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Saline County -- 1865
This county contains the largest Czech rural colony of any in Nebraska and with Richardson and Cuming is oldest in point of settlement.
1865--The Following Came:
Frank Jelinek (born Nov. 22, 1835, in Mezna, County of Budejovice, came to Manitowoc, Wis. in 1854, died in Crete Feb. 1, 1916) and his wife, born Mary Krajnik (born 1842 in Stremchy, County of Melnik, came to Manitowoc, Wis. in 1854). Mrs. Jelinek is living in Crete, at date of writing, being of good health and memory and has furnished most of the data for the history of this county.
Joseph Jelinek, brother of Frank (born in 1838 in Mezna), at date of writing living with his son-in-law Dr. Wanek in Loup City, Nebr., and his wife Anna.
Vitus Jelinek, another brother (born in Mezna, died in Crete in 1889).
Vaclav Jelinek, father of the above. Died in Crete in 1901, aged 99 years.
Vaclav Sestak (Shestak) (born in Jenichov, near Nebuzele, Prague County, December 25, 1835, died in Wilber March 7, 1905). The railroad station Shestak between Crete and Wilber was named for him.
Frank Krten (born in Libsice near Prague, May 29, 1836, came to Milwaukee, Wis. in 1857. Died in Crete Dec. 6, 1908). His son writes the name Karten. With Krten came Frank Stejskal and Joseph Havlik.
Vaclav Kubicek (born in Piskova Lhota near Podebrady, died in Crete, June 26, 1920).
George (Jiri) Krajnik, birthplace unknown.
Joseph Hynek (born in Starec near Kdyne, County Pilsen. Came to Wisconsin in 1856, then to St. Joseph in 1865, but stayed there with his family until the spring of 1866, when they went to Saline County. Died in Crete 1878). His son became the first Czech breeder of thorough-bred hogs in Nebraska and married Katherine Chmelir, pioneer.
Matej (Matthew) Kovarik (born in Havlovice, Domazlice, died in Crete 1910).
Frank Kovarik, his brother, born in the same place.
Vaclav Petracek (born in Dlouhe Zbozi near Podebrady). Made entry the same time that the Jelinek brothers and Sestak did, but settled on his claim in 1866 and not long thereafter moved away.
The majority of these pioneers brought families. Krajnik was single, he came with his mother.
This then was the nucleus of our largest and very prosperous Czech county. As mentioned before, in the history of Richardson County, Herman and Shary had a sort of tavern in Arago, which was a gathering-place for their countrymen, in 1864 and 1865. Both had lived prior to that in Wisconsin and Vaclav Sestak, a relative and in their employ in Arago, wrote to his Wisconsin friends Frank and Joseph Jelinek about the wonderful lands that could be had for almost nothing. Both brothers set out in the spring of 1865, via St. Joseph and up the river by steamboat. Upon their arrival in Arago, Herman and Shary advised them to go to see Charles Zulek, living near Humboldt. They intended doing so, but a freighter recommended to them the country about the Blue River, for he had made the trip that way. The Jelineks returned to Arago and in company with Sestak set out on March 10, 1865 for Nebraska City, to get a plat of the country, working their way on a steamboat up the Missouri River. In Nebraska City they lodged in the tavern conducted by Vaclav Petracek and told him of their plans. Obtaining the plat, they walked 75 miles to their destination, near the present town of Crete. During this trip they followed a large wagon train, protected by soldiers against Indians. However, the vehicles were loaded to the brim with military supplies, so they could not obtain a lift and had to walk the whole way.
Reaching their destination, they found two settlers named Bickle and Burt (or Bert). Bickle took them down the river about three miles and the lovely country in early spring made a fine impression on them. Each chose a home stead of 160 acres and returning to Nebraska City again on foot, each made entry and with them also Vaclav Petracek filed on the same day, although he had not gone to Saline County with them and did not settle on his homestead until the following year. Frank Jelinek returned to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to sell his farm and prepare his family for the journey. Joseph stayed and worked on a boat. On his way home Frank Jelinek stopped in Milwaukee, Wis. and told his friend Frank Krten there about Nebraska and gave him a map of the country. Krten immediately set out with his family and with Frank Stejskal and Joseph Havlik (and his family). Each took a claim and settled thereon in August 1865. These homesteads were adjacent to each other. Havlik was killed by falling from a load of hay. Stejskal sold out a few years later and returned to Bohemia, where he died. Havlik's son inherited his father's homestead, that of Krten was sold later and is now Horky Park in Crete.
