John grew up in Hobscheid, helping his father on the farm. At age 15 he was apprenticed to a stonecutter. By the time his parents decided to emigrate to the United States in 1853, 20-year-old John was already a craftsman, with five years experience in the art of stonecutting.
On reaching Wisconsin in December of 1853, John was ready to strike out on his own. During that first winter he cut logs for the sawmill in Port Washington. When summer came he moved to Chicago. Arriving in the big city nearly broke, John simply donned a pair of splashed white pants, obtained a trowel and mortar board, and became a mason. He repeated this process for the next couple of years: logging in the winter, masonry work during the summer.
By early 1857 John had worked his way to Dubuque, Iowa. There he met a young woman from Luxemburg named Anne Marie (Catherine) Peters. The two were married on 27 October 1857 at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Dubuque.
Anne Marie had been born on 10 August 1838 in the town of Harlange, Luxemburg, about 60 miles north of Hobscheid. She was the oldest child of Michel Peters (b. 13 June 1804) and Catherine Schmitz (b. 21 October 1812). Anne Marie grew up in Harlange, where she helped her mother around the house. In 1843 her brother William was born, four years later her sister Catherine, and in 1853 another brother named Michael.
By the time she was a teenager, Anne Marie had begun calling herself"Anne Catherine" or simply "Catherine." At the age of 19 -for reasons known only to herself- this self-named "Anne Catherine" decided to leave her family behind and emigrate to the United States. At the time of her emigration, her father was 53, her mother 45, William 14, Catherine 10 and Michael 4.
In April of 1857, Anne Catherine sailed from Antwerp aboard the E C Scranton. When the boat docked in New York City on 22 May 1857, Anne Catherine traveled overland to Dubuque, Iowa. Five months later she was married to 23-year-old John Wernimont.
The newly-married Wemimonts settled down in Dubuque (just two houses down from John's parents, Nicholas and Anne Marie), where John was already engaged is masonry work - building house foundations and chimneys, no doubt, and engaging in his craft of stonecutting. Their first daughter, Anne Mary, was born on 9 December 1858. She lived only one month.
In the spring of 1859, John was smitten with gold fever. It was the year of the great Pikes Peak Gold Rush, and hundreds of thousands of young men were rushing off to the Rocky Mountains in search of gold. John's granddaughter, Clara Reiling, later wrote in her family diary that "After their marriage he went walking with a party of Gold Seekers from Dubuque to Pikes Peak, Colorado. Most of the men died on the way. John Wernimont came back alive to Dubuque without any gold."
Some family members question the accuracy of this passage from Clara's diary, noting that the trip to Colorado would have taken John Wemimont at least six weeks each way. Since his wife, Anne Catherine, became pregnant with their first son about the 1 st of June, 1859, John was obviously in Dubuque at that time. Either he joined the gold rush after that date, or - like most gold seekers -he set out in early spring, but was back in Dubuque by the beginning of June.
Until the name of John Wernimont is found in some 1859 newspaper account or in some gold seeker's diary or letter home, the truth of the matter may never be known. But it is likely that John and his companions from Dubuque never made it as far as Colorado. It has been estimated that as many as 100,000 to 150,000 gold seekers started for the gold fields during the great Pikes Peak Gold Rush. Of these perhaps one third turned around before even catching sight of the mountains. Another third stayed but a few days, just long enough to satisfy themselves that the rumored gold fields were nothing but a humbug, before stampeding back to their homes. John Wemimont and his companions were probably numbered among the stampeders. On reaching western Iowa or perhaps eastern Nebraska Territory, they probably heard bad news about the mines, turned around, and joined the growing throng rushing back eastward to their homes.
On his return to Dubuque, John Wernimont went back to his chosen trade. He received his final papers for U.S. citizenship in Dubuque District Court on 11 October 1859. In August of 1860 he was listed in U.S Census as Chas. Vallemind, age 26, a day laborer. Living with him was his wife, Anna, age 23, and their son, Nicholas, 3 months. Also in the same household was John's younger brother Henry, age 19, a day laborer.
John and Anne Catherine continued to live in the Dubuque area throughout the 1860's. John worked in town, but also seems to have dug some wells and done some farm work near the town of Fillmore, south of Dubuque. Anne Catherine gave birth to fourteen children between the years 1858-1881. Six of them died very young. The children were:
1- Anna Mary (1858-1859).
2- Nicholas (1860-1930).
3- Margaret (1861-1862).
4- Henry (1862-1863).
5- John (1864-1864).
6-Mary Teresa (1866-1945).
7- William (1868-1949).
8- Wendelin (1869-1953).
9- Lena-Helen (1871-1965).
10- John (1873-1878).
11- Theodore (1875-1943).
12- Anna (1877-1956).
13- Clara (1879-1880).
14- John (1881-1956).
In the early 1870's, The Wernimonts decided on a move to western Iowa. For $737.60 they bought a 160-acre farm in Kniest Township, Carroll County, from the Iowa Railroad Land Company. This farm was listed in a 1875 Iowa-sponsored census as having thirty-five acres of spring wheat, twelve acres of Indian corn, five acres of oats, five acres of flax, and one acre of barley. The harvest that year included fourteen tons of wild grass hay, forty bushels of beets, twenty-five bushels of potatoes, five bushels of turnips, and one bushel of peas and beans. Animals on the farm included twelve hogs, five beef cattle, two milk cows, one mule, and one dog.
Throughout the 1880's, the Wernimonts continued to add to their Kniest Township holdings. They purchased 120 acres from the American Emigrant Company for $1,200 in 1884. Four years later, they bought two parcels totaling 120 acres from the Iowa Railroad Land Company for $852.92.
By the late 1880's, John and Anne Catherine were once again on the move. After transferring their Iowa land holdings to three of their children, they went to a rented farm in Nobles County, Minnesota, near the town of Worthington. In the spring of 1892, they bought their own 74-acre farm in the same area for $1,200, then - six years later - a neighboring 150 acres for $2,250.
Shortly after this second purchase, however, John's failing health forced a return to Carroll County, Iowa. John died there on 12 September 1899. He was 66 years old.
Anne Catherine survived her husband by six years. She died at the home of her daughter, Lena, on 13 October 1905. She was buried beside her husband, John, at St. Bernard Cemetery in Breda, Iowa.