Clarkson and the Great War: Part 2 – Our Village Joins the Fight

For the first 2 ½ years of World War I the United States was able to stay out of it.  The slaughter on the battlefields, month after month, was unlike anything that had ever been seen.  The losses of young men were unbelievable.  In a single day during the 1916 Battle of the Somme, the British lost 20,000 men killed and 40,000 wounded; when this one battle was over there were over 1 million casualties on both sides, and the trench lines had hardly moved.

Most Americans viewed it as just another endless European war in which monarchs and colonial empires settled their differences by conscripting their people into armies to fight it out.  Just the kind of thing many of our ancestors emigrated to America to get away from.   The American public in general wanted nothing to do with the Great War – President Wilson was re-elected in 1916 with the slogan “He kept us out of war.”

A good illustration of the attitude of most Americans toward the disaster occurring in Europe during 1914-1916 can be seen from a picture in the Clarkson Museum’s “war room.”

Clarkson Museum_20140602_002

It depicts the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria) as a many-headed Hydra and two-headed eagle battling animals symbolizing the other nations at war (the Allied Powers – Britain, France, etc.).  The dates on the bottom of the page count year after year of this terrible war, ending… when?  I suppose that the picture leans toward the Allied cause by depicting Germany as a black, snake-headed creature, but it’s a bit hard to tell – the message seems to be “Stay Out!”

In any event, it didn’t work.  By 1918, only the countries in gray in the map below had managed to avoid getting embroiled in the Great War:


Staying out of the fighting was probably a very popular sentiment in the Clarkson area as well.  Most of the locals were first- or second-generation immigrants from Germany or Bohemia/Moravia.  The Germans felt an attachment to their native land; they still spoke the language, ate their traditional foods, and were proud of their culture.  It’s only natural that they would be unwilling to go to war against their homeland, and they didn’t relish the thought of taking up arms to kill their friends and relatives back home.  Among other reasons, many Bohemians had immigrated to America in the late 1800s to avoid being conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army to fight for a cause and an Empire which they hated.  If the United States entered the war, they might be drafted and sent back to Europe to die, perhaps fighting against their fellow Bohemians in the Austrian army.  On the other hand, if the Austro-Hungarian Empire was beaten and dismantled, the Czech-Americans could help their friends back home achieve the freedom and independence for which they had dreamed for 300 years.  These are the kinds of impulses that young men had to balance as U.S. involvement in the Great War was discussed.

But eventually the U.S. was pushed too far by Germany’s provocations.  In an effort to starve Great Britain, Germany commenced unrestricted U-Boat (submarine) warfare on all shipping toward England, and the toll of American lives lost from sunken freighters and passenger liners began to add up.  A secret message from Germany to the Mexican government (the Zimmerman telegram) was intercepted which offered to Mexico large areas of the American Southwest (Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico) if they would ally themselves with Germany in a war against the U.S.  Abandoning neutrality, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

Once the U.S. declared war on the Germany, Clarkson jumped in with both feet.    Less than a month later, 15 young men from Clarkson had volunteered for military service, and over the course of the war some 81 young men volunteered or were drafted, of whom 6 lost their lives.

Clarkson Museum_20140602_046

On May 3, 1917 the Colfax County Press reported:

“Fifteen Clarkson youths volunteered for the Army, responding to President Wilson’s call for volunteers and pledged to fight for the flag which stands for honor and for the rights of mankind. The volunteers are: Richard Karel, Anton Luxa, Alois Hanel, Jos. Makovsky, Edward Vitek, Frank Polacek, Cyril Chrastil, Frank Zelenda, George Homola, Albin Vraspir, Emil Lukl, Anton J. Svoboda, Bohumil Bukacek and Wm. Rosmarin. Lad Kubil of Clarkson who is attending the University in Lincoln, has also enlisted in the army and will leave for Fort Snelling, Minn. next week. The citizens of Clarkson, to show their appreciation and loyalty paid the boys transportation to Omaha besides giving each a gold five-dollar piece as a souvenir from home. Escorting the volunteers to Omaha was Jos. R. Vitek.”

A crowd gathered at the Opera House to celebrate their patriotism, on what must have been a chilly day (the men have removed their hats of course, but many of the women are wearing knit caps or shawls).  It was a solemn moment, and the men have serious, almost melancholy looks on their faces.  No one in the room knew what awaited them.

Clarkson Museum_20140602_048

Happily, all 15 of these initial volunteers survived the war and returned home.  Although one of them, Frank Zelenda, died young due to war-related causes, most passed away in the 1960s after a long life.  Here are the stories and service records of some of them:

Bohumil Bukacek

Bohumil Bukacek – May 18, 1893 – May 5, 1964.  His grave in the Bohemian Cemetery in Omaha displays the code “SGT CAS DET 1035 DEMOB GP WWI” (He was a Sergeant in a Casualty Detachment of the 1035th Demobilization Group, whose task was to return soldiers to civilian life after they had been wounded or once hostilities were over).

Cyril Chrastek – Believed to have died on June 7, 1963 at age 65


Louis Hanel


R Karel


Emil Lukl – January 7, 1886 – March 18, 1969 in Klamath Falls, OR.  His grave says “ENG1 US NAVY WWI” (Engineman First Class in the U.S. Navy).

Anton Luxa – May 14, 1896 – August 4, 1966.  Sgt. US Army.  Buried in San Antonio, TX

Joe Makousky

Joseph B. Makovsky – From the June 26, 1924 Leigh World – Jos. B. Makousky, adjutant of the Clarkson post of the American Legion, is in receipt of a supply of blanks for soldiers’ bonus and every ex-soldier of this community is requested to call on Mr. Makousky for same. Anyone desiring to have the blank filled out by the officer is asked to bring his discharge papers when making the application.


Frank Polacek

Frank Polacek – May 20, 1888 – July 4, 1960

William Rozmarin

William Rozmarin – August 17, 1896 – February 1979 (?)

Anton J. Swoboda – Bat. A 30, Coast Artillery


Edward Vitek

Edward VitekFrom the September 26, 1947 issue of the Leigh World

Funeral services were held for Edward Vitek, 50, at Clarkson whose remains were sent there from Chicago for burial.

