Facts and Events
Mary Christine Augustine Wilkins
14 Mar 1861 - 24 Feb 1935S1 Mary was the youngest of four and the only girl. Mary’s brothers were Heinrich (Henry) born in June of 1845, John August, born December of 1846 and Friedrich (Fred) born 19 Feb 1850. In 1862 at the age of 17 or 18, Mary’s eldest brother Heinrich left Germany and immigrated to the United States. By 1869, Mary’s father had died and her mother, along with Mary and her two other brothers set sail across the Atlantic for the United States to join Heinrich.
As Mary and her family began the journey from Bremen their ship encountered an unexpected storm. On June 16th 1869 a heavy gale suddenly sprang up from the north-east and their ship was blown off course into icy waters surrounded by icebergs. The passengers were storm tossed and ill making the six or seven week voyage frightening and miserable. Luckily the sailing vessel emerged safely and our ancestors eventually made it to port.
It is likely that Mary, her mother and brothers sailed from Bremerhaven to New York on the D. H. Wätjen, possibly the second of three such vessels of the same name. She was employed primarily as a trans-Atlantic cargo ship, carrying tobacco, marble, and coal to the West Coast of North and South America, returning to Europe with cargos of saltpeter or (occasionally) wheat. On each of these voyages the D. H. Wätjen carried from 400 to 500 passengers, returning to Europe with a cargo of tobacco and cotton.
The manifest for the D.H. Wätjen arriving 19 Jul 1869 shows the following:S7
WILKENS, CATHE. AGE 48 FEMALE SVNT PR000; DESTINATION ILLINOIS
HENRY AGE 24 MALE SVNT PR000; DESTINATION ILLINOIS FRIEDR. AGE 19 MALE SVNT PR000; DESTINATION ILLINOIS MARIE AGE 7 FEMALE CHILD PR000; DESTINATION ILLINOIS
If the birthdates we have recorded are correct, the ages of Mary’s family in July 1896 would have been: Wilkens, Catharina age 48 Henry age 24 Friedrich age19 Mary age 8
The names and ages match closely enough that it is probably Mary’s family in the manifest. Although Bob Damon’s notes indicate it was Henry that immigrated first , perhaps August used Henry’s passport, since their ages were similar (August would have been about 23 years old)? One old German custom was to assign formal "saints names" as first names--which might be shared by more than one child in the family--and actually go by their middle, or secular names. So it may also be possible that there were two “Henrys” in the family. Later US Census reports for these family members show Henry immigrating in 1862 , brother Friedrich and Mary in 1869. August’s immigration date in the US census shows 1867 . Another theory is that Henry went back to Germany to accompany his mother and younger siblings in 1969. It may have been August who was the son already in the United States.Census records next find Mary in Dakota County, Nebraska on the 14th of June in 1880. She is 19 years old and working as a domestic servant for the lawyer Thomas L. Griffey and family . Sometime in the next two years, while in Dakota County, Nebraska, Mary meets her future husband, Frederick G. Wilke. Although Bob Damon’s notes indicate Mary and Frederick married about 1879, a typed family document, author unknown, gives their marriage year as 1882 and the place of their marriage as Homer, Dakota County Nebraska. Since Mary appears to be single and working for the Griffey’s in 1880, the 1882 date for their marriage is most likely.
Sometime in the next 10 years, Mary and Frederick move from Nebraska to Montana. They lived first near Deer Lodge, Montana, but eventually homesteaded in the Flathead Valley, near Kalispell.
Mary Christine and Frederick G. Wilke had three children, all born near Kalispell, Flathead County, Montana:
• Dorette “Dodo” Faracatrina Wilke, b. 17 May 1888; m. 20 Jan 1920 to Earl Wagner; d. 27 Apr 1948 • Carl Frederick Wilke, b. 19 Mar 1893; m. 15 Nov 1923 to Mary Irene Nixon; d. 28 Apr 1979 • Maude Martha Wilke, b. 12 Mar 1897; m. Walter P. Damon; d. 29 Aug 1980.
In 1915 Mary’s husband Frederick died, at age 65. Mary was 54 years old at the time. In the 1920 Census Mary is living with her son Carl and daughter Maude. Daughter Dorrette (“Dodo” to her family), was married earlier that year and no longer lived at home. In 1923 Mary’s son Carl F. married, and his wife and subsequent family joined him living with Mary in her home. Two months after her husband’s death on October 19, 1915, Mary purchased Lot numbered 406 in Section “F” at Conrad Memorial Cemetery.
Granddaughter H. Louise remembers Mary’s room had a marble topped wash stand in her bedroom with a white china basin and pitcher on it. The wash stand was not actually used as they had running water in the kitchen to wash with in the morning. There was a big trunk at the foot of her high backed bed by the window. She would sit in the rocking chair in the dinning room by the stove and rock holding the old granny cat and petting her for long periods of time.
Mary’s grandchildren, H. Louise and M. Carlene remember their grandmother drank coffee every afternoon. Their grandmother added cream, sugar and soda crackers crumbled into it to make the coffee thick. Mary would share the coffee treat with her granddaughters, feeding them a spoonful at a time. Mary also made a flax seed cough syrup her granddaughters liked because it was made with lots of sugar. Carlene and Louise both remember their grandmother with fondness. “She was the perfect grandmother. A little round around the middle, with aprons that tied around her waist. Always simple small print cotton dresses and aprons. She had pierced ear rings she wore all the time.” Mary seemed to enjoy the girls’ company and gave them quite a bit of attention. Grandma Mary would play the card game Old Maid with them and Carlene remembers her grandmother “braiding a crown of dandelions” for her. Louise was the youngest child in the household from 1927 to 1934, and remembers spending a lot of time with her Grandmother sitting in a corner of the house in the sun as it began to get warm outside, and going to town for a week with her grandmother when she went to spend time with Aunt Maude (Mary’s youngest daughter).
Mary became ill with breast cancer sometime in 1933 or 1934. She would have been 72 years of age. Grandma Mary was sick in bed for about a year. “I remember the Doctor coming out to see her. She had a lot of pain and she would have me sit at the foot of her bed and say the Lord's Prayer with her. My Mom [Irene] took care of her all that time. They bought a battery radio for her to listen to, but it bothered her.”
One morning in 1935 the family home burned. Mary’s son Carl was just getting ready to go to town in the truck and his wife, Irene was home, with Elaine who was just a baby in her crib and Mary who was bed ridden. Irene saw the fire coming through the ceiling in the front room and was able to catch Carl just before he left. Apparently there was a little earthquake shortly before that may have shaken the chimney chinks in the attic. So then, when a hot fire was started, some of the ashes came through the little chinks that had fallen out. The hot ashes caught fire in the dry attic . Mary’s granddaughter Louise, who would have been 8 years old and at school at the time, remembers the story of her father carrying his mother out of the burning house:
“When the house caught on fire my Dad put her over his shoulder and took her to the garage and put her in the back seat of the Plymouth. She didn't ever complain of pain but kept asking where the baby (Elaine) was. Mother had laid her in the front seat of the car and she was so quiet Grandma didn't know she was there, Mother said. Grandma was in bed at Aunt Maude’s after that and only lived another few months. We went to see her in town and I remember sitting on a cedar chest next to the wall across from her bed and she said "come here, don't be afraid of me". I think I must have known how sick she was.”
Mary Christine Augustine Wilkens Wilke died February 24, 1935, just short of her 74th birthday.S2 She was buried alongside her husband Frederick in Conrad Memorial Cemetery in Kalispell, Montana .