CHAPTER III
THEODORE WIRTZ


"It is difficult, in these modern times, to accurately envision the plight of a seven year old boy at a time almost 150 years ago. After the untimely death of his father and brother, Theodore had to acquaint himself first with his stepfather and an ensuing new way of family life. He was uprooted from friends, relatives, and his family home in Kirchweiler and then had to endure the long journey, with its accompanying hardships, to America. And then, after arriving in New York, he had to withstand the long overland trek to an unfamiliar destination in undeveloped country. But, despite the austerity of pioneering life, he survived and did quite well. Perhaps the most important and driving force to Theodore and his family, as well as the other emigres, was their ability to own their land and be their own managers as to its development. In other words, they were now free people.

The manner in which Theodore s early life in America was spent has been described in the previous chapter. He grew to manhood with the Winkels on various farms in the McHenry area. On October 6, 1859. at the age of 23 years, he was married to Katherina Schneider at St. John the Baptist Church in Johnsburg. A rather interesting side note is that their sponsors were Simon Weingart and Peter Schmitz. Further inquiry revealed that it was not at all uncommon, in those days, to have two male sponsors for the bride and groom.

Katherina Schneider was born at Weiler am Rhein in Germany on June 27, 1834. It was said her parents owned and operated a brewery there. At 20 years of age, she came to America with Mrs, Jacob Rothermel who settled In the Johnsburg vicinity. For some years prior to her marriage, Katherina worked at several places along the old Woodstock Road. It was reported by those who knew her that she was considered to be thrifty, ambitious, and a hard worker.

The newly married couple settled on a farm at Lily Lake in Lake County near Volo. Whether this was the same farm occupied by Theodore with the Winkels at an earlier time was not ascertained, however, the home is still standing as of this date. I recall family members always referring to it as the "homestead." Of course the site is no longer a farm since the area has been subdivided and developed.

From Theodore's service and pension records, it appears that he and Katherina, along with their children, may have left the farm for a brief period sometime after being discharged from the military. This question arises from the fact that Theodore variously listed his post office address as either Volo, McHenry, or Wauconda. In any case, the homestead remained in family hands and farming continued to be their occupation until 1891 when, at age 55 years, Theodore evidently retired and moved to a house in Volo. This home still exists on the north side of Route 120 between the fork in the road on the west and Route 12 on the east. It was in the front of this house that an interesting photograph was made of Theodore, Katherina and all of their children.

Oven a period of seventeen years, Theodore and Katherina had nine children. They were:

Elizabeth August 10, 1860
John Adam September 16, 1861
Anne November 1, 1862
Mathias August 14, 1864
Jacob October 22, 1866
Agnes November 2, 1868
Michael L. December 18, 1870
Maria December 4, 1871
Helena February 27, 1877


Theodore served with the Union Army during the Civil War. Military records show that he was enrolled as a private in Company I of the 147th Regiment of Illinois Infantry on February 14, 1865 at Camp Fry, Chicago, Illinois. At the time of his enlistment, he was 29 years old, had gray eyes, brown hair, and stood 5 feet 10 inches tall.

The 147th was organized at Camp Fry by Colonel H. F. Sickles and was mustered into service for a period of one year. It was the first of ten regiments recruited under the call of December 19, 1864. From Chicago the regiment traveled to Louisville, Kentucky. Then they went on to Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee. On February 28, 1865, the regiment arrived at Dalton, Georgia in the northwest corner of the state. From that point, the regiment drove southward fighting skirmishes with Confederate forces until the end of the war. Theodore was mustered out of the service on January 20, 1866 when the regiment was deactivated at Savannah, Georgia. On January 23, 1866, the troops began their journey home. They arrived in Springfield, Illinois on January 31, 1866 and received their final payment and discharge on February 8, 1866. Theodore is officially recorded as serving with the 147th Illinois Infantry Regiment as ``Theodore Warts'' of Wauconda, Illinois.

It can be assumed that Theodore returned to the Lily Lake farm sometime in February, 1866, a year after his enlistment. It is a cause of wonderment as to how difficult it must have been for Katherina to manage the farm. For a whole season while at the same time caring for four small children. I recall my father telling me of how his father described to him the elation that was felt when the lone figure walking in the distance toward their farm was Theodore.

In October, 1884, Theodore applied for an received a disability pension from the government. Somewhere in the vicinity of Dalton, Georgia, during April, 1865, he was thrown violently from a mule while engaged in military activity. He suffered injury to his right side which subsequently developed into a hernia that seriously curtailed his ability to continue the laborious task of farming. Undoubtedly, this had a direct bearing on his decision to retire.