Services were conducted at the New Zion Presbyterian Church by Rev. Rundon of Wahoo, in the absence of Rev. Filipi, who had an out of town mission. Pallbearers were members of the American Legion Post.

Edward Vitek was born in Clarkson, September 10, 1897. He was the son of the late Joseph and Anna Vitek. He grew to manhood in Clarkson and attended the public school there. In May 1917 he volunteered in the U.S. Army and served 19 months on the Hawaiian Island during World War I.

He was united in marriage to Miss Ida Krofta on June 18, 1925. They established their home in Creston where Mr. Vitek operated a meat market for several years, later moving to Chicago. He has been in failing health for the past few years and passed away September 19, 1947, at Hines Veterans Hospital in Maywood, Illinois.

He is survived by his wife, Ida; two sons, Kenneth and Larry; a sister, Mrs. Rudolph Novotny, Clarkson; three brothers, Joseph R. and Adolph E. of Clarkson and Frank J., of Buhl, Idaho.

Albin Vraspir – 1890-1954 WWI  Co. 202, C. A. C. T. (Coastal Artillery Corps)

Frank Zelenda –  Private, Coastal Artillery Corps.  Died Febuary 27, 1931.

From the August 16, 1917 Colfax County Press – Frank Zelenda, who left with the first Clarkson volunteer boys last May, wrote to his sister, Mrs. Anton Makovsky, that he arrived safely in the Philippine Islands and is nearly nine thousand miles from home

From the April 3, 1924 Colfax County Press –  Frank Zelenda spent the weekend in Schuyler at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Roether. Mr. Zelenda returned last week from the May sanitarium where he was accompanied by Mr. Roether for an examination covering a peculiar condition that comes over him periodically.
Mr. Zelenda was one of the last Colfax county boys in the service to reach home, having been stationed in the Philippine Islands. Soon after his return he suffered a partial loss of his sight, the spell lasting for several weeks.
Another attack came upon him and several weeks later he was attacked for the third time. It was then that he decided to go to the Mayos for an examination. The case had progressed to such a point that it was waning, and the specialists advised that he return with the beginning of the next attack so he can be under observation.
Mr. Zelenda sees all objects in doubles. He is compelled to wear glasses with one eye darkened. In addition to this irregular vision, he feels dizzy, during these attacks.

From March 5, 1931 Colfax County Press – After suffering for a period of several years, Frank Zelenda, an ex-service man and a former Clarkson boy, made his supreme sacrifice at the Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he had been a patient for a long time. Word of his demise reached Clarkson relatives. He died at the age of 39 years, 8 months and 8 days.

The deceased was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the 19th day of June, 1891, and when a small boy he came to this community with his parents. The family located on a farm in Stanton County and after losing both of his parents, Frank came to Clarkson and made his home here for many years.

Shortly after America declared war on Germany, Frank joined a group of Clarkson volunteers and entred Uncle Sam’s fighting forces. He left Clarkson on May 3, 1917, with the first contingent of volunteers and remained in service for almost three years.

He returned to Clarkson in the fall of 1919, after having served in the Philipine and Hawaiian Islands. His health had been greatly impaired and he was unable to find relief for his illness.

In 1925, he was admitted to a Veterans hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, where death ended his suffering.

The remains were brought to Clarkson and interment was made in the local cemetery. The rites were conducted from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Zelenda, with services at the New Zion Church conducted by Rev. Filipi.

The deceased is survived by three brothers, Joseph Zelenda of Schuyler, Edward and Leo Zelenda of Clarkson; two sisters, Mrs. Anton Makovsky of Buhl, Idaho, and Mrs. W.H. Roether of Schuyler.


The names of those who served from the Clarkson area and survived the War were recorded in the November 3, 1921 issue of the Colfax County Press:

Jos. M. Makovsky, secretary of the Clarkson American Legion, Vitek Post, is in receipt of honorary certificates from the State Executive Department for all ex-servicemen who gave Clarkson as their home address while serving in the Army during the recent conflict.

All ex-servicemen included in the below published list are requested to apply for them at the Armistice day services at Clarkson Nov. 11, at which time the memorable documents will be officially handed out to them.

The Honor Roll referred to above contains the following names:
Albert O’Brien, Joseph B. Makovsky, Alois F. Tomes, Jos. F. Seda, Adolf W. Tomes, Frank Kozisek, Lester Scovill, Robert H. Noh, Frank Zelenda, Oscar W. Hahn, Emil Lukl, Henry M. Menke, William Severa, Frank Bourek, Frank R. Vanicek, George Humlicek, Paul J. Havel, Charles J. Vanicek, Charles J. Novotny, William A. Karel, Jos. Hejtmanek, John E. Knapp, Fred Teply, Anton J. Podany, Jerry Mundil, Edward Cada, Adolf A. Jonas, Adolf J. Faimon, Frank A. Podany, Jerry J. Lukl, William Budin, Emil J. Novotny, Richard Karel, Stanley Kubik, Frank J. Janousek, Frank Hamernik, Emil Hladky, Jos. Lapour, John C. Mastny, Jos. Kudera, Louis V. Hanel, Jerry M. Molacek, Jos. E. Stanek, John G. Fuhr, George Homola, William E. Podany, Henry Janda, James Zoubek, James Podany, Ludvik Novotny, Edward E. Hanel, Emil Ahrens, Bohumil Krofta, Anton J. Swoboda, Ladislav Horak, Frank Polacek, Emil J. Konicek, Jerry Kadlec, Jay E. Arnold, Louis E. Warner, Leonard F. Noh, Henry J. Dworak, Cyril Chrastek, Charles Lukl, Charles H. Glasner, Albin Vraspir, George A. Reiter, J.W. Knipping, Percy Butterfield, William Rozmarin, Jos. Mundil, Jr., Edward Vitek, Charles Gross, Albert Walla, G.B. Fayman.

Portraits of some of these young servicemen are below:

Adolph Tomes

Albert O'Brien


Albert Walla Alois Totusek


Ben Jonas Charles Lukl


Charles Novotny Charley Gross

Frank Janousek Frank Kozisek Frank Podany Gustav Fayman Henry Janda Jerry Lukl Joe Brdicko John Poledna Joseph Mundil Joseph Prchal Joseph Vodehnal


Stephen Podany

 Karel and NohWilliam A. Karel (trombone) and Leonard F. Noh (saxophone)

Wm Karel

L F Noh


These 75 names do not include the 6 Clarkson men who gave their lives in the Great War.  More about them in a future post.


