Bade – Ch. 2 – Immigration and Settlement


< Table of Contents         >Next Chapter


Seventy years ago a handful of Dutch immigrants came to Nebraska and settled in the South Pass Precinct, about twenty miles south of Lincoln. Soon others came, bringing their wives and children along, and soon a little store was established and the place was given the name of Holland. The pioneer Dutchmen suffered many hardships, such as prairie fires, grasshoppers, hail storms, droughts, and sickness. Instead of living in fine houses as they do today, they lived in holes in the ground or caves. However, these rugged and sturdy people, who never knew defeat in the fatherland, were determined not to yield to it in America.

The Netherlands, with its dense population, high rents, and low wages produced a heavy pressure upon its people. The Hollanders labored from early dawn until dark acquiring only a meager subsistence. Mr. Ben Brethouwer says, “The Dutch farmers could work throughout their entire life and all they could ever hope to attain would be a mere living. They need never look to the future with the hope to attain a home of their own.”[1]

The Dutch farmers, living a remote life, looked to the New World in their desire for economic relief and freedom. They conceived the idea, that in the United Stater they might obtain a home of their own, and give their family a better start in life.[2] During the “forties,” the Brethouwers, Walvoords, Devries, Liesvelds and others migrated to the United States and settled in the State of Wisconsin. They disposed of all their personal property except their bedding and clothing, which they brought with them. These people with their bundles of bedding and clothing presented an ordinary immigrant picture.[3]

They began their long journey from Arnhem (the county seat of Gelderland) to Rotterdam. From Rotterdam by means of a freight steamer they crossed the North Sea to Hull. From Hull they traveled by train to Liverpool, where they took a sailing vessel to New York or Quebec.[4]

The journey across the Atlantic took from three to seven weeks, depending upon the condition of the weather. They traveled as third‑class passengers. Immigrants traveling in this class met with many hardships. The ventilation and sanitary conditions were bad. Sickness was often prevalent. Mr. Huzenveldt, however, says, “the only unpleasant accident that my parents witnessed was a sailor’s fall overboard. The vessel anchored for three hours trying to find him. Despairing in their search, the captain ordered the voyage continued.”[5] It has been said when Mr. Jake Buis came from his native country, he spent eight weeks on the ocean. The cause of the delay in reaching his destination was not learned. The passengers were practically without food and had very little water when they reached New York.[6]

Most of the Nebraska pioneer Hollanders were without funds when they arrived at their point of destination. A few had enough money to take them into the State of New Jersey. Here these immigrants worked as day laborers until they acquired sufficient means to take them to Wisconsin. Dutch settlements had already been established there at Oostburg, in Sherman County, and also in Sheboygan County.[7] Mrs. Hattie Onnink says, “When my parents arrived at New York, they had very little money. They ware able to continue their journey only as far as New Jersey, where father worked as a day laborer until he was able to acquire enough means to continue our trip to Oostburg, Wisconsin.”[8]

After these advance guards were established in their new homes, others from their native country followed. During the “sixties” the Wisconsin Dutch settlement was rapidly increased by Dutch immigration. A few established a permanent home while others worked as day laborers or practiced their trades.[9]

Some of these Dutch pioneers were not satisfied with their new home, as the price of the land was too high, and the cultivation of its soíl was difficult. Hence, they had a desire to go farther west. Questioned as to their motive for their western migration, Mr. Ben Brethouwer says, “The part of the State of Wisconsin where the Dutch located was thickly forested. The Hollanders who acquired a small tract of land had to have it cleared before they could cultivate its soil. In cutting down a tree, three or four others had to be cut down before it could be taken away. Then ditches had to be made to rid the land of its excess water. This swampy land reminded the Dutchmen too much of their native country. This process would take a lifetime before a small piece of land could be made ready for cultivation. Reports came from the Hollanders who had settled in lowa and also reports through land agencies farther west, that one could cultivate the soil from a quarter to a half a mile without coming in contact with stones or tree roots. This not only seemed astonishing to the Dutchmen, but also inviting. Furthermore, land was available to them for only a small cost, and this increased the Hollanders’ desire to see this New West.[10]

