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The Letters of
August 12, 1850 to July 13, 1880
with an introduction and notes by a priest, Rev. M. [or N.] J. Vanden Elsen, who translated them
Arnold Verstegen, with Anna Maria Biemans, his wife, and
four small children, came to Little Chute,
[Notes in brackets added by Jack Hartjes]
First Letter. Little Chute, August 12, 1850
I should have written long ago, but my brother has kept me busy planting, seeding and working at his house which he is building, and besides I did not feel like writing. I was very much disappointed at first. The country appeared too wild--woods, woods, nothing but woods, and only a small clearing here and there with a ramshackle building upon it. And, worst of all, the crops looked bad because it had not rained all spring. I thought at first that I could never live in a country like this. I felt as though I wanted to go back home right away. My brother, however, laughed at me and said that he had experienced the same feeling when he arrived; I should have a little patience and I would soon get over my gloomy spell. He was right; everything is changed now. There has been a good rain, the crops are much improved, the country looks more friendly and I am in the mood to write a long letter.
You know that we left
When we finally reached
I had expected that our coming to Little Chute would be an event of some importance, and that the Hollanders at least would be anxious to see us and to bid us welcome. Here again I was disappointed. The people were all excited about the expected visit of the Most Reverend Henni, Bishop of Milwaukee, and had no time to bother about anything else. The Church was being decorated and the women were housecleaning and getting their best clothes ready; they were baking and cooking as if the Bishop were surely going to eat dinner in every house.
Father Vanden Heuvel and H. Bongers had been sent to
After a short visit at the church and in the priest's house, the Bishop offered Mass and was assisted by four priests, the Rev. Fathers Vanden Broek, Vanden Heuvel, Ferenacci (an Italian) and Bullock (an American). After Mass the Sacrament of Confirmation was administered and the Bishop gave a fatherly talk, which made a deep impression upon the children and the grown-up people as well. It was a great day for "NepoMuc" or "Little Chute."
Meanwhile our companions, from whom we had become separated
Father Vanden Broek has willed all his possessions to the church at Little Chute; it is his earnest wish that the church of which he is the first pastor shall always have a resident priest. He is in good health now, but in the event that something unforeseen should happen, Father Vanden Heuvel will be his administrator--until the Bishop appoints a new successor. He wants to build a larger church, twice the size of the present one, and asks us all to do our share. At first he had it in mind to build of stone, but finding the cost prohibitive, he has now decided to build of wood.
For the present we are staying with brother John, and are working together. John, who can talk with the Frenchmen and the Germans, as well as with the Hollanders, thought he would make use of his linguistic talents, and has gone into the store business. Our stock is rather small now, but our ambition is to have a general store some day. We are now settled down, right at home. Anna was sensible from the beginning, and I am ashamed of myself to have acted like such a baby.
Our little boy got sick in
There, father, you have all the news. We wish you and all of our friends good health, and God's blessing.
Your devoted son and daughter,
Arnoldus Verstegen and Anna Maria Verstegen
Second Letter - Little Chute,
Dear Parents (in law):
We received your letter dated February 19th, but since the questions did not press for an immediate answer, we waited until we were settled in our new house and can give you a description of the same. It isn't a rich man's castle, but has all the room and conveniences we want, and that ought to satisfy anybody. The ground plan is 32 by 24 feet. Both gable ends go straight up to the peak of the roof. Besides two small attic windows there are thirteen windows with twelve glass panes in each, size 12 by 10. So you see that all the rooms are well lighted. To air the rooms the windows can be raised, and they stay up without a prop put under them. A cord, a trolley and a weight are doing the trick, and everything is so well concealed that those who see the window stand up all by itself, and don't know the secret, are puzzled. It is a new American invention. The roof is covered with small boards, which they call shingles. We cut logs in lengths of about 16 inches, split them into slices about half an inch thick, shave them so they taper to one end, and nail them on the roof. Exposed to the weather they turn a grayish color, and in the course of time it looks like a genuine slate roof. Not many houses in Little Chute compare to ours; I wish you could come over and see it.
