One-Armed Saw Miller

You will read the story today of a man who certainly did not have an easy life. This man would also be celebrating his birthday today if he was still alive.

Theodore Friedrich Blanken was born 149 years ago on January 4, 1874. Theodore was the son of Herman and Emilie (Pfau) Blanken. He was baptized at Concordia Lutheran Church in Frohna. We can take a look at his baptism record from that church’s books.

Theodore Blanken baptism record – Concordia, Frohna, MO

Theodore is found in the Missouri state census that was taken in 1876 when he was 2 years old. He was the first and only son born into this Blanken family.

1876 MO state census – Brazeau Township, MO

Theodore’s father died in 1877 when he was just 3 years old. I was unable to find Theodore and his mother in the 1880 census. I discovered that I had to be careful. There were 2 Herman Blanken’s, and one of them can be found in the 1880 Union Township census pages that are not found on However, that was the other Herman Blanken. Plus, Theodore’s father would not be found in the 1880 census because he had died prior to that census. The next census in which I found Theodore was the one taken in 1900. In the entry shown below, we find Theodore living in the John Hellwege household. He was a 26 year-old farm laborer.

1900 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Theodore’s mother, Emilie, had married John Wedig in 1885, and that couple was living in the St. Charles County in the 1900 census. I found a Theodore Blanken in a 1904 St. Louis city directory, and he was described as a student at Concordia Seminary.

Theodore Blanken – 1904 St. Louis city directory

I find that Theodore attending the Seminary is both possible and puzzling. First of all, he was a young man from a staunch Lutheran community and could very understandably have felt moved to serve the church. However, I have to wonder how a young man of little means with no parents nearby could afford to attend the Seminary. It is possible that Concordia Lutheran Church had a hand in supporting his efforts to become a pastor. I am about to discuss Theodore’s marriage which took place in 1903, before the above document was produced. Many such directories that I have observed in my research have included a wife’s name in parentheses. This entry does not, but as I looked at this particular directory, almost all the people listed were males. Only a few females can be found, and some of those are called widows. I think this particular year’s directory didn’t include wives. I cannot say for sure if this is indeed the Theodore Blanken from Perry County, but it is possible.

Let’s take a look at the woman who became Theodore’s bride. Her name was Clara Mathilde Tanz who was born on September 23, 1879. Mathilde was the daughter of Herman and Margaretha (Blanken) Tanz. This gets very confusing. Mathilde’s mother was the sister of the other Herman Blanken. Both Herman Blanken’s had fathers name Johann. Plus, Mathilde’s father was also named Herman, and she had a brother named Herman. It got my head spinning trying to keep it all straight. Mathilde was baptized at Grace Lutheran Church in Uniontown. Her baptism record is displayed below.

Mathilde Tanz baptism record – Grace, Uniontown, MO

Mathilde is found in the long-lost 1880 Union Township census pages at the age of 6 months. For some unknown reason, she is called Helen F., but I am certain that this the correct Tanz family.

1880 census – Union Township, MO

Mathilde is next found in the 1900 census at the age of 20. She was still living with her parents, and the Tanz family had gotten considerably larger.

1900 census – Union Township, MO

On September 24, 1903, Theodore Blanken married Mathilde Tanz at Grace Lutheran Church in Uniontown. The church record for that wedding is pictured here. Theodore is called a farmer from Frohna, which does not contribute to the idea that he was going to be studying to be a pastor a year later, but it does not make it impossible.

Blanken/Tanz marriage record – Grace, Uniontown, MO

We can also view the marriage license for this couple.

Blanken/Tanz marriage license

Our German Family Tree lists 3 children born to this pair. All 3 of them were baptized at Concordia Lutheran Church in Frohna. The first one was born in July of 1904, the same year that the St. Louis city directory says a Theodore Blanken was attending the Seminary. If he was attending the Seminary, would he have brought his baby to Frohna to be baptized? The 1910 census lists all 3 of their children. The family was living in the Brazeau Township, so if he was the student at the Seminary, he did not become a pastor. Theodore was an engineer for a threshing machine. Mathilde is called Clara M. in this entry, and there is another Clara F. Tanz in their household called a servant. That was Mathilde’s younger sister, Clara Frieda.

