From Kotten to Wisconsin and farther to Nebraska


From the chapter about the Scholten we already have learned how much power this landed gentry held over their tenants. If it pleased the Scholte, he could order at any time that the tenant was to leave his farm. There were families which had to move almost every year to other farms. Lease legislation which provided the tenants some protection came finally into force between 1933 and 1936. Then a tenant would understand that after 6 years he would have to move to another house.

Around 1712 Harmen Wiggers settled at ‘De Selle’ and is called Harmen te Selle. Also his children were given the name Te Selle. The Te Selle family originated from ‘Selleman’. In the 18th century the name became more and more fixed and under the influence of the Napoleonic period the name of the family finally became ‘Te Selle’. Then the Te Selles had the same problem: they had to leave the farm from which the family had derived its name. “Selleman” was a property of Jan Albert Bennink , who sold the farm in 1861 to Jan Hendrik Hijink who had become Jan Albert’s son-in-law and set-tled himself at “Selleman”. The Te Selles consequently had to make room for others. They, however had some good luck in that. Emigration to America assumed large proportions of the population already. The newspaper “Arnhemsche Courant” writes on August 15, 1846, the following about the emigration out of Winterswijk:

“The emigration to America out of these regions is gathering strength in an astonishing way. From this municipality of more than 8,000 inhabitants so far about 950 people have sailed to other lands and even a bigger number now is preparing itself for the voyages. Most of the time farmers and craftsmen who first sell their properties. These properties mainly consist of estates, furnishings, and fruits in the open fields. The natural result of this is that the value of these goods in this municipality already has descended by 25 to 35%, as has the rent and the lease of it with 15 to 20%….”

Dela te Selle ten Damme (1802-1883)

Dela te Selle ten Damme (1802-1883)

Mother Dela ten Damme-te Selle had to find a new place for herself and her seven sons. Her husband Jan Albert te Selle had already passed away in 1845.

Finding a new farm was wonderfully successful. They even had three farms from which to choose – maybe because a lot of people already moved away. They fixed their choice on “Fökkink” in the hamlet Kotten (see picture). This farmstead belonged to “villager” Steven Jan Goossens, a physician who lived in the village of Winterswijk. This aspect was very important, since there would be no “help days” to fulfil at a Scholte’s manor or field. The men did not have to dig potatoes, reap oats or rye for somebody else. The women didn’t have to bind sheafs of corn any longer. And no Scholte made his presence felt by keeping his hands in his trouser pockets. For the sense of self-respect of the Te Selles, this was an important windfall.

And who is in charge on the new farm? Presumably Derk Willem, in the meantime 34 years old, but from time to time they listened too to mother Dela. Take a look into the family contract of March 20, 1855. This change was entered at “De Selle” one week after Derk Willem te Selle, the oldest son, marries Janna Weerkamp: mother Dela had seven sons. Tobias must go to “Rotmans”. Hendrik Jan became a farmer and a wooden shoemaker and Jan Albert became a weaver in Bredevoort. And the last three went to America. Two went in 1865, four years after “Fökkink” had been occupied by the Te Selles.

Jan Hendrik first married quickly his next door girl Hanna Onnink from “Fökkinkschoppe”, a farm at a stone’s throw distance from “Fökkink”. When Harmen Jan and Jan Hendrik had been settled in Nebraska for some time, the brother Gerrit Jan with his family came to Lancaster County in 1873. Mother Dela, a lively old lady, some time later wanted to see with her own eyes where her children settled down in America. In 1878 (see letter 19) she traveled, at 76 years of age to America.

Where are these sons now?

When Jan Hendrik and Harmen Jan settled in Wisconsin with the help of their relatives, they experienced that it was not so easy to build up a farm. Indeed as ever more acquaintances arrived, the region became more and more crowded. Harmen Jan quickly found himself a wife.