You like to know the progress we have made on our farm.
This year we had 13 acres under cultivation, and everything we planted did
fairly well; the potatoes here have the same disease or blythe as in
Next we will build an American fence around it to keep cattle and pigs from rooting it up, because every farmer lets his animals roam where they please and feed themselves on whatever they can find. The American fence is a peculiar structure. We take good sized tree trunks, about 15 feet long - those that are too thick are split in four parts. We lay them down on the ground in a zig-zag line, crossing them at the ends, and keep on piling them up until they reach the required height. It is a good fence, and even the pigs cannot squeeze themselves through. The tops and branches and the brush wood will be piled in the field and burned.
I know what is now on your mind, father. You would like to
know what is the idea of wasting good fire wood. You will be shocked when I
tell you that here in Little Chute, since the first settlers came, hundreds of
acres of dense primeval forests have been up in smoke, because there was no saw
mill and no market for the lumber, and the land was needed for grain fields and
pastures. Compare this with conditions in
Even now wood here had little value; it is being used as material for paving roads instead of brick or stone. The highway which runs between our house and barn is being paved with planks over a distance of nine miles. We farmers think that the first heavy rain will scatter the planks all over the land, but we must wait and see first. The Americans like to experiment, and often their seemingly foolish exploits are surprisingly successful.
Take for instance the electric telegraph. A telegraph line
is under construction, coming from
You asked me if the Kermess [an outdoor fair in the Low
Countries, according to GuruNet] is celebrated in
The only kermess celebrated all over
Father Vanden Broek is dead. On All Saints Day, when he was
singing the High Mass, he was sruck with paralysis, and a week later funeral
services were held with great solemnity. People came from everywhere to pay
their last respects to the man who had brought them to this country and who as
a kind father took an interest in everybody's welfare. Father Vanden Broek left
all his property for the upkeep of the
You asked me about our livestock; we have two horses, two cows, one calf, ten pigs, and eleven chickens. We butchered two oxen weighing a little over 700 pounds each; they had worked hard plowing in the spring, and that accounts for their light weight.
Arnoldus Dirks lives half a mile from here, and his family is doing well. My wife, Father, and brother John send you their best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.
Third Letter - Little Chute, June 16, 1852
Your letter of April 24, received here May 23, afforded us great pleasure. Not getting an answer sooner, we were afraid that perhaps our letter might have been lost. You tell us that Mother has been sick, but is now improving; we wish her a speedy and complete recovery.
While I was reading the rest of your letter, tears came to
my eyes. You suggest that we take our inheritance at this time; and I read
between the lines that you are under the impression that we are living here in
great poverty and are too proud to ask for help. We are happy to hear that we
still have a place in your heart, although undeserving of it, since we came to
If, however, you have some money lying idle in the house and wish to invest it, that is a different proposition. I need a few more horses and cows and have no money on hand with which to buy them. My credit is good, and I can borrow the money here, but not for less than 12%. Two hundred dollars is all the money I need, and I will promptly pay you 6%; in this way we both will make a profit.
The best way to send money is buy a money order from a bank
It has been two years now since we arrived here, and we are becoming accustomed to the country and its people; so I shall give you my impressions. The country is still in the making, and much of the improvement is of a makeshift character. The land, after clearing, is left full of tree stumps, which will be removed as soon as the roots have decayed enough so that they can be pulled out. But in the meantime we must plow between them the best we can, and everything grows without fertilizer. The buildings are mostly constructed of logs; there is no beauty about them; the roads are rough, and during the wet spell heavily loaded wagons have to keep off lest they sink into the mud up to the hub.
This is a free country, where only a few necessary and useful laws are made. Ordinances and restrictions which would benefit only a few and would be a burden to the people are generally and wisely avoided. And with few laws and few officers to enforce them, the people have respect for the law and like to see it enforced; as a whole the people cooperate with the officers, so that transgressions are few.
There are policemen in the cities, but we never see one; still we don't have to lock the house or the stable, or keep a vicious watchdog to frighten burglars away. You can leave a spade or any implement or tool in the field after using it, and it will still be thee whenever you go back to use it again.