Posted in 1910s | 3 Comments

Activity Spotted Downtown

We haven’t had a pop quiz for a while.  For 5 points, what is going on on the south side of Pine Street?

Okay, time’s up.  Put down your pencil, turn your test paper over, and pass it to the right, where a Teacher’s Pet will collect all the papers and take them to the front of the room.

The correct answer is these are stages in the construction of the new Post Office building on the south end of the main drag through town.  See more pictures below.

My beautiful picture

My beautiful picture

My beautiful pictureMy beautiful pictureThe new building was sandwiched in between the telephone building (red brick structure on the right/south side) and the soon-to-be-demolished Clarkson Hatchery and Farm Supply to the left/north.

Most of us will remember that that cozy Hatchery/Farm Supply business was owned by Rudy Rosicky.  Rudy got into the feed and produce business in September of 1925, and in 1934 he added a hatchery.  Owing to failing health, in September 1958 Rudy sold the business to one of his employees, Milo Faiman.  However, once relieved of the pressures of commerce, Rudy Rosicky recovered his health and bought back the business in December, 1959.  Rudy died in 1980, but at some point he must have transferred the business back to Milo Faiman and Milo’s brother-in-law, Hubert Selhorst.

To construct the Post Office building, the lean-to on the south side of the Hatchery/Farm Supply building had to be removed.  And at some point the rest of the building must have been demolished as well. I can’t tell from the pictures whether that happened immediately. Perhaps someone remembers the sequence of events.

We have several winners!  John Waters hit the buzzer first, followed quickly by Mark Molacek, who reminded me about the Milo Faiman/Hubert Selhorst connection.  (Mark’s dad Milo probably did business with these guys, and I suspect that Mark could share plenty of stories).  Robert Prazak and Ken and Betty Kudrna also guessed correctly. Congratulations to those you with good, long memories!

And many thanks to Sharon and Larry Steinberger, who shared the photos from the collection of her father, Morris Odvarka.  Morris Odvarka was Clarkson’s postmaster from October 1954 until his retirement in October 1977.

Keep those cards and letters coming!

Posted in 1970s | 5 Comments

Our Forefathers were Thespians

After last week’s grim discussion of slaughter and butchery, I thought it would be a good idea to post a story in a lighter “vein,” so to speak.  Rummaging around in The Vault, I found a clipping reprinted from the Colfax County Press issue of April 14, 1965.  It lists the cast members of a comedy performed in the Opera House by local men, many of them members of the Lions Club or Commercial Club, to provide some home grown entertainment and to raise money for local projects.

Owl Hoot Gulch - Opera House 1

Owl Hoot Gulch - Opera House 2

Owl Hoot Gulch - Opera House 3

Owl Hoot Gulch - Opera House 4


Richard Neuhaus found a publicity photo for the “Bad Day at Owl Hoot Gulch” production.  It depicts a holdup in front of the Lone Star Bar.  From left to right, the actors were Carl Waters, Elden J Manak, and Harold Neuhaus.

Waters Manak Neuhaus 1965

There were at least 4 of these plays performed for the amusement of theatergoers.  One production, on November 12, 1954 was set in the Alaska gold fields.  The businessmen purchased the script and may have also had some help staging and directing the play from a professional fund-raising company.  Later, in the 1960s, three more plays were staged, all written and directed by the endlessly creative Clarkson High School English and drama teacher, Gary Weibye.  The first, described in the Press story above, dealt with shenanigans in the Old West.  The next Weibye play, “A Bad Day in Sherwood Forest,” was a parody of the Robin Hood legend and featured Dick Urbanek in his breakout role as Maid Marian. The third (and last?) was written up in the Columbus Daily Telegram of April 6, 1967:

 Clarkson Lions to present play

“Big Noise in Moonshine Hollow” or “At the Still in the Night” will be presented by the Clarkson Lions Club on the Clarkson Opera House stage April 9 and 10, beginning at 8 p.m.  The author, Gary Weibye of the high school faculty, claims that the show is a melodrama of sorts “something of a social- economic political lampoon aimed at all ages and all creeds.”  Art Nosal is narrator of the spectacular.  Buster Miller, as stage manager, has been scouring the area for barrels, jugs, corn cob pipes, a black sedan for a rub-out scene and hundreds of rounds of ammunition along with the weapons to fire therein. “The roaring twenties was a noisy time to be around,” he stated. The cast of local men consider themselves as semi-professionals as they have appeared in “Bad Day at Owl Hoot Gulch” in 1965 and “Bad Day at Sherwood Forest” in 1966, both written and directed by Weibye, English and dramatics teacher at Clarkson high school. The proceeds go for local projects.

The common elements to all these comedies were low humor, outrageous puns, double entendre, and men in drag.  As near as I can tell, the most important criteria for landing a role as a woman in these all-male plays (outside of a good-natured sense of humor) were to be burly, swarthy, and/or hairy. The “drag queens” hammed it up with relish, and were wildly popular.  Sashaying around the stage, their antics could be counted on to draw the biggest guffaws, catcalls, and wolf whistles from the audience.

Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the actual performances of the Weibye plays of the 1960s, but a few snapshots from the first production on November 12, 1954 have survived.

Minstrel Show 2 11-12-54Minstrel Show 11-12-54

Standing:  John Tomasek, unidentified, Alan Roether (as Bull Moose), Bob Odvarka, Lumir “Vrby” Vrbicky, and Joe Lauda

Seated:  Dan Teply, Marcel Brabec (as Klondike Kate), Frank Toman, Joe Toman, and Vince Prazak

How many of you were in the audience for these plays?  They were a laff riot, no?  I don’t suppose that anyone filmed these hilarious shows from the 1950s and 1960s, but I wonder if more photographs, or better yet, the scripts for these plays survive.  Wouldn’t it be fun to stage one of these comedies again in the newly restored Clarkson Opera House?  Look through your attic and let me know what you find.


