce, Neb., residents, Jan and Greg Schiferl, were designated by the family to maintain copies of the spiral bound book holding a wealth of his family’s memories.

“I never knew my grandfather,” Greg said. “He died before I was born. Grandma Schiferl lived in Yankton but died when I was 14. I remember her as a very staunch German lady.”

Greg has vivid memories of visiting his grandmother and “sitting quietly and letting the adults talk.” His father, Wally, was the family’s youngest child, and perhaps his grandmother’s “favorite.”

“He seemed to be her favorite,” Greg said. “I don’t think grandma ever traveled outside our three-state area (South Dakota – Nebraska – Iowa). She had an apartment, and not much money.”

The 1924 Model T Wallace Schiferl and his sons remodeled. Wallace’s son Greg and his wife Jan store the car at their northeast Nebraska WJ Ranch, using it on special occasions. Courtesy photo


Greg’s grandmother, Anna, noted a prologue to her portion of the book that, “This story I am going to write is a true story of a young couple that went west with the intention of making a home for themselves and their family. Where they could grow up with plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and plenty of room for their children to grow up ‘healthy, wealthy, and wise,’ with plenty of room to play, school, and church to attend and most everything to make a happy home for all. That’s why I call this story ‘Coyote of the Prairie.'”

Anna’s husband, Michael (Mike) Schiferl was the oldest son of Adam and Dorothea Schiferl who live at Olien, Neb. As he grew into adulthood, Mike became his father’s business partner, making tubular wells and other types of work related to windmills. Mike bought 80 acres of land near McLean, Neb., and in summer 1902 he started drilling a well on the Tom Moser farm, where he met Anna.

Michael Schiferl and Anna Marie Moser, right, wedding. Courtesy photo

Anna was born Sept. 28, 1882, at Westphalia, Iowa, the oldest daughter of Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Moser. When Anna was 11, her parents moved to Randolph, Neb.

“This was a new environment for me,” Anna wrote. “All prairielands.”

The Mosers lived five miles from Randolph, “a long way to church and school, especially with the cold and snowy winters.” Anna noted that she and her family rode “in a bobsled to keep our feet warm. After we got to church, our heads would feel hot and our feet were freezing, which would make us sick.”

Anna married Mike Schiferl on Nov. 24, 1903 (it snowed all day, she wrote). The wedding reception was held at the Tom Moser farm where about 200 people had gathered.

Mike and Anna Schiferl family about 1925. Back row: Walter, Art, Leona, Michael, Anna, Lewie and Regina. Middle row: Lorraine, Leo, Emma and Ella. Front row: Wallace and Isabel. Courtesy photo

“When we came home from the church, my sister Rose met us at the door with a tray on which were two glasses of wine and two cookies. She recited a nice little poem that my father had taught her.”

Later that day, a wooden floor was laid on the ground between two corn cribs so that those who wished to dance could do so. “Most of the young people enjoyed dancing until early the next morning,” Anna wrote.


The Schiferls lived in Nebraska for a time, where their first child, William Arthur, was born. In 1906, Lyman County, South Dakota opened for settlement. For a small fee, people could file a claim on land for a homestead. In June that year, Mike filed papers to homestead on 160 acres eight miles northeast of Vivian, S.D., (14 miles northwest of Presho).

Wallace and Ellen Schiferl wedding picture. Attendants: Leo Schiferl and Isabel Law. Courtesy photo

Mike had done some scouting before filing the claim. “He talked to many people and all liked the country. (When he visited in June) everything looked good, tall grass everywhere. But after July 1 it never rained, and that’s when the crops began to suffer.” Mike didn’t realize what was waiting for his family, or have any idea that “most people, after proving up their land, left and went back east or wherever they had come from.”

Due to heavy winter snows and high waters on the Missouri River, the Schiferls weren’t able to move to their new home until October 1907. The immigrant railroad train car they traveled in carried “one team of horses (Prime and Collie), one cow, several dogs, some chickens, our household goods, some feed, a plow, buggy, wagon, and I think a pig.” A second train brought lumber to build an 18×24 home. “The upper story was never finished so we used it for storage and for chicken feed and other things.”

Pictured are Wallace and his wife, Ellen. Courtesy photo

The wealth of detail Anna incorporated into her writings included their encounter with whooping cough, which caused some neighbors to shun them for a time.

“Sometime later (the neighbors within 10 miles) decided to come to our house,” Anna wrote. “They brought all kinds of eats, cake, coffee, sandwiches, pickles, potato salad and Jell-o.”

The women “had all sorts of patches on their dresses” and had their coats turned inside out with socks on the outside of their pant legs.” In spite of the hard times, they danced “and all had a great time.”

Anna wrote about a tragic house fire that cost the lives of several members of a neighboring family, her struggle with a wound on her thumb that resisted healing, a barn fire, how they maintained a flock of chickens during difficult times when survival was their focus. She passed away June 6, 1970, and was laid to rest in the Yankton cemetery beside her husband and three of her sons.

The Schiferl family is pleased that Mike and Anna’s names are included on Presho, S.D.’s Homestead Monument plaque, which features the names of other homesteaders in that county.

The Schiferl family history is spiral bound with a soft cover. A copy is on file with the South Dakota Historical Society in Pierre. The family welcomes inquiries about purchasing a copy. Contact them through Greg and Jan Schiferl’s website, Courtesy photo


Wallace Schiferl, who served as postmaster at Davis, S.D., for 34 years, decided to incorporate his mother’s writings with his own memories, which he titled “The 100-Year South Dakota Schiferl Saga.”

“I am now 78 and am writing this story to pass on to my kids and grandkids,” he wrote. “I want them to know what my life was like and some of their grandparents’ history. This book contains only a few of the many incidents of my lifetime.”

Wallace wrote about growing up on one of the first homesteads in Dakota Territory, the Strunk farm five miles northeast of Yankton on the James River. His writing is peppered with colorful stories of his childhood, including his love of horses and riding Tiny to school.

Restoring vintage vehicles was one of Wallace’s passions. After acquiring a Model T Ford truck from a rural Davis farmer, Wallace restored and sold it to an Arizona collector.

Wallace’s son Greg and his wife Jan operate WJ Ranch in northeast Nebraska. Courtesy photo

“Now I had the fever,” Wallace wrote. “Tom located a 1924 Model T car that was setting in the weeds. About the only part we could use was the frame and rear end.”

With the help of friends, Wallace found a motor that he overhauled, installing new aluminum pistons. To his delight the motor ran “better than when new.”

Finding wheels – which often sat in the trees for years, rusting and rotting – was a challenge.

“After about a year we got seven wheels, took them apart, and made four good ones,” Wallace wrote. Now they had a car but no car body. Using photos of 1920s delivery trucks, Wallace, sons Greg and Kurt, built a genuine replica of a station wagon out of oak lumber. Greg and Jan have and occasionally use the vehicle.

“Of all the things I’ve done in my life, I consider this to be the best,” Wallace wrote.

“I have enjoyed writing these memories and thank my family for the help in triggering some memories,” Wallace continued. “There is a little bit of everything in this book. I hope you found something of interest as you read it.”

Greg believes that the words his family recorded hold valuable insights and information for anyone in modern times.

“I found it hard to imagine the homesteading life my grandparents lived and how difficult that must have been,” Greg said. “Even so, I remember grandma saying that was some of the best years of her life. There’s a lesson to be learned there.”

The Schiferl family doesn’t promote the book for sale to the public, but a copy is available through the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre and anyone who is interested in the book is welcome to contact the Schiferls through their website,

“It’s been fun to pass along these old stories to family and some friends.”

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