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Bold Prairie--Part Four

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  • Susan Rektorik Henley
    Part Four When huts were built for all, we started to clear and till the land. We made rails (for fences) and before planting time came we each had several
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2003
      Part Four
      “When huts were built for all, we started to clear and till the land. We made rails (for fences) and before planting time came we each had several acres fenced in. We planted corn about a foot apart, leaving three to four shoots in a group, thinking that this way we would be able to reap a greater harvest. Also cotton we planted into rather thick rows about a foot apart. When corn was about to bloom a Mr. John Frude came and pulled out corn stalks, thinning out the rows as corn should be. Of course we did not like his destroying our crops. He talked and explained as he worked - as no one of us understood English, we did not know what he was saying. At harvest time the rows of corn thinned out by Mr. Frude had large and full ears of corn and the rows not thinned out held only a bundle of shucks. All of the six families together made only a small bale of cotton. We loaded it on a sled and hauled it to La Grange to sell.”
      The quotation cited is attributed to August Haidusek and is excerpted from a speech he gave in 1906 commemorating the settlement of Dubina, the first entirely Moravian settlement in Texas fifty year before. What I find of greatest significance in the passage is the part that pertains to the planting of the corn and the American who pulled up part of the seedlings as the Europeans had planted too many seeds. This was a gesture of goodwill on the part of the American; however, due the language barrier, the Moravians did not understand the significance of what Mr. Frude did until the plants matured.
      I, personally, have great sympathy and understanding for the plight of the Dubina settlers. While generation after generation of Czechs have now lived in Texas and have mastered the craft of farming here, one can still start a venture in which you are clueless. I know I did it. South Texas, when not in ranch land, is in cotton, corn, and/or milo production. Almost everyone either has cattle or raises these cash crops. There are a few of us who are trying to be “niche farmers.” Locally, we have a catfish farm, a few horticulture ventures, and small poultry and swine operations. And, there are my goats. I chose goats because I had a limited amount of land available and I needed animals that would not easily be killed by the packs of dogs and coyotes that rove and patrol the area. I also need animals small enough for me to handle on my own.
      I thought goat-raising was going to be relatively simple until I got into my first bind. I had purchased three registered Saanen goats. They had been bred the month before I bought them and they appeared to be in good health. When I got them to the farm, I found that they were big-time mooches and expected special feed. We almost had to force them to forage. Then came the last month of their pregnancy. One morning, one had a glassy look in her eyes. Several hours later she appeared to be dizzy and could not stand up. Soon a second one had the same symptoms. I won’t beleaguer you all with the details but these ladies had been around 30 pounds overweight before they had been sent to be bred. While in the pasture with the buck, they lost that weight. There bodies were under severe physical stress and then I added more stress my not feeding them alfalfa and sweet feed. They were experiencing hypoglycemia and starting to go into ketosis. Luckily, I spoke English, had the internet, and special interest e-mail groups to help guide and educate me. If I had not had that support network, two goats and their unborn kids would have died. These resources have saved my goats several times since then.
      Let us return to our Dubina farmers. Most likely they raised sugar beets and potatoes in Moravia. The climate and rain fall patterns were vastly different then here in Texas. Not only were they having to learn to live in a new world, they were having to learn new methods of farming. And, they had no safety network. If my goats all died, my kids and I still would have food and shelter. Those first Czechs had no fall-back positions. I imagine there were some very grim evenings with little to eat when the adults sat around trying to plan for the future. Evidence of this can be found as the Haidusek narrative continues:
      “The year after this [first] one was even worse - although we were all well now - we had nothing to eat and all the moneys brought from Europe were spent by now. But we could not go hungry and die. We went to a German merchant in La Grange who was a miller and we bought some corn from him, we paid two dollars a bushel. For flour we paid $20.00 per 196 pound barrel. Meat however was very cheap. For a doctor we had to go to Bluff, Texas, for Doctor Meyenger. The following year we knew a little more about farming. The younger ones could also speak some English. The natives came from far and near to take a look at us immigrants. They were very kind to us. They did teach us how to do our farm work. The next year we had cleared a very good crop of corn and also cotton. Thus it was better and better for us each year from then on. Soon we forgot the hard difficult beginnings.
      About four years later some more families immigrated and came to our midst. They were lost in wonder and awe at the sight of our homes. Some families did stop to remain here - the family of Valentine Gallia, my father's classmate. When he inspected our home and living quarters he said, "My friends! I had a much better pig sty at home". My father answered, "Yes, you did, that is true - but I would rather live in this hut as an American than in the palaces of the European rich and labor as a slave for the Austrian government". ”
      My cousin, Michael Rektorik, is the fourth generation of Rektoriks to farm in Texas. He works out of the implement shed (a very large barn) located on the homestead of his grandparents, Louis (Alois) and Jennie (Johana) Mrazek Rektorik, where I also keep my goats. Given the proximity of our activities and because we are surrounded by Rektorik farm land, I have an on-going opportunity to watch his work throughout the year. What I have learned is that the Czechs and Moravians who settled in Texas and took up a farming way of life did so in clusters and my local environment includes one of those clusters. There was a time when all aspects of farming were handled (usually) within a single family with tasks and areas assigned to individual members. However, the reality of today’s agribusiness world makes it very rare for father and sons or even brothers to be able to operate as a unit.
      We have again reached the point we were in Europe--not enough land for an extended family. It is most usual for only one child to take possession of the farm while the others must seek a livelihood elsewhere. The limitations this time are almost always purely economic. The purchase price of additional land, cost of equipment to work it, and weak market prices make expansion very difficult. Most young farmers are turning to renting land from other farmers to improve their condition. And, even these arrangements do not result in very little cash for either the landowner or the renter.
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