There were two methods by which the Hollanders could obtain land for their new homes. The first was by way of the Homestead Act of 1862, and the second was by purchasing the land from the railroad. As a result of the passage of the Homestead Act, land was offered free by the United States Government (except for a small cost of registering the claim) to those who wished to build their homes in the West.[11] Every other section in a strip of land six miles wide through the southern part of Lancaster County, including South Pass Precinct, had been appropriated to the Burlington railroad. This company offered for sale to the settlers, eighty‑acre tracts at five hundred dollars per tract, under a contract running a period of ten years.[12]

[See a plot map entitled, “Original Homesites of Dutch Pioneers in Lancaster County – 1900“, which was originally inserted into the Bade text at this point.]

Within five years after the passage of the Homestead Act, began the exodus of the Hollanders from Wisconsin to the new state of Nebraska. Mr. Henry Brethouwer was the first Dutch pioneer to make this long journey. He owned twenty acres of thickly forested land in Wisconsin. There seemed very little prospect of acquiring more land, or getting the land he owned cleared. Mr. Brethouwer and his father‑in‑law, Mr. Siegrist (a German), decided to migrate to this New West. They disposed of their property and purchased a team of oxen and a covered wagon. In the spring of 1868, they started from Sheboygan County with all their worldly goods. The journey took them more than two months. They arrived in the southern part of Lancaster County, in the summer of the same year. Upon the arrival of these men, the first desire of each was to locate a claim and make a home for his family. Mr. Siegrist staked a claim in South Pass Precinct, known as the Top farm, and Mr. Brethouwer staked his claim in Panama Precinct, known as the Lambert Wissink farm.[13]

Mr. Chris Brethouwer visited his brother in the fall of 1868 and returned to Wisconsin with a decision to also cast his lot in this New West. In the spring of 1869, Mr. Chris Brethouwer, Mr. John Meinen, Sr., and the Bykerk families, started from Sheboygan County and arrived at the homestead of Henry Brethouwer, during the month of June.[14] This group traveled by train from Wisconsin to the east bank of the Missouri River at Nebraska City. Here they ferried across the river, and at Nebraska City, Mr. Brethouwer purchased a team of oxen and a wagon. Mr. Brethouwer was the only one of the group who had money. He had three hundred dollars. Mr. Ben Brethouwer said that the trip from Nebraska City to the Henry Brethouwer homestead took four and a half days. They had a small stove with them on which they cooked their meals. They lived mainly on wild game, although they had purchased some salted bacon and a few supplies in Nebraska City. They had a great deal of difficulty in crossing the streams. Often temporary bridges had to be built. An axe was an indispensable tool. Until this group could locate claims and build their dugouts, they lived with the Henry Brethouwer family.[15] Four families living in one dugout did not discourage these early settlers, as this was often done when later settlers arrived.

Mr. Meinen paid one man five hundred dollars for a claim on a piece of land in section 6 in Panama Precinct. Mr. Meinen’s daughter, Mrs. Ed Vermaas says, “This man squatted on this claim. He had made no improvements, however, nor was he financially able to pay his filing fees or make the required improvements. Since he could not have met these requirements he should not have charged father this enormous amount. My father borrowed the money from Mr. Henry Hickman (an early settler of South Pass Precinct) with which he paid the ‘squatter’.”[16] Mr. Meinen was uneducated and could not speak the English language. Hence, he was placed in a position which permitted the “squatter” to take this advantage. Mr. Henry Wubbles says, “In spite of this unfair transaction Mr. Meinen prospered. He acquired in his lifetime two hundred forty acres, while the unscrupulous squatter sold his homestead and moved to Kansas where he failed to prosper.”[17] Mr. Chris Brethouwer took a homestead in section 12 in South Pass Precinct and Mr. Bykerk staked his claim in section 8, also in South Pass Precinct.[18]