Therefore, Krten, Havlik and Stejskal were the first actual settlers (Czech) in Saline County. Krten was the first to pay county taxes, holding receipt No. 1. But Frank and Joseph Jelinek and Vaclav Sestak were the first Czechs to enter the county and with Petracek the first to make entry on homesteads there. Vincent J. Stedry, now living in Broken Bow, Nebr., a son-in-law of Krten, (having married his daughter Anna), writes:
"My father-in-law (with family), Havlik (with family) and Stejskal set out by wagon from Wisconsin, travelling over a sparsely settled plain. One day especially they had trouble. Mrs. Havlik became ill, for she was about to give birth to a child. They stopped at a farm-house and asked for water and help for the sufferer. They could not speak English well and the farmer and his wife thought Mrs. Havlik was ill of a contagious disease and at first refused. However, as soon as the farmer's wife realized what the case was, she took the woman into her home and aided her. The child was born and as soon as the mother had recovered somewhat, the travellers set out again. One day Havlik carelessly threw a burning match into the high, dry grass, having lighted his pipe. About all that saved them from burning to death was the fact that there was no wind and shortly thereafter they crossed a stream and left the burning grass behind them.
The three pioneers settled one next to the other in a location now constituting the western limits of the city of Crete. In those first years all the settlers had to go to Nebraska City for supplies and Krten's home was a stopping-place for them. They often lodged over night and put up their teams there too. The banks of the Big Blue river were covered with timber and many Indians made their home there. They often begged food, especially when Krten had company.
My father-in-law was attacked by a bull in the pasture, when he went to milk cows. He escaped and shot the beast. The entrails and hide they buried, in order that wolves be not attracted there. The Indians heard of this and wanted meat. When this was refused, they asked for the entrails. And in fact they dug up the buried garbage and ate it. Their lot was hard at times. Their hunting grounds were being destroyed, so they were forced to beg food. During one of the Indian uprisings my mother-in-law became so frightened that it eventually cost her life. Krten was absent in Nebraska City and she was home alone with three children. A neighbor told her that a large number of Indians were coming that way and she saw them near the river. She was so frightened that a blood vessel burst and for three years she ailed, until death ended her suffering.
When my father-in-law paid taxes, he being the first to pay county taxes as already recorded, no official could be found who knew how to write the receipt. After some argument an old English soldier present made out the receipt and the form prepared by him was used until regular laws went into effect."
Mrs. Frank Jelinek, widow of Frank Jelinek, mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, writes:
"We started out from Manitowoc on October 5, 1865 and with our family travelled the families of my husband's brothers Joseph and Vit, his father Vaclav Jelinek, Joseph Hynek, Matej and Frank Kubicek, Vaclav Kubicek and Jiri (George) Krajnik and his mother. When we arrived in St. Joseph, Misouri, we found our baggage had not come. It was at the close of the Civil War, the trains were loaded with returning soldiers and freight, and so we had to wait three weeks before the missing articles turned up. One box, containing feather-beds and clothing, so badly needed, never did arrive. A scarlet fever epidemic was raging in St. Joseph and we lost a three-year-old boy, whom we buried in Arago. While we were waiting for our luggage, Vaclav Jelinek (the father), Vaclav Kubicek and Vaclav Sestak had gone ahead on foot, to prepare a shelter.
At last we were able to proceed on our journey of two hundred miles by wagon. Autumn had come with rainy, chilly weather. We had to stock up with provisions, for after leaving Nebraska City, there were no towns or settlements. We travelled two weeks before we reached our destination, for the roads were bad. When we came to the Big Blue river, we had to ford it, as our claims lay on the other side. The wagons were heavy, the bottom sandy. Even after harnessing together three teams to one wagon, it was desperate work, and we lost one of the two horses my husband had bought in St. Joseph. Hardly had we crossed when we met fourteen Indians on horses, and our fright may be imagined. However, all they wanted was tobacco and our men acceded to their wish with alacrity. Going a mile further, we came to the shelter prepared on our claim, a veritable hole in the ground, covered, but without door or windows. It measured 10x14 and in it eighteen people lived all winter, crammed like sardines.
