Biography of John Fiock

John Fiock. Behind every fine farm, home and industry of Champaign County lies a story of sacrifice and strenuous personal endeavor. It has required the labors of an army of men and women to make Champaign County what it is today, and this publication performs its greatest service when appropriate credit may be given to those men who effected some share in the transformation.

Doubtless one of the most interesting of these stories of personal struggle and effort is that of Mr. John Fiock of St. Joseph Township. Mr. Fiock was born in Morgan Township of Harrison County, Indiana, March 6, 1847, a son of Charles and Elizabeth (Helfrer) Fiock. His father was born in Germany and his mother in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which city they married. Soon after their marriage they started to find a new home in the wilderness of southern Indiana. When they first located in Harrison County they had two neighbors, ten miles away. Their home was in the woods, and they had to clear the land for the planting of the first few acres. Charles Fiock put in and cultivated his first five-acre crop of corn with a grubbing hoe. In the meantime another neighbor located near by, and together, with the use of such crude implements as they had, they fabricated a wheelbarrow. This was the only vehicle they had to transport their produce and bring back supplies from New Albany, a distance of eighteen miles. On the wheelbarrow they loaded a few chickens and a few dozen eggs, a rope was tied to the wheelbarrow, and one of them pulled and the other pushed until they arrived in town, covering a most rugged stretch of land on the way. Later these two men manufactured by the same toilsome process a wagon. Not a single strip of iron entered into the construction, even the wheels being of wood. Several of the neighbors combined to purchase an old gray mare, and this community asset was a possession of which all were very proud. This old horse drew the wagon back and forth to market. That is one instance of pioneer difficulty, and the entire story would take a long time to tell.

When John Fiock was three weeks old his mother died, and his father subsequently married again, and by both wives had seven children. When John was a school boy the nearest schoolhouse was three miles away and the term was usually three months a year. Thus he had limited opportunities to acquire knowledge of books, but he made the best of them. On Sunday morning the entire family would attend religious services and the afternoons were spent at Sunday school. The boys and girls of the neighborhood up to the age of eighteen would come to the Sunday school barefooted. The girls wore “cornstalk shakers” and they took a good deal of pride in this simple home-made adornment. The Fiock family were devoted members of the German Evangelical Church, and all the children grew up in that faith.

From early boyhood John Fiock had to struggle with poverty and harsh conditions, and though he grew up in a community of wholesome and neighborly people, it was hard work that made existence possible. In 1875 he laid the foundation of his own home by his marriage to Miss Mary Denhart. She was also a native of Harrison County, Indiana, daughter of John and Elizabeth (Zimmerman) Denhart. Her father was a native of Iowa and her mother of Germany. After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Fiock located on forty acres in Blue River Township of Harrison County, having bought that land for $8 an acre. They lived there for ten years. The land was rough and the quality of soil very poor, and after ten years Mr. Fiock found that it was impossible to make a living there.

Seeking the better lands of Illinois, he came to Champaign County and got off the train at St. Joseph August 17, 1875. His entire stock of cash capital consisted of 35 cents. With him came his wife and five children. Fortunate indeed was he in making the acquaintance of Isaac T. Leas, who proved a Lord Bountiful to the Fiock family and vouched for Mr. Fiock when he bought his cook stove and other necessary furniture, and also gave him work and encouraged and helped him in many ways, manifesting the true spirit of brotherly love. For two years Mr. Fiock rented land of Mr. Leas. At the end of that time he began looking around for another place to rent. One day in St. Joseph he saw a bill announcing the sale of seventy-seven acres of unimproved land. Being very anxious to locate in a permanent home, he endeavored to get in touch with the owner of the land. The price fixed for this tract was $26 an acre. Mr. Fiock did not even have the money to buy a postage stamp so that he might write to the land owner at Champaign. In this emergency he gathered some eggs, took them to the village of St. Joseph, and tried to trade them in goods, reserving only 2 cents for a stamp. The merchant refused to give him the 2 cents, but for a man of his spirit and determination he refused to let such a small matter as a postage stamp stand in his way. He then secured what he calls “a cross tie ticket” and walked the entire twelve miles to Champaign. The owner of the land when interviewed refused to rent, but said that he would make it possible for Mr. Fiock to buy the land. The next thing to do was to raise the first payment. Mr. Fiock returned home, sold a colt, and returning to Champaign made his first payment of $60. The agreement was that in thirty clays he must pay $40 more or the contract would be void by afternoon of that day.