The brothers lived about 9 miles from each other. Harmen Jan was a little bit more than Jan Hendrik the lucky one in business. In 1869 he couldn’t help but mention that he now possessed 30 times more than Jan Hendrik who had three times more than he had at the time of departure from the Netherlands.

In 1869 the two brothers noticed something that brother Hendrik Jan, who wasn’t very happy in his second marriage, also had plans to come to America, but without his second wife. Well that’s some-thing the brothers wanted nothing to do with. He was only welcomed if he came over with the entire family. No disgrace over the family would stain the Te Selles. Harmen Jan wrote him a steep “peppered” letter: “We’ll write a letter from which will be clear what we think of him, yes, but not too harsh, I say yes but he must not get much consolation from it.” “Well,” says Jan Hendrik,[1. Jan Hendrik te Selle
Born: Farm “De Selle”, January 22, 1838
Place: Town Winterswijk, neighbourhood Het Woold
Emigration: To the USA September 29, 1865. Farmhand. Leaves from the new family farm “Fökkink”, Town Winterswijk, neighbourhood Kotten.
Deceased: March 13, 1921. Firth, Nebraska. Farmer.] “You write one then.”

Jan Hendrik thinks that the letter is a little too hard and added a few consoling words. Read for yourself in Letter 6.

In the meantime, Jan Willem Leverdink arrived in Cedar Grove in 1868 already concluded that his chances in Wisconsin are too slight. He moved within the year to the Lancaster region in Nebraska. Jan Hendrik decided to follow this example and moves also to Nebraska at March 28, 1870. He had some bad luck. The land that he had rented was sold to somebody else. Renting a big farm was also turned down:

“In spring we thought we had also got a big farm. It was a 200 acre plot and we wanted to rent it. The man who lived there had also rented it. He was a Zeelander,[2. Zeelander: Somebody from the Dutch province of Zeeland.] who wanted to buy some land in Michigan near his relatives. The Bloemers heard this and uncle came to tell us about it and he advised us to make inquiries. It belongs to an Englishman and he is a nice person to have for a landlord. So we went there and he promised that if the man left, the place would be ours all for the third[3. “all for the third”
Payment was one third of the proceeds of the land.] of everything and I had to bring him this, but he wanted to pay for bringing it to him and he also paid for everything I improved. I was very pleased with this. And the man went on a trip to Michigan, but found the land too expensive there, so he stayed on the farm. Hence we could not get it and so we stayed where we were. I had rather have something bigger and sell ours or rent it out.”

He also wrote home that in the meantime the prices of farmland had sharply increased. Arable land for which he had paid 25 dollars per acre in 1865, was sold in 1870 for 50 dollars.

It was hard to find land for rent and the price of farming 40 acres had increased 9 to 10%.

Jan Hendrik went into action. March 28, 1870, he left for Nebraska. He had already waited two years in vain for Harmen Jan who still did not want to sell his farm. Meanwhile Harmen Jan drudged on some time in Wisconsin to improve his position. In 1867 he cultivated about 70 acres, a “rather big farm“.

First, however, he had sold already about 30 acres of forest for 750 dollars. He permanently was watching his profits carefully. He calculated that 8% interest from 750 dollars brought in him more money than selling the wood, because for cutting he had to hire people.

When in 1870 Derk Willem asked for advice, Harmen Jan – in the letter of August 22 – mentioned Nebraska as an option. After all Jan Hendrik had settled there. He did not want to press the point of settling there because he still had not heard anything from Jan Hendrik himself and two others didn’t like the conditions there and turned back again, among others, because of the rattlesnakes and the prairie wolves.

