Portraits

Charles J. Reif

Charles J. Reif was actually born Johann Friedrich Karl Reif on 25 October 1839 in Markröhlitz, Saxony, Germany. He was the fifth of at least ten children born to Johann Friedrich Reif and Johanna Friederike Leitiger there. The family immigrated to the US in October 1846 and seem to have come directly to Wisconsin after coming through Castle Garden, New York. The youngest child, Frank, was born in Wisconsin in 1848.

Baptism entry for Johann Friedrich Karl Reif in Markröhlitz 1839
from the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, WI
12 May 1860, Saturday, page 1

Charles grew up in Oshkosh and married an English girl named Ruth “Jennie” Sparkes in 1864. I cannot locate his name on any of the rolls for Civil War service or enlistment. My guess is that due to a serious accident in 1860 at the saw mill he was working in, he would have been ineligible for service. Charles continued to work in the mills, making the papers a few times for various injuries. He also served as a fireman for the city of Oshkosh.

Charley, as he was referred to in the newspapers, was something of a character. He was associated with voter fraud in Oshkosh in 1876, but he climbed the ranks in the Fire Department to become first assistant engineer by 1880. It was in his role as fireman that Charles would end up being recognized and remembered by the citizens of Oshkosh. Charles was involved in a law suit against a wealthy lumberman from Oshkosh after a hotel fire in December 1880. His name and that of the defendant was in the newspaper regularly for months (and intermittently for years).

from the Oshkosh Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI
28 October 1915, Thursday, page 3

Charles and Jennie had seven children and lived and worked in Oshkosh all their lives. Jennie died in 1900 leaving Charles a widower with six children ranging in age from 33 to just 6 years old. Charles worked for the Hollister & Amos Lumber Company in his later years and died suddenly of a heart attack on 27 October 1915. He and Jennie are buried in Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh. (His obituary and headstone both incorrectly state his birth as 1842.)

The story of Charles and his lawsuit will be published weekly starting in February 2020. It is a fascinating case. I thought when I began researching the case that it would take two to three posts to tell the story, but it began to unfold into a much larger picture once I dug in. I hope you will take the time to check it out!