The Jan and Ferdinand letters begin in 1873, a few months after Jan has settled with his family in Ross Prairie in Fayette County, Texas. The exchange between Jan in Texas and Ferdinand in Europe, extends over 12 years, until 1885 when Ferdinand himself immigrates to Texas. A further set, from Ferdinand only, were written to Jan from Halletsville, where he took a teaching position between the years of 1887-92. The letters cease when both brothers settle together in Victoria in about 1892.

Ferdinand’s letters were preserved by Jan’s family members. Jan’s letters were in the form of rough drafts that were entered in tiny handwriting into a notebook, or sometimes on random sheets of paper. Using these notes, he would then write a final copy for mailing. Except for these drafts, we would not have Jan’s side of the correspondence. Also preserved are many letters to Jan from friends and relations in Moravia and Hungary. Like Ferdinand's letters, these give us a reflection of life in central Europe during this period.

We also have a fictional article published by Jan, who enthusiastically subscribed to several popular Czech language periodicals of the time: the political magazine, Slovan, the Czech newspaper Slavie, and the periodical Amerikan Narodni Kalendar, in which were published personal stories and accounts of immigrant life. We have several of Jan's letters written to editors extolling the benefit of such reading material. His article, entitled "This is what Trubář (a Bugler) is writing from America under Radhošť", appears in Vol. III, 1880, of the Amerikan Narodni Kalendar. It was composed in a humorous vein, as a letter written home from a Josef Trubář describing his family's arrival at the Texas port of Galveston and their experiences as they make their way to their destination in Central Texas. It can be read here.

Our earliest letter from Jan is dated August 27, 1874, 8 months after his arrival in Texas. In a memorable and insightful passage, Jan comments on the rationale for uprooting his life in Europe to make a new one in America. He says, "Already the eighth month is going by since we have finished our rather difficult journey across the immense expanse of the ocean and up to now there isn’t one thing yet that would cause me to be very surprised; I ascribe this to the circumstance that I have not immigrated out of carelessness but due to certain principles and after sound and mature reasoning and deliberation in order to establish a better future not necessarily for myself but for my posterity; that is why I have determined and decided to sacrifice the remaining little bit of my life, and I have been prepared for much worse than the lessons learned so far by direct experience."

To illustrate these documents, we have chosen several samples. One is written by Jan to a family friend in Frenštát. It is exemplary because, unlike the more isolated bits of information metered out in parcels in his long correspondence with Ferdinand, Jan lays out a rather complete set of impressions, that offers an interesting picture of life in an environment that could not have been more different from the European culture, weather, and landscape from which Jan came. Another comes from Ferdinand to Jan and describes in poignant detail the death of his first wife, Anna, and his expression of feeling on this tragedy. Another letter from Jan philosophizes about the challenges for foreign immigrants in America and one by Ferdinand discusses his own weighty decision to leave his homeland.

The translation of most of the letters was done by Czech translator, Robert Santholzer, now living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Born in Prague in the Czech Republic, Robert brings a deep native cultural and literary background to his translations. Robert has a website, linked here. Translation of a number of Ferdinand's letters was by Thadious T. Polášek. Thadious teaches English at the Flatonia Secondary School in the Flatonia ISD. He is a recipient of the Lillian B. Rhodes Award and the 2009 Texas Exes Teaching Award for Outstanding Teachers by The University of Texas at Austin’s alumni association.

The condition of these letters, aged and yellowed, and often severely water-stained, attests to the daunting task posed to these translators, as they had first to be able to decipher the writing before making any progress in translating from the old Czech into English.

The letters are presented in a tabular layout with the original letter on the left and the translation on the right. Click on any of the thumbnail images to open a larger version of the image in a separate window, and use your browser's Back button to navigate back to this page. These are large images and web browsers will try to fit the image to your screen size, so to see the full-size image, click on the image with the magnifier mouse cursor {}.


Letter from Jan Pribyl Written to Ferdinand – August 7, 1874 

Jan describes life in Texas and philosophizes about his reasons for enduring whatever trials he must confront in his adopted country.

In Fayetteville, August 7, 1874

My living in Texas.

Dear brother!