During the spring of 1869, Cornelius Wismer and Klass Port left Wisconsin. They traveled by train to Nebraska City. From this place they took a coach to Lincoln. They remained there for a few weeks, and on the 10th of April they located their claims in section 12 in South Pass Precinct.[19] Other young men who came to the settlement in the same year were Mr. William Walvoord, John H. Lubbers, and John W. Lefferdink. Mr. William Walvoord staked a claim in section 30, Nemaha Precinct. Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Lefferdink took adjacent homesteads in South Pass Precinct, section 14. They constructed a single dugout on the boundary line which divided their lands and lived together.[20]

These pioneers were followed by another group, which consisted of the Huzenveldt, Reimes, and the Peten Pole families. These three families left Wisconsin in the fall of 1869. They also traveled by train to Nebraska City. They paid a man twenty‑five dollars to take them to the Dutch settlement in Lancaster County. Mr. Huzenveldt said that it took two and one‑half days to travel from Nebraska City to the Dutch settlement. They arrived at the Meinen homestead and remained till spring, when they located their claims and built their dugouts. Mr. Reimes located his homestead in South Pass Precinct, section 18. Mr. Peten Pole and Mr. Huzenveldt settled in Buda Precinct.[21]

When Mr. Huzenveldt began seeking a location for a claim he started west of the Meinen homestead. He found all the desirable land containing piles of sod and stones, which indicated that the land had already been taken. Mr. Huzenveldt continued west ten miles where he staked his claim. He walked to Lincoln and made the legal filings. After all legal matters had been completed, he began making his dugout. He walked from the Meinen homestead to his claim every day until his home was ready to receive his family.[22]

In the same year the Wissink and Vanderwege families arrived. Mr. Wissink located in section 4 in South Pass Precinct and Mr. Vanderwege located in section 13. In the latter part of 1869 and in the spring of 1870, the TeSelles, Vermaas, Komers, Obbinks, Vandeveldas, TeBrinks, Walvoords, and others came to the Dutch settlement in Nebraska.[23]

[In the original Bade thesis, a photo entitled, “A Group of Pioneers”, including all the people’s names, is inserted at this point of the text.]

In the history of the the Walvoord family, Mr. William Lefferdink writes:

Two brothers of Gerrit John Walvoord, who were living in Wisconsin, had asked him to come to America. In the winter of 1869‑1870 his family decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean. However they did not desire to come unless someone from America would accompany them on this journey. Neither William Walvoord (a son) nor J.W. Lefferdink living in Nebraska could get away from their homesteads. They wrote to William Lefferdink, living in Wisconsin to make this trip to their native country and bring these people across. After much correspondence he gave his consent. In 1870, he started from Wisconsin to the Netherlands. He arrived in Holland about the 10th of May and in the latter part of June, Mr. Walvoord, B.W. Lefferdink (a son‑in‑law) and their families were ready to start for America. They boarded the train at Arnhem and arrived at Rotterdam in the afternoon of the same day. Here they went aboard a freight steamer and crossed the North Sea to Hull. From Hull they rode by train to Liverpool. At Liverpool they stopped two days and went aboard an ocean steamer of the Allen Line. From Liverpool they went to Londonderry, Ireland, and after taking on several emigrants, they arrived at Quebec July 14, 1870. Here they boarded a train and went to Montreal and from there to Detroit, Michigan, where they entered the United States for the first time. After the inspection of their baggage, they boarded a train for Chicago. Mr. Walvoord, Mr. B.W. Lefferdink, and a land agent went to Kansas in search of land. The rest of the family with Mr. William Lefferdink boarded a lake steamer at Chicago and went to Sheboygan by way of Milwaukee. Here they were met by the brothers of Mr. Walvoord and taken to Oostburg, Wisconsin.

