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Colfax County

(Part 3)

   When the branch road of the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley (Northwestern) Railroad was built west from Scribner, Howell and Clarkson were founded in the early eighties and are thriving towns. Clarkson is almost entirely settled by Czechs.

   The first settlers, of whom we have record in the vicinity of Clarkson, long before the town was founded, are:

1871--The Following Came:

   Vaclav Klimes, born in Nova Ves near Nove Hrady; Joseph and Frank Franek, Nove Hrady.

1874--The Following Came:

   Joseph Kocanda, born in Nova Huc, Moravia; Fr. Najmon, Frysava; Frank Fajmon, Mrhov, near Policka, born 1816, settled in Sec. 10, T. 20 R. 3, died 1911, his wife in 1903. Both buried in Clarkson. With him came his sons, Joseph, Vincent, Adolph, Albin and daughter, Josephine (Mrs. Fr. Dudek). John Petr, Spilkov, Moravia.

   By 1875 settlers began to pour into the vicinity, so that by 1878 no homesteads were to be had and only railroad land at $4.00 to $5.00 per acre, on ten years' time, was available.

1875--The Following Came:

   John Petr, Sr., born in Dankovice, County Nove Mesto, Moravia, August 2, 1844. He came direct to Colfax County and settled on 160 acres in Adams Precinct. At his retirement he owned 640 acres of land. His orchard was the largest in the county at the time. He lives now with his daughter, Mrs. John D. Bukacek, in Howell, hale and hearty at eighty-one years of age.

   John Koza and father, John Sr., from Spilkov, Moravia, Frank Mundil, Frantisky, Bohemia; Frank Musil, Frysava, Moravia.

Other Pioneers, Now Living in Clarkson, Are:

Jos. M. Mundil

   Joseph M. Mundil, born in Frantisky, County of Skutec, Bohemia, August 14, 1856. He came to this country to his uncle, Frank Mundil, who had come with family in 1875 and taken a homestead in the northern part of the county. Mr. Mundil began to make his way at first by working in a saloon in Schuyler, but he did not like that kind of occupation, so he accepted a position in a general merchandise store. When a country school was established near his uncle's place April 1, 1879, he resigned and attended school, which held only a three months' term, as was customary. In September 1879, Mr. Mundil's father (Joseph), and sister (Frances), followed him from Bohemia. The elder Mundil bought eighty acres, where the son experienced the usual beginners' problems. In November, 1882, he married Miss Frances Mundil. In 1885 he was elected Precinct Assessor and served until 1889 when he moved to Clarkson. The town, not yet three years old, was situated five miles from his farm. He engaged in farm loan, insurance and real estate business and in 1890 was appointed postmaster, under President Harrison, from which office he resigned in 1897. With his sons, Fred F. and Joseph Jr., Mr. Mundil is active in the interests of the Folda banks. He is vice-president of the Clarkson State Bank and the Farmers & Merchants Bank in Linwood; Fred F. Mundil is cashier of the latter, and Joseph Jr. is assistant cashier of the Clarkson State Bank. Mr. Mundil's father died in 1905 at the age of 79. Mrs. Mundil's father at about that age, both in Clarkson, where they are buried. His sister Frances married Chas. Svoboda in 1882. Mr. Svoboda died in Wilson, Kansas, in 1919 and his widow lives with her daughters in Wilson, Kansas, and Yukon, Oklahoma.

Dusatko brothers

   Anton Dusatko is another pioneer of Colfax County, living now in Clarkson. With his brother, Vaclav, and parents he came to Butler County in 1874, followed by another brother, John, six months later, and all began to help the parents on the farm two and a half miles from Abie. Anton Dusatko was born in 1861. In 1886 he engaged in the lumber and grain business in Schuyler, later in Linwood, where he married Anna Mares. In 1889 he moved to Snyder and in 1890, as a member of the firm Vlna, Dusatko & Pavlik, he helped build a mill in Verdigre, Knox County. In 1891 he moved to Clarkson, where for twenty-nine years he was engaged in the grain and lumber business, and where he and his wife are living.

