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Jim first hears of Ántonia on a journey across America by train.
He is ten years old and his mother and father have recently died, so now he's moving from his home in Virginia out to Nebraska to live with his grandparents.
He is traveling with a boy named Jake Marpole who is going to be a farmhand for his (Jim's) grandparents.
On the way, Jake buys Jim a book called The Life of Jesse James. They chat with a conductor who acts like a tour guide for them as they drive through the different states.
The conductor tells the that there is an immigrant family on board the train who is also travelling to Black Hawk, Nebraska. They have a daughter who is twelve or thirteen and doesn't speak much English. But Jim elects not to go talk to them.
Jake wakes up Jim when they get to Black Hawk. It is nighttime. As they leave the train, Jim sees the Shimerdas standing on the train platform. They have four children altogether. Jim listens to them speaking in a foreign tongue.
A man comes along and introduces himself to Jim as Otto Fuchs. He works for Jim's grandfather and is there to drive both Jim and Jake out to the farm.
Jim thinks Otto looks like he came from the book about Jesse James. He looks like a cowboy. He's missing the top part of his left ear and is wearing boots. Jim gets in the back of the wagon and they ride off.
Jim is uncomfortable in the back of the wagon. He looks out and sees nothing but plain country with no fences or buildings.
He looks up; he doesn't think that his parents are looking down at him from above because they wouldn't know to look for him in Nebraska. He feels erased in the vastness of the land. Jim does not say his prayers that night.