Is there a Komeis (revenue collector) in Little Chute? Of course you think that no town should be without one, to watch everyone's every move, to prevent illegal butchering, brewing or baking, etc. No we have no Komeis, and that is another reason why I like this country.
There is no compulsory military service here. Every state
in Europe maintains a large standing army because each country is afraid of its
neighbors, and the quarrelsome nations of
There are no game laws; you can go fishing or hunting whenever ou please. There is plenty of game, big and small, in the woods; and the rivers are full of fish.
Do we pay taxes? Certainly we pay taxes, and enjoy doing it! I am paying taxes on 160 acres of land, and I am highly assessed because my land is of the best, yet I am only paying twelve dollars a year, and that includes school tax. My brother John has been elected tax collector, the highest paid office in town; he receives 5% of all the money taken in, and it will bring him a neat sum of $80 a year, but he must go from house to house to collect it.
Now, Father, you will understand why we love our new
country, and you will not be surprised when I say that we have made up our
minds to make it our home for the rest of our days, bringing the children to
become American citizens. But to come over to
Now for a bit of local news. The Fox River, a river as big
as the Nuess, is shallow and fast flowing, because Lake Winnebago, its origin,
is seventy-five feet higher than the
Another public work, now in progress, is the paving of our main road with planks. They want to straighten out the road and run it through my land, which will necessitate the moving of my house. There is also a dispute between a certain road boss and one Mr. Verstegen, Governor of This Manor! They have not come to terms yet about the cost of moving the house and the price of the land. In the meantime they have skipped my land and are already two miles beyond it, grading the road and making a bedding for the planks. The planks have been laid for a distance of five miles, up to the house of Brother John, and that part of the road is open for traffic.
The price of produce is as follows: wheat, per bushel, 75 cents; rye, 60 cents; oats, 30 cents; beans, $1.60; peas, $1.00. Flour is $400 a barrel (200 pounds); salt pork, per pound, 10 cents; butter, 14 cents; coffee (not roasted) 14 cents; rice, 8 cents; and eggs, 12 cents per dozen.
Father is still with us. Adriana and Anna Maria are going to school to learn English and are beginning to speak it quite well and read it. J. Van Lieshout says that he will pay his share and you may go ahead.
With best wishes, respectfully, Your Children,
Anna Maria Verstegen (Biemens)
(There is an interval of five years between the last letter
and the next one. In the letter written in 1852 anna Maria is said to be going
to school; in the following letter, written five years later, she is said to be
a baby, and has her picture taken sitting on her father's knee! This apparent
contradiction is easily explainable. The bright little Anna Maria, who
"knew her prayers well" in 51 and "could read and speak English
quite well" in 52, was soon afterwards taken by an untimely death; and
when the mother was still mourning the loss of her dear child, a baby girl was
born and baptized Anna Maria in order that the name would survive in the
family. In the same interval a baby boy arrived, and these pathetic and
important events, together with other news items, were surely communicated to
the parents in
The Verstegen family so far has had a full share of human
tragedy; one or perhaps two children died in
Rev. M. J. Vanden Elsen)
Fourth Letter - Little Chute,
Arnold Hurkmans, a friend and neighbor of ours, will be
leaving here in a few days on a visit to
Are we not living in a wonderful world? One marvelous invention looms up after another. It took us two months and a half to come to this country and that is only seven years ago, and now your letters reach us within a month.
The wild land we undertook to tame a few years ago has seen
a great change. We have almost forty acres under cultivation, a nice herd of
cattle, and can take life a little easier from now on. The harvest was better
this year than any previous year. But Hurkmans will tell you all about that. He
knows us and our circumstances. Just ask him and he will tell you everything.
Hoping to receive an answer with Hurkmans, I am your obedient son.
P.S. We recommend Hurkmans to your kind hospitality.
