Archive for October, 2011

The Story behind the Immigrant's Journey

Written by lindahubalek on . Posted in Blog, Butter in the Well book series

Julia and Kajsa  Runneberg, 1886. From book, Butter in the Well by Linda K. Hubalek.

Julia and Kajsa Runneberg, 1886.

When researching the history of our family farm for my book, Butter in the Well, I found stories written down by Julia Olson that her mother—Kajsa Runneberg—had told her about their homesteading days. Julia was our neighbor to the north, and was like a grandmother to me. She was born in 1884 and grew up on same farm as I did, decades later. Julia moved to the next homestead when she married the neighbor boy Joe in 1911, and died when I was in high school in the early 1970s. (Julia gave me two old quilts that I’ll guess were made in the house we both grew up in.)

Here’s the story of Julia’s mother’s journey to Kansas, that I wrote in a diary form, as if in Kajsa’s own words.

March 7, 1868

Ellsworth, Kansas — I want to keep a journal of our adventure into the American Plains so I will have an account of what our first years were like.

In spring of ’67 we traveled from Klevmarken, Sweden, to New York City, America, by ship, then by train to Jacksonville, Illinois. Now a year later, we’re back on a train heading for the open prairies of Kansas.

We traveled from Jacksonville to St. Louis first. In Illinois we saw meadows of grass, wooded areas and towns. The scenery was much the same until we got past Kansas City. Then there were very few trees and the prairie grass stretched as far as the eye could see. The few towns we’ve gone through were very small and new. The farther west, the sparser it has gotten. I’ve heard Kansas called “the Great American Desert,” but everything looks green. Of course it’s spring now. Maybe the whole countryside dries up in the summer.

We were to get off at the town of Salina, in Saline County. Our friends in Jacksonville put destination tags on us and our belongings since we don’t know much of the American language yet. Most people in Jacksonville were Swedish, so got along fine. Carl knows a few American words, since he had to work and did the shopping when we lived there.

The ride has been wearing on us. This morning Carl looked like he didn’t feel good. The motion of the train car bouncing on the track and smoke from the engine’s smokestack has made us all a little sick.

I was trying to watch the railroad station signs at each stop, but they were not always in sight. Each time Carl tried to find the conductor, to see if that was the place we were to get off. Instead of trying to ask, it was easier to point to his name tag.

At the last stop Carl rushed up to me and said: “Gather up our things and Christina! We’ve got to get off. This is Ellsworth. We missed Salina!”

I panicked when I realized we missed our stop. But, I knew Carl would figure out a way to get us back on the track to our destination. We have found overnight lodging and we will travel back to Salina tomorrow.

This was an extra expense we didn’t need.  

 March 30, 1868

Carl came down with the fever and chills of ague that night here in Ellsworth. Thank the Lord he is finally getting over it. It could have been worse. I could have become a widow with a 15-month-old baby in a strange American town.

We’ve been at the Railroad Hotel for over three weeks. I’ve had to help the cook prepare and serve the meals in exchange for room and board for our small family. We were to find a innkeeper so kind.

Tomorrow we’ll get back on the train heading for Salina. This time we will get off at the right town.”  (Excerpt from Butter in the Well © by Linda K. Hubalek)

I find these stories fascinating, although Kajsa must have been in a real panic when it happened. We’re so connected with cell phone these days and can get help almost immediately. But think how the early immigrants in the 1800s had to rely on themselves or the help of strangers.

If you see someone that could use some help today, think of Kajsa, and reach out a hand. No matter what century, everyone appreciates help…

What quilt pattern would you use?

Written by lindahubalek on . Posted in Blog, quilts and quilting

Here’s the first paragraph in my book Butter in the Well that sets the scene for the story.

“Go back to a time when there are no streets, roads, or cars. Imagine there are no buildings, homes, hospitals, or grocery stores around the corner. All of your family’s belongings fit in a small wooden wagon. The year is 1868. There is nothing but tall, green waving grass as far as the eye can see. The scent of warm spring air after a morning rain surrounds you. Spring blows gently in your face. The snort of the horse and an occasional meadowlark, whistling its call, are the only sounds. You are alone on the virgin land of the vast prairie.”

