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Friday, August 8, 2008

A BUMPY RIDE - Across the Ocean

On October 25, 1854, a group of Bohemian emigrants left their hometown of [Andrejov], Bohemia, headed for the New World.

This emigration was brought about by a Brazil nut. A traveler from the Americas had returned to [Andrejov] and told the residents there about the great New World where you could have all the coconuts you wanted just by picking them and where Brazil nuts grew free for everyone It was the Brazil nut that decided them and sent them packing their little bundles for the long trip across the ocean in a two-mast sailing vessel.

In that group were several names destined to become well known in Traverse City and the Grand Traverse region, among them being Frantisek Kratochvil (Erma's gr-grandfather), Anton Svoboda, Joseph Knizek, Joseph Lada, Alois Kafka, Joseph Wilhelm, Franc Pohoral and Joseph Kyselka.

After almost two months of stormy Atlantic weather, the ship, the Gross Herzogin von Alderberg, landed in New York and for the first time the party found it was going to North, not South America. In New York, the party broke up, a large number of them going to Chicago, reached after a week's train trip.

In the party was the ten-year-old son of Joseph Kyselka, a lad named Prokop, in later years destined to become one of Traverse City's leading businessmen and citizens.

The Kyselka family landed in Chicago on Christmas day with no friends, no money and no work. Three families, the Kyselkas, Wilhelms and Bartaks, moved into a tenement The men finally found work and young Prokop alternately went to school and worked in various factories.

Finally the family scraped together $100.00 and the Bohemian colony sent a committee consisting of Frank Kratochvil, Joseph Shalda and Gotlieb Greilick to Michigan to see what sort of country it was as a prospective home. Joseph Shalda selected Good Harbor, Mr. Greilick choose what is now Greilickville and Mr. Kratochvil preferred Traverse City.

In 1920, a few years before his death, Prokop Kyselka wrote the story of his life, one of the most interesting we have read, so, in the absence of The Observer, who is on vacation, we are going to run serially a portion of Mr. Kyselka's story.

The 24th, day of June 1844, is my birthday. I was born in a small city in Bohemia called Ondrejov (Andrew) on the estate of a well-to-do farmer named John Shalda. For this gentleman my mother and father worked many years.

My mother's maiden name was Barbara Venclik and father's name was Joseph Kyselka.

My parents worked for John Shalda for many years for very poor wages, barely enough to make a poor living. It had been the same with most Bohemians. Under the Austrian government it was serfdom, almost slavery. Everybody belonged to some nobleman and had to do a certain amount of work for him for nothing.

Even the well-to-do farmers had to furnish a man, a span of horses, wagon, plow and drag the year around. So, for laborers like my parents, it was almost impossible to get anything more than a mere living. General dissatisfaction with conditions led to a revolution in 1848 in Austria and the serfdom was abolished. But even under the new rule it was slow improvement. So desire for greater improvement grew from day to day and talk of emigration was heard day and night. Men and women began to meet nights to hear America discussed with its liberty of speech, religion and its easy living.

Through ignorance we were listening to the history of a South American republic, Brazil. We heard of the beauties of this land described as a Garden of Eden where coconuts and Brazil nuts grow in such quantities that anyone could gather all they want free of charge. It was an easy place to make a living.

As a result, a great fever developed, in rich and poor alike, to emigrate to this Promised Land. In one of these meetings the man who was reading the description of this beautiful country had a Brazil nut and he passed it around so all present could feel and see what, in a short time, they could pick off the bushes. This nut made more emigrants than anything that was read or said, although we thought Brazil was in the United States.

In May, in the spring of 1854, there was quite a crowd of [Andrejov] citizens started on the long journey to a new home, promising to let those who stayed behind know how things were in the new country. They soon wrote us favorable letters from New York and, in October of that fall; another group was getting ready for emigration. My parents were among them.

All those who desired to try their luck sold what they could at a sacrifice price and gave away what they could not sell or take with them. On October 25, 1854, the party was ready to leave. As far as I can remember, these were the families, which bought tickets to New York on the two-masted Herzogin van Aldenburg of Germany.

Anton Wilhelm, Frantisek Kratochvil, Anton Svoboda, Joseph Shalda, Joseph Knizek, Alois Kafka, Joseph Wilhelm, Sr., and Joseph Wilhelm, Jr., Franc Pohoral, Joseph Kyselka (my father), all from Ondrejov, and Franc Lada, Franc Sultz, Podhola and Moravec, all from Lencedle. I don't know the first names of Podhola and Moravec. They were the richest emigrants in the lot.

In the twelve years of my parents' married life to that time they had saved just about enough to get to New York.

At midnight on October 25, we left Andrejov for Prague, a beautiful city in the mountains with the river Vltava flowing through it. In the early days Prague was surrounded by high walls for protection in time of war.

Our preparation to start was very simple. We took little clothing, two feather beds and a very small amount of eatables. We left Ondrejov at midnight to keep crowds of onlookers from demanding where we were going and insisting that we write them about how things were in the New World.

