Our records about the early years of the Joseph and Ottilia Burkey family are a little sketchy, but here’s what we think we know.
Shortly after they were married, the family moved to Columbus (Platte County), Nebraska. A Nebraska State Census in 1885 shows Joseph, Ottilia and their two young children Alois and Anna living there. An obituary for the next youngest daughter, Hattie, lists her 1889 birthplace as Columbus as well. I do not know what their connection to Columbus was or what Joseph’s occupation was while they lived there. More questions for the “someday” list!
Then sometime around 1892, the family packed up and moved to a farm near Julesburg in Sedgwick County, Colorado. They tried their luck at homesteading. We’re not sure that they ever succeeded in even building a house while they lived there. The family lore is that the next daughter, Matilda (“Tillie”), was born in a sod house. The story is also told that Ottilia would pack the spring wagon full of straw and take all the children to Ogallala, Nebraska to exchange eggs for household supplies. This was about a 24-mile trip each way!
Joseph filed for homestead papers. A record of his claim can be found on the Bureau of Land Management website:
Life was too hard for them on bare Colorado prairie, and anyway, Ottilia wanted her kids to go to a Catholic school. By 1900, the Census records show that the family was back in Crete, Nebraska again. By then, the family included five lively girls and three sturdy boys.
The Burkey girls were very close to one another and remained connected by blood and by marriage for the rest of their lives. We’ll learn more about the Burkey girls next time.
By the way, I’ll be out in Sedgwick County sometime in the coming months and will try to locate the original homestead property and find out if there is any evidence remaining of the sod house.