I have received your letter from August 27 and I believe that you have also received my letter from September 8 that should have calmed down your worries and answered your questions. I have already written to you that despite the quite agreeable weather we have been visited by many illnesses, and also that despite quite a rich and productive year our harvest and crop didn’t finish very well, and then that we have a new American baby, etc. The content of the letter is unpleasant through and through but any other way won’t do because I have never indulged in lies and I doubt it that this old vice is ever going to be able to get possession of me.
It is very strange that most of the other people who have come here along with us were able to get ahead quite nicely and were sick not very often. With us it is quite the opposite and especially this year we have experienced all kinds of bad luck. Every weather occurrence was against us. Right during cotton picking the bushes got flattened to the ground and the remaining seeds were still able to grow but it had a bad effect on the cotton quality so that the price dropped from 15 cents to 10 cents a bale. And then about on the 8th of this month the Northerner brought such nasty stormy weather with a downpour and hail and wind that it is simply beyond description and I have never in my life seen something like it. It has lasted only about a minute but the damage it left behind was huge; it tore down fences, knocked over big trees, one couldn’t tell whether it was the rumbling of the thunder or an earthquake, many houses have been damaged not to mention the devastation in the fields. We weren’t hit as bad because it didn’t go directly over us but one of our countrymen told me that he was able to salvage but one bale of cotton; that makes a difference of over three hundred dollars. The corn plants were also knocked down, should the fogs arrive soon our damage and losses are going to be great also!
My wife and I are still regaining our strength after the bout with the malaria-like fever and I am slowly losing any hopes that my wife might get completely rid of her lung ailment and I don’t know how she is going to handle the coming winter; our children are somewhat hardy regarding the weather and climate here. I have mentioned to you in the previous letter that our financial situation is quite bad and there is not much hope that it would get any better and on top of it I had to pay back some debts to one of my creditors.
We have to severely limit our expenses and livelihood during next year (not that we would be starving yet) and because of this mess I have received from Lane & Hrba forty-four Dollars in cash; what kind of effect this remittance has had on us I am not able to describe to you although I have never had a reason to doubt your sincerity regarding your offers of financial help to us. I have been nevertheless very surprised and when I have told my wife about it she wasn’t able to hold back her tears. One really finds out that a friend in need is a friend indeed.
I think that you have received my second letter wherein I have asked you for a loan and explained to you the situation. The merchants here do accept such transactions because they are getting their goods in Galveston. I have received several arrival notices from Lane & Hrba. The content of your letter form November 17 is even more sincere; it is too bad that one cannot keep such opportunities. It is very enticing and one needs for it lots of self-denial in order not to be swept away by such an illusory current. These are some of the flaws that are a hindrance on our path and if one is, finally, looking for (the black spot covers some writing) some bliss and contentment too strongly he might never achieve it but he might trample on the good that is to be found all around us as he is blindly rushing toward the illusory happiness. We are fickle and unstable as well as insatiable and we pay very little attention to present opportunities and we recognize and appreciate them only in the past. With our troubles and afflictions it is the opposite: we feel them and experience them very strongly in the present but we tend to practically forget them in the past. Therefore we yearn and crave things, we pick over and make wrong choices, and we toss things away, not knowing our position and situation until we arrive at the place where our heart has to be dying of starvation.
And therefore even if some other flaws and obstacles that prevent me from coming back to my old beloved country would be removed I wouldn’t be content. I am not an obdurate man who would never change his mind after coming to a decision; therefore I am open to anything and do not revoke anything and maybe if you would have tried to persuade me that I shouldn’t be coming here I might have stayed there.
But since it has already happened and it cannot be changed for now I would like not to complain about my fate as it is customary here ‘the American way’ because it has been said about Americans: he is not alarmed even in the most difficult circumstances, he takes fate as it comes at him and selects out of it the best, he feels within him the strength to overcome even seemingly impossible things and he tries it right away and if he sees that he cannot manage he will for a while release his anger and then he will go after his goal with a cool head and determined fashion and along the path that is the shortest to it; he doesn’t despair, doesn’t complain or whine and never ends up helpless.
I went through your letter carefully and examined its content but I am not going to elaborate over it with too many words; surely these few words should satisfy you that I feel what you feel and that I am in complete agreement with your story and we are very glad that your souls are not tainted by the misfortunes. I have already written to you that uncle Aloysius is about thirty-five miles from us but I didn’t have a chance yet to go visit him; I have been told that he is doing somewhat well. I haven’t written to him yet also but I think that I am going to write to him in early spring. I am going to have ample opportunity to congratulate you on your blessing.
We have been in good health again for a while except that I am not quite back to normal because after four weeks I’ve got the fever again on Christmas Day coming home from church. And it came back on the St. Steven’s Day again (2nd day of Christmas) and that is why I have run ahead to St. John (between Christmas and New Year) and it didn’t come back since. This malaria-like fever reminds me of an evil woman: they are very hard to shake off, with one difference, if one poisons the first one there is no prosecution, if the latter one it is against the law but both won’t be cried over.
I don’t know what you mean by the notes regarding the addressed envelopes of letters that shouldn’t be delivered to the addressee and I am not aware of any such law. Vilém (William) and the other children are looking and doing well, they are hoping that we are going to do better next year should the good fortune smile on us.
We haven’t moved yet, the roads are in bad shape. I would write you more if it would be more suitable for it but we are having lately very bad weather and in that case one cannot think about writing because the only place in the house one can keep warm is only around the stove. When it gets really cold we heat in the chimney-pot, sit around it and load it with logs, and reminisce about the bonfires in the Beskid Mountains. Most of the houses around here have the chimney-pots which are made this way: in one of the walls is left an opening about four feet high with the same width measured from the floor. On the outside behind the hole is then built the chimney and inside of it is the platform upon which one makes the fire meaning it is level with the floor. It is firstly very romantic and secondly very practical because we are warming ourselves from the feet first. Practically on all cold evenings we sit around the fire and read (from) newspapers or books. (End of fragment.)


