Letter 14

Date (sent): 13 October 1873
Writer: Gerrit Jan te Selle
Place: Panama, Lancaster County, Nebraska
Addressee: Derk Willem te Selle
Remarks: Postscript from Harmen Jan te Selle


Gerrit Jan te Selle indicates that this is his second letter back home, but it is the first that has been preserved. He announces the birth of his third child, a daughter Dela (1873-1940). He then describes in detail the family's journey from the Netherlands to Panama, Nebraska, by ship, rail, and finally by wagon for the last nine miles. Gerrit Jan next describes his purchase of 80 acres of land followed by the building of his farm house in just 7 days. Finally, he gives a detailed account of farming methods and crop prices. This letter is an excellent description of how Dutch farmers got their start in Nebraska in the 1870's.

Lancaster, October 13, 1873

Dear Friends, for the second time I take my pen to write you a letter and to let you know that we are healthy and prosperous and we hope the same for you. We would really be sad if it were different.

We want to let you know that on September 30 a young baby girl[1. The young baby girl, born on September 30, was named Dela after Gerrit Jan te Selle’s mother. The name is spelled various ways: Dela, Diela, Dile, Dillie, Mother’s name: Dela (Diela) ten Damme-te Selle. In 1895 Dela married Henry Vene Klasen; she died in July 1940 ] was born and we have given her the name Dela, which is in English “Dile”. Mother and child are doing very well.

One more time I come back on my trip[2. Gerrit Jan is referring to his and his family’s trip to Nebraska from the Netherlands.] which was very successful and pleasant and going well. At least at sea I had no sorrows, it was fun. I changed my money in Rotterdam at a rate of fl. 2,25 per dollar. The trip, including food, was about fl 145,- per person and the extra 300 kgs [660 lbs) overweight was an additional $21.

We went on by rail, day and night and stayed awake from Tuesday to Sunday, except for Chicago. There we had to cross town and so we gave ourselves a treat and stayed in a hotel. For two meals and in the evening the trip back to the station we had to pay 8 dollars. If we would have known, we would have stayed at the railway station where we arrived, because we also left there again. But we did not know.

Then we went on to Nebraska City, where we had to stay on Sunday with a person called Stroube. Good people! We had three times a meal and slept there. They brought us to the railwaystation and helped us with everything, and it cost only 6 dollars. Next day we went to Bennett and from there it was only 9 miles to Holland City. That’s the name of the village here. City means stad. From there on an English­man brought us here[3. “brought us here” means Panama precinct, which is where Gerrit Jan te Selle settled first. Later he settled near Firth near his two brothers] and we arrived on Monday. After that I selected a plot of land to my liking and on Thursday I went to Lincoln and bought 80 acres of land or 200 schepelzaat, at $7.00 per acre.

You’ll probably say “How can he do that?” lt works as follows: Well, first of all you have to pay 6% rent (downpayment) immediately. Then for four years one doesn’t pay anything but interest. After seven years, the whole amount is due.

lt will cost 20% if payment is done in the third year, and I get 20% discount if one reclaims 40 acres within two years. This is what everybody does (this is common practise). There are no “registration” fees (N.B. In Holland “schrijfgeld” is paid to a notary, and for registration. This can be up to 5% of the total purchase amount.)

Now I will write how one starts here. The richer a man is, the nicer his house! Some people even use sod on the outside, but in present time that’s not done any more. However, 4 years ago when the first inhabitants had to get their timber from a distance of 12 hours from here, and could not even use a barge, they had to do something!

But now there exist trade stations and cities: within a distance of 2 – 2½ miles there is only one, and now we have 2 stations and cities at 5, 1 and 9 miles away from us. Here the houses are erected using only timber and they are plastered (at slats) from the inside. Everything is done very nicely, be it homes, churches, etc. All is done the same way.

All things are done by steam: planing as well as plowing. Doors and windows can be bought ready to use: nothing is missing. So I bought material for 100 dollars, and together with W. Leverdink we built the house in 7 days. With two people, a farm­house can be built in 5 to 14 days, and if covered with a plywood roof, then these houses are clean. Because you only have to sleep, eat, and cook for yourself in the house. There is not any cooking for cattle, never.

