Letter 10

Date (sent): 18 November 1871
Writer: Harmen Jan te Selle
Place: Firth, Lancaster County, Nebraska
Addressee: Mrs. Dela te Selle-ten Damme, Derk Willem te Selle
Address (sent to): Winterswijk, Netherlands


More than a year has passed since the last letter we have from Harmen Jan te Selle. (He may have written others, but none are preserved in our collection.) During that year, Harmen Jan has moved his family from Wisconsin to Lancaster County, Nebraska, near his brother Jan Hendrik. He doesn't mention any details of the move, which suggests that he may have described it in an earlier missing letter. In addition to moving to Nebraska, Harmen Jan and Berendina Aleida have a new young son, William, born 23 September, 1871.

Apparently the crops were good, except for wheat. However, Harmen Jan's crops did not yield as much as other farmers, since he planted late. This suggests that he may have moved to Nebraska too late to prepare the ground and get his crops in as early as he should have. As always, when the crops do very well, the prices fall. As Harmen Jan says, "We have here an overabundance of life supplies, but making money is not the best."

Harmen Jan alludes to the precarious conditions in the new Nebraska territory, where good health and prosperity can never be taken for granted. He tells the story of his neighbor, Niklaas Vandervelde, who lost his house, crops, livestock, and worst of all his oldest daughter to a sudden prairie fire!

Here are some of the main topics of the letter:

  • Harmen Jan has moved his family to Nebraska, near his brother Jan Hendrik.
  • Crops were good this year, except for wheat.
  • Harmen Jan's crops did not do as well as other farmers because he planted too late.
  • A new son, William, was born on September 23, 1871.
  • A tragic prairie fire at a neighbor's farm wipes out the neighbor's house, crops, livestock, and kills the oldest daughter.

Lancaster, Nebraska November 18, 1871

Much beloved Mother, Brothers with wives and children. We let you know that all of us are quite well, we hope we may hear the same of you. If it were otherwise, it would grieve us very much.

For a long time we have expected a letter from you, but have not yet seen it up to now. I shall therefore write you once a letter, hoping that you may receive the same in good health.

First of all, what concerns the crops, it is this year quite good. However, the wheat is not so very good. The wheat yielded from 7 to 13 bushels per acre, thus this cannot be considered the best. Corn is very good, of this we should, I believe, have 800 or 900 bushels. Rye 900 bushels, having planted 21 acres. Oats we have planted 25 acres. That is not as good as I had expected.

Many here had 50 bushels per acre, but I planted it too late, but we could not do it earlier because we were not here so early in the year. Of oats we had 4 acres and a half. Potatoes are also good, and we have over 200 bushels. Now the prices of the same, the wheat is from 80 to 90 cents, oats from 15 to 20, corn about 20 cents a busbel. Potatoes 25 cents. We have here an overabundance of life supplies but making money is not the best.

Hogs we have 10, 6 for fattening, and 4 to keep over, but this is also very cheap here, from 3 to 5 cents per pound. But I think the prices will go up (duurder worden). lt is still too warm here to salt it away.

I let you know also that for some weeks, we have gained a young son[1. “Young son” was William “Bill” Te Selle, born, September 23, 1871. (He died in 1936.)  Wife was Clara J. Bade.], September 23. All is well here. Now we have two men and a maid, if they stay well. But they can even so suddenly be taken away. This we have seen for a few weeks in the neighborhood.

Sunday, October 15, we went to the church, the wind was then blowing very, very wild, 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, there 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, saw that the fire was not far from his house[2. 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”.]. 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.

Beloved, the paper is too small to write more. Greetings to all the brothers. Now greetings from us all.

H.J. te Selle

Write back soon.