In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the NDSU Libraries
in Fargo reaches out to prairie families and former Dakotans. In
various ways, it affirms the heritage of the Germans from Russia
is an important part of the northern plains culture. Jolenta Fischer
Masterson, Sequim, Wash., a native of Strasburg, N.Dak., shares
her experiences coming home to visit the places of her childhood
in North Dakota.
For most of us, our first trip to a cemetery is a sad and mournful
occasion. In the past fifteen years, I have learned to feel differently.
With the help of a patient spouse, I have wandered through serene,
well groomed burial grounds on hillsides in Missouri, and trotted
through cow-pastures in Kentucky looking for the `cemetery in the
grove' where rest the bones of a Revolutionary War patriot. In New
England, we saw beautiful white marble monuments carved by the immigrant
Italian stone carvers near Barre, Vermont. In Boston, slabs of shale
serve well as grave markers. In Key West, Florida, where folks are
laid to rest in concrete boxes above the rock formation, one lady's
epitaph reads "I told you I was sick!"
The graveyards on the prairies are different. A summer or two
ago, on a trip through North Dakota; I visited several cemeteries.
Near Zeeland, by the old St. John's Church, lies a mother and her
six children with date of death reading 1918. Was it the Flu epidemic?
There were seven identical white iron crosses. The name was Feist.
And the wind blew a prairie song in my ears.
We went out to Krasna, where the cemetery holds so many who came
to that little corner of the world, next to a little church, the
Holy Trinity Church, which someone has attempted to restore. In
the distance is a round butte. Beyond is one of the long buttes
so typical of the area. Here lies my grandfather, the picture on
his stone as clear as it was in 1922. Over yonder are my great grandparents.
Most of the graves are marked with the iron crosses, except for
that one, over in the corner next to the fence. It is marked with
a pineapple. Why? And the wind blew a prairie song in my ears.
We stop by the old St. Mary's Cemetery just outside of Hague.
I have been here before. Caring descendants of these pioneers from
the Kutschurgan region near Odessa, Ukraine, keep splendid wrought
iron crosses in good care with frequent coats of aluminum paint.
I found the grave of my great grandfather, Mathias Eberle, who died
within a year of bringing his family to this new country. And I
hear the song of the prairie as they did a hundred years ago.
The tour through the cemetery at Strasburg is filled with nostalgia.
I knew so many of these people in my childhood: the butcher, the
men at the grocery store, the postmaster, my cousins and great grand-parents,
a grandmother. Even a former teacher rests here. The wind is stronger
We visit with Fr. Leonard Eckroth at St. Peter and Paul Church.
He gives us directions to the St. Aloysius Cemetery. He said to
take the "farm-to-market road." I smiled, because I remembered it
as a "gravel road." A long past time, I knew the way. We drove by
the historic Tiraspol Cemetery, the earliest cemetery for the new
village of Strasburg. Somewhere I have a list of people who were
buried there, now a wheat field.
Finally, we arrive at the grave of my great, great grandfather,
Franz Karl Fischer and his wife, Margaretha Kraft Fischer. She would
not immigrate unless all her children and grandchildren came, too.
So they came; the ship's list on the Fulda shows 22 in their party.
We knelt and with pocketknives cut away the grass around the gravestones.
I said a prayer; and I thanked them for their courage. And the song
of the prairie wind blew in my ear.
Information about the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
For further information about the collection, the future Germans
from Russia television documentary, the Journey to the Homeland
Tour to Odessa, Ukraine in May, 1999 and German-Russian heritage,
contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND
58105-5599 (Tel: 701-231-8416; E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu;
GRHC website: http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc).