A MEMOIR OF KENNETH AND JENELLE KOFTAN
THE REASON FOR THE TRIP
On December 31, 1892, Leroy Charles Koftan was born on a farm in rural Bon Homme County, South Dakota, southeast of Tyndall, South Dakota. South Dakota received statehood in 1889 and, thus, the father of me, Kenneth Koftan, was in the first generation of Koftans born in the United States. Because of the name change from Kaftan to Koftan, my father was in the second generation of Koftans. Of the surviving children, Leroy was the second child born to Joseph and Fannie Koftan. Joseph emigrated from Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) to the United Stated as a five-year old child with his father, Frank Kaftan and Frank’s family. Because of a misprint on a deed titling land to Vincent and Joseph Koftan, Joseph changed the spelling of his name to Koftan. Many of my cousins still use the spelling Kaftan. My father told me very little about growing up in South Dakota, so I wanted to discover something about the area where he grew up.
STARTING OUT ON HIGHWAY 81
On Sunday Sept. 12, 2010 at 8:09 A. M., Jenelle Koftan and I, Kenneth Koftan, began our South Dakota adventure. It was a nice, clear day. Storms were forecast for later in the week, so we wanted to start early to avoid problems. Us highway 81 used to be the major north-south highway through Wichita that also went through Yankton, South Dakota. It has been rebuilt as Interstate Highway 135 from Wichita to Salina, Kansas. Most of Old Highway 81 still exists, so Jenelle and I decided to travel the old highway system to Salina. There were no big trucks and very little traffic as we drove the road. Also we drove through or near most of the towns, instead of skirting around them. Some of the sections of road were named Old Highway 81, while other parts were named 14th Avenue and other various names. At Salina we ate Cozies, which are a small, delicious, White Castle type of hamburger and then we traveled on. North of Salina we joined the 4-lane Highway 81 and were on our way again. At about 1:00 P.M. we crossed the Nebraska state-line. Much of Highway 81 through Nebraska is 4-lane, but has sections of 2-lane in various places. North of Norfolk was 2-lane, but as we traveled north on Sunday afternoon, it was interesting that we were neither passed nor were we passed by any other vehicles in our lane. Traffic in the other lane was moderate. At 5:00 P.M. we crossed the new 4-lane bridge, completed in 2008, into Yankton, South Dakota. We could see the old double-decker highway bridge built in 1924 just to the east of us. We recalled the time when we crossed on the lower portion of the bridge traveling south, after visiting DeSmet, South Dakota, home of the Laura Ingalls Wilder family.
We drove the main street looking for a place to stay the night. We settled on a Holiday Inn Express. We ate steaks at the local Steak house called JoDeans. It was clearly a local favorite. I made the comment that the water served probably came from the Missouri River. When we asked the waitress about the water source, she said she thought it did. We said the water was okay but it tasted very different from the equis-bed water we are used to drinking. We stated we were not complaining but she quickly went and poured us some bottled water to drink.
At 7:15 P.M. we were in our room at the motel getting ready for the evening. We watched Rubicon and Mad Men on TV and then went to sleep. At 7:30 A. M., after eating breakfast at the motel, we started the 29 miles west to Tyndall, South Dakota by way of Highway 50. On the trip north, we noticed the crops along Highway 81. In Kansas, much of the ground was covered with wheat stubble or was pasture land. In Nebraska it was somewhat evenly divided into three crops, corn, soybeans and some pasture land. I was surprised to see that most of the corn and soybeans were irrigated. On the trip to Tyndall, about the same crops were planted as in Nebraska, but we saw no irrigation machinery. Jenelle estimated that 70% of the crops were corn, 20% were soybeans and 10% were pasturing for black angus cattle with one large flock of sheep. The farms were nicely kept with ditches mowed. Everything was very green and quite beautiful.
TYNDALL, SOUTH DAKOTA
In Tyndall we filled up our gas tank after our approximately 450-mile trek. We used one tank of gas for the trip from Derby, Kansas to Tyndall, South Dakota. Gas was $2.63 that day. Most of the prices ranged from $2.60 to $2.79 that particular day. Tyndall is a small, pleasant and clean town of about 1,300 people. It seemed to be the type of town one might encounter in the 1950’s Kansas. We saw that Tyndall still had small businesses to serve the people in the town and surrounding farms. Besides the Dairy Queen, there was a local café, a small grocery store and other farm related businesses. Near the north end of town, at 100 north Main Street, was the St. Leo’s Catholic Church. We guessed that many of the townspeople were Catholic.
