Early Klein Community
Early Life in the Klein Community
by Roger Wunderlich (used by permission from his The Wunderlich & Hofius Families of
North Harris County, Texas, pp. 370-378.)
Life was hard in the early times, but these early settlers persevered. Family histories indicate that
log cabins provided the first homes because there were no sawmills at that time. Major problems
the early families encountered in Texas were the deadly diseases of malaria, yellow fever and
other fevers. Sometimes entire or major portions of families were wiped out. An example is my
grandparents, Peter and Sophie (Krimmel) Wunderlich’s family. Of their twelve children, they
lost the oldest (boy 1911), the middle two (girls 1898), the youngest child (girl) and the mother in
1911 for a total loss of five of fourteen. Some small families were totally wiped out.
In the early years mattresses stuffed with clean hay served the purpose of bedsprings. The straw
would be replaced with fresh each summer. Later they used feathers. The farm animals supplied
them with meat, eggs, milk and butter. Feathers from geese were used to stuff pillows, feather
beds and mattresses (still widely used in other countries today). Cowhides were crafted into chair
seats. Their sheep supplied them with wool. After the sheep were sheared ‘ the wool was
washed and dried, then carded by hand and spun into yarn or made into bats. The woolen yarn
was then hand crafted into mittens, sweaters, socks and stockings. The bats were used to make
quilts and comforters. The spinning wheel was very important to the early settlers for making
homemade spun yarn.
The first settlers used oxen to pull their wagons etc. Later they used horses and later found that
Spanish mules pulled heavy wagons better than horses. Horses were ok for buggies etc. Before
lubricants, as we have today, were discovered, wagon, buggy and stagecoach axles were
lubricated with tallow (like lard), made from animal fat, especially from hogs, and pine tar pitch.
The pine tar pitch lasted longer than tallow because it did not break down from friction and heat
as easy as tallow.
In the early times, the land was “open range”, which meant no fences except for log fences
around their barn, house and fields. Cattle roamed freely. People put bells on some, especially
their milk cow and lead cows so they could find them and the cattle were branded for
identification. Every spring there would be cattle roundups so that all the cattle could be
separated, counted and the new ones branded. The ones that were sold were driven to the rail
lines for shipping. In later years they were also herded through a dipping vat. A dipping vat set
up consisted of a holding pen that had a long narrow fenced in lane attached to it. In this narrow
lane was a trench that was filled with water to which a stock (animal) dip was added and mixed
in. The cattle were then herded through this lane into the trench. The treated water would cover
the whole body. This dipping was done in order to rid and control ticks and other parasites that
would get on the cattle. The open range era ended around 1930 when the stock law came into
effect. This meant you had to fence your land to keep your cattle and horses in. The enactment
of the law was sped along by the invention of the car, especially as cars started showing up in the
rural area around 1915 to 1920. Fence rails and posts were split from logs, all by hand. Oak
wood lasted the longest, especially Post Oak.
The early settlers and through the years, later generations worked together. If a farmer became
sick, his neighbors and kin would come and help keep his farm going until he recovered.
If a farmer needed help with an animal of his because of sickness or accidents, he usually called
on an older area farmer who had learned from experience how to treat animals. There were no
actual veterinarians in those days.
A few farmers had their own blacksmith shops. When metal work was needed, area farmers
would bring their metal parts etc. to them for fixing. Usually you paid f or the work or swapped
something or helped the Blacksmith in return for his labor.
In the summer months the farmers would get up early and work until noontime. After eating and
during the hottest part of the day, they would lay down and rest and usually took a nap (slept).
During this time the boys usually messed around or went swimming in the creeks. Around 3-
3:30 p.m. everyone went back to work in the fields until dark. While the boys and man did the
outside work, the girls and women cooked, baked, canned, washed clothes and cleaned inside the
home. Much food was canned in the summer, so there would be plenty in the winter. The man
really knew nothing about what went on inside the house. The only thing they knew about the
inside of the home was to come in to cat when the meal was on the table. The men worked very
hard and had hearty appetites.
