NEW ULM - Often the strands of history mix and match, intersect and separate, to form a colorful picture...
A few months ago, George Glotzbach, a descendant of area pioneers with an avid interest in local and family history, decided to look into the life of his great-grandfather John Baptist Schmid, who served three terms as sheriff of Brown County from 1885 to 1890.
The endeavor took Glotzbach on a journey through the big, dusty volumes of handwritten records stashed in the bowels of the county courthouse, through museum records and newspaper clippings.
Staff photo by Kremena Spengler
Records compiled from various
sources detail the tenure of John Baptist Schmid, a pioneer and 10th sheriff of Brown County.
Leafing through the courthouse records - written out in a beautiful, calligraphic style on first-class paper, almost like works of art, and indestructibly bound - Glotzbach not only pieced together a picture of his ancestor's tenure as a public servant, but also unearthed interesting tidbits of county history, contributing to revive the spirit of earlier times.
People might not even know these records are available, said Glotzbach. Yet they are resources that may interest many a researcher, if only they knew how to look, or where.
The tenure of John Baptist Schmid, 10th sheriff of Brown County, would have been much different from what the position entails today.
In Schmid's day, the sheriff and his wife ran the jail much like a family business. The sheriff's wife cooked, cleaned, did laundry and provided miscellaneous other housekeeping services for the inmates. The county reimbursed the sheriff's family for their expenses.
At that time, Brown County was in possession of a "nice," spacious jail, and it took in and boarded prisoners from other counties. The county would receive a refund for this service, but apparently not until it became an issue, as evidenced by a bill specifically passed by the state Legislature to resolve it, in 1887. The bill gave the county the right to charge other counties for the boarding of their prisoners on a proportionate basis.
Those were interesting days. As many as five murder suspects inhabited the county jail concurrently in 1888, for example, notes Glotzbach.
Schmid presided over at least one other historic event: the installation of early electronic communication in Brown County. The first telephone line, between the sheriff's office and the train depot, was installed in January 1889, and $50 in county funds were allocated for the first year's service.
At one time, a $141.55 bill submitted by the sheriff to the county board was rejected, with the reasoning that it was "illegal, excessive and unreasonable," found Glotzbach, as he hunted for references to Schmid's tenure in county records.
Some things change, and some don't, joked Glotzbach. The county commissioners of old knew the value of a dollar, just as they do now.
Besides his public service, John Baptist Schmid had a varied career as an entrepreneur.
Born in Germany and coming here with his parents in 1868, he started out as a musician. He was later employed by brewers John Hauenstein and August Schell and in a pottery business in New Ulm.
He later took a homestead in Mulligan Township, and experienced the hardships of the grasshopper plague.
In 1878 he engaged in the hotel business in Sleepy Eye, which proved financially successful. In 1882 he established a general merchandise store, which he ran until 1885, when he was nominated by the Democrats and elected sheriff.
Having served his three terms, he then became a partner in the Springfield roller mill. He later engaged in the grain elevator business, also dealing in coal, lime, cement and other commodities. He had a stake in two grain companies. He was also one of the incorporators of the State Banks in Springfield, Comfrey and Clements, serving as bank president.
Schmid narrowly missed election as a state senator.
An enterprising pioneer, John Baptist Schmid exemplifies the special class of people who built this state into a prosperous, new homeland.