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  • Barbra Jotzke-Torrier

Historic Brutsche Log Cabin

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

Matt, Michael, and Bob Brutsche in front of their ancestral log cabin.

This Friday, Robert Brutsche and his sons, Matt and Michael, drove from Seattle, WA to Coon Rapids, Iowa, to visit their family’s former dwelling at Whiterock Conservancy.

Brutsche and his sons traveled 1700 miles across the country to visit the historic Brutsche Log Cabin, where Brutsche’s father and family lived during the Great Depression.

Leo Channing Brutsche lived in the log cabin during the 1920s, along with his five siblings and his parents. The family, like many others during the Great Depression, hit hard financial times during these years. With only a few dollars to their name, they were forced to leave town if they wanted to survive.

They made the decision to move into the woods, where they could grow crops, livestock, and live off the land. Using the area’s natural resources, the family constructed a cabin still standing 100 years later.

“The black walnut trees around here, I’ll bet you those trees were here when my dad was here,” Brutsche said. “They’re old.”

Brutsche said the whole log house was constructed by his father’s father, using trees on the land to build a two story house to support his family. While the cabin was later expanded, the initial small building was all the Brutsche family had to their name for many years.

“They raised goats, chickens, eggs. That’s what they did, and they survived about two, three years out here,” Brutsche said.

Brutsche said the family used to grow corn, which they would sell or eat, and then use the remaining cobs as kindling for fire. They used resourcefulness to carry their family through difficult financial times and eventually became the successful and wealthy family they are today.

Brutsche and his sons said they have visited the cabin before with their great uncle Jack, one of the children to grow up in the house. Jack told stories of bartering animal meat for money in order to make ends meet.

They would trap prairie dogs, ground squirrels, or whatever small mammals they could find. The local hardware store would then purchase the animals, a nickel a piece.

“The way they kept track of them is they cut their tails off, and took their tails in,” Brutsche said. “Jack would say ‘we’d take those tails and cut them into three,’ so they got 15 cents for one.”

Brutsche shared how his family used to mine for coal on the land as well. There were coal mines located near the log cabin, so the family would work the mines as another way of making money.

They put pointed sticks in the ground, then set small charges to collapse the ceilings of the mines. When the ceilings caved in, they would hit the sticks, which would break up the coal to be hauled out.

“Talk about dangerous,” Brutsche said. “I said ‘well, how many got killed in that situation?’”

Though he was not born during the time his father lived in the ancestral cabin, Brutsche said he has many memories of visiting the property with his family.

“There was a road coming up from back here, and my dad’s old car wouldn’t make it up going forward,” Brutsche said. “We had to run it up backwards. I remember that, back in about 1961 or 62.”

The family also underwent change during the 1940s, when World War II began. Specifically, the change in the pronunciation of the Brutsche name.

“Well BROO-chee is our name,” Matt Brutsche said. “But in World War II, we didn’t want to be frowned upon, so we changed it to broo-SHAY to make it sound French. But with German spelling.”

Brutsche said the change was necessary, for obvious reasons, and was not uncommon for a German family at the time. Consequently, their family tree seemingly split, with two sets of generations carrying different pronunciations of the last name.

During their visit, the Brutsche men stayed at one of Whiterock’s campgrounds, and took a tour of the rest of the property their family once called home.

Whiterock is proud to be part of preserving and protecting a piece of the Brutsche family’s history, and we hope to build them a legacy as strong as their immemorial cabin.

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