The Settlement of Walvoords in Nebraska (1870)
After the Civil War, a handful of Dutch immigrants came to Nebraska and settled in the South Pass Precinct, about twenty miles south of Lincoln. Soon others came, bringing their wives and children along, and soon a little store was established and the place was given the name of Holland. The pioneer Dutchmen suffered many hardships, such as prairie fires, grasshoppers, hail storms, droughts, and sickness. Instead of living in fine houses as they do today, they lived in holes in the ground or caves. However, these rugged and sturdy people, who never knew defeat in the fatherland, were determined not to yield to it in America.
The Netherlands, with its dense population, high rents, and low wages produced a heavy pressure upon its people. The Hollanders labored from early dawn until dark acquiring only a meager subsistence. Mr. Ben Brethouwer says, “The Dutch farmers could work throughout their entire life and all they could ever hope to attain would be a mere living. They need never look to the future with the hope to attain a home of their own.”
The Dutch farmers, living a remote life, looked to the New World in their desire for economic relief and freedom. They conceived the idea, that in the United Stater they might obtain a home of their own, and give their family a better start in life. During the “forties,” the Brethouwers, Walvoords, Devries, Liesvelds and others migrated to the United States and settled in the State of Wisconsin. They disposed of all their personal property except their bedding and clothing, which they brought with them. These people with their bundles of bedding and clothing presented an ordinary immigrant picture.
They began their long journey from Arnhem (the county seat of Gelderland) to Rotterdam. From Rotterdam by means of a freight steamer they crossed the North Sea to Hull. From Hull they traveled by train to Liverpool, where they took a sailing vessel to New York or Quebec.
The journey across the Atlantic took from three to seven weeks, depending upon the condition of the weather. They traveled as third class passengers. Immigrants traveling in this class met with many hardships. The ventilation and sanitary conditions were bad. Sickness was often prevalent. Mr. Huzenveldt, however, says, “the only unpleasant accident that my parents witnessed was a sailor’s fall overboard. The vessel anchored for three hours trying to find him. Despairing in their search, the captain ordered the voyage continued.” It has been said when Mr. Jake Buis came from his native country, he spent eight weeks on the ocean. The cause of the delay in reaching his destination was not learned. The passengers were practically without food and had very little water when they reached New York.
Most of the Nebraska pioneer Hollanders were without funds when they arrived at their point of destination. A few had enough money to take them into the State of New Jersey. Here these immigrants worked as day laborers until they acquired sufficient means to take them to Wisconsin. Dutch settlements had already been established there at Oostburg, in Sherman County, and also in Sheboygan County. Mrs. Hattie Onnink says, “When my parents arrived at New York, they had very little money. They ware able to continue their journey only as far as New Jersey, where father worked as a day laborer until he was able to acquire enough means to continue our trip to Oostburg, Wisconsin.”
After these advance guards were established in their new homes, others from their native country followed. During the “sixties” the Wisconsin Dutch settlement was rapidly increased by Dutch immigration. A few established a permanent home while others worked as day laborers or practiced their trades.
Some of these Dutch pioneers were not satisfied with their new home, as the price of the land was too high, and the cultivation of its soíl was difficult. Hence, they had a desire to go farther west. Questioned as to their motive for their western migration, Mr. Ben Brethouwer says, “The part of the State of Wisconsin where the Dutch located was thickly forested. The Hollanders who acquired a small tract of land had to have it cleared before they could cultivate its soil. In cutting down a tree, three or four others had to be cut down before it could be taken away. Then ditches had to be made to rid the land of its excess water. This swampy land reminded the Dutchmen too much of their native country. This process would take a lifetime before a small piece of land could be made ready for cultivation. Reports came from the Hollanders who had settled in lowa and also reports through land agencies farther west, that one could cultivate the soil from a quarter to a half a mile without coming in contact with stones or tree roots. This not only seemed astonishing to the Dutchmen, but also inviting. Furthermore, land was available to them for only a small cost, and this increased the Hollanders’ desire to see this New West.
There were two methods by which the Hollanders could obtain land for their new homes. The first was by way of the Homestead Act of 1862, and the second was by purchasing the land from the railroad. As a result of the passage of the Homestead Act, land was offered free by the United States Government (except for a small cost of registering the claim) to those who wished to build their homes in the West. Every other section in a strip of land six miles wide through the southern part of Lancaster County, including South Pass Precinct, had been appropriated to the Burlington railroad. This company offered for sale to the settlers, eighty-acre tracts at five hundred dollars per tract, under a contract running a period of ten years.
