Susannah Woychik's Letters -5 1874-6
Burnside, Trempealeau County, Wisconsin
April 17, 1874
Dear Aunt Julia,
Our big news this time is the marriage of my brother-in-law, Jacob Kulig, to my good friend Mary Skroch, daughter of Mathias and Anna, whom I am sure you remember. Jacob’s land is in Maule Coulee, somewhat east of here, and very near where the Skroches live. They got married on the 2nd of February. So they went off on their honeymoon in style on the new train.
The trains started running on schedule was on January 1st but it has not all been smooth going. I sure did enjoy my first ride. Hyacinth took me to Winona, across the river, on it. But first we all turned out to watch the first train go through. A huge crowd gathered. Everyone was bundled up in his warmest clothes. The anxious moments of exciting waiting were about over. A whistle screeched the cold air and someone shouted, "Here she comes."
Hyacinth took the train down to La Crosse and bought some more adjoining land. He paid cash for it. Our property now totals 240 acres.
Pa is getting more land too. The idea is that our original 40 acres will go to one of the boys. He has got another section or so. He needs to go in and do the paperwork by the beginning of September.
We have a new postmaster now, Mr. David Garlick He’s been in the area for a few years. He also runs a grocery store and is the school director. Our little town is growing by leaps and bounds.
You probably remember Philip Klimek and his wife who was Mary Pietrek. They have two boys, Philip and John. They came here in 1870 and took 160 acres, but just this last year Mary died. He is now getting married again to Mary Kampa. When he first got here, he worked for Mr. George Markham, who I know pretty well, as I used to sometimes work for his wife.
I didn’t have enough to say before so will add to this now before I send it off. We have had a hot dry summer, and there are a lot of sickly children around with cholera infantum.
Hyacinth and his brother have gone shooting for wild pigeons, but they are hard to find these days. A few years ago you could see them roosting in a continuous stretch 45 miles long. They were so heavy that their weight would break large branches from oak trees. But pigeon hunters by scores came to get them as pigeon pie for the Chicago hotels and now they are nearly all gone.
My brother Carl, who now wants to be called the more Americanized version of his name, Charles, finished with school a few months ago. He was pleased to be done.
I am not feeling too well myself, and think that it might be that we will be having a baby towards the end of the year.
Burnside, Trempealeau County, Wisconsin
August 5, 1875
Dear Aunt Julia,
I have not had much time for writing lately, as we have a new son, John, born on December 30th last year. He is a very nice baby, but very demanding, and I find myself run off my feet trying to deal with him and all the household things too.
I have a very politically minded husband, and he has updated me on the farmers’ union situation. Before, I was telling you in one of my letter about the Granger movement and how they influenced the election of Governor Taylor. He was instrumental in getting through the "Potter Law", Wisconsin's plan to reduce railroad freight and passenger rates.
Governor Taylor himself was not an enthusiastic supporter of the bill until the railroads began openly defying it by charging higher rates than those set by the Railroad Commission. Citizens sued the railroads under the Potter Law and won at every legal level. The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the Potter Law on September 15, last year reaffirming the state's right to regulate the railroads operating within its borders.
Despite their loss in the courts, the railroads kept up a withering propaganda attack on the regulations, and backed it up by publicly refusing to make further investments in Wisconsin as long as their ability to set prices was curtailed by the law. They are talking about a severe national depression which is growing deeper, and the railroads' refusal to expand mileage or build new grain elevators seem worse than paying higher rates.
Hyacinth is busy cutting marsh hay. It has been rainy every other day this month, and the corn is not good. But here in Burnside, over half of what is planted is wheat.
Susanna, Hyacinth and baby John
Burnside, Trempealeau County, Wisconsin
April 20, 1876
Dear Aunt Julia,
Pa received your letter saying about how you think that Uncle John’s son would be best to come to the States, now that his parents are both dead. His half-sister has been taken in by the priest and his housekeeper, and the other girl has a place to go with some old maiden ladies, but nobody seems to want him. We knew both the parents were poorly before we left, but didn’t think that the children would be left orphans. We talked a lot about it, and Pa thinks that if it is all right with you - you can bring him with you when you come next year - if you are able to keep hold of him up until then.
Poor boy, he must now know what is happening to him. But then, when he comes here, we think it best he comes to us. Hyacinth could do with more help around the farm. We will send his ticket and money to pay for the trip. We do expect he will work for us to pay it back, as I am sure he knows. We have a reasonable sized house which we hope to extend soon - and he will be able to sleep in the loft space in the house with John when he gets a bit bigger.
Let us know if you think that is an acceptable situation, and we will get the ticket and money ready to send off.
A bit of news for you. You know my Aunt Susanna Filla and her family who moved here a few years ago. Well, their son Leopold (same name as his father) got married in January to a girl called Julia Blacha. We went to the wedding, and it was very nice.
Besides our crops, Hyacinth is raising some cattle as well as a few sheep and swine, but no brood sows, as we bought two small pigs from a neighbor. In the fall we butchered, and salted the pork.
What a lot of time is spent keeping the wood box full. Hyacinth spends day after day chopping, cutting, or splitting wood. That will be a good job for my young cousin. He also supplies the district schoolhouse a quarter of a mile away and several other people who are not able to get an adequate supply on their own. We have a cow, and it is my job to milk it, and make butter and cheese.