There was very little money in the farms. However, you ate good and had the basic necessities of
life, People rarely visited each other during the week because of distance and hard farm work, but
enjoyed getting together on Saturday night for dances. Dances provided fun for everyone. The
music was provided by fiddles, guitars, harmonicas and sometimes French Horns. If you
organized a good band, you could be booked for someone’s home every Saturday night. As
payment, the band usually received refreshments and a “hat was passed”, collecting a few dollars.
For dating, young people would meet at church and at dances, and the school would sponsor
functions too. An interesting way to earn money for school needs was to have a box lunch. The
older girls would make food for two, placing her food in a decorated box. The boxes were then
displayed and the boys would bid on the boxes. If you had the highest bid, you won the box and
the privilege of dancing and sharing the – food with the girl who made it. When bidding, it was
important to recognize the box your girl friend had brought.
In the early days it was not uncommon for the wife to be 8-12 years younger than the husband.
The men wanted to acquire a few things before they married so they could provide for their
In the 1930’s and 40’s you could buy feed in sacks that were made of a cotton cloth that either
was white or had flowers and designs on it. The white ones were made into ladies slips and the
flowered and various designed ones were made into dresses. The flour and sugar cotton cloth
sacks were made into dishtowels, wash cloths etc.
In the 30’s and 40’s, a very popular man in the rural areas was the Watkins-product salesman.
He traveled around to the houses selling seasonings (like pepper, etc.), flavorings (like vanilla,
etc.) and non-prescription drugs (like cough syrup and liniment). The liniment was one of the
most used Watkins products. It was used to relieve muscle pains and aches and skin irritations
etc. and also used on animals. The children always looked forward to the coming of the Watkins
salesman, as he would give them a sucker, piece of candy or some gum. An old remedy for cuts
was to pour kerosene or turpentine on it to cleanse and kill any germs. Watkins celebrated their
125th anniversary in 1993. They started in 1868.
Prior to electricity starting to come to the rural areas in the late 1930’s and after World War II in
the 1940’s, some families had battery-operated radios. When some special event was to be
broadcast on the radio, like the heavyweight championship fight, all the family kin and some
neighbors got together and listened to the broadcast. The radio would be set in the window
facing outside, to where all the men and boys were gathered; while the women and girls would
visit inside the house.
The early settlers had depended on cattle, cotton, timber, hay and sheep for their livelihood. As
cotton prices tumbled and transportation became more readily available in the 1930’s and 1940’s,
cotton was phased out and cash crops became corn, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, peas, beans,
cabbage, tomatoes, mustard greens etc. Dairy herds also became part of the community.
However, this has changed dramatically in recent years as the Houston area population continues
to grow rapidly and spreads out into Harris County. This has squeezed out many farms and
dairies in Harris County.
WATER FOR THE FARMS
In the rural areas the early settlers lived near a creek or river and people would bathe in them and
wash their clothes and carry water home. (The streams were clean then.) Later the farm people
hand dug their own water wells. Depending on the water level underground, most wells were
about 20-40 feet deep. In very dry years, some shallow wells almost or did dry up. Today most
wells are about 1SO-300 feet or more deep in order to reach a good water supply. New
subdivisions in the area require much deeper wells. These deep wells and volume of water used
per day are having some effects on the shallower wells.
Water was drawn (lifted up) from the wells by lowering a bucket, wooden or metal with a rope
attached to it into the well and hand pulling the water up and then pouring into another container
and carrying it where needed. Many made this method easier by using a round piece of wood,
with a hand cranking handle on one or both ends, fastened to the above ground well enclosure.
The rope, with the bucket attached to one and, was attached to the round piece of wood thus
allowing the lowering and raising of the bucket more easily. The wells were enclosed to keep
children, animals, etc from falling into the well. When they became available, most people used
a small wheel that had a groove in it for a rope to f it in. This was called a pulley wheel, The
wheel was hung over a well with a rope mounted in the groove and a special fitting in the bottom
of it, was attached to the rope and lot up and down in the well. This. was a much easier way to
bring the water up.