After Mr. Walvoord and Mr. Lefferdink failed to find desirable land in Kansas they came to Nebraska, where they each took a homestead. Mr. Walvoord took a claim in section 30, Nemaha Precinct and Mr. Lefferdink took one in Panama Precinct, section 18. After all the legal transactions had been completed, Mr. Walvoord and his son William started for Wisconsin to bring the family. Mr. B.W. Lefferdink, however, did not accompany them. He remained here and built a dugout so that he might have a home to receive his wife and two children.[24]

When the Walvoords arrived in Lincoln by coach they walked to South Pass Precinct, a distance of about twenty‑five miles. There were eight children in the senior Walvoord family and today several handred of his descendants convene in an annual reunion.”[25]

Mr. William Daharsh, Sr., another pioneer of Dutch stock though not of this group, played an important part in this settlement. When he was a boy he was employed in the lumber woods during the winter months, and in the summer drove canal boats on the Erie Canal. He was so employed until he was twenty years of age, when he was made captain of a canal boat. In 1853, he migrated westward to Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. Here he bought eighty acres of land and concentrated his energies upon the improvement of his farm. In May, 1869, Mr. and Mrs. Daharsh and their five children started for Lancaster County, Nebraska. They made the journey from Wisconsin to Nebraska overland, in two covered wagons, and their trip required five weeks. They left their old home on the twenty­fourth day of May and reached Lancaster County on the twenty-sixth day of June. They located in section 12 in South Pass Precinct. Mr. Daharsh lived on this homestead until 1877, when he sold that place and moved near the town of Hickman.[26]

At the written invitation of Dominee Huizenga, Mr. Alcoe Vandertook came to Nebraska in 1877. These men had met in the East, and cultivated a brotherly friendship several years previous to this invitation. On arriving in Nebraska, Mr. Vandertook did not immediately settle on the old homestead, but lived on various rented places. He learned of a piece of railroad land for sale. A report came to him that Dominee Huizenga and a Mr. Denherder also were in the market to buy this land. He walked to Lincoln, a distance of twenty‑five miles, arriving at the court house at sunrise. Immediately after the opening of the doors of the court house, Mr. Vandertook paid his filing fees and returned home. During his lifetime, Mr. Vandertook acquired three hundred twenty acres in South Pass Precinct.[27]

Nebraska grew rapidly in the early “seventies.” Mr. John Huzenveldt, when a lad, would sit by the hour and watch a continuous stream of immigrants in covered wagons and other vehicles passing his home. The Dutch immigration, likewise, continued throughout the “seventies,” and the little settlement enjoyed a continuous growth. While the Dutch were staking their claims in South Pass and neighboring precincts, a group of Missouri rebels had also taken claims there. The Morrisons, Grimms, Hickmans, and the McClains and others were included among them. They played an important part in developing this community. They were forced out, however, by the arrival of more Hollanders. Many of these pioneer Hollanders relate stories of kind deeds and neigborly favors performed for them by Billie Morrison and Henry Hickman. They owned a great deal of timber land of which the Hollander received much benefit.[28]

Duríng the time the Dutch were settling in South Pass Precinct, a group of Hollanders, composed of at least a half dozen families, made a settlement in Buda Precinct about four miles west of Princeton. At first they attended church at Holland. Later they organized and built a church of their own. Mr. Jacob Top was included in this group. Mr. Huzenveldt says, “They remained here five years and improved upon their claims. They sold out, however, and with the exception of Mr. Top, returned to Wisconsin. Mr. Top bought the Siegrist farm in South Pass Precinct and remained in Nebraska.[29]

In the early “eighties,” a daughter colony was started in Kansas. Mr. Henry Brethouwer, one of the first to migrate from the Netherlands to Wisconsin, who was one of the advance guard in the migration to Nebraska, again took up his travels in search of more land. All the claims in the Nebraska settlement had been taken up. In Kansas, however, there was vast stretches of prairie still open to the new settler. In 1881 Mr. Henry Brethouwer and his father‑in‑law (Mr. Siegrist) and their families left the Dutch settlement in Nebraska, migrating to that place in Phillips County, Kansas, which is now known as Prairie View. During the remainder of the decade these two families were followed by the Van Diests, Vandeveldas, Dick and Tinus Vanderwege, and many others forming a settlement similar to that in Nebraska. Others would have gone but hesitated to leave the settlement in Nebraska and repeat the experiences of developing a new home. Soon, however, there were several families living in the new settlement of Kansas and soon a Dutch Reformed Church was established. Today the Dutch settlement includes both Prairie View and Luctor, Kansas. It cannot be recorded, however, that this venture was extremely successful, as the Kansas settlements have not achieved the prosperity of those in Nebraska.[30]