1910 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Below is a photo of a threshing machine that was first shown in a previous post.

Threshing machine

A tragic event took place in 1910. Theodore got his arm caught in a corn shredder, and this necessitated him having a portion of his arm amputated. An article was published in the Perry County Republican describing this horrific event. I cringe even thinking about it.

Theodore Blanken – PCR article 1910

Another tragedy took place during that decade. In May of 1918, Mathilde had a bout of appendicitis, and the operation that was performed was not completely successful and led to her death. She was just 38 years old. Her death certificate is pictured here. Dr. Schoen, who had participated in Theodore’s amputation, is the doctor who signed this death certificate.

Mathilde Blanken death certificate

An article appeared in the Perry County Republican telling of Mathilde’s death.

Mathilde Blanken – PCR article 1918

Mathilde was buried in the Concordia Lutheran Cemetery in Frohna. A marker was placed in that cemetery for her.

Mathilda Blanken grave marker – Concordia, Frohna, MO

Just a few months after his wife’s death, Theodore had a World War I draft registration completed. This form says Theodore had lost his right hand up to his elbow. Since Mathilde had died, his oldest daughter, Bertha is listed as his nearest relative.

Theodore Blanken – WWI draft registration

When the 1920 census was taken, we find the Blanken household shown here. Theodore’s 3 children were living with him. He was called a saw miller, and it says he was on his “own account”, which I think means he was his own boss.

1920 census – Brazeau Township, MO

There were two varieties of saw mills. One was a stationary one with a building in which the saws operated. The logs were brought to the mill to be made into lumber. The other variety was a mobile saw mill. That type consisted of a saw mill that was transported to where a project was located that required lumber. Trees would be felled and then sawn into boards where the building was being done. I think this was likely the type that Theodore used. I am placing a small gallery of photos that have appeared on this blog before showing two mobile sawmills and one that was located in a building.

As you can see with either type of sawmill, it required a team of individuals to operate them. Theodore, with just one arm, would rely on others to assist him in this business.

The 1930 census shows just one son living with Theodore. Theodore was still working at a sawmill.

1930 census – Brazeau Tonwship, MO

Theodore was in his 60’s when the 1940 census was taken. He was living with Joe Kaempfe and his wife in Perryville. Theodore had no occupation listed.

1940 census – Perryville, MO

Theodore Blanken died in 1950 at the age of 76. I think he died before the census was taken that year because I was unable to locate an entry for him. He was living in St. Louis at the time of his death. His death certificate says he was a retired saw mill operator. He died at the City Infirmary and was buried at the Concordia Lutheran Cemetery in St. Louis. He has an entry on that cemetery’s site on, but there is no gravestone photo.

Theodore Blanken death certificate

There is a story that has been told in my family. My father, along with my Uncle Rudy Schmidt and Uncle Howard Voss, were all working at Emerson Electric in St. Louis and were either on strike or they were temporarily laid off. During that time, my Uncle Ossie Schlimpert was having a new house built in the Seelitz area of East Perry County. These three men came down here to assist in that building. I know part of that story involved them helping with producing the lumber for that house. I am thinking that the sawmill for that project was one of the mobile ones like Theodore Blanken may have owned and operated. This is one of those times when I would like to still have my dad around to ask him for more details about that story.

Theodore Blanken experienced plenty of hardship in his life. He lost a few family members when they were quite young and spent much of his life having to operate with just one hand and arm. Yet, the evidence shows that these difficulties did not cause him to give up on his ambitions. It even looks like he got involved in the saw milling business after that terrible event that led to the loss of his arm. I find it inspiring when I hear stories about individuals who persevere after suffering loss. Theodore Blanken continued to be a productive part of his community even after suffering some pretty devastating losses.

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