Onward To Our Past is pleased to announce the newest English translation from the Czech genealogy treasure trove that is Amerikán Národni Kalendář. This article, here for the first time translated from its original Czech, is a wonderful view of early Czech immigrants and their communities across the heartland of the United States. It comes from the 1881 edition of Amerikán Národni Kalendář and is titled “BRIEF STATISTICS of settlements, places, towns and counties in the United States inhabited by Czechs.”
Due to the size of this article we will be posting it in segments. Our first segment contains the history of the settlement of the town and area surrounding Wilson in Ellsworth County, Kansas. There are wonderful details regarding the life and times of early Czech immigrants as well as dozens of surnames.
We’d like to remind you to sign up for our automatic updates for new postings on our homepage at http://www.OnwardToOurPast.com so you don’t miss the future installments of this article as we move all across the heartland of America and Czech settlements from the Dakota Territory, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas!
Enjoy this translation!
Amerikán Národni Kalendář
BRIEF STATISTICS of settlements, places, towns and counties in the United States inhabited by Czechs
Wilson, Ellsworth County, Kansas
The beginning of Czech settlement at Wilson and surroundings was described in the first volume of this calendar (page 103). It was established by F. J. Svehla, who was also the first one who reported about this county for this magazine. Six years after it began the settlement flourishes now. The first settlers here (1875) were brothers Josef and Vaclav Klima. Soon after them came the following Czechs: Jan Cizek, Jakub Jedlicka, Martin Muegl, Antonin Somer, Jan Brasna from Detroit, Mich., Martin Adolf Honimichlovic, Frant. Hubka, Jan Kvasnicka, Josef Krofta, Merchl and his son, Jan Miskovsky and Jan Vanek from New York. Everybody settled on government land in Wilson Station and the surrounding area. It was only a railway station at first and consisted of several plank-huts. Only a local inn as well as a school were built of brick.
But look now! The Czech settlement is located six miles to the west of Russell County, twelve miles to north of Lincoln County, fourteen miles east to Ellsworth County, to the town of the same name where our Czech compatriot, Mr. Josef Kalina has a large blacksmith-shop. The settlement reaches about fifteen miles to the south and one can go this way and be among only Czech settlers. Where only herds of buffalos ran a couple of years ago and where several deer were shot by some members of Sekavec family, today you can see a large settlement, which includes the post office Palacky, where Mr. V. F. Sekavec is serving as postmaster. The main reason for the blooming of this place is the nice location, flat and fertile land, and a great hope for the future. Settlement also reached to neighboring Barton County, where are there are also nice plots of land. It is not possible to describe the fortunes of the settlers in greater detail, here. But because nothing was ever written in the Kalendář about this settlement, and none of the locals are going to do it, I will try to inform you and I will do my best with it.
The population of Ellsworth County is about 7,000 and its taxed property is estimated at $911,000, and back in 1879 only $6,000 in tax was being paid in it. The township of Wilson in the aforementioned county, has about 1,500 inhabitants and that number is still increasing. Only about 400 of these folks live in the town of Wilson, and more than half the township population are native Czechs. In this entire settlement you can count more than 1,000 Czechs. Most of them have settled out of the immediate vicinity, with exception of the blacksmith, Zavodnik in Wilson, drugstore-keeper Jan Tobias, blacksmith Josef Kalina at Ellsworth, and compliant innkeeper Jan Charvat, living in the center of town near the Czech school.
Charvat’s Hall is a cultural center for all the Czechs, where there is music and ballroom-dances taking place. Every first Sunday of the month the “Blahobyt” Society has its meetings, there.
It was established on 14 November 1875, when only a few Czechs lived there, but almost all of them joined some time. The society had various goals and because its members were poor, the entry-fee was agreed to be only 10 cents, with a monthly contribution of 5 cents. Its purposes were: to have a place for meetings, to help its members when they need it, to organize social life, to educate each other, to exchange their experiences, and to care about improving of their overall situation, as well as for training in public speaking, singing and debate. It was a lot of work but the club was not successful. Reality differed from its ideals. But it was not for nothing at all. Its members started to know each other better, time was spent in a pleasant way, tongue and pen were used, and the settlement began to thrive. However, the reader can ask: what else did the club bring? Yes some good things were done: They supported the Czech-American press, donating $15.25, next $10 was sent to starving people in Hercegovina and Montenegro, next $10 was given to widows of Czech settlers in Rawlins County, Kansas who were killed by Indians. They also supported several Brothers and bought fruit trees for $15 and divided them among themselves. The Club bought groceries in a larger amount to distribute among members for less. The Society grew and one built a good reputation locally and also outside its area. Later a new organization was established to support its members in the case of hailstorms or of cattle losses.
In Charvat’s Hall a theatre is being built. Its director is Jan Klus and amateur actors F. Malir, J. Fiser, and V. Dusekl will play parts. Among these settlers are musicians, too: F. Bakule, F. Cizek, M. Muegl, Smolik, Jan Janger, Roth and Zavodsky. They play both brass/wind and stringed instruments as well.
Also our political life is not dead. In the fall of 1875 F.J. Svehla was elected as the County land-surveyor; in 1876 the same man for Justice of the Peace and Jan Cizek for Constable. In the fall of 1877 Svehla was re-elected for surveyor and Cizek for Constable. In 1878 Svehla was voted in as JP, and J.F. Drabek for Constable, and as road inspector Jan Cizek was elected. In the fall of 1879 we did not have any Czech candidates, but later in February 1880, during the town election, Budnik and Polak were elected as road inspectors.
Czech candidates were usually elected by a large majority. An exception was the last February election, when one lost.
This is a good place for immigrants, but all government land is sold out. Nevertheless cheap land is still possible to buy from Americans, who like to sell to Czechs. Prices vary from $3-$15 for one acre. It depends on land quality, distance from town, etc. Czech farmers are harvesting even 3.000 bushels of wheat. They planted also orchards and have fences around their farms, built from stones, stables, and other buildings. The landscape here was originally desert and dry plain, soon named as a “large American desert” in geography textbooks. Yes, 10 years ago it looked like a desert here, but all that has changed, now. You can see living houses and farm buildings everywhere; seed fields, green pastures, where cattle are pastured and it is a joy for
our eyes. Life and joyful work you can see everywhere.
And what can you listen to here? Czech songs, cheerful and sad ones too! Czech music and language sound throughout the country. The town of Wilson is proud for its railway station, which is a large one and built of stone. In the town live 4 physicians, 2 chemist’s, but they are not very busy. You can also see there 2 blacksmith-shops, 2 joiner workshops and various other shops including 2 butchers, 3 hardware stores, 2 tailors, 4 groceries, 3 drugstores, 2 shoemakers.
Next are a 2 horse-livery, 5 inns, 1 printing shop, 2 notaries public offices, 1 mill, 1 lawyer, 1 baker, 2 barbers, and 2 lumber stores. You can see that the town is growing quickly.”