German and Czech Emigration from Landskron/Lanskroun, Bohemia to the Midwest

by Edward G. Langer
Copyright 1997, Edward G. Langer
All Rights Reserved

The Old World

The district of Landskron (Czech: Lanskroun) in Northeast Bohemia consists of the town of Landskron and forty-two bordering villages. It includes the Czech market village of Cermna (Boehmisch Rothwasser). The villages varied in size from a few hundred people to about 1,500 inhabitants. Three-quarters of these villages were predominantly German, and the majority of both ethnic groups were of the Roman Catholic faith. There were three broad social groups - the "large farmers", the "small farmers" and the day laborers. Some of the day laborers, called "cottagers", owned a small house. Most of the area's population consisted of day laborers scratching out a marginal subsistence.

A typical village was Ober Johnsdorf (Horni Tresnovec), with about 1,000 inhabitants in the 1850s, most of them German-speaking but with a significant Czech-speaking minority. It was comprised of 1,108 hectares, which is about four and one-quarter sections of land, or 2,738 acres. The average landholding was about seven and a half hectares, with over half the farms smaller than five hectares. Only a dozen farms had more than 20 hectares.

Landskron-district farmsteads were not separate from its villages. Farm buildings were located on both sides of a road, and farm fields stretched straight back from the buildings until they bordered another village's farms. Farms might also end at the woods or at an untillable hill. Generally, farmers cultivated contiguous fields, unlike the practice in other areas of Europe. It could, however, be a considerable distance from the farm buildings to each farm's property limits.

The farm buildings also showed a distinctive configuration. Generally, the living quarters were physically connected to the farm buildings. More elaborate farmsteads were set up in a U-shape or square with a courtyard in the middle.

Prior to 1848, landholdings in the Austrian Empire were still subject to feudal restrictions on their use and transfer. When the Revolution of 1848 rocked the Austrian Empire, the landless peasants hoped there would be a land reform that would give them land. Unfortunately for them, the land reforms that followed the Revolution only vested full title of land to the farmers who already had land. These small and large farmers received title free of feudal restrictions which was a great benefit to them. The key benefit to the landless of the Revolution was receiving the right to emigrate from the Empire. Within a few years, they started to avail themselves of this right.

The New World

The first sizeable emigration from the district of Landskron occurred in 1851 and consisted of Czech Protestant day laborers primarily from the villages of Cermna and Nepomuky. These poor Czech Protestants were encouraged by the Austrian Government to move to the Banat region of Hungary in search of a better life. After they received correspondence from Joseph Bergman, a Protestant minister, extolling life in Texas they decided to emigrate to Texas. On November 6, 1851, about seventy-four Czechs started on their trip to America. A second group of about eighty-five Czech Protestants left their homes for Texas on about October 9, 1853. In later years, many other Czech Protestants from the district of Landskron emigrated to Texas. They were joined by some Czech and German Catholics from the district of Landskron. Some of the Czech Catholics who settled in Pierce County, Wisconsin, first traveled to Texas before settling in Wisconsin.

When the first poor German Catholics applied for passports shortly after the first group left for Texas, they also said they were going to Texas. For some unknown reason they changed their minds and went to Wisconsin instead. Three possible reasons exist. First they may have learned about the climate difference between Texas and Wisconsin and decided that the Wisconsin climate would be more suitable. Second, they may have learned that Wisconsin's voting laws were more liberal in granting the vote to emigres. Among the first thing many emigres did after arrival was to apply for citizenship, which suggests this right to vote was important to them. Finally, just as the Protestants went to Texas at the behest of a Protestant minister, the Catholics may have gone to Wisconsin at the urging of their Catholic priests. In the early 1850s, John Martin Henni, a German-speaking Swiss, was the Bishop in Milwaukee. It is likely that some of the clergy in the Landskron area had learned of the presence of a German-speaking bishop in Milwaukee though the fund-raising activities of the Leopoldine Society, a Viennese missionary society. A Landskroner priest would logically encourage his flock to go to a state where there was a German-speaking Bishop who would look out for their spiritual interests.

The primary destination of the German Catholic emigres was the Watertown, Wisconsin area. In the early 1850s, Watertown, with about 5,000 inhabitants, was one of the largest cities in Wisconsin. The area's abundant rich, rolling farmland, some of which had been partially cleared by earlier settlers, would have appealed to Landskroners wanting to farm their own land in America. Wisconsin had become a state in 1848, and southern Wisconsin was no longer considered part of the western frontier. Railroads were starting to connect the major towns in the state, and farmers were able to sell their surplus product on the market.