Farms in the area were clean, maintained and painted, and look like they conducted farming as a business. Most of the cattle raised were black angus and many farms had a small feedlot on the property.
Tyndall is the county seat of Bon Homme County. The courthouse in Tyndall is just west of Main Street and can be easily found by it’s very tall flagpole. The pole is a structure resembling the Eiffel Tower and sits to the south of the courthouse. The whole thing is probably the tallest flagpole that Jenelle has ever encountered. A crescent shaped driveway is in front of the courthouse that was rebuilt in 1914. The courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Sites and features several murals and a stained glass rotunda. Cedars lined the drive with adequate parking provided within a few steps of the front door of the courthouse. Most of the first floor was occupied with emergency management offices and police offices, including a jail. We later saw an additional sheriff’s office on the other side of Main Street. Most of the second floor was assigned to normal courthouse offices, including Auditor, Treasurer, Clerk of the Courts and the Register of Deeds offices. The courtroom was on the third floor. The steps were made of granite and wheelchair accessible by a lift that was attached to the west staircase. At 8:43 A.M. we entered the courthouse.
AT THE COURTHOUSE
Two women were working in the Register of Deeds office and helped us in the fun of discovery. The women thought that the name Bon Homme was named for a French man (meaning “good man”) who trapped beaver on the Missouri River. The Missouri River is the south boundary of Bon Homme County and is about 10 miles south of Tyndall, South Dakota. Much of the river in that area is part of the Lewis and Clark Park. Jenelle and I explained that we wanted to research the records for the deed showing the location of the land where my grandfather raised my dad and to find records of my dad’s birth. Because no birth or death records were kept before 1905 in Bon Homme County, no birth certificate could be found for my father, but we were successful in determining where the land on which Dad was born and viewing the deeds showing ownership of that land.
In the Register of Deeds office, in General Index #2, on the second page of the K’s, the following was recorded: From Vincent Koftan to Joseph Koftan, filed on May 30, 1884 a warranty deed in Book J page 81 for land described as the East half of the Southeast quarter and the Southeast quarter of the Northeast quarter in Section 28, Township 94, Range 59 of Bon Homme County, Dakota Territory, a total of 120 acres. We now knew where my father was born.
Also, on the same page of the index were two more deeds that were registered. One showed the sale of land to Vincent Koftan from Charles Stillwell on Sept. 29, 1882, a warranty deed recorded in Book J page 81 of the Southeast quarter of Section 28, Township 94, Range 59 of Bon Homme County, Dakota Territory, a total of 160 acres. Vincent Koftan also purchased from Charles Stillwell and wife land for which the deed was filed on December 1, 1883 but was purchased on November 28, 1883. The warranty deed, recorded in Book D page 502, was for the South half of the Northeast quarter in Section 28, Township 94, Range 59 of Bon Homme County, Dakota Territory, a total of 80 acres. Vincent had purchased 240 acres of land in his name for both he and his brother that was divided in half about six months later.
On subsequent pages of General Index #2 under the K’s, I discovered two listings for land purchased by Frank Kaftan, my Great-Grandfather. The first listing showed the sale of land to Frank Kaftan from Mary ?wire (first letter unreadable and the r may be an n) and husband filed on Oct. 25, 1883 in Book I page 100, a Bond for Deed for the Northeast quarter and the North half of the southeast quarter less five acres in Section 29, Township 94, Range 59 of Bon Homme County, Dakota Territory, a total of 235 acres. Also, Frank Kaftan purchased from Conrad Eymer and filed on Oct. 25, 1883 in Book I page 102, a Bond for Deed for the East half of the Northeast quarter in Section 29, Township 94, Range 59 of Bon Homme County, Dakota Territory, a total of 80 acres. So, about six months after the time the brothers, Vincent and Joseph, purchased the second piece of ground in Dakota Territory, their father, Frank Kaftan, purchased land and moved his family to Dakota Territory. Copies of the deeds showing purchase of the land and sale of the land for Vincent and Joseph Koftan are included in this memoir. No copies of the Bonds for deed were available showing the sale of land to Frank Kaftan.