Posted in 1950s, 1960s | 2 Comments

The Only Thing We Threw Away was the Squeal

Earlier this year we visited the National Czech & Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  One of their temporary exhibits was a collection of fascinating black and white photographs taken by Igor Grossman, a pharmacist who lived in a rural Slovak village in the 1950s and 1960s.  To quote from the museum’s description of the exhibit, Grossman “… realized that the life ways and customs he experienced were part of an old world that was rapidly being replaced with a modern, communist one. He took up his camera to document those customs before they were gone. Grossman’s photographs capture the landscapes, people, and traditions of Slovak mountain villages, portraying the moment of transition between the old world and the new. As written in the introduction to Grossman’s book, Images Gone With Time, Grossman’s photographs are the land of our memories of home. They are a record of our existence, a guarantee of our survival.”

There were many priceless, timeless photographs in the exhibit, but the one that stopped me in my tracks was a picture of a grinning man hoisting a shot glass (kalíšek) of some liquid (slivovice?).  He was apparently toasting the successful dispatching of a hog, and would soon begin the considerable effort of butchering it.

Czech-Slovak Mu_20140531_13a

Although we all go to grocery stores or butcher shops to get our pork chops these days, there are a few of us who can still remember the time when farmers butchered their own hogs, using their own or borrowed tools.  In the late fall or early winter, when temperatures were suitably cool and the hogs had gotten suitably fat, a candidate for slaughter was selected from the hog pen.  The animal would be killed, cleaned, and butchered in a laborious, day-long process.  Sometimes this would be done by a single family, but because it was a relatively specialized, once-a-year activity, often several neighbors or families might come together in a group effort, sharing the tools and the physical labor.

There are a lot of body parts to a pig, and the Czechs, being a frugal race, have managed to find a use for most of them.  Many years ago, my father-in-law and I were discussing the details of hog butchering and all the consumer products that could be made from them, and he capped the conversation with the remark – “The only part of a pig that we threw away was the squeal.”

That statement is worth examining, because it is nearly true.  I can remember only the last time that my parents butchered a hog at our farm, when I was still a small child.  After that, they let the town butcher take care of business.  So the details are sketchy in my mind (my memories have been verified by my older brothers).  But it went something like this (those of you who are squeamish may want to skip this part, and, in fact, the rest of the story):

Step 1.  Dad chased us away and we waited in the house or behind a nearby shed while he killed the hog, probably with a hammer blow to the head.

Step 2.  A chain was attached to the hog, perhaps through the back legs, and by means of a pulley the heavy carcass was lifted upside down over a large wooden trough (see the photograph above).

Step 3.  A vein in the hog’s neck was opened with a knife and the blood was drained into a stainless steel or porcelain dish pan for later use.

Step 4.  The hog was lowered into the trough and immersed in scalding hot water.  After a few moments, Dad began to scrape the hog’s skin in order to remove all the hair from the carcass.  Brother Larry says that there was a specialized tool to do the scraping/hair removal; it was a wooden handle with a circular metal disk on both ends, one maybe 4” in diameter on one end and 2” on the other.

Step 5.  The hog was elevated again, rinsed off, and a long cut was made in the abdomen to remove the internal organs.  This is the point at which the dogs and cats became interested.

Step 6.  By means of very sharp knives and bone saws, the hog was dismembered into its constituent parts and sent to the house, piece by piece, for further processing and packaging.

The painting below by the renowned Czech artist Josef Lada illustrates much of the process.  In the Czech Republic, pig slaughtering was a special event, accompanied in some cases by ceremonies, gift-giving, and other festivities.

Lada pig slaughter

Truth be told, I didn’t witness any of Steps 1-5 except from a safe distance, but I think the sequence of the general events is correct.  Once the pork was brought inside the house, there was more activity with sharp knives, saws, and hot liquids.  The larger pieces of meat were turned into pork roasts, pork chops, etc. and were packaged in waxed paper and frozen.  The smaller pieces of meat (scraps) were ground up and cooked along with some spices and pieces of cartilage from the ears and made into the quintessential Czech sausage – jitrnice.


I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how to make jitrnice – you all have your favorite recipe.  But in the Old Country at least, this sausage is a delectable blend of cooked meat from the head, wattles, and hips, boiled lung, spleen, and stomach, raw liver, cooked liver, white bread, onions, and spices (black pepper, allspice, garlic, ginger, marjoram, and salt).  If you want to make some yourself, you can find the correct proportions here:

It begins with cooking the hog’s head…

If you can’t be troubled to retrieve all the body parts called for in the Old Country recipe above, the book Favorite Czech Recipes For Today’s Kitchens (blue-covered edition) compiled by the Clarkson Woman’s Club has a good recipe that limits the “variety meats” to pork tongue, heart, liver, hocks, and head.

After the meat and spice mixture was put together, it was stuffed into casings (the polite word for thoroughly washed small intestines).  I couldn’t find a picture that looked exactly like the sausage stuffer that we used, but it looked something like this:

Sausage Stuffer

The sausage mixture was put into the cannister, the gear mechanism/plunger was affixed to the top, and great lengths of wet hog casings were slid over the tube at the bottom of the cannister (white plastic in this picture, thin aluminum in ours).  The operator slowly cranked the handle which moved the plunger downwards and squeezed the sausage mixture out of the tube and into the casings.  Voila!

Next comes sausage made from the reserved pig blood – jelita.


Actually, this was one of the first items of business when butchering a hog, because you had to keep stirring the warm blood to keep it from clotting.  Then the blood was mixed with a variety of ingredients similar to those for jitrnice and stuffed into casings.  Every family/butcher had their own recipe, but most of them included barley. A good mixture was about 1 pound of barley for each quart of blood.  Again, my brother Larry confirms that the pig’s blood was brought into the house ASAP but our parents never stuffed jelita into casings.  They would put it into a pan, like a big cake pan, add barley and spices, then kept stirring it.  It ended up looking like a very dark chocolate cake that our dad would cut and eat like a brownie. (As odd as this may sound, blood sausages and blood puddings are common all over the world.  Take a look at the black sausages at breakfast buffets in the British Isles, for example).