The third day after our arrival a bad snowstorm came on. Our abode filled with snow, which drifted high all around. Krajnik had brought his old, ailing mother, who had become ill from travelling and for that reason was left in the wagon, on featherbeds. At that she was situated better than anything we could have done for her in the dug-out. She died the morning of the storm and there being no material for a coffin, the men broke up a wagon box and used the boards for that purpose. The horses, tethered outside, broke away and were found by our men two days later sixty miles away. A kindly Frenchman had found them and kept them. In true pioneer fashion he would accept nothing for his service. This storm occurred on November 22nd, after which milder weather ensued, but under the circumstances the winter was a hard one at best.
Spring came early the next year (1866), in February, and brought fresh hope and energy. The settlers put in crops and helped one another. Two teams were harnessed to a plow and the breaking of the virgin soil begun. The women planted corn with the aid of hatchets. When provisions were needed, the men had to go to Nebraska City for them, a distance of seventy-five miles, requiring a week's time. Those who did not have teams had to walk. This was not uncommon in those times. It is recorded of Thomas Aron that later he made such a trip to Lincoln for flour, carrying the sack home all the way. All the country to the Missouri river was a waste. When the railroad built through Crete in 1871, Lincoln became a nearer market. During the absence of the men, the women, fearing Indians, congregated in one place for the night and barricaded themselves as well as they could. The redmen were numerous, hunting-bent, but peaceful and friendly. Sometimes they became angry when refused food, so scarce in general. Flour cost $18.00 to $20.00 per barrel, cornmeal was the substitute. There were no wells, water from the river had to suffice.
After rains the river rose and crossing was a hardship. My husband had bought a little pig, the price being service, not money. The owner would sell it in no other way. So one day my husband set out to pay his debt. He put a plow in the wagon and began to ford the stream. When he reached the middle, the box was lifted off the wheels, these and the horses went shoreward and my husband in the box sailed down the current. He saved himself by jumping out and swimming for the shore. The plow, so valuable to him, was never recovered.
Our men had each bought a load of corn and took it to Fort Kearney, where they sold it with good profit. Prospects for a good crop that year (1866) were bright, but the grasshoppers took everything except sorghum, that was all we had left. The next winter a heavy snow fell, and we had plenty of rabbit and prairie-chicken meat. These heavy snows caused an inundation in the spring and the settlers had to camp on the hills for two days and nights. It was still cold and their dug-out was filled with mud, a most cheerless state. As soon as the weather permitted more substantial dug-outs were built, of young trees, sod and dry grass. In one corner four posts were driven, young trees laid across and covered with grass, -- that was the bed. In the other corner stood a packing box, -- that was the table. Stumps and boxes served as chairs.
In 1866 we celebrated our first Fourth of July in Nebraska. We gathered on the farm of Vaclav Petracek, where we danced, sang, ate, drank and made merry. Petracek was the orchestra, he played for the dancers by pounding on a plow wheel. But that year the grasshoppers came, hordes of them. They ate everything in sight, except the sorghum, and covered the river so thickly that the only supply of drinking water was shut off for some time. The following spring a new breed was hatched, but was partly annihilated by the use of kerosene. In later years they came again, more than once, but did less damage.
In 1871 my husband was elected county commissioner and was instrumental in having a bridge built over the Big Blue river. In 1873 a tornado blew our house away, without loss of life. My brother-in-law, Joseph Jelinek (now living in Loup City) and I are the only ones left of the first band of Bohemian settlers in Saline County."
