As told by Joseph Dozbaba, Atwood Kansas

Editors Note: This autobiography was printed in the Czech paper KATALIK several years ago, and was recently translated by Mrs. Charles Pianalto as a memory for the two living children of Mr. Dozbaba. They are Mrs. Matilda Micek and Mrs. Joseph Prochazka, Sr., both of Atwood.

I was born on February 25, 1848, and came from Zahrada (Garden), a suburb of Brno, a city of Czechoslovakia. We were three in the family—2 sisters and myself. My sister died within one year and my father passed away in March on Good Friday. That Fall I obtained another father. We had support but my step-father wasn’t a farmer, so our income was much lower.

When I grew up, I was taken to the army for 3 years. During the second year in the army, I got married to a nice girl and we have lived together for over sixty years, and we take together the good and bad as it comes.

We had 11 children. Two died in infancy in the old country.

At that time there were rough times in Czechoslovakia, and I couldn’t save our home even with my very best will. Therefore, I had to sell our farm and move to the praised America.

On March 25, 1884, we boarded a ship and the trip over the ocean took 17 days. Our fare was paid to Crete, Nebraska, Galine County. Three families—19 people in all—came over here together.

We stayed overnight at some Bartosovsky’s. The next day, Mr. Psilek took us to his farm. He made three trips to bring us all to his little sod house. His family consisted of seven. With the 19 of us, it made quite a family, didn’t it?

The third day I wrote a letter to Omaha inquiring about a job, and my answer was “yes.” So I left my family at Psileks and went to Omaha. I worked for the railroad, but within a week the work was finished. So I went back to my family in Crete. The small amount of money we brought with us from the old country was dispersing rapidly and my wife was worried about our future. “Don’t cry,” I said, “soon harvest will be here and I’ll go to the farmers into (in) the fields.”

A farmer came and hired me to tie the wheat for him. I was happy to go—no matter how hard the work was for me. The farmer cut the wheat with a machine and four of us picked it and tied it into bundles. The field was 80 acres, and in six days our work was finished there. Our hands were so swollen that we couldn’t even stretch our fingers apart.

Then I worked the threshing machine until October. Since all the field was completed I started working for the railroad. The work was heavy and the pay very poor.

One day, a relative came to me and said, “Joseph, you know what? In Kansas the ground is cheap and much is for sale. Everyone can buy 160 acres and with only a registration, will pay $14.00. Come with me, we’ll try it.” So we went and on October 10 we got some ground and within 6 months we were to have a house built.

In March, just the men came and started building our homes. Our wives and children stayed behind until we had something built. When we came, we made ourselves a tent. One of us was the cook and the other hunted rabbits with the gun. No one said a thing about building!

We walked to another farmer for water. One day he said that if we don’t start building our own place, he’d stop giving us water. That woke us up! I started my building first. We dug a hole 14’ x 16’, put in 4 big posts, made a straight roof, covered it with willow branches, then the sides were made out of sod. We made two small windows and the sod house was finished. The whole work cost me $3.50.

In a short time we had nine small shacks not too far apart. We then wrote to our families that our residences were finished. My wife had $18.00, which she had saved, paid for our five acres of ground. It cost $11.00. Now we were our own rulers.

I wanted to go to work so for my family. I bought a sack of flour, some sugar, 2lbs of coffee, and I still had 45 cents in my pocket. From that I left 25 cents with my wife and kept 20 cents and went to work. With grief I left my family, as our youngest child, a girl, was only five days old. But I had to go. Children were counting up and there was nothing to eat. I left for Nebraska for the harvest.

I barely walked 10 miles and a cloudburst of rain came, and I was soaked to my skin. I spent the night on a hill in a mound of hay. The next day, I reached the railroad track and followed it. Evening came and I was hungry, tired, my clothes soaked, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to sleep outside as I was afraid and it was still raining.

Then I was a house some distance away and I went toward it. I knocked, stepped inside and found a lady making supper. I pleaded for a place to stay overnight, but she didn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand her. Water from my soaked clothes made a puddle on the floor. I stood by the stove to keep myself warm. The lady disappeared and, after a while, she brought back two men. Again I pleaded for a place to stay overnight with them, pointing to my mouth that I was hungry and then pointing to my eyes that I would like to sleep there but they didn’t understand me either. They looked at my eyes and my tongue as if they thought my eyes and tongue hurt. But they just scratched their heads and said they didn’t see anything.

Luckily, I remembered I had papers with me from “Zabrani Domoviny” (Homesteads Taken Away), so I showed them. They at once recognized from the papers that I was no tramp and happily they told me to stay with them overnight. They gave me supper and, after breakfast, the next morning I thanked them for everything and went on to my destination.