Moving down the line, we come to one of my personal favorites – sulc.  Sulc (aka sulz, head cheese, or souse) is a gelatinous treat made from pigs feet, and often pig snouts and skin as well.  The feet are cooked with salt, pepper, bay leaf, carrots and onion.  The bones are removed, a bit of vinegar is added, and, when refrigerated, the mixture congeals into a meat gelatin.


Others prefer to use the feet to make marinované vepřově nožičky (pickled pigs feet).

Hungry yet?  At some point, late in the proceedings, the large chunks of lard that had been cut away from the meat were put into a huge pot and slowly melted down (rendered) on the stove.  The skin and connective tissue that remained in the molten fat were fished out with a strainer, drained, run through the sausage stuffer to press more lard out, crumbled up, and eaten warm with fresh bread – škvarky.  Škvarky (similar to what is known in other cultures as cracklings, pork rinds, or chicharrones) are crispy, greasy, and delicious – the ultimate guilty pleasure food.  For the uninitiated, they MUST be eaten warm in order to prevent the cold lard from sticking to the roof of your mouth.  Some insist that the bread must be rye bread, with a sprinkling of caraway seeds, but I am not so particular.  I only remember eating cracklings fresh, late in the day of butchering.  The excess pressed-out cracklings were thrown into the trees for the dogs and cats to eat.

CracklingsCracklings 2







The molten hog lard was then poured into jars for use in cooking (how can a pie or any flavorful bread or pastry be made without lard?).  Usually there was more lard than a family could consume, so the rest was used to make homemade soap.  The recipe from homemade soap is simplicity itself – into the hot, liquid lard an appropriate quantity of lye (sodium hydroxide) crystals was stirred.  The lye saponified the fat, turning it into hot, liquid soap.  Then Mom or Dad would pour the liquid soap into a cardboard box, to a depth of 3 inches or so.  The soap would cool and solidify into a solid white sheet that could easily be cut into soap bars with a knife.  This was harsh, strong stuff – in our house, it was used in conjunction with a washboard to get the most stubborn dirt from work clothes – overalls and socks.  Again, we were kept a safe distance away during the rendering and soap-making so that we would not be burned by the hot, caustic liquid.

Let’s see – have we accounted for all the body parts?  Liver, ears, feet, snout, spleen, small intestines…  Oh yes, the brain.  In those days, as now, brains were scrambled.  With eggs and, for the gourmet, with mushrooms.  Don’t ask me how it tastes.  But the Clarkson Woman’s Club Favorite Czech Recipes book has an easy Scrambled Eggs with Brains recipe for the busy modern housewife.  In fact, the cookbook has recipes for all the food items mentioned in this story.

So let us pay homage to the humble swine.  Maligned in the Bible (read the story of the Prodigal Son), this versatile species turns garbage and corn husks into delicious protein with a multitude of uses.  Ask your friends – what other animal provides us with škvarky, jitrnice, jelita, and sulc?  With fat to make both delicate pastries and soap for scrubbing the dirtiest overalls?  A noble animal that provides not only the sausage meat, but also the casing to put it in.

Posted in 1940s, 1950s | 3 Comments

Things that Go Bump in the Night


On a recent autumn night I was driving down a quiet stretch of highway between North Bend and Snyder, when I came over a rise and encountered a coyote trotting across the road.  Neither of us had time to avoid the collision, and I ran over the unfortunate canine.  There were a lot of scraping noises coming from the smashed plastic bumper, so I stopped, straightened it out by the light of a flashlight, and continued on to Clarkson.  The next day I asked Don Sucha to take a look at it, and he quickly pointed to considerable damage under the hood – bent radiator, bent power steering lines and broken air conditioner.  I suppose that’s the tradeoff for making fuel-efficient cars out of plastic and aluminum instead of chrome steel, and in the following days I heard many stories about small animals doing large damage to modern cars.  Some expressed surprise that it was a coyote that I hit; it’s not unusual to run over a raccoon, rabbit, or even a deer, but coyotes are less common and are supposed to be wily.

It was a long, hot trip back to Tennessee without air conditioning, but it’s hard to blame the coyote.  In his defense, he was here first.  Coyotes have lived in the Clarkson area long before the European immigrants moved in, and for that matter for hundreds of thousands of years before the Native Americans moved into North America.  Before mankind complicated their lives, coyotes roamed much of the western U.S., feeding on bison, deer, birds, rabbits, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.  When farmers and ranchers moved into the area, their menu expanded – they became major predators of livestock (especially sheep and calves) and the scourge of chicken coops.  The increased food resource, as well as the removal of their major competitor/predator, wolves, permitted coyotes to expand their numbers to the point that they caused considerable losses of livestock and hardship for the farmers.  For the early settlers, and well into the 20th Century, hunting and eliminating coyotes was less a sport than an economic necessity.

When I told my collision story to Don Novotny (who grew up in the Heun Church area, southeast of Clarkson), he recalled his childhood memories of organized coyote hunts.  Don writes:

“Do you remember the community hunts for them?  The hunts were advertised in local area papers, and guys came, even from 20 – 30 miles away.  Big sport – Sunday afternoon events during November – March each year.   The sight of the closing phase, late afternoons on winter days, is unforgettable.  HUNDREDS of hunters and dogs, converging on a single, pre-determined spot, usually an open, barren pasture.  Usually the only coyotes bagged for the day were killed in that final, concluding circle, where hunters closed in from all directions, many times shooting at a remaining coyote (or two) running desperately along the inner side of the rapidly closing circle, looking for a gap to run through.   When finally killed, those last-to-be-killed coyotes must’ve been carrying a pound of B-B’s & buckshot.  They, too, were brutes, very very tough to bring down with shotgun, and of course with men converging from opposite side of circle, no rifles were allowed.”

“All afternoon, along the country roads that were within the designated circle-for-the-day (which was actually a 6 mile by 6 mile square to start with), designated cars/pickups would drive along, following the progress, seeing where there were gaps, and then passing the word to other places where there was an excess of hunters, and offering to transport them to the gap-places where they were needed to prevent coyotes from escaping the circle.   Those designated drivers also had the job of gathering the rabbits (jack-rabbits were the favorite game then) which were then taken to a central place (I’m not sure whether they were cooked for a post-hunt feed, or whether they were taken to a charity place).”

