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J. J. Van Hoff, A History of the Czechs in Knox County, Nebraska (1938), Master's Thesis, University of Nebraska.


Copyright 1938 Joseph John Van Hoff.

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When the average person thinks of the Czech settlements of Nebraska, he is apt to have in mind the large numbers of this national group who are located in the comparatively centralized area of Douglas, Saunders, Butler, Saline, and Colfax Counties. Few seem to realize that one of the larger of the Czech settlements of the state is to be found in Knox County, a section considerably removed, and having relatively few contacts with the Czechs in the above-mentioned counties.

It is the purpose of this thesis to tell the story of these Knox County Czechs. In it effort will be made to present as clearly and accurately as possible the facts regarding their settlement of Knox County and their early trials and hardships. Along with this, information will be given concerning their economic struggles and accomplishments, and attention will be paid to their religious, fraternal, educational, social, and political activities. Furthermore. an attempt will be made to I show that their contribution to the commonwealth lies not in the greatness of a few individuals but in the persistence and toil of the peasant homesteaders, who, while retaining the peculiarly valuable traits of their own nationality, defied drouth, insect plagues, poverty, and a multitude of other handicaps, and eventually achieved economic independence and Americanization.

There are at present approximately four thousand individuals in Knox County who are either Czechs or of Czech descent. These are concentrated pretty largely in the west half of the county, being found chiefly in Verdigre, Bohemia, Western, Sparta, Jefferson, Washington, and Niobrara Townships. Their chief town is Verdigre, a village of 618 people, ninety percent of whom are Czechs.

To better understand these settlers and the things that they did, and to a certain extent still do, it is necessary to know a little something about their old country background. Bohemia, as their home land is commonly called, is a strange country. The home of a long-abused people, its love of liberty stretches back into shadowy beginnings. Extremely low at times, it on occasions rose to towering heights in the personalities of such individuals as John Huss. Side by side with this love for liberty went the desire for Czech nationalism and these two ideals, cherished through the centuries, came to be factors in marking the Czechs as different from the other groups of central Europe.

Going back into their history we find that the Czechs, influenced by the doctrines of the Reformation and still loyal to their great leader, Huss, were instrumental in bringing on the famous Thirty Years War (1618-1648). This disastrous struggle flared up when the Czechs, feeling that their religious liberties had been violated, revolted against Ferdinand PI of Austria. The struggle proved decidedly uneven and in connection with it the Czechs suffered their crowning disaster in the battle of White Mountain on November 8th, 1620.

With this defeat the condition of Bohemia fell to its lowest level. Protestantism received a staggering blow in the form of new orders which drove all of the Protestant clergy from Bohemia, forbade all religious worship, save that of the Roman Catholic Church, and banished all Protestants. The cause of Bohemian kingship was made hereditary in the House of Hapsburgs. As a result of all this 36,000 Protestant families went into exile.3

Despite these extreme reverses, a certain unquenchable spirit remained and the spark of nationalism continued to glow until three centuries later it brought forth from the chaos of the World War, the present Czecho-Slovakian nation. It was such an inheritance as this that the Czech immigrants brought to America and used to carry them through their discouraging days as pioneer homesteaders.