Fifth Letter - Little Chute,
We received your letter of October 20 of last year, but did
not answer because A. Hurkmans was on his way to
Hurkmans tells us that you liked the pictures but that you
would sooner have seen us in person. It has always been our plan to come to see
you as soon as the conditions of our farm would allow us. But we overlooked one
thing and that is the children. For no money in the world would Anna leave them
to the care of a stranger. A few years from now it will be different; Adriana,
who is a willing and handy worker and already does much of the housework will
then be able to take the the place of her mother, and then you can expect us.
Hurkmans tells us that he spent many hours with you, and that you were delighted to hear of the progress we have made on our farm. He told us, too, how he had to draw maps of Little Chute and point out the location of our house and of the house of John and of the church. I am sure you now have a pretty good picure in your mind of the entire town.
Late in the summer an unusual sight was noticed in the sky;
it was a star with a tail. As weeks passed by, the tail grew longer and the
head grew brighter, and it seemed to come nearer the earth. In the month of
October it began to look so threatening that people began to fear that
something was amiss and that the end of the world was coming. One Sunday our
priest talked about it in church and said that it was a comet and that similar
stars had been seen in the past and that it was a friendly wanderer of the
universe, not intent upon any mischief, and that it would disappear
noiselessly, just as it had arrived. The papers tell us that it was seen all
over the world; you must have seen it in
Father has been very sick this summer and hasn't been in the church for three months; he was anointed, and for a few days his condition was such that any moment he was expected to pass away. To the surprise of everyone, he recovered and is going to church again, although he is not as strong as he used to be. Next summer he will again be seen working in the garden and doing odd jobs around the house and taking the children for a walk.
Now a little about the weather. Thee was so much rain this spring that the work in the fields was much delayed. The horses would sink in the mud as deep as the land had been plowed before. It was July before all the seeding was done. Then a dry, hot spell came. Once the temperature registered 105 degrees; and the latter part of the summer was wet again.
Wheat is only 85 cents a bushel, so that farmers in some states, considering the low price and the poor quality of the grain, have set fire to the crops, not thinking it worthwhile to harvest them. I, myself, have two acres of wheat still standing in the field. It has plenty of straw but little grain, and even that is infested with smut.
The money you have sent I have put on interest. Home breeding has taken care of the increase of my stock, so that I need not buy any more. When I see a good piece of property, I will buy it.
I was told two years ago that Cornelia Vanden Elsen was married. Is it true that Uncle Cornelis of Boekel is also married? Give my regards to all relatives and friends.
Sixth letter - Little chute,
Dear Parents, Brothers and Sisters-in-law:
Anna has been telling me right along that the new year was coming fast and that it was time to look for pen and ink and send our New Year's greeting to Holland, and I kept on saying that there was no hurry, for no other reason that I know of except that I dislike the mention of pen and ink; that puts the blame on me for their coming so late.
Accept our sincere wishes for a happy New Year's. So far God has been kind to you and given you a good share of the blessings of this life, and we pray that you may enjoy the same happiness for many years.
Your welcome letter of January 3, 1859, found us all in good health, except that Anna is still suffering from cramps in the legs; it is four years now since she began to complain, and now it is so bad that she has difficulty in walking; otherwise, she is in good health.
Wheat, rye and oats were fairly good last year, but most of
the winter wheat has to be seeded over in the spring. Early in the month of
July a severe frost did much damage to Turkish wheat, buckwheat and potatoes,
and another killing frost the last days of August aggravated the damage done
earlier in the season. That is the climate of
The prices of produce are as follows: wheat, $1; oats are 30 cents; potatoes are 50 cents per bushel; flour is $5 a barrel; butter, one shilling per pound. I have two fine work horses for sale and three milk cows; that would leave me seven horses and as many cows; but although grain brings a good price, livestock is cheap and I don't like to sell at the prevailing price. I think I have told you everything worth while mentioning, and we remain as ever, with respect and love, your son and daughter.