Letter from Jan Pribyl's Notebook Written to His Brother-in-Law,
František Dubovský –  August 10, 1879 

Jan writes to his in-laws, Sophie (Wilhelmina's sister) and Frank Dubovsky, describing his life in Ross Prairie, south of Fayetteville.

To: František (Frank) Dubovský, the baker in Frenštát   

Ross Prairie

August 10, 1879

Dear friends!

We have received your letter as a reply to our letter from February of this year and have taken out of it that the prosperity in Frenštát is nothing we should envy you about and it rather looks like that old hag flying head first down the stairs. We are not having here the proper paradise either, because it shouldn’t be as hot here and also the winter shouldn’t be so severe, meaning that a man shouldn’t be chilled through so much. Any worries regarding our future are unknown here as well as any care regarding providing our daily bread and bringing home the bacon. The sufficient means for the children to reach independence are healthy limbs, a little bit of common sense and a good upbringing by their parents, and, of course, it is plain to understand if they provide any material means for them, which aren’t the most important circumstances.
You are lamenting that we are living here in a solitary fashion like in a desert but you are not correctly informed about our living conditions and that is why I would like to explain to you briefly regarding our living circumstances. Our neighborhood is populated to such a density that more population here would be detrimental to the same. We live about five English miles away from Fayetteville, which is surrounded by farms for many miles. On each farmland is at least one house, some have more buildings but the houses are built as far from each other as possible but each house is by a road so that anybody walking or riding along will come to the house.

There are also some longer woods in the broader area but I am not aware of any that would take three to four English miles for anyone to cross without running across a farmhouse in between the woods.
In our district (Fayetteville county), which is the size of about half of Moravia, there is about a third of the population from Moravia, a little bit less of Germans and the rest are Americans and blacks. Concerning any worries about evil people we can sleep peacefully around here, it is not even close as bad as it is in Europe. In order for you to better understand it I will tell you the means by which the properties here are being protected and watched over.
Whenever we are going somewhere, usually for an entire day, most of the time no one is left at home. The house gets locked up, if there are such means to it so that a person coming by accidentally wouldn’t be able to rummage through the house just out of curiosity, and such someone would have to be an acquaintance, for a stranger would hardly dare to enter a courtyard unannounced; firstly he couldn’t be sure if he is to receive a terrible welcome by dogs or, secondly, if the watchful landowner wouldn’t chose to exercise his right to defend his property as the law and order in Texas allows that the landowner may use deadly force against a suspicious intruder. Even though it would be easy for an evil person to sniff around and turn it all to his advantage, and steal a lot of valuables from a place I don’t know any such or similar case as long as we have been living in America. At the most there is, but not very often, in our county some theft of cattle, namely horses, but should the perpetrator be ferreted out he might receive the capital punishment for it.
More often would happen that the ruffians would, after the slightest quarrel, shoot each other. Hardly a country-dance passes by, and such dances are just about the only entertainment around here, the music being provided by a hurdy-gurdy or an accordion, that someone wouldn’t be carried out of there with multiple stab or shot wounds, very often mortal ones. Regarding such crimes the law isn’t very strict. (Note: Tragically, Jan's own son, Henry, was killed in a dance hall in 1887. Jan's children played musical instruments and regularly performed at local gatherings. During one such event, Henry interceded when a fight broke out and was himself shot to death. It is said that Jan never really recovered from this terrible event. After it happened he and Wilhelmina would hold such musical gatherings at the family home instead, inviting personal friends and relations. You can see his tombstone on the "Photos" page.)
Concerning health care we have enough of doctors here, we are not worse off than, say, in Tichá, Lichnov, Boudovice (villages around Frenštát). We might come out short only in this regard that the local doctors might be less practical and more expensive, but the Lord be praised, I haven’t needed doctor’s advice for over five years. Whereas in Frenštát not a year would go by that I didn’t have to settle accounts from doctors and apothecaries. Of course, there are other dangers around here.
There are more than enough of poisonous varmints here, one cannot be sure even regarding insects and snakes (but these cases are quiet rare), but not every snake is poisonous, and most of these critters flee far and wide in the sight of man.
I know actually of only one case of snakebite and it wasn’t completely sure if the bite came from a snake. We have here more dangerous critters from God’s creation, for example the tarantula; it is a spider the size of an egg with a velvety surface, it lives in the fields but also this creature shuns man; right in the field, in the furrows it has a hole straight into the ground, and if a man approaches, it crawls into its hiding place, but if we hinder it in getting away or even badger it, it will stand its ground and resist or even jump towards a man and its bite might cause death. But I don’t know of anyone who has been bitten by it.
There are many scorpions around here but they sting only if we happen to squeeze them with an exposed body part; its bite isn’t even as painful as a honeybee sting.
And now I am coming to the most dangerous to man of the creatures in Lord’s creation. Surely not so that a man couldn’t defend himself against it but because it is so small and it contains in its countless legs the most severe poison; it is the centipede, a worm about three inches long and a quarter inch wide, it likes to hide in rotten moist wood or in cracks or in joints of wooden tools or things; we see them quite often even in the house and I am surprised to know only of two cases when someone has been harmed by these little monsters, and the one is an American lady about eight years ago and a German lady recently who have been harmed. The American woman has got off after much effort with her life, and the German woman hasn’t won the battle yet and it looks like she won’t get off without adverse after effects.
The rattlesnake is very dangerous but there are not that many around here; then there is the black snake or moccasin, there are many of those here but they don’t move far away from water; it matches the rattler with its poison. Other critters are more or less poisonous. Here in Texas are also so-called egg-eaters, which remain around human dwellings; they are so called because they swallow whole eggs but it seems that they are without poison. However, one gets used to all this quite well, all this vermin becomes so commonplace that one hardly notices it and we don’t pay much attention to it.
One thing that is quite annoying here is that we cannot keep and preserve practically any of our food for a longer period of time. During summer the meat catches a smell already the second day or even begins to stink, on the third day it already crawls. Even though I am buying meat supplies for three to four days if I want to keep it fit for consumption I have to roast it a bit every day. The first day we boil the beef bones for soup and after that we eat only roasted or grilled meat. Due to the warm climate we don’t care much for soups and boiled meat, we get tired of it real quick.
One is more picky here regarding food than over there; I think it is because here there is no lack of it and more important is the taste of it than the price. I can say that our common meals are equal to the meals of a merchant over there. I am buying only the finest rye flower, which we always have on hand; of the beef meat (in summer that is all there is) we consume about 20 pounds per week, of coffee we consume about two pounds a week, of bacon as much as we want. We have three milk cows; the eggs we sell, when the hens are laying well, we get 10-15 even twenty dozen a week, well above our own needs; we would get twice as much if the chickens wouldn’t carry them all over the place where we find the eggs many times only by chance.
But all things get old and therefore our food doesn’t seem to us very extraordinary, should we have to live again in Frenštát and feed us there than the more we would recognize and feel the difference. Oh, that I won’t forget regarding the preservation and keeping of food. Each grain of corn or other ware doesn’t last here more than a year, even flour older than that gets infested with worms and bugs. Money isn’t subject to this law but because it is round it keeps rolling away and somehow we cannot hold on to it and keep it.
You are asking the address of the Kallus's. They are going every week to Fayetteville so I am going to take this letter with me and ask them; here we have to pick up our mail at the post office ourselves, there are no carriers here. My wife is sending you a word not to trouble yourselves with the sending of things to us, such things are terribly cheap here, and such extra expenses are a waste and she is sending her thanks for your good will. We are going to be moving around Christmas to Bluff; it is 18 miles from here; it is a sound location and a healthy place and the soil is better there, and above all, the place is bustling with people from Frenštát.
This year isn’t one of the best, we are suffering a lot from a drought, and the soil has such large cracks in it that I have to watch out so that the horses won’t break a leg. We will have about one hundred bushels less of corn than last year and we will have less cotton also. But in places the harvest is so bad that they won’t get half of the usual yearly average. The creeks have dried up and here and there many wells have ceased to supply water. The cattle on the open range have to make do often with a thick brew because wherever are still left any watering holes they were transformed by the trampling of cattle into thin mortar. On (date is illegible) we have received abundant rain that has provided us for some time with water. The rains are commonly accompanied by storms and it rains here in winter too. We are expecting that you will soon please us again with a long letter and that you will let us know how are your loved ones doing and how is the health of Granny and all the things you might have in mind altogether.

