Departed Poland Russia for Land of Opportunity
Jacob H. Boehs was born in the village Antanofka, Poland Russia, in 1858. At the age of 14 he lost his father. His mother remarried one year later. That same year, on December 4, 1874, he left his homeland with his parents, brothers and sisters. They embarked with 710 other passengers on the SS Vaterland. Sailing wasn’t smooth; they encountered violent storms. They lost all three propeller blades en route across the Atlantic. They arrived in Philadelphia on December 25, 1874.
Great-Grandfather William took sick while on ship. Prayers were said, asking that he be spared till they reached America so they wouldn’t need to bury him at sea. He died several days after they reached land.
On December 27, 1874, they left for Kansas by train, arriving on the 30th. It was a cold winter day, 12 below zero. They spent their first winter in Florence, Kansas. Living quarters were poor, and the death rate amongst them was high. A child reportedly died every other night. Jacob’s parents later moved to Durham, Kansas, where they made their home.
Jacob spent three years working in Illinois, where he learned English. Wages were low: the first year they were $8 a month; the second year, $10 a month; the third year, $12 a month.
At 26 he married Susanna Koehn of Durham, Kansas. Their first nine and one-half years together were spent in Kansas. Henry,
John, Ben, Helena, Solomon, Anna, Jacob and Sam were born there; Solomon and Jacob died in infancy.
Jacob became interested in Oklahoma when he heard about staking a claim for free land. He purchased a fast black horse and trained him. He wanted to be sure he wasn’t among the slow ones making the run. He staked his claim south of Caldwell, Oklahoma. It wasn’t long until a big black man showed up with a gun. He said, “This is my claim.” So Jacob gave it up and returned to his family in Durham.
In December of that same year, he, with Henry Nightengale and Adam Jantz, went by wagon to the Fairview vicinity to look for free land. He staked his claim December I, 1893. The 160 acres were in tall native grass. He then returned to his family.
In March 1894 the Boehs packed up their belongings: a wagon, three horses, two cows, one tom turkey, a few chickens and some seed potatoes. They rented a train car to Enid, Oklahoma. From there they went by wagon to their homestead farm.
When they arrived at the Cimarron River, their hopes were shattered. The land before them was a desolate scene. It had been blackened by a prairie fire. The shanty of two-by-fours that Jacob had built was destroyed. He had a look at the soil. Taking a handful of it, he asked in German, “Will I make it here?” They found another old shack to move into till he could make a dugout. The first summer they planted potatoes and broomcorn in the burnt soil. The broomcorn crop netted $80, which wouldn’t go far with a large, growing family. The crops that were sold were taken to Enid by horse and wagon. Crossing the Cimarron River wasn’t all that easy, either. If the water was up, it meant waiting several hours before crossing.
They spent their first winter in the dugout, with $8 to carry them through till spring. The following spring, with the help of neighbors, Jacob built a sod house, which took only a week. Those sod houses were no mansions. Snakes and centipedes were
plentiful. Once Jacob was finishing his cup of coffee when he noticed a large centipede in the bottom of his cup. Sometimes skunks got in the house too.
During their first years of pioneering in Oklahoma, Lizzie, Susie and Mary were born. In February 1902, Susie’s dress caught fire. She received extensive burns and passed away that evening; she was nearly 3 years old.
Once when Jacob was in need of a pair of shoes and he had no money, he went to town and asked the storekeeper if he could mortgage his team of horses for a pair of shoes. The storekeeper replied he couldn’t put a team of horses in his register. So Jacob returned home, wrapped his feet in burlap and went to the field.
On February 21, 1904, Jacob lost his beloved Susanna, six weeks after giving birth to a stillborn child.
March 21, 1905, Jacob married Anna Koehn, Susanna’s cousin. Anna took over the responsibilities of a large family. To this union Pete, Dena, Ida, Lydia and Martha were born. Tragedy came again to their home. Little Dena, l-and-one-half-years old, found a cork with fly poison on the window sill. She died the same evening, June 24, 1907.
Jacob never owned a tractor. His farming was all done by horses. He built a barn in 1913 that withstood many storms and still stands today, with a slight slant. The big, open hayloft was sometimes used as a social gathering place. He had one pony and 12 horses for field work. Jacob died January 2, 1942; Anna, September 22,1963.
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.
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