The change in spelling of the family name Wirtz to Worts can be attributed to many causes, but perhaps the most salient occurred as a result of Theodore's tour of duty with the Union Army. During this period of time, his name was variously recorded as Wirtz, Warts, Wirts, Wertz, and Worts on official documents. Theodore probably spoke, at that time, with a German accent and since he undoubtedly did not receive a formal education in the English language, his spoken word could have been misunderstood and his handwriting misinterpreted. Indeed, in those days spelling, handwriting and fluency in the English language was not considered to be of prime importance.

Some samples of Theodore's handwriting indicated that he seldom placed a dot over the "i" and that it frequently resembled and "e" or an "o" . In addition, when writing the letter "z" he failed to include much of a tail on It causing it to appear as a rather large "s''. Thus, it is easy to understand how anyone not familiar with the proper spelling of the name could interpret his handwriting erroneously. On his application for pension, Theodore signed it as "Theodorts Worts'' but gave an affidavit that he was one and the same as the "Theodore Werts" listed on the service records. So, as legend has it and the records indicate, sometime in the 1880's Theodore got together with his four sons and they decided to adopt the spelling of "Worts" as the family name. However, for sometime afterward, the name still appears in variations of spelling.

I am sure there are many of Theodore's descendants, like myself, who wish that the proper spelling had been left intact. My brother, Bernard, legally changed his name to "Worth" some years ago. My own children strongly urged me to have our name legally changed back to "Wirtz" in order to avoid the confusion and embarrassment of misspelling and mispronunciation. At times. I was inclined do so, but it would entail too much work for one thing. and on the other hand the spelling of "Worts'' is unique insofar as Theodore was the only one of the Kirchweiler Wirtz family to come to America.

On April 24,1904, Katherina Worts died at the age of 70 years in her home in Volo. She had contracted what was determined to be pneumonia about a week earlier, but despite medical treatment she became steadily worse. She passed away at 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday with nearly all of her children at her bedside. She is buried in the St. Peter Church cemetery in Volo.

After the death of his wife, Theodore lived with his sons or daughters for short periods of time. However, according to his pension records, he married a Sophia Rasch on February 4,1911, but was divorced on December 12, 1914. Another document, filed later by Sophia, indicates she was married to Theodore on September 4, 1915 by a Rev. A.B. Rutt. A certificate dated October 9, 1924 states that Theodore Worts, age 85, was married to Sophia Worts, age 49, by Justice of the Peace, Charles E. Mason in Waukegan, Illinois. They were evidently still legally married at the time of Theodore's death because Sophia filed a spouse s claim on his military pension. Clarence Gainer, one of Theodore's grandchildren and at whose home he was living when the fatal accident occurred, said that Theodore and Sophia were separated and divorced several times. This is certainly an indication that their marriage(s) must have been quite tumultuous.

On Monday, April 25, 1927 at approximately 9:30 a.m., Theodore and his son, Jacob, were killed in an automobile accident. Theodore had spent the weekend at Jacob's home in Elgin, Illinois and was returning to the Wauconda home of his daughter, Lena Gainer. The accident occurred on what is now Route 31 south of Algonquin and north of Carpentersville near an intersection then known as Lincoln Avenue Road and Fox River Trail.

The Worts car, a Model T Ford, was traveling north down an incline known as Carpenter's Hill when it suddenly veered into the path of an oncoming Studebaker sedan driven by a C.D. Roberts with a Mrs. Elizabeth Hanson and her daughter, Mrs. Anna Cavanaugh, as passengers. According to a witness, both cars were traveling between 30 and 35 miles per hour at the time of collision. Upon impact, both cars burst into flames. There was speculation that a defective steering mechanism on the Worts car caused the loss of control. However, damage was so extensive that any defects were not readily perceptible.

Theodore and Mrs. Hanson were believed to have been killed instantly and that Jacob, who was thrown out of the car, died shortly after the crash before he could be taken to a hospital. The two survivors sustained fractures and internal injuries. They were taken to the Sherman Hospital in Elgin for treatment.

On Thursday, April 28, 1927, a double funeral service was conducted at St. Peter's Church in Volo and the bodies of father and son were interred in the church cemetery. It has bean said that Theodore was clad in his military uniform.

What type of a person was Theodore Worts/Wirtz? From discussions with individuals who knew him, he was considered an honorable man. He was hardworking and very frugal . He prospered in farming and earned additional money dabbling in real estate. While strict, he was also good to his children, giving them land or the equivalent in cash when they married. He would not waste money on alcoholic beverages, but did enjoy a glass of beer now and then as well as playing the violin. The day before his death he had been helping to dig a trench for a sewer line indicating he must have been in good physical condition at age 91 years. Perhaps his major shortcoming was his infatuation with Sophia.