   John Dusatko was born in 1859. In 1885 he married Rosalie Johanes. In 1903 he sold his farm near Abie and bought 320 acres a mile north of Brainard, on which his sons now live. Mr. and Mrs. Dusatko live in Brainard.

   Vaclav Dusatko was born in 1864 and in 1886 married Helen Johanes. He farmed the old homestead (taken by the father) until 1902, when he sold it and bought a farm near Brainard. His son, Emil, now farms it and Mr. and Mrs. Dusatko live in Brainard.

   Cenek, the fourth brother, born in 1871, died October 11, 1882, from injury received by a horse while herding cattle. He is buried near Abie. All these brothers were born in Strampouch near Caslav.

   John Chleboun was born in 1844 in Budislava near Litomysle. He came to Chicago in 1864, having travelled in a sailing vessel. Three weeks later he went to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and in 1868 to Nebraska City, where in 1870 he married Anna Placek. They repaired to Saunders County, taking a homestead twenty miles northwest of Wahoo, then the only town in the county. They lived in a sod house seven years. In 1892 they moved to Clarkson, where both are living.

   Joseph Filipi, born in 1863 In Teleci, near Policka, Is another pioneer of Clarkson.

   John Musil was born in Frysava, Moravia, in 1873 and came with family direct to Colfax County, taking an 80-acre homestead in Sec. 19, T. 20, R. 3. He died In 1891, his wife, Anna, in 1912, both buried in Sion cemetery. His son, Frank, lives in Clarkson and the daughter, Mary (Mrs. Anton Hamernik), nearby. Both are reaping the benefits of their early toil and that of their parents.

   John Kopietz was born in Frenstat, Moravia, in 1853. He came with his parents to Everett, Brown County, Kansas, in 1867, and in 1891 moved to Stanton County, Nebraska, where he bought a farm in Sec. 30, T. 21, H. 3. In 1915 he sold it and is living in Clarkson.

   Rogers, first station east of Schuyler, has seventy-five inhabitants. The following Czechs live there: Anton and Frank Kracl, garage; Frank Dudek, cashier in the bank; Cerny, agricultural implements, lumber and hardware; Victor Bures, general merchandise; Albert Bobisud, dealer in poultry, cream and eggs, and Joseph Dvorak, shoemaker.

   Richland, west of Schuyler, has 125 inhabitants. The Czechs are: Families of John Stibal, George Shonka and Mr. Holub.

   Czechs in Colfax County live all over it, most heavily in and around Schuyler, Clarkson, Leigh and Howell (commonly called Howells).

   Tabor, Wilson, Dry Creek and Heun are country church settlements, not postoffices or towns.

   As far as is known, there are on record three instances of Czechs perishing by prairie fires in Nebraska and one of these tragedies occured in Colfax County. Joseph Krenek, a pioneer still living, describes the catastrophe thus:

   "My father and mother (Martin and Rosalie Krenek), my father's sister, my two sisters and I came to Nebraska in 1872, from our old home in Kardasova Recice, County Vesely, Bohemia. Father and I each bought 80 acres of railroad land, at $5.00 per acre, ten years' time to pay at six percent interest. This land was situated nine miles north east of Schuyler. The family of Frank Polak came with us, from the same town. Besides his wife, Marie, there were two small children and Mr. Polak's parents. They bought land on the same terms and were our neighbors.