Just from reading those first words, can you feel and see what Kajsa, the young pioneer women, is seeing for the first time? Scared, exhilarated, relieved? Can you imagine the excitement of owning land at age 23?

Now….if you were going to make a quilt from this description alone and the feelings it brought out in you, what colors would it feature and what quilt block pattern would you use?

And…would you choose the same now, as you would have when you were 23?

Please share your thoughts with me!

Why I wrote Butter in the Well

Written by lindahubalek on . Posted in Blog, Butter in the Well book series

Butter in the Well, historical fiction book by Linda K. HubalekTwenty years ago I wrote my first book Butter in the Well. Writing was a new adventure for me, brought on by my husband’s job transfer to another state. I was homesick and started writing about the Swedish woman who left her country and homesteaded on the Kansas prairie that later became my childhood home.

Writing this first book changed my career and, my life. I swerved off this path for a decade while raising buffalo (which could be a book in itself), but I’m back to writing stories about pioneer women again.

Recently I re-read my books to enjoy the stories and photos that brought the characters to life, for both my readers and me.

Please join me as I post special passages from Butter in the Well in my blog to relive the life of a special Swedish immigrant, Kajsa Swenson. I’ll add background tidbits, photos, and website links so you can enjoy “the story behind the story” too.

To get you started, here is the Preface from my book, Butter in the Well. (Copyright 1992 by Linda K. Hubalek)

“This book is about a Swedish emigrant woman who homesteaded Kansas land in 1868. Maja Kajsa Svensson was a young bride of one year when she, her husband, Carl Johan, and 3-month-old daughter, Anna Christina, left Sweden in 1867.

Born to Johan Magnus Andersson and Anna Lisa Mattesdotter on June 15, 1844, in Klevmarken, Sweden, she was the first in her family to marry and the first to move to America.

After receiving an encouraging letter from a friend who had moved and settled in Illinois, the Svenssons set sail for America and settled in Jacksonville, Illinois. Carl worked in his friend’s brickyard but dreamed of farming his own land. The farmland in Illinois had already been bought up, so they needed to look elsewhere. Land agents canvassing Illinois advertised the free land in Kansas, just waiting to be claimed. Although Kajsa would have preferred to stay in Illinois, she accepted Carl’s decision and packed for the trip to Kansas.

This fictionalized account describes Kajsa’s first 20 years on her Kansas farm and how the community developed into the Smoky Valley region of Saline County, Kansas. It is seen through her eyes, as though she were writing in her journal.

I interviewed relatives and neighbors who remember stories of this family and the history of this area. I walked the cemeteries to find the tombstones of Kajsa’s relatives. Some stories, dates, and name spellings have conflicted at times, but I have tried to find the truth by researching church, cemetery, and county records. Old newspapers and books have shed light on the conditions and events that took place in the communities.

The accounts of Kajsa are meant to portray life during the late 1800s in the Smoky Valley of Kansas. Some license has been taken to depict the everyday in the life of a family in this time period.

I have not found pictures of her family prior to 1881, but those of the family and farm in later years reveal much about Kajsa’s life.

Kajsa’s daughter Julia married Peter Olson’s son Joseph, and spent her married life on his family farm directly north of where she was born. “Aunt Julia”, as almost everyone in the neighborhood called her, was like a grandmother to me. I used to take her a May Day basket filled with lilac blooms picked from the bush she helped her mother plant.

But just as important as knowing Kajsa’s family, I know the farm they homesteaded, for I grew up on that very land, roamed its acres and lived in the house that Carl and Kajsa built. Living on the land has given me a depth and feel for the life of the woman portrayed in these pages.

In Kajsa’s photos, she stares me straight in the eye as if challenging me to look into her soul. Kajsa looked like a quiet, determined woman who loved her family and land. Her story ought to be told.”

Want to read more about Kajsa and her life on the Kansas prairie?
Please watch for my next blog…

Linda’s Books & Series

Trail of Thread

Autographed. Book 1, Trail of Thread Series
$11.95 (tax incl.)
by lindahubalek

Looking Back

Autographed. Book, Butter in the Well Series
$11.95 (tax incl.)
by lindahubalek

Harvesting Faith

Autographed. Book 3, Planting Dreams Series
$11.95 (tax incl.)
by lindahubalek

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