1863 Jozef Kostlan letter to Bohemia
If you had ancestors that came across the ocean from Bohemia to Linn or Johnson County, you may be interested in reading an 1863 letter, written by Joseph Kostlan to his family and friends in Bohemia.
He tells of crossing the ocean, arriving in America, taking a train to Chicago, arriving in Cedar Rapids and going to his friends the Janko and Rousar families, both of whom lived near what was to become Ely, Iowa.
Kostlan's wife Anna's maiden name was Janko so she was no doubt related to the Janko family. According to the 1910 United States Census, Joseph Janko (age 54) and his wife, Anna, immigrated to the United States in 1855.
Some of the "local" last names he mentions are:
Janko, Roušar, Honzik,Vitek, Benes (Benesh), Hromatko, Korab, Rolenc, Louvar, Netolicky, Drahos, Vavra, and he lists Kun as the minister of the "Protestant church". I believe this church is the Bohemian & Moravian Brethren Church, now the First Presbyterian Church near Ely, Iowa. It was established in 1858, but did not have a church building until 1868. Until then they met in a Lutheran church just south of Ely, a fact that Kostlan describes.
In the 1880 United States Census Kostlan is listed as a farmer living in Fairfax township, Linn County, so he apparently did purchase land. His older children have no doubt married by this time.
1880 United States Census, Linn County, Fairfax Township
Joseph - age 45 - farmer - born in Bohemia
Anna - age 46 - wife - keeping house - born in Bohemia (I believe Anna's maiden name is Janko.)
Frank - age 15 - son - works on farm - born in Iowa
Wensel - age 14 - son - at school - born in Iowa
Louis - age 11 - son - at school - born in Iowa
Mary - age 7 - daughter - at school - born in IOwa
Edward - age 3 - son
On to the letter!
From University of Minnesota, Digitizing Immigrant Letters
Description: Letter written by Jozef Kostlan from Linn County, Iowa, to his relatives in Bohemia on December 26, 1863. Read the background of this letter and see another letter at https://ihrca.dash.umn.edu/dil/letters/jozef-kostlan-letters/
In Linn County, December 26, 1863. A letter from America.
Our dearly beloved fathers, sisters and brother, brothers- and sisters-in-law, uncles and aunts, cousins, godfathers and neighbors, friends and every- one we know with your husbands and wives as well as children, we are greeting and kissing you one hundred thousand times, hoping in God that these lines of ours, longingly awaited, will be delivered to you while you are alive and in good health. As for ourselves, praised be God forever, we are all alive and healthy, and how we have been so far we would like to let you know.
The entire journey from Pardubice to Bremen was very enjoyable since we could not stop wondering at all things and occurrences that we saw. We spent four days in Bremen; it is a very large free city or republic, about four miles around.
From there, early in the morning on the 3rd of September, we, along with our luggage, embarked upon four sailboats. Each of them held about two hundred people, and another, a steamboat, towed us out. The sailboats were tied to it in such a way that we could walk from one to another without fear, and at about two o'clock in the afternoon we sailed into Bremerhaven where they moved our luggage chests to the ship. We were there overnight, and then early in the morning a steamboat towed us into deeper water. Bušek and the inn keeper with whom we had stayed, along with two clerks from the Office who had inspected us previously, all escorted us, and before long the steamboat left. Our escort also boarded a small boat, and then we waved our hats with wishes for health and a safe journey, saying good bye to them and to one entire continent.
The first day was smooth sailing, everyone was on the deck, watching the hills of Europe and ships that were sailing not far from us also heading for America and England, 19 of them. I do not know if [Page 2] they all carried emigrants, but of the two sailing from Bremerhaven one was full of Germans, the other had a mix of passengers; there were six families of Bohemians from Kutná Hora, the rest were all Germans. There were over four hundred souls on our ship.
The next day it began to rock us so unpleasantly that we could not fall asleep, and just over half of us were choking or throwing up. The crew, or sailors, were nailing and tying down the luggage chests to the posts to prevent them from tipping over. It then first occurred to us that much worse times are awaiting us, but thanks to God the voyage was good. But there was always a day or two when it was rocky, and then it was calm again. This lasted for two and a half weeks, and then it was fine all the way till the end.
My weak stomach and constitution were giving me troubles for three and a half weeks. So much so that I could not eat, and as soon as I raised my head, it started spinning, and my stomach was turning, but then I got used to it and food tasted good again. Francek was also in bad shape, although not as long. Anna and Krystýna were also down for about four days, but at least they were not throwing up or were not too sick. Jozífek and Anička were throwing up constantly. That is how it is on a ship, there is fear and stench, thirst and hunger. Thirst and hunger one could have helped, but I am disgruntled over the fact that those who have gone before us did not tell us well enough about it, and they never replied to my last letter.