Please, give our greetings also to our dear matron, the auntie Teresa and all the other friends and receive also from us cordial greetings. The Kallus's should be writing to you soon.

For the entire family sincerely your brother-in-law,

J.M. Přibyl


Letter from Jan Pribyl's Notebook written to a Friend in Moravia –
 September 18, 1881

Jan discusses problems that immigrants face in starting a new life in America.


September 18, 1881

Dear Frantik (Frankie)! 

I have received your letter with a supplement from Karolina and I consider it more that my duty to answer your letter this way: You are lamenting your hopeless and distressful life and I am convinced that you have

sufficient reasons for it. I am not surprised that you aspire, as it is determined by nature within us, to better your lot and situation. But before we undertake such steps prudence requires that we examine all possible circumstances that lead to this decision and even try to make sure of certain things in order to avoid and prevent much of the misfortune that might be otherwise following immediately. If such caution is necessary in small endeavors we must exercise and take into consideration the utmost vigilance in a case such as immigration to America in order to prevent a long term or even a lifelong misery. I want to, as much as my circumstances allow, make you aware of certain things closely associated with immigration. An old but true proverb says that all beginning is difficult. And this proverb is suitable best for the European immigrants – they come over here without any financial means and even with debts, and such a person goes here through a purgatory. He has to acquire at least some kind of home furnishings and if he doesn’t want to work as a farmhand he needs his own farm tools and draught beasts and also at least an eight month food supply. All this costs a considerable amount of money, and to get all this on credit is for the newcomer a very difficult task. Should he be judicious enough to get all of these things himself later he still would need several years to recover depending on circumstances. Or should he get sick as is often the case with immigrants or should he be stricken by bad luck. I am telling you the honest truth.
That the majority of the people who have immigrated here feel disappointed is as clear as the daylight; but whose fault is it?
Partially the exaggerated reports about America, and partially the people themselves who take hold of their belief blindly and conceive an illusion to get-rich-quick and therefore plunge themselves into situations that might drive them to the brink of despair. They see only the positive side of things and very often refuse to see the negative side. Such an immigrant is suffering quite a bit here; he is recalling the European amenities and the poverty there that actually has driven him away from his beloved home country seems to be just a bagatelle; he is lamenting and regretting his decision; he is alarmed regarding some imagined future misfortune – but the die is cast and we have to take things as they are and not as we would wish them to be. But this is not valid as the only rule. There are people here that do not despair even under the worst of circumstances, and as the proverb says, that time brings up roses, it is fulfilled on that person and because he is of steadfast nature he lives to see better times. Whoever has gotten used to America doesn’t miss Europe. It cannot be denied in any way that America offers better chances of making a living and to build a brighter future.