The Voyage to the New World

The first group of German Catholic emigres left Landskron in the Spring of 1852. This group sailed from Bremen in April 1852 for Quebec City. They arrived in the United States at Buffalo in July of 1852 and arrived in Southern Wisconsin by the middle of July. Although their are no ship manifests for this group, it appears this group consisted of at least the following: the John Doubrawa family from the village of Rathsdorf (Skuhrov) , the Anton Fiebiger family from the village of Jokelsdorf (Jakubovice), the Joseph Pfeifer and Franz Langer families from the village of Michelsdorf (Ostrov), the Franz Veit family from Knappendorf (Knapovec) and Adolph Bartosch with his wife Amalia and her children from a prior marriage to John Gregor. (Franz Langer's grandson was the governor and U.S Senator from North Dakota). John Doubrawa and Joseph Pfeifer both bought land on July 14, 1852 near Waterloo, Wisconsin. They also applied for citizenship that day as did Adolph Bartosch and Franz Veit. From this humble beginning sprang the Island community near Waterloo, Wisconsin.

The next Landskroner emigrants traveled to America on the Jason, which arrived in New York on December 7, 1852, from Bremen. The ship logs show about sixty people from the Landskron district on board: the Johann Blaschka and Johann Klecker families of Hertersdorf (Horni Houzovec), the Ignatz Yelg, Wenzel Blaschka and Johann Blaschka families of Tschernowier (Cernovir), the Joseph Veit family and Anton Wawrauscheck, Philip Zimprich and Ludwig Zimprich of Knappendorf (Knapovec), the Anton Fiebiger family of Jokelsdorf (Jakubovice), the Johann Fischer family of Riebnig (Rybnik), the Joseph Zimprich family of Rathsdorf (Skuhrov) and the Wenzel Fuchs family of Hilbetten (Hylv ty). Also on board were the following persons, whose place of origin may be the district of Landskron: the Wenzel Blaska and Anton Kobliz families, Barbara Detterer and Franz Meidner.

On January 10, 1853, the Johanna arrived in New York from Bremen with seven families of thirty-two people from the Landskron district: the John Huebel, Johann Langer and John Stangler families of Rudelsdorf (Rudoltice), the Franz Pirkl, Franz Haubenschild and Johann Haubenschild families of Triebitz (Trebovice), and the Josef Roessler family of Michelsdorf (Ostrov). Also on board was the Franz Gilg family of Nikl (Nikulec) in the neighboring county of Zwittau (Svitavy).

On June 17, 1853, the Oldenburg arrived in New York from Bremen, with 103 passengers from Bohemia whose stated destination was Wisconsin. Many were from the Landskron area. Emigration for these Landskroners was not a solitary affair. Rather they joined with their fellow Landskroners to make the trip to the new world.

Life in the New World

When the new emigrants arrived in America, previous settlers helped them find homes, farms and jobs. The Landskroners tended to live near each other, as the later arrivals would move near their countrymen. Sometimes these later arrivals would only stay near their friends and relatives for a few months or years before moving to find cheaper land. The expanding path of these Landskron emigrants can be traced westward from Watertown toward Sun Prairie, Wisconsin and south to Janesville, Wisconsin. A significant number of Landskroners settled in Pierce County, Wisconsin, just east of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Both Germans and Czechs from Landskron settled in this area. The Czech community of Pierce County is still referred to today as Cherma, after their Bohemian hometown of Cermn . Other Landskroner groups settled near Owatonna, Minnesota and Casselton, North Dakota, and other emigrants settled in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota and Oregon.

Emigrants with financial means were able to afford to buy a farm shortly after their arrival in America. Since the overwhelming majority of these early emigrants were day laborers, they were not able to quickly buy good land near a market town like Watertown. Their options were to save money to buy a farm, use credit, buy poorer land, or move west to find good, cheap land closer to the edge of the frontier.

It is logical to assume that the Landskroner emigrants spent a great deal of their social life with each other. Since many of them bought adjoining farms, this would allow for socializing with fellow Landskron emigrants. Since most were Roman Catholic, they also attended the same church. The membership of at least three Wisconsin Catholic churches was predominantly Landskroner: "The Island" church, St. Wenceslaus, built in 1863 outside of what is now Waterloo; the Church of the Immaculate Conception, built in the early 1880s in "Lost Creek" in Pierce County, and St Martin's Church, built in the 1890s in Cherma in Pierce County. The first two were German and the last was a Czech parish. One of the results of this social interaction is the relative frequency of Landskroner intermarriage with other Landskroners. As in the Old World, some of these marriages crossed linguistic lines, with a German-speaker marrying a Czech-speaker.

(The author, who is proficient in German, can be reached at 11430 W. Woodside Drive, Hales Corners, WI 53130 U.S.A. His phone number is (414) 529-4822. His e-mail address is

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26 March 2000