“I don’t specifically recall it, but I’m sure that the designated drivers also brought coffee, and maybe even beer/whiskey, to the hunters who stopped off for a few moments as they climbed the fencerows onto the county roads and dropped their collection of rabbits for pick-up.”

“But the closing phase was terribly exciting; the sound of shooting from the opposite side of the circle gradually became louder as the circle converged, and then, finally, the thrilling and awesome sight of the giant ring of hunters gradually closing in, some of them almost shoulder to shoulder at the last stage.  And the shooting at that point – well, it must’ve sounded like wartime battlefield.”

“And it was comical, too; many farmers that were “otherwise not hunters” would come out and join the fun, and since they had little experience or skill, there was lots of shooting very wide of the target; and of course lots of shooting at crows or other birds that happened to fly over; shotgun pellets flying all over the place.”

“At the end of each hunt, of course, the ladies’ clubs brought sandwiches and kolaches, there were bonfires, lots of story-telling and laughing, and then, finally, everybody climbed into their model A’s and went home to do the chores.”

“The Heun area had such a hunt several times, ending on the big bottomland area just to the north of the church (between the Stanley Lodl and Michael’s farms.  (Michael’s was former Folda farm, from whence came what was reputedly the biggest Czech-owned banking enterprise in NE (maybe USA).  I recall even Father Oborny coming down from the parsonage to join the campfire phase; he was a character, very lively (you’ll remember he was big supporter of the Heun Giants pugball powerhouse).”

“I seem to recall that there were bounties paid in those days, by whom I don’t recall.  Soon after WW II, Piper Cub planes came in, and became extensively used for spotting and killing the coyotes (shooting out of the plane windows); apparently it was great sport, but I recall some pilots bit the dirt over that.   Anyway, another case of technology causing great change.  The last of the coyotes gave way to the piper cubs, and the Sunday afternoon hunts suddenly were no more.  I recall that in the late 30’s, on any given winter Sunday, there was often a choice of hunts going on, sometimes even more than one in a given county, all having been, as I mentioned, advertised in the local papers during the week before.  But by the time those ended, the jack-rabbits were pretty well gone, too.”

“Absolutely unforgettable times.  Way better than church & school picnics or wedding dances – which, in those pre-TV years – think about it – were the only other social events or entertainment (other than after-Mass gatherings, or card parties) that life had to offer.   Yes, some pretty vivid recollections, quite unique times, nearly 80 years ago.”

Coyote Hunt Denton

Early coyote hunt near Denton, Nebraska.  Photo courtesy of the Denton Community Historical Society


Coyote pups

Photo of Oklahoma coyote hunter from Wolf and Coyote Trapping (1909).


Coyote Hunt Gosper

Gosper County, NE coyote hunt.  Photo courtesy of William Mahar.


The files of the Colfax County Press reveal several stories about coyotes and coyote hunting. (Note: coyotes were often called wolves, so it is likely that the “wolves” in these accounts actually refer to the coyote, Canis latrans):

December 1, 1908 – Ed Rozmarin, mail carrier on routes 4 and 5, tells that one day last week he saw three wolves and the following day two more, none of the animals having shown the least concern at his approach.
With wolves that plentiful, it is a little wonder that some of the poultry yards in the country south of this place have been suffering. It looks as though the farmers in that neighborhood ought to have a successful wolf hunt.

February 14, 1911 – They had a wolf hunt out at the Wisher ranch the other day and two large wolves were killed.

May 2, 1918 –  Ed Pohlman of Stanton made quite a cleaning last week. When he captured 13 coyotes, which netted him $26.00

May 4, 1922 –  Louis Folken, a resident of Colfax county, living about 8 miles northwest of Schuyler, is easily the champion coyote hunter in the county, if not in this section of the state.  Mr. Folken has killed 19 coyotes in the past two years. Last spring, he located a coyote nest and set traps for the elders and succeeded in trapping the mother, but she broke the chain and escaped with the trap about one foot. Mr. Folken finding the trap gone, killed the 10 small ones and the neighborhood kept a close lookout for the old ones, and saw the mother several times with the trap still on her foot.
Last fall Ernie Adams with his hounds attempted to clear the locality of the two coyotes, but the crippled one was able to keep away from the dogs and escaped. A short time ago, Mr. Folken located the nest and again set traps, but the old coyotes were wise to his tricks and refused to go near the nest.
Mr. Folken then determined to kill the young ones, and did. While he was digging out the nest, the male member stood a safe distance and witnessed the performance. Mr. Folken did not then have his rifle and has since been unable to get near enough to be within shooting distance.
However, with 19 young coyotes to his credit in two years, easily establishes him as the champion of the county, but he will be much more satisfied when he brings in the two old ones.

March 6, 1924 – It is estimated that three hundred people took part in the big wolf hunt southwest of Leigh last Sunday afternoon. An area of several miles was encircled and at the end of the hunt it was revealed that four coyotes paid the penalty.
Exciting scenes took place throughout the hunt and it is reported that one of the beasts was cornered in a feed yard on one of the farms where it was killed after a long chase.
Quite a number of rabbits also fell at the point of the numerous guns. Coyotes are said to have caused considerable damage in the locality where the hunt was staged.


Both Don Novotny and the Colfax County Press stories mention bounties paid for wolves and predators.  Here is what the Nebraska State Historical Society has to say about the bounty system (and the perhaps the inevitable corruption of that system).

Wolf Bounties in Nebraska –

“The large number of claims coming into the [Nebraska] State Auditor’s office for bounties on wolves and coyotes has led that official to make an investigation,” said the New York Times on January 20, 1902, “and he has arrived at the conclusion that the farmers and ranchers in the western part of the State have gone into the business of breeding these animals for the bounty market. In one instance it was found that one farmer had raised more than 100 wolves last summer from several animals he had trapped and penned up for that purpose.

“Other cases were unearthed where from fifty to sixty of these animals had been reared. In October and November they were killed and their scalps presented for redemption at the office of the County Clerk of each county. The State law authorized the County Clerk to pay $3 from the county fund for each coyote or wolf scalp presented, and he certifies the fact of payment to the Auditor, who pays $1 additional, making $4 for each wolf or coyote. The State Auditor declares that this pays better than hog raising, and naturally the farmers have turned their attention to this industry.