When there is no other work, Hyacinth is busy grubbing, burning brush, building fences, or chinking moss between the logs of the barn. On rainy days or when the snow blew, he is inside the house making repairs on his farm equipment.
And once a year he, as the rest of the farmers around here, choose to work on the public highway in lieu of paying the poll tax.
I’m sorry to hear that young John Woychik's sisters have had to farmed out, and wish we could send for them too. Maybe in a few years’ time we can try that. Tell them that it is a possibility.
But because of late melting snow we had a flood here on March 24th that tore out half our new bridge and water was so high that the river couldn't be crossed. The flood was started by a severe rain. Soon every river and creek was flooded. Some of the millers, in order to save their dams, opened their sluice gates, and this made the condition in the lower valley all the worse. The villages and hamlets were flooded, the people had to go about in boats. The only boat in our village is owned by Mr. Farlin so that was the only means of relief to the poor people who were imprisoned in their homes, at the mercy of the waters.
There were a number of thrilling rescues, and Mr. Farlin tells amazing stories about people taken from wood piles and box cars, and even of one adventurous cow which made its way with its calf up a stairway and was found the next morning safe on a landing, many feet above the raging flood. The flood was followed by severe cold, and some isolated families had to burn furniture and laths from their houses to keep warm. Vast tracts of water froze shortly afterwards, making the valley one great ice field.
It really was an awful flood and led to a tragedy. As I said, the flood water made quite a sight, so it caused people to be curious to see it. The ground being hard frozen, the creeks were roaring torrents. Toward evening on that first bad day, four boys - Lee Fay, Fred Hill and two Schmidt boys - went on the railroad bridge across Elk Creek (just by Pa’s land) to watch the ice break up. So intent were they in watching the ice that they did not observe that the track was covered with water, and they were unable to get off and had to cling to the truss of the bridge. Great pieces of ice hit the bridge hard enough to tip it half over. The young men held on for their lives while the water continued to rise until they were in the water up to their knees.
The weather turned cold and the water froze. It turned dark and as no help came as they had told no one where they were going. Their friends were unable to locate them and when they were found they were in a pitiful condition and Pa sent off for the nearest doctor, which was Doctor George Hidershide of Arcadia. Word reached him at 5 o'clock in the next afternoon, and crossing the raging river in a skiff, he secured a saddle horse from a farmer and started on his errand of mercy. At the Two-Mile Bridge he was forced to take to the hills. At every valley he had to go nearly to the head of the stream, as all were too swollen for crossing. All that terrible chilling night he toiled on his way, and it was not until 5 o'clock the next morning that he reached his destination at Independence, only nine miles from Arcadia. He made the boys as comfortable as he could, and then returned to Arcadia. The doctor said that immediate amputation of the feet was necessary. The operation was performed by Drs. George N. Hidershide and Frank L. Lewis, also from Arcadia, a few days later.
Our good news is that our Catholic Church in town is finally built, and on October 7th last year, Bishop Michael Heiss of La Cross came here to dedicate it. Moma was so excited because we met him when we were on the way here and spent a night or two in La Crosse and went to his church there. Anyway, it is called Sts. Peter's and Paul Catholic Church, and it is a frame structure, not logs, and cost $2,800. The building material for the church was hauled by oxen from all over the place. Our priest, Father Herman Klemetski, doesn’t have a parish house yet, so he lives in North Creek where he also serves that parish, and our church is a mission of that church for the time being. We also bought a plot for a cemetery by the church. We have got 150 families who come here to church.
They say a depression is starting, and the wheat prices not at all what they used to be. Hyacinth is trying out some experiments to see if we can have something else as part of our cash crop. He planted sorghum this year and some tobacco, but I doubt that this climate is hot enough for that to grow well. Lots of Germans and Polanders have started going into having dairy herds and making cheese and butter. I don’t think we shall go that way, at least not until he has tried out these other options. James Luck operates a cheese factory with some of the milk being hauled by wagon from North Creek a distance of about 10 miles.
You probably remember the Halamas from back home. In fact I think that Rosalya Halama who married Simon Suchla, is one of your friends. Anyway, her brother Carl came here in 1870. He married Mary Sonsalla, from Schalkowitz this last May. I know he is hoping that Simon (or Sam as they call him) and his family will soon come too.
We’ve had a cold, wet, backward spring, and I am worried that my vegetable and flower seeds in the ground will rot. And not only that but we had such an early frost last year that I didn’t get lots of the seeds picked in time before they were killed. At least my sunflowers seem to be taking well. We can always feed the chickens on sunflower seeds which they love and which make them very fat.
Everyone is having problems. The Eau Claire Lumber yard sued one of our neighbors for a bad debt, and won the case, so the bailiffs came and took cows and equipment to pay off the debt of $120.
I hope all this depressing talk will not put you off on your trip. You know there are ups and downs, but in the end, we usually do pretty well.
As this is the centennial year for the United States, we have voted to change the name of our township from Burnside and New City to Independence as from the Fourth of July. I wonder whether it will stick or get changed again.
We now have a grain elevator in town put up by Mr. Cripps, Mr. Comstock and Mr. Noltman, by whom it is still owned. It is of frame, costing $4,000, and has a storage capacity for 16,000 bushels of grain.
I am considering having a Polish girl to help me with the house and the children. If you knew anybody who would suit, perhaps she could come over when you do. I will pay her fare if she works for me for a year. Let me know.
Love from Susanna, Hyacinth and baby John