A prairie fire

   On October 14, 1878, when I had been married two years, a fierce prairie fire raged. Mr. Benes (I have forgotten his first name), who lived a mile west of us, set fire to the grass around his home at the close of day, after the wind had subsided. However, it arose again, swept the fire over the plowed fire-break and the flames passed beyond control. Driven by a southwest wind, the fire fairly flew directly to the home of Mr. Polak, destroying all the buildings, a colt in the barn and the threshed grain. Mr. Polak was not at home, and the few neighbors then living nearby also were absent. All were away earning a little money, and the women could do nothing to keep back the fire. Old Mr. Polak was herding cattle. Blinded by smoke, he sought refuge, but the flames leaped upon him not thirty feet away from the plowed strip, where he ran for safety. In vain! He perished and his wife, the grandmother, was badly burned. We had some grain in stacks. That year the crop was good, so we had four stacks left, all else was lost. Mr. Polak's family, however, was in dire straits. The fruits of a whole year's labor annihilated and a human life lost. The neighbors each donated a bushel or two. We were all poor in those days, but gave of our small means and hoped for better times. Mr. Polak built new buildings and set to work again. From 1873 to 1879 we suffered much from grasshoppers. However, we toiled hard and kept up our courage and now, when we have comfort and plenty, the past seems like a bad dream."

   Frank Cejda, now living in West Point, writes thus of pioneer days in Colfax County:

   "In 1867 I came with my parents to Wisconsin from Bohemia and from Wisconsin to West Point in 1870, by wagon from Fremont. During the two years we lived there, father managed to make a living by working for the homesteaders and sawing wood for fuel in the town. In May, 1872, he took a homestead in Colfax County, one and a half miles from the present townsite of Howell. The entry fee was $14.00, but all the money we could scrape together was $12.00. That was all we paid. How the difference of $2.00 was made up I do not know, but I suspect E. K. Valentine, at the time Registrar of the U. S. Land Office in West Point, a kindly man, paid it, father having worked for him.

   We now had the claim, an old wagon, an ox and a dug-out on the claim. How to move with one ox? Father was acquainted with Frank Herold of West Point and in conversation discovered that he too had one ox, which he lent to father, not only for moving, but also for breaking ten acres We loaded the wagon with clothing, bedding (furniture was unknown to us), an old stove and cooking utensils, and prepared to traverse the twenty-four miles we had to go. There being no bridges, travelling was hard and the old ox (the other was young) mired in a creek so badly that we had to ask help to pull him out. Finally we reached our new home and were soon settled, for aside from the beds and stove, there was no furniture to place about. There were no barns or sheds and the old wagon was the only farm implement, except the breaking plow that we borrowed to use that season.

Frank Cejda

   We broke ten acres and planted them to corn and potatoes. Our nearest neighbor was Joseph Kovar, two miles southeast and the next nearest Peter Shad, three miles in the same direction. To the north we had no neighbors for fifteen miles or more until the Elkhorn river was reached. Thus we were the farthest located of the first homesteaders in northern Colfax County. As the eldest of three children, I farmed during the next three years, for father was away earning enough to supply us with groceries and flour. Work was scarce and wages low. It required three years' labor to put enough land under cultivation from which to make our living.

   During our first summer there, several thousand Indians passed by, going to battle with other tribes or hunting buffalo and they camped at night within half a mile of our dug-out. They asked for food. We had nothing but hard bread, which mother gladly gave them, she was so frightened. Our bread being gone and there being no flour or provisions, and father away in West Point at work, we had nothing to eat. Father did not come for a week and in the meantime we subsisted on wild spinach leaves, which we cooked and ate. So I may say that we lived a week on weeds. When father came, he brought flour and groceries. Many times during our pioneer days did we have to ration our food, when provisions began to run low. During the first two years barley coffee and corn mush, cooked in water, was our menu, for we had no cow to give us milk. Meat was scarce and wild game also, because there was nothing for it to feed on. When crops began to be raised, grouse, prairie chicken, deer and elk came. They disappeared later, when the country began to be more thickly settled.