Besides having a water wall, some farms had a cistern. This was a large hole dug on the ground,
the depth of a shallow well, with a high enclosure around and over it to keep children and other
things from falling into it. When house gutters came along, the farmers would connect the
gutters to the cistern, so that rain water would run into it. This water was used for washing
clothes, watering animals etc. Even those who did not have a cistern, would collect rain water in
barrels for use around the farm.
Later hand pumps and windmills came along. The hand operated water pumps came in two
sizes. The smaller was called a pitcher pump because it had the shape of a large water pitcher
with a wide pour lip on it. The larger and taller hand pump had a round, molded to the pump,
discharge fitting that had a turned-down mouth on it. The round pipe shaped mouth was about 2
inches in diameter. This discharge piece was located high enough so you could set buckets under
it or even hang a bucket on it. The larger pump would bring up more water per pump. Both
pumps worked by the same method. A pipe was placed into the well reaching into the water. A
metal rod, with a special set up on the lower end, was placed inside the pipe and attached to the
hand pump. This was called a pump rod. As the rod was pushed up and down with the handle,
water was lifted up into the pipe until it flowed out the top. This same pumping principle applied
to the windmill concept. Instead of a pump handle being used, the pump rod was raised up and
down with gears that were moved by the big turning fan wheel. A tall tower, to get more wind to
the f an, was erected. Some early ones were wood and later metal. A large round fan wheel with
individual blades was mounted on top of the tower. When the wind blew it turned the fan, which
turned the gears, which moved the pump rod up and down bringing water up. With a windmill
set up, a large open top water tank/vat (usually wood) about 10-12 feet in diameter and about 8-
12 feet deep, was mounted up on a platform about 10-15 feet above the ground. This allowed the
farmers to install pipes to their animals water troughs and to their houses. This is when so called
running water became available. Since the tanks were mounted off the ground, this gave gravity
flow to the water through the pipes. When strong winds came, the farmers locked the brake on
the fan wheel. This was done by pulling a lever mounted in the bottom area of the windmill
tower that was attached to a cable leading up to the brake on the big fan. There are still a few
windmills around in this area today. However, -the most that are in use today, are in areas where
electricity is not available.
After scoops/scrapers became available and especially after stock law came into effect, farmers
dug water-holding ponds for their animals. They selected an area on their place, where the water
had a tendency to flow towards and took mules or horses hitched to a scoop and scraped-scooped
off a few feet of ground making a holding pond for water. A scoop/scraper was a fairly large
metal scoop with two wooden handles. The front and of a scoop/scraper had a sharp tapered
edge with low sides rising to about one foot in back with a matching back wall. As the
mules/horses pulled the empty scoop forward, the farmer with his driving lines looped over one
shoulder and under the other, would take hold of both handles and lift up some on the back
causing the sharp front edge to cut into the ground scooping up dirt. When full he would let the
back down allowing the scoop to slide across the ground to where he wanted to dump the dirt.
To dump he would lift up on the back, causing the front edge to catch in the ground, helping him
lift higher in order to flip the scoop over to unload the dirt. An experienced farmer could do this
continuously for some time without stopping. Larger scoops/scrapers, depending on size,
required 3 or 4 mules/horses to pull them.
SOAP, WASHING CLOTHES and BATHING
For cleansing purposes rural area people made their own homemade soap. A big batch was made
in their wash kettles. These were large open cast iron kettles that usually set on 3 or 4 metal legs
and were located out in the back yard. A fire could be built under and around them to heat water
or heat the soap etc. Pine and oak wood was used for heating. Pine burned faster and oak slower.
Soap was made by mixing water, lard (rendered hog fat) and lye. It usually was made in large
batches so it would last a while. The water was heated some in a large kettle. The lye was then
added and stirred in. This created more heat. The lard, which was in a semi-solid state, was
added and allowed to melt while stirring. The blend had to be slowly stirred constantly. The lye
reacting with the lard created a foaming action. After the right consistency was reached, the
foamy material was allowed to cool and set up. When cooled, the foamy or frothy material was
in a fairly hard state. Before it became too hard to cut, the soap was cut into oblong square edged
pieces and stored on shelves where it hardened more like our soap today. The soap was used for
washing everything from clothes, dishes, hair, face, hands, etc. This was a more crude type of
soap than we have today. In the very early days before people could buy lye, they used clean
wood ashes (wood ashes are caustic in nature). This was a more crude soap than when using lye.
