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Nebraska, of all our states, contains the largest number of Czech farmers of the first generation (born in Europe), or one-fifth of all who live in the United States. This is in accordance with the report of the Immigration Commission. One of the results of the World War (1914--1918) is the Czechoslovak Republic. Of late years Bohemians are being called, more and more, Czechs. (Checkh is the way it sounds in their language). However, to call a Bohemian a Czechoslovak is misleading, the Slovaks being another branch of Slavs. Bohemians are Czechs of Czechoslovakia. Moravians are practically Czechs, so we class them with the latter. At the present time there are almost no other inhabitants of Czechoslovakia living in our state except probably a few Slovaks in Omaha.
When immigrants from Bohemia and Moravia came to Nebraska, and for many years prior thereto, these countries were a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Geographically they formed the northwestern corner of it, being bounded by Saxony on the northwest, Bavaria on the southwest, Prussian Silesia on the northeast, Austria and Hungary on the south and east. The World War changed these boundaries, just as it changed the former crownlands of Bohemia (Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia) into a portion of the Czechoslovak Republic. This Republic now comprises Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Ruthenia and a portion of Silesia. It is bounded on the northwest by Saxony, on the southwest by Bavaria, on the south by Austria and Hungary, on the northeast by Poland and on the east by Roumania.
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In the first century B. C. a Celtic people called Boii settled in Bohemia. They were compelled by the Germans to emigrate and Bohemia was then occupied by the warlike tribe of Marcomanni, who moved westward at the time of the great migration of nations. The Slavic immigrants appeared in the sixth century and called themselves Czechs (Cechs) because their leader was so named (Cech). Therefore the name Bohemia, given to that country by Latin historians, is antiquated and geographically and racially incorrect, for it is derived from the name of a Celtic people. Besides, in more modern times, the word Bohemian is used also to describe artist life in its irresponsible and even immoral phases. It has its origin in the French word boheme (gypsy) and uninformed people even look upon Bohemians (Czechs) as possible gypsies. So for one reason and the other, Bohemians prefer to be called Czechs. For a brief period Bohemia formed a part of the great Moravian realm under Svatopluk. The Moravians, also a Slavic people, took their name from the river Morava, the largest river in Moravia. Svatopluk's rule (870--894) was followed by onslaughts of the Hungarians (Maygars) who devastated the country and from 1029 Moravia was united with Bohemia, either as an integral part of that realm, or as a fief ruled by margraves. In 1526 Moravia, with all the other Bohemian lands passed under the rule of the House of Hapsburg.
By the close of the ninth century the princes who ruled the Czechs had been converted to Christianity, mainly introduced by the Germans, while the Moravians were converted by the apostles Cyril and Methodius of the Eastern Church. In the tenth century Bohemia was under the rule of the dukes of Premysl, who acknowledged the overlordship of the kings of Germany. These dukes or princes elevated themselves into the rank of kings by the close of the twelfth century and were thus recognized by the German sovereigns, their state forming part of the Holy Roman Empire of the Germans. Under King Otokar II (1253--1278) Bohemia for a brief period was one of the most powerful realms of Europe. His sway extended from the river Elbe to the shores of the Adriatic. His son Vaclav (Wenceslaus) II became also King of Poland. The Premysl dynasty ended in 1306, with the death of Vaclav III and from that date to 1439 the house of Luxemburg was in power. During this time the Hussite movement began and a large part of the succeeding history is concerned with religious struggle, as described in the chapter on religion. In 1620 Bohemia and Moravia became vassals of the Hapsburgs and remained under their rule until October 28, 1918, when the Czechoslovak Republic was born.
As stated in the chapter on religion, few countries have been so torn by religious wars. Bohemia was a bloody battle-ground in the Thirty Years' War, which ended where it began, in Prague. It is estimated that the population of about 3,000,000 was reduced to 800,000, and the civilization of that country suffered a blow from which it never fully recovered. And that civilization was of no small importance, for as early as 1348 the University of Prague was founded, at a time when universities existed only in England, France and Italy. It was one of the greatest seats of learning in all Europe and its founding was followed by a Golden Age of Czech literature.
Bohemia suffered greatly from wars once more when her area again became a chief battleground, this time in the struggle between Empress Maria Theresa and Frederick the Great, who succeeded in despoiling the kingdom of much of its dependent territory. The political revolution of 1848 improved the condition of Czechs somewhat, but they were never fully reconciled until their country was freed from the yoke of an alien and despotic government.
The first president of the new republic is Thomas Garrigue Masaryk and the first prime minister Edward Benes. Both are still in office and both are accounted among the ablest statesmen of Europe. Under their guidance the Czechoslovak Republic is rapidly assuming a prosperous condition and an important position among the countries of Europe.
Bohemia and Moravia are rich agriculturally, although their industries are many and varied. However, it may be said that the people inclined towards farming are in the majority, but the country is densely populated. This fact and another, -- Austro-Hungarian militarism and despotism, which the democratic and peace-loving Czechs detested -- were the two chief factors why so many emigrated to this country.