“The law was passed years ago when the wolf and coyote were the great foes of the cattle and sheep men. In the last ten years $150,000 has been paid by the State alone as bounty. The Legislature of 1899 appropriated $60,000 for the purpose, and of this amount $43,000 was immediately demanded by holders of old claims. The remaining $15,000 was gone within six months, and when the last Legislature appropriated $15,000 it was at once swallowed up by holders of old claims.

“There are now on file with the Auditor claims aggregating $25,000, and by the end of next year this figure will be doubled. These figures indicate that instead of being killed off, the wolves are increasing. The explanation is now simple.”

A new wolf bounty law, sponsored by James A. Douglas of Rock County, took effect in 1905. It provided for a bounty of $5.00 for each wolf, $1.25 for each coyote, and $1.00 for each lynx killed. The Lincoln Evening News of November 28, 1905, noted continuing problems with wolf bounty claims under the new law.

The News said: “Some of the state officials charged with supervision over the operations of the law are a little fearful that some of the county clerks are not well enough versed in animal lore to know the difference between the scalp of a yellow dog and that of a wolf, so that when John Jones comes in with a few bits of raw fur with ears attached they are apt to take the word of the claimant, as to the character of the creature from which the trophies were taken.”

Coyote Hunt Franklin

Hunters exhibit their trophies following a hunt in Franklin County in January 1914. Photo courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society NSHS RG3367.PH3-23.

Massed hunts occurred in the Elmwood, Nebraska area. In , David Bristow wrote:

Organized hunts for “wolves” (what we now call coyotes) were a frequent part of the winter sporting scene in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s. Hundreds of hunters frequently joined in, but despite all the manpower, the wily coyote was not always bagged. Sometimes he seems to have been amply revenged on his hunters.

In a hunt covering 117 square miles held in March 1900 in Rock and Brown counties, a ring of hunters on foot, horseback, and in vehicles was formed to trap their prey within an ever-tightening circle. However, the hunters were foiled and many coyotes escaped due to a prairie fire. The Omaha Bee reported on March 22: “A lighted match dropped accidentally by one of the riders ignited the grass and in a moment the prairie was in flames. The lines being broken to fight the fire, at least twenty-five wolves escaped, but after all five were killed within the ring.”

Coyote Hunt Elmwood

After a hunt south of Elmwood in 1913. Photo courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society. NSHS RG3384.PH3-5.

More than five hundred men participated in a hunt in January 1913 near Elmwood, with eleven coyotes killed. The editor of the Elmwood Leader-Echo, who took part, noted on January 31 the shooting mishaps that occurred: “During the hunt two or three men were shot as a result of carelessness, but no one was hurt seriously. A shot from a heavily loaded shot gun entered the mouth of one of the hunters through the cheek, and it is said the fellow spat it out, seemingly unconcerned over the incident.”

A large hunt in Franklin County in January 1914 by two to three hundred men and boys resulted in the shooting of six coyotes and a wild dog. No mishaps with fire or firearms were reported, but the Franklin County News said on January 17 that “some of the boys who were not used to trudging from eight to twelve miles, were about all in the next day.”

Hunting for coyotes continues in Nebraska. They are considered a non-game animal, and neither a permit nor a habitat stamp is needed for a resident of the State to hunt or trap coyotes.  It is always open season for them.  But the days of the raucous, exciting, terrifying community hunts are over.

Desoto Bend_20140924_08-001

Coyote is always out there waiting, and Coyote is always hungry. – Navajo saying


Posted in 1890s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s | Leave a comment

Houby Redux and the Democrats

A couple of autumns ago, I waxed nostalgic on the subject of mushrooms (houby).

Hunting wild mushrooms was a common pastime that was brought to this country by our Czech and German ancestors and was still being pursued in the Clarkson area until recent times.  Wild food, free for the picking, mushrooms are delicious fried in butter and are an important ingredient in many Central European soups and sauces.  Although there are several edible mushrooms in Nebraska, the most reliable variety was the elm oyster (aka box elder) mushroom that grew on box elder trees that lined the banks of the streams and rivers.

It’s another October, and another opportunity to talk about this noble fungus.  On a recent visit to Clarkson, I asked a few of the residents whether they still hunt for mushrooms.  Mostly I got shrugs – not really, probably because there are fewer box elder trees these days and/or the hobby has dwindled.

A few days later Phyllis and I were exploring the Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota.  You should go see it – it’s a beautiful preserved prairie, complete with tall grasses, wildflowers, meandering prairie streams, and dramatic outcroppings of quartzite and blood-red shale (pipestone).  Along one of the streams we identified a box elder tree and I joked that, given the time of year, we might find some houby on it for supper.  No sooner had the words left my mouth than we spied a nice specimen right at eye level.  Later, on another tree, we found a few more only a foot off the ground.  They looked just as I remembered them, creamy white with a thick stem and cap.

Pipestone NM_20140925_14

Pipestone NM_20140925_48

Pipestone NM_20140925_43

On one of the mushrooms, the top of the cap was starting to take on the characteristic “toasted marshmallow” appearance.

Pipestone NM_20140925_17

No, we didn’t pick any.  It’s a National Monument, for Pete’s sake!  (And we had to walk past some park rangers on the way back to the car).

Mushrooms aside, you can’t have a box elder tree without a box elder bug, a fact that I was reminded of when one of them landed on my arm.  This mostly harmless bug (Boisea trivittata) doesn’t bite, sting, stink, or attack flowers or important commercial crops.  Because they may release a noxious chemical if squashed, they seem to have few predators.  The box elder bug feeds mainly by sucking the juices from seeds of trees of the maple family.  So they become more noticeable in the autumn when box elder seeds (and mushrooms) begin to appear.


We had lots of box elders and box elder bugs on the farm when I was growing up.  All summer and autumn we’d see them on the trees, sidewalks, and the outside walls of the house, and, for much of the winter, inside the house.  My Dad was forever swatting these nuisance bugs and throwing them outside; the invention of the hand-held vacuum cleaner made his life much easier.  The limestone foundation on a portion of our farmhouse had a few decent sized-cracks in it, and I recall one winter peering into one of them to spy a large mass of hibernating box elder bugs, ready to go on the march when the sun warmed up the rocks in the Spring.


