Founding Fathers

Christian Buechler (1843-1904)
Christ "Christian" Buechler was born in South Russia April 13, 1843, son of Jacob and Barbara Buechler.  Christ stayed on the homestead farm until he completed school and entered into Schritel College, in Odessa, Russia, graduating in 1865. In February, 1867, he married Miss Barbara Zumbaum, they had three children: Maria, August, and Henry.  Christ taught in a parochial school until 1873, when he brought his family to America.  In 1874 they came to Yankton, Dakota Territory where Christ opened a small grocery store.  He then bought a house and lot in the city. In 1880, he moved his grocery store (20 x 50 feet) to Freeman. The store was dismantled, hauled on a hayrack to Freeman, and reconstructed it on the corner of Third and Main Street becoming the first business in Freeman.  Freeman had a railroad station and one warehouse.  In 1881 George and John Schamber brothers bought the store for $1500, as long as Christ remained in town.  In 1883 Christ moved into a house at the (First National Bank building site).  In 1883 Christ Buechler and John Gross built a hotel and saloon which they operated until 1888.  In 1887 Christ established the Bank of Freeman and in 1894 started a mercantile business which lasted until 1901.  In 1896 he purchased the grist mills of Freeman and ran a well-equipped elevator to buy and ship grain.  In 1901 Christ bought back his building from the Schambers for $225 and sold his house for $2500.  In 1902 Christ opened Freeman State Bank.  Christ (the German storekeeper) is known as the "Father of Freeman" because he opened the first business and was very involved in the town's development.  He was also a charter member of the Bethlehem Reformed Church.  Christ Buechler died in 1904 at the age of 61.

John Gross (1860-1959)

John Gross was born in southern Russia, June 1st, 1860.  John was raised by his maternal grandparents and went to school until he was 14.  He came to America in 1874 with his brothers and they made their way to Yankton, where they separated. John had 15 cents to his name but with a self-reliant spirit he was successful.  He was employed in the grocery store of Christian Buechler and soon became partner.  Christian and John constructed a new hotel and saloon in 1883 which they ran until 1888.  John bought the business and operated until 1902 when he bought Merchants State Bank.  In February, 1888, Mr. Gross married Miss Lydia Jans, they had six children; Ciara, Louisa, Amelia, Annetta, Henry, and Leona. Mr. Gross worked with the farming and cattle industry owning 2,400 acres of land. He and his wife were valued members of the German Reformed church.  He was a prominent banker and capitalist of Freeman, SD.  John died in 1959. 


John Schamber (1856-1923)
John Schamber was born in southern Russia on March 6th, 1856.  John grew up on the farm and was educated in common schools.  He came to New York City in 1874.  He took up a claim six miles southeast of Menno and left the farm in 1880.  He became a clerk in a general store in Menno.  In 1881 John was married to Miss Maria Kayser and they had ten children; Adolph, Robert, Otto, Hildegard, Herta, Edgar, Udo, Hedwig, Berthold and Alfred.  In 1882 John moved to Freeman, working as partner with his brother George in the general merchandise business.  In 1886 they controlled a large stock in the Farmers Elevator.  In 1894 the Schamber brothers became sole owners of the property.  In 1900 John sold the merchandise business to his brother.  In 1900 John helped organize Merchants State Bank.  In 1902 he sold his interests in the elevator to his brother.  In 1886 John was elected treasurer of Hutchinson County.  In 1893 he was elected to represent his district in the state senate.  He and his wife were members of the Lutheran church.  John Schamber died in 1923 at the age of 67. 
Jacob J Mendel (1875-1960)
Jacob Mendel was born in Southern Russia, March 18, 1875.  His parents came to America when he was 6 months old.  He lived on the James River until he was grown and became a member of the New Hutterthal Mennonite Church in 1898.  He went to Preparatory Mennonite School, then Sioux Falls Normal School, and then Bethel College.  He was a member of the Freeman Junior College board for 28 years.  In 1898 he was married to Mary Kleinsasser and they had 3 children.  Mr. Mendel came to Freeman as a farmer in 1901.  The founder of the courier quit so Mendel took over as the owner and publisher in 1902. He later published a book "History of Freeman."  He operated the Telephone exchange and purchased an electric light plant for furnishing electricity to the town.  His wife Mary died in 1906 and he was remarried to Mary Mandel.  They were married until she died in 1923.  He was married to Katharina Gross for 29 years until he died in 1960.   He sold the courier to the Gering brothers the day he died.

Joseph Wipf

Joseph W. Wipf was born in southern Russia, August 12, 1869. In 1879 his parents brought him to America where they started their home on a pioneer farm in Hutchinson County.  Joseph was educated in the public schools and went to South Dakota State University, at Vermillion in 1888.  In 1896 he was admitted in the pharmaceutical department at the University of Iowa, and graduated in 1897. In October, 1897, was married to Miss Mary Graber, and had three children Evelina, Elva, and Edmund.  In 1886 Joe taught in district schools of Hutchinson County until 1892.  He owned part of the firm J. W. Wipf & Company in Freeman and part of the Freeman Telephone Company. He was part of the Mennonite church and one of the most innovative and prominent young business men of Freeman, SD.

Jacob "Poltowitz" Graber 1837-1918
The Jacob Graber family came to South Dakota in 1883.  Jacob is pictured (at left) in his aristocratic hunting gear with his wife (Maria 1840-1913) in the background, his father Peter is also pictured (at right).  While living in Russia, Jakob Graber would return periodically to renew his Swiss citizenship so his sons wouldn’t have to serve in the Czar’s army. 


John Graber and his wife
Mr. and Mrs. John Graber were charter members of the Salem Zion Church.  They came here from Russia in 1874.


Biograpy information on this page are from the "History of SouthDakota" by Doane Robinson,
and photos from "The Swiss-Germans in South Dakota"