During the latter nineties, a second daughter colony was organized. About twenty families settled in the State of Washington, near the village of Linden. Since than more families have followed. Today they have a Dutch church (Seceders) established and the settlement has been quite prosperous. The Vandergrinds were among the original settlers of the new colony.[31]

In the early days of the settlement in Nebraska there were no roads. All was virgin prairie. The first dwellings were dugouts and were forty‑five miles from any store. The nearest markets were at Nebraska City or Brownville.[32] In the Lancaster County Plat Book, Mr. Elfeldt gives the following description:

The early settlers in this part of Lancaster County did not come in chair cars or Pullman sleepers, but instead, it was a canvas‑top wagon with either an ox team or horses which had traveled overland. In some instances they traveled several hundred miles. Our nearest trading point was Nebraska City, fifty miles to our east, with no roads, only Indian and freight trails.[33]

Mr. Huzenveldt stated, that many of the Hollanders would have returned to Wisconsin if they had had the means.[34] A few of them, including Klass Port, did return.[35] It took men and women of great faith and stamina to build a home in this wilderness and to develop these wild prairies. The Hollanders who came to Nebraska stood this test nobly.

In the pioneer days, it must be said that the wives and mothers suffered as many hardships and in many cases more than the men. It was only too often that they were left at home alone with their children. Their greatest fears were visits of the Indians, severe storms, and sickness. The howling of the coyotes at night did not lessen the lonely feelings of the mother.[36]

With all the disadvantages of the pioneer Hollanders, there were many advantages. Mrs. Wubbles states that, “We were all on a common level financially. We were on the same mission, to establish a home. Although we suffered and passed through many hardships, we would not take a small fortune for our experience.”[37]

I have already described the financial condition of the Hollanders when they arrived in America. When they arrived in Nebraska, they were in an even more depleted financial situation. It was discouraging for them to attempt to improve their claims and cultivate the soil. Mr. J.H. TeSelle had five dollars when he arrived in Lancaster County. Mr. Meinen had no money. Mr. Huzenveldt had forty dollars. Of all the members of this settlement, Mr. Wissink was the best situated, financially. He was able to build a frame house and he also owned a team of mules and other livestock.[38]

When Mr. Henry Walvoord staked a claim of forty acres in Nemaha Precinct, section 31, he bought a team of mules from Mr. Sheppard near Lincoln. In giving an account of this transaction, Mr. Walvoord states:

I told Mr. Sheppard I didn’t have the money to pay for them, but I have a contract for breaking a piece of sod, and that I would be able to pay for them after the work was completed. Mr. Sheppard agreed to let me have the span and by working day and night I finished the work in three weeks. After I completed the contract, I made arrangements to break another piece of sod. I paid for the mules in four weeks. This surprised Mr. Sheppard and evidently pleased him, for he discounted twenty‑five dollars from the purchase price.[39]

Having no breaking plow, Mr. J. H. TeSelle resorted to borrowing one from a man for whom he was working. For lack of conveyance, he carried this plow several miles to his home.[40]

The scarcity of money often made it impossible for the early Dutch pioneers to meet their obligation to the Burlington railroad for land they had purchased from the company. It will be recalled that this land was sold onder a contract running for a ten‑year period. When the Dutch settlers ware unable to meet their full obligations on the respective maturity dates of their contracts, they resorted to the stratagem of assigning their contracts to relatives or neighbors, who held them in each case under oral trust agreement to reconvey to the original purchaser when he had completed his five hundred dollars payment.[41] In this way many Hollanders saved their land from foreclosure by the railroad. At no time were the oral trusts violated, though they were entirely without legal force.

From these humble beginnings, from almost total destitu­tion, and with scarcely any other capital than their fixed resolution to wrest from the prairie substantial realization of the dream which impelled them to leave their fatherland, these daring pioneers conquered the relentless forces of nature and built a community of homes which have remained secure against the invasion of many enemies.

