Diary of Susannah Woychik, 1868- 7 Settling In
June 10, 1868
We went outside to view of land in more detail. It was obvious that no crop could come from it in the short term, as it was full of scrub and trees. The small area that had been cleared was now overgrown, but you could see that a few seeds had been left behind and there was perhaps something we could resurrect from last year’s planting.
The first thing Pa and the boys made was an outhouse – which the previous owner hadn’t thought necessary, apparently. They nailed together three frames about 3 foot by 3 foot using small branches from nearby trees. Then they pounded in four corner posts, and nailed one frame to the bottom middle (14 inches from the floor) and the other at the top. Then they found a board and cut two rectangular holes in it (one smaller to suit my little brothers small behinds). This board they attached to the middle frame. Then they made up the walls with branches, leaving a space open for entry, and for the moment the roof was left empty too. Pa said when he had time and the weather grew worse, he would put on a proper roof and door. They dug two holes beneath the rectangles- two feet square and two feet deep. He put a nail on the side where we could attach the necessary paper. It wasn’t glamorous but would fit for the time being and much better than what we had to use on the ship and train.
Then they put together some makeshift beds. They are just wooden pegs, pounded into the ground and resting on them, nailed together boards that they found lying around the property. They made two bigger ones for the boys to share, and one smaller one that thankfully I can have on my own. I tried mine and it is very hard but at least we all have someplace to sleep, on the opposite side of the room to our parents. Moma says when we have our place fixed up, she will let me have some curtains around my bed for privacy.
Even though it was Sunday and we really weren’t supposed to be doing servile work according to the church rules, Moma and I spent our time unpacking the cases and trying to make something useful out of them. We had to keep some of the stuff like Moma’s sourveniors in the packing cases. But we nailed three of the cases on top of each other with the top facing outwards to make a sort of cupboard. And then another set so they could then be used to store our clothes – one set for Moma and Pa, the the other with the top for me, the middle for the two older boys, and the bottom one for the little boys. Moma put a tablecloth on top of theirs to make it more private.
Then we nailed the four remaining cases, two together, with the other two on top, to make a sort of work surface for the kitchen. We wouldn’t have to eat off of it now we had our new table from Mrs. Sura. This time we had the open bits to the sides, which could be used for storing utensils that won’t matter if animals come in from time to time. I hope there aren’t any snakes. We put our cooking pots and washing buckets and bowls in there. Pa’s tools can stay in the long flat packing box for the time being.
Our few remaining foodstuffs we put into storage jars with lids that Moma had brought with us, one each for rice, sugar, flour and coffee. We put our spices inside a box with a cover, and then added them to that shelf. Our dishes and mugs we were able to put into one of the other spaces.
Pa showed the boys how to make stools for themselves out of three strong branches of the same length, cut to the right size and tied in the middle to make a sort of triangle shape on top, which then could nail a flat piece of wood on top. They weren’t very suitable or stable, but the boys were very proud of them, even if they did fall off quite often.
After our supper of bread and cheese, donated by Mrs. Sura, we wre amazed when a number of neighbours came on foot or pulled into our yard in their wagons to welcome us to the area. They introduced themselves, and each had a small contribution of food such as jam or pickles, and one brought cookies. They said it was traditional on the first Sunday after somebody new arrived, to come around to greet them. Someone brought a real nice present – tomato plants already half grown and on and on it went. When the day was finally over, we realised how lucky we were to have come to this very friendly place and that our prayers had been answered.
Pa spent his time talking to the men about their farms. Many of them said they would have some paid jobs for him to do especially over harvest time. Apparently the going rate is a dollar a day for casual labor, which seems like a lot of money to us. Pa said first thing tomorrow he must go over and see Mr. Sura about putting in his claim for this land, and making it all official.
So that was the first day in our new home in our new country, and surprisingly we all slept very well that night but woke up very early due to no curtains on the window.
Before he went off to see Mr. Sura, Pa, who was very proud of his rotovator, showed Tom and John how to work it. He said their job for the day, as well as providing wood for the fire, and keeping the water supply topped up, was to start on clearing the old vegetable patch so we could get the tomatoes in the ground. He told them to clear a patch about 30 feet square.
