Saturday, August 17, 2013

Last Journey to America: The Sopr (Soper) Family

Thirty-five years after my husband’s first Svejkovsky ancestors set sail for America, Joseph Soper, his wife Anna Housner and eight of their children made the journey in 1893. They had been married in 1870 in Bohemia and had ten children by 1893:  Joseph, Mary, Anna, Matt, Frances, James, Frank, Christie, Rose and Anton.  Records for this family give a variety of birthplaces for the children, but when carefully studied, it seems clear that the family lived around the towns of Kralovice and Kocin, which are just north of Pilsen in Bohemia. The town of Pilsen is noted for the famous Pilsner Beer.  When my mother-in-law, Aline Garrett, made her trip to the Czech Republic in 1996 she visited the town of Kralovice and took pictures of the old church and town streets.

Aline recalls some of the stories her grandmother, Mary Soper Swanda, told her about life in Bohemia as a young girl.  The Czech people lived mostly in small villages and often their houses and barns were combined under one roof.  Families would go out each day to work their small farms.  They had plots that were worked with spade and hoe by the whole family and primarily supplied the family needs.  Their livestock was usually driven out to a common grazing area and watched over each day.  Mary confessed that she preferred her job of herding geese to the schoolroom. In later years she regretted her choice.  The goose feathers were used for huge feather beds and warm comforters for cold nights.  The villages had large ovens that could bake sixteen loaves of rye bread at one time.  Czech hospitality meant brown bread and wine for guests.    

The Soper family embarked from Hamburg, Germany and arrived in New York City in March 1893.  They lived briefly in Chicago and then moved to Kingfisher in Oklahoma Territory where they lived with the Jindra family.  Shortly thereafter, Joseph Soper made the Cherokee Strip Land Run and established his residence in Garber, Garfield county, Oklahoma Territory.  The family built their first, dugout home around a tree and in those first years they met with very hard times.  The older children set out for Enid Oklahoma to find jobs.  Joe and Matt joined a cattle drive to Dodge City, Kansas and Anna and Mary did housework for families in Enid.  Mary Soper went to work for Joe and Frank Swanda and that is where she met her future husband, Jim Swanda, who she married in 1898.

According to descendant, Emma Irvin, “The hard times for the Sopers didn’t last forever and by 1900 they had built a comfortable home which included 14 windows and 5 doors.  The 160 fenced acres boasted a barn, corncrib, granary, hen house, well with pump and 150 fruit trees.”  Joseph Soper and Anna Housner Soper lived out their lives in Garber, Oklahoma.  Joseph died in 1920 and Anna in 1923.

For more details on Joseph Soper, visit his page at Family Stories,

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