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As to the number of Czechs in Nebraska, the census of 1920 says there are 15,818 persons, men and women, born in Czechoslovakia, living here, or 51,000, including the first American-born generation. However, some Czechs are enrolled as Austrians. Miss Sarka Hrbkova, in her article "Bohemians in Nebraska", (published in Volume 19 of the Nebraska State Historical Society's publications) says: "Of the 539,392 Bohemians according to the census of 1910 it is probably safe to say that one-eighth reside in Nebraska." That would mean 67,676. Dr. John A. Habenicht, who at one time lived in Nebraska, wrote a history of Bohemians in the United States (Nebraska included of course),which history was published in 1904. He computed the population at about 57,000. Dr. Habenicht's distribution, as to counties, practically holds good today, there having been no marked changes. It is possible that there are more Bohemians in some counties and less in others. If the exact number could have been reached, the effort would have been made. However, the correct figures would be given from certain counties, incorrect from others, and none at all, no response, had from still others. Dr. Habenicht's distribution is as follows:
Families Boyd County 200 Box Butte County 200 Buffalo County 120 Butler County 1060 Cass County 100 Chase County 100 Cheyenne County 100 Clay County 100 Colfax County 1100 Cuming County 200 Custer County 200 Dawes County 100 Dodge County 160 Douglas County 2000 Fillmore County 375 Gage County 200 Hayes County 100 Holt County 140 Howard County 230 Keya Paha County 100 Knox County 800 Lancaster County 125 Madison County 150 Pawnee County 190 Pierce County 100 Richardson County 200 Saline County 1300 Saunders County 850 Sheridan County 100 Sherman County 50 Valley County 240 _____ 10990 Scattering 500 _____ 11490 families,
which, multiplied by five, as an average, makes 57,450. Dr. Habenicht does not take into consideration the settlements in Franklin, Garfield, Jefferson, Johnson, Platte, Red Willow, Seward, Stanton, Thayer and Webster Counties, which brings the figure to 60,000 or more. Czechs are found all over the state, in and about ninety rural communities and Omaha.
At the time our state was being settled by Czechs, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota (to name but a few states in the same section) also were open to settlers. Why then, did they come to Nebraska in such large numbers? Several forces combined to bring this about. One was the homestead law, the principal cause. A settler in Nebraska in 1854 could take 160 acres and after living on it six months, buy it from the United States for $1.25 an acre. This was called pre-emption. In 1862 the free homestead law was passed and went into effect in 1863. Under this law a settler could take 160 acres for but $14.00 filing fee, and have it free by living upon it five years. In 1873 the timber claim act was passed. Under it a settler could get 160 acres by planting 10 acres of it to trees and taking care of them for eight years. All three of these laws were in force from 1873 to 1891, and under them a settler could in a few years get 480 acres of land. Another reason was that Czechs are, in the main, an agricultural people and Czechoslovakia, like all old-world countries, is overpopulated, so its soil-loving but soil-starved inhabitants flocked to our shores in quest of fertile, virgin land. This applies to those who came to the middle west. The first Czech rural settlements in this country were formed in Wisconsin and the next in Iowa (as to the middle west) and the first Nebraska pioneers came from either of those states. They were followed by friends and relatives in this and the mother country.
Czech newspapers were a great force in aiding immigrants to find new homes. These papers in those days (and some have yet) had a department devoted to communications from subscribers, and such communications often dealt with the subject of good locations. Their importance, as a lever, can easily be appreciated, when we consider that their readers knew little or no English. The history of the counties most heavily settled by Czechs shows that they began coming here between 1865 and 1880. Prior to 1871 there was no Czech paper here and the leading journal was the weekly Slavie, Racine, Wisconsin, published by Charles Jonas (Jonas), considered the most distinguished Czech-American of his day and likened, for that reason, to Carl Schurz, the most eminent German-American. The first pioneers wrote letters to friends, or for publication in the Slavie, for the purpose of attracting others, and it was but natural that immigrants, not knowing English, placed utmost reliance in their own people and readily followed them into newly-established colonies. Colonization clubs also were formed. The one in Chicago, in the late sixties, was called "Ceska Osada" (Czech Colony) and numbered over five hundred members. In the early seventies a club of this kind existed in Omaha, called "Slovania" with Fr. B. Zdrubek (then editor of Pokrok Zapadu) president and V. L. Vodicka, secretary. The object of both clubs was to find land for settlement, through investigating committees.