We reached Prague in the night and went on to Bremen with very few stops. The trip to Bremen took three days. Bremen was the first large city we saw since we left Prague. Its streets were laid out irregularly and crooked and its market place was filled with fish.

After two days in Bremen we took a sailboat and were towed down the river to a place called Prague, the ocean port. Here we had to wait for the boat, which was to take us across the ocean.

In Prague we had the pleasure of seeing the skeleton of a big whale and to me it looked as big as a house. It was set up so people could walk inside of it.

Here we also saw our first tide. We went to the docks in the morning and saw a good size fish boat in the mud. We wondered how in the world they would get it in the water. To our surprise the tide came in and floated it and before long it was rocking in the waves.

Bremer Haven is a few miles from Prague to the north, and our boat was anchored halfway between Prague and Bremer Haven. We had to reach it by yawl boats. The day we received orders to board the ship we turned into acrobats, men and women and children. We had to crawl up ladders fastened on the outside of the boat from the yawls. There were 120 of us.

The Herzogin was a two-master about the size of Columbus' Pinta. We all made it to the big boat except one man who fell in the water while climbing the ladder. He was fished out and aside from being wet and roasted by the others he was all right.

The Herzogin was not an up-to-date passenger boat. It cared for very few cabin passengers and the rest of us were put down in the hull. The bunks were in tiers of three, each above the other and the middle of the boat served as kitchen, sitting room and parlor.

The young captain gave orders to lift the anchor and, with a favorable wind, we put out to sea. In two and one half days the land disappeared and we were told we were on the high seas and Europe had gone, for many of us forever. It was the cradle of our childhood.

The first Friday aboard we were treated by our German cook to salted herring. We knew nothing of herring. We did not know that the confounded fish wanted to swim after being eaten. They wanted fresh water and our supply was limited. Some tried ocean water and some tried rum, the fish were so salty, but could not quench their thirst. There were no more salted herring for us after this.

By this time we were well out on the ocean. The boat began to rock more and many of us felt queer about the stomach.

The further we got from Europe the worse it was and all of us fed the fish. Many kept this up for three days but gradually we became used to our situation.

A great storm came up and the sailors covered up the hatchways. This lasted for six hours and then we were allowed some fresh air again.

To pass away the time there was considerable praying and lots of music and dancing. During the big storm we offered prayers to the Virgin Mary to represent us at the throne of God and quiet the storm. Most of those on board were Roman Catholics.

Some would say there is always a calm after a storm and others that our prayers were answered. You may take your choice. But it grew so still our sails weren't even filled.

We had exceptionally warm weather until three days out of New York. Then it was cold. One day we went through a vast amount of sea grass which looked like thousands of acres of prairies. It took us several hours to get through this great sight and into clear water.

As I mentioned before, our principal occupation was dancing and music and I was too young for either so I had to keep out and look on. The time passed fast enough. One day three flying fish landed on our deck and the second mate picked them up. The mate put one on a hook and threw it overboard. He walked aft with the line and before he reached the stern he had a porpoise. It was estimated that it weighed a hundred pounds and we had a feast from it. Thousands and thousands of porpoise followed the boat.

Three days out of New York it was so cold we did not venture on deck but stayed below. It took us three days after we sighted America before we landed. We had been on the ocean 52 days when we landed in New York.

About this time there was an agent named Sekwence boarded our ship. He had the names of everybody in the party and knew how much money each had. We wondered how he got his information but we found out later that the news had gone ahead of us by steamer.

Our boat had on board several well-to-do families, including the Podholas and Moravecs.

After giving us a hearty reception, Mr. Sekwence offered to take us to a certain hotel which was good, cheap and honest and all on board accepted. We went to the hotel and everything went well until we went to pay our bill and then the rumpus began. The hotelkeeper locked the doors so nobody could get out and then demanded twice as much as was agreed upon at first. As a result there was a general fight. Nobody was killed but there was some bloodshed.

Upon the advice of John Wilhelm, who had been in New York for three years, we saw the police who arrested the landlord. He was fined and had to pay back what he had overcharged and put up a bond for $3,000.00 that he would never overcharge emigrants again. Thus we were welcomed to this great Promised Land of America.

After this, our party scattered. Some stayed in New York and some went to Chicago. My parents decided to go to Chicago so we went as third rate passengers and in one week arrived in Chicago on Christmas Day with no money, no friends.

My father had borrowed twelve dollars from Podhola and thirteen from Moravec. Shortly after we arrived in Chicago they left for Wisconsin and it was agreed that, after they found some farmland, my father would work for them until the debt was paid. So they took our two feather beds with them as security, leaving us without bedding.

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Across the street from us was a house in which all seven people who lived there died of Cholera. Chicago was very unsanitary at that time and where there are nice homes there were mud puddles covered with green scum.

