I picked up a historic letter from one Michael Rodenkirk, who came to “northwest” Milwaukee in 1846 from the Eifel (Rhinelander) area of Germany. There was heavy immigration of Germans to Milwaukee County around 1845, due to land newly opened for homesteading. Even to this day, there is a heavy German presence in Wisconsin, similar to Minnesota with its Norwegian-Swedish influence.
The Rodenkirk family is a typical “everyman” German immigrant story for the Germantown, Menomonee Falls and Lisbon area.
The letter continues with Michael Rodenkirk well-settled in northwest Milwaukee. He sent an instruction letter back to the "Eifel" (Rhineland) area friends and relatives, informing them of his experiences, and that they should follow using his instructions.
"I can hardly grasp the meaning of being separated from you by 7,000 miles. Climate here is very much like yours. There are 5 Indian huts in our vicinity. Indians live on game, are clothed in pelts and bear woolen breach cloths. They sell much deer and elk meat. Each Indian has a horse. They are people like we are, somewhat colored, harm none, visit us freely, sometimes beg, saying, "Give us more." At first, we were afraid of these people but we have lost our fear. I have even visited them in their huts, of course well protected with my double barrel rifle and bayonet. They were filled with the fear, but quite accommodating.
They lounged on the bare ground, their shoes made of pelts, and tied to their feet. Honey they find in the woods. I have seen them gather more than an "Ohm” (137.4 liters) from some trees. There is little underbush in our forests. I wish you also could be with us. A few miles from home (22 by 20 log cabin) from here is fine farm land for you to claim.
Should you decide to come, remember that I am your friend, do not fail to call on me. Many of my old friends back home tried to frighten us with their fearsome tales of wild beasts here. That is why I bought a double-barrel gun and pistol and bayonet which can easily spring into action with a touch of the left hand should danger require it.
It is still possible that wild hordes live west of the Mississippi, far from here.
I must also tell you something about our language used here. For the numbers we use to cipher. "Holz” is called "Woods,” “Fleisch” is meat, etc.
We pay postage on our letters to the border, the balance of postage you are obliged to pay; deduct that from my account.
Give my regards to the most venerable pastor the honorable burgomaster, and all those mentioned in my previous letters. I send as many greetings as there are drops of water between us.
"Give greetings also to our Eifel neighbors, Peter SchladWeiler, Peter Santoris, our teachers and their families I greet you a hundred thousand times and remain your sincere brother, Michel Rodenkirk."
And so ends his plea for more German Eifel (Rhinelanders) to come to Wisconsin, or as he wrote it "West-Konsin.”
“Come to Northwest Milwaukee — Germantown, Menomonee Falls and Lisbon — homestead land, $100 for 80 acres.”
I picked up this family keepsake letter at the funeral of my replacement in 1950 as starting center-basketball at Marquette High School, Dave Rodenkirk. In his first game as my replacement, he scored 39 points, meriting a scholarship at Purdue University, where he became an engineer.
We met often over the years, and his name to me was “Project,” which he used in my presence affectionately.
He became very wealthy and went from little sailboats to a yacht. I asked him, “how much lead have you got in your kell?”
And his answer was more than 7,000 pounds. Now that’s a big yacht.
Today, Don Rodenkirk and his wife, Faith, live in New Berlin. Meanwhile, in Lisbon, off of North Lisbon Drive near Colgate Road, lives Jim Rodenkirk and his wife, former Hamilton class officer, national honor society member and Hamilton High School cheerleader, Jayne Mercier. The subdivision they live in is the former Jeffrey girls, reclusive north Lisbon character of the last century.
My particular memory of Jayne Mercier is her longtime membership of the famous 1968-84 Sussex Robinettes baton and drum corps, which traveled all the over the United States.
Jim and Jayne Rodenkirk sent their children to Hamilton High School.