In 1871 Edward Rosewater founded a Czech paper in Omaha, the Pokrok Zapadu (Progress of the West), although at first it was more in the nature of a land advertising sheet. It was supported by the Burlington and Missouri and Union Pacific railroad companies and the reading matter was arranged by V. L. Vodicka. The paper was set up in Iowa City, Iowa, where the Czech weekly Slovan Americky was being published by John Barta Letovsky, and mailed (free) out of Omaha to whatever addresses of prospective settlers could be gathered. It may be mentioned here that a German paper "Beobachter am Missouri" was published under the same circumstances. In October 1872 Mr. Joseph Michal (born in Lhota, near Nakri, May 5, 1847, came to La Crosse, Wis. in 1867, to Omaha in 1872 and in 1926 still living, one of the band of mail carriers when Omaha had but eight) began to work as compositor on the Beobachter. He ordered the first Czech type and a Miss Otradovsky of Racine, Wis. was first compositor, Mr. Michal editing the paper (Pokrok Zapadu). It was then published once in two weeks and sent free. In 1872 the Czech paper "Amerikan"' (American) of Racine, Wis. was sold to the Pokrok Zapadu and until August 13, 1873, the paper was called "Pokrok Zapadu a Amerikan". (Progress Of The West And American) then changed again to Pokrok Zapadu. About 1874 it was changed to a weekly and the subscription price set at $1.00 per year, by which time it contained eight pages. Mr. Michal was succeeded as editor by a Mr. Prazak, son of a rabbi from County Plzen, Bohemia, who, however, could not write Czech well and was editor also of the Beobachter. He was succeeded by Vaclav Snajdr, who later for many years published a Czech weekly "Den nice Novoveku" in Cleveland, O. Snajdr was succeeded by F. B. Zdrubek, in 1873, later for many years editor of the Chicago daily Svornost. In 1875 Joseph Novinsky took charge. By this time the railroad companies had withdrawn their support and Rosewater desired to sell the paper. In March 1876 John Rosicky became editor and in 1877 bought the paper. The early history of the Pokrok Zapadu is given here in some detail, because it undoubtedly was a very great aid in bringing many Czechs to Nebraska.
Edward Rosewater was a Czech Jew, born in Bukovany, Bohemia, in 1841, died in Omaha, 1906. He came to this country in 1854 and to Omaha in 1863, its first permanent inhabitant of Bohemian birth. His efforts and foresight in helping to get immigrants who have had a valuable part in building up the state deserve due credit, for while he could not edit the paper, he bore the burden of finding men to do it. His name is permanently enrolled in the history of our state as one of its founders.
John Rosicky, who published and edited the Pokrok Zapadu until 1900, made it so forceful a journal that for many years after people still associated his name with it. He was born in Humpolec, Bohemia, December 17, 1845 and died in Omaha, April 2, 1910. He possessed the qualities of leadership and he loved his people. In those years of homesteads and cheap railroad lands, he vigorously urged his countrymen, week in and week out, to take advantage of those opportunities. He counselled and helped them in every way he could, not only about settling on farms, but also directing those who wanted to establish mercantile or artisan careers in newly-formed towns. This he did personally or through his paper and thus came into contact with so many that Mr. Thomas Capek, of New York City, an eminent authority on Czech history and social conditions in this country, says in his book "Fifty Years of Czech Letters in America": "John Rosicky was the best known Czech in the northwest. He deserves great credit for Nebraska being so largely Czech, for he devoted his most productive years to that state." The beautiful monument, standing on a knoll near the entrance to the Bohemian National Cemetery in Omaha, bought by subscription and dedicated to him by his people of the middle west, is their lasting tribute to his memory.
Vaclav L. Vodicka (born in Techonice, Bohemia, September 14,1844, died in Omaha, March 15, 1917) came to Omaha in 1868. From 1877 to 1885 he was a land agent for the Burlington & Missouri Railroad Company. By that time most of the good homesteads had been taken and railroad lands were the next best thing. The Burlington offered special inducements to immigrants, for people did not like to settle far away from the Missouri river. Settlers on this company's land were refunded freight charges paid on immigrant movables and passenger fares paid for their families. Besides that, a discount of twenty percent was given on the first payment applied on the principal. This discount, called a "premium for improvements" was allowed purchasers who broke up a certain portion of the land within two years from date of purchase and continued its cultivation until the premium had been applied. It paid all of the first installment of the principal due in four years from purchase, and a part of the second installment due in five years from date of purchase. No other railroad company in Nebraska offered any special inducements. What wonder then that Mr. Vodicka, who was of irreproachable honesty, who was one of them and spoke their language, in whom they had the utmost faith, helped to settle many Czechs and established several colonies?
When a colony was effected, even though it consisted of a mere handful of pioneers, its numbers were soon augmented by friends and relatives, in this and the mother country. Personal letters and communications published in Czech papers, plus the attraction of cheap, good lands, produced a veritable influx all through the seventies. Mr. F. J. Sadilek, Wilber, Nebraska, a pioneer and competent authority, estimates that up to 1880 fully three-fourths of the entire number of Czech immigrants came to our state. Few had the means to pay even the moderate prices asked, but they were eager to brave severe hardships in a strange, unsettled country, and toiled and suffered to gain their heart's desire. Not all had been farmers by calling. A large percentage had previously had various trades, but they saw a better future on farms. However, their trade was often a help to them and others, for mechanics and artisans were scarce. Pioneering is hard at any time, more than doubly so for people who do not speak the prevailing language. But they persevered and conquered. They helped to make our state a garden spot, they provided for their families and their old age, and today their children and children's children are found in all ranks of farming, business and professional life--some even have become prominent artists.
Bartos Bittner, a Czech-American writer (born 1861 in Milavec, Bohemia, came to this country in 1884 and died in Chicago, May 1, 1912) wrote the following in praise of Czech pioneers of Nebraska:
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