Seventh Letter - Little Chute,
Dear Mother, Brothers and Sisters:
Your letter of May 30 brought us the sad news that father is dead. It was a shock to all of us, not only because it came so unexpectedly but also because we realize that all of us now suffer a great loss. Father was always so sympathetic and so anxious about our welfare, although we had left home like wayward children. He would write such beautiful and encouraging letters and was much interested in everything we were doing here and was always looking forward to the day that we should come over for a visit. We see that happy day never dawned for him; God willed it otherwise. We surely are remembering him in our prayers; I have a Mass offered for the repose of his soul on the 23rd of every month for one year. It will not be said this week because there is no priest here now but we are expecting one next Sunday.
You say that Mother would like us to come over now and not wait any longer, because she feels her days are too numbered and fears that we shall find an empty house if we keep on postponing our long promised visit. We have talked the matter over and discussed it from every angle. Anna cannot come for a new baby arrived the latter part of July (we named her Ardina) and besides she dreads a long journey because of the condition of her legs. She urges me to go alone and not wait for her any longer. Adriana is now a big and strong girl, a willing and handy house maid, well able to take care of the house and of the children; and brother John can always be depended upon if help or advice of any kind is needed.
It has been agreed upon that I go alone, and I intend to leave here about All Saints Day; in case something should happen to upset our plans, I will let you know. Don't send any money - we can arrange that matter upon my arrival.
The harvest this year is abundant; the wheat crop is heavy and is already in the barn; oats and other cereals too look very promising. This summer we had many thunderstorms and rain at the right time, and that, combined with warm weather always means a heavy crop. It would also mean long sessions on the threshing floor in the barn next winter, but I have solved that problem by the purchase of a threshing machine. You wonder how, but I have solved that problem with a machine which can be made to swing a flail and therefore I will explain to you how it works.
First, there is the power plant, which sands outside and
looks like the coffee grinder which Anna brought from
Threshing was always a tedious occupation on the farm; to stand there day after day and swing a flail with the regularity of the pendulum of a clock was monotonous drudgery, and now an American invention comes to the rescue. I paid close to $100 for the machine and consider it the best investment I ever made. With the help of a few assistants, I can thresh a hundred bushel of grain with it in a day. It is rumored here that soon there will be a machine that will cut hay and grain and when it comes I will not be the last one to discard the scythe and the sickle. Some of my neighbors say that they don't like the deafening noise of the machine and that the rhythmic beat of four or five flails handled by an expert crew is more musical and soothing to the nerves. Their objections don't seem to be very serious though for I hear that some of them have already taken steps to install the unmusical machine in their own barns.
But why am I taking up so much time writing all this? If it is God's will, I will spend the coming winter months with you in Erp, and we will have plenty of time to discuss these and other matters. Anna is very sorry that she cannot be with you at this time, Mother, and prays that God may give you strength to carry your heavy burden of sorrow. With greetings to all and hoping to find you all in good health I am your son and brother.
Eighth Letter - Little Chute, May 6, 1861
(He tells about a happy homecoming! The Civil War has broken out.)
Dear Mother, Brothers and Sisters:
You have been waiting a long time to hear from me,
wondering if I would find my way back home again, and here I am to tell you
that I found it and without much trouble. As you know I left Erp on Wednesday,
March 13, and went only as far as Beghel that day; the next day to Den Bosch
and Friday to
From Queenstown we crossed the Atlantic to
I was happy to be again surrounded by my family after an
absence of almost half a year. We had so much to tell each other. Anna was much
interested to know how her mother was feeling and how her brothers and sisters
were getting along and how the home town looked. The children were never tired
hearing me tell about the big buildings and busy streets and beautiful stores
There was much talk on the boat about a civil war
One of the passengers on the train had this to say on the
situation. "I worked on summer as foreman on a plantation in
Nowadays we hear that hostilities have begun and that the
South has fired the first shot and taken possession of
Prices are going up on account of the war; wheat is now $1.10 a bushel. We hope that the prophesy of the man on the train will come true.
There was much snow last winter, too much rain this spring. From all indications the crop will be bad and wheat will suffer much from smut, as often happens after too much rain.
Anna sends her love and best wishes to you, Mother, and to her brothers and sisters.