   Many years after I realized how frightened mother must have been when the Indians asked for bread that time. One day, when thinking about it, it dawned on me, for I recalled that a young Indian boy had asked me why she changed color and became so white. I had not noticed it, but he had. As soon as she could get away, she ran to the neighbor's, but there too only the woman was at home. After our first year or two, wild game provided us with meat and hunting became a delight. I had an old muzzle loading gun that we had traded for ten bushels of 15-cent corn. One can imagine what a 'beauty' it was, but I prized it highly. One day, walking through a draw where the grass grew high, I came upon a deer lying down, but I did not see him until he had jumped up, frightening me so that I had no strength to raise the gun until he was two hundred yards away from me, out of shot. Although I have seen as many as twenty-five deer at one time, I never bagged one. Others had better luck. For instance, the Novotny brothers in one winter killed sixty.

   In the spring of 1873 we had the ten acres, broken the spring before, prepared for seeding wheat, but no money to buy it. Father set out for the Tabor settlement, five miles south, to see if he could borrow the seed wheat until he could raise some. It happened that on that day there was a wedding at Tom Sindelar's place and Tom at once filled a sack of wheat, saying, 'Here, I donate that to you,' and the others present followed suit, each one there giving him a sackful. Never was anyone happier than my father, and I myself can never forget their kindness and am grateful for it. The Czech settlement known as Tabor was established in 1870. At the time we located in Colfax County, they had already raised crops there and had horses, something not known in our vicinity. Later they built a church and a dance hall. Up to 1874 there was no church within twenty miles of us, so we had to attend the St. Charles church near West Point until that year. Then a church was built in Olean, four miles west of us.

A Nebraska town in its beginnings

   There was no school within many miles until 1876, something I missed very much. I had attended school for some time in Wisconsin and then for two years in West Point, reaching what perhaps now would be the third or fourth grade, but from the time we settled on our claim to 1876, I saw no book and scarcely a newspaper. I had 'forgotten the letters of the alphabet. When the school was built, two miles from us, I began to attend as a beginner, and continued until I was twenty-one, but never more than three months in the year, in the winter, for I had to run the farm.

   During the first few years there were no social gatherings except on rare occasions, for there was no gathering-place and no refreshments to offer. A wedding now and then was the only jollification. My first vacation from farm work in three years was to participate in a Fourth of July celebration in West Point, in 1875. I was obliged to walk the whole distance (24 miles), but was glad to do it.

   Prices for farm products were very low. In 1874 we got $1.80 for 100 lbs. dressed hogs and we had to haul them twenty-four miles to market. In 1874 we bought our first cow. Unfortunately we soon lost her. She fell head-first into a cave on Joseph Pimper's place and a year elapsed before we could buy another, so that we lived three years without milk. And yet in those days no one thought we were under-nourished because we had no milk, for many others were in the same condition.

   It was not until 1877 or 1878 when we bought our first team of horses by trading for them a yoke of oxen and giving a mortgage of $150.00 on the team. The neighbors told us if we did not pay the mortgage when it fell due, we would lose our horses, and we believed them. We had just finished threshing grain, so father began to haul it to market, to be able to pay the mortgage within a week. For six consecutive days he hauled wheat to market 24 miles each day, starting with a load at four in the morning and returning at ten in the evening. It was a strain on him, but a greater one on the horses, for toward the last they would fall asleep as soon as they stood still.

   Winters were most dreaded, for we had to provide shelter for ourselves and the animals too. For fuel we had to depend on sunflowers, cornstalks, weeds and straw. One winter there was much snow. Our cattle-shed was built in the side of a hill. It was so covered we could not gain entrance. As fast as we dug the snow away, the wind would blow the drifts back. So we decided to dig a hole through the top of the covering of the shed. As this was of straw, we soon accomplished it and I was let down. Then father got a basket filled with hay and lowered it down by a rope, and I fed the animals. Snow also completely filled our open dug well one winter and we were without water until it was hauled out.

A Czech farm in Nebraska

   In summer snakes invaded our dug-out. I remember when one of them got into a neighbor's bed. One of the boys cried incessantly. When his parents began to investigate and threw the covers back, they found the reptile, which had bitten the child. This boy was the son of George Nagomgast.