There are thousands upon thousands of immigrants that are living here content and almost carefree but one can find only a few who didn’t have to face and go through lots of trials and difficulties.
We farmers aren’t dependent on daily drudgery; we have about a quarter of the time idle caused by rain, cold, heat or finished labors. When God chased away (or as we say in Czech, turned him out) Adam from Eden by the archangel Gabriel and told him these words: “By the sweat of thy brow thou shall eat your daily bread,” they are most fitting to Texas. I don’t intend to discourage anybody but I am convinced that it is a good deed to let anybody know the real state of any affairs or situation and even a sacred obligation to our fellowman. This year is very bad to go into extraordinary expense or debt especially any of the newcomers. Because of the caterpillars we all have our land, more or less to pay our debt. I’d like to respond to you later regarding Kubala but I know that this year I am not able to grant you your wishes. I’d like to write you in more detail but long focused reading or writing is causing me to get heavy headaches and therefore I have to limit myself. This year we haven’t been all in good health, the children have had the fever several times. We are sending cordial greetings to you and your family. If you need a better explanation or description I would gladly oblige you. Your brother Antonin has passed into heaven about in the middle of February; I have lost in him a good friend and companion.

Take care, your always faithful friend,

J.M. Pribyl


Ferdinand Letter to Jan – February 24, 1875

Ferdinand describes the tragic death of his first wife, Anna. (Note: This Anna is his first wife. Ferdinand married again, also to a woman named Anna, with whom he immigrated to Texas.)

Moravian Ostrava

February, 24, 1875

Dear brother,

I am replying to your letter which you started writing December 31. I have some unusual news for you. It is going to be sad. It was usually the case that I wrote happy news and you wrote me the sad news. The baby which was supposed to be born in the beginning of March came sooner than expected. Anna started having pains on January 31 and they lasted until February 3 at 2:00 PM when our little girl was born. Anna always wanted a girl. Her mother came to visit just at this time. I was happy that both Anna and the little girl are healthy. When I came home on February 4 I noticed that there was something wrong with Anna. This lasted until February 6 when I told her mother that a doctor was needed. She said that if one was needed she would get him herself. When I came home the next day she said that the doctor needed to be called in. I ran to Polish-Ostrava for one that was considered to be good. I waited for him, but my patience ran out and I left for my shop. At 4:00 PM the doctor came into my shop and I immediately thought that he was bearing some bad news. He could see the anxiety in my face and right away said that my wife was very ill. She was in a dangerous situation from an infection that has lasted for two days. I was in a state of shock and couldn’t speak for a little while because I knew of the sickness which he was referring to. I went home and there everything was in a state of chaos. Anna was lying in bed and had 8 leeches attached to her belly that hung off like thick ropes. The women who were there were running around like mad. Anna was laying there is if she were in a fire. When the leeches were removed ice packs were put into place. This lasted for 8 days and 9 nights. To everyone’s relief the doctor said that she was better. On the morning of February 8 she was feeling worse but that evening it was better again. The next morning it was again better and that evening better still. On the morning of the 10th she was much worse. She was speaking in such a way that I was sure she was going to die.

That afternoon she started vomiting and had diarrhea. I sent for the doctor and at her request for a preacher. This was the worst day of my life. A hundred times I thought she would die and a hundred times she seemed to recover from it. During her entire illness and she had a fever which would come for about 1 or 2 hours and then would leave for a long time. That day there was no hope for her recovery. She lay there pitifully, suffering from her intense pains and all the while screaming and begging for us to help her out of this world. I didn’t know what to do so I prayed to God for help. I then stopped myself because I knew this was useless. Everyone around her was praying. The doctor had prescribed for her to eat ice after having given her 12 different medications. The preacher finely arrived and after 3:00 PM she calmed down. We named the baby Anna and took it from her mother to give her some peace. On the 8th the baby took ill and on the 11th it died. We buried it on the 13th.