It is not clear to me who all moved to Dakota Territory, but it appears that all of Frank Kaftan’s family moved to the area. Vincent and Joseph, the two oldest sons at ages 24 and 22, had already arrived in the Dakota Territory and were probably sent ahead to scout out suitable land. The rest of the family, with their ages in parentheses when they moved to Dakota Territory, would have included Frank (55) and Josefa Schwartz (45) Kaftan, James and Barbara (20) Benesh, sons Frank, Jr. (16), John (13), Charles (12) and Robert (5) and daughter Josephine (8).
Joseph was the first of the two brothers to marry. He married Frances (Fannie) Hlinovsky on April 4, 1886 in Springfield, Dakota Territory. Springfield was a small town just west of the property that Joseph owned in Bon Homme County. A description of the wedding is in Margaret Langhammer’s memoirs written in1988. Fannie Hlinovsky had immigrated to the United States, at age 5, with her family, the Martin Hlinovsky’s. The Hlinovsky’s also settled in Pawnee County, Nebraska near where Frank Kaftan had homesteaded. It is not clear if the Hlinovsky’s moved to Bon Homme County, Dakota Territory before or after Vincent and Joseph Koftan did. Martin Hlinovsky married Rosa, but her last name is unclear. It was guessed as Roval or maybe Novak. I have seen the name on a document (marriage certificate, I think) and it could have been either from the writing. Rosa died after she fell from a wagon in Pawnee County, Nebraska and is buried there. The death certificate of Martin Hlenovsky(sic) states that Martin is buried in the Tyndall Cemetery in Lot 98, Grave #1 of the Methodist Edition. Records at the courthouse of the Tyndall Cemetery shows on page 18 that it is in a family plot that includes the following: Martin Hlinovsky, Elmer Zelenka, Edith Koftan, Clara Koftan, Eva Koftan, (the last three were infant children of Joseph and Fannie Koftan that died of dyptheria), Catherine Zelenka, Holly Zelenka (infant), Ernest Zelenka and Katie Zelenka. The Zelenkas were either sisters of Fannie or were children.
MEETING COUSIN PATSY KAFTAN
While I was getting copies of various documents, including the warranty deeds mentioned above and several maps, Jenelle was looking for family names in the phone book for Tyndall and the area. Several names of interest were listed, John McNeil in Springfield, Clement Fejfar in Tabor and most interesting was Emil Kaftan in Tyndall. On a whim, Jenelle called the number and Patsy Kaftan answered. Patsy said that her father had died at the age of 104 in the local nursing home. Patsy now lives alone in the house where Emil lived in Tyndall and her sister Eleanor lives on the Emil Kaftan farm a short distance south of the Dairy Queen in Tyndall. We asked to visit Patsy and she invited us to her house. Patsy has had an avid interest in genealogy for some time, which she shared with her father. She showed us a typed genealogy of the family that was very extensive. Patsy and Eleanor have also gone to several locations, including Clarence, Missouri (home of Joseph Koftan and others including Margaret Langhammer whom Patsy met) and Green Bay, Wisconsin (home of Robert Kaftan and family several of whom Patsy talked to). Patsy Kaftan and Kenneth Koftan have the same Great-Grandfather, Frank Kaftan, and, therefore, would be second cousins. Patsy’s line goes as follows: Frank Kaftan Sr., Frank Kaftan Jr., Emil Kaftan, and Patsy Kaftan. Patsy was very kind to show us the scrapbook holding the records of the family and to show us pictures of her family. We were amazed at the wealth of knowledge she had about the family. After talking a while and taking pictures of Patsy and myself, we departed.
THE TYNDALL CEMETERY
It was time for lunch, so we took a break and ate at the local Dairy Queen. After lunch we proceeded to the Tyndall Cemetery.
