Letter 11

Date (sent): December 1872
Writer: Jan Hendrik te Selle
Place: Lancaster County, Nebraska
Addressee: Mrs. Dela te Selle-ten Damme, Brothers
Address (sent to): Winterswijk, Netherlands


Jan Hendrik writes to his mother and brothers in some detail about the livestock, crop yields, and prices. He also itemizes some of his clever transactions to acquire livestock and machinery. He clearly seems proud of his accomplishments. He mentions his three young children, and a fourth child born that year who survived only a few months. Jan Hendrik asks about the health of his mother, whom he says is "already so far in her days."

Nebraska, December 1872

Good day very worthy Mother, and brothers with your wives and children. Here we are now. How are you doing? Although we have written very little, we would like to come to you and see how it is with you in the old Homeland. Whether you have white bread. We are no longer accustomed here to black bread. It would be too heavy for our stomachs.

For a minute or so, or perhaps again for once some news. But now as to regular events, all is well. Then I would like to see your cattle and your horse, and see what kind of a man that is. Can you bring us back with that horse, if not, we will have to stay until he is mature.

How much seed did you plant? Is there enough for us too? How does the seed seem to be? Otherwise we will go back again.

We have reaped 289 bushels of wheat, from 16 acres, almost 18 bushels per acre. We have 10 acres of winter wheat, from that only 4 bushels per acre. If that had also been as good, then we would have had a large heap of seed (grain). Yet, we are satisfied with it. We can sell over 200 bushels. Besides that we have grown 50 bushels of buck­wheat and potatoes enough for our own use.

This summer we cultivated 40 schepelzaad[1. “Schepel” (a bushel) is:

a. An old measure of volume, originally one quarter hectolitre and therefore it differed per region; on introducing the metric system it was fixed on a standard of 10 litres.

b. An old land measure; in the Dutch provinces of Drenthe and Gelderland also called “schepelgezaai” and “schepelzaad” (a bushel’s sowing) indicating the area of land that can be sown with one bushel of rye; e.g. the Gelderland schepel equals 1450 m², whereas the Drenthe schepel measures 833 m².]. We farmed the land in more than a day and a half with a team of horses, or rather said, two horses on front of the mowing machine, four binders and a man who drives the horses. So actually we can deliver 25 schepelzaad and set up. I have bought myself this mowing machine a year ago for 60 dollars. At any other time they cost 200 dollars. I bought it from the man who rented out his land and was himself to hold lodging (herberg). He wanted to sell it and almost nobody had money to pay for it immediately. I then had just sold my two oxen and bought that machine. One also mows grass with it. In one day one mows as much grass as is needed for hay.

I sold both my oxen for 150 dollars, I bought back two for 45 dollars, and I bought a cow with them for 31 dollars. So three pieces for 76. Now I had three (animals) instead of two and still 79 dollars left. Those that I bought back were both two and a half year old. I considered them too young to do my work . Then I swapped again with another who had two four‑years old oxen. I gave him 60 dollars to boot, but I could earn it all by breaking up prairie or plowing up 20 acres. So I plowed that over in 14 days time. Then I had as much again as I had before. I gained one with it and the mowing machine and I did therewith my work.

Now, this fall, I have sold the cow again for 45 dollars, without asking money. I was not home at the time when that man made that offer to Hanna. When I returned, Hanna met me outside and said, “Make no mistake, he wants (to give) 45 dollars for the cow.” I would have let it go for 35 dollars a few days earlier, and now it was 10 dollars more. Now we still have a cow and two heifers[2. Sterke – A heifer, a young cow, especially one that had not had a calf.]. They will, at the beginning of March and the end, all also come fresh, the cow too. We now have six beasts and a horse of a year and a half old. I have the intention to buy one extra if I can get one of the same color. It makes a lot of difference for me: I prefer one and the same color when two horses are working together.

We still have four hogs, one we butchered, two we still want to butcher. The one will get piglets at the end of January. (Pog­gen[3. Poggen – Dialect for piglets]). Pork here costs 3½ up to four cents per pound. One cannot make so much money on it here as with you. But the feed does not cost so much money. The corn and the (Turksche wijte = maïs/corn) costs here only 15 cents a bushel on the spot. That is 70 pounds for a bushel, so you can see that we’ll not just have to make do with it. One can better eat bacon than bread.

A pound of flour also costs three and a half cents per pound. Butter costs 30 cents a pound. Eggs, 12 or a dozen, 22 cents. Sugar 12 to 18 cents per pound. That is used here very much and one does not buy it per ounce, but never less than a pound or two. Sometimes four pounds. I am now so far, I think, that I can hardly drink coffee without sugar. Then I think, that it is all one has to it. Every week with a pound of sugar, we can get along very well with our three children.[4. Janna Gertruida (1838-1921); Jan Willem (1867-1945); Dela (1869-1971)] The youngest will be four in April.

We have on March 20 received a daughter.[5. Miena (1872-1872)] She was well and active until the end of July, then she got the diarrhea. Day by day that got worse, until she could not keep anything down. The Lord took her from our hands. On August 8 she passed away.

How is mother doing? She is already so far in her days (old).[Dela ten Damme te Selle (1802-1883). At the time of this letter, Dela was 70, and would live another 11 years.] I read in Gerrit Jan’s letter that she still is quite well as far as the body is concerned. How about her soul, is it also well? Or is it sometimes also sick that the soul now longs for an eternal and present physician.

Greetings from us.  J.H. Te Selle

(written on edge of letter):

The wheat is now 80 cents a bushel. Greetings from Harmen Jan Te Selle. They are all good and healthy, too.