Man a Stowaway on Trip to Land of Opportunity

After arriving in land of opportunity, stowaway travels through city after the devastation of the Chicago Fire.

Content Tools

My great-grandfather, Joseph A. Roth Sr., was the son of a prominent family in Wertenburg, Germany. He studied extensively, spoke seven languages, and was completing preparation for the Divinity when he abruptly left Germany for the land of opportunity. A stowaway, he paid for his passage to the United States by working in a ship's galley. He first settled in Illinois, where he married. They left Illinois for LeMars, Iowa, by train. When they came through the Chicago area, the train was side-tracked because of the big fire that had just occurred. From the train they could see the devastation the fire had left. When they arrived in LeMars, an old friend met them.

Great-Grandpa Roth erected a sod hut on his land claim, but Great-Grandma's health could not take the dampness. They stayed with friends until a 14-by-16 log cabin was built.

The first years they used oxen for hauling logs, for field work, and for transportation. Grasshoppers plagued them for about seven years. During these times Great-Grandpa Roth taught school and broke sod for other settlers. In this way he was able to earn enough money to provide for his family. He also held German classes for merchants, so they could communicate with the many German settlers who were beginning to come to northwest Iowa.

Myrtle May Duin
George, Iowa


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.