Ninth Letter - Little Chute,
Dear Mother, Brothers and Sisters:
We must bring you again some very sad news; Adriana, our
eldest daughter, is dead. You know her well -- the nice little girl who was of
school age before we left
Now she was a grown-up lady, a stout and healthy-looking
woman. She started young to help her mother with the housework, and the last
couple of years she did practically all the work alone, until she got married
two weeks before Lent, February 16th. We could hardly afford to lose
her much needed help, but her companion, Arnold Hurkmans, was a nice young man,
and they seemed well-matched; and it would have been unwise to interfere with
plans concerning her own future happiness. On the wedding day there was much
feasting and rejoicing and well wishing, in which nearly the whole
Two weeks after her wedding Adriana took sick; on Ash Wednesday the doctor was called and found it to be a serious case of an infection of the liver. She grew steadily worse and wasted away so fast and so completely that her friends who came to see her toward the last said that she did not look any more like the Adriana they had known so well. As soon as she realized her condition was hopeless, she became reconciled to God's will and suffered patiently, asking only for our prayers. She died peaceably on Saturday, May the 24th.
Eighteen hours after Adriana had breathed her last, her mother gave birth to another girl. Mother had looked forward to that event, expecting to have Adriana at her bedside; Adriana was always happy when she could wait on her frail mother. Her ways were so gentle, and, as by instinct, she would always do and say the right thing; her presence alone gave her mother a feeling of safety and security and comfort.
And now preparations were being made for her funeral, which
was to be held the next day. We felt real anxiety for Mother; but her trust in
God and her calmness and patience in the most trying situations did not desert
her this time; she is doing well now. The baby was baptized on the day of her
sister's funeral, May the 26th, and was named Adriana, to honor the
memory of our first Adriana, hoping that she will grow up to be as fine and
virtuous a woman as her predecessor was. Of the four children which we brought
The war between the North and the South is still going on with great fury; the papers bring news every day of battles being fought, more soldiers being killed, more property being destroyed; and we don't seem to be making any headway. The end is not yet in sight. Only volunteers are being asked for, to raise an army of over 600,000 men.
With best wishes for you all, and asking you to remember Adriana in your prayers, I remain with love and respect.
Tenth letter - Little Chute,
(The railroad comes to the town. Little Chute comes near to
having a real
Dear Mother, Brothers, and Sisters:
Only two weeks ago I wrote you about the death of Adriana and the arrival of a new baby girl. Now I am writing you again to let you know that mother has stood the ordeal well and that the baby too is doing fine. However, we still miss Adriana and I don't think we will ever forget her; but it is God's will and we must carry our cross with patience.
Now I want to tell you about the great works which are here
in progress. The railroad is coming to Little Chute. Already for some time
trains have been running as far as
It is also rumored (and rumors of this kind are usually based on good authority) that the canal will be widened to one and a half its present size, to accommodate the big lake steamers, which cannot now pass through the locks. That also will give employment to many workmen, so that there will be jobs for everybody for a long time.
The other item that will interest you is that we are
building a mill. Of course, you think of the windmill, which is a common sight
The newspapers every day are filled with accounts from the battlefields. If I wanted to repeat all that, I would run out of paper before I had half done; I am sure that our papers carry the news too. Everybody here would like to have it over with.
The crops are generally good; the winter wheat is excellent. Best regards from Anna, and greetings to all relatives and friends.
Yours very truly,
Eleventh letter - Little Chute,
I am bringing you bad news, Mother, but it must be told. Anna, your daughter, is dead; but don't weep; she was a saint, a martyr, she is in heaven. For the last seven and a half years she suffered from cramps in the legs; she didn't make much of it, and always said that it didn't matter at all and that it only slowed her up in her work; but now we think that she kept her troubles to herself and did not want us to worry about it. After the death of Adriana, however, she could no longer conceal it that she was really suffering; and the last four days poor Anna was in terrible agony; it was the pain alone and no other sickness that caused her death. She died December the 16th, and was buried on the 21st.
