Twenty 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…