Within five years after the passage of the Homestead Act, began the exodus of the Hollanders from Wisconsin to the new state of Nebraska. Mr. Henry Brethouwer was the first Dutch pioneer to make this long journey. He owned twenty acres of thickly forested land in Wisconsin. There seemed very little prospect of acquiring more land, or getting the land he owned cleared. Mr. Brethouwer and his father-in-law, Mr. Siegrist (a German), decided to migrate to this New West. They disposed of their property and purchased a team of oxen and a covered wagon. In the spring of 1868, they started from Sheboygan County with all their worldly goods. The journey took them more than two months. They arrived in the southern part of Lancaster County, in the summer of the same year. Upon the arrival of these men, the first desire of each was to locate a claim and make a home for his family. Mr. Siegrist staked a claim in South Pass Precinct, known as the Top farm, and Mr. Brethouwer staked his claim in Panama Precinct, known as the Lambert Wissink farm.
Mr. Chris Brethouwer visited his brother in the fall of 1868 and returned to Wisconsin with a decision to also cast his lot in this New West. In the spring of 1869, Mr. Chris Brethouwer, Mr. John Meinen, Sr., and the Bykerk families, started from Sheboygan County and arrived at the homestead of Henry Brethouwer, during the month of June. This group traveled by train from Wisconsin to the east bank of the Missouri River at Nebraska City. Here they ferried across the river, and at Nebraska City, Mr. Brethouwer purchased a team of oxen and a wagon. Mr. Brethouwer was the only one of the group who had money. He had three hundred dollars. Mr. Ben Brethouwer said that the trip from Nebraska City to the Henry Brethouwer homestead took four and a half days. They had a small stove with them on which they cooked their meals. They lived mainly on wild game, although they had purchased some salted bacon and a few supplies in Nebraska City. They had a great deal of difficulty in crossing the streams. Often temporary bridges had to be built. An axe was an indispensable tool. Until this group could locate claims and build their dugouts, they lived with the Henry Brethouwer family. Four families living in one dugout did not discourage these early settlers, as this was often done when later settlers arrived.
Mr. Meinen paid one man five hundred dollars for a claim on a piece of land in section 6 in Panama Precinct. Mr. Meinen’s daughter, Mrs. Ed Vermaas says, “This man squatted on this claim. He had made no improvements, however, nor was he financially able to pay his filing fees or make the required improvements. Since he could not have met these requirements he should not have charged father this enormous amount. My father borrowed the money from Mr. Henry Hickman (an early settler of South Pass Precinct) with which he paid the ‘squatter’.” Mr. Meinen was uneducated and could not speak the English language. Hence, he was placed in a position which permitted the “squatter” to take this advantage. Mr. Henry Wubbles says, “In spite of this unfair transaction Mr. Meinen prospered. He acquired in his lifetime two hundred forty acres, while the unscrupulous squatter sold his homestead and moved to Kansas where he failed to prosper.” Mr. Chris Brethouwer took a homestead in section 12 in South Pass Precinct and Mr. Bykerk staked his claim in section 8, also in South Pass Precinct.
During the spring of 1869, Cornelius Wismer and Klass Port left Wisconsin. They traveled by train to Nebraska City. From this place they took a coach to Lincoln. They remained there for a few weeks, and on the 10th of April they located their claims in section 12 in South Pass Precinct. Other young men who came to the settlement in the same year were Mr. William Walvoord, John H. Lubbers, and John W. Lefferdink. Mr. William Walvoord staked a claim in section 30, Nemaha Precinct. Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Lefferdink took adjacent homesteads in South Pass Precinct, section 14. They constructed a single dugout on the boundary line which divided their lands and lived together.
These pioneers were followed by another group, which consisted of the Huzenveldt, Reimes, and the Peten Pole families. These three families left Wisconsin in the fall of 1869. They also traveled by train to Nebraska City. They paid a man twenty-five dollars to take them to the Dutch settlement in Lancaster County. Mr. Huzenveldt said that it took two and one-half days to travel from Nebraska City to the Dutch settlement. They arrived at the Meinen homestead and remained till spring, when they located their claims and built their dugouts. Mr. Reimes located his homestead in South Pass Precinct, section 18. Mr. Peten Pole and Mr. Huzenveldt settled in Buda Precinct.
When Mr. Huzenveldt began seeking a location for a claim he started west of the Meinen homestead. He found all the desirable land containing piles of sod and stones, which indicated that the land had already been taken. Mr. Huzenveldt continued west ten miles where he staked his claim. He walked to Lincoln and made the legal filings. After all legal matters had been completed, he began making his dugout. He walked from the Meinen homestead to his claim every day until his home was ready to receive his family.
In the same year the Wissink and Vanderwege families arrived. Mr. Wissink located in section 4 in South Pass Precinct and Mr. Vanderwege located in section 13. In the latter part of 1869 and in the spring of 1870, the TeSelles, Vermaas, Komers, Obbinks, Vandeveldas, TeBrinks, Walvoords, and others came to the Dutch settlement in Nebraska.