At the Tyndall Cemetery, Jenelle and I had trouble finding the graves. We had a copy of the map of the general area and specific area showing names of graves near the family plots. The helpful women at the Register of Deeds were not sure of the meaning of m.e. and n.e. on the map. I was given a general map of the cemetery and plot 98 was marked. When we arrived at the cemetery, I found the major landmarks in real life and on the map. There is a flagpole on one drive entrance near the west end and a monument to the civil war on the drive from the next entrance to the east, near the center of the cemetery. I located where the marked plot 98 should have been in relation to the flagpole and the monument. No grave stones could be found showing the graves listed above. The records at the courthouse clearly showed the graves had stones marking the graves.
We searched. We found Vincent and Elenora Koftans headstones showing Vince was born Oct. 27, 1859 and died Sept. 20 1933 and that Nora was born Feb. 13 1871 and died Dec. 22, 1929. We found The John Kaftan headstone and individual markers for John (1870-1936) and Elsie (1880-1957). We found the Benesh headstone and individual headstones for James Benesh (1853-1938) and Barbara (Kaftan) Benesh (1863-1955). Other grave stones were noted, but no stones for Martin Hlinovsky and the others mentioned. Jenelle made one last look around. I went to the car and drove to pick up Jenelle at the east side of the cemetery. As we started to exit the cemetery through the far east entrance, Jenelle saw the names Eva and Clara on one of the stones next to the driveway. We stopped. We looked. It was the stones for which we had been searching. I figured out what had happened. The m.e. on the map meant the Methodist edition of the cemetery, showing the older part, and n.e. stood for the new edition of the cemetery. The lot 98 marked on the map was in the n.e. part of the cemetery, but the graves were in Lot 98 of m.e. part of the cemetery. When I looked at the map of the cemetery again, for the first time, I noticed the second Lot 98.
We took several photographs of the gravestones. The tall white stone monument was for the three little girls of Joseph Koftan. All of the three children were buried by their father, since no one else would bury the children that died of diphtheria. No dates were given for the children, except to say the Eva was aged 2 years and Clara was aged 5 months when they died. Edith’s information was unreadable. It is probable that Eva and Clara died in the great blizzard of 1888. Thus, the first three children of Joseph and Fannie Koftan are all buried in Tyndall Cemetery. At the end of the row was the modest stone of Martin Hlinovsky, born Nov. 11, 1819 and died May 13, 1891. We believe that Martin lived with his daughter (Katherine Zelenka) in South Dakota since no deeds were listed in Martin Hlinovsky’s name. We do not know if Fannie Koftan’s other sisters moved to Dakota Territory from Pawnee County, Nebraska.
THE CZECH NATIONAL CEMETERY
Patsy Kaftan had told us that my Great-Grandparents, Frank and Josefa Kaftan, were buried in the old Czech Cemetery. Since that was our next stop, we asked a stranger for directions to the cemetery. We started on Main Street, at the St. Leo’s Catholic Church, drove east on 20th Street to Willow Street, then north about one-third mile to the entrance to the cemetery. Cesko Narodni Hrbiton, the Czech National Cemetery, was written above the gated entrance. The cemetery was not large. A central obelisk monument was straight east of the entrance about 50 yards. About the same distance, straight north of the central monument, was the large red granite headstone of my Great-Grandparents, with the family name Kaftan carved on it. Next to it was the original headstone of Frank Kaftan, a gray heart shaped stone inscribed with “FRANK KAFTAN BORN MAY 7, 1828 DIED MCH 25, 1901.” At the east edge of the plot was a smaller red granite replacement stone for Josefa Kaftan, but was inscribed as Josephine Kaftan May 26, 1838 Mar. 14, 1922. Both gravestones were inscribed with their American names rather than Franz and Josepha. A large cedar tree near the gravestones had been cut away so that about eight feet of the trunk was all that was left. To the northwest of the corner of the plot was a smaller cedar tree. We left the Czech National Cemetery at about 1:45 P.M. and headed back to Tyndall.
