Elizabeth Kele was born in the town of Meskolisi, state of Borsod Megye, Hungary, on July 14, 1879. Little did her parents, Jonas and Barbolia Roscsie Kele, know of the adventure that lay in store for this tiny child. She had two sisters, Barbara and Mary.
Elizabeth's husband came to America first. They had two children, Joseph and little Elizabeth. She never heard from him again.
Later, family friends Charley, Frank, and Michael Kiss-who were brothers-Michael's wife Theresa and Elizabeth's sister Mary booked passage on a ship to the New World. Families said good bye again, this time with heavy hearts.
This story had a happier ending. The five immigrants arrived in New York some time before 1893. Their hearts were filled with wild hopes and dreams of things they could accomplish in their new land. They spoke no English. The early years were frightening and difficult.
Mary found work in New York and stayed there. The others worked their way west. In 1893, they heard of the Cherokee Strip Land Run in Oklahoma and made their way there to participate. The men made the run safely, but Theresa died in childbirth during it. Each brother received 160 acres of land, located southwest of what is now Alva, Oklahoma.
They worked the land, saving what they could and establishing their homesteads. Mike remarried. His second wife drank bad water without boiling it and died of typhoid.
Mary sent Elizabeth money, asking her to come to America and bring Mary's children. Elizabeth agreed. Mary signed for her, and in 1908 Elizabeth arrived in New York on a ship with Mary's children.
Mary kept in touch with Mike in Oklahoma. She wrote to him, telling him that Elizabeth had brought her children over, but that Elizabeth's children were still in Hungary.
Sometime later, Mary and Elizabeth received proposals of marriage from Mike and Frank, saying they would pay expenses to bring the cbildren over, plus the train fare west, if the women would accept their proposals and join them. Elizabeth signed for and made arrangements for Barbara's husband, Mr. Pancek, to bring Joseph and Elizabeth over. He left his family behind.
Charlie and Frank had changed the spelling of their name to Kish, the American pronunciation of Kiss. Elizabeth and Frank were married in 1909. To this union four children were born: Rose, Emma, Mary and Frank. Rose was my husband's mother.
Four years later Frank Sr. was killed while breaking a wild horse. It threw him and trampled him. He left Elizabeth pregnant, with five other children to raise alone.
She cleaned houses, did washings and ironings and any work she could to care for her family. She homesteaded a piece of land in New Mexico, then sold it when she could. She worked in the sugar beet fields in Saginaw, Michigan. The children went to work at young ages. They moved to Ohio and returned to Oklahoma in 1918.
Elizabeth died in 1984 at the age of 85. She still walked four blocks to daily mass two years before she died. Mary died in 1937, Mike in 1947 and Charley died in California. Mr. Pancek was never able to get his family here. He lost his mind from grief and loneliness. Barbara remained in Hungary.
La Donna Berry Ring
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.