   When one travelled over the prairies by night, one was never sure of reaching his destination, for there were no roads or anything else to guide him, unless it was a starlit night, or the horses knew the way. One dark night I lost my way, so I unhitched the team, straddled one of the horses, trusting to his common sense and we all reached home, leaving the wagon behind. There were some provisions in it and as a light rain came on, my parents did not like to have them spoiled. I knew the way had been short and felt I could surely retrace my steps, but we could not find it. The next morning I discovered the wagon in an opposite direction. Had it not been for the natural instinct of the animals which led them home, I would have been obliged to camp out or wander over the prairies. Had I not stopped and unhitched where I did (on top of a hill) we would have rolled down, wrecked the wagon and perhaps been killed.

   When we went to town with products or for provisions, it required a day and a half, that is half the night, and our food supply, while on the way, was a piece of bread and some hay for the horses. If we were obliged to stay in town over night, we looked up some acquaintance or friend for lodging, for we did not have the means to stop in the hotel. During the first two years there was so little food that we could not supply our needs. I recall an incident in connection with our neighbor, Mrs. Kopac. Her husband, like other homesteaders, was away working in town, to buy supplies for his family. It was in the fall of the year, her provisions were gone, nothing was available but the melon-patch. The poor woman lived on it during the whole melon season. She had a small baby to take care of, and grew so weak she could scarcely walk. She knew that all her neighbors were short of rations, so she did not even let them know of her condition, hoping for the arrival of her husband.

   In summer we all went barefoot. In winter men and boys wore boots with rags wrapped about their feet, in place of socks. The women and girls managed to knit stockings for themselves and later made them for the male folk. When the men were out driving on cold days, or afoot too, they wrapped gunny sacks over their boots, to keep from freezing. For light at night we used old-fashioned tape soaked in a plate of grease, or an oil lamp, if we happened to have oil. However, we seldom had light for illuminating purposes. It was early to bed and early to rise, very little artificial light was wasted on us.

   Finally those who had put in three or four years on claims began to get some income, so that a dollar or two could be spared for social purposes. Granaries and barns began to appear and these, whether the owner wished it or not, had to be dedicated. The boys and girls knew as soon as one of these buildings was going up that something would be doing and spruced up for the occasion. Dancing of course was the chief attraction, and my, how we did go to it! You know, a Czech would rather dance than eat, especially if there are any liquid refreshments. As soon as the accordion player struck the first note, the festivities were on and kept on until day-break. If by chance the musician wore out, there were plenty of others to take his place. Those were happy days for young and old. As time advanced, more room and more means provided other social functions. At all these gatherings and entertainments which I attended, from the first to the last, I have never known of a quarrel or disturbance to mar the harmony. The assembled company always included singing in the programme and closed with the Bohemian national hymn, 'Where is my home?'

   The redeeming feature of those hard times was the mutual helpfulness and sympathy evinced by those homesteaders for each other. It mattered not what their nationality or religion, a common need made brothers of all and sisters of the women. They were all like one family. If one was in need or trouble, the others even sacrificed to help.

   In 1886, just fourteen years after we made entry and moved on our claim, the Northwestern Railroad built its branch from Scribner by way of Albion to Oakdale, connecting there with its main line. It cut across my land and the town of Howell was laid out a mile and a half east of my farm. By this time father owned a 320 acre farm and I had one of 160 acres. Compared with others, we were quite well off and living on a much different scale than in our homestead days, although not flying sky-high as many have done during the recent war period and then falling flat. We learned by hard work and stinting to preserve what we had, so that now we can ride in an auto which is not encumbered with a mortgage. We have helped to build schools and churches and bring transportation close to home, so that our children need not go through the hardship we endured, and they may enjoy the advantages we were in such sore need of but could not have. We are glad now that we were pioneers in all this. I have sold my farm and retired to West Point, where I once lived and where I expect to spend the remainder of my life."

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