At 11 o’clock in the morning on the day the contract expired Mr. Fiock again returned to his old friend and benefactor, Isaac Leas. Finding Mr. Leas at home, he said: “Mr. Leas, if I do not raise $40 I lose my land today.” Mr. Leas was building a fence. He was not a man of many words or of hesitation. “We have not much time,” he said, and sticking his ax into a stump, went at once to the house, told his good wife to prepare lunch and directed Mr. Fiock to grease the buggy. The horse was soon hitched up and they drove at full speed to the office of Mr. Mahan, owner of the land. Already a family was waiting to buy the land and offered $100 more than Mr. Fiock was to pay. Mr. Leas told the agent to write out a check, this was given to Mr. Fiock and he was directed to hand the paper into the window of the bank and he was soon in possession of the coveted $40. The payment was made and the contract secured. This was a red letter day in the history of the Fiock family, and it is not strange that for Mr. Leas’ part in the transaction and for numerous other kindnesses they hold his memory in lasting gratitude.

The following day the Fiocks moved to their new possession and thus entered upon a new and better period of existence. In the Fiock family from the oldest to the youngest the name of Leas is spoken with a reverence that amounts to a benediction. Another incident of this family’s early clays in Champaign County is concerned with their first flock of chickens. It consisted of six hens and a rooster, and Mr. Fiock put in a long day of toil to pay for each fowl. Poultry raising has always been a feature of his farm industry and he and his wife still have a large number of chickens at their home.

The contract for the first purchase of his farm provided that $200 should be paid on the principal every year in addition to the interest, and Mr. Fiock worked strenuously to raise that amount, and when he did not have it all his good neighbors loaned it to him, and thus he gradually paid for the land and bought more besides until he had an estate of 133 acres. For some of this he paid as high as $100 an acre. Those days of toil and struggle have long since passed, and the Fiock family has long enjoyed the fruits of prosperity in this garden spot of Illinois. Their land has been transformed by cultivation, by the planting of many trees, the building of a commodious home and the installation of many comforts and conveniences.

Eleven children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Fiock, and besides the struggle they had in providing a home they deserve the greatest credit for rearing and training this young household to lives of fruitful endeavor and worthy principles. The children were named George, Charles, Lizzie, Eddie, Anna, Mag, Louis, Joseph, Frank, Jacob, who died at the age of two years, and William. These children attended the Argo and Bowers schools. George, a farmer living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, married Viola Gibbink, and their children are Pearl, Earl, Olive, Grace and Mildred. The son Charles married Blanche Mapes, and they have three children, Beulah, Grace and Clyde. Lizzie is the wife of Charles Bartus, and they have a large family, consisting of Gertrude, Clara, John, Russell, Charles, Chester, Floyd, Ernest, Frank, Elmer and Dan. The son Eddie is a machinist at Indianapolis, and by his marriage to Hattie Mohs has two children, Clarence and Earl. Anna married John Brittenham, and their two children are Marie and Charles. Mag is still living at home with her parents. Louis married Leona Swearingen and has two daughters, Neva and Morine. Joseph married Sadie Denhart and has one child, Verbal. Frank married Anna Worley and has a daughter, Gladys. William Fiock, who manages his father’s farm, married Cynthia Worley and has a small son, William Virgil.

From the time these children were born Mr. and Mrs. Fiock carefully studied and worked out the problems involved in their rearing and training and have been splendidly rewarded by the upright and honorable men and women who have gone out from their home to the active responsibilities of the world. While Mr. and Mrs. Fiock were reared as German Evangelical Church members, their children all attend the Christian Church in St. Joseph.

In politics Mr. Fiock is a Democrat, and for thirty years has belonged to the Modern Woodmen of America. He has shown much public spirit as a citizen, has served as road supervisor and has done all he could to carry forward community improvement. They are completely justified in enjoying the fruits of their well spent years, and they are most pleasantly located in a home north of St. Joseph. Mention should be made of a most interesting family heirloom possessed by Mr. Fiock. It is a pocketknife which is more than 200 years old and is still in a good state of preservation. It was hand made in Germany near the River Rhine and was given to Mr. Fiock’s father by Grandfather Fiock. It contains a good solid blade, a small saw, a punch and also an instrument resembling a lance, used for bleeding horses. Mr. Fiock’s father with this implement carved out all the furniture he used when he began housekeeping in the woods of Indiana.

Mr. and Mrs. Fiock believe in getting all the pleasure of life possible, and in the beautiful month of September, 1917, with one of their sons and wife made a 2,000 mile auto trip through Canada, visiting his sisters and relatives at Ridgeway and Stevensville.



Stewart, J. R. A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York. 1918.

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