The land here is reclaimed by ploughing about two inches deep and then leaving it alone till autumn after May or June when the time to break the soil is over. In fall the land is completely ploughed. Immediately after breaking the land, corn can be planted and after ploughing it is good for all crops.

Breaking and ploughing of the land is done with 2 oxen or with 2 horses, and then 1¼ to 1½ acres per day can be ploughed. Breaking of land costs 2 dollars per acre and the ploughing costs 1¼ to 1½ dollar per acre. Besides that one needs 1½ bushels of sowing seed. A bushel is 5 ‘spint’ and must weigh about 62 kg [140 lbs].

Later, all is mowed with a machine. Nobody uses a sickle or sift. With a machine, 8 to 10 acres can be reaped/mowed per day and 4 to 5 people bind it with a thick rope. There are also machines with two people sitting and binding on top of it. Leverdink has also such a machine.

My brothers have different machines. Other people do the binding all by themselves and use iron wire. Some don’t do all what is mentioned before and load everything on the cart immediately and lay it outside on 2, 3, or 4 piles/heaps close together. Then there are some people who travel around with 12 to 13 men (helping hands) and harvesters, driven by 10 horses. Six horses belong to the machine and 3 earn 5 cents per bushel. Two men throw/pelt in, 1 man is cutting the bonds/ropes, 1 man puts in, 3 men throw away the straw. 1 measures the seed and 1 carries it away and 1 tends the horses and in this way we do 300 to 400 bushels a day.

The land is plowed immediately after the harvest. The yield this year was 18 to 21 bushels per acre.

The grass as well is mowed with a machine, and that costs 50 cents per acre. This is done by using a 9 foot rake and one horse. No haying at all. It is cut and falls down at the place where it grew and it is dry immediately. A 60‑70 acre plot of land can be done well by one person. Forests or ditches do not exist in the land, but there are many depressions/dips which carry the water off and water never stays, not even for five minutes. All and everything is very fertile. A layer of black earth without sand is about two feet thick, then one comes across clay. The soil really is fertile! There are people who have lived here for ten years and longer and have never even fertilized the soil.

I rented 18 acres from Willem Leverdink for a year, then I have enough for myself. W. Leverdink is my closest neighbour. Obbink from de Haart[4. De Haart: neighbourhood between Winterswijk and 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.

I do carpenter work, one makes 2 dollars for a 10 hour day. At the moment a little less. For 30 hours of labor I have bought 60 bushels or 75 schepel wheat and another 15 bushels for 11 dollars. So I have enough food for the whole year. The wheat costs 65 to 75 cents, grain 30 cents, bacon 4 cents, butter 25 cents, eggs (a dozen) 17 cents. I have one cow which costs 35 dollars. I have 1 dog, 1 cat, and will get 2 hogs, some chickens. I have plenty of hay. I bought grain for six dollars and I should have enough for 3 head of cattle. Brother J.H. has 530 bushels of wheat, 119 bushels of oats, H.J. has 613 bushels of wheat and 248 bushels of oats, apart from the grain which is fed to the pigs, horses and cattle.

(continued in a different handwriting; perhaps Anna Jonker – te Selle?)

Dear beloved brothers and sisters. I cannot help to add some words to this letter. Thanks to the blessings of the Lord we are very prosperous. 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. In the end we will get used to that because we……..

My address is G.J. te Selle
North America, Lantkaster Co
Ponama, Po

14a, added letter

Brother G.J. will write you also a letter, but I thought to send a letter too.

The crops are very beautiful. Wheat and grain are very nice and we have 64 acres with wheat, 7 with oats, 7 with barley, 4 with rye, and 42 with corn. Wheat is cheap at 70 cents/bushel. Barley is 30 cents.

Please write soon back to me, when you have received this letter. My address :

H. J. te Selle
Lancaster County Nebraska,
North America