When my gg grandparents, Jacob and Catharine Boller, first settled (1853) in Washington Township – located in the southwest corner of Johnson County, Iowa – the area was sparsely populated. But within ten years, the Mennonite community had expanded, transforming hundreds of acres of untamed prairie into fertile farmland known as the Deer Creek area. Above are a couple of maps that help you locate where the Bollers first settled.
As children growing up in Deer Creek in the mid-1800’s, Daniel J. Boller, son of Jacob and Catharine Boller, and Barbara J. Miller, daughter of Jacob & Catherine Miller, would have experienced a much different life than one would expect to find there today.
In his book (1979), The Deer Creek Story, my distant cousin, Glen Russel Miller of Goshen, Indiana, says that it was quite common, during the childhood days of D.J. and Barbara (mid-to late 1800’s), for members of the Meskwaki Tribe to make regular visits to Deer Creek, traveling to their old home in Johnson County from their encampments in Tama County. Miller states that his father, Lew Miller, spoke often of his fond memories of hot summer days when the children from both the Mennonite and Meskwaki communities would freely play together in and around Deer Creek.
Daniel Jacob (D.J.) Boller was born to Jacob & Catharine Boller on November 23, 1856, becoming the first person in Our Boller Story to be born in Iowa. Daniel came into the world much like his father and grandfather did before him – born into a farming community where there were very few hospitals, and those that did exist were located in major cities, usually hundreds of miles away. In Johnson County, for example, there was no functioning hospital until 1870, when the Sisters of Mercy moved from Davenport to Iowa City, bringing with them the beginnings of both Mercy Hospital and the University of Iowa hospitals.
At the time Daniel was born (1856), there was most likely a man or two in the Deer Creek area who was knowledgeable enough to treat minor sicknesses, but certainly, when it came to childbirth, the womenfolk of the Mennonite community were the “experts” in assisting with the birth of a child. Babies would be born at home and if complications occurred, there was little anyone could do to avoid the problems. This, of course, made for a much higher death rate in children. Yet, even when a child made it safely into the world, there was still no guarantee that sickness wouldn’t take a child at an early age.
In the Boller family, for example, Daniel’s older brother, Joseph Boller, who was born in Ohio in 1853, died at age one and a half (December 1854), during the first year of the family’s new life in Johnson County, Iowa.
Typically, daily life for Daniel would be consumed with farm chores, book learning, and church involvement. Any free time might be spent entertaining oneself with friends swimming and exploring nearby Deer Creek.
An article found in the Iowa Mennonite Museum and Archives states…
…the Boller children all attended the Independent Union Sabbath School organized at Snyders’ Chapel on April 9, 1871 – located one and one half miles north and forty rods west of Kalona. A cemetery marks the location of the chapel…
Barbara J. Miller‘s parents – Jacob Benedict Miller, and his wife Catherine (Katie) Shetler Miller (above) – lived in the Deer Creek area on land secured by Jacob’s father, Benedict B. Miller. In Glen Miller’s book, we find this quote: “Benedict walked to Iowa from Ohio and picked his homestead, paid for it and walked back again for his family.” This Miller event has been dated around 1851, just prior to the time (1853) when the Boller family made the same move from Ohio.
As a matter of fact, I’ve also just recently uncovered the amazing fact that my ggg grand aunt Susanna Miller – Benedict B.’s sister (and my great grandmother Barbara Miller’s grand aunt) – was, along with her husband – Daniel P. Guengerich – the first pioneers to settle in Washington Township of Johnson County! Coming from the Casselman River Valley in Pennsylvania/Maryland (see above), Susanna and Daniel first arrived here in 1846, with my ggg grandparents (mentioned above) – Benedict B. & Barbara Miller – following around 1851, and my gg grandparents – Jacob & Catherine Boller arriving in 1853. Read more here.
It’s very likely, Daniel, as a young man growing up in the Deer Creek Mennonite community, was very familiar with the Miller family (see map above). The relationship became even closer when Daniel found one of the Miller daughters to be of his liking! Barbara J. Miller, born on November 21, 1863, grew up as the third-born amongst sixteen Miller children (1861-1886).
One of our prized family heirlooms is this Bible presented to Barbara Miller on January 1, 1867 by her grandmother, Barbara (Gingerich) Miller, wife of Benedict B. Miller, the Mennonite farmer we mentioned earlier who arrived in Johnson County around 1851.
The Miller/Erb farm was home to many Miller Family Reunions over the years, including this one in 1966, which included a good number of Native Iowan friends from the Meskwaki Tribe in Tama County.
I need to add here that the Miller family, from which Barbara (Miller) Boller came, is the same Miller family that enjoyed a very close friendship with my side of the Boller family for many years. I remember, as a child, attending a good number of Miller family events over the years, including a handful of big Miller reunions held on the Miller/Erb century-old farmstead near Kalona. My mother and father, George & Dixie Boller, were very close to Goldie (Miller) & Delmar Bender, and Marvin & Ellen Miller, who were the two children of Barbara’s younger brother, Joel L. Miller (1879-1935).
Here are some Miller Family Reunion pics from the 1990 gathering on the Miller farmstead. Bottom right is the brick oven for baking bread and other assorted goodies!
Below are some pieces from the 1995 Miller gathering in Iowa City…
Many people in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City know of Miller Sweet Corn, sold each summer on the streets of both cities. Marvin & Ellen Miller were the true workhorses behind Miller Corn, and it just wouldn’t be summer in Iowa without some good ole’ Miller sweet corn!
The 1880 U.S. Census shows Daniel Boller & Barbara Miller both living in their parents’ homes (below), but on November 22, 1881, that all changed.
The Miller-Boller connection “officially” started in 1881. Daniel J. Boller and Barbara J. Miller were married on the Benedict Miller farm located near the small community of Amish, Iowa on November 22, 1881, with the marriage ceremony being conducted by Rev. Sebastian Garig. Note that their wedding day was strategically placed between Barbara’s (November 21) and Daniel’s (November 23) birthdays. How romantic!
Amish, Iowa has a rich history in Johnson County, Iowa and played a part in Our Boller Story. Click here for more.
(BH-108) (C-0285) Glen Miller’s book has a treasure-trove of information about the Mennonites in Johnson County, Iowa. Glen’s father, Lew J. Miller (1873-1949), was a younger brother of my great grandmother, Barbara Miller Boller, and his book includes a handful of stories and pictures from Our Boller Family.