When Duane “Dewey” Rudolph talks about his ancestors, he does so with a gleam in his eyes and pride in his voice. The son of Maurice and Lillian (Ebersviller) Rudolph, Dewey, 71, has a treasure-trove of stories, documents and photos that paint a picture of the pioneer and patriotic spirit of his ancestors who came to call the United States home.
His father’s side of the family came to the United States in the 1700s from Germany and their story, although incomplete, is chronicled in the book “America’s Greatest Pioneer Family, a History of the Schrode Family in America.” The book, published in 1945, was written by I. T. Taylor. It was dedicated to Taylor’s mother Minnie Adelle (Schrode) Taylor, who died at the age of 26 when he was three years old.
Taylor wrote, “In the annals of early American history, the Shrodes stand out as a brave and sturdy pioneer family.”
It is believed that John Schrobe (Dewey’s great, great, great, great grandfather) and his two brothers, Jacob and Henry, came to America from Germany in 1761. The first generation of the Strobe family started out in Pennsylvania.
Dewey’s maternal great grandfather Nicholas Ebersviller came from the Republic of France in 1889, and his great grandfather Wilhelm Glawe came from Germany with his son Ludwig to this country in 1894, eventually settling in Otter Tail County, MN.
Through the years, the Schrode family, as well as ancestors from Dewey’s mother’s side of the family, grew in leaps and bounds, creating a lengthy list of names and dates that would topple any family tree.
Dewey’s great grandparents Ellis Lilley (E. L.) Thomas and Sedelia Isadora (Dora) Thomas grew up together in Young America, Carver County, MN.
E. L. was the eldest son of Harvey and Nancy Stewart Thomas. Dora was the eldest daughter of Carlos Owen Woodruff and Susan Rebecca Schrode Woodruff. They were married on Dec. 19, 1875.
In April of 1887, they traveled with their daughter Rachel to their new homestead on the shores of Spirit Lake, about 12 miles from the small town of Frazee, MN.
“Their new home was in the wilderness and they had to work hard and wear many hats,” Dewey said.
June Dora Harmon, the couple’s great granddaughter, wrote about the pair in a short chronicle titled “E. L. and Dora Thomas: The Story of Minnesota pioneers.” “Their era is a time long gone—of wilderness, hard pioneer living among the American Native Americans, of colorful characters from a history that can never be duplicated again,” June wrote.
“The area in which they settled was named Dora Township, in honor of my great grandmother, who was the only white woman to live there at the time,” Dewey said. “E. L., who was known for his practical jokes, took an interest in horticulture and spent many years developing new strains of fruits and vegetables that could be grown in the northern parts of the state.” The couple had 16 children.
Maurice and Lillian Rudolph, Dewey’s parents, resided in Detroit Lakes, MN, until they moved their family in 1956 to Hoyt Lakes, where his dad took a job at Erie Mining Company. At that time, there was an influx of people, referred to as packsackers, to the Iron Range area. According to Dewey, he and his family members were often called packsackers, a name he grew to hate.
As an adult, Dewey’s dislike for the label was further fueled with publication of an article in the Oct. 14, 2011, edition of Hometown Focus (HTF) titled “The packsackers of Evergreen Trailer Park.” In the article, HTF contributor Doug Nemanic defined a packsacker as an “outsider who came to the Iron Range solely to exploit the people and the culture for personal gain, and who had no respect for the local residents or their cultural traditions, laws, property or customs. A packsacker was said to carry everything they owned in a packsack so that they could pack up and go at a moment’s notice.”
“That wasn’t us,” Dewey explained. “My family, along with many of the new people in the area, were good, hard-working people. Many people lived in the trailer court because there was simply no other housing available.”
Dewey continued, “You can’t judge a group of people by just a few. You have to look at them as individuals—some good, some bad.”
Dewey admits that, like most families, there are a few colorful characters in the bunch. However, while researching his ancestors, Dewey found several relatives who have achieved notable things in life.
For example, as a whole, “My ancestors fought in every war from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War,” Dewey said. “And, during the Civil War and the Revolutionary War, they fought on both sides.”
Other examples of ancestors who Dewey admires for their achievements: George H. Thomas
Dewey’s distant cousin Major General George H. Thomas, a graduate of West Point, was on the 1890 $5 bill (treasury note) before Abraham Lincoln.
“He was believed by some to be one the Union’s most brilliant strategist during the Civil War,” Dewey said about his cousin.
Major Thomas had many nicknames. Among those nicknames was Old Slow Trot. “He got this nickname because he thought it best to trot, not gallop, his mount into battle,” Dewey explained.
According to Dewey, there is a bronze equestrian statue of Major Thomas, sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward, in Washington D.C. The statue was dedicated to Thomas on Nov. 19, 1879.
Lucretia “Crete” Rudolph
Lucretia Rudolph, a teacher and another of Dewey’s cousins, married James A. Garfield on Nov. 11, 1858. In 1881, Garfield became the 20th president of the United States, making Lucretia (Rudolph) Garfield the first lady of the United States. Her time as first lady was cut short when President Garfield was shot in New Jersey on July 2, 1881. Garfield died in September.
“I’ve read that Lucretia was well-educated and spoke several languages,” Dewey said. According to Dewey, she was also very independent, as seen in an essay she wrote arguing for equal pay for women.
Donald E. Rudolph, Sr.
Sgt. Donald Rudolph was presented the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman at a White House ceremony on Aug. 23, 1945. The Congressional Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military honor, was awarded Sgt. Rudolph for his service in WWII. Donald was Dewey’s dad’s third cousin.
“He single-handedly destroyed several Japanese concrete posts,” Dewey said. Sgt. Rudolph’s Medal of Honor citation read that he “cleared a path for an advance which culminated in one of the most decisive victories of the Philippine campaign.”
Rachel E. (Thomas) Gran
Rachel (Thomas) Gran, daughter of E.L. and Dora Thomas and Dewey’s great aunt, is believed to be one of Minnesota’s first women pharmacist. According to Dewey, Rachel inherited a drug store in Young America, MN, when her first husband Fred Vogler died.
“My family is a diverse, nonjudgmental group of people,” Dewey said. “We hold a Thomas family reunion in Grand Rapids every year and wear matching funthemed T-shirts. Oh, and we laugh a lot.”
Duane “Dewey” Rudolph and his wife Le- Anne reside at Ely Lake (Eveleth), MN.