Katharina Hiebert: Manitoban Pioneer
by Regina Doerksen Neufeld
Katharina Hiebert came from the Bergthal Colony, Imperial Russia.
She was an attractive woman, with dark, brown hair.
In 1875 Katharina married Jakob Hiebert, a widower 22 years
her senior. Jakob's daughter, Helena, was only two years younger
than her stepmother. Helena and Katharina became the best of
Four months after their wedding, Katharina with her husband
and family emigrated to Canada. They settled south of modern-day
Niverville, on Section 18-7-4E, the village of Schantzenburg.
Jakob and Katharina made it through the first bitterly cold
Manitoba winter. Their first crop was devoured by a plague of
grasshoppers. In the fall of 1876 they moved into their new frame
Katharina Hiebert was keenly interested in helping the sick.
Already in her first winter there were desperate demands for
a midwife. To English, French and Mennonites alike, she became
their ray of hope.
Husband Jakob Hiebert was extremely lonely in this wild, mosquito
Katharina was hungry for knowledge---what to do in case of
infections? Broken bones? What herbs were good for what? Katharina
ordered medical books from Germany and Elkhart, Indiana.
Katharina roamed the woods and meadows, collecting herbs---Swedish
bitters, camomile, and thyme. She tried different recipes---some
given her by a Native woman.
Katharina's first baby was born in 1876. In 1878 her second
daughter was born. When stepdaughter Helena, Mrs. Johann Loeppky,
died in childbirth it was heartbreaking. Katharina herself was
nursing her third child---a boy, Peter.
Life had to go on. Almost every day somebody called for Katharina.
She took her own babies along in the early years of midwifery.
Katharina visited many homes where she felt their misery and
poverty. She became aggressive in advising and instructing---boldly
correcting men who were abusive to their wives.
On one occasion the wife had just delivered her baby. The
husband opened the door and brought in the cow, demanding she
milk it. Katharina told him where to go! Katharina gave the wife
instructions to rest in bed and made sure her husband was present
at the time.
When she went to a poverty stricken home she took sheets,
baby blankets, extra clothes and even food.
In one case, twins were to be born---the babies were in a
twisted position. No doctors were available. Katharina did not
hesitate to go to her "Higher Help." She stepped into
the winter night and cried to God for help! When she came back,
God had performed the impossible. The babies were born without
A neighbour, Peter Kehler, recalled many times that an anxious
father galloped up the driveway. The next sight was Katharina
roaring down the road in her buggy, sitting in the middle of
the seat to balance it out, urging her greys to move faster.
The soon-to-be father was left to fend for himself.
Day and night, summer and winter, she was called from home,
tending the sick. She never charged for her services.
In those early pioneer years epidemics were a constant scourge,
diphtheria and typhoid were deadly killers.
Tragically Katharina developed breast cancer. Her entire breast
was a big open sore.
Her husband was determined not to lose her. He brought here
to a Native woman, famous for her healing power. Poultices made
from herbs and bark were applied. The treatments were successful.
Katharina's husband passed away in 1906 when she was only
51 years old. She was extremely busy as a midwife. She died in
This article was first published in a commemorative special
insert in the Winnipeg Free Press, July 24, 1999, and was prepared
by the Steinbach Hanover Historical Society and the Mannitoba
Mennonite Historical Society. Reprinted with permission.
Regina Doerksen Neufeld, a granddaughter of
Katharina Hiebert, is a retired teacher from Niverville, Manitoba.
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, July 2000