Czechs are lovers not only of music, singing and dancing, but also of drama and in any settlement of any size they give amateur theatricals frequently. The first performance of this kind in Saline County and probably in the state (with the exception of Omaha) was given by the Reading Society, on the farm of John M. Svoboda, about two miles from Crete. A log house 16x22 served for the opera house, lighted by only two windows. The play given was "Rekrutyrka v Kocourkove" (Recruiting Soldiers In Kocourkov), with Joseph Jindra as stage manager and the following actors and actresses: John M. Svoboda, Frank Nedela, Vitus Jelinek, Frank Znamenacek, Vaclav Aksamit, Anton Herman, Mrs. Elizabeth Aron and Miss Mary Nedela (later Mrs. Kubicek). Eight-year-old Barbara Nedela (now Mrs. Fr. Papik) took the part of a boy. Boards laid across two strong saw bucks served for a stage and a white calico curtain for the drop. Everybody came whose feet could carry him and everybody was satisfied with the performance, at the close of which the "stage" was carried out and a dance held. This took place in 1869.
The following is a partial list of settlers who followed the first, up to about 1870, in the same vicinity:
Martin Kupka came in 1866 (born in Mezne, Sobeslav), all the way from Wisconsin with an ox-team and family of six children, without knowing one word of English. He had a cow tied to the wagon and the trip lasted three months. Mrs. Kupka died in Crete June 27, 1927, aged 98 years.
Kupka was accompanied by Vaclav Havlicek (born in Lhotka, Melnik, 1823), his wife and five children. Havlicek emigrated to Wisconsin in 1854 and in 1866 came to Nebraska by ox-team, locating on a homestead in Turkey Creek Precinct, eight miles southwest of Crete. Once, during their early pioneering days, Mrs. Havlicek suffered an accident that crippled her for life. Her son Anton was cutting hay, leading the ox-team by a rope. She brought lunch for him. The grass was high and she stepped near the scythe without realizing her danger, and thus suffered amputation of her foot. There was no way to call a physician, so Anton borrowed a horse from his neighbor and hastened to Pleasant Hill. However, the physician was not at home, so he was obliged to ride to Crete. Mrs. Havlicek was very weak from loss of blood before the physician finally arrived, but she recovered and continued to perform her household duties with the aid of a wooden leg the rest of her life. In 1882 Havlicek and his family moved to Harper County, Kansas, locating on a farm near their daughter, Mrs. John Hess. Havlicek died May 10, 1907 and was buried in the Czechoslovak Cemetery west of Caldwell, Kansas. Mrs. Havlicek died October 27, 1915, at the ripe age of 89 years, and was laid to rest by her husband's side.
C. W. Havlicek, their son, was born in Wisconsin in 1865 and accompanied his parents to Nebraska. At the age of ten he began learning the jeweler's trade with his brother-in-law Joseph Kopecky (Kopetzky) in Crete and in 1887 established that business for himself. In 1911 he sold out and is now in the music business, at the same location. His son, Lumir C. Havlicek was born in Crete and is director of the 110th Medical Regiment Band, Nebraska National Guard, in Crete. It was the first unit of its kind to be organized west of the Mississippi River, and the members are mostly musicians of Bohemian descent. Lumir Havlicek was with the 355th Infantry Band, 89th Division, which served in France during the World War.
Vaclav Kostohryz came in 1869. He was born in Krestovice, Pisek, and lived in Arago and Aspinwall before coming to Saline County. In the fall of 1876 he was killed by a train while walking on the track. He came with his wife and daughter who later married Lawrence Svoboda, a pioneer. Mrs. Svoboda at the time of her coming was eight years old, but with the exception of Mr. Vilda and Joseph Hynek, she was the only other person among these Czechs able to speak English. Therefore she used to act as interpreter for them, going far and wide, often to Beatrice, where the land office was situated. It is interesting to note that one of her daughters, Mildred, living in Omaha, married J. N. Ball, a descendant of George Washington's mother and another, Mathilda, living in Los Angeles, Calif., married Dr. Leslie C. Audrain, a descendant of Lafayette's secretary. With her parents Mrs. Svoboda spent fourteen weeks on a sailing vessel on their way to this country and suffered lack of food and water. Mr. and Mrs. Svoboda have retired and are living in Wilber.