Next Chapter
Table of Contents

[1] Testimony of Mr. Ben Brethouwer, 1937.

[2] Portrait and Biographical Album of Lancaster County, Nebraska, 320.

[3] Personal interview with Mr. Ben Brethouwer, 1937.

[4] Personal interview with Mr. Henry Walvoord, Hickman, Nebr., 1936.

[5] Personal interview with Mr. John Huzenveldt, Princeton, Nebr., 1937.

[6] Personal interview with Mr. William Vandertook, Firth, Nebr., 1937.

[7] Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles, Holland, Nebr., 1937.

[8] Personal interview with Mrs. Hattie (Reimes) Onnink, 1913.

[9] Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1937.

[10] Personal interview with Mr. Ben Brethouwer, 1937.

[11] Hayes & Cox, op. cit., 25. The Homestead Act of 1862 provised: “Any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty‑one, and is a citizen of the United States, or shall have filed a declaration of his intention to become such, and who has never borne arms against the United States government, or given aid and comfort to its enemies, shall be entitled to enter one quarter of section, or less quantity of land.” These authors give a detailed description of the legal procedure of procuring a homestead.

[12] lbid., 26.

[13] Personal interview with Mr. Ben Brethouwer, 1937.

[14] Idem.

[15] ldem.

[16] Personal interview with Mrs. Lydia (Meinen) Vermaas, 1937.

[17] Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1937.

[18] ldem.

[19] Portrait and Biographical Album of Lancaster County, Nebraska, 372; Personal interview with Mr. Wubbles, 1937.

[20] Personal interview with Mrs. Jane (Lefferdink) Heitbrink, Holland, Nebr., 1937; Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1937.

[21] Personal interview with Mr. John Huzenveldt; Mrs. Hattie (Reimes) Onnink; Mrs. Lydia (Meinen) Vermaas, 1937.

[22] Personal interview with Mr. John Huzenveldt 1937.

[23] Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles and descendants of the pioneers at Holland, Nebraska, 1937.

[24] William Lefferdink, History of the Walvoord family, mss., private possession.

[25] Personal interview with Mr. Henry Walvoord., 1936.

[26] Sawyer, op, cit., II, 275; Personal interview with Mr. William Daharsh, Jr., Panama, Nebr. , 1937.

[27] Personal interview with Mrs. A. Vandertook, Firth, Nebr., 1937.

[28] Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles; Mrs. Hattie (Reimes) Onnink; Mr. John Huzenveldt and other descendants of pioneers at Holland, Nebr., 1937.

[29] Personal interview with Mr. John Huzenveldt, 1937.

[30] Personal interview with Mr. Ben Brethouwer; Mrs. Anna (Vanderwege) Liesveld, Holland, Nebr., 1937; Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle) Wubbles, Holland, Nebr., 1937.

[31] Personal interview with Mrs. Clara (Bade) TeSelle, Firth, Nebr., 1937; Mr. Henry Wubbles; Mr. Herman Vandergrind, Lincoln, Nebr., 1937.

[32] Personal interview with Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle) Wubbles; Mr. Dan Wissink, Firth, Nebr., 1937.

[33] PIat Book of Lancaster County, Nebr., 103.

[34] Personal interview with Mr. John Huzenveldt, 1937.

[35] Personal interview with Mr. Ben Brethouwer, 1937.

[36] Personal interview with Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle) Wubbles, 1937.

[37] Idem.

[38] Personal interview with Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle ) Wubbles; Mr. Dan Wissink; Mr. John Huzenveldt; Mrs. Lydia (Meinen) Vermaas, 1937.

[39] Personal interview with Mr. Henry Walvoor­d, 1936.

[40] Personal interview with Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle) Wubbles, 1937.

[41] Idem. Mrs. Wubbles’ father (Mr. J.H. TeSelle) was one of the pioneers who resorted to this means. He assigned his contract to his father‑ín‑law. From the information available, it appears that the father‑in‑law paid the balance due on the contract of purchase and that Mr. Te Selle then repaid him.