There are so many family stories about John Burgraff (1858-1921) that it was initially very difficult to figure out what to think of him.
When someone dies, it becomes normal for people to follow the old adage, “Don’t speak ill of the dead.” Many people are elevated to near sainthood by those left behind. When I started asking about John, this appeared to be where the stories were. John was a hard working farmer. John was a smart guy that understood the idea of investing in land. John was a man that appreciated technology. John provided well for his family and they had nice houses and good barns. John was always ready to help a neighbor.
While no doubt all of this is true – it is not the whole picture of a complex man. There were some comments that probably paint a more realistic picture. One comment attributed to John’s son William was, “If you’re dealing with my father, keep your hand on your wallet.” When I commented on the move the family made to a larger farm, Sadie told me, “The older the boys got, the more land Dad bought. He didn’t work it – that’s what he had the boys for.” The general impression was that he liked to own it, but he didn’t necessarily want to be the worker bee.
People spoke frankly about John when asked and sometimes the information was simply amazing. I have not quoted directly here to protect the speakers – no one wanted their name with this information. There were several comments about John and a fondness for women and more than one person said that Mary must have been a saint to put up with his wandering eye.
His business dealings were another source of speculation. The comment above attributed to William was hardly the only comment about John’s deals. He apparently spent a lot of time looking at and speculating on land. When Little Arrie was killed he was away looking at property. He seemed to constantly be seeking new land and new deals according to the many people I spoke with. He appears to have desired to be the big fish in the small pond. I have no doubt that if there had been a country club with golf, John Burgraff would have been a charter member.
The one thing that everyone agreed upon was that he was good at business and knew the art of the deal.
John may have been a speculator and a wheeler-dealer, but he was also a man that loved to have large family gatherings, shared with his family and friends when they were in need, loved to dance, and sang to his children.
No one is either all good or all bad – they are just people.
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