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Franz Joseph "Dutch Joe" Grewe
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Birth: Oct. 31, 1854
Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
Death: 1894
Cherry County
Nebraska, USA

Franz Joseph Grewe Married Margaret SCHWERTLEY in 1881 in Cuming County, Nebraska, USA.

02 NOV 1854 in Roemisch-Katholische, Marienloh, Westfalen, Prussia.

Military: Served two years in the German Army at Cologne.

NEGenWeb Project OLLibrary, Journals
NE History & Record of Pioneer Days
Volume One, no 1 (part 2)

A Hero of the Nebraska Frontier

"Dutch Joe" we called him. We were the homesteaders upon the high tables and in the rich black valleys of the sandhills west of Valentine in the eighties. We were upon the skirmish line of the American advance. We were fighting to prove that American homes could be made in the heart of the sandhills, - the last remnant of the "Great American Desert" making its last stand upon the Hindenburg line of resistance to the American spirit. The fight was fierce for the skirmishers. We plunged into the deep canons of the Niobrara and tore from their rugged entrenchments thousand year-old cedar trees, "snaked" them down the canon, split them into posts, hauled them forty miles to Valentine and traded them at six cents apiece for flour and bacon. We followed the trail of deer and elks for a week to bring home a bit of fresh venison. Pitch pine logs were our fuel. Water was our first necessity and our greatest difficulty. From the rich, smooth gramma grass table-lands where most of us had built our cabins and staked our hopes for a free American home, we could look miles away down the pine clad canons of the Niobrara. At the bottom of the canons ran splendid, gurgling brooks of clear, cold water. Lazy settlers homesteaded there and built their cabins at the waters' edge, where there was no plow land. The high table homesteaders hauled their water in barrels, sometimes a distance of seven miles, while they broke out their first fields and laid the foundations for a real farm home.
The first experiments at digging wells on the high table were failures. Some dry holes were sunk two hundred feet and abandoned. It was then that Dutch Joe appeared on the horizon. His real name was Joseph Grewe. He was born in Westphalia, Germany, in 1854 , served two years in the German army at Cologne and came to Nebraska. in 1879. He was married in Cuming county in 1881 and homesteaded in Cherry county in June, 1884. He was a sturdy fellow of medium height, with a pleasant smile, firmly set, determined lips, and extraordinary muscular development. He undertook to prove that water could be obtained upon the high tables and dug his first wells down through the hard, dry Niobrara chalk took over two hundred feet to the abundant underflow of pure, cold water beneath.
What a celebration was held when the first Dutch Joe well reached water upon the "German Table." It was for us an epoch making date, like that of the Declaration of Independence. It was a measuring rod by which each settler could calculate the probable cost of securing water upon his own homestead. After that Dutch Joe was in constant demand. Other settlers would break out prairie for him, do his farm work and haul him cedar posts while he dug their wells. In the next seven years he dug over 6,000 feet of wells in the settlement, ranging from 100 to 260 feet in depth. There was no well digging machinery in the region at that time, and the settlers were too poor to import any. Dutch Joe's wells were large, round cylinders,
straight as a gun barrel from the gramma grass roots to the gravel underflow. Some of us who watched him work called him "The Human Badger." I have never seen a man who could strike his spade into the top soil and sink out of sight in such an astonishing short space of time. In a single day he was known to dig a well sixty-five feet deep. What a treasure he would have been upon the Flanders front today!
The Sioux Indian war of 1890 came, the terrible day at Wounded Knee on December 29. Many of the settlers were scared and ready to leave their hard earned homesteads. Joe Grewe persuaded his neighbors to let him go to the seat of war and investigate. When he returned he was able to persuade them that the danger was by, and the settlers stayed by their homes. It is now one of the most prosperous settlements in the sandhill region.
One day in 1894 Joe was called upon to go down to the bottom of the first well he had dug in the settlement and clear out some obstruction. From the bottom of the well he gave the signal to hoist a bucket full of loose rock. When the bucket had almost reached the top it slipped from the steel catch which held it to the rope and falling swiftly 200 feet crushed the head of the German hero of the sandhill settlement. The steel catch was an original invention of Mr. Grewe made by himself and designed to save time by quickly detaching the bucket from the rope for unloading. Many years' service had worn the steel catch, unnoticed, until it was ready for this last act in a frontier tragedy. The family of Joseph Grewe still live in the sandhills region. His children have grown into lives of usefulness, some of them teaching school. Men who risk their lives on fields of battle are justly held as heroes. Those who risk and lose them in the cause of making human homes in what was once a desert are also heroes. Among these I write the name of Joseph Grewe. Let no one who has never dug in the darkness and danger of a deep well dare dispute it. -
A. E. S.

Nebraska State Historical Society


In the area around Valentine, Joseph Grewe a German immigrant was famous for his prowess as a well digger in the 1880's and 1890's. In seven years during that time, he dug more than six thousand feet of wells ranging from one hundred to two hundred and sixty feet in depth. It was claimed that this short, stout man of prodigious strength dug as much as thirty-five feet in a single day, astounding as it may seem. An honest man of skill and courage, Dutch Joe took great pride in his work and would point to a windmill and say: "There's a Joe Grewe well!" and follow it with: "Straight as a gun barrel!"
Every digger was in constant danger that something might drop into the well on him-a careless move by the tender on the rim above might allow a tool to fall in; a weakened rope might break; a faulty ratchet might release and allow the loaded bucket to fall; mis-judgment of the depth by the assistant might allow the rope to play out too rapidly and strike the digger below; or there might be a faulty attachment between the end of the rope and the bucket, for the man at the top had to carry the bucket some distance away from the mouth of the well to empty it.
lt was this last device which was Dutch Joe's nemesis. One day in 1894, he was called back to clear some obstruction from a well he had completed. He loaded a bucket of loose stone at the bottom and gave the signal to hoist it. When it was almost to the top, the bail slipped from the steel catch holding it to the rope, and the loaded bucket dropped to the bottom, killing Joe instantly. He had personally devised the steel catch which saved time by allowing the helper to release the bucket for quick unloading. Many years of use had worn the device, unnoticed by him, and Joe's own invention was the cause of his death.

Family links: 
  Johannes Heinrich Christian Grewe (1833 - 1835)
  Bernardina Kuhlenkamp Grewe (1831 - ____)
  Margaret Elizabeth Schwertley Hoffmann (1859 - 1935)
  Mary Grewe (1882 - ____)*
  Frances Grewe (1883 - 1975)*
  Dora A. Grewe Barnes (1887 - 1984)*
  Emily Grewe (1889 - 1972)*
  Julia J. Grewe Rahn (1891 - 1918)*
  Franz Joseph Grewe (1854 - 1894)
  Anna Maria Grewe (1857 - ____)*
  Wilhelm Grewe (1860 - ____)*
  Johannes Grewe (1862 - ____)*
*Calculated relationship
Note: Death Age: 40 Yrs.
Body lost or destroyed
Specifically: May of not been unable to retrieve his body form the bottom of the water well.
Created by: Our Family History
Record added: Feb 13, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 84934213
Franz Joseph Dutch Joe Grewe
Added by: Our Family History
Franz Joseph Dutch Joe Grewe
Added by: Our Family History
Franz Joseph Dutch Joe Grewe
Added by: Our Family History
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Joseph, Rest in Peace. My Great Grandfather.
- Wayne, Donna, Tonee, Terrence
 Added: Feb. 3, 2013

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