Homestead Stays in the Family

In March 1872, my grandfather got a passport for himself, his wife and his son, John, to come to the United States from Prague. His wife never reached the United States; whether she died or never boarded no one knows. They landed and went to Cleveland, Ohio, where more people from the old country had settled.

In 1873 my grandfather remarried, this time to a woman whose parents had gone west to Iowa. Grandfather asked the owners of the land adjacent to his in-laws’ acreage whether they would sell it. The landowners, who lived in Cleveland, asked $200 for the 40 acres; Grandma said to offer $180. If the offer was accepted they would have $20 to buy a cow.

The owners accepted the $180. My grandparents put all their possessions in two trunks, one of which my grandfather made before coming to the United States that is still in use today. They boarded the train and came to Fonda, Iowa.

Leaving their trunks at the depot, they walked across the prairie to Grandma’s parents. Then Grandpa borrowed a team of horses and drove back to Fonda to get the trunks that held their worldly possessions.

Grandpa decided to build a one-room house on the highest spot of the 40 acres. He tied a rope around tree trunks in both rear corners and ran it under the house eaves to keep the wind from lifting the house. It had only dirt for a floor.

They lived in this house for five years. In the meantime, Grandpa was working on another building that was to be a barn. However, when it was finished they moved into it, as a baby was coming to enlarge their family. My mother was born there October 10, 1885.

They later dug a cellar by hand and built a two-story house over it. The large rocks in the cellar walls provided the foundation for the house. The house had two rooms down and two upstairs, with an open porch across the front. It took some time to get it built because no carpenter was hired. It was a change from the two homes they had lived in previously because it had a floor, which made it much warmer.

Grandfather went about digging a tile ditch by hand. He went to Ser City to get tile. They were also tiling in the city. Workers had dug

a ditch across where Grandpa had to drive, and when crossing with the horses and wagon, his wheels fell in the ditch dug for the tile. Grandpa fell from the wagon, which landed on him, breaking his hip. The men tied him to a board and took him home. He was on that board for a long time. He did walk again, but was very crippled.

The ground was worked with a team of horses and walking plow. Sometimes the corn was hoed by hand, not with a cultivator. For meat they would hunt rabbits and prairie chickens, which were frozen and hung on the clothesline during the winter. In summer, Grandpa was busy improving his farmland and buildings.

Forty acres were added to the farm, which is still owned by a member of the family. The original 40 acres has been in the family for more than 100 years. A fifth-generation family member plants and harvests the crops. Grandpa would be so proud if he knew his favorite grandson now owns it.

Mrs. Robert Armstrong
Early, 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.