VISITING THE KOFTAN PROPERTY
From Highway 50, we headed south on 417th Avenue for four miles to 308th Street. We turned to the east and traveled about one and one-half miles. A stand of very large deciduous and pine trees prompted us to turn in a driveway. The Vincent Koftan biography stated that he had built a chalk-rock house on his property. Jenelle and I thought there was a good chance it may still be standing. We were not sure if the wood house Joseph and Vincent had first built would be standing. There it was: a large two-story, white, chalk-rock stone building. The grass in the yard had been mowed, but it was plain that no one lived in the house at this time. Many buildings, a barn, a corn-crib, a poultry house and a few other building were a short distance from the house. All the buildings were still in fairly good repair and useable condition, a credit to Vincent’s craftsmanship. As we were looking at the house, a young farmer drove in the driveway and turned to go into a field east of the house. I yelled to the farmer to stop. He did. I introduced myself and told him we were looking for the Koftan properties. Did he know if this was the house Vincent Koftan had built? He said we should talk to his father that was working in his barn on the farm just to the west of where we were. With permission to walk around the house, we took pictures of the house and some of the adjoining buildings.
We then drove on to the east on 308th Street to the corner of 308th and 419th Ave. To the north stood a two-story white frame house similar to the type built in the 1880’s. The house or part of the house is, quite likely, the house that my Dad was born in 1892. We drove for a closer look. No one was around, so we decided to go back to the neighboring farm to talk to father of the man we saw at the Vinvent Koftan house. As we traveled south from the two-story frame house, Jenelle and I could see the land sloping to the Missouri River. The story is that my Grandmother, as a young woman, would walk the three miles to the river and during the winter, would cross the frozen river to work at the Santee Indian Reservation School on the south side of the river. In the past, the town of Bon Homme was just south of the Koftan property and on the banks of the Missouri river. Since the town was only three miles away, it was probably where Joseph and Fannie did much of their shopping. The town is gone, I think due to the Lewis and Clark Recreational Area. I stopped in a field on my Grandfather’s property to gather a handful of dirt.
At the neighboring farm, just to the west of the Koftan property on 308th Street, we talked to the 71-year old Mr. Rous. He told us that he purchased the Koftan property at an auction about 20 years ago for a little over $200 per acre. We don’t know if it was from the estate of Vincent’s two daughters, but it is a possibility. Land in the area is now selling for about three to four thousand dollars per acre. We thought that Mr. Rous and his son were farming the Koftan property. Mr. Rous stated that Vince Koftan was the last person to live in the chalk-rock house. After Mr. Rous acquired the land, he let a hired hand live in the house for a short time, but it was too cold in the wintertime. Vincent and Eleanora lived there for their entire married life.
We further discovered that some of Frank Kaftan’s property was also purchased by Mr. Rous with the remainder purchased by a Mr. Broz that lives on 418th Ave. south of the Frank Kaftan property. The Grandfather of Mr. Rous homesteaded the farm just west of the Koftan property and therefore the Rous family would have been neighbors of the Koftans during the time that Vincent and Joseph lived in South Dakota. Mr. Rous plans to keep the property until he dies and will leave the land to his family.
We left Mr. Rous and drove north on 418th Street to look at the Frank Kaftan property. The east-west road at the northeast corner of Kaftan’s property was road that was not maintained by the township. There was a path down the middle of the roadway, but it was overgrown with grasses and weeds. I drove for about two hundred yards to the edge of a bridge over a ravine. The bridge seemed sturdy to cross with the car, but I decided not to chance it. The far western section of the Kaftan property was a fenced grazing pasture for cattle, since there were too many big ravines for anything else. Corn was planted on the next portion of land. All of South Dakota in this area is rolling hills with a few pieces of flat farm ground scattered around.
SPRINGFIELD AND NORFOLK
Jenelle and I decided to drive down the blacktop road of 417th Avenue toward Springfield. The town was where Joseph and Fannie were married. It was several miles to the west and south of the Koftan land. Springfield was a pleasant little community with several stores, vigorous and well-maintained. The unusual thing was that within the city limits, there was a prison surrounded by fences and barbed wire. The town sits on a hilltop near the banks of the Missouri River.
At this point, we had completed most of the tasks that we set out for ourselves. It was about 3:30 P.M. in the afternoon. We decided to travel to the west a short distance to the bridge that crossed the Missouri River to Niobrara, Nebraska. The bridge was completed in 2008, replacing the ferry that was used to cross the river. We drove through the edge of the Santee Reservation, and through Crofton, Nebraska. We decided not to travel to Bloomfield, where Laurence Koftan was buried. We reached Norfolk at about 5;00 P.M. Monday evening. We chose to stay the night there. It is appropriate to mention that this is where my Grandfather Joseph Koftan had died. He caught pneumonia, while he was on a trip to visit Laurence, and died at the hospital in Norfolk.
