Letter to Siblings Relates Family’s State of Affairs
Settler Warned of Immigration Pros and Cons Alto, Wisconsin June 14, 1866
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We want to let you know that we, through God’s goodness, now are in good health, and hope we may hear the same of you.
We had a very difficult trip, which you perhaps know. All this was not what we had intended to subject our children to. The loss of our two children I can not forget, that will always stay with me and be a sharp thorn in my flesh. This has taken all our pleasure and enjoyment. If God did not give me the power and strength, then I would collapse. It is impossible to describe how hard this has been for us. Those of you who have children can almost imagine what we all are going through.
As to our state of affairs we have rented a log house after we had been here for 14 days and we are living in it now. We have five hectares (about 12 acres) of arable land, just like it is over there. We rent the land for $40.
We bought two milk cows for $57 for the two. We have some for our use and sell 50 cents worth of milk every week. There are places we can buy here, which were offered to us almost before we got here. One place of 80 acres near Rediker, with a good house on it, we could buy for $72, but I did not dare risk it because I knew nothing about conditions here, so we just rented this small place instead. This way, we won’t have the chance to gain anything, but we don’t have to lose, either. If we find something better later, we can always leave here. In the fall they tell me one can rent larger places, and I’d rather start on a small scale and not go into debt.
You can imagine that it sounds good to buy such a large place, but everything you need to buy for such a place is very expensive. Things are done quite differently here than in Holland. It’s all done with machinery. It is easier to earn a dollar a day here than to earn four stuvers (20 cents) in Holland. Food costs are expensive here. We buy meat for 7 cents a pound, the best pork is 12 cents. Wheat meal is 3 1/2 cents, buckwheat is 2 1/2 cents a pound. Everything is according to American pennies. The way it seems I cannot notice things are much different here than they are in Holland. If I didn’t know how long the trip was coming out here, I would not be able to believe that we were such a distance apart.
The area around here is particularly nice, and we are enjoying ourselves exceptionally well. The children are attending the American school. In the summer they are starting a new school sponsored by the church.
The people are very friendly and helpful and come to visit us every day. Before we had our own cows or anything else, they provided us with everything. Everyone said, “Feel free to come if there is anything you need.”
When it comes to religion and worship, it is much like in Holland. We never get into a home where the Bible is not read and audible blessings and thanks are not said at every meal. On Sunday they are very strict to have all business places closed, and they would rather not speak about world problems. I do not know if they are sincere because I don’t know their hearts, yet I find it particularly edifying.
A lot of Hollanders are living in these surroundings with few Americans, several of which are leaving and are glad to sell their farms. Yet there are many coming with money who will get along all right. Many who come without money find it isn’t anything like they expected.
The young men who came with us are rather disappointed. fan Van Den Berg had written about a man earning $200 a year, but farmers here pay $100, and anyone who is slow will find it difficult to find a farmer who will hire him. In Holland people often spoke of farmers being able to pay good wages but I can give you a little hint. Everything here is done by machinery and horses such as sowing, mowing and threshing. Not too much work is done to the land. The land that grew wheat last year and had been mowed was still a stubble field when we came in April. They plow the fields before they sow wheat. The corn and potatoes are not planted until a week or two before the first of May. The land is plowed and the corn and potatoes planted. I have thought and said if we worked the land in Holland this way we wouldn’t get anything. The straw is put on piles and burned. That is what is done with the wood. The bigger branches are sawed and used for fuel in stoves and the twigs are burned.
How often I think if only the things that are burned here were in Holland. Oh, how many poor souls out there have to go to the woods with a sack and gather twigs. Here it is burned or they let it rot. I believe if people here would work the land the way it is done in Holland they would reap a lot more. Anyone here who works 80 acres of land can easily work the land with the help of one hired man, except in the busy season, when they sometimes pay someone $2 a day. On a farm like this they can harvest about 800 bushels of wheat if they grow 40 acres, and they have corn, potatoes, and hay and a pasture for their cattle. They do not keep many cows, mostly five or six, that is cows and calves and two horses. Wheat is about a dollar a bushel, and then you have $800, but you have to keep some to sow the following year, which is about a bushel and a half, and you have to keep some to eat. You can understand and figure what is left over. For those who have a good start, it is exceptionally good here, but those who come with little or no money, it takes some time to get a good start.
Thus, brothers and sisters, at the moment I cannot recommend too strongly and tell you to come, even if it would be so pleasant to have you here. I must first have more experience here, and if later we are more familiar with conditions, then I will write you more in detail.
Tell Arend Brink that Hendrick is still with us, and that he is enjoying himself and is well. He goes out working and is earning a dollar a day.
Greet everyone from me. There are too many to mention names. Write soon and let us know if all are well. Also how the business with hayland has gone.
I remain respectfully your brother, Rijk Sneller
Submitted by Sandra Sumner
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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