Family Stories

The Swanda Family: An Immigration Story

Family stories recall the Swanda Family Inn in Bohemia. The inn was not an overnight hostel, but rather a gathering place for the community. It was common practice among the Czechs to finish their work in the late afternoon and gather for social time and drink before heading home for the evening meal. The Swanda family made whiskey and prepared food for this daily ritual. My mother-in-law, Aline Garrett, remembers her mother and aunts speaking of the Inn being in or near the town of Lidice which is about fifteen miles west of Prague. She has always understood that the Swanda family came from around Lidice. During her 1996 trip to the Czech Republic Aline visited Lidice, which is remembered for a tragic massacre that occurred there in 1942 under the hand of Hitler. Since that visit Aline has relocated the naturalization paper of her grandfather, James Svanda, which states that his last foreign residence was Blela, Bohemia. We have located the likely town of Bela that is in the same general area where the Soper family lived. It is just north of the town of Pilsen and a considerable distance east and south of Prague. There is another town of Bela, northeast of Prague. We continue to question exactly where the Swanda Inn was located.

John Svanda (Swanda) and his wife Antoniette “Nettie” Cihlar were the owners of the Swanda Family Inn. They had been married in Bohemia about 1863 and became the parents of eight children between 1864-1880: Joe, Jim, Frank, Antoinette, John, Anton, Charlie and Pete Swanda. When their first born son, Joe, reached the age of sixteen they were concerned that he would be drafted into the Austrian army so they decided to send him, along with his next younger brother, Jim, to America with their uncle, Joseph Swanda. They sailed on the SS Neckar from the port of Bremen 26 September 1880 and arrived in New York about three weeks later. They moved on to Omaha, Nebraska and spent the next three years working in a smelting plant. They were able to send back enough money to their family in Bohemia to help them make the trip to America about 1883-84.

Aline Garrett recalls several stories about their trip to America that were told by her family. John Swanda decided to lease his inn rather than sell it, as he was not certain he would like America. Later he had someone sell the inn for him and he received a poor price for it. John and Nettie Swanda and their six younger children sailed on the SS Uener (Vender) from the port of Bremen. The family always said that Nettie was a “Princess”. No one really knows just what that meant, but apparently she wore fine silk dresses on the boat to America. Her fancy dresses probably didn’t serve her too well as the family set up housekeeping on a forty-acre farm near Sioux City, Iowa. Their first home in America boasted a dirt floor. They were not long there before the home, and all of their possessions, were blown away in a cyclone. John Swanda made several moves after that, living in Omaha, Nebraska and White Lake, South Dakota. But, in 1889 he heard about the land opening up in the new territory of Oklahoma and he decided to make the Oklahoma Land Run. He joined the ranks of the Sooners, who came illegally into the area and staked their claim before the run on 22 April 1889. He had to hide out for a time, but managed to keep his claim. This original Swanda farm was located 2 ˝ miles south of present day Yukon, Oklahoma.

After settling, most of the Swanda children remained in Oklahoma, but they lived in various places and became involved in a variety of business concerns, including farming, the grocery business, and Swanda Brothers Sheet Metal Company. A son-in-law, John Hubatka, was one of Oklahoma City’s first police commissioners. Joe and Jim Swanda operated a grocery store in Enid for a time. In 1898, when Jim Swanda was 31 years old, he met and married Mary Soper from nearby Garber, Oklahoma.

John and Nettie Swanda eventually sold out their farm to their second son Jim and moved to the Swanda subdivision at 1600 N. Kelham Street in Oklahoma City. Several sons and their families lived there also. Shortly after they moved to Oklahoma City, Nettie died in 1916. In the summers after her death John liked to return to the homestead with his son’s family. He enjoyed feeding the livestock and roaming over the farm. John was a devout Catholic. He had several statues of Mother Mary and Jesus and he often lit candles and prayed in the Czech language. He died in 1926 at the age of 92.

In the 1990’s Aline and her cousin Eleanor registered their grandparents, Jim Swanda and Mary Soper Swanda, on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island.

Notes for the Swanda Family; compiled by Pamela Hutchison Garrett, 2013; for Family Stories at