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Swehla/Svehla Family Newsletter

First Swehla farmsteads in Iowa

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Location of Frank Swehla's first farmstead. Hungry Lane, Spillville Iowa

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Cousin Jessie, hoping the fence in front of driveway on Hungry Lane. Not bad for sixty something! 

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Orginial dugout of Swehla farm in 1850's

When Frank Swehla first arrived in Spillville, he asked George Bachel to help him find the location of his claim on section 28 of Calmar Township. Arriving on the property, they were surprised to find a settler already occupying it. Not without some difficulty, due to a language barrier, all parties finally agrees that the Norwegian squatter had made an error, that the land he thought he was on actually was futher west in Sumner Township.
 
Frank and Katerine Swehla prepared for their first Iowa winter by making a shelter such as some used by the Norwegian neighbors. This was a hole dug into a convenient hillside, faced with logs and thatched with six foot long, blue grass, which there was an abundance. Their meals, chiefly wild game and corn cracked with a mallet, were cooked over the coals of a rough fireplace.
 
Frank's cousin Frantisek Josef and others of the group who traveled with them, contructed a shelter similar in arrangement to an Indian Lodge, but more substantial:
 
As it was too late for each family to dig itself a habitation in the hillside, several families combined to build a house of slabs bought from a rude and primitive sawmill on the Turkey river. Frank bought a ypke of oxen and an old wagon to haul the slabs and get the baggage left at the rivers landing. He built a stable to split rails and old dead grass for hay, but the winter was too severe for that kind of quarters and the oxen half froze and half starved.
We had two cook stoves, on each side of the aisle that led through the middle of the room from the door at one end to a window at the other. The bedsteads were placed on each side of the aisle like cots in a hospital. But there was no bedstead for me.(Francis Jr) I slept on the woodpile behind the stove, shivering with cold everynight until Mrs. Hayek took me under her feather bed. My oldest sister Katerina was born there that winter, and another girl for our neighbor. She was named Marie Hayek.
 
 
 
Unless the settler arrivied on his new acreage in the sead of winter, the one big task he faced was preparation of the land for cultivation. Walking to McGregor in the spring of 1856, Frank Swehla purchased a oxen and a plow, the first in the neighborhood. The plow was so much in demand that the neighbors used it on moonlit nights, breaking the virgin sod. Many came from long distances to veiw with wonder this miracle of time.
 
Mrs. Anna Swehla and Mrs. Katherine Swehla also hoed their first gardens from the sod. To keep deer and livestock, the gardens were enclosed in Indian fashionwith a brush fence made from the branches of trees that had been cut for log cabins.