Susannah Woychik's Letters -7 - 1879-83
Independence, Trempealeau, Wisconsin
January 5, 1879
Jamestown, Dakota Territory
How nice to hear from you at Christmas. I have missed having you around to gossip with. And now that you have settled in Dakota, we are very interested in hearing all your news. Many of the locals who are finding a hard time of it financially, are thinking of moving there.
One of the families from here who gone to homestead near you are the Gregory Nogoseks. You remember them. They came to Wisconsin in about 1871. His son, Joseph, is about 15.
Aren't we lucky that there is such a good train service to there. And as they report, Jamestown is on a roadbed described as “straight as an arrow” across the prairies. Mrs. Christina Nogosek, wrote a letter back here. She said the railroads didn’t like the way Indians would steal railroad ties to prop up their wigwams. But, about all that is left from the Indians are numerous arrowheads and other Indian artifacts and occasionally the discovery of an Indian grave. She says there were still some buffalo, with their useful buffalo "chips," and some buffalo bones, along with what were called "buffalo hollows” on the hillsides, where the buffalo had sought salt deposits to lick. Have you seen any?
Her other bit of news is that she is expecting a baby probably in early December.
Independence, Trempealeau, Wisconsin
February 5, 1879
Schalkowitz, kreiseOppein, Oberseliesien.
I hope you had a nice Christmas and got the presents that JA sent you. I know he misses you and thinks of you all the time. He says that as soon as he makes some money of his own, he will send you tickets to come here too. He told us that you have trouble with your legs and when he left you weren't even able to walk. I hope that has improved by now.
We are having a pleasant winter so far. We have 6” of snow which makes for good sleighing.
In the wintertime when the crops are done with, the men and your brother do a lot of tree felling. We get $2.50 for a cord of hard wood, and that is a good extra supplement to our income.
I am going to have another baby. And speaking of babies, your other cousin, Julia who married Mike Fugina, has had her second baby - Joseph, born last year.
I must admit that our crops failed last year, and as is the case with the entire area, and perhaps the entire country, we are not alone, but we are bearing up as best we can.
It never seems to stop raining and the rain spoiled lots of wheat in stacks.
Prices for our products have gone up as there is a scarcity of them. Flour sells at $4 a bushel, butter 30 cents a pound and a dozen eggs are 25 cents.
I will write again soon.
Independence, Trempealeau, Wisconsin
July 20, 1879
We have a tragedy to tell you about. My cousin Julia Woychik Fugina has died. It was after the birth of her son Frank. They already have two children. Her husband is devastated, and is saying he will probably leave the area, and start anew somewhere in Dakota Territory. This is a surprise to us, as he has two brothers who live in Arcadia, and you would think he would want to stay near his family, as well as that of his wife. Her brother Philip has finally got married, on July 13th of this year to Maria Kistowska.
My sister-in-law, Mary Skroch Kulig, has a servant who came from Poppelau. You might know her. Her name is Heding Blacha. Mary and Jacob have no children yet. Our girl, Kate Kulas arrived when JA did and she is settling in fine. Her brother came with her so she doesn't feel homesick.
No, to answer your question straight off, our crops were not much better last year. The weather conditions were against farming all along. We have taken to selling trees from our land, and getting some furs to sell by trapping beavers and otters in the river.
You asked about your relatives sending money for you to come. I know that our post office does send post office money orders. Whether they can be used there in Opole or not, I am not sure. I know we pay most of our bills by postal money orders, unless we are paying in cash
Our new purpose built school is finally done. The land was donated by the Cripps family, so it is called the Cripps School. It is a small white frame structure for 50-60 children and some adults. Our Johnny will be going there.
You asked how it differs from the Polish school I went to. I suppose some of your children will be young enough still to need to go to school. Well, remember I was forced to speak German in it, so it was hardly a Polish school. Anyway, the schoolhouse has home made desks placed close to the wall. They are rough and unpainted but do the job, although there are not enough for all the students, and some have to stand or sit on the floor. And the teacher and students have to clean the schoolhouse too. The school and lot cost $2000.
As far as what they are taught, it is reading, writing and arithmetic, grammar and spelling. I think most of the emphasis is put on the arithmetic which many of the pupils don’t like or do well in. I suppose you have to say it's a mental discipline. In mental arithmetic drills, the pupil listens attentively while the teacher reads a problem once. He then stands, repeats the problem correctly, gives each step in the solution, and the conclusion. The pupils learn how to work, and they acquire skills that will help them get decent jobs.
Some of my friends with older children say they hate the spelling bees, but others thrive on it. Books have to be taken home so they pupils can learn, and then there are competitions, first within the school, and then between schools. Sometimes three and four schools take part, and the one that is proclaimed the champion is very proud.
The children are expected to provide their own textbooks. So sometimes they bring ones that are not really suited to their ability - but it was all they could find. My youngest brothers are nearly done with school now, and they will help out more on Pa's farm then.
Did I tell you that we have a newspaper here? It is called the Independence Weekly News was established on March 9, 1878 by George E. Gilkey but since then it has changed hands and names several times.
All for now,
August 5, 1881
We are very pleased to say we have decided to come, and it will be next spring. I have finally got Sam to agree that things are so bad here, and there is no sign of them getting better. It will be so nice to see my mother again, and Sam looks forward to seeing his brother John, and sister Anna, too.