So my idyllic boyhood in the shade of mushroom-bearing box elder trees usually included a nuisance –  box elder bugs.  Except that isn’t what we called them.  Everyone I knew called these little bugs “democrats.”

The term “democrats” was so universal around Clarkson that I was probably in high school before I learned the preferred common name of Boisea trivittata, and got to wondering about the odd, possibly pejorative nickname.  The nickname “democrat” or “democrat bug” is heard in the Central Plains – Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, northwestern Missouri, and southwestern Iowa, at least.  Over the years I have consulted both etymologists and entomologists on the question of how the box elder bug came to be nicknamed the democrat.  But no one could tell me, and there is little definitive information about it on the Internet.

One Kansan suggested that they were called democrats because they come out of the woodwork in the fall, right before an election.  Another suggested that they are called democrats because they hang around in groups and raise a stink (technically incorrect, because box elder bugs belong to a family of scentless plant bugs).  Ted Kooser, in his remarkable book Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, suggests that the name first appeared during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when Democrats were everywhere and into everything.  But the term may be even older than that.  Gene Ulses of Papillion wrote in the May/June 2010 issue of Nebraska Life that “the term Democrat bug came about in the late 1800s in the upper Mississippi region and spread as a subtle insult to the Democratic Party faction…  Around 1900, southwest Iowans began calling them “McKinley bugs” in retaliation for the growing use of the term Democrat bugs.”

[Incidentally, I’m not saying there’s a connection, but the geographical distribution of the nickname “democrat” seems to overlap with the distribution of red beer consumption.  (If you have to ask what a červené pivo is, you won’t want to drink it.)  Red beers are a common cocktail in much of the Central Midwest, especially Nebraska and Kansas.  But I’ve also heard of them being imbibed in upstate New York and other enlightened pockets of the U.S.]

Perhaps the term “democrat” is meant in its general sense – as part of a Democracy, we are all democrats.  Some suggest that the swarms of box elder bugs remind people of crowds who gather during political seasons, and don’t refer specifically to our honorable “Democratic Party.”  Perhaps.  But looking at that last picture of a swarm of box elder bugs scrambling around, I’m reminded of the well-known quote from Will Rogers – “I am not a member of any organized party – I am a Democrat.


The Box Elder Bug’s Prayer

I want so little
For so little time
A south window,
A wall to climb,
The smell of coffee,
A radio knob,
Nothing to eat,
Nothing to rob,
Not love, not power,
Not even a penny,
Forgive me only
For being so many.

   –  Bill Holm elder-bug-poetry-2/

Posted in The 21st Century | 10 Comments

A Most Unforgettable Character — Uncle Elden

This week we have another guest posting from Robert Prazak, who offers a tribute to his Uncle Elden (Al) Prazak.  Elden was a local boy who moved to the faraway land of California and did good.

If you happen to be wondering around Clarkson during most any of the last 40 or 50 Czech Days celebrations you may have run across this older sailor who now resides in San Diego, but was originally from Clarkson. He could probably be found in either the Czech Bakery, the museum, the high school reunion or the parade. So what do you say is so unusual about someone coming back to his roots, as probably many people do it?

Elden and Doris Prazak 1

Uncle Elden, as he was called (he got his nickname because when my sister and I were born, he would run around town telling everyone he was an Uncle) spent his first 16 years in Clarkson as a loyal Red Devil, and as the war broke out he somehow convinced his dad to fudge on his age so he could enter the service in the merchant marines.  Somehow after a year he entered the United States Navy where he served not only in the Second World War, but also the Korean War and the Viet Nam conflict.  He retired after many years of service, having his share of battle scars and horror stories to tell, but thankfully lived through it.

Elden Prazak Navy 2

Old timers who knew him had many stories to tell about all the hijinks they pulled when they were on leave and got together back in Clarkson.  I would listen to their stories as they had a few beers after a round of golf.  Joe Toman and Bob Odvarka always had good stories to tell about the fisticuffs they took part in when they and others were on leave with Elden.  One of the favorite stories I remember was when they were at one of Duffy’s dances and a fight ensued over them wearing their military outfits at the dance with some non-military from another town.  As the story went, Bob jumped on the back of one of the ruffians as Joe and Unk were taking part in some fisticuffs with the enemy. Duffy Belohrad’s band smuggled Unk out in a tuba case to evade either the police or some of the other gang.  Some of these stories may have been embellished over the years, but I do know for fact that more than once my mom would be bandaging up Uncle’s fists after a dance at a neighboring town.

Patriotism and the flag were and are first and foremost in his life.  I remember going with him and my folks on the old gravel road to Schuyler for Labor Day Parades.  As “Old Glory” and the honor guard would be making their way down the block he would always be the first one standing, and he made sure that anyone around him was also standing and respecting the flag.  I don’t know if there was a girl in every port.  But he did find a true gem back in Clarkson between wars and married Doris Wain whose mother had a farm just south of town. Doris worked at the Clarkson bank and I assume they met during that time.

After retiring from the military their family settled in San Diego to begin a new life – Elden to work as a trainer at a high school and Doris to work at a United States training center for Olympic athletes.  After Elden retired from the school he continued on as a volunteer trainer and continued to impact the entire school system.  So much, in fact, that they made sure he had a plaque placed in his honor at the Mt. Soledad Veterans War Memorial.

Elden and Doris Prazak 2

Within the last two years we were privileged to attend the dedication of the school’s new athletic field which was named the “Al Prazak Field.”  You just don’t get an honor like this unless you deserve it.

Elden Prazak Program

Al Prazak 3a

So if in the future years you see a sun-tanned old sailor walking around the streets of Clarkson during Czech Days with a walker with a spry lady at his side named Doris, go up and introduce yourself to one of Clarkson’s true war heroes –there aren’t many left.


You can see a video of the dedication of the Al Prazak Field at Montgomery High School at  Better yet, you can see a brief interview of the honoree at  (It’s nice to see that he hasn’t lost his Clarkson accent after all these years).  Thanks for the story, Robert, and keep them coming!  I look forward to meeting Uncle Elden and Doris at Czech Days next year.

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, The 21st Century | 2 Comments