I first started and based this research on the 1900 census. At
that time I concentrated on people that listed Bohemia as a
birthplace only. According to the 1900 census the earliest surviving Bohemian of Oshkosh in
1900 arrived in 1856, he was named
Schlinker. Of course, I do not know how many of the early arriving
Bohemians had died before the 1900 census and so are not counted
here. Also since some arrived so early, up to 45 years before the
1900 census, their children were born in Wisconsin. And then their
children were born in Wisconsin and so they are listed in the
census as being from Wisconsin and not Bohemia. One such family is
the Pratsch family, arriving in America in 1855. This will take
further research to see if there are others.
Per the 1900
families came each year between the years 1856 and 1869. These
early arriving Bohemians or Austrians mainly settled in Neenah and
Menasha. People claiming Germany are not included in this list
although many listing Germany were from Bohemia. As I progress in
my research I will eventually include all Catholic German speaking
people from the general area of the corner where Germany, Austria
and Bohemia meet. That is the home place of the HIGHHOLDERS.
From 1870 onward they
settled in Oshkosh. During the 70's one family a year arrived. In
1880, 4 families arrived; 1881, 10; 1882, 29; 1883, 23; 1884, 18;
1885, 14; 1886, 7; 1887, 14; 1888,17; 1889, 20. In the 1890's the
immigration continued with 1890, 17 families; 1891, 38; 1892, 24;
1893, 17; 1894, 6; 1895, 2; 1896, 2; 1897, 2; 1898, 7; 1899, 9.
These numbers are
not accurate because it is impossible to get an accurate count of
Bohemians. Bohemians claimed to be from Germany or Austria or
Bohemia. They received the German label because they were German
speaking. The Austrian label because Bohemia was part of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire. And the Bohemia label when the person
identified correctly with his geographic homeland. The numbers
above also are not accurate, because by the time of the census,
children that had immigrated with their parents were now heads of
households of their own and thus their family is counted twice.
Also because of the woodworkers strike in 1898 some Bohemian
families moved away from Oshkosh and so are not counted on the
1900 census, although they had immigrated to Oshkosh and possibly
had lived in Oshkosh for a decade or more.
population on the 1900 census in the 6th ward and the E.D. 150
half of the 13th ward there is a
total of 4,716 people. In the 6th--2,566 and the 13th--2,177.
There are 593 people or 13% that claim a birthplace or their
parents birthplace as other than Germany, Austria or
The places claimed are
England, Wales, Scotland, Russia, France, Denmark, Norway,
Switzerland, Saxony, Asia, Turkey, Sweden, Prussia, English Canada
and the New England states.
So I am making the
assumption that the 6th and half the 13th wards were a very ethnically
cohesive neighborhood with about 87% of the people ancestrally of
The immigrants were farmers
and woodworkers in Bohemia and Bavaria. The new mills of Oshkosh needed laborers that were
skilled in woodworking. Once in America they were almost
exclusively woodworkers. The only farming they did was personal
household gardening and fruit growing.
In Bohemia the
Schwartzenberg Canal had been
created in the early part of the 19th century and the area was
opened up for logging, attracting workers to the forests. See this
offsite page about the canal.
By the late 19th century the area had become overpopulated and the
promise of a job, housing and a chance to go to America convinced
many people to emigrate.
The Paine Lumber Company opened their door, sash and blind factory
in 1884. Soon there was enough cheap labor in Oshkosh that wages
were cut back and people were still willing to work. Which
eventually led to a woodworkers
strike in 1898. The woodworking
industries employed over 2,200 people in 1900.
At the end of the
century Oshkosh was an industrial powerhouse. Oshkosh was the
millwork capital of the country with seven large factories
producing doors, sashes and blinds; the largest match producer and
was one of the largest carriage and wagon producing centers.
up to top
were also clothing manufacturers, furniture makers, box makers,
sawmills, broom factories, iron foundries, grass matting plants
and numerous machine works. See list of factories.
Bohemians lived on the south side in either the 6th ward or the
13th ward. They were almost exclusively Catholic
and belonged to St. Vincent's until Sacred Heart Parish was
created in 1906.
An exception to
this is the Pratsch family. They arrived so early that the 6th or
13th wards were not yet developed. They also switched religions to
Lutheran. Over the years other surnames have switched to
Lutheran mainly because of marriage. And some Lutheran names have
German's of Oshkosh were either Catholic or Lutheran depending on
where they had come from. The Lutherans were from northern Germany
and were Prussian or Pomeranian. The Catholics were from Bavaria
or Bohemia. Later in response to the woodworkers strike, the Paine
Lumber Company recruited Volga Germans from Russia as replacement
workers. They were Lutheran and built Christ Lutheran Church and
Zion Lutheran Church. They settled on the west side along Sawyer
St. The Bohemians and the Russians did not get along,
understandably. Although that is not true today, because of
also did not get along with the Prussian Lutherans east of the
railroad tracks in the 9th ward. There were regular feuds between
the teenage boys of the "Low Dutch" Lutherans and the
"High Dutch" Catholics. This is also not true
Germans that settled in Oshkosh eventually left the old world
behind them. They learned to speak English and adopted the
culture of their new home. There is very little in Oshkosh today that could be
considered German. They became American and didn't look
Bohemians and Bavarians of the 6th and 13th wards were known as
"highholders". The real source of the meaning is lost
but it either came from referring to the people from the highland
region of Germany or from the German "hoi-holden" which
meant collecting hay. The women would collect hay from south of
town for their cows and pigs and carry it back to their barns.
Passersby would ask where they were going and they would reply in
German "hoi-holden". In the translation it was changed
to highholder, which is easier to pronounce
The Germans of
the south side were industrial working class and were considered
"poor" especially compared to the north side
"rich". Most worked in the factories but some owned
their own businesses mainly grocery stores and
Their houses were
always well kept and the neighborhood was clean and tidy. Although
on the inside of the homes there were not many furnishings.
The families were
quite large and it was not uncommon for families to have ten
people in them. Often extended family members would live with each
other until they were able to afford a place of their own. Most
owned their own homes and had large gardens to grow their own
garden occupied the whole back half of their lot, it was 50 x
100'. They grew and canned all their own fruits and vegetables.
Also in the garden was a section devoted entirely to
sixth ward is primarily a residential neighborhood. The main
commercial street is Ohio street, running north/south from the
river to 20th street. And the commercial zone is only from the
river to 11th street.
Starting at the
river there were manufacturing plants and wood processing
facilities. Then south from here were taverns, grocery stores,
butcher shops, and other neighborhood level commercial stores. The
main shopping district is on Main street or on Oregon street. (Today
the major commercial areas are Main street downtown and the
highway 41 corridor.)
throughout the neighborhood are other grocery stores, butchers,
and taverns, with a cluster at Ninth and Knapp north to Sixth
street at Sacred Heart Church.
This is an historical view only, it does not reflect current
As of 2002 I have
learned that some of the Oshkosh Bohemians of circa 1900 moved on to
Northern Wisconsin, South Dakota, Washington, Oregon and
Saskatchewan, Canada. Most followed the lumber industry as it moved
West or they took up farming.