Lye is the liquid obtained by leaching wood ashes. Lye, being caustic, reacted with the fatty
acids of the animal fats (lard). Sometime people would make smaller batches in the house in
Washing clothes was a long process and hard work as was preparing to baths. Galvanized
washtubs (earlier wooden) were used for washing clothes and bathing. The water for washing
was heated in outside open kettles called wash kettles. If there was time the men would carry the
water from the well, but of ten the women did it. Wood had to be gathered and a fire made under
the kettles. Pine wood and oak were used. The dirty clothes would be pre-soaked in a tub and
then scrubbed with soap on a scrub board in another tub with semi-hot water. A scrub board was
made up of a wooden strip frame with a corrugated (small corrugations) tin, copper metal or
glass, with small ruffles on top of the corrugated ridges, mounted in the middle area with
supporting wooden strips on back of the metal. The thicker self-supporting glass ones had the
same type corrugated ruffled ridges on one side and half ruffled and half smooth ridges on the
other side for the more delicate clothes. There were smaller size metal scrub boards for delicate
clothes. An average scrub board was about two feet tall/long and about twelve inches wide with
the middle scrubbing area being 12 by 12 inches. The two wooden side frame strips were
notched in the middle for holding the scrubbing piece and had six inches extending below the
scrub area which served as legs and six inches extending above the scrub area where a top mold
piece and 1/2 inch recessed wooden piece were attached. The recessed piece was for holding the
soap bar while not in use. The lower end of the scrub board was placed at a slant into usually a
#3 wash tub about half full of warm-hot water. With the top of the scrub board resting against
your stomach, you would rub the wet clothes up and down against the corrugated metal glass to
dislodge the excess grime and dirt. Some of the very dirty clothes with dirt or grease impregnated
into the cloth were put in the hot water in one of the kettles and moved or stirred around with a
stick. They then were picked up out of the hot water with a stick and placed into two different
rinse tubs with warm water in them. All removal of the rinse water was done by squeezing and
wringing (twisting) by hand and then was placed on the clothes-line to dry.
In the 1930’s a few people had some of the first washing machines made. These were round
wooden tubs mounted on a stand with a foot pump driven gear underneath that was attached to a
shaft up into the tub with four large suction looking type cups attached to the shaft. When the
foot petal was pumped up and down it would move the gears to make the four large cups go up
and down causing the washing action of the clothes in the wash water. A hand turned wringer
was also attached to the tub. When hand turned wringers first became available you could buy
single wringers that would attach to your wash tubs. This beat wringing the water out by hand.
The first electric washing machines had hand wringers.
Unless you were really dirty, you didn’t bathe until Saturday evening! But everyone would take a
water-bucket with warm water and Sponge bathe and wash their feet every night. When it was
time to bathe, the wash tubs would be filled with water heated from the stove. In most families it
was the custom to let the smaller children bathe first because the water was used by several
people. Hot water would be added as each person got in the tub. Then the girls and mother
would bathe followed by the boys and father. After a few bathed, the water would be thrown out,
and the next few would bathe in fresh water. Everyone had to be clean for church on Sunday
morning. There used to be an old joke saying, eleven if your needed it or not, you took a bath an
Saturday night”. In warm weather, the creeks provided wonderful swimming holes for fun and
bathing and for catching fish to eat. Today the creek waters are not as clean because of pollution.
Since there was no cooling or refrigeration in the early years, neighbors organized butcher clubs.
This way, families could have fresh meat without waste. These would usually consist of 12 or 16
families. There were Cow Clubs (usually 16 families) or Beef Clubs (usually 12 families) that
usually operated in the summer time. The Cow Clubs butchered fattened older mature cattle and
the Beef Clubs butchered fattened younger cattle. Depending on the size of the club, they would
butcher that many consecutive Saturdays. Each family would receive 1/12 or 1/16 part of the
meat. Sometime small families would go together and divide a share. Each Saturday, they
received a different cut of meat, so that at the end it equaled out for everyone. Records were kept
f or the type cut and weight you received. At the end of the 12 or 16 week period the weights
were totaled up.