From Jan Hendrik’s father in law he knew that a person could buy 80 acres for 100 dollars, but that there was hardly any wood and that one must build some kind of a sod house for himself (Letter 7). Nevertheless Harmen Jan started to think about leaving for Nebraska. It intrigued him and he was awaiting eagerly and impatiently Jan Hendrik’s report. Harmen Jan’s leading goal still was to acquire land and make money. Besides that he had to contend in 1870, with a serious potato infestation:

“As far as the potatoes are concerned, what they will produce I do not know. The year before we were very much plagued by the worms. They ate up everything that was green. And now it is much worse. It seems that they grow up out of the ground and as soon as the potatoes are seen, the worms sit on them in piles, and the worms cannot be compared with anything better than bugs (wandluizen). So we name them after ‘plat Gelders’ (dialect of Winterswijk), but they are four times as big and have wings. Where the potatoes are, there they go, and do not go away until they have taken everything.”

Probably the appearance of the worms had been the result of the fact that the ploughed sods still had not decayed completely. Although it was inconvenient, this problem was not the main reason for Harmen Jan’s removal to Nebraska. It was the high price of farmland that truly thwarted his ideals. In 1870 he wrote that many new immigrants who had hoped to buy farms in Wisconsin, had been forced to become day-labourers. Although their wages of $ 1.50 per day were much higher than what they could have expected in the Netherlands, these people still were deeply disappointed. Together with Harmen Jan they moved later on to the West. When the first letters from Nebraska were encouraging, Harmen Jan decided to settle with his family in the neighbourhood of Jan Hendrik.

It wasn’t before September 1870 that the first letter from Nebraska by Jan Hendrik arrived in Winterswijk. The family in Winterswijk must have been waiting eagerly for this letter. After all Derk Willem and Gerrit Jan also were puzzling over emigration! Jan Hendrik first set everybody at ease: Nebraska was a safe place. He was exceptionally satisfied with the quality of the ground. You even can see this Achterhoek farmer take a bite of it:

“the land is exceedingly good. lt is entirely black soil, or black clay, sand or stones are hardly found here. We have 80 acres of land and I have not yet found one stone, and not a shovel full of sand, since we have already broken up fourteen acres. lt is entirely grey black, and just as it is with you in the lowland. When one takes it between the fingers or in the mouth, then it is without the least bit of gravel. lt is entirely covered with grass, not a spot without grass.”

After the winter of 1870-1871 Harmen Jan left for Lancaster County in Nebraska. In November 1871 his first letter arrived at the “Fökkink” farm in Kotten. At the bare, windy plains of Nebraska and during his first year there, he witnessed one of the most feared situations at the prairie:

“Sunday, October 15, we went to the church; the wind was then blowing very very strong (wild – geweldig), but this became worse further along in the day. When we got out of church we saw smoke in the distance, because the prairie was on fire. Here, that is (prairie) grass which is still unoccupied. When this becomes withered or dry, it can stir up a big blaze. This may have been started, or at least it had started to burn. It can burn for miles away. When the grass is gone, then the ground is bald. The soil does not burn. So I wanted to say, that when we got out of church, we saw the fire. A man, named Niklaas Vandervelde[4, From Norma TeSelle-Prophet: “Vandervelde lived on the farm adjoining Jan Hendrik te Selle’s homestead. The Vandervelde farm was subsequently owned by Gerrit Jan te Selle who emigrated to the USA In 1873. My aunts. Helene Te Selle Obbink and Minnie Te Selle Dietz, had written to me around 1959 about this fire. lt was a story that was told to them by their father. Descendants of the other two brothers had also learned about the story from their parents or grandparents”.] saw that the fire was not far from his house. He was in church with his wife and two children. Three children were at home; a girl of 11 or 12 years, one of 8 and the other of 5 or 6. So, he ran as quickly as he could to reach home, but what did he see? His house lay entirely in ashes. Hay, standing, grain and 4 pigs were all burned, but not yet the worst. He saw in the distance something white lying on the ground, thinking it was a calf. But when he got closer he saw it was his oldest girl lying burned on the ground, and upon investigation, the other two were in the house, entirely burned. Thus a tragic situation for that man. Also, there were some more misfortunes caused by that fire, and at many other places. There were big fires. Big cities almost entirely burned down.”