On the anniversary of the Zderaz church consecration, it was Saturday. White loaves of bread were passed out to us, and they tasted as good to us as the holiday pastries to you. There was [Page 3] a fellow travelling with us who had a concertina. On that Sunday the sailors were having their third music party. They were dancing, and the German passengers with them, for they feared nothing even when the luggage chests were rolling about and water was splashing into the ship. They were just laughing. Well, there is no need to be afraid, for everything is arranged in such a way that no danger can come up easily, and no one can escape God’s will anyway. Among all of us aboard no one died except the Mlejnek’s girl and also one of the German’s. A good sailing ship costs as much as the entire village of Zderaz, and steamships much more than that, and there are hundreds of those ships, especially in New York.
On the day of the smaller consecration holiday in Zderaz we reached the desired shore, and there we remained at anchor for 24 hours. Then we really could not stop wondering at the steamships, moving on the water faster than trains on rails. Everyone had forgotten about their suffering, and many were jumping with joy when they saw the flat ground and the beautiful huge city.
Our sea voyage lasted forty days. Then we travelled six days in America by rail. We arrived in Chicago, which is a very large trading city – the railroads reach it from seventeen directions, and there are already over one hundred and seventy-five thousand souls, all Czechs, living there.
On the morning of October 20th, we safely reached Cedar Rapids. The Jankas (Janko) were going to have a music party. Honzik was delivering beer barrels, so we were able to get a ride with him, and at once they prepared a feast for us. They have a nice house, three rooms, and so many horses and ox teams, cows and a lot of pigs. They are doing very well, and they are sending a hundred greetings to all their friends.
When Roušar learned that we were there he [Page 4] came to get us right away, and then we had a good time again and we have ever since. This year the Roušars lost two mares with colts. They also have a large house, one mare, one colt, and three mules. They are stronger for pulling loads, and more expensive than horses, and last up to a hundred years. They have nine head of cattle and over forty pigs. In one day we have just slaughtered fourteen of them for sale. They each had two hundred fifty pounds (140 kilos).
Vítek and I helped Jozef with building the farm, he also has nine head of cattle. I have visited Vítek as well, also the Beneš’s, Odvárkas, Hromatkas, they are all healthy and well. They all send their hundreds of greetings to their friends. They are about ten miles (your style) from the Roušars. The area around the Roušars here are is full of Czechs, and from near you, such as Koráb from Borová, Rolenc from Voldříš, he is also sending greetings to his friends. Louvar and Netolický; Skutyčka and others who are unfamiliar to you. The English are people especially honest and good-natured when one can talk with them.
Do not blame me for not writing for so long for I thought I would first look around here, maybe even buy something, but so far I have not bought anything. Prices will not go up now with the war. Gold is very well regarded here. In Bremen we got 42 American gold dollars for one hundred Austrian guldens. In paper we would get a third more so we are by far better off than when the Drahoš’s went, since the currency has become stronger in Bohemia and weakened here. So they did not make anything on their money.
The journey from home all the way here cost about one hundred Austrian guldens for one adult, with approximately one hundred fifty pounds of luggage (80 kilos). [Page 5] One could do it for even less than that. So, if anybody asks, I will write everything from the beginning to the end, how to arrange things to great benefit. To invite you to join us here – that is a very difficult thing because without your own desire or wish, all convincing is in vain. Second, I do not know whether God would bring you here safely. Third, it is still the same here with the war, the state of Iowa is required to send 13,300 men. Fourth, not sure whether you would like it here as much as I do for all of the good things that you are lacking, such as good land in great abundance, come also with many difficulties.
To describe how everything works here, I would have to write much only based on hearsay, and you know that people are of many different opinions, so I will allow myself some time and, God willing, if I can stay alive and healthy here for one entire year, I will relate everything to you then. For now, I will try my best according to my knowledge and conscience.
In the vast surrounding area here, the land is similar to the fields of the Vávras, but you will not find a stone on it. It is good ground, in some places up to twelve feet of good soil. Everything grows here, and new soil is easily broken here since there are no forests, only nice meadows. The prairie is plowed by a big plow pulled by four teams of oxen. It is done in June or July, that time is said to be very hot. It works so well that in the spring they sow wheat directly in it. Less seed is needed here for everything, and it yields more. Everything here is done by machines. Roušar also has a cutting machine together with his neighbor.
