Wednesday, August 22, 2007

An Immigration Story (Part III)

Today's post arrives late, and tomorrow will probably pass without new information, but SAY-LAH-VEE as the French say. 8-hour department meetings to prepare to greet the new academic semester do not leave much time for me to go on my usual rail about economics on my blog.

In my last two episodes we learned something of how my family came to the United States as immigrants from Denmark. Two days ago we learned about an old spinning wheel that my great great grandfather used as a gerry-rigged bellows, and had become worn out from hard work (much like the immigrants themselves who come here). Yesterday we learned that my ancestors came to this country somewhat casually, and not necessarily in a fully formalized way by first entering Canada, then following what work was available along the St. Lawrence River and then Sault Ste. Marie, MI, eventually landing in Plano, IL. Not only that, but they didn't all speak English from day one! The nerve! Today we will hear the story of how they built their life and eventually became landowners in Nebraska, the eventual home to most of my extended family today.

Stories of homesteads and cheap land in Nebraska were the motivation necessary to bring them to this state in February, 1880. Grandpa and his family and John Andersen and his family plus three other Danes loaded everything they had on two railroad cars and then got aboard these cars themselves and travelled to the end of the line which at that time was Lowell, Nebraska.

Uncle J*** said that Grandpa used to recall that when he looked south from Lowell and saw nothing but sandhills he said that if they did not find anything better than that they would go back to Illinois. However, they travelled to a place seven miles south of where Minden [Nebraska, ed.] is now located and there made their home.

Although homesteads were still available, Grandpa decided to buy an “improved quarter” rather than hunt for a good homestead location. He paid $400 for this farm. However, the improvements included only a one-room, dirt floor dugout on the west side of a draw and dug well on the east side.

Because Minden had not been founded it was necessary to go to Gibbon [NE, ed.] or Kearney [NE, ed.] to sell produce and to buy needed provisions. This was a hard two-day trip with a team of horses, in that it was 29 miles to Gibbon and 27 miles to Kearney. When Grandpa made these trips it left Grandma alone with a young family. However, Uncle J*** said that Grandma did not worry about anything except the possibility of an animal or a herd of animals falling through the roof of the dugout which was ground level on one side. There were some wild cattle, wild horses, and some buffalo in the area at the time.

Crops were good in those early years, but one of the first winters caught Grandpa and Grandma without a fuel supply. Fuel was very hard to find in that there was little wood available, because every year for hundreds of years prairie fires had burned all trees except those in sheltered spots at a crook of a stream. When the early snow came it became necessary for Grandpa to take a shovel and a length of rope and go to the corn field to find fuel. He would uncover corn stalks, cut them off, lay them over the rope, and when he had gathered a large bundle he would tie them up and carry them home.

The good crops enabled them to make good progress. After two years in the dugout they built a sod house. By 1892 they had a frame house, they had outbuildings and a good orchard and garden. In 1904 a fine addition to the house was completed. Uncle J*** said that Grandpa was proud that his former employer from Illinois, J*** L****, and his wife came to visit them one year and spent a while month in their home.

To return once more to the spinning wheel. Uncle Jim said that spinning wheel was one of their best toys when he was a kid. He said they would run it by the hour, and that along with the fun it provided it was often the cause of a fight when a brother or sister would cause the belt to come off.


  1. Thanks for sharing your family's history on this blog. I think it puts a personal face on some of the issues that we raise as economists.

  2. Oh and by the way 8 hour department meetings rock!