Joseph Kopecky came in 1868 from Nebraska City, where he had been employed as watchmaker. He was born in Jicin, Bohemia and died in Crete, where he had a jewelry store for many years. He took a homestead in Big Blue precinct and established there the first Czech store, four miles north of Wilber. It was on his place that the first commemoration of the burning of Jan Hus was held July 6, 1873, with Vaclav Snajdr, then editor of the Pokrok Zapadu, speaker. On Kopecky's land was established the first wholly Czech cemetery, then called National, now called Big Blue. His wife Anna is living and remembers when Indians came for whiskey when she was alone. With great presence of mind she pointed to the vinegar keg. One quaff was enough. She accompanied her husband to Fort Kearney once and while there helped take care of wounded and scalped whites.
Frank Dusil came in 1869. He had come to Arago first, from Jones County, Iowa. He was born in Podrezov near Kostelec and was killed by a runaway team July 13, 1873.
Cenek Duras, born in Zelenice, January 21, 1846, died in Wilber September 10, 1904. Mr. Duras was considered Nebraska's most distinguished Czech of his time. His forebears were French aristocrats, one of whom settled in Zelenice, Bohemia, five hundred years ago, where his descendants have lived on the same estate since. Those of the French branch have achieved great distinction, two having been Marshals of France. Mr. Duras' father, as an ardent Czech patriot during the revolution of 1848, was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment for a time. Mr. Duras was of very dignified presence and able mind, a fine speaker. He married Miss Mary Spirk, in Chicago, later lived a short time in Omaha, then in Crete and finally in Wilber. He was our first state senator (1887) at a time when that was a great honor for a foreign-born citizen. He served two terms as county treasurer of Saline County; he was a presidential elector and nominated, although not elected, for Secretary of State, always on the republican ticket.
Peter Safarik, born in Merklin 1830, came to Dayton, Ohio, in 1866, to Chicago in 1868, then to Crete and in 1873 to Wilber. He died in Wilber December 21, 1921; Frank David, birthplace unknown; Frank and Matej Plachy born in Zabrdovice, Ml. Boleslav; Vaclav and Vincenc Aksamit, born in Pavlov, Unhost. Their brother Anton settled in Lancaster County.
Matej Prachejl, born in Vosecek. Came in 1866, having lived during the previous year in Arago. He was a tailor by trade, but had almost no work in those times, for no one could afford to have clothing made. He took a homestead and at times someone would do a little plowing for him in return for tailoring. He was the father of Mrs. Joseph Jindra.
Frank Tichy, born in Velke Pritocno; Jiri (George) Zvonicek, came to Iowa in 1866, to Saline County 1871, died in Wilber December 15, 1924; Alois Bouchal, born in Usti nad Orlici; Vaclav Bruza, born in Netes near Roudnice; M. Jirotka, born in Velke Pritocno; Eman Kostlan, born in Bratrikov, Zelezny Brod; Anton Prokop, born in Podrezov, Kostelec; Joseph Daic, born in 1848 in Duba near Praha; Joseph Jindra, born 1835 in Bechyn, died in Crete 1895.
Robert Jacob Sary (Shary) born June 6, 1832 in Praha, came to Wisconsin in 1853 or 1854. In 1862 was living in Cook County, Illinois, and having made an exploration trip, he thought well of Nebraska. He wrote to his friend John Herman in Wisconsin, who came with his family to Arago and there both men settled, conducting a tavern. Later they moved to Aspinwall and still later to Saline County. In Wilber Shary had a brewery, for he came of a very well known and wealthy family of brewers in Praha (Prague), where for years their large summer garden was famous. Shary was of good family and with Herman came to this country to escape political oppression. However, it was his fate to end his days in a monarchy. One of his sons had settled in Ponoka, Alberta, Canada, and there Shary died April 12, 1903.
Matej (Mike) Korbel came in 1873. He was born in 1847 near Trebon. He arrived in Chicago and as a sixteen-year-old lad became a member of Company B, 17th. Illinois, during the Civil War. Died in Wilber in April 1926.
Frank Znamenacek, born September 14, 1844 in Macovice near Vranov. Came to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1862 and worked there in a bakery, attending school in the evenings to learn English. At that time several Bohemian families were living there, among them Bohacek, who later lived in Wilber. When Znamenacek had saved some money, he sent for his parents and they all settled in St. Louis, Mo., in 1865. There Znamenacek worked in a rope factory. In 1868 with seven other families he came by boat to Nebraska City, where they made entries. He was the first teacher of a public school, of Bohemian birth, in our state, as described in the chapter on teachers, and one of the participants in the first play given near Crete. In 1873 he married Anna Zajicek. Twelve children were born to them. During a terrible diptheria epidemic in the eighties four died in one week. Mr. Znamenacek is still living. His brother Joseph was a pioneer also.