We had to keep this a secret from Anna and when she had wanted to see it we told her that we had taken it to her sister for caring. She believed this and it was the first time that I had lied to her. She was mad at her sister for having taken the baby. On the 12th the doctor said that she had pneumonia. On the 14th at 3:00 PM they lit a candle for her. I notice that her dying was un-natural and I brought her back to consciousness. She was just fantasizing that she was dying. A while later she had a relapse of which I can’t even write you. She was like this until 8:00 PM, and then she looked a little better and could be slightly understood when she talked. It looked as though her spasms were lessened but she started gulping for air. She seemed to be unable to let her breath out but finally breathed once more – and the knot which had tied us together was untied forever. The lady which I had loved so much had ended her short trip in this world.

I could write you much more about this but I hope that you’ll be satisfied with this. I never thought that I would be able to live through something like this. At the time that she died everyone here left and I was left alone. I closed her eyes which seemed to still be so full of life. She was buried on February 16 at 4:00 PM. My friend invited me to stay with him for a number of days. I am going to get rid of this apartment that I liked so much and rent something much smaller. The only plans that I have for the immediate future are that I am going to live alone. I only wish that we could be together to talk. This would be the best thing that could help me after all the suffering that I have been through.

I had bad luck with the maps. The book dealer wrote to Frankfurt asking for the American map but they didn’t have the type that I wanted. I did finally receive a map of Central America that I had requested. I returned it and asked for one of the United States and I got one. I received it but I don’t like it because it isn’t made well. You have to be satisfied with what I am sending you and when I get a hold of a better one I will send it to you. So now I’m sending you 4 maps: Central Europe, United States, entire Europe, and entire America.

I’m not replying to your letter here but will in my next letter.

Father is healthy but won’t go out in the winter.

I found out that letters which have comments written on the envelope other than that address aren’t guaranteed for delivery.

My wife said for me to give you her love. She was remembering all of you just hours before she died.

Your sincere brother,





Ferdinand Letter to Jan – May 21, 1875

In his second letter written after Anna's death, Ferdinand expresses his longing to be reunited with Jan.

Moravian Ostrava

May 21, 1875

Dear brother!

The mother of my Anna has been here since the great night. After she has left I have moved from our apartment wherein I have been shaken up from my pleasant dreaming by such a fateful blow. I have run away from this former paradise as a superstitious person would run from a ghost. I have asked Rudolf Tučný to help me to keep an eye on things while we were moving and thanks to that it has come off more or less all right. But the situation in the new apartment has struck me in some ways quite strange and silly but one occurrence during the very first days there has caused me some alarm. In the morning after the first night we spent there I have found in the pot that has been left overnight in the living room for a purpose which we do not like to name a drowned young black, but don’t think that it has been a Moor, it was but a cockroach. Being alerted by this coincidence we went that same evening into the kitchen that is not bigger than three cubic ‘reaches’ (the ‘reach’ equals six feet) [eighteen cubic feet] to go hunting and we hit pay dirt; the floor, the walls and even the ceiling have been strewn with the black varmints and so that this pattern could show off to advantage one could see crawling here and there some fleas. Against all this were set off beautifully innumerable so-called crickets. We went with light also into the living room and there we could behold quite the same living picture. We have repeated this night hunting about four more times and always with the same success. All this did last for several days during which time some several hundred of these varmints and pests have lost their live so that now I encounter daily only a few of these critters. Tučný has stayed with us for several more days after we have moved.

My current apartment is at the edge of town, almost in the fields. I have no view from one of the windows but the other one facing east I am looking out into a ripening garden and orchard and the same goes for the kitchen window. In this little house lives also my colleague; I am taking my breakfast and lunches with him. This is all that I can tell you about my new apartment and situation; it is true, isn’t it, that it isn’t much?

I have received your letter from March 28. It was handed to the post office on April 1st, and when I went to look over Vienna I’ve had your letter in my hands already on April 24. I have foreseen that you are going to receive the Uriah’s letter on Easter Sunday when I have taken it to the post office, I have deduced it with the help of mathematics, and believe me that I have been sorry after the letter has left that I have not sent it a few days earlier in order to keep your Holidays pleasant. I thank you and your dear wife for your sympathy and that you are taking part in the misfortune that has hit me! No other letter from you has yet expressed and revealed so strongly your discontent as the last one I have received from you. From the previous ones I have gathered only about the illnesses and the lack of spiritual food over there and other unpleasant circumstances, but from the last one is evident that you are not content and therefore unhappy!

For the last half an hour I have been absorbed in thought – I have involuntarily quit scribbling on the paper and began to think whether your situation can be in fact changed, but as when one is suddenly awakened from the deepest sleep by a robust and vivid dream, so have I been shaken up from my musing by a displeasure over an unfinished cause because I have not found anywhere the least bit of salvation and relief. Oh yes, should the possible winning (of the lottery) materialize that you have mentioned in one of your letters could indeed become the sought after messiah. You would find out the same day or at least the next one that the redemption has come also to us and that I am going to be at your place in three weeks in order to accompany you on the way back to Europe. – Hai! It would be coming via an express train, then on a steamer, and then again on an express train and then via special occasion all the way to your house. What a reunion this is going to be – after so many events and things we have lived through and survived, we are really going to have something to talk about; more than during the last judgment after the resurrection of the dead. –

And then we are going to build ourselves a nice little house outside of Frenštát in Paseky (Glades, clearings two miles west of Frenštát), and are going to nestle inside and after that we are not going to lack and want anything in this world so that we can expect to be content until the time when the curtain is going to drop in front of us and we are going to proclaim with a certain sage: My God, if you exist, have mercy on my soul, if I have any at all! And when I am already dreaming again, - but what else should be possible since we are but a dream of a certain power that we are calling God and if this power isn’t the real and true nothing that we are incapable to imagine? Then what else could we do at all but to be dreaming?