About this time our folks took the notion that they wanted to live on some land. So several Bohemian families clubbed together and each gave five dollars and selected a committee to investigate the best place for people with small means to find a farm. We had small means but we had brave hearts, strong hands and will power.

The committee consisted of Frank Kratochvil, Joseph Shalda and Gotleib Greilick. They came north to Michigan and Joseph Shalda selected Good Harbor or North Unity, as it is sometimes called, in Leelanau County. Lots of Bohemians have settled there since, Masopust, Musil, Nemeskal, Pospisil, Viskochil, Svoboda and others.

There were thousands of acres of land to select from, all timbered with maple, beech, hemlock and basswood. This timber was in the way. The head of each family could preempt 160 acres. A good many took up these claims and went to work, men, women and children, to make their homes in this wilderness.

In order to prove up on their claims they had to do a certain amount of improvements each year and the rest of the time they had to work out to earn the bare necessities of life. It took them years to clear enough land to make a living, but most of them stuck to it and made a success. This land in 1856 could be bought for 50 cents an acre so some took advantage of this and bought 40 or 80 acres.

My parents selected a spot they thought was a very nice location on the plat. They paid taxes on it for several years and finally father went to see it one day and found most of it was in the bay. He was not much of a fisherman so he dropped it.

I knew the original settlers personally but from year to year many more came. After years of hard work they are all doing well. The land is suitable for almost anything, rye, wheat, corn, potatoes, peas, beans and all kinds of vegetables.

Frank Kratochvil and Gotleib Greilick left the North Unity and traveled south toward Traverse City. They were attracted by the beauty of the west shore of West Grand Traverse Bay. It was all beautiful but when they reached what is now Greilickville, Mr. Greilick's heart stopped beating, he was so much taken up with the view. He decided to stop right there and build himself a sawmill, which he did as quickly as he could.

He was a skilled mechanic and could make almost anything out of wood or iron. So here he built a steam sawmill and it was operated for many years and he cut millions of feet of lumber and shipped it to Chicago and Milwaukee. He had his own schooner, the E.C.L.

When Mr. Greilick's four strapping sons grew up they ran the mill while the father built other mills for people. At one of these he was driving piling and he was struck on the head by the falling hammer of the pile driver and killed instantly and Grand Traverse lost one of the best men it ever had. His sons continued to operate the mill as long as there was any timber left in the community.

So, of the three committeemen selected in Chicago, two of them have made their selections, John Shalda at North Unity and Gotleib Greilick on the shores of West Grand Traverse Bay.

This left only Frank Kratochvil of the original three sent out by the Bohemian colony in Chicago to select land upon which our emigrant families could settle and make their homes.

Mr. Frank Kratochvil selected Traverse City at the head of Grand Traverse West Bay because here was a sawmill, operated by Hannah & Lay, in which our emigrant families could settle and make their homes.

Bartak and Wilhelm settled on the south end of Boardman Lake. It was poor land but the men could walk to work in Traverse City and they lived there several years. The Hannah & Lay boarding house was located on the corner of Bay and Union Streets and it accommodated from 75 to 100 men. Tom Cutler had a hotel at the corner of Union and Front Streets.

Outside of Hannah & Lay's three teams there was one ox team in Traverse City, owned by Henry Rutherford. There was no wagon in the city so he did his hauling summer and winter on a sled.

At first the settlers took land near Traverse City because they did not know that the better land was further out but later they corrected this and moved to the good land further from the city.

On November 16, 1856, our family arrived in Traverse City on a boat named the Telegraph. It was a sailboat and it took us six days from Chicago to Traverse City. We stopped at the Beaver Islands from which the Mormons had been driven two years earlier. We finally docked at the west end of Traverse City in what was called Slab City because the houses were all made of slabs.

My father bought 40 acres of land about three miles south of Traverse City, all timber land, for $100.00. It was covered with maple, beech, elm, and basswood, the most beautiful timber which ever grew outdoors. There was also curly birch and birds-eye maple. But we had to chop them down and burn them in piles to clear one or two acres a year so we could plant crops for our living.

Everything grew fine. There were no potato pugs to bother us and the potatoes we grew were Peach Blows and Blue Mashanic. We had a lot of sugar maples and all it was necessary to do, we thought, was to go to a tree, knock a chunk off and you had sugar. But it turned out differently.

A sugar maple is the hardest tree in Michigan and to get syrup and sugar from it is hard work.

We had the land but no house on it because of coming so late in the year, so we lived with Frank Lada, our neighbor, for several weeks until our own mansion was finished. This was built out of round logs, 20 feet long, 14 feet wide and ten feet high. The space between the logs was chinked with plaster and clay. The roof was covered with split shingles and the gable ends with lumber we carried from Traverse City board by board as there was no other way to get it there.

Story continued here: http://grandtraverseregion.com/grandtraverse/fam-kyselka.htm
Source: Typed manuscript found at the Traverse City Public Library, 6th St. Traverse City, Michigan. Vertical Files (Now on Traverse Area District Library, Woodmere Ave)

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