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The Fairmont SDA Church in Lodi

California German Russians in 1920

"California German Russians in 1920." California District Council Report, Spring 2002.


One way to look at early German Russian settlements in California is to go back to Richard Sallet’s book, Russian-German Settlements in the United States. This English-language version of Sallet’s work, which includes information supplemental to the original text, was translated by LaVern J. Rippley and Armand Bauer and published in 1974 by the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, Fargo. It is available for purchase from AHSGR for $22 + shipping.

Sallet became acquainted with the American German Russians when he was associated with the Dakota Freie Presse for a time. Later, as a student at Harvard he started his study of the German Russians, then completed the manuscript in Germany where it was accepted as a dissertation for attaining a PhD at the University of Königsberg. It was originally published in German in 1931. The book presents a detailed picture of the geographical distribution of the German-speaking Russians in the different states, including names of early settlements, Russian origins of the settlers and state-by-state data extracted from the 1920 US Census.

This study does not show a very large population of German Russians in California in 1920, in fact the number represents less than 4% of the US total, while there was a preponderance of German Russians living in the prairie states. California ranked 9th, with 11,529 first-and second-generation German-speaking Russians — only about half the number in Colorado or Nebraska, a third of the number in South Dakota or Kansas — or about a sixth the number in North Dakota! A summary of these top 24 states appears in the table below.

Sallet also estimated the distribution of the combined first and second generations in each state by origin and religion. The California results are not surprising: except for the sizable Mennonite component of the German Russian population, the remainder of the group is almost entirely Evangelical Lutheran. See table below. Sallet estimated that about 18% of the 1920 US German Russians were Roman Catholics: there were large groups of Catholics in North and South Dakota, Kansas and Colorado and even in the other Pacific states, Washington and Oregon where the Catholic population made up about 11% of the total. But Sallet reported almost no Roman Catholic German Russians living in California. As German Russians transplanted from other states often have observed, among the German Russians there are no historical Catholic institutions in California.

Sallet’s list of settlements in 1920 is summarized below.

Volga German Evangelical Lutherans: 1886 and 1887 saw the first emigration of Volga Germans to Fresno, from where they spread to Kerman, Sanger, Dinuba, and Visalia. Sallet also references small Volga German settlements in Castro Valley and Meridian. [Most of the original immigration to Fresno was from the Wiesenseite villages in the Tarlyk group.]

Black Sea German Evangelical Lutherans: The first settler came from near Menno, South Dakota to Lodi in 1897. From Lodi, the subsequent settlers — mostly from the Dakotas — spread to Acampo, Galt, Elk Grove, then to Shafter in Kern County. Sallet places 29 Black Sea Catholics in Lodi, too.

Mennonites: Sallet does not detail this group’s early settlements in California, but certainly, Reedley, on the Fresno-Tulare County border, was a primary place of settlement.

STATES WITH 1,000 OR MORE GERMAN RUSSIANS, ACCORDING TO SALLET’S ANALYSIS OF THE 1920 US CENSUS.

State
First-generation population
First-and second-generation combined populations
Each state’s percentage of the US total population of German Russians
North Dakota
23,850
69,985
23.1%
Kansas
9,056
31,512
10.4%
South Dakota
9,657
30,937
10.2%
Nebraska
9,904
22,421
7.4%
Colorado
9,935
21,067
6.9%
Michigan
6,122
12,857
4.2%
Washington
4,933
11,875
3.9%
Wisconsin
5,543
11,714
3.9%
California
4,989
11,529
3.8%
Oklahoma
2,882
10,067
3.3%
Illinois
4,476
8,755
2.9%
New York
4,027
8,560
2.8%
Montana
3,224
7,666
2.5%
Oregon
3,281
7,031
2.3%
Ohio
1,930
5,962
2.0%
Minnesota
1,969
5,055
1.7%
Pennsylvania
1,916
4,683
1.5%
Connecticut
1,150
4,308
1.4%
New Jersey
1,614
3,568
1.2%
Idaho
1,025
2,574
0.8%
Wyoming
884
1,939
0.6%
Iowa
789
1,646
0.5%
Missouri
639
1,473
0.5%
Massachusetts
504
1,018
0.3%
All Other
2,236
5,330
1.8%

TOTAL FIRST, FIRST/SECOND GENERATION POPULATIONS: 116,535, 303,532

ESTIMATED DISTRIBUTION OF CALIFORNIA GERMAN RUSSIANS IN 1920

Origin and Religion
Total Population
% Total
Black Sea Evangelical Lutherans
2,000
17.3%
Black Sea Catholics
29
00.3%
Volga Evangelical Lutherans
8,000
69.4%
Volga Catholics
0
0.00%
Mennonites
1,500
13.0%
TOTAL
11,529

Reprinted with permission of California District Council Report.

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