Well, let us leave the sophistry alone; - for we are nothing and we also know nothing; - this has been known already to our sages but they didn‘t admit it to us but the one and only who has spent his entire life with philosophy has finally honestly confessed and said: I know only this much that I don’t know anything. But it must have been a nice thing on his part because he knew a lot; all the other sages in the world, who surely know something, put together do not know as much as he did. (This reference to statements by Socrates indicates that Ferdinand had received an education in the Classics.)

I think you must be awaiting this letter impatiently; it has turned out longer and been delayed more than I have anticipated. Our father has written to me that he is well. I am urging him all the time to pay me a visit but he won’t let anything persuade him to it; he claims that traveling is too difficult for him, well, I do believe him. Regarding his portrait he has promised me that as soon as a photographer comes into Frenštát, that he is going to take advantage of this opportunity. Should I be able to get him over here to Ostrava it would be much easier and quicker to accomplish this. After we have passed through a long winter we are having a very lovely month of May and there is hope for a good harvest. Today I have spoken with Šrubar, he was on his way from Hungary and he said that he has a letter ready for you. Write me soon, don’t repay me in like manner, and if I may say so, I am ready to send you some more money even though the transfer didn’t come in yet but it has to come in any time. Have a good time my old buddy and send my regards and greetings from me to your family.

Your sincere,






Ferdinand Letter to Jan – November 25, 1882

The letter below suffered a tear on one side, but we include it because the subject matter is of importance to the story of Jan and Ferdinand. The subject matter concerns Ferdinand's ponderings about whether to immigrate to America.

Retz, Austria

November 25, 1882

Dear brother!

