Testimony of the travels of the Karl REIMAN family from Switzerland to Nuckolls county, Nebraska in 1879/80



A letter found in the town archives of Wölflinswil, Kanton Aargau, Switzerland mailed from Fairfield, Nebraska on 30 January 1880, addressed to Mr. Georg Birger [Bircher, who was brother-in-law, husband of Klementina REIMANN's sister, Monika], is translated for me by Werner Fasolin, Swiss Historian.  Mr Fasolin and I have become fast friends and he has even visited our home here in Lucas county, Ohio.  Mr Fasolin was very diligent with the feelings of my ancestors. 

With a modern German dictionary, I found it most difficult to interpret the tone of the words.  Mr Fasolin and I spent many letters and much time in conversation ironing out this translation.  In these documents two different words seemed particularly difficult to put into context: "Warnings" and "the evil".  "Warnings" just did not seem to fit into the context of the documents.  In correspondence it was suggested that the word "advice" be used when referring to arguments against emigration.  Mr Fasolin agreed that this was the context of the words.  "The evil" was much more difficult to resolve.  The literal translation was "...where everybody only wished us the evil".  It just wasn't supported by the context of the following letter.  There was nothing in any of the documents about this family to suggest that anyone in Wölflinswil wished harm to the Reimans -- there was nothing dark and/or sinister anywhere.  A careful analysis indicated the opposite -- Karl and Klementina were very active in their town. 

While reading the February 1989, National Geographic Magazine, on page 188, these words appear: "A quick cure for excess sentimentality about small towns is to talk to someone who has actually lived in one.  They will tell you of the lack of privacy, of the occasional self-righteousness and meanspiritedness, of the urge to conformity that is the dark obverse of values shared."  Mr Fasolin immediately wrote to inform me that he was sure Klementina meant this when she wrote "the evil".  I firmly believe that this fits the context of the letter.  My ancestors, whose ancestors for generations had lived in this small community, were going to move away, "escape", "walk away" from the troubles of the community -- they were going to be missed and envied at the same time.


--- Bill Oliver


Klementina Reiman(n)'s letter home:

"Dear family and relatives

"When we had to say good-bye to you, dear beloved two[sisters], father alone and brother, we had to leave at 6 p.m. on December 16 [1879].  We were warm as long as we rode Swiss trains.  [The REIMANs, mother, father, four sons and one daughter, left Frick, the nearest railroad, about four miles north of Wölflinswil.]  But when we got on the French train the wagons [cars], that were made like your pig stables, were not heated and we almost froze to death.  I protected little Johann [John] from the cold with the pillows that I took on the train.  Joseph, I had to warm on my bosom.  Magdalena and little Karl [Charles], I had to just let them sit there.  Adolf was all stiff and numb from the cold because he still wasn't really healthy at that time.  I had to use all the clothes I wore to protect him with.  We had to ride on the train from 6 p.m. to 12 o'clock noon before we finally got a warm meal.  [Eighteen hours...]  Then we arrived in Paris where we stayed till 8 p.m.  We then got on the train again [and rode] until 8 a.m. [the next day] when we arrived at LeHavre [France].  There we had to stay one and a half days.  At 11 o'clock a.m. on the second day, we had to embark on a little boat [named Ugnan or similar].  I was so frightened because Adolf and Markus [unknown as to who this refers to, possibly another emigrant child] had gone out and were not back at the time we should have embarked.  If they didn't arrive they would be sent home.  I was so afraid to lose a child, I didn't know what to do.  Shortly before the boat left they finally came with the hotel-keeper.  I was full of joy.  We had been on the water for half an hour when nausea seized all the passengers.  Such vomiting and awful feelings!  We parents couldn't recover, but the children were all well on the second day.  Adolf had to take care of us all.  He was given a beautiful scarf by a German gentleman who couldn't leave his bed.  The scarf, that would have cost 7 francs, he then gave to me.  Sunday after our departure we arrived at Lieferpo [Liverpool, England].  Gottseidank [Thank God], we had to say good-bye there to our little ship, because the second night we really thought we would drown in the terrible storm.  Also, there was a group of Italians on board who really stunk.  [Remember in translation words have a tendency to change the intended meaning...] The doctor brought them on deck daily due to their odor.

