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Swehla/Svehla Family Newsletter

Memories of Immigration

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written by Francis Joseph Swehla 1845

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It is truly said that the best memory is fact recorded. Black and White"cerne na bilem." The human minds retain early impressions with wonderful indelibility. But the power of the mind weakens with old age, and we do not become alarmed or aware of the fact until much of our past experiences and knowledge has slipped or faded away from us. Recollections of great variety as to value. We value them according to the amount of happiness they yield us, or knowledge that renders us intelligent, wise and powerful for good. Unhappy recollections serve as a warning lesson.

I was born November 5, 1845 at house number 42 in the large village of Albrectice near Vltava-Tyn, in Southern Bohemia...the heart of Europe.My Father a master wheelwright and wagon maker. My Mother whose maiden name was Alzbeta Moudra, died when the subject of this sketch was less than four years of age, he being the first born, and his younger brother, less than two years old, died with his mother... the Asiatic cholera decimating the country. Father, whose first name was also Frantisek, as written in the cesky tongue, soon married again. So young Frantisek attended the village school under the care of his stepmother, Anna, till the spring of 1854, when the family with a number of other families from nearby villages moved to the United States of America.We came down the the rapid river Vltava (Moldau) to the capital city of Prague, there taking the railroad train by way of Leipzig to Hamburg, and from there a small steamer to Liverpool, where a three masted sailing ship was boarded.

The colonist arrived at New York and proceeded by railroad train via Philadelphia to Pittsburgh Penn, where a stop of a few weeks were made. From there we went on to Cleveland Ohio where a longer stop was made, the city was not the goal of the colonists, the goal was to acquire land for themselves and they had been advised that the new State of Iowa was just beginning to be settled upon its eastern borders, was the favored State to go. Therefore, the next move was via the Great Lakes, in a rear-end turbine propeller to Chicago Illinois, thence by railroad cars to Galena, that was far as the cars ran at that time. From there the journey was made by wagon, to haul the baggage,women and children, men walked. One evening at dusk as the group of Bohemians approached a tavern near Mississippi where they planned to stay the night, they suffered a minor mishap. The driver of one of the wagons, seeing mud-hole before him and trying to avoid it, turned to far to the right into a dense trees and upset the wagon in the mud. We were thrown from the wagon, children screamed, women prayed, and the driver cursed. The trunks burst wide open, spilling the linen and extra clothing into the mud and water. The men came upon the catastrophe and dragged the besmeared one out of the mud, set the wagon right side up and each man finding his own, starting Pulling them along by hand, for noone wanted to get back on the wagon. When Dad (Frantisek) wiped the mud out of my eyes, I could see light ahead. It was a tavern in the woods. Washed up with a steaming supper in the glare of candlelight, we saw and felt that we were not hurt as bad as we were scared.

The next day reaching the Father of Waters, a steam ferry took us to Dubuque, Iowa. The colonists rented houses on the outskirts of town, placing two to three families to each house. The men looked for work, as the finances of nearly all of them were exhausted by the long journey. My Uncle Frank or Francis Swehla(the same as my father, they were cousins)took a trip to Winneshiek County, Iowa, where a bohemia settlement had been started, early in the spring of 1854, near Calmar, then called Whiskey Grove. It was on the border of a large Norseman or Norwegian, which reached as far north as Decorah, the county seat. My Uncle bought out the right of the Norwegian settler, and secured a section of land for himself and family. So after a few months of sojourning in Dubuque and working for 50 cents a day, part of the colonists move to their new destination by river steamer by way of Lansing, when the should have gone to McGregor, that would have been the shortest route. On reaching, noone could be hired to haul the party west fifty miles, so the baggage was stored and the party started out on foot. We followed a wagon track, according to the direction given by my father who was also the guide and interpreter all the way from home in Ceske. He was the only one that could speak german, and we were able to find germans everywhere so far. But the second night lodging in a primitive little log cabin, and they were scarce, he found good people, that he could not talk with, as he had struck the Norwegian settlement, but they understood our wants all right. Waking up in the morning, we found snow covering the ground, and made our first footprints in the snow in America, November 1 1854.