Joseph and Thomas Kovarik, born in Havlovice near Domazlice. They built the first saloon and dance hall on their farm, which burned down in 1879. Their dug-out for many years remained as a memento of pioneer days.
Frank Musil, born in Krucemburk; John Kobes, Havlovice; Anton Santin, birthplace unknown; Frank Vocasek, unknown; Anton Krten, Libsice; Frank Stainochr, Sobeslav, Tabor; Joseph Kadlec, birthplace unknown; Vaclav and Karel Kralicek, unknown; John Girmus, Chalupy, Skrychov; Vaclav Skolil, unknown.
John and Frank Prusa, born in Ctineves near Rip. John, a widower, his brother Frank with family, were brothers of Mrs. Vaclav Bruza of Saline County. They suffered great hardship coming over on a sailing vessel, which was blown far out of its course by storms, so that they spent six months on the sea. The passengers suffered famine. A barrel of old grease for greasing shoes was kept below, but when nothing except rice was left, this grease was used to flavor it. Nearly everyone was covered with vermin.
A list of other pioneers, distributed as to towns and precincts, is given at the end of this chapter.
Czechs are lovers of music and as soon as even a dozen settle in any neighborhood, they quickly form a band, and play well. So it is not surprising that the Saline County pioneers did the same. The first band was that organized in Chicago by John Nedela, father of Frank Nedela, long a prominent inhabitant of Crete. Frank Nedela was born in Mseno, Melnik, April 30, 1842 and died in Crete, January 4, 1924. Besides these two the band consisted of Thomas Aron, Joseph Chyba and John M. Svoboda, all having played together in Chicago whence they came. At the time it was the only band west of the Missouri river and played for Governor Butler's last inauguration. Before the railroad reached Crete, these musicians rode by wagon to Lincoln, and considered themselves well paid, for each man received $8.00 for his playing and the driver (owner of the team) $16.00, half for the team and half for his playing. Mrs. Frank Jelinek's son Stephen, then a little boy, later became a talented cornetist and served as bandmaster in a U.S. military band in Porto Rico and the Phillippine Islands. Frank Nedela as a young man had served in a military band in the Austrian army and had gone through the Schleswig-Holstein war (1864) and the Prussian-Austrian war (1866). In 1867 he came to Chicago and the following year located in Johnson County, Nebraska, but returned to Chicago and in 1869 came to Saline County, where he settled on a homestead. Until 1871, when the railroad came, he used to go afoot to Lincoln, during one whole winter, working there at his shoemaking trade, to earn the necessary $200 for pre-emption. Many Bohemians walked many miles in those days and thought nothing of it. He died a wealthy man.
Wilber was established in 1873 and became, with its vicinity, a thriving Czech community. In fact it soon outstripped Crete, as to the town population, for it is almost entirely Czech. The first house was put up by Henry Clark the postmaster and used as a postoffice. Prior to that the postoffice was located in Tobias Castor's cabin, south of town, called Blue Island, then on Sanford Harrod's farm, a mile north of Wilber. While Henry Clark was postmaster of Blue Island (the mail was brought twice a week on horse-back) he had for his assistant a Czech, Alois G. Mallat (born in Humpolec, July 26, 1851, arrived in Chicago October 9, 1871, to Crete in 1873 and in 1874 made assistant postmaster. He then engaged in business in Wilber and later moved to Nora, Nuckolls County, Nebr., where he lives at date of writing). The next building was put up by a Mr. Wormley, and the next by John Goodin, being the nucleus of the town, which was incorporated April 25, 1879 and named for C. D. Wilber, who with Jacob Mowery owned the land on which it is situated. Mowery got his as a homestead and Wilber bought railroad land. The branch road was finished in 1872 and at first was called the Omaha & Southwestern Railroad. Stephen Herman, son of John Herman, was a member of the first town board.
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