Letter 9

Date (sent): September 1870
Writer: Jan Hendrik te Selle
Place: Firth, Lancaster County, Nebraska
Addressee: Mrs. Dela te Selle-ten Damme, Brothers
Address (sent to): Winterswijk, Netherlands


Jan Hendrik te Selle wants to assure his family back in the Netherlands that the new territory of Nebraska is safe and prosperous. He describes the rich soil and extensive grassland. He explains the good profit he made by selling his Wisconsin land, and then moving to Nebraska, where he could get 80 acres of land for free, just by occupying and farming it for 5 years. He sounds very pleased with his decision to leave Wisconsin, and to venture southwest to Nebraska.

Here are some of the main topics of the letter:

  • Aunt Janna Bloemers passed away.
  • Jan Hendrik assures his Netherlands family that Nebraska is a wonderful place to live and farm.
  • Jan Hendrik earned a nice profit on the sale of his land in Wisconsin.
  • Life is much more prosperous in Nebraska than it was in Wisconsin.
  • 80 acres of land in Nebraska can be had for free if you occupy it for 5 years

Worthy friends, Mother, brothers with your wives and children.

Although we have been far removed from one another, and at present again migrate further, so that it will not be possible to speak with each other, but by God’s means of grace, we can write each other about our welfare and health.

We have some days ago received a letter from you in health and well being, and yet until now, also in this time from brother H. J. (Herman John) with his wife and children. Then we also received word that Aunt Bloemers passed away.[1. Janna te Selle Bloemers, sister of Jan Hendrik’s father, Jan Albert te Selle (1800-1845), and wife of Gerrit Willem Bloemers, passed away in Holland, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, on 14 August 1870. Jan Hendrik and brother Harmen Jan lived with Aunt Janna and Uncle Bloemers when the brothers first arrived in Wisconsin from the Netherlands.]

You Brothers and Mother are concerned about us, because you know that we have migrated further to Nebraska, a new area.

Returning to that which you mention concerning the disappointment in this or that item in your letter, rest assured that it is here as pleasant as one could wish, and 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 greyblack, 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. The entire prairie, wherever one goes, all grass.

Trees, bushes, and shrubs one does not find here either, except along the brooks, there is wood, how small the brooks may be. Yet wood, as far as it is concerned here, is in short supply. Other fuel is not here, so one must burn coal. If wood were only planted it would grow very well. Oh, one might have a sack full of pine seeds or other seeds! lt is, however, too far away to get.

We are two hundred fifty hours away. We have traveled south‑west. The summers are longer here, the winters shorter. There was almost a half year of winter. Of that 5 months coverage of snow before it left. One is then hardly to gather so much feed for the cattle, and one has too little time in the summer for the work. Everything must be done in a hurry on the land. Three or four days difference in sowing sometimes means a fourth in grain and everything ripens at the same time. That is also the case with harvesting.

And now at this time when everything is so cheap, one has to sow rather lavish otherwise one would not earn anything to pay for the interest or hand­money (pocket money). Otherwise we should have rented another 40 acres besides that at half crop. He would then provide half of the sowing seed, and one horse to work along side ours, so much as I would wish or needed. And when it was in the granary, then he would have to help with half of the work at his own cost. And three beasts in the pasture to assure this. (Goed staan ‑ Stand good). This was, however, twenty minutes away from our land, that was also unlucky. But yet the people said, that we have fortunately rented it, easily and handily. And yet we often said, “If we could only sell we could go to Nebraska.” Finally a buyer came who asked whether we wanted to sell the land. We said, “Yes.” He asked how much we wanted for it. We said 950 dollars. This was too much for him. He wanted to give us 900 dollars. If we agreed to that then we should let him know, and we then decided to let him have it, and so we have sold it.

And up to now we have not been sorry about it. We have made three‑hundred and 87 dollars and 73 cents ($387.73) on the deal and 200 on the land. That was almost 600 dollars. We can help ourselves well with that.

We have now little expense, no pocket‑money, and no other expense do we have to pay here. Five years we are free from paying land tax. In Wisconsin we had to pay 6 dollars land tax every year for just 20 acres, now we own 4 times as much and are free. The land here with the registering and all as it is costs us just 32 dollars.

Those who came here first got it for 14 dollars. Just enrollment fee. Land was given, for everybody, old or young. Those over 21 years get 80 acres, married or unmarried.[2. In his book, The Sod House Frontier, Everett Dick, Ph.D., wrote: “The Homestead Bill became a law on May 20, 1862. It provided that ‘any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed this declaration of intention to become such,’ and who has ‘never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies,’ was entitled to one hundred and sixty (160) acres of land in certain areas, or eighty (80) acres if taken in more favorable locations. For example, only eighty acres could be taken within a railroad grant.”] All get the same, also the girls. But when a boy or a girl, each with 80 acres, should get married, then 80 acres would be taken away, because it has to be occupied for five years before one can get it definitely. Then one can do as he pleases with the land. This is because they want the land to be settled and so that a poor person may also get a piece of land. Here the poor are always provided for.

J. H. te Selle