In spite of this kind of danger both brothers stayed in Nebraska. Their reports were so encouraging that now also brother Gerrit Jan decided to emigrate, likewise to Nebraska. The reader can find Gerrit Jan’s travel report in Letter 14. He bought land in Lincoln and rented another 18 acres from neighbour Willem Leverdink.

“W. Leverdink is my closest neighbour. Obbink from de Haart[5. De Haart: Neighborhood between Winterswijk and Aalten, situated in the municipality of Aalten.] also lives close to us. Brother Jan Hendrik lives half a mile, or 800 steps from us. Kolste has bought 80 acres of land bordering my land, and now he wants to lease or sell his other place, as he would rather live among Dutch people. We live 3 miles from the church, but everybody who can drives here. And nobody asks “Can I get a ride?” No, everybody jumps in as long as there is room. Here, there is no difference between rich and poor.”

The three brothers still went through a grasshopper plague and periods of drought. But the circumstances got better. The Dutch community grew. Its members were inclined to stay close together for mutual help and social adaptation. People already built a church where regularly services were held and thus people also met regularly.

When the starting-up problems were over, the three brothers did well. They enlarged their farms and bought still more land[6. According to the maps of South Pass Precinct and Panama Precinct from 1903, the te Selle brothers possessed:

Harmen Jan te Selle:
— 160 acres in section 17,
— 240 acres in section 22,
— 80 acres in section 27
— Total: 480 acres = 192 hectares;

Jan Hendrik te Selle:
— 80 acres in section 13,
— 160 acres in section 22,
— 160 acres in section 24,
— 160 acres in section 25,
— 80 acres in section 28
— Total: 560 acres = 224 hectares

Gerrit Jan te Selle:
— 160 acres in section 19,
— 160 acres in section 24
— Total: 320 acres = 128 hectares] for their numerous children — Jan Hendrik and Hanna Onnink, 10; Gerrit Jan and Anna Jonker, 7; and Harmen Jan, who married twice, even became the father of 16 children! Not only the prairie ground turns out to be fertile! Despite the multitude of children, Anne Jonker took quite awhile to get accustomed. She was the only wife that writes a few times:

“So, brothers and sisters and all other relatives, it would be nice to come visit us for the “child meal” (given for baby’s birth), as it is rather quiet here, for us the members of this family, because the other houses are a bit on the distance and that is rather strange for us……”

It must have been a climax for the families in America that in 1878 mother Dela, already 76 years old, came to visit. And the three brothers could really show her something! Big farms and many grandchildren! And of course, three “Dillie’s”.[7. According to tradition, each son named a daughter after his mother. The nickname for Dela was “Dillie.”

Dela te Selle (1869-1971), born in Wisconsin, daughter of Jan Hendrik te Selle;
Dela te Selle (1873-1940), born in Firth, Nebraska, daughter of Gerrit Jan te Selle;
Dela te Selle (1868-1900), born in Holland Township, Wisconsin, daughter of Harmen Jan te Selle.]

The children married spouses among the Dutch neighbours. The community grew. In 1948 the Dutch church counted 300 families.

The brothers in America did like to compete with each other a little bit. For example, Harmen Jan wrote in 1869:

“When I left Holland brother J H had trice as much as I had, but now I have thirty times more than he has, so times can change..”

Gerrit Jan in October 1891:

“A few months ago I bought an 80-acre plot of land for $2,500. I think now that I could make $500 profit on it, because it is the most beautiful land in this State. My brothers had the best land of all Dutchmen living here, but now it’s me.”

Jan Hendrik writes in April 1895:

“We now own 480 acres of which we work 280 acres ourselves and rent the rest for one third of what it produces. They must market the grain for me. They pay me $2 per acre for hay land and pasture”.

In retrospect, who farmed the best is now hard to determine and, in fact, also not very relevant. It is certain that the emigration of these three “Nebraska-Te Selles” had been very successful. A flourishing American branch of the family was the result.