The third night I spent with a German family. The housewife fed me fresh bread with butter, washed and ironed my clothes. Yet today I think of the wonderful hospitality of all.

As I walked the dreary road I was close to Hastings, Nebraska. In a valley, I laid down on some hay and early the next morning I saw two small towns ahead of me. I didn’t know what direction to go, but after sometime I recognized the way I had come from. So on the eighth day I finally came to a farm where they knew me from the year before. So I stayed there during harvest and threshing time. After that I picked corn by hand for 2 cents a bushel. Even at that, I was happy. I made some money.

I received a letter from my wife saying that much snow had fallen and she was at home without a stove. She baked and cooked on a 3 legged pot stove: in the summer she cooked outside, and during rainy weather her cooking was done in the sod house. There was no chimney for the smoke to escape so our house was full of smoke. We usually had coffee and pancakes to eat. My wife walked 3 miles for water, holding the youngest child while the other five hung on to her dress.

I knew what she must be going through. I left for home right away. My dear children hadn’t a drop of milk for a year. During my time in Nebraska, I didn’t experience starvation. But my family at home had. I bought a pig, a stove and some other things from the farmers before leaving for home.

At home I bought two large trees, chopped them up to have enough wood to burn for the entire winter. From the pig I made head cheese. My hungry body had a feast. Even with neighbors we shared food, as it was very scarce and hunger plentiful.

I worked from one place to another for several years and must have walked over 800 miles altogether. My wife worked at home. Some years were bountiful, others very dry.

One year we had a good crop of wheat so I bought home a butchered hog. Again we had something to eat. I always returned home so worn out that one year my wife and children hardly knew me. Over the winter I rested for the next year.

In the spring, I bought a cow. That was a joy to see my wife milking the cow and then giving the children the warm milk. And even more when she churned butter and gave them some on a piece of breed. Together we had to cry as we watched the children.

In due time I bought some bulls and started to work at home. Worked some more ground and planted wheat and corn. We raised our own poultry and pigs. Slowly, our work added up. What we had was ours and the debts which we made ourselves. With the help of God even those were paid.

What we missed was a church and a cemetery. Mr. Heble donated 5 acres of ground so all of us went together and bought heavy and straight oak. John Ruda first made a large crucifix from it, which we placed in the center of the ground. There we congregated and prayed together. We were all anxious for a church and for a Bohemian priest. “At least, if a priest would come once a year to hear our confessions,” we all said.

The Reverend Father William Coka from Omaha visited us in 1888. After that, Father Novacek came twice and, later, Father Dragoun, a priest from the Czechs looked after us.

Shortly later we bought a wooden house in town for a temporary church, which Bishop Grise blessed and gave us Father Stephen. He stayed in town and we furnished his transportation. Several priest came and went as we were all poor and the funds were lacking. One day a terrible storm demolished the church. It couldn’t be repaired. Along with Father Stephen, I visited the parishioners to seek help to build a new church. Some promised to donate, but all at once, some decided to go to the German parish. It was heartbreaking to see our Czech parish disperse. Only a few of us remained but we started another building.

The others who went over to the German parish had bad luck as the financial budget was pressed to the Czechs. They decided to build for themselves. The German priest preached Czech one Sunday and English the next.

The Bohemians soon fell away from this church. Some had put in long hours of labor and money into the church. Soon some people drove as far as 20 miles to Nebraska to church, which meant that the parish with 80 Bohemian members was broken up again. In Nebraska, there was Czech priest the Bohemians seemed to follow.

I can’t write too much about the Indians—only what I heard from neighbors who were here 4 years before we came. They were the Bouda, Spevacek, Vosasek, Janousek, Sprigler and Cermy families. This is what I heard from them: “We didn’t have money to buy our own ground. The cattle ran loose and destroyed much of our property. The pioneers made it a rule that if some animal entered another’s property, the animal would be shot. When that happened, the Indians formed a raid and killed any white man around. Three of the pioneers—Spriglers, Janouseks and Sochars—were shot to death in this manner. Grandpa Sochar was 84 years old at this incident.”

Bouda once told me that when the Indians came to his place he was hidden in timber to see what would happen. As he comprehended what was going to happen, he ran home and grabbed his gun and fired. The Indians yelled, let go of their horses, and ran as they were afraid of any gun sound.

The life of a pioneer was full of fear, hard work, hunger and coldness. Among us was much love for each other, and helping each other made many of us become the better farmers. Others lost everything.

My wife and I worked very hard but we had a place to show for all of our labor and trials. Today, together, we are retired. I divided the land between my sons and still have 320 acres of my own. We have our house in town and a few dollars in the bank.

My wife is 81 and I am 83 now. We often think of our years spent together. We thank God for everything—the good and the bad.

--The Citizen Patriot Thursday, July 1, 1965 – page four