The year was 1873, the place Dornbirn, Austria. Josef Meus-burger, in his early 20s, left his home, family and friends to live the rest of his life in the United States of America.
He left Dornbirn by train on March 29,1873. There was a ship waiting at Bregenz with many emigrants. They joined Josef and were then transported by train to Mannheim, by ship to Koln, and again by train to Bremen, where they spent two days waiting for another train to Bremerhafen. The train was packed with people old and young, and there was much jockeying to see who would be first off and loaded in the small boats that would deliver them to the German ship Deutsland, which was anchored out in the bay.
They departed Bremerhafen that day for Southhampton, England, where they loaded up on coal. On Tuesday they left for the United States in a heavy thunderstorm. The waves were huge, and many people were seasick; children cried all day and night. Altogether there were about 1,000 people on the ship.
They arrived in New York on April 18, and after exchanging their money for American currency, Josef and the others were transported by train to Troy, New York, to work as farm laborers.
Wages were $18 a month. Josef hired out to a farmer for that amount and later was paid $20. No one spoke German, so Josef had to learn to speak English, which turned out to be no problem as he was a fast learner. Josef complained in a letter to his family in Austria that it was cold until the middle of May and then it turned unbearably hot in June. He had to rise at 3:00 every morning to milk the cows; he milked them again at noon. Three meals a day were furnished with plenty of meat, which suited him.
He loved the beauty of his surroundings: the large mountains in the distance and plenty of hills nearby. He never regretted coming to America but reported that some did. He considered the pay good and reported that he was making more money here than he could ever make in his home country. He was proud that he could make good money, and he was able to repay his family the money he had borrowed to make the trip.
After being in America for two years he wrote to his family and reported that there was a slowdown in available work. He was being paid $25 a month, and his earnings for the previous year amounted to $260. The possibility that he may be out of work prompted him to consider moving to Iowa. He also reported that cattle prices were very high-approximately $100-and that hay was cheap. Wages for girls were very low, $2 a week, although in his hometown girls would only be paid 2 cents.
Josef moved to Iowa in 1876 or '77. In a letter to his brother dated Waukee, Iowa, May 16, 1880, he stated that he was in his fifth year working for the same man-wages were $18 a month, the same as in Troy, New York. His job was to take care of eight horses, 20 cows, 20 oxen and about 100 pigs. Most of his time was spent in the fields walking behind two horses.
A letter to his brother in Austria dated Waukee, Iowa, February 28, 1886, revealed that Josef was now married, as he reported living with his in-laws the previous year. He had bought some land and sold 80 acres to his father-in-law for $2,200; he in turn bought 160 acres for $5,000. His acreage had a roomy house, a big barn and 300 trees-a very beautiful place. He said that Joseph Hager, my grandfather, lived and farmed only a short distance from his farm.
He mentioned that he and his family-two girls and one boy were in good health. His farm operation was as follows: five horses, two cows, two calves, three pigs and 50 chickens. Quoting from his letter, "I have never regretted that I came to America. I have made it good in this country-I have enough land to plant on and my children will never get hungry and starve. The main thing is that we stay healthy. In Germany I never would have accomplished what I have here."
Francis E. Hager
Sun City, Arizona
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.