Susannah Woychik's Letters - 11 1897-1900
July 15th, 1899
Pingree, Stutsman, North Dakota
Dear Mary and JA,
Congratulations on the birth of your fourth child. We have four and I think that is a nice number to stop. I don’t intend to have any more. And I see that you have given one of your children the name John after all. I wonder what you will call him? Jack is a nice nickname for John, I always thought.
My brother Paul as got himself involved in a court case against Jakob Klimek. I won’t go into the details, but I do wish he wouldn’t make such adverse publicity for our family. We are important people in Independence now. Hyacinth is looked up to by everyone, and we really feel that we are an important part of the community.
We are involved in the building of the new church. Our little wooden one has outgrown its usefulness. This new one will seat several hundred people. And we have decided that we will give the gift of two of the stained glass windows -one on either side near the back. And it will say “donated by Susanna and Hyacinth Kulig,” so everyone will know down the ages that they came from us. I like to think of being remembered in that way. Keep that in mind for when you have some spare money for your little church there.
I heard about the problem you had with John Suchla, JA. You always did have a fiery temper, and I guess he does too. But to say that you felt your fine of $50 for assaulting him was money well spent and you hoped to do it again. Well, that was going a bit far.
You wrote in your last letter that all of you have finalized your homestead claims now. You say JA has 126 acres, Andrew, your brother has 160, Frank, 160, Sam 162, and Thomas 160. So yours is the smallest farm of the bunch. Maybe you can buy a section off Simon. He is your father, after all, and his land directly merges into yours. But I expect perhaps that Sam's land is really worked by John, although it is Sam who gets the credit.
Love from Susanna and family
September 5th, 1899
Pingree, Stutsman, North Dakota
Dear Mary and JA,
Thanks for sending the picture of your house now you've extended it. (pictured above) I can remember when it was just a one room shack. But with your big family, you need a big house, I guess.
Well, your sister Anna has finally arrived. She was very flustered by the experience, but I told her it was nothing compared to what we had to go through when we came here. But anyway, she is safe and sound. I am teaching her English as quickly as I can, because I have always felt that, although many of our women never bothered to learn English - like your mother for instance, Mary - well, it isn’t a sensible way to proceed. She should be prepared to get a job and she will need English for that. And also if she wants to find a husband - well he might not want a wife who holds him back. And she is learning quickly.
I don’t know where you got the idea that she was crippled, JA. She walks fine - just like anybody. She's on the short side - not even five feet tall, but she certainly is not hampered in any way physically. She had a rough upbringing - working in the fields after she finished at her school. She was brought up by two seamstresses, you know, and often there was not enough to eat, and they sent her out begging at the local bakery.
When she finished school at the age of 14, she went out to work hired by various local families to do field work - picking potatoes. She didn’t say much about her younger half sister. She had been taken in by the local priest and reared by his housekeeper - but apparently she ran away. I hope there was nothing untoward in the situation.
Anyway, she is keeping in contact with your older sister, Elizabeth Novak who apparently lives in a village not far away from Poppelau. She has two girls. They have no intention of emigrating. She didn’t seem to know anything about your brother Thomas. It is such a shame when families lose touch. That is why I keep writing letters to everyone - to make sure we all keep in touch. I feel it is very important for families to stick together.
When Anna does come to live with you, in a few months' time, I will make sure she gets to the station all right, and has instructions for the changes in Minneapolis. Such a long way for her - but she has already come such a long way. I did consider going with her and seeing you all again, but I don’t think I am really up to it. If you find having her too much, do send her back to me. And I hope you have some ideas about a husband for her, because I can tell by the way she is when she is with my children, how much she would like some of her own.
You probably heard about the tornado in New Richmond earlier this month. It is about 25 miles east of the Twin Cities, so not all that near here. It killed 117, and injured 125. More than $300,000 damage was reported. We haven’t had a bad twister here for years. Anyway, I’ll tell you about the New Richmond one, as I got all the details from the paper. It was the day of the Gollmar Brothers Circus, drawing hundreds of visitors in addition to the town's 2500 inhabitants. Around 3pm, clouds began to build, and the sky became quite dark. As the circus ended for the day around 4:30, a heavy rain, with some hail, began to fall. The rain let up around 5:00, and people began to head home for the day. By 6:00, the streets of New Richmond were full of tourists, travelers, and residents.
