Joseph Werner was born in Bohemia in 1841 at Mestecko un Krivoklat. He was a cabinetmaker by trade. Life was hard in Bohemia and Joseph Werner decided to follow the example of so many of his countrymen and immigrate to America. He came to America in 1866 and worked in Chicago for a short time. Deciding there were greater opportunities further west, in 1867 he came to Nebraska where he took a homestead and where he continued to live until his death.
In 1870 he was married to Matilda Novak, who was born in Prague in 1842. She was an orphan and foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Zelenke, came to America leaving her behind. They, too, came to Nebraska, and after getting established, sent for her to come also.
Father’s first home was a dugout. The country was desolate, nothing but a prairie for miles. Although crippled, he walked to Nebraska City, a distance of fifty miles, to work to be able to earn some money to buy a few implements to till the soil and to buy oxen, which he used the first few years. My mother was working there at the hotel where he boarded. After his marriage he came home for weekends bringing home such groceries as were absolutely necessary in a sack on his back. During his absence his wife and children greatly feared the Indians but were never molested.
The nearest neighbor, Peter Foale, hired men to herd cattle. Father helped these men make a dugout on his place so they would have a home, and otherwise helped them make a start in life. Among these were Blecha, Shimek, Dymacek and John Fritz. When they earned enough money, they went to a place of their own.
In time father and mother were able to build a log cabin and after a few years a frame dwelling, despite the fact that the grasshoppers, moths and prairie fires in turn destroyed their meager crops. One time father went after a load of lumber, driving his oxen. On the way home he was unable to guide them and they walked into a pond of water, lumber and all. He jumped off to keep from getting wet but when the lumber began to float away he was obliged to undress and get into the water and finally succeed in getting the lumber out. Another time when he was still living in the dugout he started after water to a spring some distance away. A heavy fog came up and he could not find his way home as it was all prairie, no trees, nothing to be guided by. He walked and walked and finally gave up, set his pail of water down and lay beside it and slept until morning when he was able to find his way home.
Mother used to work for a neighbor and received in payment all the wood she could carry home in her apron. She gave her a hen with some little chickens. Once they saw a prairie fire coming and father plowed a fireguard around the dugout while Mother caught the hen and after considerable difficulty all the chickens, which she held in her apron. Then they led the oxen into the cave and all waited there until the fire had passed.
About the year 1881 a family by the name of Roberts lived on a forty north of us. The house was a half dugout, no floors and built in a bank, the top above ground. A tornado took the top off the house leaving the family in beds with rain poring on them. Our folks took them in, a family of eight, until with the help of neighbors they put up another shack. Our folks had only the log house with a lean-to, but they managed.
Father, being a cabinetmaker, made the casket for the first burial in the Bohemian cemetery east of Table Rock, that of a child of John Fritz. He also made clothes, wardrobes for all of the neighbors. I still have mine and value it very much.
At his death in 1900, quoting from the funeral sermon given by a neighbor, Mr. Joseph B. Pepoon, he said,
“You all know him, have known him for years, and you all know he has been an upright citizen, a loving husband and father, a kind neighbor, and an honest man. I expect in a few years to be lying in my coffin as Mr. Werner is lying here today, and when my friends and neighbors go to pay their respects to my memory, if they will think as well of me as they think of Mr. Werner today, then I will be content. Burns, the Scottish poet, says,
To make a pleasant fireside clime for weans and wife,
That's the true pathos and sublime of life.
"That is what this man, Joseph Werner, did.”