I have been prepared for the longest time to hear regarding your livelihood and life nothing but sad news. I have always been afraid that under the conditions at your end that are so repulsive to the regular health and hygiene of our people it would be very easy that something might happen to you – we all can expect it to happen sometimes and anytime but we all are trying to avoid it as long as possible.
Many illnesses have tried quite hard to do a number on you and as soon as you have gotten yourself acclimatized so that there wasn’t any longer a reason to worry about a foreign climate then a fluke of chance was trying to accomplish what all the adverse effects of nature weren’t able to do.
It was a stroke of luck that this terrible misfortune (Jan had suffered a fall from the top of a haystack that impaired his mobility and health for a certain amount of time) didn’t take your life, and you can count yourself lucky again if this sad event is not going to have any adverse effects on your health! We are hoping for this very outcome and wish you from the bottom of our heart that it may be so!
I am not going to dwell any longer on this dismal issue since your last letter contains other passages that are occupying my mind quite often and so I am going to turn to these passages now. (Large rip on the right side of the page) …it is and it remains but an ideal, however, …tragedy! You surely still have in your memory…in America that I have had…from Europe, nothing regarding this did change…
Should people know that every… sees himself being...??... of his dreams and expectations…and many would rather end their wretched existence here, and on the other hand all those who are better prepared who immigrate over there could easier handle and overcome all the trials and the many misfortunes with which all the immigrants have to deal than those like especially our less experienced people.
However, in the end, “time heals all wounds” as we all know, and “habit is second nature of man” has also been proven right. There is a certain power in existence in nature that is always bringing about equilibrium amidst of inequality; - it seems that only through such forthcoming balance all of matter is sustained, and because our own mental and spiritual sensations and stirrings are without a doubt also of material origins, therefore our moral impressions are also subjected to this power or to this law. And so it comes then that after many years in America people are not feeling at all unhappier there than they once were in Europe because the impressions of these differences between here and there that at first are pressing themselves upon the mind are no longer doing so later due to that certain equalization and we tend to say: ‘they just got used to it.” And when a person has safely survived even physical hardships and then his circumstances would improve in the material respect also why wouldn’t he then be content over there?
Were I to come to America it would be in a certain respect somewhat different than it had been in your case (assuming that I would settle down in close proximity of you) because I would find there a good friend with views, attitudes and sentiments close to mine, therefore, I have no doubts that under these circumstances and in these conditions I would feel over there more at home than anywhere else.
And we would also have, meaning my wife and I, enough means to be able to buy there some piece of arable land and it could be possible that we would be able to spend the few remaining moments in contentment. However, beside some lesser matters that would be easily overcome or resolved there are two more obstacles ready there that would prevent the realization of this idea and the overcoming of which would be outside of my power.
The first of them is that it is necessary to bring along to America a good and robust health, - he who already here wasn’t able to boast with good health can expect in America eternal peace before long. I have rather poor health (Ferdinand had a delicate constitution. Various clues indicate that he may have contracted a disease that he refers to as 'swamp fever' possibly during military duty in Italy during his youth.) (Paper-rip)… to be independent, meaning free, …it didn’t matter, I thought, …should I die sooner or later; having…a child, I want for sure to be able to move around. The main thing is that my wife is imagining the voyage to America, namely the passage across the ocean to be exceptionally terrible and because this must be for the female nature something pervading I wouldn’t be able to decisively try to persuade her or to demand from her to be in a situation for several weeks that would cause her to constantly think to be in mortal danger and that fact alone might take her life. And therefore this whole sketch is to remain without a doubt only – a notion!
So that we might not break off outright our diplomatic debates regarding America I would like to ask you if you could answer in your next letter several questions, of course, it is to be understood that by so doing there won’t arise for you any obligation or responsibility. The questions are as follows:
Are you really of the opinion that the location where you are living is unhealthy or do you think that the illnesses that afflict our people especially during the first years are of a different origin, for example great physical exertion, worries, stress, privation, etc?
Are there many, few or no forests? Are there or nearby any bogs, marshes or swamps?  Are there on average more sunny or overcast days per year? How many degrees Fahrenheit or some other ones is the maximum and minimum summer temperature? How many months a year do you have winter, meaning frost and how many degrees below freezing? Do you have a stove and what kind or only the so-called chimney-pot, with what are you heating the house, what are you usually eating, do you drink coffee, do you have enough meat and what kind: fresh, smoked, corned or venison? (In this regard I could be compared with a predator; beside meat I wouldn’t need any other food.) What kind of beverages are you usually drinking? I know that you don’t have wines there so after we secure the jack pot we are going to send you over several containers of it.
If we would bring along about 5,000 golden thalers what could we start with that?
We are not, my wife and I, able to do any hard labor in the fields, I could just about tend the cows on the pasture and my wife would pursue cooking for a living. How necessary is the ability to speak English, how far is it to the next village or is Bluff a village? Where do you sell your commodities? How often are you in social contact or getting out? How much leisure-time do you have? Do you also have any spiritual diversions and where, how and with whom?
You already have mentioned some of these questions in your previous letters but it doesn’t matter. But don’t forget one thing that not even the greatest advantages would attract and draw me to America but the only condition and circumstance that we could spend the rest of our lives next to each other. (Ripped page) And now about something else… …since March we are floating…without new employment in constant insecurity…?sometimes?...in July I have decided to visit the Frantisek Spa (Franzensbad spa, named after the emperor Franz Josef; it is a small spa N of Cheb across the country in W Bohemia giving cardiovascular, muscular, and gynecology treatments; Goethe went there also.)
…being led to it by the idea that I might somewhat improve my health there and then I would accept somewhere again employment as a writing clerk. However, in August such a bad weather did strike that my undertaking became useless because of it.
During that time my family was staying in Biskupice in Moravia with Josef Stašek who is the dean in the church there. Anna used to do some sewing for his lady caretaker and that’s how they know each other.
We have left home all together and stayed over in Jihlava for a couple of days because we have been thinking about it somewhat that we might move there and open a fabric and dry goods store there; my wife has some acquaintances there. On the way back I have taken a different route and this way was able to see a lot of the Czech countryside. I have spent few days in Prague.
In Frantisek Spa I have met an American man; I have forgotten where he was from. I have a feeling that he is making a living as a physician although he didn’t confess it to me. He has two sons who are pharmacists and his reason for coming to Europe is to try and check out various spas so for this reason he was bathing several days all over the place.
We have already abandoned these plans.
This is really American! He was wondering a lot about all these European customs and habits and didn’t hesitate to strongly express his displeasure.
On the way back from the spa I have stopped in Biskupice again to pick up my wife, and soon thereafter we have received your letter and right after that a letter from your Vilém (William) to both of which I am separately yet concurrently replying. This fall I have then been also in Frenštát. If an opportunity would present itself there, and chances are that it might, I could be making there several hundred thalers per year by doing bookkeeping that would require on my part working several hours a day. I am somewhat in the mood for something like this; however, neither my wife nor I can gather and find enough strength and desire to return back there.
The house of my former employer has been already sold (it has been appraised for 36,000 Thalers but sold for 15,000) and if we would have to move this winter we might reconsider Frenštát (we were supposed to rent a cottage across the street from the Böhms. We can stay in this apartment so that project was abandoned. (Ripped page) We are going to expect…and what might be happening in the spring, we don’t know, …were would we stay longer. …in Frenštát passed away František Křenek, then…in Hungary and Miksch Mikeš in CZ), I think he was a professor…there might be established a school. The mayor Rudolf Kallus declined with thanks his position not long ago, nobody knows why.
My wife is making inquiries about Anna Dubovská, where she might be and how she might be doing over there. I hope that this letter is going to arrive over there before the Christmas Holidays and therefore we all are wishing you a merry Christmas Feast!
We are sending cordial greetings to you all and write to us soon. Give our greetings also to your neighbor Přádka.

Your, Ferda

P.S. I have mailed the letter for Vilém yesterday.          

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