My ancestors, all of whom emigrated from areas of northern Germany prior to The Civil War, must have been driven to the land of opportunity by adventure, ambition and dreams of creating a better life for themselves, as well as for their descendants. This they did, in spite of the hardships and adversities they encountered in wrestling a productive life from what was a rather hostile wilderness.
In my memory remain vague references to their long, unpleasant voyage across the rough North Atlantic and the difficulties and indignities suffered during their processing through Ellis Island. Following the rail trip from New York City to Chicago, they were faced with an austere, frontier way of life. After a few years of struggling for a foothold, the appeal of obtaining land of their own in then-distant Iowa possessed them. My paternal grandfather, a lad of about 14, took on the task of making the initial move. He hired on as a hand to assist an immigrant group on their way to Iowa, caring for their stock along the way. He somehow managed to duly file a homestead claim before returning to Illinois. That next spring found him and his parents in another immigrant group, on their way toward establishing themselves upon the land that he had claimed the year before.
The ensuing privations, disappointments and hard work can only be imagined. Establish themselves they did, as did their neighbors. Not only did they achieve their personal goals; collectively they also founded places for worshipping and obtaining basic education for all in the region. They also supported and nourished the beginnings of small nearby communities.
It was not all adventure. There was illness and death. Work and privation tested the soul. The heat of summer and the bitter cold of winter seemed unbearable. Storms and pestilence vexed them. Through all of this, they persevered. Most of them lived to enjoy some of the blessings of their labors.
The enormity of the task that lay before them upon their arrival was best displayed for me one beautiful, clear October day. I was enjoying the comfort of an airliner, streaking high above a portion of my boyhood world. Spread out below were the lands where my ancestors and myriad others had devoted their lives toward the creation of a better life. As I viewed this "New Land" the thought struck me – surely there were those who deplored the transformation of wild lands into developed, productive countryside. But I staunchly subscribe to the precept that humankinds' mission is to accept the bounties of nature and convert them into what best serves all of humanity.
Who among us can measure up to the trials, adversities, heartaches and labors that our forebears endured? In most cases, the blessings were not theirs to savor. We, their descendants, have reaped the full measure of their labors. All too often, we do not fully appreciate our good fortune. Nor do we afford them full credit for the comfortable lifestyles that we lead, for which they labored so diligently.
These were our ancestors: great-grandparents, grandparents and parents. May all of us pay greater homage to these wonderful, heroic, indomitable people who created the potential for our way of life and gave us so much to be thankful for.
The indomitable people who were instrumental in the transformation of the lands constituting the United States of America are to be venerated. They gave us a legacy that is second to none.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.