Jenelle and I were very tired at this point. We checked into the Country Inn and Suites, ate at Whisky Creek Steak house, neither of which I would recommend. During the night, I reflected on my family. I grew up not knowing any of my cousins, neither Koftan’s nor Lindsey’s. Indeed, I have met very few of them. Because of a family squabble, Dad and Mom moved away from the family in 1943 when I was only three. They never talked about their family to me. I went with Mom and my brothers and sister to visit relatives in Missouri when I was about eight years old. But all the people were strange to me and I couldn’t remember much of the trip. So meeting Patsy, my cousin, was a real treat for me.
The night at the motel was noisy, but Jenelle and I were able to get some sleep. We both awoke early on Tuesday at 5:45 A. M. and decided to start for home. A heavy fog had rolled in during the night. I drove for about 35 miles, but decided it was too dangerous. Because of the fog I was content to drive 45 to 50 miles per hour, but traffic was passing us at 65 to 70 miles per hour on the 4-lane highway. We pulled off the highway and parked at a gas and convenience store to wait for sunrise. When the sun did come up, it was still very foggy. We ventured out on to the highway and proceeded south. We planned to stop for breakfast and hoped that the fog would lift. In Columbus we ate at a McDonald’s. We left the store and continued along what we thought was highway 81. It was still foggy. When a break in the fog showed us the sun was straight ahead, we questioned whether we were on the right road. We were not, we were on the Lincoln Highway. We quickly backtracked to the McDonalds and turned on to Highway 81 South. We drove out of the fog about 15 miles south of Columbus.
The trip was uneventful for most of the way home. I decided to stop at Rock City, west of Minneapolis, Kansas, to revisit the rock formations. They are huge balls of rock about 12 feet in diameter that looks like dips of ice cream. We had seen them when our son, Kendall, was young, about 9. They are fascinating to me. The shop was closed, but the groundskeeper told us to look at the site. We drove to Lindsborg to eat lunch. We had Stroganoff and Swedish pancakes with lingonberries. We entered the Highway 81 and Interstate 135 and traveled to Newton. One final stop at the mall and then we traveled on to our home in Derby at about 3:30 P.M. The trip was 1001 miles of discovery.
Several questions have come to mind. When we return to the area, Jenelle and I will want to see the area where Bon Homme town was. We may further seek out information about the connection of Joseph and Fannie to the Santee Reservation. My father thought his Dad, Joseph, worked at the Reservation, and we have seen a report on the computer that Fannie had worked at the school on the Santee Reservation. Vincent also owned land north of Tyndall. Where was it located?
We have been to Pawnee County, Nebraska, and made copies of the homestead deed of Frank Kaftan showing his acquisition of 160 acres of land in 1873 and sale in 1883. At age 45 he started a new life in Dakota Territory. His son Joseph built a life there, but due to a family squabble, at age 45, he and Fannie, aged 40, packed up their family and moved to Basset, Nebraska. The age of the children when they moved was as follows: Laurence, 15; Leroy, 14; Bessie, 12; Ella Mae, 10; Frank, 8; George, 5; Albert, 3; and Annie, 2. Of all the children of Joseph and Fannie, only Margaret was born in Nebraska. Joseph and family later moved to a farm in rural Shelbyville, Missouri. My dad, Leroy Koftan, moved to that area also, after his service in The Great War. He married Alma Bertha Lindsay and started a family. He worked the 320-acre farm with my grandfather, Joseph. But due to a family squabble, Dad, at age 50, moved his family to the Howard, Kansas area in 1943. Mom was 37, Leroy, Jr. was 17, Louise was 13, James (Jim) was 8, and Kenneth was 2 ½. It is interesting that three generations of Koftans have basically started their life in a new area at a late age, 45 to 50 years of age.
It will be on to Basset, Nebraska, but that will be another memoir.
Additional Pictures from the trip are in the Koftan.org Gallery