You say that your crops seem to be doing much better this year, so we are very hopeful that this depression is at an end. We have made inquiries about coming with the American Line. Do you know anything about it? Have others used it? It seems the best for the money. But instead of New York, we will land in Philadelphia. Is that near to Wisconsin?
Congratulations on your new son born on November 5, last year. Have you had him baptised yet? Paul is a good Catholic name. And we have heard that Hyacinth’s brother, Jacob, and his wife Mary have had their first child, a son born in March.
All for now,
November 5, 1882
Jamestown, Stutsman, Dakota Territory
It was so nice to hear from you again. I can imagine that you are feeling rather bereft of news from here, with nobody from your Wojick family left around here now at all. Certainly I will write to you and tell you what is going on, and I would love to hear about how you are coping in that wilderness you have chosen.
I know the Theodore Gospodars are there now too, and John Filla. He is my cousin, as his mother is my father’s half-sister. I was named for her, Susanna Filla. My cousin who died, Julianna, was named for her too, as her full name is Susanna Julianna. I wonder if John Filla will come back here to find a wife.
The Prussian government, motivated by Otto von Bismarck, has ordered the expulsion from Prussia of all ethnic Poles and Jews without German citizenship. I am so pleased that we don’t live there any longer. We would have been forced to become German if we had wanted to stay.
The Suchlas have arrived safely here, and are settling in. They are staying with John Suchla’s family, and also with the Halamas (Rosalya’s mother) . They had a different route from us, and went from Poppelau on Wednesday, May 15, to Hull, England and then from there, by train to Liverpool. Then on Wednesday May 24th they departed and with one stop in Ireland, they arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Monday June 5th- 8 - 12 days, slower than usual.
Rosalya said that they had a good journey - much more pleasant than ours, if you remember - as they were all second class passengers, and all received quite a bit of service and she said the food was good too. Their boat was quite a modern one - built two years ago - called the British Queen.
I was surprised that they had chosen a longer sea voyage - as Philadelphia is 110 miles from the ocean, up a shallow bay and river channel, and 200 miles further than if they had stopped in New York. But she said it was the best deal for the least money, so they weren’t worried about the extra day or two of travel.
I asked her what their experience had been like, going through emigration there. She said they stopped for a health inspection at the Lazaretto in Essington, eight miles down river from the city. There vessels carrying passengers with infectious diseases were isolated at a complex that included a hospital capable of housing 500 patients and a steam disinfecting plant able to heat contaminated clothing and baggage to 220 degrees.
Very few people, however, she said, were kept out either by health precautions or by the new federal laws that gave powers to the authorities to deny entry to convicts (except those convicted of political offences), lunatics, idiots and persons likely to become public charges. Apparently for the right bribe, anyone could find away around the new rules. And they had to pay a 50 cent tax which was levied as of this year, from all emigrants at any American port. We paid more than that when we went to New York all those years ago.
She said the American Line boats go to the Washington Avenue piers, where there was a two story facility for customs inspection. Then they went downstairs to a ticket office for the trains as Pennsylvania Railway Station is very near by, and onwards to Wisconsin.
Our school continues to flourish, and we have a new teacher, Miss Lillian Dale. It won’t be too long before my Johnnie goes to school. He is six, so will be starting in the fall. Which school does your Rosie go to?
All for now, but looking forward to hearing all your news. I am so pleased that you want to be a regular correspondent with me as I so love writing and getting letters.
March 5, 1883
Schalkowitz, PoppelaukreiseOppein, Oberseliesien
Just to let you know your brother, JA has run off to work at the lumber camp in Eau Claire. He says he felt he had done enough to pay for his passage. So I won’t be providing you with much information about him from now on. I think he was very ungrateful, leaving Hyacinth in the lurch like that. I suppose if he comes back, we will have him to work on the farm again, but he will have to convince Hyacinth that he will do his proper job. He seemed to resent driving Johnny to school - maybe because he missed going himself. He said, “When I went to school in Poppelau, I got my hands slapped with a ruler for having no slate - when there was no money in the family for me to have a slate.” Well, that was that, and this is now, and as I said, he is no longer our responsibility. We promised to keep him from being a burden on the United States government - but if he runs off - we can’t do anything about it.
Before he left, we had a family picture taken, with our boys and him and Kate Kulas who has been living with us (pictured above) . We wanted them to know that we considered them part of our family, but I guess he decided that he preferred not to be.
We have some more newcomers from your part of the world. Pauline Nitchey, who is 16, arrived here, and she was sponsored by my mother's sister-in-law, Frances Lyga. She will be able to help with their young children. Frances is nearing 50 and still has six children at home.
Pauline is a nice girl, but she told the story about how when her mother, who was Kathryn Kokott, died, her father, who is quite a well to do shipbuilder, remarried and her step-mother was not at all nice to her. So she is now saving money to send for her brother Joe, to help him escape the wicked witch too.
She will have to work for her for a year to pay off her passage.
When you get a bit older, we might consider sponsoring you, if you would like to come here. I know your brother JA would like that.
I hope all is well with you. I will keep in touch when I have time.