Since it was impossible to have all the cattle weigh the same, those that butchered smaller cattle
had to pay into the club a predetermined price per pound and this then was prorated out to those
that had heavier weighing cattle. In the winter time meat that was not used right away would be
placed into large crock containers and heavily salted for keeping for a while longer.
Around the late 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s some people had ice-boxes. These usually would be
an oblong shaped wooden piece of specially lined/insulated furniture in which large blocks of ice
would be placed in the large upper compartment with an insulated lid. In the bottom would
usually be a couple of smaller compartments with doors, where they could place milk, butter,
eggs and meat. The ice truck usually came once or twice a week. In the 1930’s and 1940’s a few
rural families around Tomball, Texas had gas powered refrigerators. These had to be near oil
wells where natural gas was available to the house. Electricity did not totally come to the rural
areas until after World War II, in the last half of the 1940’s. Some electric lines were installed
along the main roads in the later 1930’s. This was done by the REA (Rural Electrification
Association). Some people in earlier years would place milk and butter in water proof containers
and place them in a metal basket with a lid or in a sack with a rope tied to them and let them
down into the water in their wells to keep for a few days. In the later 1920’s and 1930’s a couple
of homes had battery powered electricity. This took a number of large batteries and an outside
wind powered propeller blade driven generator. They thus had electric powered refrigerators.
Churches were at the center of the life of the communities in the early times. Church activities
played an important part of the lives of the families. Prayers were said before each meal. They
attended Sunday School and church regularly and attended many church picnics and barbecues.
There were also church softball games. The women and children sat on the one side of the
church and the men sat on the other. Women always wore hats. People went to church on
horses, in buggies and wagons to get to church. In the old Trinity Lutheran Klein Church the
older children and young people sat upstairs. There was a half-upper floor on the left and a halfupper
floor on the right and a joining of the two sides with a section of upper floor in the back.
The older children and young people sat upstairs with the boys on the left and girls on the right
just like the men and women downstairs. When the Pastor stood in the high built pulpit to
preach he could see everyone upstairs. The people below had to look up some to see the Pastor.
After church on Sunday, it was traditional to have large dinners at home. Family was extremely
important, and aunts, uncle, cousins and grandparents were included. The kids had to wait until
the parents were finished before they were served. After the meal the men would go outside to
inspect and compare crops and the women would clean the kitchen and prepare coffee to have it
ready when the men came back inside.
A custom in the old days before telephones etc. in the rural areas was that if someone in the
church died during the week, they would ring the church bell. They would ring it continuously
for a short time and then stop. This would get the community’s attention. They then would ring
(toll) individual rings. Most people say 3 times for an older person, 2 times for a younger person
and 1 time for a baby. Thus the community was alerted of the death. On Saturday evenings the
bell was rung at 6 p.m. reminding everyone of worship on Sunday.
David (Dave) Theiss’s funeral was the last one held in the old Trinity Lutheran Klein Church in
February, 1950. His daughter Laura (Theiss) Mueller’s funeral was the first one held in the new
Church built in 1950, on May 24, 1950.