Meanwhile, the tornado had already touched down to the southwest. It began as a waterspout on Lake St Croix, about 15miles away at around 5:30. It was described as a "boiling cloud", which seemed to skirt the hills to the east of Lake St. Croix, and then head straight for New Richmond. Passing over mostly open country, it destroyed several farm buildings as it traveled northeast.
There was little warning in New Richmond. The tornado was completely illuminated by lightning, but was visible only for a few minutes before it reached the town. Homes and businesses were demolished and torn from their foundations, flying debris filled the air, and people were swept away. Some barely had time to scramble for shelter in storm cellars, but many were caught in the streets. Even some who did take refuge were killed anyway, such as those who ran into the O.J. Williams dry goods store. The store was swept away, and the people taking shelter in the basement were pelted to death by flying bricks and timbers.
Most people who could not find shelter were killed. Debris of all sorts flew through the air at tremendous speeds. A 3,000 pound safe was flung a block from its original location. Trees and timbers were hurled "like javelins" through the air, and the intense winds swept people up and threw them against walls or the ground.
After the tornado left town, another storm with strong winds swept through, sending people back into their shelters. It is likely that some died in fires while potential help was on the way.
All but the extreme west end of the town was obliterated by the tornado and subsequent fires. More than 500 buildings were destroyed, and the only significant surviving structures were the Catholic and Baptist churches. The town's electrical plant and water facilities were destroyed, so fires ran rampant through the scattered debris. Many bodies found in the aftermath were burnt beyond recognition - it was impossible to tell if they died from the tornado or from being trapped and burned alive.
Twenty-six families experienced multiple deaths, and six reported four or more deaths in the family. After order was restored, authorities determined that a total of 117 people had been killed (114 in the village) and more than 200 injured. This is the 8th highest death toll for any single tornado in American history.
Do you get twisters as bad as that there?
On July 11th the village board was petitioned by tax payers for a new steel bridge here in Independence, and in a special election the voters approved a $3,000 bond issue for the bridge construction. Bids were called for and a contract was awarded to J. J. Wagner Company of Milwaukee whose bid was $5,047. The contract called for a bridge of 150 feet in length, width of 18 feet with a 5 foot sidewalk along one side. The roadway is to be of wooden planks resting on steel girders. You wouldn’t recognize this town now as we have hundreds of feet of public walks in the village. Planks are nailed to wooden stringers which are laid directly on the ground. Occasionally there is a claim, when someone trips over the rougher boards.
October 20, 1900
Gladstone Hotel, Jamestown, ND
Thank you for your letter and telling me how you have settled into life in Jamestown. I am pleased to hear that you have now left the farm and gone to work in the hotel there. You say that Julia Suchla is working there too. That will be nice for both of you.
I thought I would write a long letter to you, so that you will have the experience of getting better with your reading. I am sure that Julia can help you with any words that you don’t know. I have written larger than usual, as that might help you. You did a good job with your letter, but you need to work hard to get better at English.
That is all very well and good, but I think you might like to know that a friend of mine, John Lorenz (he came over much the same time as we did and everyone calls him Laurence - as a variation on his last name) has just lost his wife in childbirth. He also has a son who is 6, Phillip. They live in Chicago, and I know that he is desperate to find someone to look after his children. Shall I write to him and suggest that you might like the job? I am not saying that he will marry you, after an appropriate period, but with your age as it is, I think he might be as good an opportunity as you are likely to get. And as I say, I can vouch for him being a very pleasant man. He is, of course, older than you by 15 years. But he married late in life, and is a quiet and gentle man. We have many relatives and friends in Chicago, and it would not be difficult for you to get into a community of Polish people there - many of whom you might have known relatives of back in Poppelau.
I hear that JA is busy reproducing yet again. Poor Mary. It will be the death of her yet - having so many children. But so many of our people do just that - keep producing children until it kills the mother. You would think they would know better by now.
Is it true, what we heard about Julia Suchla? Someone said that they read a ND paper which said she took Frank Neva to court for slapping her. But apparently the story is a bit different that how that sounds. His hands were being overly affectionate, rather than mean, and as we all know, he has a wife, Rosa and a two year old son - and needed teaching a lesson. Good on Julia, I say. I wonder if his $20 fine will keep him from trying again. I heard that Julia was sweet on Alfred Mish. Do you know anything more about it?
Write soon and tell me what you think of going to Chicago. JA might not approve of it, but you don’t need to ask his permission. You can just go and tell him afterwards.
Love from Cousin Susanna