Joseph Stark, adventurer an early settler of Lake County, was born near Baden Baden in the Province of Bavaria, Germany, on Dec. 30, 1824. His mother died when he was a small boy, and he began to work for a living at the age of 13.
When his father remarried, the stepmother was not kind to Joseph and his siblings, so off they went to live with an uncle, who was a baker and promised them his estate in return for their labor as minors in his bakery. Because of the uncle's drinking, life was unbearable for Joseph, so he ran away to work in a flour mill until he accumulated enough money for a ticket on a sailing ship to America in 1847 and came to Chicago, Ill.
Joseph's last name was really "Huber," but when he decided to join the U.S. Army at the time of the Mexican War, he had made good friends with a family by the name of Stark. He asked them to take care of his affairs and named them as next of kin. After the war, when he filed for a land grant (in lieu of Army pay), he was forced to use the name Stark and never used "Huber" again.
(The Mexican War, 1846-48, was between the United States and Mexico and grew out of the recognition of the independence of Texas by the United States in 1837, its annexation in 1845, and the assumption of the claim of Texas to the territory between the Neches and the Rio Grande Rivers. Many of the soldiers were under the command of General Zachary Taylor, "Old Rough and Ready," who later became, for a short term, the president of the United States. Of the 30,954 regulars and 73,776 volunteers, almost five thousand were killed or wounded.)
After being discharged from the Army, Joseph Stark and two friends pooled their money and started out for an adventure in the gold fields of California. With their covered wagon pulled by three horses, they traveled as far as Utah without trouble, but there the horses died, and they were forced to take all the supplies that they could carry and set out on foot.
In the desert, their food soon ran short, and after barely surviving for a few days on a meager diet, they were 'rescued' by travelers from California who sold them supplies at inflated prices, including water at ten cents a glass.
Finally arriving in California, his partners soon tired of the labor at the mine and left Stark with the claim, which was soon jumped by five men who later struck gold. Undaunted, Joseph continued on, found another partner, and after a trip back on a sailing ship around South America, he returned to New York with $2,000, the profit from a gold strike.
Joseph then returned to Illinois, where he settled on rented government land near Homewood, Ill., stayed one year, and then came to St John in Lake County in 1859, where he later accumulated nearly 500 acres of fine farmland.
In 1850 he married Mary Ann Merrick, who was born in June 1836 at Alsace, Germany, and they had 11 children: Joseph, who died in 1852 as a infant; Afra (1853-1921), who married Mathias Herman, a farmer in the St. John area; John, born in 1855, who married Susan Portz; Mary (1857-1939), who married Jacob Klassen; Joseph (1859-1938), who married Susan Thiel (1864-1954); Frank (1862-1926), who married Amelia Koblen; George (1864-1941), who married Rose Thiel; Michael (1869-1926), who married Mary Schreiner; Mathilda (1867-1880); Peter, born in 1871, who married Elizabeth Klassen; and Frances, born in 1874, who married Henry Govert. Joseph 'Huber' Stark passsed away Mar. 17, 1879, while his wife lived until 1913.
One of their sons, Joseph Stark, and his wife, Susan Thiel Stark, settled on a 160-acre farm four miles west of Lowell, north of 181st Ave., where they raised 12 children.
Mathilda "Tillie" (1886-1976), who married Henry Schafer (1886-1962) and lived on a farm north of Lowell, near Creston. (The Schafer Family story appeared in the 'Pioneer History' column of March 1990.) The Schafers retired to Waukegan, Ill., but later returned to the Cedar Lake area.
Frances (1887-1977) married Peter Vollmann (died 1931), and settled in Chicago, where Peter operated a grocery store; Josephine (1889-1965), married J. Edward Fedler (1888-1978) and they farmed near Cedar Lake, where he was the Township Trustee for many years; George Stark (1891-1961), married Marie Hindert and they farmed the homestead west of Lowell; Edward Stark (1892-1977) married Kathryn McCarthy (1896-1957) and settled in Calumet City, Ill., where he was in business; Joseph (1894-1988) married Mary Benz (born 1899) and farmed in the Cedar Lake area; John (1896-1899) died as small child; Olivia 'Olive,' who now lives in Merrillville, married Eugene Grotowski (1901-1972) and they lived in Chicago, Ill., keeping busy in the electric business and insurance; Madeline (1901-1929) married Benjamin Timm and lived in Chicago; Christine married Emil Kotrba (1900-1977) and now lives in Berwyn, Ill., where her husband worked for Western Electrc; Gregory (1905-1992) married Ella Abel, who now lives in Sacramento, Calif. (He retired from Campbell Soup Co. there, but lived at Cedar Lake until 1949); and Hilda Stark lived in Cedar Lake for many years, moved to Chicago and then to Sacramento, where she now lives near Ella Abel Stark.
John Stark, the third child born to settler Joseph Stark and Mary Ann Merrick Stark, was born in St. John Twp. on Sept. 30, 1855, and later became a well-known farmer in West Creek Township, where he spent 14 years in the threshing circle. In 1885 he married Susan Portz (born 1859) the daughter of Peter and Susan Portz.
John and Susan Stark had 10 children: Rose 'Rosa,' born in 1882, who married Albert Miller; Mary, who married Walter Powell; Emil, born in 1884, who married Theresa Flock; Minnie, born in 1887, who married John Spitz; Adeline, born in 1890, who married George Gerlach; Anna, born in 1894, who first married Elias Johnson and later married Lamar Cole; Martha, who married William Schmal; Frank, born in 1897, who married Freda Rasmussen; Eleanor, born in 1899, who married James Kenndy; and John, born in 1902, who married Anna Thomas.
Rev. T.H. Ball wrote in 1904 that "The John Starks have erected a nice country residence and the entire 160 acres is a monument to their industry and worth."
The Stark family is related to a great many of the pioneer families of Lake County, including that of 'the Old Timer.' To tell the complete story of all of the children of pioneer Joseph Stark would fill a thick volume. The Stark family history books will soon become a part of the local history collection at the Lowell Public Library.
Information for this column came from Rev. Ball's 1904 publication; 'Stark Family History' by John Baker; 'The Schmal Family History;' 'The Stark-Thiel Family History' by Florita Thielen Hankins; and from Arlene Geib Clark, great great granddaughter of the pioneer.
Return to Lowell History
Return to the "Pioneer History" A to Z Index Page