So Pa and Uncle Simon went off and Moma and I went out to see what we could save from the previous planting. We found some cabbage plants, and pulling out the weeds near them, told the boys to avoid them when they were rotovating. There also appeared to be some potato plants coming up left from undug potatoes from the previous year, and those would be very useful for us. There were loads of pretty wild flowers, so Moma roped off a section of them to brighten up our yard and house. She spotted some poppies among them, and if there is one thing that we Polish people like, it's having poppyseed coffeecake, so we hoped by the fall to get the benefit of those too.
We need to do a big laundry, so no time to write more now.
I will now relate what Pa told us about his activities of the day. He found he needed to go back to La Crosse to sign the various bits of documents and Mr. Sura suggested that he have a word with the Markhams, a rich family that live nearby, to see if he could borrow a horse for the trip. Uncle Simon was using his wagon to go into town to buy a plow. Pa said it was wonderful to be riding a proper horse again. The Markhams offered him a very cordial welcome to the area, and showed him on the map a quicker way to go, cross country, so it was fewer miles than we had taken the day before, but still 20 miles each way.
He got to La Crosse by mid day, and went to the Land Office. Luckily there were some Polish speaking people there. He found out that claiments had to be 21 years old, the head of a family, and a US citizen or have the intention of becoming one. He filled in all the various forms. Mr. Sura had given him a full description of the piece of land to take with him. He had to declare that he did not already have 320 acres of land within the United States, and that he had not quit or abandoned another property and that the homestead would be for exclusive use of him and his family.
Our tract is what they call “offered land”, where it was previously homesteaded but not completed, which had been surveyed but not sold. Pa had to pay a filing fee of $1. He was told the rules. He had one year to provide the details of how he had improved the land, and he had to pay $50 the going rate for the 40 acres, by the end of that year. He had to provide notice of intent to prove up for thirty days, so that if somebody else felt they had a better claim on the land, they could come forward during that time. So he had to check back in 30 days time to see if anyone else had made a counter claim for the land, but Uncle Simon said he thought it most unlikely.
It will take five years before the land will become officially ours. And we have to live on it and work the land for that full period. They did say if there were problems with grasshoppers or some such, making it impossible to cultivate the land, the period could be extended up to seven years.
Then, if all was well, Pa would have to fill in an affidavit proving that he had met all the legal requirements with two witnesses signing similar papers, testifying to the facts.
It took the boys all day long to dig the required garden plot. We then all had a go at planting out the seeds Pa had bought in La Crosse earlier. We hoed a straight line and carefully placed the seeds in so they won’t grow too close together. We planted tomatoes, including the half grown ones, beets, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, radishes, peas and beans, and something we had never heard of before, corn, squash and pumpkins. Uncle Simon, with Pa’s help, hopes to have a small cash crop of wheat this year, so that will provide our wheat for bread.
At break of dawn this morning, Pa walked over to Uncle Simon’s house and they will begin plowing. We haven’t seen their house yet, but no doubt will go over there on Sunday.
Pa told us a bit about what the farming jobs would entail. They first needed to plow the soil, and V drag to break up the clumps. Then the grain will be sown by hand or fiddle.The soil here is so rich that it doesn’t even need fertilizing and it should produce 40 to 50 bushels per acre. Uncle Simon’s new plow has no wheels and it is made of cast iron.It cuts a rectangular clod about 9 by 3 inches and throws the dirt over the side. It can cut through small tree roots and roots of bushes. The teeth of the machine are made of iron, not wood, like they would have been in the plow Pa used in Prussia.
Because we want to be able to plow our land next year, Pa says the first thing we have to do is to put a 3-4 inch notch on all the trees we want to fell, and over a period of time, they will die of their own accord and fall down.
The weather here is now very hot so we have to keep watering our little new seeds. There isn’t likely to be much rain.
Our sod house is dark and damp and uncomfortable and way too small. But as Pa says, we have to do this until he can save enough money to buy the land and then we can build a proper log house and barn and have a real farm. We can’t berate him, as we know he will have to work all the hours of the day this summer, to get us enough for the necessities of farming – oxen and a plow as well as a cook stove, and seed for planting winter wheat in the fall. I must admit that it is pleasantly cool in our house in the very hot weather, and I have been told that it will be warmer in the winter than our neighbours with their log houses.
The dirt floor now has a rough covering of gunny sacks. We have an open fire, which Moma is using to cook on, and we have a kettle nearly always on the boil. Moma and I have made bread and cooked it in our Dutch oven on the open fire, which didn’t turn out too badly.
We have managed to string up a clothes’ line between some trees, and little by little we are getting settled in, but I havely have any time anymore to write in my diary.