Cattle does not require much, there is enough to graze on in the summer. [Page 6] And in the winter they can be fed corn straw. Cattle are always kept outside during the winter, but for horses there are stables.
The weather is very strange here, at one moment terrible cold and lots of snow, then suddenly there is a thaw. But the winds are stronger here since there are no high mountains, wind can blow freely, and there are fewer forests as well. Cattle of all kinds can be found here and as big as yours. Only I have not seen goats yet, but they do raise them in some states.
In this state the wild game is different, no deer, hares are smaller, but pheasants and partridges are plentiful and they are more expensive than farm raised poultry. In other states it is all different, for America is very large. The state of Iowa is as large as the entire Austrian empire, and there are 32 such states. And there is still room for entire new states. So if all of Europe moved here, it still would not be as crowded as it is for you. In some places there are forests just like yours, they are very old and now being turned into fields as well. But how? They are set on fire and the wood burns all the way to the roots. We saw a lot of this on the way here.
Tell Koks that there are mills here, both steam- and water-powered, working the same way as your steam-mills. There is also a Czech miller nearby who has set up a mill although he did not come here with much. There is a lot of work for him around here so he is rather wealthy. They charge twice as much for milling here as they do in your country.
I can’t think of a better way for children but to come here, since work is paid very well here. A craftsman does not earn all that much more than laborer. [Page 7] A laborer earns 1 Austrian gulden during the winter, 2 in the summer. During harvest up to 3 guldens plus meals. When a 17-year-old lad goes into any trade, the first year he gets one hundred guldens, 150 the second year, and 200 the third year. A girl can go to the city and earn 150 guldens. She does not do anything besides laundry and housecleaning, and she will get good food too. Women here wear long dresses and hats or caps. A regular farm hand makes 200 guldens. So we can’t really complain, we should rather be joyful.
To make a long story short for farmers, especially those who work hard, it is much better here than in your land. Women have it especially nice here, although they do not have a house as large, and men are not dressed as fancifully, they do have a table with food that would be hard to get in your land. And if someone would want to have a life like here, their farm could only support it for two years. If people here were as frugal, they could save more here than there. Except for food, everything is twice as expensive here. For about 1200 Austrian guldens, one can get a nice 40-acre farm with cultivated land and a house. An average horse is 200 guldens, ox 60, cow 40. A three hundred pound pig (170 kg) costs 30 guldens. A measure of wheat (94 liters) is 3 guldens, corn 1.80, barley 2.30, oats 2.
I do not have more to write, so I am greeting the Kopeckýs and all friends. One more time we are sending you one hundred thousand greetings and kisses and wishing you a happy new year. And if perhaps this letter is for some of you our first and last, especially you, our old father, since according to human understanding your grave is perhaps drawing nearer, so rest your gray head in peace and take consolation in your descendants reaching their happy destinations, and hope that after not too long a time our dear God will re-unite us. I will end my letter with that. I am leaving you to God and console myself in the hope that in a short time your dear written lines will reach us again. Jozef and Anna Kostlán, Franc Kostlán. Krystýna Janko.
[Page 8] Religion is of multiple varieties here, but mostly Evangelical (Protestant), Catholic believers are as numerous as Jewish in your land. No one is prevented from worshiping in their own way, everyone can praise God the way they want. We go to an English church but in the afternoon since the English go in the morning. The Roušars go there with us, and the other day Mrs. Beneš was there also. The only holidays celebrated here are the first day on New Year’s and Sundays, no other holidays. There is a preacher here from Moravia, a certain Kůn, he is a wise man and a good orator, so in many ways he is above your pastor. The church is about one hour away.
Tell teacher Jarošovský that there are not many prospects for him here, for there will not be any Czech schools established here – unless he would like to start another life. And you sister, please let me know how you parted with father Jarošovský and what he told you on the way and if they would not like to send us some news. Please tell us how they are doing. I am also greeting Vince, wherever he is and how he is doing. I would invite you here, for my first wish would be to see you again. But now I’d rather wait to see how it is going to end up with the war. Meanwhile I will settle down so that you could come and join me. If you have shed any tears for us, you can dry your eyes now. It’s been going well for us, and if it is God’s will for us to meet again, then we will talk about what we are holding in secret now. Therefore I wish you all good health and be well, may the Lord be with you.
If Busek has sent a letter to you do not pay too much attention to it since it is not as he says. When I get a good idea of how things are here, I will tell you better than that.
(Read the background of this letter and see another letter at https://ihrca.dash.umn.edu/dil/letters/jozef-kostlan-letters/)