My father-in-law, George Holzwarth Jr., was born in Rohrbach, Russia, November 8, 1885. His parents were George and Philpine Holzwarth. There were nine children in the family. His parents decided to leave for America because their son, John, would have had to go into the army; the 100 years of no army service promised to German settlers was coming to an end. They sold all of their possessions, took their clothes and money, and traveled to Hamburg, Germany. They booked passage on the ship Columbia and sailed for America October 25, 1900. They landed in New York on November 5. The thing he remembered most about the ocean trip was everyone's seasickness, though he never got sick himself.
They got on a train and came to St. Francis, Kansas, where they had some relatives who had come here earlier. They had to endure many hardships. George's first job at the age of 15 was herding sheep on a ranch near Haigler, Nebraska. He had to walk 17 miles one way to work. His next job was on the railroad at Haigler, still the same 17 miles to walk.
The inability to speak English was an obstacle. He explained that when they bought something they motioned to what they wanted, then held out their money and let the storekeeper take what they owed.
At the age of 22, George had saved enough to buy homestead rights from a man who had decided to sell for $50. With the help of his brother John, George built a two-room sod house on the 160 acres. This same man told him he knew of a good German girl in South Dakota who needed a husband. George went to Dakota on the train. He met, married and brought Julia Orth home in fewer than three weeks. Thus began a marriage that lasted 56 years, until her death. My mother-in-law told me many years later that she got so homesick she would have walked home, but it was too far.
George and Julia worked hard, and little by little they added buildings and acres to the original homestead, while adding 11 children to the family. There is not room here to tell of the good and bad years: suffice it to say they were able to retire to town where they enjoyed many good years. Julia died at 79, George died at 94. I married their son Alvin in 1946. We have lived on this farm for 47 years, and we will pass the farm on to our son, who will hopefully pass it on to his, too.
St. Francis, Kansas
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.