Dakota Datebook

Bohemian Families in America

Monday, November 5, 2007

Frank Zastoupil’s grandfather journeyed from Bohemia in Austria-Hungary to Russia when the Czarina Catherine the Great offered Russian land and religious freedom to new settlers. The Zastoupil family dwelled in a village surrounded by fellow Bohemians. They farmed side by side in their new country, danced polkas and waltzes, sang with great passion, and shared joyful social lives.
The community began to grow, and soon the tiny Bohemian village of Chechoshrad was nearly 700 strong. With boys growing into men, and men starting families, many young Bohemians were looking for land to farm, and a place to raise their children. But the tracts of land handed down to sons by fathers were shrinking as the population grew.
For the second time in less than 50 years, The Zastoupils emigrated in search of land. Frank Zastoupil arrived at Ellis Island on November 25, 1888. From New York, Frank and his family headed west, following the rumors of Free Land. They settled in Dickinson, North Dakota, where Frank’s father set up the Zastoupil Homestead.
The Zastoupils were no different from any other North Dakota homesteader. They lived in a sod home, struggled through raging prairie blizzards, and fought with the land to produce what they needed to survive. They proved themselves to be true Americans.
When interviewed by a government worker in 1940, 67-year-old Frank spoke with sentiment of his Bohemian heritage and his memories of the Old Country, but he also spoke of America. He had struggled with the land for years, and after 50 years of residency, Frank grew to love it and call it his own.
When asked his opinion about America entering World War II, the retired farmer answered, “To defend America I would even go myself and help fight. It is my only country.” Although never forgetting his Bohemian heritage, Frank Zastoupil was proud of his new home.
Albert Oukrok and his Czech family settled in Dickinson around the same time as the Zastoupils. Albert and his wife Mary labored as homesteaders, developing their small homestead into a successful 560-acre farm. They raised five English and Czech-speaking children, were active members of their local Western Czech Brotherhood United lodge, and sacrificed much for their new country.
They sacrificed their sweat and blood to the land, and lost their son Theodore in service to America during World War I.
In 1931, Albert and Mary traveled to Europe with a group called the Gold Star Mothers. In France they visited World War I battlefields and prayed at the tomb of the unknown soldier for their son, whose body was never returned home. They mourned for lost sons with hundreds of other parents, and celebrated their pride as Americans as they were presented with American flags and were addressed by General Pershing.
Though faced with many trials and tribulations, the Oukroks and the Zastoupils never surrendered to the prairie. They worked for a new home, and found their home in America, and more specifically, in North Dakota. Though proud of their Bohemian heritage, they were prouder yet to have succeeded in becoming Americans.
In his 1940 WPA interview, Albert was asked whether he would immigrate to the US if he could live his life again. Albert replied, “We have an affection for the land of our birth, but our adopted country (is) the United States. We are…glad that we have not deserted these prairies…that seemed so desolate.”
By Ann Erling

Sources:
“North Dakota Ethnic History: Plains Folk.” Sherman, Thorson, Henke, Kloberdanz, Pedeliski, Wilkins.
“WPA Ethnic History Files.”

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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