OLD SCHOOLS IN THE BIG CYPRESS/KLEIN COMMUNITY
In the early days of the first rural public schools, most were one-room schools with one teacher
and up to seven grades. The grades back then were not like we have today. They were based on
reader books. As you progressed in school, you advanced from Reader I to 2 to 3 etc. In the
earlier days, school would start around 9 a.m. and last until 4 p.m. and only last about 6 months,
starting in later fall and ending in early spring-time. The late 9 a.m. start was because the
children had chores to -do on the farm before going to school. Since so much work on the farm
was done by hand then, the older children were needed to help on the farm thus the short school
year. Later on school started after Labor Day and let out around the end of May. School time
was 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Trinity Lutheran Klein School which started in 1874, originally had seven grades and later eight
when the High School went to twelve grades. This was a two room school with large rooms and
a dividing partition of wooden panels like large doors that were hung on a rail so that they could
be folded back to make one very large area for special occasions. Since there were four classes
to a room and one teacher, you did not have each subject each day. Each class sat together so
that the teacher and pupils could concentrate on what the teacher was discussing with them at
that time. While the teacher was teaching the other classes, you worked on your assignments and
of course some goofed off. In the 1930’s and early 1940’s each grade averaged about 10 pupils
per class. The boys carried in wood in the winter for the wood burning stoves. The church
members would cut and supply wood f or the church and school wood heaters. The upper grades
would be assigned in groups to sweep the school each day. Each Friday the 8th grade would
sweep the church. On Fridays the upper grades would pick up paper etc. that was on the school
grounds. This taught responsibility. Just try that today. The pupils brought their own lunch
from home. This usually consisted of homemade sausage, homemade jelly and homemade-bread
etc. The school had two small rooms in front, one on each side. They were called cloak-rooms.
One was for the boys and the other for the girls. These were for hanging your coats and caps and
later shelves were added for storing your lunches. Oh yes, for the necessities of life there were
two out-side bathrooms, of course without the baths. They were called toilets or out-houses, one
for the girls and one for the boys and about 100 yards apart. They were about 100 yards from the
school building. It was a little inconvenient when raining and cold.
In the early years children walked, rode horses to school or parents dropped them off in buggies
or wagons. Later buses came into being. Due to the shortage of money in the early years and up
through the 1930’s and early 1940’S, the Pastor’s and Teachers-‘salaries were supplemented by
members bringing potatoes and vegetables and meat etc. and supplying wood for their stoves.
Some of the old one room rural public schools were; French on the South side of SpringStuebner
and east of Rhodes road; Oak Grove 1 and later 2 located between Spring-Cypress and
Louetta road around the now Klein Church road area; later Oak Grove 3 (originally Ehrhardt
School) south of Louetta in the Strack Farms area as we know it today; Hildebrandt on Root
road; later a Willow School on Root road; Kothmann located on the north side of Louetta, east of
Kuykendahl and a little east of Bonds Gully. This would be northeast across Louetta road –from
Haude Elementary as we know it today. There also was Prairie Hill School located on HufsmithKohrville
road a few miles north of Spring-Cypress road.
The children looked forward to celebrating holidays at school. They had special presentations f
or Thanksgiving, Good Friday, Valentine’s Day and Christmas. Students made Valentines for
every child in the class, and mothers would bring refreshments from home. During the
Christmas season the school always had a Christmas play, finding a part for each child. Every
classroom had a Christmas tree, and the students decorated them with popcorn strings and
homemade ornaments. Every home had a tree, too, with candles, since there was no electricity.
Although the candles would not be lighted often, there were still many fires. Boys usually
wanted a pocket knife and in later years a red wagon at Christmas, while the girls asked for dolls.
Every “self-respecting” boy carried a pocket knife because you never knew when you might need
to shin a rabbit, and also the boys played mumble peg with their knives during recess each day at
school. Mumble peg is played by extending the three points of the knife and throwing it a certain
way. If it lands straight up, you win. Boys also played marbles, various chase games and softball
at school. Girls usually played hopscotch, jacks, drop the handkerchief, various chase games and
Several types of school discipline were used. Standing in the comer for a while was the most
common one, and the meaner boys were spanked with switches. You were also disciplined at
home if you were disciplined at school. Usually if boys got a spanking at school they were
spanked at home. Responsibilities at home for the children involved doing chores on the farm
before leaving for school. When they came home, there were more chores. Because there was
no electricity, candles were used, and the girls had to clean the lamp chimneys at least twice a
week. Later kerosene lamps were used and later a few old houses had carbide gas lights. The
boys would chop the wood and bring it inside. Boys and girls would also feed the chickens,
gather eggs and pick vegetables. Children, especially the boys, liked to play “pretend” games
underneath the house. The houses were built on blocks, so the kids would crawl underneath and
build towns, roads and lakes. It was cool there which was great during the hot Texas summers.