By Nate Becwar
My family’s history is ingrained in the history of Nebraska. After all, there has been a Becwar living here since its admission to the Union in 1867.
My mother’s side (mostly German) and my father’s side (mostly Czech) both came to America after the Civil War and took up the offer from the federal government to settle west. It is astonishing that the county in which both my grandmothers still live is the very place my ancestors began their American journey 150 years ago.
On my father’s side, Frantisek “Frank” Becwar and his wife, Mary, came to America in 1868 from present-day Czech Republic.
In 1867, their homeland, the Kingdom of Bohemia, had been annexed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the compromise that established the dual monarchy.
Perhaps it was the changing political climate that prompted my ancestors to emigrate, or maybe it was the tempting offer of the Homestead Act. Signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, The Homestead Act was a program set up by the federal government encouraging western migration by giving away free land to settlers.
Frank and Mary came by train to Lincoln, Nebraska. Then, they hired a wagon to drive north of Milligan, where they eventually settled.
Frank walked 25 miles to Pleasant Hill to work, staying there all week. He’d walk home on the weekends, shooting prairie chickens for food on his way. Their son, Michael, who was born in 1872, would marry Josephine Bech in 1897.
Josephine was only 3 months old when she immigrated in 1873 to America in the arms of her parents. Jan and Anna Bech where both born in present-day Czech Republic. Initially, Jan and Anna settled in Braidwood, Illinois, where Jan worked in the coal mines.
In 1881, the family moved to a farm in Saline County, Nebraska. New to the union at the time, Nebraska was an inexpensive place to raise a family and farm. Jan would only live for seven years in Saline County. He died in 1888 at the age of 54. His wife, Anna, would die in 1916.
My great-grandfather, Frank was born to Michael and Josephine in 1899. Michael died of a heart attack while chopping wood in March 1963. Frank lived and died in Fillmore County where he raised, Ernest, who would become my grandfather.
Ernest, known better as Ernie, was a drummer in a polka band and a skilled card player. Ernie served in Japan during World War II. Luckily, a friend of his who lived in Geneva, Nebraska, was stationed in Japan at the time. He saw Ernie’s name on a list incoming soldiers, and assigned him to desk work. He married Frances, and together, they raised Jack, my dad, and his brother, Larry.
My mother’s side
Although my mother’s ancestors come from a different part of Europe, their time in Nebraska can be traced back just as far. Her first ancestors to immigrate to America were Nicholas and Ermina Becker. Nicholas was born in 1805 in Saarlouis (present-day Germany), which was under French rule at the time. It wasn’t until the Treaty of Paris in 1815, after Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated at Waterloo, that the town became Prussian and later German.
The tumultuous political relations between France and Germany during Nicholas’s childhood maybe motivated him to start a new life abroad. It is not clear when exactly Nicholas and Ermina came to the United States, but they were much older than my father’s ancestors. Their son, John, was born in Germany in 1857, when Nicholas was 51. The family then immigrated to America and homesteaded in Saline County, Nebraska.
John Becker married another first-generation Nebraskan named Anna. Their son, Leo, is my great-grandfather. Leo and his wife, Catherine, had a son named Jerome in 1923.
Jerome, like my paternal grandfather, would serve in World War II. He was among the first group of Americans to enter Germany after the Battle of the Bulge. He was 20 years old. Jerome earned a Purple Heart after being shot in the leg during his time in Germany.
When he came back to America, he started a family with his wife, Darlene. Together, they would raise five daughters in Fillmore County, Nebraska. In 1957, Darlene gave birth to the fourth of those five daughters: my mom, Lori.
Both my mother and father have deep roots in the Midwest. My brother, sister and I are the fifth generation to grow up in Nebraska. My first ancestors who immigrated to America settled in Nebraska, and it is here where generations of them have lived and worked.