Anna was all for her family, forgetting herself; as long as the children were well she was happy, no matter how she felt herself. She loved to be with them even if they were noisy; only when their mischief would carry them too far would she gently reprimand them. When they were sick she was at their bedside day and night; and it has happened too often that in spite of her tender care and her fervent prayers her patient would get paler and weaker, as days and weeks went on, and would finally close their eyes never to open them again. Then she would be tears for several days, but finally persuaded herself that her child was an angel in heaven and to be envied rather than to be pitied. And after she had seen four of her little children carried to the grave, one more sacrifice had to be made; it was the turn of Adriana, the strong and cheerful one, whose greatest pleasure it was to wait on her frail mother and to relieve her of the burdens of the household. Again she brought that offer[ing] heroically, but her strength from then on began to fail, and she realized that now too her days were numbered and began to prepare herself for a happy death. And now in heaven she has joined the company of those who were so dear to her here on earth.
Five children have been made orphans; the oldest 14, and the youngest a little over a year old. I will do the best for them I can, but a father cannot fill the place of a mother, for certainly not of a saintly mother as Anna Maria Biemans was.
It looks now as if those who are gone are to be envied rather than the living; what prospect is there for the generation that is growing up in a land torn by the horrors of war? It is now the third year that we hear of nothing but slaughter and destruction. It is true that the conflict is still far away and that lately our side has won great victories, but volunteers no longer come in sufficient numbers and the draft had to be resorted to. The provost marshal of the district has ordered a census to be taken in Little Chute of all the male population, and twice a lottery has been held; some are exempt because they are supporters of a family, others have bought themselves free for $300, and quite a few are gone to serve in the army.
The railroad is now completed as far as
Our mill is now running and we are doing fairly well for a beginning, and the prospects for the future are good. On account of the war the price of labor is high; I am paying $18 a month to a son of J. Van Haandel, and his brother working in a lumber camp earns $26. The price of everything has gone up; we get more for what we sell and pay more for what we buy, so that in the end we do break even.
The harvest was fairly good; some are complaining, but most of us are well satisfied. Grains that were seeded late have not done so well. Winter wheat is $1.00 a bushel, spring wheat is $1.10, butter 18 to 23 cents, fat beef 5 cents, and pork 6 cents a pound.
It seems to me that I have covered every subject. If anybody is interested in a certain matter that I failed to mention, let me know about it and I will be glad to answer his questions.
Greetings to all brothers and sisters-in-law, also to uncles and aunts living in Boekel. Tell Peter Teunis that his sister sends him her best wishes. Remember Anna in your prayers, and in conclusion I wish you all a happy New Year and hope to meet you in heaven.
Yours very truly,
(Soon after the conclusion of the Civil War in April, 1865,
Twelfth letter - Little Chute,
Dear Brothers and Sisters-in-law:
For a long time I have been anxiously waiting for an answer to my last letter. I began to think that you were all displeased with my second marriage and that my letters were no longer welcome and I should[n't] bother you anymore. Now Martin Derks comes and brings me your best regards and tells me that you have been waiting for a letter from me for ever so long. Evidently the letter I wrote last year got lost, and all my suspicious have been unfounded. On my part I can assure you that you are still as close to my heart as ever, and that Anna will be remembered as long as we live.
It is true I am married again; shortly before I left
What some have criticized me for has been done with the best intentions. I was left with five small children, the oldest one fourteen, the youngest a year and a half old. Someone was needed to take care of them and to manage the household. Of course, a step-mother cannot make her love with the same affection for the chldren that are not her own that a real mother has, but in my case I thought it was the best solution. And that my wife is of a poor family should not make her less eligible; she has fine qualities of mind and character, and that is in my estimation worth more than money; she has proved to be a real mother for her adopted children. When we arrived in Little Chute we received a hearty welcome and congratulations from the priest as well as from our old friends. Three children have been born since; one of them died.
I have lived in this country now for twenty years, and the
progress that I have sen in that short time is like a dream. Our Little Chute
was then a hamlet with one store, where only the most necessary household
articles could be obtained. The news from the outside world was weeks old
before it would reach us. Traveling any distance was slow and hazardous. Now
passengers arrive here in the afternoon who in the morning were still in
The Catholic Church too has made great progress. When the
Most Reverend Henni came to
The Little Chute congregation too has prospered and increased in numbers. For a year now we are using our new church, which is a brick building 111 feet long, 50 feet wide and the walls are 35 feet high; masons are still working on the tower.
