To view Dr. Nielsen’s original notes regarding the Nebraska Wends, click here.
This article first appeared in the October 2006 issue of the Texas Wendish Heritage Newsletter and was last revised on May 20, 2012.
Nebraska became the home for two groups of Wends. Both groups were from Lower Lusatia not far from Cottbus and migrated in the last three decades of the nineteenth century. The Wendish pastor, Mato Kosyk (Kossick) visited both communities and in all likelihood he informed the two groups of each other, but nothing indicates any association between the two.
The first group originated from the villages of Scadow, Stradow, Muckwar, Gosda, Proschim, Lieske, Senftenberg, Welzow, Terpe, and Greifenhain and settled in Johnson County in southeastern Nebraska. The towns in Johnson County nearest to the immigrants’ farms were Sterling and Burr.
The earliest identifiable Wend in Johnson County was Matthias Panko who migrated with his wife and six children in 1869. Others who joined him included Gottlieb Wusk who migrated in 1877, Matthais Wusk with a family of seven in 1880, and John Rulla who migrated in 1881 with his family of seven. One of the Wends who settled in Johnson County in 1880, Christian Pohlenz, had migrated to Wisconsin in 1859, but most of the others traveled directly to Nebraska. By 1884 the influx of Wends ended with the Kaspar/ Kobisch family.
There was intermarriage between the Wendish families, but with such a small group and without continued migration, the Wendish language and traditions died quickly. A faint memory of the Wendish heritage existed in 1973 when A. F. Wusk, grandson of Matthais, acknowledged that his ancestry was Wendish. The best documentation for the Wendish presence was from Pastor Mato Kosyk. He was a founder of the German- speaking Nebraska Synod and a pastor in a neighboring county. He visited Sterling in the 1890s and spoke Wendish with old settlers. Even though the first generation of Wends fondly remembered the old language, Kosyk noticed that the children were speaking neither Wendish nor German, but English. When he asked for financial support for the construction of a Wendish building in Germany the response was meager.
Other Wendish surnames in Johnson County were Boslau, Lehrack, Mucha, Merting, and Pech.
The second Wendish group originated from the villages of Sielow, Scadow, Gross Gaglow, Schmellwitz, Petershain, and Willmersdorf and settled in Clay County near such towns as Clay Center, Inland, and Hartford.
This migration also began in 1869 with the arrival of Robert Hendreschke, Fred Kockrow and John Koinzan, but it continued on until 1906 with the migration of William Wenske. It mirrored the Johnson County group in that most traveled directly to Clay County, although two families, those of Augustus Hoppens and Gottfried Nowka, lived in Michigan before they went west.
Another similarity was that they traveled as separate families such as John Schuppan and Martin Lobeda, or as individuals such as the Wenske brothers who migrated in 1892, 1898 and 1906. Two young bachelor Wends, Martin Nesow and Christian Nowka traveled back to Europe in 1898 and returned with wives.
The Wendish tradition was stronger in Clay County than in Johnson thanks in part to continued immigration. Emma Wenske, who visited Sielow in 1967 and again in 1980, does not remember Wendish spoken among the Clay County people, but she heard her father sing Wendish songs as he rocked the baby. Most of these Wends also joined the Nebraska Synod and enjoyed carrying on Wendish conversations with Pastor Kosyk. Their bonds to Europe were not much stronger than those in Johnson County and when Kosyk asked for contributions for another Wendish cause, he received only one gift.
The Wends helped in the founding of a Lutheran country congregation when Wilhelm Fitzke contributed land for a church, cemetery, and parsonage. In 1942, during World War II, when an extensive area east of Hastings was taken by the United States for a Navy ammunition depot, the land of the congregation was also included. The cemetery at South Inland, as it was called, remained, but the church building and the parsonage were moved to Clay Center. The cemetery continues to exist for Zion burials and the tombstone for Christian Lobeda identifies Cottbus as his place of birth. Three Wendish families affiliated with a German Congregational Church in Inland.
Other surnames in Clay County are Selko, Konzan, Konzak, and Kieschke.
(See pages 212 to 217 in Trudla Malinkowa, Ufer Der Hoffnung: Sorbische Auswanderer nach Übersee.)