"In Liverpool we could refresh and recover again.  Tuesday after the first Sunday, the eighth day, we had to embark at 11 a.m. to cross the mighty ocean.  Once on board, nausea again fell on us, but not as bad as on the small boat.  The children were all right, but father [Karl] and I couldn't leave our bed all the 17 days we were on the water, due to terrible storm there was one day after another.  We couldn't eat anything that was cooked on [board] the ship.  We had to nourish ourselves from what we carried in our bags.  We almost lost all hope without a warm meal.  The next Sunday, on the Dankfest [Thanksgiving festival -- the last Sunday of the year], we read the holy mass from the book that was given to us from our priest.  Every night, we and Markus prayed the rosary of the Blessed Virgin.  On the whole ship only Markus and our family, two people from Zurich and a German spoke German, so we had a good time together.  In the afternoon of the Dankfest Sunday there was a terrible storm.  The ship was covered by raging waves.  Water came in and within three minutes the floor in our bedroom was under water two feet deep.  Everybody on board started to lament.  We thought the One who brought us here will lead us further.  Fortunately, the children fell asleep.  The windows were covered for one and a half days so we couldn't see the raging ocean.  We commended ourselves to your prayers.  We had storms all the time but the last two days.  On Sunday [04 January 1880] after New Year's Day we left the sea.  Oh how happy we were to set our step on the earth.  We stayed overnight in New York.  Dinner, bed and breakfast cost us $1.50 each.  Five francs for a dollar means that for only three meals and a bed we paid thirty francs [note: the math needs scrutiny].  The travel all the way to Nebraska ruined [bankrupted] us, we used all the money.  In Le Havre we spent 40 francs for a stupid straw bag [tick mattress/bed].  In Schigago [Chicago] we had to stay overnight too, which cost us again.  Chicago is a big city.  From the time we got on the train until the train was out of the city it was [took] one hour by father's watch.  From New York to Chicago we stayed on the train two days and two nights.  Then it took us another two days and two nights to Recklau [we are sure that Klementina meant Red Cloud, since that was where the train came closest to St Stephens] where we got off the train in Nebraska.  We had to stay there overnight again.  We felt so lost in this strange land where almost everybody spoke English.  A farmer and his servant brought us to Swiss people, where our whole family had to work for them.  [In our family mythology, there was the story of Klementina having to work as a governess in New York to earn enough money to continue the journey.  Since I have established the fact that (1) their tickets were from Frick to Nebraska, there should have been no stayover in New York.  Second, they left Switzerland with enough money to more than feed them and house them and enough left over to purchase land.  Our mythology said that they were cheated by the money changers on the docks of New York.  Since they arrived in Nebraska next to pennyless, we guess there is truth within our family myth, only it was in Red Cloud that they had to work for additional funds.]  Father, Adolf and Karl had to chop wood, me and Magdalena had to help the housewife in the kitchen because many other people ate there [a boardinghouse?].  We were well kept at this place, but we couldn't hear the bells ringing, we missed the Holy mass, we didn't know where to look for Catholics in this wide country.  Fortunately, a farmer helped us by telling us where to meet them.  Father and Adolf started their march [journey] on January 26, leaving us behind.  What a joy, twenty English miles from here they met the Catholics [St Stephens].  The whole Catholic community gathered to welcome them.  They were invited to the table of the priest and had to tell him about the parish in their old home.  On the next morning, a chauffeur picked us, the rest of the family, and the trunks, up.

"Adolf, .... with the little ones I had to drive with esels [donkeys -- I feel sure from research that Klementina didn't have knowledge of mules.  Wölflinswil had only a few horses, no mules, nor donkeys.  I feel that she probably had never seen mules, or donkeys, and her common sense allowed her to presume that from the long ears these weren't horses, so maybe donkeys.  The term for mule in German is Maultier and she used the word esels] from 2 p.m. to 10 at night.  The roads are much worse than yours.  En route we stopped at the place of a Swiss.  We were invited for a meal and the children could recover in the warm living room.  There was a cold and strong wind from the east.  I had to wrap the children in linens, but I haven't seen any snow yet in America.  When we arrived at the Catholic community everybody came running, shook hands, exulted "a Catholic family!"  Everybody came to see us because one is respected here much more than in the Rank, where everybody only wished us the evil.  **  Neither me, nor father, nor any of the children would ever want to return home[!]  I would just love to spend three days with my beloved brothers and sisters to tell [you] with my own lips the awkward trip with two little boys.  The neighbors have provided us with food for the near future.  We are staying in the warm house [in Guide Rock?] of a single lad who owns 80 acres.  Women are very rare in Nebraska and I wish that some young girls would come here, they would make a better fortune than in Switzerland.  But it's a hard and troublesome trip to get here.  The farmer in whose house we are staying is longing for a decent girl.  Magdalena showed him the picture of her godmother.  He took a very close look at her and asked us about her behavior.  We told him, and now he wishes her to come here.  If she comes to New York she can refer to this letter there and he will pay for her trip from New York to here.  If she can or wants to come let her tell us in your letter that you are hopefully sending us.  Tell her that it is nice here, just the houses are not as nicely furnished as yours.  But at the moment we can't get a home of our own because we all have to earn some money first so we can buy one.  That's why we send kind greetings to you, dear brother-in-law, George, and ask you to find out if we have gotten any money, maybe from my brother [in-law] Joseph, or from Ursprung in Herznach [the embarkation company], then please mail it immediately.  Give greetings to burgemeister [Mayor] Frey.  If we can get the money together for an animal or two oxen to plough with, then we can start a new home.  We all have to be separated, but not too far from each other, until we have saved some money.  The little two boys will stay with me.  The other children have a place already.  If someone of you came and only brought 100 dollars with him, he could make it easily, but it is hard to arrive here with nothing.  Not everything is true that is spread in the booklets of Zwichenbart.  But if someone only brought 100 dollars he could make it as well as in Switzerland.  But to get to America from Zwilchenbart things only work with a lot of cheating wherever it is possible.  I say thanks to the priest who has given me, Klementina, a beautiful book.  I had to give it to the priest in our small parish where we are now.  He wants to use it in church for a while.  If anyone of you wants to come here to join our little parish he may do so now because this land will be settled with Catholics.  The prices for land are increasing as time passes [and] as people get settled.  One can double his fortune within three years.  If anyone from your hometown want to come here tell him to take a French ship.  They have better food and the beds are already on board.  We had to pay 40 francs for strawbags in Le Havre.  If we hadn't brought our own beds we would have had to pay an additional 20 francs.  If anyone comes he shouldn't change any money till he gets to Neumann [the name of an agent of some kind] in New York, otherwise he will be cheated incredibly.  No one should make a contract further than to New York.  Neumann will give them tickets to Nebraska."



copyright © Dick Taylor, 1996 - 2007   Oldtime Nebraska Travels of the Karl REIMAN family, submitted by William N. Oliver - April, 1997