Last summer my brother John died, who was a great friend of our famly and to whom we are indebted for much of what we have. If John had not arrived here first -- he took the whole family in his house and helped us in every way he could -- we probably would not be here. His wife received most, the bulk, of his estate, and in his last will he bequeathed his share of the mill to me. Shortly before he died, he had given $200.00, and other donar of $150.00 [?] for the purchase of a new church bell, and it was tolled the first time at his funeral.
I am now the sole owner of the mill, which represents an investment of $16,000. I bought last year a 33-acre piece of land for $1000, and have now 180 acres in all. Land opposite my house has been sold for $100 an acre.
I had a portrait of Adriana reproduced to give one to each of my children. If you are still in possession of the portrait of Anna, will you please send it to me and I will have it also enlarged and reproduced for the children and have an exra copy for you.
My nephew, Johannes Verstegen, is pastor of the
Thirteenth letter - Little Chute,
Dear Brother and Sisters-in-law:
(Enclosed with this letter was a copy of a supplement to
I suppose the newspapers in
For you in
Here the forests cover hundreds of square miles of rich soil and the climate is favorable, so that trees of many varieties grow to immense sizes. From the time of Adam they have never felt the woodman's axe; when they die of old age and the decayed roots can no longer support them, they crash to the ground and become the food for a new generation which grows upon them.
Now it happened that we had a long dry spell this summer and that the dead trunks and branches scattered in great profusion throughout the woods became very inflammable, and when once they caught fire by some accident, it spread very rapidly and, fanned by a strong wind, it leaped to the tops of the trees, devouring everything in its path. Thousands of acres of beautiful forests became a sea of roaring flames and are now a scene of desolation. It had taken nature a thousand years to build a beautiful paradise, and now, through the carelessness of perhaps one human being, it has become a black and charred waste.
As I said our many clearings saved us, but 60 miles north
of here, where the woods are more contiguous, the town of
On the same day Oct. 8th, the big city of
The dry season that started the fires has also damaged the crops; the wheat is poor and the other crops are only fair. Hay was good but many haystacks have burned. As to my occupation, I spend most of my time in the mill supervising the work; I have worked hard enough in my younger days and I think I am entitled to take it a little easier now. My oldest son, Egidius, is also working in the mill and learning the trade. Please let me hear from you soon and forget it that my wife's relatives are poor. For my children it is better to have a kindly stepmother than a rich and a hard one, but let us not mention that subject anymore. Kind regards and best wishes to all brothers and sisters-in-law, and to all relatives and friends, with love and respect.
I had this letter ready for the mail and now I have a
chance to send it with Janus Vanden Boom, who will deliver it in person and
tell you all about the big fire and everything else. My brother's wife and I
are not on friendly terms just now. It has been caused by the last will and
testament of my brother, who bequeathed his share in the mill to me and my
Fourteenth letter - Little Chute,
Dear Brother and Sisters-in-law:
Your letter of June 26th was received July 12, and I was glad to hear it that you are all well. It is several years now since we have corresponded; the last news came from the son of Jan Biemans of Erp, and your letter was an agreeable surprise to us all. It is always a pleasure to us all to hear from the family, and I will be glad to write at least once a year and if you ask me any questions I will know better what to write about.
In regard to my family, I can say that everybody is in good health and enjoying life. Ten of my children are living -- five of the first and five of the second marriage. Of the first Marriage are the following:
Johanna Catharina, 31 years old, born in
Of the second marriage are the following: Frans 11 years; Aridina [Ariadna] 9, Petronella 7, Arnoldus 3, and Joseph 2 years old. That is enough about the family; now for a little about our country----------------------
(The rest of the letter is missing and this is the last one
of the series. Arnold Verstegen was one of the tens of thousands of immigrants
who came to this country from all parts of
Reverend N. J. Vanden Elsen.)